O Christmas Tree – A Belated Christmas Tale

I finally took my Christmas tree down.  It was only a week past New Year’s – not so bad – but I am always acutely aware of how long my tree has been up after the holiday, and not because the needles are dropping faster than schoolchildren during flu season.  See, it all started when I was a kid.  It was a tradition to put up the tree every year around my mom’s birthday, since it was 2 weeks before Christmas.  She’d leave it up at least until New Year’s Day, and surely a few days to a week after.

One year that Christmas tree was still standing in the living room in all its lighted glory, falling needles be damned, in mid-February.  I was in 10th grade.  No big deal, right?

As it happened, I was asked out on a date with one of the wrestlers I cheered for.  My first “real” date where the boy picks you up in his car and takes you somewhere.  He was a senior.  I was nervous.  Then, the night of the date I realized, oh my God, our Christmas tree is still up.  I panicked.  I asked my mom to turn the tree lights off.  But I was worried.  We had a driveway that circled the back of the house to the garage and out the other way.  No one who knows us ever uses the front door, so I figured I’d just turn off the front porch lights and light the back porch – surely this boy would follow the light, right?  Wrong.  I saw him pull into the driveway and I waited in the kitchen for the knock that would never come.

Then I heard it.  Knock, knock. On the front door.  This kid had walked up, and was now standing, on our front porch in the dark.   Did he not see the porch light on the back door?  More panic.  My mom was all like, so what?  So, I let him in and prayed he wouldn’t notice the darkened tree behind the door.  If he did, and I’m sure he did (how does one not notice a Christmas tree in the middle of someone’s living room in February?), he never said a word.  That is – he never said a word to me.

So the following week in school, one of the other wrestlers on the team spotted me walking to class and called out, hey Tara! Merry Christmas!  And, although I don’t really remember the feeling of being mortified, I’m sure my 15-year-old self changed 15 shades of red.  It was perhaps the longest running joke of the year, and many of the other wrestlers enjoyed wishing me a happy holiday as well.  Thankfully I learned to laugh at myself and that moment faded away as quickly as the boy did. 

And so – having been scarred for life the object of a good laugh, I have never left my own tree up past January 10th.  Thank you wrestlers of my 10th grade year, thank you boy whose name would’ve been forgotten otherwise, thank you Mom who left the tree up too long and changed the course of my Christmas tree celebration for life. 

Well, I’m Glad THAT’s Over.

To borrow an expression of my mother’s, last week it felt like somebody laid a huge fart over the universe.  Everybody seemed to be in a pissed off mood, combative, unyielding, and inconsiderate.  I was cranky and my short fuse was working overtime.  I cursed my doctor, who insisted that I come in to see her before she will renew my medication, and then had the audacity to ask me with absolute sincerely “what brings you in today?” 

It all started when I needed to pick the kids up early on Sunday (or, otherwise, late) because our neighborhood get-together was the same day.  It seemed the ex would have to “let me know” what would work best for him and left me hanging until nearly the last possible minute – while adding that it wasn’t fair that I was taking time away from him.  (Seriously, he had 5 straight days with them, and we all know that’s no picnic.)  Now, keep in mind I did tell him he could bring them home himself at any time that worked for him.  I do not like to be left hanging and certainly don’t want anyone expecting that I’m just sitting around waiting to be a taxi service at everyone else’s convenience.

Everything else just fell on top of the clusterf#ck after that.  (Well, the one exception being the  party – which was big fun.)  The kids returned to school after what I swear was the longest winter break in the history of winter breaks, for ONE DAY.  The next day was a snow day and everyone on Facebook was all like – oh yay! A snow day!  And I’m all like, for the love of God, WHY??  Because the two of them have been on each other’s (and thus, my) last nerve since the day after Christmas and I’m feeling punchy because Owen keeps going into Ava’s room uninvited and she keeps yelling at him to “GET OUT!!!!!!!” …. After which he starts giggling, takes 2 steps out of her room, then turns around as if he’s changed his mind – and then she starts screaming again.  And I’m like – knock it off!! And feeling my blood pressure building like gas after New Year’s pork and sauerkraut.  Look out kids – she’s gonna blow!

