A Lonely Person’s Guide To The Holidays

*Merry Holidays People! I wrote this story at this time last year. It was one of my first ever! Its never been published, so in celebration of my first year of storytelling, I thought I’d share my happy sad, mildly depressing, but hopefully wildly entertaining story. So, grab a snack and regale in the wonder below…

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It’s Christmas Eve and coincidentally the first night of Chanukah. My plans for today include going to the drug store to get a bite guard to stop grinding my teeth, and a 9-volt battery so if I get poisoned by CO2 my neighbors will be notified sooner rather than later when my apartment starts to smell like a garbage dump.

Last night as I scrolled through images on Facebook and Instagram I saw photos of snowmen dressed at Kingslayers and iridescent Christmas trees filling the hearth with a warm glow. There were Rockwell-worthy front yards with rows of blinking lights, caroling children dressed in Dickensian attire (let’s bring back the bonnet!), friends toasting around a table filled with turkey, wine, candles, bundt cakes, and those little British toys that explode when you open them. Merry Christmas, you lost an eye!

But as someone who is not with family this year and not particularly motivated to go find a party to crash, I find it’s okay to take this time to be alone, practice longer yoga positions, do the 8 bags of laundry towering in my bedroom closet, mop my hallway and dance around singing unusual songs like- “It’s Not Unusual”. Plus, if it weren’t for all this time on my hands I wouldn’t have started writing stories. I’d be doing some other zany endeavor like knitting tacky scarves for all my friends in Los Angeles who wouldn’t  wear them anyway. (It’s okay friends, I don’t take it personally. No one wants to wear a scarf resembling military camo. But it was the cheapest yarn they had with the exception of neon orange and with that, I worried you might get mistaken for a road surveyor.)

I keep thinking about all those who don’t have families or friends or plants to hang out with this time of year. What does their holiday photo experience look like? There’s that guy sitting alone on one side of a teeter-totter, despondent, possibly crying. Maybe there’s a shot of a woman in an empty park holding a solitary deflated balloon. Or say, me in front of my balding Christmas tree, which I fondly named, “Tree-ee”, with its three lone ornaments and dried up, receding hairline. In my photograph, I’m looking at Tree-ee with love and a little bit of resentment. Perhaps we find a photo of a young gentleman dressed in his blue denim shirt and tan slacks, looking ashen and beaten down because of his forced double shift at Walmart. His eyes bloodshot from exhaustion, fingers bloody from gripping the pricing gun so tightly. There he slouches behind the checkout counter with sleigh bells dangling around his neck, symbolizing the chains of corporate oppression.     

During the holidays, more than the acquisition of things, human interaction and connection seem especially important. Conversely, getting the presents, the bundt cakes, the sock full of tchotchkies, can also serve as a type of validation which may hold a lot of emotional weight.

I’ve never really fancied myself an “I need stuff” kind of person. I mean, yes, there are definitely times when I’ve thought, Screw it, I’m buying myself new underwear. But that kind of whimsy only comes once every few years. As a child though, I clearly remember having the “Gotta Have It Feeling”. You know the one when you’re a kid and you see a commercial for something colorful and quirky and you get that ache in your tummy, the I-know-this-is-going-to-make-my-life-better feeling. And this is, we all know, why marketing to children is so lucrative. Let’s hear it for America!

One holiday season, in particular, my sister and I were crazed about getting a doll called a Cabbage Patch Kid. Holy Jesus did my sister and I want it. So badly. Like, I actually stayed up late one night scheming how to steal a classmate’s doll during naptime. It would have worked except for my early onset fear of going to prison.

That winter, the biggest pop radio station in Los Angeles, KIIS FM with Rick Dees in the morning! (you have to sing this last part to get the full effect) was having a contest to give a doll away each day during the month of December. The dolls were impossible to find in the stores and if you did manage to find a store not sold out, you could expect parents armed with brass knuckles, waving thousand dollar bills, offering sexual favors to any name-tag wearing, “Hi my name is Keith! Welcome to The Toy Dumpster!” clerk. My parents could neither afford this nor did they buy into the logic of beating down your fellow shopper and spending rent money just to see your kid happy for a few days.  

