Drunk for the New Year

It’s a new tradition: recording drunken and humiliating behavior on New Year’s Eve, then posting it for all the world to see. Most are hilariously funny – but only to other drunk people. There’s lots of yelling, slurring, puking, falling down and showing of undergarments. The most innocuous statements – “my foot hurts” – generate peals of laughter. Hellish Holidays culled through way too many dreary ones to come up with the best of the worst.


Her resolution: Match.com.


Lindsay Lohan in about 10 years.


This woman can’t even get out of her house to celebrate.


She’s…hornier.


Reasons to quit - as if the above weren't enough.

A Birthday Confession

In honor of my birthday this week, I reveal a deep, dark secret.

It was the very late '60s, giving guys an excuse to wear jerseys with the number 69, which we all knew was dirty, although we had no idea why. I was 11, a pre-pubescent sixth-grader praying to lose the pre-. I felt like the only girl in my class who hadn't gotten her period. Now I know that my December birthday placed me at the end of the development line. But at the time, as I aspired to an AA cup, it felt pretty humiliating.

That spring, I suddenly had unfamiliar cramping pains in my abdomen. Doubled over and crying, I scared even my mother, whose advice for everything was either "gargle with salt water" or "lie on your side with your knees up." When these stalwarts failed to help me, we headed to the emergency room.

A comprehensive examination revealed exactly nothing. The pain subsided and I went home, told that most likely I would shortly be getting my first period. My excitement about "becoming a woman" was tempered by the not irrational fear that womanhood involved searing and mysterious pain.

That night, my father came into my room to say goodnight. He sat on my bed - a tradition that by then had faded - and said, "My little girl is becoming a woman." Those words must have been so hard for him to say, but at the time I didn't realize that. I only cared that they were hard for me to hear. I blanched, horrified. It felt so personal, so female. We, who never spoke of personal feelings or bodies, were not meant to have this conversation. I stammered something non-responsive and poor Dad left the room probably feeling sorry he had brought it up.

As much as I didn't want to get into it with my father, I couldn't wait to spread the news at school. Even though my pain had subsided and left nothing to show for itself, I assumed I would be breaking out the long-awaited Modess shortly. It was so imminent, why wait to make the announcement? During Gym class I told the entire locker room that I had gotten "it." (Yes, after extensive training in Health and Science classes about Fallopian tubes, menstruation and cycles, we chose the term "it" to describe this momentous change of life. As in, "I can't go swimming - I have 'it.'")

I was congratulated, even offered nickels in case I needed to use the sanitary napkin dispenser. I preened and felt part of the club.

Except I wasn't. Sixth grade ended and summer came. Men landed on the moon but still I continued to be flat-chested, hairless and cycle-free. Seventh grade started and...nothing. For some reason I still can't fathom, I kept the ruse going. By my 12th birthday that December, everyone assumed I was being honest when I complained about cramps and tried to get out of gym class because it was "that time of the month."

I threw a slumber party that year, with a make-your-own-sundae bar. We watched the movie Peyton Place on TV and played my new album, Long Lonesome Highway, by the adorable star of Then Came Bronson, Michael Parks. We brushed and braided each others' hair. Everything was going great, until Arlene came to me to say she had gotten "it" and needed a pad and belt.

I can still feel the horror that ran through me when I realized my lies - plural, not singular - were about to be exposed. I had no idea if my house even contained the needed supplies. We had an uncomfortable conversation about my possibly having run out and then I went to get my mother, who had no idea I was living a double life.

"Of course we have pads!" she told Arlene (luckily out of earshot of the rest of the party). She went into a closet and came back with what I realized with shame was my kit: everything I would need when I finally got "it." Just to twist the knife - and remove all doubt - she told Arlene, "We're just waiting for Laura to need them."

I will always love Arlene for not running back to my bedroom, triumphantly crowing, "Laura's a liar! An immature, lying little girl! No one should be friends with her!" Because that's certainly what I felt I deserved. But she was one of the rare noble ones and never said a word to anyone, including me.

Later that month, right after Christmas, "it" happened. I was barely 12, a perfectly average age, despite feeling like the tail end of the bell curve. Finally my complaints and need for nickels were legitimate. Finally I was a woman.

This time, my dad said nothing.

I’m Still Here: A Follies Homage

I recently saw Follies on Broadway. "I'm Still Here" captured a certain era so perfectly, and I thought it would be fun to update. I idolize Sondheim (not to mention Stritch, Paige, Burnett and the others who have done the song proud), so this is done out of respect and love.

