December 20, 2013


        Christmastime, for me, has always been a time of reflection—remembering those who are no longer with us and wishing we could forget those who still are.  I happened to be shuffling through some photos the other day and was reminded of the Christmas I am about to relate to you.  So grab some hot mulled cider and a plain doughnut, and join me on yet another sleigh ride through Yuletide Hell…

         Last year, I decided to do a “themed” holiday.  It was to be “An Old Fashioned Christmas” in the Buckingham Household, right out of Currier & Ives.
         As a survivor of that same Christmas, I’m here to tell you that it was more like something out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Picture Norman Rockwell beating up a small child, and you’ve got the idea.

To start with, I managed to wheedle the entire neighborhood into participating in a carol sing throughout the town.  I secured participants by promising them that I wouldn’t give them any of my Christmas cookies that year.

At any rate, at the appointed hour on December 23, we all assembled.  That crew of singers made the cast of M*A*S*H look positively normal.  I had the route all planned, and so led the way on the half-mile stroll to the first house to be the beneficiary of our jolly vocalizations.

I should mention here that though I have received death threats from most of the great chefs in the country, I actually can sing.  Our first number was “O Little Town of Bethlehem” into which I launched, con brio, expecting everyone else to jump in.

Nobody did.

I got as far as “Oh little town of …” and stopped.

“Well, come on!  Sing!” I cried.

“I can’t sing worth a damn, Carson,” old Corduroy Jenkins said.

This sentiment was echoed by most of the crowd, except for the ones at the back who, by this time, were so gassed on the bottle of bourbon that Alvin had brought along to keep warm that they were ready to sing anything, as long as it was “Little Brown Jug.”

Being the thorough planner that I am, I had forgotten to mention that at least a passing interest in singing would be necessary for our little adventure.

So, after five notes, that bit of Christmas magic was abandoned and everybody went home.  However, even a setback like this left me with the shining visions of Rogers & Hammerstein dancing in my head undimmed.  I trudged home to help decorate the tree.  The “perfect” tree.

After I cleaned up the wood chips, put away the chain saw, and disposed of the now useless tree stand, my children were headed for the basement to get the ornaments and lights when…

“No, no!  No lights.  No ornaments.  This year we’re having real candles on the tree.  We’ll decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries. This is going to be an old fashioned Christmas!” I cried.

My husband, Stij, growled something about an Old Fashioned sounding pretty good to him right about then—but he humored me.

I had purchased a thousand tiny white candles with their accompanying tree fixtures.  The tree, being two and a half feet tall, only accommodated about 75 candles; which was fortunate since, by the time we lit them all, the first ones were still burning…for a minute or two.

We went through the whole thousand in the first 90 minutes, which ended with a hasty call to the fire department.

Luckily, all that happened was that the tree burned to a crisp, the wall was scorched, Stij’s eyebrows were singed off, and I finally got that sunken living room I always wanted.

After the firemen left, following a stern warning to my husband about keeping the matches locked up, my son asked, “Where’s Tango?”

Tango is the cat—a Burmese stray who adopted us five years ago.

“The last time I saw him he was sleeping under the Christmas tree, and …OH NO!”

Resembling and outtake from a Keystone Kops short, we scoured the house in complete panic.  We finally found him hiding under the stairs…or what we thought was him.  I was hard to tell under a two-pound layer of built up candle wax.  He looked more like a miniature, extremely pissed off Jabba the Hutt.

The typical wax removal regimen involves pouring boiling water over the coated object—obviously not an option in this case, unless one finds the prospect of holiday evisceration appealing.

Stij took one look at poor little Tango, then turned to me and said, “Well, dear, we can stick a wick in him and drape him over what’s left of the tree in what’s left of our house, if you want.”

Before I could reply, I got THE LOOK, and kept my mouth shut.  It was the first smart thing I’d done all season.

Upon assessing the damage, I was really surprised he didn’t just skip THE LOOK and go straight for THE REMINGTON.

Instead, he left the room and came back with a pair of hair clippers.

Our family Christmas photo from last year, rather than framed and on the mantle, resides in a dusty album filled with photos of the relatives no one likes.  This is completely understandable.  This piece of Christmas nostalgia depicts two frightened children; a glowering father with no eyebrows; a charred, undecorated Christmas stick; a mother gagged with a book of Christmas carols and bound to a smoldering chair with strings of popcorn, cranberries, and boughs of holly, and a now vicious bald cat sitting on her lap with his teeth sunk to the gums into her right arm.

Fa la la la la, la la la la.


