I saw the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes™”

What I saw: the mother-fucking Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes™ at the god-damned legendary Radio City Music Hall, at 6th Avenue and West 50th Street, near Rockefeller Center in New York City.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson, baked bread, looked at Twitter, did some cussing, showered, put on a lot of clothes, spent too much time getting my shit together, drove to town, parked, walked to the train station cursing the cold-as-shit afternoon, bought a fucking round trip off-peak ticket, got on train, wandered up and down the cars looking for a seat that faced the right fucking way, got sat on by a guy much bigger than me at White Plains. 

Mostly they looked at their phones

What I wore: gray wool tights (because it was that cold), tan Boden plaid skirt, black Ibex fancy-ass wool top, gray cardigan, gray cable knit hat made for me by my friend R., pearl earrings, brown cashmere scarf with fringe that makes it look just like kelp, long parka, two pairs of mittens. 
Get used to the riot gear, America
Fascism is here!

Who went with me
: the venue appeared full from our vantage point, and has a capacity of about 6,000. Which is a fuck-ton of people. And they do up to six shows a day. That is a shit-load of high kicks. 


How I got tickets: I attended as the guest of a very old friend and her girlfriend, who was aware that I can be a smartass but invited me to partake of this treacly, over-produced Christmastravaganza anyway. Oh, Gee, Gosh, I hope she doesn’t read this!

Get ready to empty your pockets and
show them the inside of your purse

Why I saw this show: in the spirit of every drunken bull’s pizzle who ever said, “Here, hold my beer,” I thought I’d give it a try.

Where I sat: Orchestra Row J, seat 413. 

It is a Spectacular

Things that were sad: after the show, we were shooed out of the theater by the beleaguered broom-wielding schmucks responsible for the impossible task of sweeping up the single layer of popped popcorn distributed in an even layer of crunchy goodness from row AA to W and across all seven sections before such time as the arrival of the next audience, a mere hour hence.

Things that were funny:  the show opened with dueling organists, singing ushers, and a velvety brown Spandex and tiny-suitcoated slutty Reindeer kick line.  My Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-worshipping inner child was agog. Next came Santa Claus, starring in a 3D infomercial featuring the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a de-populated, traffic-free computer-generated New York City. Dancing bears provided a welcome break from the onslaught of bimbombatons, the embodiment of robotic precision of three dozen perfectly trim, strong, young identical women known as the Rockettes™. But then again, the next number was the Toy Soldiers which might be the only reason some people drag their ass to the city once a year to see this show. After that, the marketing circus resumes on a sightseeing bus where we were able to get accurate counts of the bimbomatons. There are 36.  No mountains of garbage on the streets of this NYC! Just shoppers and sightseers! Next, there are skaters in a cartoon-version Central Park, utterly alone and looking like a surreal pair of Twilight Zone characters, living dolls dropped into an empty diorama with a sheet of genuine plastic ice which moments ago was crowded with stiff-legged, screaming zombie skaters who were swept away with the sweep of a petulant giant child’s hand, along with the trash mountains and street people dressed in gowns made of plastic shopping bags.  
The show whisks us next to the terrifying Hellscape of an army of an infinity of jolly dancing Santas.  Then there is a rag doll production number that I mostly remember for the irregularly striped red and white tights on the Rockettes, their menacing orange plastic hair-helmets, and the alphabet blocks which magically spelled “MERRY XMAS” or “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN” or some fucking thing when they turned them around. I think. After that, terrifying flying transparent beachball snowflake drones were unleashed from the orchestra pit, menacing the audience and reminding me that we are all Prisoners now. Lastly, the Birth of Jesus Merry Fucking Christmas Extremely Religious Nativity Tableau, complete with a floating angel, a Vegas-style neon Star of Rocking Bethlehem and fake people of “The Orient,”  but most of all, three real-as-life fucking camels and a donkey that were unnerving and sad and also the realest damned things in the whole show. I wonder how often they shit on the stage.