Hear the original, by Stephen Sondheim, sung by Elaine Stritch, here.

Good times and crap times,
They’re all on my blog, so it’s clear
I'm still here.

Chanel bought at retail,
Sometimes a Target souvenir
But I'm here.

I've shopped at Goodwill
For used pants
Offered phone sex
To buy implants
Watched TMZ kill my career
But I'm here.

I've slept in shelters,
Funded by donors I knew
But I'm here.
Danced on the pole –
My thong only slightly askew
But I'm here.

I've taken handouts
With celebrities’ kids,
They were ironic,
Me, on the skids
In the Recession was I recessed?
Nowhere near.
Banged a Facebook engineer
So I'm here.

I've been through the recount,
Monica’s blue dress post-grope
And I'm here.
Tea party crazies,
The demise of Change and Hope
But I'm here.

I got through Full House,
SNL’s decline,
File-sharing, emoticons
Kim Kardashian’s behind
Witnessed NASA fade
Pluto degrade
The lost frontier
Lived through two rounds of O.J.
And I'm here.

I've gotten through Bushes 41, 43
The best part was when those years ebbed
Jeez, what a dynasty – not!
On your knees, vow “No Jeb!”

Made a guest appearance
on “Reno 911,” then “The Hills”
And I’m here
Not always coherent
But it paid for my cannabis refills
And I’m here

Been called elitist
By bitter have-nots
Got through it while pissed
On my yachts
I should sign up as a Housewife,
That seems clear.
Still, my family was oh so dysfunctional
So I’m here

Louboutin one day,
Next day it’s in Decades Two
But I’m here
Top billing Monday
Tuesday Gawker asks “Who?”
But I’m here

Through my own show
I once strode,
then a guest on Law and Order,
then a webisode
The posse still lingers but shrinks
Every year
I’m writing an e-book – it’s “content”!
And I’m here.

I live with tourists snapping cell phone photos
Then asking who I once was
And sometimes, “You remind me of someone
Didn’t she used to have buzz?”

Good times and crap times,
They’re all on my blog, so it’s clear
I'm still here.

Chanel bought at retail,
Sometimes a Target souvenir
But I'm here.

I’ve had a blast
And seen it all
Auctioned my past
Held them in my thrall
The internet said that I’d died last year
But I’m here.
Hell, I was there
And I’m here
Yeah, it’s me!
I’m still here!
© 2011 by Laura Foti Cohen

The Year of the Pop-Up Timer

My dad was not known as a cook. He must have made dinner for himself after my parents divorced, but that’s hard to believe based on the Thanksgivings he put together. He insisted on hosting, and he did his best, but let's just say we didn't go to his place for the food.

Finally, one year he agreed to let me cook. I'd been bragging about my culinary prowess, and he gave in and accepted my claim that I could whip up something more gourmet than what we'd been used to. Now I realize that my baking experience didn't translate into any real dinner-making ability, but at the time I thought I could do it all. How hard could it be?

I'd never made a turkey, so to be safe, I bought one of those with the pop-up timers. All I had to do was check occasionally and when it popped up, we would eat. I put the turkey in the oven while we played Scrabble. After an hour or so I looked into the oven. Nope, not ready. More looking, more not ready, more Scrabble.

After what seemed like twice the length of time it should have taken, I pulled the pan out and examined what was turning into withered jerky. No timer was popped up. It must be defective. What a rip-off! Those Butterball people would be hearing from me!

But wait. When I took the mummified bird out of the pan and flipped it onto a platter, it turned out that I’d had it in there upside down. That poor little timer never stood a chance: it had been pressed into the pan and couldn’t pop up. Who knows how long ago it started to try.

That year, we dined on rolls, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and plenty of pie to the soundtrack of bitching. "Why didn't you put marshmallows in the sweet potatoes?" "I really wanted some turkey." And you’d better believe that, like "The Fruitcake Story," that tale gets re-told more often than it should.

How to Get Attention in New York

The Anti-Defamation League entered the fray when a billboard advertising vodka claimed "Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing." They got it taken down quickly, but claimed they were comparing the single day of Christmas to the eight nights of Hanukkah - hence the bargain. What do you think?

