No One to Kiss

I wrote the following post seven years ago but never published it. I guess it felt too raw, too maudlin, too self-indulgent. Maybe I didn't want my recently moved-on husband to know how much I was hurting - like he read my blog! 

A year earlier I'd coined the term and launched the website "Hellish Holidays." The irony of my own fresh hellishness was not lost on me.

These days, I've not only embraced life's complexities, I can laugh at them again. I even performed a one-woman show a couple of months back about my years of online dating: "All the Wrong Men." Hell, if I can laugh at 73 "one and dones," being single on New Year's Eve is a mere chuckle.

Here's where I was on New Year's Eve 2007. I'd like to think I've come a long, long way. Thank you, friends, therapy, cabernet and Tinder!

It's just past midnight and I have no one to kiss. My husband is with a woman 25 years younger than he is and my son is staying over at a friend's house. I went to a party where I knew very few people and no one I wanted to kiss except the hostess, which wasn't a thrill, even though she's hot. I just don't swing that way.

My son is a freshman in high school and I had planned not to get divorced until he was a freshman in college. What's that they say about the best-laid plans? I guess the operative word is laid. My husband moved on and now I guess it's my turn. Trouble is, I don't know how. There are lots of books about getting divorced but nothing that acknowledges that your divorce feels completely different because it involves you.


I don't quite know what happens next. It feels like a lot of time has passed, yet I know I still have decades ahead and I don't want to spend them alone. On the other hand, I appreciate my time by myself. That's divorce for you: It's a ping ponging of emotions. I love my freedom. I miss being a family. On the one hand, I have no other hand to hold.

It feels good to have moved past this place of pain and confusion. Not that I'm always happy and have everything figured out, because if that were the case...well, is that the case with anyone? As the late Gilda Radner used to say, "If it's not one thing, it's another." We must learn to survive that rapid succession of "things." Looking back, survival looks a lot like progress. 

Even if I still have no one to kiss on New Year's Eve 2014.

Dec. 26th Hellishness

Macy's shoe department. I took one look and ran!

Christmas for Atheists

Despite the title of my blog, I semi-love the holidays. Lighting the Hanukkah candles, baking cookies, wrapping carefully chosen gifts, decorating the house, creating Jib Jab cards with pictures of friends and family, Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt and uncle's house...when I'm not having an emotional breakdown tied to a broken oven or lost shipments, I mostly revel in the split personality of the Christmas/Hanukkah season.

Then there's the religious aspect. Sure, there's less and less "Christ" in "Christmas" every year, but Jesus' birthday is still the raison d'etre of the holiday. As an atheist with a Jewish son, I've carefully honed my skills at avoidance, denial and obliviousness. Fortunately, these come fairly naturally to me!

I grew up going to church, so carols and Christmas-themed hymns bring back vivid memories, and good or bad, those memories of our youth hold significant power. I recall the tension caused by my parents' different religions, the negative messages spoken and unspoken. I recall the last Christmas my parents were together (1972) and realize how hard they must have been trying to keep it together. And the first Christmas after they'd separated, how awkward to bisect our celebration.

Perhaps most vividly, I recall sitting with my mother and youngest sister in the front row at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve 28 years ago, right before I left New York for Los Angeles, and all of us sobbing uncontrollably at "Silent Night." (I had the same reaction to the movie Platoon around the same time. Hard to believe I had such mixed feelings about moving cross country!)


These days, I get lots of requests to participate in caroling, Christmas performances, such as Handel's Messiah - even midnight Mass. Occasionally I give in, and try to enjoy some bonding and/or aesthetic fulfillment. But since I'm not a believer, those songs ring hollow and feel like an uncomfortable melding of mawkish and fraudulent.

For atheists, 'tis the season for hiking and movies!

Hellish Letters to Santa

If you ever find yourself in northern Michigan, make sure to set your Waze for Frankenmuth. This year-round Christmas town features Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. Don't worry if it's July and you're covered in cherry juice from the roadside stands: At Bronner's it's always frosty and jolly in the most December 25th sense of that term. The place is a city-sized Christmas merch mecca.

According to Michigan-centric website MLive, Bronner's invites kids to submit letters to Santa and this year received the au courant yet typical marketing-driven pleadings for "iPods and iPhones, tablets, 'Frozen' paraphernalia, LEGOs and Zoomer — an interactive toy dog."

I've seen arm-length wish lists before, both from my own child and as a participant in a charity-sponsored event to purchase something for an underprivileged child.