I told Todd I cannot be held responsible for my actions if I have to go one more week like this.  And that was after he threw a fit before we were to leave for bowling, because the kids were dawdling to get ready and when asked, Ava looked up with round eyes and said something like, “so go without me” in her best GFO attitude.  Ihad already decided we were all going – just to get away from the house for a few hours and so Ava could run around with the girls there.  I threw my purse on the floor and …. Enough of this shit! I don’t have enough medication to make this okay! And then Todd ran up and kissed me.  (But, in case you’re wondering, kisses don’t fix things for me and I wanted to wallow in my pissed-offedness for a while longer.  Though he did get a reluctant smile out of me, because he can.)

Then, while I sulked in the car, I opened up my email from a prospective employer – whose test I spent hours sweating over (not to mention sniveling over the ridiculous level of difficulty) – to find that while they “appreciated my interest and efforts” they just didn’t want to hire me now, and – wait for it – invited me to reapply in 6 months.  Oh HELL no.  So now my sulk is topped with a generous pissed-off au jus. 

So we get to the bowling alley where the league teams are already warming up on their lanes, and as luck would have it (or not, as you’ll soon see) Todd’s team had the last lane before what’s supposed to be “the break” (what separates one league from another, or from ordinary bowling customers).  A few minutes later, a 60-ish woman with a high-pitched, whiney voice walks over and asks Bob’s wife (who is a spectator, record keeper, and great-grandmother who walks with a cane) and her daughter (Connie) for their table.  Connie looks at her perplexed and I don’t remember what she said, but this woman goes on to say that this is their table and that we all have to get up and move.  To which Connie said something about our team bowling right there (pointing) and the woman says “yes – then that’s your table” and points to the next table down, fully occupied by other bowlers in our league.  I watched the color change in Connie’s face before she walked the woman over to the counter to let the management handle it.  What I learned that night was that the tables are for “spectators” and that it’s “first come, first serve.”  So this woman didn’t get very far with her “request.” 

Myself being a spectator, I spent the evening watching the scene around me and felt like there were a lot of people looking around with the stink eye.  And then I felt my dander rising again.  I made the colossal mistake of telling Todd that if I have to come here and listen to people complain and make me feel ornery (well –he did ask me what was wrong) then I don’t need to come at all.  Then of course I had to tell him what happened (again – he asked!), and doesn’t he stalk off toward the front desk and raise his own stink.  Apparently, the operators didn’t create a break between the leagues, which is “poor business” (this may not be an exact quote).  So, I decided it was time to break my New Year’s resolution to quit drinking and ordered a white Russian and the night started to look a whole lot brighter!

However, before that icing on the proverbial shit cake, I have been spending time vacuuming up the stray kibble from the oldest dog – who likes to grab a mouthful from the bowl and walk around chewing it – and of course she drops pieces of it along the way because why not?  I will vacuum the floors and within a half hour she’s back and eating again.  I know she does this on purpose to make me crazy.  I’m not paranoid.   And I know she does it too because she will grab a mouthful and walk over to me where I’m sitting and stare at me, not chewing, and the food just drops. Out. Of. Her. Mouth.

And the food bowl shenanigans continued.  First, the cat went on a tear through the house early one morning and upset the entire dish full of dog food, which was scattered in 18 directions and nearly as many feet wide.  Later that same day, Sabra, who – being the skitzy, nervous dog in residence here and panicked by the sound of me shifting in my chair 4 feet away – ran past the dog dish (again, full of food) like her ass was on fire and stepped in the dish – which only scared her more – and overturned it. 

By Saturday a wave of exhaustion hit me, and I procrastinated about a trip to the grocery store because, well, the nervous tick I’ve developed from going there nearly every day for a week hasn’t yet subsided.  But it soon became apparent that if we were going to eat, I was going to have to go.  And what did I learn?  The fastest way to pissed off is a trip to the grocery store just 3 hours before an NFL playoff game featuring the home team.  The lot was full, and I noticed two large vans bearing the name of a local private boarding school.  I didn’t think much of it until I attempted to maneuver my shopping cart around a store full of people who obviously hadn’t bothered to make a shopping list and a plan.  And to make matters worse, ALL the students from the academy were international students speaking foreign languages to each other and moving like mental patients on their first trip out of the hospital, strolling the aisles like they’ve never seen so much food in one place before, and paying very little attention to the rest of us who were on a mission. 