A Very Musical Thanksgiving (Videos)

Turkey Survival Anthem




Doing It Sandler-Style




Gobble, Gobble




The Poultry Rapper



The Thanksgiving Eating Challenge (Videos)

Thanksgiving Pie Eating Contest


America's top competitive eaters see who can stuff the most pumpkin pie into their mouths in a Thanksgiving Day pie eating competition. Pumpkin pie is one of the toughest competitions, with a thick dry crust and a deep heavy filling. Eric "Badlands" Booker took the title, eating four whole pies and three eighths in just six minutes.

Thanksgiving Dinner With a Side of Soap


The challenge this Thanksgiving: holding down dinner for at least three minutes after finishing it.

Thanksgiving Turkey Eating Contest


On Thanksgiving Eve, an emaciated woman beat seven plus-size men at a turkey-eating competition in New York City.

Thanksgiving Soda Challenge


The best part: he doesn't like to drink out of the bottle! What's next, a little umbrella and an extended pinkie?

Considering Deep Frying A Thanksgiving Turkey? (Videos)

How Not to Deep Fry a Turkey


This turkey...the person frying the turkey, that is...needs a little lesson in appropriate footwear for deep frying. Of course, his brother-in-law isn't much help, dropping the thermometer into the boiling oil.


Turkey Deep Fry


How to make a great deep fried turkey. Note creative use of cardboard boxes and wire hanger.

The Dangers of Turkey Frying


FYI, turkey fryers aren't UL listed, and for good reason. Some valuable tips from the fire department - a must-see before you drop a big bird into a vat of hot, flammable liquid.

An Expert's View of Turkey Fires


A representative from Underwriters Lab illustrates why turkey fryers can be dangerous. Don't try this one at home!

Black Friday 2010 (Videos)

Black Friday: It's a jungle out there. Save yourself some sleep, skip the parking nightmare and avoid the crowds: Shop Amazon's Black Friday Week.


You Got Hit? Hysterical!



After nine hours in sub-freezing Utah temps, they finally got inside to buy their…dolls and candy.

Based on a True Story…



Grandma’s been there, and her memory’s obviously good!

Waiting for the Fighting to Begin



Meet some Minnesota shoppers. LOTS of Minnesota shoppers.

Gonna Fly Now!



Having a successful Black Friday takes a certain amount of prep work. See the original this satirizes below.

Targeting Black Friday



Originally published November 28, 2010.

Get Ready for Thanksgiving!

It's coming: the season of turkey and traffic, of making new memories and breaking out old recriminations. Get ready for the opening of the Christmas shopping season with the running of the Black Friday bulls (the bears stay home).

This Thanksgiving season we offer the following survival tips:

1. Get the jack-o-lantern off your porch.

2. Start thinking about what you're thankful for. This is sure to come up at dinner, and you don't want to be um-ing and er-ing.

3. Plan your Black Friday attack by previewing the ad circulars and increasing your workout schedule.

4. Set your DVR for some classic Thanksgiving TV.

5. Place an order for pie. Forget homemade. Seriously. Do you really want to spend November 23rd peeling apples and cursing sticky dough? Think of it as one small step for the GDP.

The Twisted Psychology of Black Friday (Videos)

Black Friday Best Buy Style


Geek Squad Agent White neglects his post to offer rude commentary on Black Friday . It is 5:30am and there is a mob of people rushing in--and yet somehow not rushing fast enough to satisfy him.

Black Friday: Target


How badly do you want that DVD player? How about waiting all night outside in the cold? Seven hours in a sleeping bag on the pavement outside a shopping center is...well, crazy!

Black Friday At Wal-Mart


Here's what it's like walking through Wal-Mart about 10 minutes after the doors opened for Black Friday 2006. Note the amount of stuff in those shopping carts!

Black Friday at Circuit City: Run!


And the race is on! Black Friday 2006 was an indoor marathon.

Happy Anniversary

Today is the fifth anniversary of Hellish Holidays. This begins our sixth season of accepting the reality that is Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and more. We wish you holidays that are not the least bit hellish - but encourage you to embrace your memories of those that were.

Holidays in the Diaspora

When you live far from the place where you grew up, holidays mean freedom from traditional obligations. Without family or in-laws nearby, you can lay a Martha Stewart-inspired Thanksgiving table or eat KFC standing up in front of the sink. You can open presents on your own schedule - no arguing about whether Christmas Eve or morning is the right time. No fighting about whose turn it is to host. You can sleep in. You can go to the movies. No one will complain that you let them down.