I only did the Santa charity thing once because most of the lists asked for at least a dozen very specific and expensive items: video game systems and games, computers, electronic toys... Almost everything included a brand name. You just knew these kids were not going to be happy with some random gift from a toy drive. They wanted what they saw on TV and even the most well-meaning donor couldn't come close to satisfying their desires.

I realize that Christmas is commercialized. That it's (almost) all about the presents. But seeing wish lists adding up to many hundreds of dollars is depressing regardless of the financial situations of the children's families. I still wonder where I went wrong every time I look at what my own teen son craved, both in quantity and specificity.

Luckily the joy of Christmas morning comes from being with family and giving of yourself - not just taking. No matter how high the greed level and how impoverished the household, the magic can still happen. All it takes is a different kind of list.





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 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

Halloween Date From Hell

It just seems wrong to complain about a Hellish Halloween. After all, isn't that the whole point? Yes, there are parades and parties and dressing up. But the holiday's very nature is to be creepy. It's about scaring small children, TPing and egging, eating too much candy, getting separated from your hard-to-recognize friends...there are so many ways this gruesome holiday can go bad. Here's one you may not have thought of before.

One October in my twenties I was single and going through a dry spell. OK, large chunks of my twenties were dry, but that's another (hellish) story. I went out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends, and one of them brought her brother, Andrew. Andrew was, like me, a writer, but unlike me he actually had published several books.

Andrew and I hit it off. Sure, he was short, pudgy and bald, but at least he was funny. Ask my friend Peter--for years my main dating credo was "Looks Don't Matter." I believe the way he put it was, "Well, no one could accuse you of having a 'type.'" Frankly, Peter was always unable to differentiate between laughing with my dates and laughing at them. But I digress.

After dinner Andrew offered to walk me to the Fifth Avenue bus. I was living in Chelsea, and as we walked we talked about our upcoming Halloween plans. I figured I would catch the infamous Halloween parade in Greenwich Village and go to a couple of nearby costume parties. He asked if he could accompany me. I figured, why not? I rarely had dates on any of the major holidays. By major I mostly mean Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, but Halloween as a party night is also pretty major. Just not ideal for a first date, as I discovered.

We had a brief discussion about what costumes we would wear. He was noncommittal. Yes, he would wear one, but he had no idea what it might be. Certainly we would not be in anything coordinated since we barely knew each other--and by the way, I dislike it when couples coordinate their costumes, so that was fine by me. I generally wore something pretty girly since, well, what the hell. (There was the year I put a box over my shoulders and went as a table with my head for a centerpiece, but I was engaged by then and had different priorities.)

At the appointed hour Andrew rang my doorbell. I opened the door in whatever mildly sexy get-up I had adlibbed for the evening. He was standing there in a loud, patterned shirt, white pants that cut off just above his ankles, and white shoes. From the neck up he had done nothing. He was still bald. Oh, and of course he was still short and chubby, too. He carried a straw hat which he put on his bald head with a flourish. (I know I seem to be stressing the "bald" part, but after all he was the one who had chosen a costume where baldness was highlighted, and not in a positive way.)

"What are you?" I asked with what I hoped did not sound too much like horror.

"An old Jew!" he proclaimed proudly. "Straight out of Miami Beach!" He spoke in a heavy Brooklyn accent.

"Wow," I said. Sort of the way people say, "That sure is something!" when what they're really thinking is "...something hideous and misguided." It felt so anti-Semitic, even though he was Jewish. It felt less Halloween, more Purim, less a costume and more an insulting impression.

"Do you like it?" he asked, with the inflection of a star of Yiddish theater.

"Wow," I repeated inanely. Just as one's life supposedly flashes before one's eyes in the moments before death, various possible exit strategies presented themselves and were instantly rejected. How could I say the parties had both been canceled? And the parade? He would never buy that! I obviously hadn't sprained my ankle. Or fallen down a flight of stairs. But it wasn't too late! I still had to get out of the building...oh, I had to face the truth: I was going to attend parties given by people I liked and respected with someone for whom I felt neither of those things.

At the last minute it occurred to me that I could wear a mask. If only I'd had the prescience to buy one.

All night, if I saw someone I knew, I veered quickly. I managed to make it through both parties without introducing Andrew to anyone. Unfortunately that meant I didn't greet or thank the hosts, but the tradeoff seemed reasonable, even for someone as hung up on etiquette as I am. The parade was a blur. A couple of times I thought about edging away and getting lost in the crowd, but that just seemed too cruel, despite the seemingly endless Jewish jokes and that nails-on-blackboard accent.

