We are Jews, but not in the religious sense. More in the sense that if a new Nazi party were ever to arise in America, chances are it wouldn’t matter much to them that we rarely if ever mentioned God in my home. We celebrate Christmas, because that’s when we are out of school and Christmas is in many ways, a secular, American holiday. Santa did not die on any cross, my father explains. I have no earthly idea what he is talking about, but it makes me uneasy. We do not have a Christmas tree, or decorations. You have to draw the line somewhere and that line is drawn by my parents firmly where things seem to become a hassle. Christmas morning my Mother descends the stairs in a bathrobe that can no longer recall the color it once was, the first cigarette of the day already dangling from the corner of her mouth. She is carrying a wicker laundry basket of presents for my brother and me. My father is at the Hospital seeing patients, something he volunteers for every year so the Christian Doctors can be home with their kids. My brother suggests we wait for my Father to come home before we open any presents, an idea I hate, as he will probably not be home until late afternoon, but agree with anyway. “Suit yourself,” says my mom, which I don’t think she would have said if any of the gifts was a puppy I’d asked for.
I am onstage, alone in a spotlight, holding a menorah. I have been called to explain Hanukah to the school during the assembly directly before we are released for the Christmas Vacation. Hanukah is something I myself had scant knowledge of three days ago, and in the intervening time I have learned little. It has something to do with oil burning for a far longer time than is physically possible, which we symbolize by burning a series of candles over the course of several days all of which we let burn out, which makes no sense. In addition, apparently during this holiday, Jews teach their children to gamble, which suggests some of the unpleasant things the other children say may be true. I need to go to the bathroom very, very, very badly, which is unfortunate, as it’s quite clear I will be on the stage in this spotlight for the rest of eternity, probably because I am bad.
My mother and I stand in the kitchen. Our dog, Frodo, the most embarrassing name the early seventies ever gave a dog, is on the kitchen table straddling about three quarters of a disturbingly mauled roast Turkey. The look of guilt in her eyes is the most real thing I have ever observed in my ten years on the planet. My mother shoes the dog off the table and calmly begins to carve what remains of the bird. “If you tell anyone,” she says around her cigarette “I’ll certainly kill you.”
It occurs to me for the very first time that standing up in front of the school and explaining Chanukah at the Christmas Break assembly is probably not any sort of legal requirement. I ask my Mother if I have to, and she says “no”. I tell my teacher I’m not going to do it anymore and she says “Okay”. On the off chance that some sort of crossed wires prevented the Principal from knowing that I would no longer be explaining Chanukah, I make a special trip and tell him. He says “fine”. I sit in the audience, waiting to see who my replacement will be. In fact, no one explains Chanukah to the children this year.
NEW YEARS EVE 1973/74
I have determined that this year I will stay up to see the New Year in. I am asleep by 8:45, a full half hour before my usual bedtime.
About half way through the meal, I take a quick bathroom break. Before returning to the table, a put a ping-pong ball into my mouth. No one notices my silence or that I have stopped eating during the fifteen minutes I patiently wait to distance myself from my bathroom break. Then, during a brief lull in conversation, I push the ping-pong ball out of my mouth. The utter silence is broken only by the sound the ping-pong ball makes each time it hits the table, until it finally lands in the gravy boat. A few of my relatives thought it was funny. The really drunk ones.
Frankie Silverman explains Chanukah during the assembly directly before we are released for Christmas Break. I cannot believe how much I hate him.
I wanted a denim Jacket and Adidas. My father informed me that desiring status symbols was bad enough, but getting them would make me an ‘enemy of the people’. He may well have been kidding, but I got a copy of ‘Lord of the Rings’.
We begin an annual tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt and Uncles house. They are perhaps the only truly fabulously wealthy people I will ever meet. They live in a house designed by a well-known modern architect from whom they must obtain written permission before they purchase anything that could change the appearance of the house. This includes furniture, towels, artwork and the brace of architect approved English Sheepdogs on which they lavish the unconditional love they withhold from their children on principal. While there are many pictures of these children, all have been taken by well-known photographers. My Aunt and Uncle, a ‘tightly wound’ couple with ‘issues’ are well known for boozy, vicious stories about their friends, a supernatural ability to lower room temperature with their eyes and candied yams.