I know my preference for holidays free from family is not typical, possibly even unhealthy. It's not that I don't love my family and wish we could be together - I do and I do. But, as this site attests, not all my family holiday memories are rosy. A lot can go wrong - and frequently did. Why push it? I make it a point to see my family several times a year. The holidays are not included in those times.

While others brave pat-downs and blizzards to get to their loved ones, I give a Mona Lisa smile when asked if I'll be visiting family. But I'm quick to point out that I always hated traveling over the holidays. Both my sister and a cousin got married over Thanksgiving weekends, in New York and Milwaukee, respectively. I understand the thought process behind their decisions. I myself got married over a July Fourth weekend. But that no longer seems like such a great idea. (Neither does marriage, but that's another story.)

Of course, now 'tis always the season for crammed flights, delays and jacked-up hotel rates. You don't have to wait for the holidays to suffer like it's the busiest travel day of the year. The airlines are working overtime to make every day a holiday - in the hellish sense, that is. Parents with young children no longer get to board early. No one gets a pillow. Food selection is comparable to your local 7-11, but two or three times the price, and exact change please.

Back in my married days, we always traveled for Thanksgiving, to somewhere a drive or train ride away from Los Angeles: El Encanto in Santa Barbara, the Ojai Valley Inn, the stupendous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. These beautiful spots were well worth the price. Turkey in a hotel restaurant is always without tears because you don't know anyone else in the room.

These days, I do spend Thanksgiving with family - other people's family. For the past five years, several dear friends have graciously invited me to share the table with them and theirs. The holiday tension in these homes is minimal. I talk to my own family in the morning, then hop in the car. I bring some home-baked food, help with clean-up, and in between bask in a family environment that, although not my own, is warm and welcoming. And not the slightest bit hellish.

Watching People Eat (Videos)

Thanksgiving Dessert?


Whenever a husband calls his wife "my lovely bride" you know there’s trouble in paradise. No one’s having fun here.

Mashed Turkey


Turkey dinner: it's not for everyone.

Thanksgiving Dinner on Speed


Sometimes this is what it feels like after hours of preparation.

Enjoy Watching Him Eat Thanksgiving Dinner


There is something fascinating about this guy's take on Thanksgiving.



Wouldn't You Like to Be a Pepper Too? (Videos)

Black Friday 2011: Apparently inspired by UC Davis security techniques, a woman used pepper spray to get an Xbox 360 at half price. The most shocking part: she checked out and disappeared despite being "captured" on countless cell phone videos and leaving a wake of 20 injured shoppers.



The Inspiration?


Teen Holidays

Holidays and teenagers go together like pie and gravy, which is to say not well. One Thanksgiving, around age 13 or 14, they're participating enthusiastically, helping when asked and chatting it up with Grandma. The next year, they're chafing at having to stay through dessert, never mind sticking around to clear the table.

Although my teen years are long past, I vividly recall that feeling of claustrophobia, that yearning to be with friends over family. I can still feel the bracing cold of freedom when I finally escaped to my car with the broken heater, and took off to meet the people who knew me oh so much better than my family.

I know now that my family was no worse than anyone else's. But it didn't seem that way when we were all living under one, and then two, roofs, jockeying for our independence and working hard to make each other miserable. Back then my friends and I tried to one-up each other with holiday tales of dysfunctional parents and annoying siblings. I'm not bragging when I say that I usually won these competitions.

It never occurred to me that someday I would miss my family during the holidays and wish we didn't live so far apart. I certainly never imagined that I would ever celebrate a holiday without my dad. This Thanksgiving will be the eleventh since he died and I still feel his absence at every holiday table.

I also miss the friends from that era during the holidays, especially my friend Gaynor who died four years ago Thanksgiving week, of melanoma. She was the one I schemed with on the phone, trying to figure how to get the hell out of our respective houses and out into the real world of aimlessness and flirting.

This year my son was 13, and he eagerly joined in all the Thanksgiving festivities. I'm enjoying it while I can because I know this too shall pass. One year in the not-too-distant future he'll be working as hard as he can to get out the door before the turkey's packed up for next-day sandwiches. I'll make a stink because that's what moms do, but I'll let him go. Because I know someday he'll remember Thanksgiving with the family and know that his is no worse than anyone else's.

