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The Death of Santa

I didn't want to kill Santa Claus, but ultimately he had to go.

It all started innocently enough. Every Christmas, presents appeared under the tree, one or two bearing gift tags from Santa. Santa always brought Greg something special.

We were never the kind of family that leaves out milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve - after all, our last name is Cohen! - but around age eight Greg insisted. He felt it was the least he could do in return for the cool gifts. He was thrilled when Santa left a thank you note in return.

Due to the timing of his lost teeth, Greg never noticed that Santa's writing closely resembled the tooth fairy's. Every time he lost a tooth, he would leave it under his pillow and the tooth fairy would take it, always leaving a note on a hand-made TF notecard with the requisite payment.


And so fantasy became reality in our house, Even when Greg hit age 12 said his friends were denying Santa's existence, we told him to make his own decision - then had "Santa" leave a begged-for electric guitar that Mom and Dad had told him he couldn't have.

Psych-out accomplished. Surely Santa was real. Who else could have overcome parents' objections to get the guitar under the tree? The fat man who was able to come down our narrow chimney and fatten up further with the cookies Greg had left him. Greg returned to school insisting he had proof his friends were wrong about Santa.

Naturally this came to a bad end. I realize now we should have given him the guitar ourselves and let Santa fade out of our lives. Greg's vehement schoolyard defense of Santa was of course not just shot down but derided and I had to take the blame for "lying." 

A Musically Hellish Christmas (Videos)

Yes, the Chipmunks are always nauseating, but there’s plenty more hellish Christmas music.



It’s the acting that’s hellish, not the Ramones.

The new holiday classic!



Woof.



Ribbit.



Shake those Christmas disco balls!




The ultimate hodgepodge: jarring yet compelling.

For the Rich Survivalist on Your Holiday Gift List



Top Christmas present for the paranoid on your list: Just One Eye;s $12,500 Ulysses Tier 1 Disaster Relief Kit, seen here,
UlyssesTier1Kit-01.jpg

In case of emergency, break out the big bucks for this package, designed in consultation with a former Navy SEAL for the fashion-forward fallout shelter.

If you expect your New Year to hold disaster, whether an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, terrorist attack or plain old extended power outage, this one's for you - or could be if you have a someone who loves you enough to save you with the very best.

Inside are items to sustain you (a water purifier and nutrition bars), protect you (pepper spray and a holster - as a red-blooded American, you're probably already armed) and get you powered up day and night (solar panels and hand-cranked lighting). A satellite phone will let you reassure your fans that you're not quite ready for the "In Memoriam" section of the next awards show.

There are more than 50 items altogether. The Ulysses is a survivalist's dream: night vision goggles, sleeping bags, a flashlight, helmet, binocular and gloves, a solar/crank radio, an emergency beacon and tons of tools - plus of course batteries - all housed in a rolling, waterproof case. A reassuring touch of luxury comes from a cashmere blankie.

For you maltie-poo or puggle, a mere $500 adds in the pet essentials package. 

Since batteries comprise my entire survival kit -and since the apocalypse is looking increasingly likely - I'm putting this on my wish list. Come on, Santa, put a little future-proofing in my present!

I'll Be Home...and Stoned...for Christmas

Dent May - "I'll Be Stoned For Christmas"
Mississippi musician Dent May has come up with a refreshingly original take on the holiday song: "I'll Be Stoned for Christmas." Belying its revolutionary title, the song is a dreamy, '80s-tinged pop-classic-in-the-making. It perfectly captures the experience of returning home for the holidays.

So long, Mariah! Hasta la vista, Chipmunks!

"'Tis the season to be high." And now, thanks to Dent, I'm high on music.

Friends Are the Family You Choose

Thanksgiving 2014 is more than two weeks past and I'm just now able to talk about it. Hellish, truly hellish.

Despite running a blog called Hellish Holidays, I'm not actually looking to have them myself. I figured I'd write about the holiday traumas of my youth and then post stuff about OTHER people's bad times today. I thought those nightmare Thanksgivings were over for me. Then I had dinner with friends.
To be clear, I had dinner with two friends who hadn't met before, and a friend of a friend I hadn't met. We ate at the recently relocated Palm in Beverly Hills, which none of us had visited since it left its longtime, beloved location in West Hollywood. That's a lot of new variables for a "traditional" meal, and the unknown is the enemy of comfort level.

I'm known for the diversity of my friends. A few are compatible but most would never have anything to do with each other if they didn't have me in common. Some would actively avoid each other. And it turns out that two of those in that last category were thrown together at my Thanksgiving table.