See? Yet another potential photo op of a miserable schmooo having to work the late shift during the holidays. You think Keith could afford one of those Cabbage Patch Kids for his little brother Toby who stuttered and who had to wear hand-me-down Osh Kosh overalls with questionable brown spots on them? No, Keith had to work that shift every day from ten am to midnight for two weeks straight, weathering pushy moms in puffy parkas and squeaky galoshes (in this scenario, we are in a rainy part of the country — I wanna say Seattle?), bullying dads and bitchy bosses trying to impress their otherwise neglected children. All vying for a cloth doll with a face that looked like it had been punched in by a stapler, hair made of yarn, yarn! a bottom that looked like an old pomegranate and pantyhose for skin.

The racket was, these kids came with birth certificates and each of their deformed bottoms was signed by the creator, Xavier Roberts. Somehow, these details gave the dolls street cred. I don’t know why a toy doll with a defamed bottom needed street cred, but this thing had truckloads of it.* I remember thinking as a kid what would happen if an adopted child got one as a present.

“Daddy, why does my doll have a birth certificate but I don’t?”   

“Shut up Darren, that goddamned doll cost me eight-hundred dollars. Love it like your own.”

I knew the only way I was getting my titts– oops typo, I meant mitts– on that doll was by winning it on the radio. Every morning from 5am-8am I listened to 102.7 KIIS FM (sing along with me!) to be the 102nd caller. And every day I would fail.

“Sorry hon, you’re caller number 9! But keep listening and playing!”

“Sorry hon, you’re caller number 44. But keep listening!”

“Sorry caller, you’re number 111, we just gave it away!”

Not only did my parents detest the fact I was monopolizing the phone every morning, but also I was subjecting them to hours of annoying radio commercials advertising Cal Worthington’s Ford dealership. We learned through his earworm of a jingle, he stayed open extra long hours and was also a great hub for wayward singles.

“If you want a car or truck, go see Cal.

If you need to save a buck, go see Cal.

If you haven’t got a date, and you like to stay up late,

Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.”

Becuase of this I take some blame for being the reason my parents ended up buying a Ford Taurus on a Tuesday at midnight. Advertising works, people. (But really mom and dad, a Taurus?)

Day after day of calling came and went and I never won the doll. However, I did learn some valuable lessons:  You can’t always get what you want as a child, and never give up on your dreams. America!

I’m kidding! What is this, Canada? Actually what ended up happening was my grandmother and parents saw how much we wanted one of those fucking glorified sock puppets and when the first night of Chanukkah rolled around, something magical awaited us under the table. Being Jewish we didn’t have a tree, so all our presents would magically appear under our orange coffee table.

While my family couldn’t afford an original Cabbage Patch doll, they did pool their resources to get us a knockoff called, “Ginny, The Cribbage Pitch Dawl”. She had yellow, jaundiced skin, pockmarks for freckles, orange pigtails made out of hemp, chicklets for eyes, hard plastic fists that could knock your teeth out, the same beaten-in facial trauma (yay!) and a signed tushie with somebody’s name. I think maybe my grandma found the nearest ballpoint pen and scribbled the word “Signature” on the right buttock, as she knew we couldn’t read her handwriting. Ginny had white lace-up, corrective nursing shoes, a plastic diaper, wore an orange and blue flowered dress, and weighed 14 pounds. I think she was stuffed with actual babies.

My sister and I loved her madly. So much so that like any good orphan, she was passed around from foster home to foster home. We had split custody and on every Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday and alternating Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I spoiled that doll rotten. I’d take naps with her and watch as her massive jug head left a crater indentation on my pillow. I took her to the park to meet new friends. It was mostly me and Ginny talking to a sock in an empty bucket but she laughed at all my Knock Knock jokes and I confided in her my love for Ricky Schroeder. I’d put her on the swings and push her chunky body back and forth so high her shoes would often fly off. This would give me the chance to put her shoes back on and tie and re-tie and re-tie and re-tie them. I was obsessed with tying laces, and would probably have been equally as happy had my parents just gotten me a pair of shoelaces and said, “Happy Chanukkah. Have at it.”