Originally published November 10, 2006

Goodbye Harley

Once upon a time, Harlem was considered so unsafe that the only way I would visit it was on a tour bus. And so, one fall day in the '80s, I did. I wanted to see the Apollo Theater, 125th Street, the vintage stores and soul food restaurants. My friend Kim and I signed up and off we went.

About halfway through the tour, we saw a dog in a dumpster. He wasn't much of a dog, scrawny, anxious, homeless, and every color a mutt can be. But I hadn't had a pet since leaving home for college, and apparently I yearned for one. (I say apparently because I hadn't been aware of this gap in my life until that moment.)

Kim and I ditched the tour. I had already bought a cracked Bakelite cocktail shaker and a black silk evening bag missing a few beads, so I was pretty much done with the shopping portion of the trip. We fished the dog from the dumpster and took him out of Harlem on a city bus with an understanding driver. I named him Harley.

My apartment near Union Square wasn't set up for an undomesticated animal, and neither was my life. I couldn't spend a lot of time with Harley and certainly didn't know how to train him. His only skill was recognizing good shoe leather, the way other dogs can locate a duck that's been dropped by a hunter. Harley ate through all my Charles Jourdan heels, leaving the Candie's I hadn't worn since the disco era. He barked a lot. He growled at visitors. He needed to be walked constantly but couldn't get used to a leash. In short, Harley was no Marley. He was "the world's worst dog," but without his own bestseller. Ultimately, he had to go.

Unfortunately there were already too many dogs vying for the title of "worst" in the shelters of New York. I wanted him out, not euthanized. So I developed a plan: I would go to Jamestown, Rhode Island for Thanksgiving to visit my Aunt Joan, who ran a bed and breakfast, the Calico Cat, with her husband, the detested Uncle John. (More on him when the topic turns to hellish Christmases.) I would take Harley with me and turn him in at a no-kill shelter up in relatively sparsely populated New England.

Of course, when you travel with a dog, your options are limited. Goodbye Amtrak! Even Greyhound, ironically enough named after a breed of dog, is out of the question. I enlisted my friend Hope and together we rented a car and headed north, with Harley in the backseat whining, barking, panting and pacing. It was a long drive.

I don't remember how, in those pre-Internet days, I located an animal shelter, but I did. I made sure they didn't kill the dogs that didn't get adopted, since I had a feeling it might take a while for the right person to come along for Harley. I confess I did lie and claim I lived in Rhode Island, but I made a donation and figured my good heart and generosity would outweigh my dishonesty on the karmic scales.

I was dreading Harley's looking back at me as he walked away, but he was so trusting of me and the shelter worker that he went off without a backward glance. They put a little noose-like rope around his neck and, after I had signed my name to my fallacious paperwork, handed me his leash. I got misty and actually thought I was going to cry. But then I thought about the new, unchewed shoes in my future and visualized Harley romping happily in the smallest state in the Union, and I pulled myself together.

On the way back to the rented car I tossed the leash into a trash can.

That Thanksgiving weekend is a blur of my brother Paul hitting on Hope, my Uncle John throwing his weight around and the purchase of new shoes. On the drive back to New York, Hope locked the keys in the rental car, not once but twice. But that didn't even bother me because I knew no matter how late I got home, no one would be waiting for me, drooling bits of patent leather and anxious to drag me around Union Square in the bitter cold.

Eleven Eleven

Most couples have "their" song, and other "theirs" as well: personal and private shared items, ideas, moments, experiences, even coincidences that they misconstrue as destiny. For me and my ex, it was “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing and the number 11.

I'm not sure what it means to have a favorite number – built-in Lotto selection? a sign the house you're considering buying is right for you? – but 11 belonged to each of us, separately and together.

Innumerable times over our two decades together, the number 11 – and even more surprisingly, 11-11 – entered our life. Maybe it was because we were attuned to it, but it seemed to come up a lot. It had power for us, especially since we both worked in the digital world, which is all about ones and zeros. Even if we were in the midst of an argument, if one of us looked at the clock and it was 11:11, the tension was broken.

Today is 11-11-11, a one-time-only occurrence that even before we split up four years ago was on our radar. Since there's no “our” anymore, instead of thinking about it as a lost shared experience, I’m going to appreciate it as the ultimate Veteran’s Day.

Veteran’s Day is today because it's the anniversary of the German signing of the Armistice that ended World War I, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the end of that Great War portended the end of all warfare, a rejection of tragedy and loss? Yet here we are, millions of war-caused deaths and almost a century later, with warfare a constant throughout the world.