I finally came up with an alibi to cut the evening short: my dog, the shoe-eating Harley. Of course! I had to get back and walk him! It had been a whole...two hours! He could NEVER go that long without a walk. (The fact that I had a full-time job and was gone for 10 or more hours at a time wouldn't cross Andrew's mind, would it? Oh, at this point who cared!) I was looking forward to never seeing him again. As the New Yorker cartoon says, "How about never? Does never work for you?"

The plan backfired somewhat when Andrew insisted on going with me and Harley to Union Square Park. "What kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn't escort the lady on All Hallows Eve?" was how I believe he put it. I protested, but that old Jew sure was persistent and I gave in. After all, I knew his sister, and that had to count for something.

As we walked to the park I was almost lighthearted. I could see that the night would not in fact be the bottomless chasm I had previously envisioned. It would actually end at some point, although certainly not soon enough. We watched Harley do his business--always a fun way to end a date--and returned to my building without incident. I said goodbye downstairs, declining his repeated offers to "come up and see me some time." And so, finally, he walked away, telling me, "Hey babe, no promises."

Originally published October 29, 2007.

Stupid Last-Minute Costume Ideas (Videos)

The Flesh Mask...Shudder!


I'm not that kind of girl.

You Won't Win Any Awards But...

As Advertised



Is it the language barrier? Nah...These are truly stupid!

The House from Hell

For nine years I lived in a freak house. I'm not talking about my family, necessarily, but about the house itself. I lived in one of the most upscale suburbs and school districts in the country--but our house was a falling-down rental at the end of a long, rutted driveway. It wasn't exactly The Glass Castle, more like Grey Gardens without the money.

Today that driveway is a smoothly paved road through a development of multimillion-dollar houses in Westchester County. But in my memory it lives on as a hellish byway of broken asphalt, ancient patch jobs and loose gravel that scared away parents and children, and ruined Halloween (and many other days as well).

When the access to your house involves a quarter mile of bottoming out, you'd better believe you won't have too many visitors. Factor in darkness and you've definitely got the place to yourself. I remember when I used to be driven home by dads after a night of babysitting: they would stop their precious Benz or Caddy at the beginning of the driveway and shine their headlights to guide me as I stumbled home. Hey, thanks for the ride! By the way, your son's a pyromaniac!

Once you got all the way to the end, it was pretty spooky, even in the daylight, and even on days that weren't Halloween. The property had been a nursery, and had several leaning outbuildings--two garages and a greenhouse--as well as a rusted old gas pump. When I was younger, the acres of overgrown fields, the woods, the apple orchard and even the crumbling greenhouse held immense charm. As I hit puberty, however, I learned to be ashamed of the way we lived. Like generic rice puffs and knee socks that wouldn't stay up, our house was a mark of failure, a manifestation of how we didn't measure up to those whose driveways were short and smooth, whose houses were sturdy and professionally decorated, whose cabinets were filled with Cap'n Crunch and drawers with socks that didn't droop.

On Halloween we kids had to make our way down the driveway to join friends for trick or treating at "real" houses. No one ever trick or treated at our house. My parents thought this a benefit--imagine the savings on Fun-Size Snickers! But then they also enjoyed the beautiful setting and unavoidable privacy in a way that a self-conscious adolescent just could not fathom. My mother actually looked forward to mowing the massive yard that she personally carved out of what had looked like a wheat field when we moved in. Who could make sense of that?

After trick or treating I would return to our house, with its clawed-foot bathtubs, its extension cord running up the stairs to provide electricity to my own personal attic, its dank basement and odd layout of bedrooms. I would replay the comments I'd heard during the course of the night: "Do you live in a haunted house?" "How do you go down that driveway? Aren't you scared?" "Do you ever get any trick or treaters?" I would recall my swaggering answers, all bluff and bluster: "I hate new houses!" "There's nothing to be scared of. I feel sorry for people who live in boring houses." "We don't get trick or treaters but that just means we get to eat all the candy ourselves."

And then I would eat all the candy myself.

Halloween Is Going to the Dogs (Videos)

Peedy and the Halloween Candy Dish


It's not nice to talk back to the skull.

Work Harder on Your Dog's Costume!

Boxer Seeks Gun


At what point do these people recognize animal cruelty? Even the weiner dog is laughing at the poor pumpkin-garbed boxer.

Countdown to Black Friday

BFAds.net guides you to Black Friday ads as they are made available. This year seems to be getting underway early, with Half Price Books already posting their deals.

The site also provides information on store opening times - which seem to get earlier every year, often before the pumpkin pie is served!

Happy Capitalistic Thanksgiving...oh, and Happy Halloween too!