Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I Didn't Order Nuts

The woman in front of me was making me nervous. She was frenetic.
She was out of her gourd. And she was -- I was convinced -- going to walk
out of the deli with my order of two dozen latkes.

I had preordered my potato pancakes. The woman in front of me hadn't. She wanted 60 of them, and she wanted them loudly. 

was going to make them myself, but I didn't want to stink," she said to
the guy behind the counter, oblivious to how this might sound to
someone who, like him, had been making latkes all day. "I'm going to
have 30 people over, and I don't want to stink from the oil."

deli was closing at 2. It was 1. I thought for sure the guy was going
to give her all the latkes he had just to get her aromatic self out of
his shop. So I was thankful when he walked out from behind the counter,
past the latkes lady, and presented me with an open tray of my fried
potato goodness. 

"Oh, those look good," the woman said. "Can I have a bite?"

"What?" I said. 

"Just a little nibble. Just a corner," she said, reaching toward my tray.

"You're kidding." 

"You're so funny. Why not? I'd let you."

The deli worker and I stood dumbstruck for a full three seconds before I finally stammered, "Um … it's cold and flu season." 

was a nice thing to say. A way for her to regain control of her
faculties, realize that she had just crossed a line and back away

Instead she shot back, "I'll wear a glove."

not a conspiracy theorist, but I do think something terribly strange is
afoot when people ask to taste your food, hold up the line at the post
office because they can't believe stamps no longer cost 37 cents or put
infants through the X-ray machine at LAX.

Some claim that this
time of year is when "inexperienced" travelers and shoppers merge with
the rest of us, causing tensions to mount and jaws to drop. But I think
something more sinister is at work. The only logical conclusion for all
this bizarre behavior is this: Once a year, some giant underground
asylum throws open its doors and releases all its patients for three
weeks. People who don't normally see sunlight, let alone other humans,
are suddenly thrust upon an unsuspecting society.

So harried
are we at this time of year that we pay little mind to these peculiar
parolees. But they're out there. Everywhere. And they haven't come in

I have scant proof of this, but I believe that these
Christmastime Crazies operate on an Amway-like referral system, wherein
if they drive you bonkers enough, you'll be forced to return with them
to their lair on Jan. 2. You'll get a nice padded cell and your
recruiter will get, I don't know, a subscription to Us Weekly.

Christmas and Hanukkah behind us, we're in the homestretch. But be
warned, these nut jobs work New Year's, too. So for the next few days,
when you run across someone trying to sign a check with a candy cane,
keep a wide berth. Maybe I'm wrong. But, really, can you afford not to
listen to me if I'm right?

And be warned: The Crazies don't
just frequent stores, they work at them, too. At the kosher bakery, the
woman behind the counter warned patrons who had been standing there for
20 minutes that we'd be waiting another 10 for the next batch of
traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnuts. In the meantime, the first four
of us in line could place our orders for whatever else we wanted.

I ordered challah.

"We don't have challah."

"I'm looking at three loaves right behind you."

"Those are chocolate chip challah."

"Then I want chocolate chip challah. And I'll take a pound of burekas."

"What kind?"

"What kind do you have?" I asked.

"Potato and mushroom," she answered.

"Give me half a pound of each."

"No. They're all potato and mushrooms," she explained.

"Then why did you ask me what kind I wanted?" I asked.

She shrugged. Then she smiled brightly, as if she had just come up with a great idea: "You can have potato and mushroom."

"Sounds great."

the meantime, a baker brought out a batch of jelly doughnuts. There
were 25 on the tray. The woman in front of me had requested 20. The man
in front of her wanted four. I felt my heart sink, realizing that I was
going to have to keep company with the Lucille Ball of kosher baking
for even longer.

But then she did something stupefying.
Bypassing the other patrons, she continued to fill my order. Challah,
burekas and one dozen doughnuts. The woman in front of me was outraged,
as well she should have been.

The nice thing to do would have
been to speak up and defer my doughnuts. And, particularly at this time
of year, I really do want to do the nice thing. But stand in that line
for any longer? I may be nice, but I'm not crazy.

And I want to keep it that way.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Season's Greetings

Don't send holiday cards. Seriously. Don't.

Unless there is
money in that envelope, or a heartfelt and handwritten message in that
card, don't bother sending it. Nobody is fooled when you mail a
preprinted card that wishes "All the best," to someone who hasn't heard
from you in a year. 