Hmm, maybe the number 11-11 isn’t the most ideal thing to share as a couple. Next time around, I’m going to choose more wisely.

Thanksgiving Snapshots 2010 (Videos)

Adam Sandler Took the Year Off



...but this guy's got the latest news.

Never Should Have Let the Doberman Watch Sweeney Todd



Electric knives are pretty scary.

I Want My 3:08 Back



The concept of a "tradition" has lost all meaning.

The Most Frenzied Time of the Year

Holiday shopping officially kicks off on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving. Retail is a mystery to me - between rent, utilities, insurance, staff, inventory, marketing and the nightmare of dealing with (shudder) the public, I just don't get how it's still viable. Factor in a growing consumer hunger for discounts and the web's ubiquitous offers of free shipping (and often no sales tax), and it's hard to see how anything ever gets sold in a physical store, especially at full price.

Surely I can't be the only one who feels this way. And for those of us who don't want to go out to shop, enter Amazon.com's Holiday Countdown Store. The site is offering special deals through Christmas Eve.

Why set the alarm for 2:00a.m., then bundle up and fight the hordes? Bring a little tranquility and rationality to your holiday shopping and just click.

Creepy Halloween Makeup (Videos)

Time for an extreme makeover!

Go Ahead, Expose Yourself!




Hellraiser Redux




Zzzziiippp!




Zombie on a Shoestring



Creepy Pumpkins (Videos)

The Life and Death of a Pumpkin


You'll never look at pumpkin carving the same way again.

Rotting Halloween Pumpkin


Time-lapse photography over the course of 14 days provides a close-up of a rotting pumpkin in the basement.

Why I Didn't Enter The Pumpkin Carving Contest


Beware of the dangers of Halloween pumpkin carving. Pumpkins can take on the personality of the face that you carve into them.

Psycho Dads on Halloween (Videos)

Daddy Monster in the Cornfield


Building those memories that will last forever.

Halloween Lights Display


These Halloween lights synched to music are located in Margate, FL, so factor that into your relocation plans. Every neighbor's nightmare. Dad, what were you thinking?

Candy Thief


Shameless Daddy tries to steal Halloween candy from his kids.

Freaky Daddy's Haunted House


Aren't you glad you don't live near this Halloween haunted house in Manassas, Virginia? Hundreds of visitors, nonstop screaming...where's my For Sale sign??

Garry Marshall, Please Stop! (Video)

I loved many Garry Marshall films over the years but he's definitely struck out a few times. When even the trailer makes you want to puke, it doesn't bode well for the full-length version.

Smashing Pumpkins (Videos)


And that's how canned pumpkin is made.

Boys Like to Blow Things Up

They like to tell everybody what to do, too, like "Zoom out."

Exploding Pumpkin
Don't try this at home. Seriously. What a dumb idea.

Going Tactical on a Pumpkin

Students at Ohio University deal with a pumpkin suspected of being a member of the Taliban.

The Ghosts of Valentine's Days Past

Some memories are more vivid than others. Why does it have to be the bad ones?

Honestly, I know I've had good Valentine's Days. The evidence on my bulletin board bears witness to the fact that someone feels I'm worth paying homage to when pressured to do so by a greeting card cabal. But the good V Days blur together--a slide show of pleasant dinners and pretty cards. It's the bad ones that play like a Bunuel/Dali film in my brain.

I'm thinking about a certain second date...

We'd had a great first date and joked about the coincidence that we'd scheduled our second on Valentine's Day. The constant reminders at the restaurant, though, started to weigh heavily: waiters offering champagne and hinting at hot sex to come, couples mooning at nearby tables, high-priced Valentine's Day "specials." The fact that I'd bought him a cute/funny/no-strings-attached card didn't help. He seemed alternately freaked out by this minimal expression of holiday spirit and guilty that he hadn't thought to do the same. We never saw each other again.

On another V Day, my inability to find any card that adequately represented my feelings forced me to confront the truth about a long-term boyfriend: it was over. I was unable to get past a fight we'd had about electricity (the incompatible can fight about anything, so why not this?). Due to a blizzard that kept us apart on Valentine's Day, I had to break up with him over the phone, but it still felt good not to have to give him the hideous card I had settled on a few days earlier. I kept it for years to remind me of the dangers of falling for the wrong person.