I have set myself a willpower goal. When I open my last present, no matter what or how much I have received, I WILL NOT allow a voice in my head to say “What, that’s all?” As I open my last present, a voice in my head says “What, that’s all?”
NEW YEARS 1978/79
We are at a charming hotel in Vermont. During the course of the New Year’s Eve party my parents attended, an elderly friend of theirs fell out the back of a local farmer’s Pick Up Truck. The details are sketchy, but it involved some fairly large amounts of liquor, a punctured and collapsed lung and a trip to the emergency room. Consequently, my parents returned to the hotel around five A.M. My brother and I rose at six, and proceeded to spend the next sixteen hours sitting in the lobby waiting for them to wake up. My new years resolution was that next year I would spend New Year’s Eve with other teens, some of whom would be girls.
NEW YEARS 1979/80
There are no girls at this party.
This is the first Thanksgiving since my Aunt’s therapist advised she never under any circumstances speak with or think of my Father ever, ever, ever again, an event he greeted with a profound lack of interest. I will miss the ugly stories and candied yams.
NEW YEARS 1982/83
No amount of Liquor can alter the fact that there are no girls at this party.
NEW YEARS 1983/84
Now a college student, there at finally girls at party I attend. I’m kidding, I’m home on break and I spend New Year’s alone. Some alignment of the planets seems to have made me completely immune to booze, no matter how much I consume. This only deepens the mystery when at 3:00 in the morning I am discovered by my father singing the choral section of “Carmina Burana” into our toilet. We agree that the acoustics are uncommonly good.
The holidays are a difficult time to lose weight.
The Holidays are a difficult time to cut down on the binge drinking.
Someone should tell you that once you ‘take up’ Crack it’s a really, really hard habit to break, especially around the holidays.
Some bizarre family algorithm involving the addition of step families, newlyweds and dates has landed me at the Kids Table, someplace I have not been since I was six. Finally, a Thanksgiving where I am truly thankful.
I officially give up on silencing the voice in my head that says “What, that’s all?” when I open my last gift, secretly certain that letting go of the desire to make it stop, will, in fact, make it stop. As I open my last gift, a voice in my head says “What, that’s all?”
NEW YEARS 1992/93
OH MY GOD, YOU’D THINK GETTING MARRIED WOULD HAVE MEANT THAT THERE’D BE AT LEAST ONE GIRL AT MY NEW YEARS PARTY!
My daughter’s first Christmas. We do the tree, the lights, the crèche, The wife and I spend literally all night assembling various baby toys and somehow manage to avoid a screeching, divorce inducing, sleep deprived fight, surely a Christmas miracle. I wake up early to apply a dozen nicotine patches so that there is no chance I will be smoking on Christmas day. Somehow during all this it has not occurred to me even once that a six month old has no idea whatsoever that all the odd shit you’ve been up to is in any way different from any of the odd shit you’re always up to. Everything you do is odd shit to her.
I am discovered naked and unconscious in the sewers of Paris, clutching a one armed “Tickle me Elmo”. No one can explain it, least of all me.
The wife decides that since our daughter is half Jewish we should celebrate Chanukah. I try to explain to her that under Jewish law, since she isn’t Jewish, neither is our daughter. No dice. She asks me to explain Chanukah. I tell her it has something to do with the difference between the rates at which oil and candles burn and that there is gambling.
A few months after an intriguing article in ‘Wired’ magazine describes the soon to be released ‘Furby’ as a key moment in the development of artificial intelligence, I am found naked and unconscious in the sewers of Paris with a Furby in an embarrassing place. No one is more confused than I.
NEW YEARS 1998/99
While there are many women at this party, I am unable to find my wife. I later discover I have been at the wrong party.
NEW YEARS 1999/2000
The original plan was to party like it was 1999, but an article in ‘Wired’ convinced me that all computer activity would cease at midnight and that this might involve airplanes falling out of the sky. I spend New Years in my basement surrounded by canned water. I make a New Year’s resolution to stop paying reading ‘Wired’.