It started with bickering, moved on to one-upping and climaxed with insults. The friend-of-a-friend stranger and I bonded in the way that siblings bond when their parents fight. We tried to stay out of the way, tried to change the subject, tried to find points of agreement between the two...nothing worked. A Venn diagram of our table would be four separate circles.

Add to this the fact that the new Palm looks like a small-town Hyatt restaurant and the turkey dinner was mediocre and you can see why I left there feeling angry, betrayed and broke. We kept ordering wine but it was never enough to stanch the flow of vitriol between those two. 

And note to the Palm: One big-ass ugly mural is not a viable replacement for a lifetime of customer caricatures. 

Next year I go to a friend's house and join her family again. This is what I've done for the past few years but two of my friends suggested a special dinner out. I'd never taken that route before. Now I know why.

I Hate Every Single Christmas

"Single" is the operative word here, as relatives ask, "Sweetheart, are you seeing anyone?"

Christmas Infographic


Infographics are a quick and entertaining way to get across facts and stats. Here's one about not making an ass of yourself at the company holiday party. Click here for the full version.

Thanksgiving With the Kids (Videos)

Kids: Making the holidays joyful, or pests to be DESTROYED?






Being asleep doesn't stop this hearty eater!

Thanksgiving Stabbing

This is 47-year-old Jack-Lyn Blake of Wilkes-Barre, PA. According to The Smoking Gun, on Thanksgiving she fell asleep after some heavy drinking. When she woke up to find her boyfriend had started eating without her, she allegedly stabbed him in the chest. (I say allegedly, but apparently she had no problem admitting it to the responding officers.)

I don't know whether I'm more disturbed by the stabbing or the name Jack-Lyn.

A Bill Cosby Thanksgiving (Videos)

What a difference a year makes.


A Hildegarde Thanksgiving

"The Incomparable Hildegarde" (1906-2005) was a star for 70 years. At her peak, in the 1940s and '50s, she was the top supper club entertainer in New York. Despite her Wisconsin roots, she had a sophisticated European air about her: She wore long gowns and opera-length gloves. Her ever-present handkerchief served a role comparable to that of Steven Tyler's scarves today. She was best known for the song "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup," which was written by her lover/manager Anna Sosenko.

Why the history lesson? Because Hildegarde plays a supporting role in one of my most hellish Thanksgivings.

The year was 1983. I wouldn't say Hildegarde was at the height of her powers, but at 77 she was still breathing, and for a legend that's enough. For years I'd heard stories about how my well-heeled grandparents would travel from Washington, D.C. to New York in the postwar years to take in some theater and see Hildegarde. My grandmother, known as Mimi, was born the same year as the chanteuse, and Thanksgiving that year was her own 77th birthday.

When my mom and I saw that The Incomparable Hildegarde would be performing in Manhattan at the same time that Mimi would be up from Washington for Thanksgiving and her birthday, we decided to surprise her with tickets. We needed something positive because things had gotten somewhat shaky in our family--so much so that Thanksgiving dinner was actually held at my one-bedroom apartment in Queens.

There were six of us comprising three generations: grandmother, mother and four grown and almost-grown children, including the only "man" present, my younger brother. Mimi was selected to carve the turkey, which I recall did not make her happy. To her, a Thanksgiving table without a patriarch was like a Norman Rockwell picture entitled "Failure."

We dragged the kitchen table into the living room, added in both leaves, and threw a sheet over it as a tablecloth. (What can I say? I was young and no one had yet had a reason to throw me a shower.) Needless to say, the dishes were mismatched and whatever I put into service as a turkey platter, I'm sure it had not been designed with that use in mind.

Dinner was tense. Blame was flung and tears shed. The ever-stoic Mimi was able to stay focused on reminding everyone how much better her life had been than ours were shaping up to be. It was a relief to be done with it all. And finally it was the moment to present Mimi with her Hildegarde tickets and give her the good news that tonight we would all be seeing the show together.

Mimi took one look at the tickets and burst into tears. None of us had ever seen her cry before, even when her husband had died. She was more of what you might call a carrier: she caused tears but didn't have much first-hand experience with them. It was quite a shock. She composed herself quickly, though, and explained that even just seeing the name Hildegarde had brought back vivid memories of better times before her disappointing grandchildren had been born. (OK, she didn't say that last part, but it was implied.) She had mixed feelings about going: what if Hildegarde's voice was shot and she was a pale imitation of her former self? And, more importantly, what would we all be wearing? Did we even own decent clothes, because obviously what we were wearing didn't measure up.

Well, to fast forward through the subsequent arguing and transportation issues, we all calmed down and went. Hildegarde sounded great, and everyone had a much-needed brush with elegance. We might not have been the most stylish members of Hildegarde's audience, but I'll always know in my heart that we were the most dysfunctional.