Soundtrack to a (non) Hellish Valentine's Day

The great thing about storing music on a computer is the ability to spit out mix tapes (OK, CDs) quickly and efficiently. So in the interest of making a Valentine's Day spent alone a little less hellish, how about burning a disc with some of the best post-relationship songs?

Of course I'm not talking about sentimental mush, or even get-out-before-I-throw-you-out classics like "I Will Survive." I wouldn't necessarily go vindictive, with songs like "It's on the Rocks" by the Donnas, which notes, "We're over, I'm done / Yeah, it's time to have some real fun / So I'm callin' all my ladies / We're gonna key your Mercedes" or Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," in which she "took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all 4 tires...Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats."

My theme: Alone and Loving It. Here are some recommendations for a soundtrack to a day basking in that "Over It!" feeling. I'm sure you'll excuse the fact that they're by women, about the men they're happy no longer to have in their lives. Men, feel free to find your own.

"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
"Ex-Girlfriend" by No Doubt
"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
"The Thrill Is Gone" (From Yesterday's Kiss) by Aretha Franklin (the version by Tracy Chapman and B.B. King is also outstanding)
"Runnin' Out of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
"I Can't Help You Now" and "I Will Not Be Broken" by Bonnie Raitt
"You Call Everybody Darling" by K.T. Oslin
"Mein Herr (from Cabaret) by Natasha Richardson (Liza Minelli did it pretty well, too)
"What Did I Ever See in Him?" (from Bye Bye Birdie) by Chita Rivera and Susan Watson
"Already Gone" by Wilson Phillips
"Just Go Away" by Blondie
"Special" by Garbage

and my all-time favorite, "Better After All" by Jonatha Brooke.

Music has healing properties. Songs like these can get you moving, smiling and recovering from a bad breakup. Forget the wallowing. For that, my specialty was Jackson Browne's "Here Come Those Tears Again". Every time I hear it--which isn't often these days--I still expect to hear it skip where my old overplayed record did. But these days my motto is: Shake it off, shake your booty and get out there again. No more tears! (Enough is enough.).

What songs do it for you?

Valentine's Day Through the Years

It starts out as fun. You buy a box of Peanuts cards, carefully separating them along the perforations. You write "Love" and your name on each one. You take your class list and put each name on its own envelope. Then you put a card in each envelope, fold over the top and seal it, maybe with a sticker if you're creative. You go to school with about 20 envelopes and come home with the same number, one from each classmate.

Later, it gets a little more complicated. You don't want to give everyone in your class a Valentine. In fact, there is one person you want to make sure gets a special message. Should it be anonymous? Should you buy a "real" card so you stand out from the Snoopys and Lucys? Should you tell your friend you're taking this heart-on-the-line step? Or would that lead to a singsong teasing in the classroom: "Guess who likes you, guess who likes you!" You don't get a Valentine from everyone in the class, maybe not even from the one person you had singled out for special treatment. Real life--messy, unfair, unpredictable, occasionally transcendent life--has begun.

I know I'm not the only one who spent years ignoring, resenting, even dreading Valentine's Day. Worst of all were the adolescent years. Throughout junior high and high school it was obvious who had a boyfriend and who had been left by the side of love's road. Those who were loved made sure everyone knew it, showing off their cards, candy, flowers or trinkets. (As a child of the '70s, I remember one classmate receiving the ultimate Valentine's offering: a card with a joint enclosed.) I was never the recipient of any Valentine's Day messages during those years, other than cards from Grandma and my younger sisters. Despised holiday!

College wasn't much better. Although I dated, I never seemed to be part of a couple when February 14th rolled around. I still have a little mouse holding a heart given to me by my friend Peter junior year. But he was (and is) "just" a friend--albeit the only man from that era still in my life! During senior year there was a blizzard in New York on Valentine's Day and we had a big dorm party. One dorm resident took that opportunity to confess a crush on me, but since it wasn't returned, the whole thing cast a pall over the evening. The fact that he was Peter's roommate just made it more awkward.

Of course, there have been plenty of years when I was the one whose crushes were unrequited. That's the way life works.

In my 20s I had some pretty dreadful Valentine' Day experiences, which I won't get into here. At age 30 I got married. After some years of marking the holiday the traditional ways (you know, flowers and cards), we kind of tapered off from "celebrating." After you hear that "For us, every day is Valentine's Day!" line a few times, you can translate it accurately: you won't be getting much. Of course, you don't have to give much either.