It was a wonderful few weeks and I was truly grateful to have Ginny. Plus, I was developing amazing upper body strength.

New Year’s Eve rolled around and my parents took us to a movie that night. We fell asleep on the drive home and when my parents scooped us up to go inside, Ginny was left in the car. The next morning arrived and my sister and I were jubilant. My parents slept in, so we got to watch He-Man Masters Of The Universe on television and eat Jello Pudding Pops for breakfast! I raced into the kitchen to get my pudding pop and tore open the wrapper of my frosty meal. But upon going in for my first lick, my tongue stuck immediately to the frozen Cosby treat. (Too soon?)

Maahm! Mah pung ghat ptuck to thu thudding thap!” I hollered.

My mom shuffled into the kitchen unphased. We’d been down this road before, as I had gotten my tongue stuck to other frozen objects in the past including a frozen ski pole, a winter parka zipper, and a hammer. Winters in Colorado were fun!

“Ok, Nina. You know your options here. You can either tear it off or let it melt off.” She calmly informed me.

I opted for the latter, saying, “I’ll lait fah id poo melth”, and with the popsicle weighing down my tongue like a ship’s anchor, I sat down to watch He-Man. Realizing we had left Ginny in the car, my sister and I asked if we could go down to get her. Marching down the two flights of stairs with the popsicle still stuck to my face and mouth-breathing like a miniature Darth Vader my sister and I headed to the parking lot of our apartment complex.

We arrived at the parking spot to see that Ginny was gone. And so was the rest of the car. All that remained was broken glass across the pavement. Just then the pudding pop dropped from my tongue and splattered onto the cement, right where I imagine Ginny would have been sleeping.

We were heartbroken. For exactly three days. Because, like all childhood cravings that come on quick and strong and fill your body with a compulsion, they gently fizzle away like an open liter of A&W soda since somebody forgot to close the top all the way. Thanks, neighbor Julie. That’s the last time we make root beer floats at my house. Also, our car had been stolen and that seemed like a bigger bummer to focus on.

But at Chanukkah, my family came through. They spent money they probably didn’t have to make us happy. And for that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Those kinds of cravings exist only in the realm of childhood. Now life seems to be driven more by the need for batteries and remembering to wear my bite guard. But I can look back on those holiday memories and appreciate the feeling. Just like I’m sure the lady alone with her balloon is grateful for getting to huff the helium at the end of the night. Or the lone guy on the teeter-totter doesn’t have to worry about getting hurled into outer space. (Neither of which are great Christmas memories, but who am I to judge?)

For now, I’m just as happy making sure I get that TMJ under control so I can fully enjoy my Christmas For 1- Frozen Dinner. Have you tried them? These food-ish delicacies were originally invented to have a shelf life that could outlive an atomic war. Each course is safely mapped out in its aluminum partitioned home. It’s like eating off your own 1950’s robot. Up in one corner lives a little triangle of mashed potatoes. In another section, turkey geometrically modified fits into it’s assigned box. While the old staple of green peas resides in the upper right quadrant. Sometimes if you get lucky, in the middle square you’ll find a mysterious glob called “the apple pie surprise”. It is, after all, the holidays and I love unexpected presents.

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*To further support the crazed phenom of these ugly chubbies, check out this blurb from a New YorkTimes article in 1986…

“…Customs agents seized 20,000 counterfeit Cabbage Patch dolls yesterday at three locations in Manhattan and found that the dolls might contain hazardous substances. Customs Service officials said similar imitations of the pudgy, homely dolls were already on the market and were being sold by street peddlers and small businesses….” – NY Times

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