Originally posted Thanksgiving 2010.

Turducken... (Videos)

You Say Turducken...


Peking Turducken



The most disturbing part is that the Dr. Pepper is not the most disturbing part.

A Puerto Rican Thanksgiving

In April 1988 my mother called from New York and told me she'd had a dream. Not the Martin Luther King kind of dream, where people live together in peace and harmony. No, this dream was more of a hallucinogenic vision: she saw herself living in Puerto Rico.

At the time of the call, I was in the process of preparing for an Academy Awards viewing party at my house in Los Angeles, so I really didn't have the necessary time to throw all the cold water I would have liked on this specious semi-plan. But I did what I could, starting with "But you don't speak Spanish!" and seguing to "But you've never even been there!"

She had an answer for almost everything, primarily related to her lifelong loathing of cold weather and love of the Atlantic (just don't get her started on the Pacific). At the end of the call she acknowledged that she should take a trip to Puerto Rico before committing. I figured that would be the end of that. She'd go, feel like a gringa out of water, realize she had no support system, and start sending away for flyers on Miami.

But no. She returned from her trip having taken a job at an English-language school ("They use the immersion method!") and rented a small house. Packing commenced immediately.

As a parent, I know what it's like to disapprove of a child's decision. This experience brought home to me the helplessness of disapproving of a parent's. It wasn't our first role reversal, the first time I had felt like the comparative grownup, but it was the most significant. After almost 20 years, she is still there, and our positions have only hardened.

Once she settled in, she insisted she had been right to trust her intuition. She invited us down for Thanksgiving. This was partly so we could fall in love with island life as she had, and partly because she thought it would be a fun adventure to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in her new environment. She knew someone, Luis, who had a rental apartment for turistas like me and my husband, and we sent a check for $600 to prepay for the three nights we would be there.

We arrived in Puerto Rico the day before Thanksgiving 1988. We were dropped off at the apartment and climbed the previously unmentioned stairs to find utter filth: dishes in the sink. Dirty leopard-print sheets on the unmade water bed. Dead bugs on the window sills. We didn't dare inspect the bathroom. My husband refused even to bring a suitcase into the place. So we lugged everything to my mother's, about a half mile away. (There were no cell phones in those days except those bolted into cars.)

Naturally all hotel rooms were filled but my mother arranged to have her landlord and next-door neighbor rent us the atypically vacant larger house on the property where she was renting her small house. My mother was thrilled: the additional kitchen space would make Thanksgiving dinner preparations so much easier. We dropped our stuff and headed for the beach, where slumlord Luis operated a hot dog stand, to demand a refund of our $600.

I can still hear Luis laughing. No matter what we said--and we all took turns--it just sent him into peals of hysteria. "It was dirty!" "Hahahahahahaha!" "The bed was disgusting!" "Hahahahahahaha!" "We want our money back!" Double "Hahahahahahaha!" Furious and defeated, we left in a huff. Our only satisfaction came the following year when my mother sent us a photograph of Luis' hot dog stand, flattened by Hurricane Hugo. I'm not normally vengeful, but in his case I made an exception. Hahahahahahaha!

It was more than 10 years before we returned to Puerto Rico, and then we stayed in a hotel.


Originally published Thanksgiving 2006.

Thanksgiving Dinners Weirder Than Yours (Videos)

Mashed Potato Fight on Thanksgiving


OK, so this one guy wouldn't give this other guy his phone back? So the other guy throws mashed potatoes at the first guy? And then it, like, escalates? Who says you need to go home to have a fight on Thanksgiving? Caution: language alert.

No Need to Dress for Dinner...


Looks like Great Grandma came straight from the pool to the table.

Sleep-Eating


It's the children I feel sorry for.

The Same Old Things

Another Thanksgiving
drunk in the kitchen, post-turkey
exhausted from family time
“Alice's Restaurant” playing on the radio.
(Damn, that song is long.)
Why can't we spend holidays with friends?
Then we wouldn't fight over:

showing up late
bringing a loser
setting the table
saying grace
carving the turkey
bored with the bird and I thought we were going with Honeybaked this year
cheesy decorations
watching too much football
Iraq and Republicans and let's not fight about the election
not eating enough vegetables
white meat is healthier than dark or is it the other way around?
the freakin' Pilgrims
out of wedlock still means something to me
washing the dishes
the same old things

The same old things.
They should be reassuring.
It should put me at ease
that some things don't change
but I'm down on my knees
praying we stop
going round and round
with the same old things.


Originally published November 16, 2007
 
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