Instead of "Season's greetings," the card
might as well read, "I hope you haven't moved since last year" because
everyone knows that mailing holiday cards is less about whom you
cherish and more about who's in your address book.

"We got a holiday card from the Satterfields," I told Hubby. 

"Who are the Satterfields?" he asked.

"I don't know. They live in Alabama. Who do we know in Alabama?" 

"No one."

"Oh, wait," I said, searching my contact list. "They're your cousins. Did you know they moved to Alabama?" 

"Which cousins?"

This is why we stopped sending holiday cards.

used to relish making and sending holiday cards as a form of creative
expression. Usually, we'd make cards featuring photos of Monkey, our
stuffed animal gorilla, posing at various historic landmarks. One year,
we downloaded a picture of a random ugly family and used that as our
greetings. After Zev was born, everyone naturally expected he'd become
the star of our new holiday stationery line.

Not so.

think the thing that sent me over the bah-humbug edge was that
metastasizing trend of sending personal essays inside of greeting
cards. You know what I'm talking about: Those two- or three-page
(single-spaced) letters crisply folded inside a blank, bland greeting
card that tell you (and probably 100 other people the writer hasn't
thought about in a year) what he or she has been doing for the past 365
days. Some are funny. Some are spoofs on the form. But all of them are
unsettling in how impersonal they are.

Last year, I learned
that someone I used to have brunch with every week spent several months
recovering from a back injury. I had no idea. I felt like a jerk for
being so out of touch that a major trauma could come and go without me
knowing about it. After reading that, I thought, "Are we even
acquaintances anymore?"

I tried making that argument to Yvette
last week. Yvette has had a momentous year, culminating in brain
surgery. She figured not everyone was up to speed on her life, and
writing it all down was a good way to get the word out.

"But if
they're someone you really wanted to tell this to, wouldn't you have
told them, like, before they cut into your skull and removed a chunk of
your brain?"

"Well, a lot of people are busy," Yvette said,
citing a friend of hers who was finishing up a PhD while having
relationship issues and, if I'm remembering this correctly, going to
clown school or something like that.

There is busy, and then
there is too-busy-to-be-in-your-life busy. Can an annual essay really
maintain bonds that are so obviously fraying?

And then there is
the weirdness of getting one of those letters from someone you see all
the time. You feel like calling them and saying, "Hi. Yeah, it's me. I
just got a letter detailing everything you've done in the last year,
and – having been party to most of it – I have to say, it wasn't as
boring as you made it out to be."

So, how about saving the
postage and picking up the phone instead? It's, like, 143 times better
to hear someone's voice than to read his words. For one, you can be
sure the words shared will be unique to the two of you. Unless you're a
freak and you write out a script before you call people. In that case,
I can't help you.

Otherwise, stop typing and start dialing.
After all, there is no reason to wish a "Happy New Year" to someone you
didn't talk to during the old one.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oops! She Did It Again

The passage of time is supposed to do it. Having children is
supposed to do it. Changing party affiliations, finding a homey hobby,
discovering religion. These are all things that are supposed to do it.
Britney Spears is not supposed to do it.

And yet, she did it: Britney Spears has turned me into my mother.

"Oh, Britney!" I found myself saying out loud, into my newspaper. "Why Paris?"

was lamenting the fact that Ms. Spears, a woman I have never met, has
started hanging out with Paris Hilton. She finally sheds that dead
weight of a "husband" of hers, and she rushes into the arms of a woman
who ascended to fame with a night-vision sex video? How stupid of her.
What a waste. How … wait, what am I saying?

Mom was always
concerned about who our friends were. She is of the opinion that you
can judge a person by the company they keep. I never subscribed to that
point of view, but since I naturally gravitated toward the straight-A
types, it wasn't much of a problem. Sis, with her Florence
Nightingale-like love of all things injured and stupid, vexed Mom much
more with her choice of friends.

It used to bug me how much
importance Mom placed on who Sis' friends were. As long as Sis was
happy and staying out of trouble what difference did it make if her
friends were never going to win the Fulbright?

"It's important," she would snap back, without elaborating.

No, I thought to myself, it's not.

here I am, pouring over Web pages of Britney and Paris sharing fishnet
stockings, and thinking Brit could do better. Should do better. It's

Have I mentioned that I don't know Britney Spears?

Madonna's "Sex" book came out, I was in high school and Madonna was, by
my estimation, infallible. My mother thought the book was vulgar. I
thought it was genius – albeit in a pervy kind of way. Here was Madonna
laughing at the face of convention. Living up to the expectations of
prurient audacity a Puritan public placed on her – all while daring
that public not to like it.