Yes, Valentine's Day (or VD as it is unfortunately abbreviated) is as fraught as a fake consumer-driven holiday can be. It puts pressure on relationships new and old: to find a card with an appropriate message, to gift or not to gift, to propose or not to propose, to acknowledge the cheesiness of the entire concept or paint oneself as a romantic eager for any chance to express love to (this year's) one and only.

Over the years I've received some decent cards and even some flowers. All is calm on the Valentine's Day front these days. But the memories of VDs past still haunt me.

Valentine's Day: The Dark Side (Videos)

Over But Not Over: Post Secret 1



“I wish I knew how to fall out of love.” Hell, who doesn’t?

More Don’ts Than Do’s



How to handle your special woman on this special day.

“You Live Life Without Napkins!”



Give yourself a pep talk this Valentine’s Day.

Bad News for Lovers: Post Secret 2



Messages from the broken hearted could be depressing, but somehow end up reassuring.

How Does This Have 4 Million Views?



Four personalities: Can you like me now?

The Valentine's Day Cooking Disasters

I don't know why so many of my hellish stories involve cooking fiascos. I've always thought of myself as a good cook, or at least a good baker, but now that I actually think back over my kitchen career, I have to admit a disaster average well above the standard deviation. I'm talking rice puddings the consistency of soup, burned cookies, fallen cakes and baked goods generally ranging from dry to sodden. Over- and under-cooking and -salting has turned many of my non-dessert forays into disappointments as well.
While I can destroy a meat loaf or bundt cake any day of the year, Valentine's Day is prime time for dashed dreams of culinary glory. Two examples:

My boyfriend was coming over for Valentine's Day dinner at the first apartment I ever had without a roommate. I felt so grown up, with my two skillets hanging on nails next to the stove and the cookie sheets my first boss had given me for my 21st birthday.

My plan that year was to make a classic man's meal: steak and mashed potatoes. I was barely making a five-figure salary at the time, so springing for steak was a big deal and showed how much I cared. Reinforcing that message was the peeling and hand-mashing of potatoes.

I made the potatoes first, then put them in the oven to stay warm while I was broiling steaks in the broiler below. I seasoned the meat and placed it on the broiler. Within minutes I heard a muffled explosion: It turns out the bowl was not Pyrex and couldn't handle the 500-degree heat. Glass rained down all over the expensive cuts of meat. Lesson one in the science of cooking.

The boyfriend refused to allow me to rinse off the meat and eat it anyway, a move which I'm embarrassed to say infuriated me at the time. I was sure I wouldn't miss a shard! But he insisted on treating me to dinner at KFC. We got it to go and still ate at my place, but it didn't live up to my fantasy of him telling me what a great cook I was. (I realize now that fantasy had no basis in reality!)

The following year I decided to show off the baking prowess I still misguidedly believed I possessed by making chocolate truffles for my office. The recipe is simple: butter, cream and melted chocolate, shaped into balls and rolled in cocoa. I put together a beautiful box and brought it to work on the subway.

I made a big announcement that I had a Valentine's Day treat for everyone. They gathered around and I dramatically lifted the lid on the beribboned box. We all leaned in to see...a melted brown mush that looked like chocolate would after it had been fully processed by the body of a Valentine's Day reveler. There was a chorus of "No thanks!"

From each disaster I learn a lesson, and apparently there are hundreds of lessons to learn. Don't forget to set the timer. Read through the recipe before you start to make sure you've left yourself enough time and have all the ingredients. Read through the ingredient list before you finish to make sure you didn't leave anything out. And don't forget to put fresh batteries in the smoke detector.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Too Much Time on Their Hands (Videos)

Valentine's Pillow Fight Club


On Valentine's Day 2006, almost 1,000 people converged in San Francisco for a flash mob pillow fight. Great way to get out the frustration of not having a date for the evening!

Valentine's Day Invitation: Hug Thy Neighbor


An interesting duo, Caleb (94) and Halcyon (35) join forces to promote conscious hugging for Valentine's Day. Get ready!

My Valentines Day Contest


Because of the "countless thousands of girls" practically beating down his door, hoping to be his Valentine's Day date, this guy decided to have a drawing. Second prize is an autographed photo. Yikes.

Fred on Valentine's Day


There's nothing more hellish than Fred, any holiday of the year.