I seem to have another daughter, and this one really likes to cry. I think I have made a toast about all the things I am thankful for, but I can’t hear anything except my new daughter howling, even inside my own head, which I think is a physical impossibility owing to the nature of vibration. I briefly wonder if spitting a ping-pong ball into the gravy boat might lighten the mood.
Both my daughters are now old enough to really appreciate all we have done to make their holidays a wonderful experience. I am surrounded by love, filled with the warm glow of family. In addition, several new medications have become available that seem to make things the way they are supposed to be. As I unwrap my last present, a voice in my head says “What, that’s all?” but it seems to be saying it from behind a vast mountain of cotton balls.
Not only do the fucking new medications not work any more, I seem to be getting little electric shocks from EVERYTHING I TOUCH! In addition, the voice in my head no longer waits for me to unwrap my last present and seems to have some very specific instructions about how wearing a monocle would make Lucy Lawless really like me.
“Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
A Christian wrote this song.
Of that I’m certain. I’ll tell you what I’M going to ‘make out of clay’. A Golem. That’s what. And then I’ll bring him to life and see what kind of Holiday Season we get.
For reasons I cannot begin to understand, I am compelled to insist my youngest daughter explain Chanukah at her school assembly. She asks for help and I tell her this ‘festival of lights’ symbolizes the ‘Hebrew Peoples’ belief that you don’t have to pay your electric bill, the Lord will keep the lights on, but only if you chase all the ‘pigs’ the ‘Macabees’ left behind out of your ‘temple’, and that if she does a good enough job at assembly, they will let her skip school for the Jewish holiday of ‘suspension’.
The kids are now old enough that I no longer spend all night Christmas Eve assembling toys, making me an unbearable crank on Christmas morning. Instead I stay up all night depackaging toys that have been wired, taped and glued into their multiply layered plastic and cardboard containers by Chinese slaves whose only joy is imaging the torn and bloodied hands of American fathers weeping with rage at 3:00 AM Christmas morning.
NEW YEARS 2008/2009
I am a married man with two daughters. There should be at very least one female at this damn party. I cannot recall how I even ended up in this bar. Oh! Wait! Women! Very tall, ultra glamorous… never mind.
During a long winded Thanksgiving toast, I somehow end up publicly vowing that by the time I turn Fifty I will be a famous writer, not gaining weight sitting at the same desk I’ve sat at for fifteen years in a dead end job with no hope of advancement where they do not appreciate me. Embarrassed by the chilling silence as I raise my glass, I take a quick bathroom break. Before returning to the table, I put a ping-pong ball into my mouth. No one notices my silence or that I have stopped eating during the fifteen minutes I patiently wait to distance myself from my bathroom break. Then, during a brief lull in conversation, I unexpectedly hiccup and suck the ball deep into the back of my throat. I wake up in an emergency room to the familiar sound of doctors laughing.
Despite the fact I am fifty, unemployed and days away from my benefits running out, I am thankful because I have my health. The next day I discover that the infuriated itching I experienced all through dinner was not as I initially expected a symptom of sublimated horror and despair, but the onset of Shingles.
I open my final gift, and at last, at last, there is no voice in my head. Because my gift is perfect. It is nothing I have ever imagined and everything I have ever needed. An antique, the crumbling original packaging is labeled ‘The Hillbilly Pipe’. It is a beautiful, hand crafted, wooden pipe, the bowl made in the shape of a toilet. I am transfixed with joy, and cannot help imagining myself running down our snow banked street in my underwear, my new present clenched in my teeth, shrieking almost unintelligibly “Look, neighbors! Look! Behold my Hillbilly pipe!” I can feel the cold, the near burn of the ice beneath my bare feet, I can see my breath steaming in the air! Seemingly without transition, I wake up in an emergency room to the familiar sound of doctors laughing and the information that I ‘may’ have had ‘some sort’ of ‘small stroke’.
There are no girls at this Kibbutz, but for places to inexplicably wind up naked and unconscious, it sure as hell beats the sewers of Paris. I should be able to get home in time for Christmas. I have already selected an appropriately tattered bathrobe and purchased a wicker laundry basket.