December 5, 2013


         I must confess that I’m in complete awe of toy stores.  I mean, have you been inside of one of those places recently? 

Well, yes, of course you have.  T’is the season, after all.
In the first place, they aren’t just “stores” or “shops” or even “shoppes” anymore.  Gone is dear Giapetto, the maker of toys by hand.  Gone is also the appreciation of toys made by hand.  What we have now are behemoth toy warehouses, taking up enough arable land to feed the entire country of China…twice, and pushing enough plastic to give every female in Los Angeles the boob size of her choice.
Inside, you will feel as insignificant as Stuart Little in the Grand Canyon.  There are hundreds of aisles, with shelves running from floor to ceiling…and the ceilings are 40 feet high. 
These stores have their own weather systems.
I happened to stop into one of these places a few days ago . . . EVERY TOY IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE, I think it was called.  At any rate, I had finished all my Christmas shopping, with the exception of Amanda, my niece, and she had mentioned a Barbie doll, so ETITKU seemed like the place to go.
I stopped the first employee I could find with the fewest body piercings and nihilist tattoos, and asked to be directed to the Barbie dolls.
“Aisles three, four, and five,” he muttered disgustedly.  Apparently I had roused him from his coma and he didn’t appreciate it.
“Three aisles for Barbie dolls?” I mused.  I took that to mean that they had their entire stock on the shelves, so I wasn’t worried about finding exactly what I wanted.  I set out, ebulliently, with a spring in my step, for aisles three, four, and five.
After walking for one hour, stopping once to use the restroom (conveniently located every half-mile), and once to buy water, I arrived at my destination and began browsing.
I want to tell you that I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of Barbie dolls.  It was inconceivable to me that there could be thousands of variations on a single theme (well, no, I take that back—Bach did just fine with it).
The first thing I did was to pull out my cell phone and call my husband to tell him not to expect me for dinner…this week.  Then I continued my quest.
Initially, there were the types of Barbies you’d expect to find:  Beach Barbie, Cheerleader Barbie, Tennis Barbie, Golf Barbie, Rock Concert Barbie…well, you get the idea.
Then there were the “Career” Barbies.  These included Doctor Barbie, Dentist Barbie, Psychoanalyst Barbie, Lawyer Barbie (I didn’t like that one at all!), Detective Barbie, Wall Street Barbie, and Super-Bitch Corporate Executive Vice President Barbie.  That last one came with a “corporate spy” briefcase (which included a tiny videocam), a cigar that shoots poison-tipped darts, an empty gin bottle, and a full ashtray.
Next there were the “Politically Correct” Barbies.  There were African-American Barbies, Asian-American Barbies, Native American Barbies, Semitic-American Barbies, and an Australian-American Barbie with a dwarf husband called “Shrimp on the Barbie.”
Head reeling, I stumbled next upon the “Outmoded Values” Barbies.  These were all covered with the dust of the ages, and a small sign read that if I found any dinosaur bones while browsing here, I could keep them.  Amongst these Barbies, I found:  Homemaker Barbie, PTA Barbie, Stay-at-Home Mother Barbie, Carpool Barbie, Seamstress Barbie, Dinner Party Barbie, and Reading to the Kids Barbie.  There was only one of each, obviously untouched for many years.
After that, it really got strange.
I moved into aisle five.  It was completely stocked with “New Millennium” Barbies, reflecting the current ideology that young children should be exposed to absolutely everything.  There was Dominatrix Barbie (only one left—more on the way!), Drunk Biker Chick Barbie (complete with tattoos, a Harley, and a boyfriend called Slash who was just released from prison), Death During Childbirth Barbie (I don’t even want to think about what that one comes with), Arsonist Barbie (with a whole box of lovely matches that really light!  Wow!), Serial Killer Barbie (with knives, rope, and a bottle of real poison.  An accessory, sold separately, is a policeman looking confused), Vampire Barbie (with a pink Bloodmobile), Bar-Hopping Barbie (with Rohypnol antidote), Hooker Barbie (with condoms, penicillin, and Pimp Ken), Drug Dealer Barbie (with marijuana seeds and potting soil), and finally, Transsexual Barbie (anatomically incorrect, with a copy of The Rene Richards Story). 
There was even a Klaus Barbie…
That did it.
I raced back to aisle four, grabbed the Homemaker Barbie and her complete wardrobe of Donna Reed originals, pearl necklace, rubber gloves and Easy-Off, and bursting though the cloud of dust, threw a handful of money at the cashier and ran out the door!
Amanda had better like this Barbie doll.
There is no way in hell I’m ever going back there to return it.