And yet, when Britney flashes her
naughty bits (post babies!) for the paparazzi, I'm as aghast as a
librarian. As uppity as a book-burner. As disgusted as … as my mother.

Oops! Britney did it again.

they not make underwear on Planet Moron?" I shouted. "When she's
sticking her naked butt up against a plate glass window, is she
thinking, 'I sure hope my sons see these photos someday?' "

shake my head, wondering what is wrong with people, and I feel that
head growing a little harder, a little more judgmental, a little more
Mom-like. It freaks me out.

Time was, I saw a diverse friend
base as a sign of a truly loving person, a big-tent heart that had as
much room for the friend with the cabin in Big Bear as for the guy
who'd track you down at that cabin to ask you to post bail.

don't know how it happened, this transformation. I don't know how I
went from thinking about people as individuals to thinking about them
as the sum total of their friends. But it's happened. And I fear it's
taking over me: I mean, what was Lane Garrison doing in a car with
teenagers, anyway? He's 26!

I don't know if I'll ever shake
this choose-your-friends-wisely mentality. But one thing is clear: I
shouldn't spend any more time thinking about Britney Spears. She's bad

At least, that's what my mom would say.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

They say 'tis better to give than to receive. That's not true, of
course. Unless what's being given is a TB blanket or a venereal
disease, 'tis always better to get as much as your stubby little arms
can carry. Especially this time of year, when all your relatives and
friends are socially obligated to buy you things.

But there is
an upside to giving that getting can't match: the esteem you receive
from imparting a well-purchased present. Getting somebody something
that they really wanted shows that you understand that person. That you
care about what's going on in his heart and mind. That you pick up the
buried cues in her most casual conversation. Trouble is, getting the
right gift means you have to actually understand, care and listen to
the people around you. 

Who has time for that?

why this Hanukkah, I propose that all my friends update their
Amazon.com wish lists. (Brill, sweetie, you're going to have to start
one. A little bird told me you want a soldering iron, but I am not
about to get you an implement of destruction unless I have proof that
that bird isn't putting me on.)

An Amazon.com wish list tells
your friends exactly what you want and how much you want it. And it
lends specificity to the vague concepts of you that your friends have.
I know, for instance, that Jean loves to knit. But I don't know the
first thing about choosing a knitting book. Now, thanks to her Amazon
wish list, I don't need to take time out of my schedule of being
fabulous to find out.

And what's more, I know without a doubt
that Jean is going to love her present. Why wouldn't she? She picked it
out. And all the love she has for her present will, naturally, spill
over to me – making me look and feel absolutely glorious in her eyes
(and the eyes of anyone else in the room when she opens her present).

old-fashioned types out there will tell you that buying stuff off of
registries and wish lists is impersonal. That searching for and finding
the perfect trinket – the gift your recipient hadn't already thought of
– shows you really care. These are the same people who tell children,
"The best presents are the ones you make yourselves." Ever get a
macaroni necklace and think, "That's just the accessory I needed to
spruce up my wardrobe"? I didn't think so. Don't listen to those
people. They're delusional. They're archaic. They're Lisa Bee's

"Every year I tell my family, 'Buy me stuff from my
Amazon wish list, and I'll rejoice.' And every year I get, like, 'Top
Gun,' " Lisa Bee IM'd me.

I took a look at her wish list. She
has 193 items. It goes on for eight pages. I nearly called her mother.
No one, ever, has the right to say Lisa Bee is hard to shop for. Ever.

wish list is not just a collection of things people want, it's a view
inside their psyches and their ever-expanding interests. Lisa Bee, for
instance, added some books about the Middle East to her list shortly
after a group of us got into a big discussion about the Iraq war and
the state of affairs in Israel. (Guess what you're getting this year,
Lisa Bee.)

And if you take a look at my wish list you'll find …
oh. Wait. My Amazon wish list contains two items, one of which is my
husband's novel. Hmm. Not a very helpful road map for potential
gift-givers, is it? I've been so busy thinking of others – well, how
others will perceive me once I present them with the perfect present –
that I've completely neglected to update my own requests.

matter. If someone really cares, they won't need an Amazon wish list to
tell them what to get me. But the rest of you, get typing. I don't have
the time necessary to put into buying thoughtful gifts unless you help
me look like I've taken the time to be particularly thoughtful. So get to it!

sense of my generosity and consideration depends on it.