Old ladies pushing carts in front of me would stop at the end of the aisle we were in and look around like they’d forgotten where they were.  Hell – Ieven forgot where I was – did I go to Walmart by mistake??  Except, there were no crying children (a dead giveaway).  Everyone was acting like they’d never taken a driving lesson in their lives, and had no idea about the cart-to-the right mentality.  It was worse than a Toys ‘R Us on Christmas Eve.  I found myself shamelessly thanking the angels above for letting me at least come here alone, since Owen likes to drive the cart and once took out my Achilles heel, and Ava is like the junk food salesman who won’t leave your house until you buy something.

The rest of the weekend went quietly by, and all was well with the universe on Monday.  Sort of.

I’m glad that’s over.

And…..2014 Goes Out Like a New Yizzle’s Fizzle

The end of 2014 came fast.  One day we were shopping for disposable dinnerware at Cosco about a week before Thanksgiving, wondering together whether 50 of each plate size would be enough to cover our holidays with family, and the next I’m waking up at 2:00 on January first after a 13 hour shift.  Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, love setting the table with one of our lovely china patterns (we have two – one was mine, one was Todd’s – that I jokingly refer to as one for Christian and one for Jewish holidays.  Though we had so many for Passover last year we were forced to use my china and so it will forever now be known as non-denominational china.)  Seriously though, I digress into mindless chatter.  And what’s worse is I had to re-read this paragraph to see where I was going with this because I got distracted by the sound of retching coming from our bedroom.  You know – the kind that makes you get up and (hopefully not trip over your daughter’s wayward boots in the kitchen – and she’s not even home) run toward the sound even when every fiber of your being tells you to run away from the sound.  Too late.  Another New Year’s purge brought to you by dog #1 (not Snoop, just in case you’re already confused) and the letter P.

Anyhoo, being lazy efficient this season, I thought it might be more rewarding not to have to clean up a multitude of fine china that, even if I wanted to put it in the dishwasher, could not be washed by the dishwasher in question due to a temperamental control board.  Christmas is not the time for Todd to be pulling out his toolbox and performing Dewalt surgery on a kitchen appliance as family members congregate about the island buffet.  (That word – buffet – is suddenly funny as I remember Owen jumping into the car one day and, noticing the Sirius station we were listening to, announced, “oh, it’s Jimmy Buff-ay.”)  (And, given his recent penchant for all things rap, I’m surprised he even remembers who Jimmy Buffett is.)

So, the season seemingly came on fast, and I was jonesing for Christmas music before the Thanksgiving turkey even got out of the gate.  It may not seem like a big deal, but this is the first year I was actually looking forward to the holidays and all its associated celebrations.  December 19thmarked the last day of school for the kids for 2 weeks and the first in a string of libation-infused evenings.  Nevertheless, I put in the requisite restaurant worker’s hours and plodded along, put up the tree – though this year we couldn’t cut it ourselves because there was a shortage of Frasier Firs and our favorite tree farm had pre-selected them for us this year thanks to the morons who can’t follow the simple direction of “do not cut down any tree shorter than 6 feet” and ruined it for the rest of us.  Thank you, dumb-asses. 

Ava and I baked cookies for 4 days and made cookie boxes for all our loved ones,  and filled special requests for apricot cookies for my mom and “nut balls” for my father-in-law.  I made 6 separate trips to the grocery store because I’m not organized enough to make a list and had to keep going back for that “one” item I forgot.  It’s just not fun to go there.  Like, ever. 

Holidays were low-key – kids went to their dad’s Christmas day at 3 and Todd and I enjoyed a fabulous dinner with my mom and stepdad – just the four of us, bacon-wrapped shrimp, stuffed pork chops, mashed potatoes, haricot vert, and a corner table in the [closed] restaurant bar.  We had our family holiday gathering at our house 3 days later with extended family, drinking wine, and finishing the night with a round of flashlight hide-and-seek (and I found the perfect hiding place where no one found me for over 25 minutes, posting updates on Facebook as I listened to their footsteps around me – it was awesome). 

