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holiday jeers
the weather inside is frightful
by alicia coleman

"Weeeelllll, if you won’t wear slacks, then you must iron your jeans before putting them on.”

Um … what your jeans? There are some things, you’re quite sure, that never need ironing. And jeans, it goes without saying, are one of them.

You hem and haw, and mock your much too prim-and-proper mother for ironing everything from bed-sheets to, ahem, underwear, but agree nonetheless to don the gray woolen pants. And you’re feeling quite proud and mature for doing so and for even agreeing to accompany her to this wake, er, party in the first place. (After all, aren’t you missing “Pop Stars” for this?) But after throwing the last of the evening’s temper tantrums, you agree to stop acting like a thirteen year old and just be thankful that you’re not wearing pressed denim. Again.

You check the invitation once more, hoping that the letters next to “FROM” have magically changed to spell out “Jon Stewart.” No such luck. That scratchy, scraggly, “gotta pen one last note before this earthquake gets the better of me” hand-writing gives it all away. An old person wrote it. And that same old person is hosting the Christmas party. And where there is one old person, there are bound to be other Cocoon-loving, castanetta-playing, Matlock-watching cohorts on the scene.

Now don’t get yourself wrong. You don’t hate old people. You really don’t. Why just the other day – or was that a few years ago? This young mind of yours is always failing you – you were sitting on the porch, sweet tea in hand, listening to your great aunt tell you about the time she found your mother plastering (with slimy mud, no less) the walls. “Really?,” you snort. Mom? The same one who vacuums the garage (that’s right, the garage) each week? The one who insists on doing laundry every day even though everything is already clean and, of course, pressed?

See. You do like old. You like the kind of old that sits with you on a tattered green sofa for hours while milling over atlas collections and munching on crisp little ginger snaps. The kind that wears bright “oh my, should you be wearing that at your age?” red suits and belts out show tunes on command. Even the kind that makes fun of you for listening to complaint rock – gosh, grandma, that is soooo 1998 – and wearing way too much black (even though, you insist, it is the new black!)

You just don’t like the one that greets you at the door. This one is wearing a Christmas sweater – complete with fuzzy reindeer and rattling bells – and standing at the foot of a staircase, the top of which holds a closet promising more of the same Jackie Smith holiday collection wear. You scan the room only to find replicas of the first. Oy. Wishing you had your mother’s tact and charm, you try desperately to think of something to say that will be pleasant and cordial yet mundane enough to allow for a quick get-away if necessary. You realize you don’t have your mother’s tact and charm.

Next thing you know, you’re being dragged by the arm – hey, this is cashmere! – all over the first floor and shown a baker’s dozen worth of needlepoints, each one (naturally) more bitchin’ than the last. Your host revisits each framed pattern with the ferocity of an OCD patient, pointing out the red stitching in this one only to come back to it, seconds later, to point out the red stitching in it. You wonder if, after having completed this round of repetitions, you’ll be freed from your nightly ritual of checking – and then rechecking – the alarm clock, followed by a quick assessment of the door’s locks. Oh, who are you kidding? It’s always that final, and fourteenth, trip to the foyer that confirms the security of the entrance.

Realizing that if you’re going to do anything repetitively it will be to drink, you make a bee-line for the smorgasbord table. And to your surprise, snuggled between the stewing, sticky meatballs and hopelessly undercooked meat platter (chicken tar-tar, anyone?), you spot a devilishly handsome fella at least one third the age of the remaining guests. Aha! (And, no, that is not an Oprah “aha” moment. And would she please stop copyrighting material that belongs to the public at large?!) The evening seems like it might pick up. Or perhaps you will? Ha ha ha. Aren’t you clever?, you disgustingly mutter to yourself.

Quick! Think of something funny. Something sharp and memorable, something he might tell his friends in describing this “rather lovely little lady” he met the other night. Oh, come on now. Come up with something to distract attention from your plain-jane outfit and rumpled shirt – damn it, you knew you should have taken your mother up on that one last ironing offer. Ugh! Still blank. And still without a witticism or redeeming quality, other than your shoes, to your appearance tonight. Hmmm. Hopefully he’s a foot man.

Your mother, gaily chatting up the herd of octogenarian suitors she’s attracted, sees you deep in machinations and rolls her eyes in disapproval of your potential target, decked out in thick Woody Allen eyeglass frames and crinkled denim. Will she never get the geeky-by-choice type? Rather than challenge her stare, you chalk up the missed opportunity to yet another party failure. It’s just as well, Casanova. You’ve got bread crumbs in your hair (god knows why) and an un-tucked something or other somewhere. But that line – the one that you still hadn’t come up with – that would have been golden.

So where does this leave you? You’re surrounded by oldies and curdling egg- nog but none of the comforts – like a nice Bing Crosby crooning from an heirloom record player – that one would normally find in her grandparents’ home. You cross your fingers and silently pray that the hands on your watch will magically jump forward to save you from this teeth-grinding boredom. Nothing. You click your heels three times and hope that the guy who created Ginger also concocted an ethereal time machine, accessible to all upon completion of the appropriate command. But the heels don’t work. Neither do any of the usual magical spells. Oh, why couldn’t you have been transported to a friend’s house, where the holidays are celebrated with a spirited round of Balderdash and a kvetch session on how hard it is to find a nice, available Jewish boy these days? Or even to the nosebleed section of an indoor, fume-filled (Sunday, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!) monster truck rally? You’d gladly take a dose of carbon monoxide over the soporific stories about little Jimmy’s seedling project. (Didn’t Mendel already take care of that one?)

Still in place, you decide to stop acting like the brat that you are and make the best of the situation. You’ll adopt the holiday spirit, and be nice and cheerful and talkative. All you have to do is first stop laughing like an idiot about how good deeds make the baby Jesus smile. You are so going to hell. You slap on a smile and put your best foot – thank god for the shoes – forward and, charitably (aren’t you a do-gooder?), approach the little old lady standing in the corner, absent-mindedly twirling the swizzle stick in her 80-proof something or other. You introduce yourself. She does the same. And then, rather unexpectedly, she puts on a great fifteen-minute show, making you laugh and snort and turn red in the face until all of a sudden you’re the embarrassment in the middle of the party.

You raise a glass to her, cheer on her fabulous sense of humor, and toast, “to being a hell of a lot more fun than, you know, the others” while pointing to the rest of the geritol crowd.

“The others?,” she says with raised eyebrow.

Oy. Foiled again.


more about alicia coleman


adam kraemer
12.26.01 @ 1:31p

I'm a nice, available Jewish boy.

Great; now I'm advertizing on other people's columns.

matt morin
12.26.01 @ 3:16p

Adam, hey, take it where you can get it.

Allegra, my parents must have been at that party.

It's somewhat disconcerting, as I discovered this year over the holidays, to find out your parents are those people.

alicia coleman
12.26.01 @ 6:26p

yeah, matt, we are that old now.

and, adam, as long as the advertising comes cheap, bring it on

adam kraemer
12.27.01 @ 9:27a

Actually, my parents' friends were pretty cool at their Christmas party, though the people who threw the bash were very surprised that all of the beer was gone by midnight.

russ carr
12.27.01 @ 10:36p

Adam, weren't you a character in A.I.? Y'know, "Gigolo Jew"?

mike julianelle
12.28.01 @ 9:08a

Holy mackerel, Russ!!


tracey kelley
12.28.01 @ 2:05p

I always like the nodding and smiling part. I'm really good at that. Just nod and smile while Aunt Bertha tells you - again - about her colitis and what gives her gas. It makes her feel good to talk and you won't remember it later while you're eating cheese and broccoli. Honest.

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