I had to work New Year’s Eve – quite expected, as we lost another body Thanksgiving morning, so I knew there was no way my mom wouldn’t need me.  Todd stayed home sick from some bug he picked up at the bowling alley – seriously people, if you’re sick and don’t have the good sense to stay home and not pollute everyone else’s environment, then I recommend you DON’T piss and whine out loud about how sick you feel for all the world to hear.  

So, I was solo for my bartending stint on a night we were expecting over 110 people and no glass washing machine (because I love hand washing glasses).  I arrived with a headache, took 3 ibuprofen, and prepared myself for hell.  Alas, it wasn’t so horrible.  Most people who came to the bar first tipped me, even if I did transfer their tab to their table (really – do people really not know that it’s part of the unspoken agreement – you order the drink, I make the drink, you drink the drink, and I don’t inconvenience you by asking for full payment before you eat and drink some more drinks?) 

It got a little hairy around 8 when I had a full bar and drink slips lined up at the server’s end and an overflow of dirty glassware I had no place to put and no time to wash, when a nice couple I am familiar with sat down at the server’s end and ordered cocktails and he proceeded to chew my ear off about bourbons and their recent trip to upstate New York, peppering the conversation with questions he fully expected me to focus on and answer while simultaneously mixing drinks and taking more orders.  Just about the moment I felt like my mind would implode, I knocked a half-full martini glass filled with Bailey’s and vodka (my mother calls it Santa’s Balls – don’t ask) off the bar and watched it fall to the floor in slow-mo, glass shattering everywhere and sticky liquor exploding over the hardwood with no less fanfare than the table poppers.  I turned around with a hmmph! and continued my work like it didn’t happen, cursing the cocktail gods.  If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, then you have never had the joy of experiencing a dining room’s reaction to a tray full of food falling somewhere between the kitchen and the table it was intended for.  It’s not so much different when a glass falls.  It’s breathtaking, how it can silence a room for a millisecond before time marches on.  And, if you’ve experienced it enough, absolutely hilarious.

At some point shortly after this, I developed a renewed sense of humor.  A friend came in close to closing time and smelled like a very familiar variety of incenseand when I mentioned it, he about fell over the bar top laughing like a hyena.  I just started giggling and there was no going back.  Every time a coworker complained about anything, I just started cracking up.  There’s a certain joy in this too – when you’re over 40 and you just don’t give a damn if they get pissed off at you for laughing at them.  One girl got irritated with the other and apparently gave her what for (I missed the whole thing but heard about it from the bus boy) and the receiver came to me and said “so-and-so” is picking on me and I didn’t do anything…. and I just started cracking up.  When I asked the pissed-offed what she did to the picked-on, her eyes flashed with a look I can relate to on so many levels and she told me she’s sick of picked-on always “telling on” her.  She turned on her heel and a new wave of hysteria hit me. 

About 20 minutes before midnight my mom surfaced from the kitchen and made the rounds at the tables, and then dove behind the bar with me and started washing glasses.  I saw this as my opportunity for my first potty break in 7 hours and I ran.  I called Todd about 5 minutes to 12, and proceeded to restock some bar items from the wine cellar where I could actually hear him (live music in the bar = blind deafness).  And so 2015 rolled over quietly as we wished each other a Happy New Year and I love you, before I made my way back to my post where the music would continue another hour and the drinkers would keep drinking. 
And so, quietly ringing in the New Year in a room full of people and loud Jazz – quietly, because I was stone cold sober, and because the closest I got to a New Year’s kiss came at 4:10 a.m. when I was accosted by our 2 wigged out poodles, who were just glad “mom” was home to take care of “dad,” who was useless for comfort earlier during the neighborhood fireworks. 

I listened to the comedy station on Sirius on the way home that early morning to keep myself from getting empty road-induced hypnosis and was blessed with Jeff Foxworthy relaying the tale of his daughter’s PB&J cracker sandwich just as I was pulling into the driveway.  Still punch drunk from the work night, I got out of my car in the quiet stillness of my cul-d-sac and prayed no one was up at that hour to see me outside giggling like an asylum escapee.  I fixed myself my first cocktail of 2015, and crawled into bed next to my sleeping husband and read the Facebook posts until 5 a.m. when I finally went to sleep.   
**The title of this post is brought to you by Snoop D-O-double G.
***If you think some of this post is out of chronological order, I apologize.  Get over it.  This is how I roll.