The orchestra platform can rise up
to stage height

Things that were not funny: there was a woman behind me who sang along tunelessly to everything she knew. It didn’t matter. The show was still fun, despite my elitist desire to despise it all with every atom of my being.

Something I ate: arctic char and tostones at an excellent Cuban/Chinese place  called Calle Dao we found afterwards on W 39th.


What it is: an institution, since 1933. 

Who should see it: people who know that the true meaning of Christmas is maximizing corporate profits with banal fairytales starring enslaved dwarves and magical white people, stoners, fans of the materialistic clay-brained Christian patriarchal white supremacy, sentimentalists, fat-kidneyed Republican rascals in matching American flag Christmas sweaters, my five-year-old-self, nostalgic bacon-fed knaves, knotty-pated shopped-out fools, and the last three families left in America for whom Santa is not yet corny bunkum. 

Add caption

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545; min-height: 14.0px}

What I saw on the way home: I had to run and made the train with only a couple of minutes to spare, and realized when I stood up to get off an hour later that I had tweaked my knee. 


I had it wrong

What I saw: it was dark, and my alarm hadn’t gone off yet. The cat stretched out along the length of my body with his two front paws pressed gently on my chin. I was up early to drive the Bacon Provider to the train.

Late fall dawn, Bedhead Hills

What I did beforehand: dreamed about fence-building, and getting knocked over by an eagle.

What I wore: tiger t-shirt (“I just chugged four beers!”), TomboyX flannel jammies pants, insulated waterproof Irish boots, big parka, fingerless mittens.


Who went with me: my husband of thirty years. 

How I got a ticket: the last speeding ticket I got was about ten years ago. I was driving home from a part-time community college teaching job and failed to check my speed down a big hill past a familiar speed trap. Or maybe it was a couple of years after that, on 520 westbound, with the Graduate in the car. That time I was thinking about how bad things were, but also how much worse they could get. About this I was not wrong.

Why I saw this show: every minute I spend driving someone somewhere is another minute I don’t spend wondering why I’m here.

Where I sat: behind the wheel, listening to Tommy Wieringa’s “These are the Names.”

Mom & Dad, 1970s Xmas

Things that were funny:
the other day when we got our Xmas tree, I started thinking, as I do every year, about my mother’s thing about Christmas. Her name was Sarah, and she would have been 76 today. When I call my brothers on Christmas, they will say, “Sarah Christmas!” to me. My cousins, my mother’s sister Mary’s kids, may text me, “Sarah Christmas,” too.

According to my Aunt Mary, and both of her kids and both of my brothers, the reason we say “Sarah Christmas” is because when Mary was only 3 or 4, she heard people saying “Merry Christmas,” and understood it to mean, “Mary Christmas.” And she felt, in fairness, people should also say, “Sarah Christmas.” I checked with Mary and both of her kids and both of my brothers about this story just the other day. Because, you see, I was writing down why we say, “Sarah Christmas,” and somehow I knew the story differently.

The way I understood it, it was my mother who wanted people to say “Sarah Christmas,” not Mary. It was my mother who wanted it, because she was jealous of her younger sister. 

Now, I have always thought this, as far back as I can remember. And I think I am wrong about this. Mary is still sharp as ever, and she remembers. Both her kids remember. And both of my brothers.

So, why did I remember it wrong? Did I learn it wrong? Or, was it that I was too distracted and impatient to listen to the story when I was little, and I never bothered to get it right? Or, did my mother tell me that in secret? Or, did I invent that version, to fit my outlook on my mother?

Mary on the left, Sarah on the right, with their Daddy

Things that were sad:
I will never really know why I got it wrong. 

Something I ate: a mix of Bob’s Red Mill Honey Oat Granola and Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes with Stonyfield Farm organic 1% milk, with a large spoon.

What it is: something I will not argue I am right about, nor is it something I will revise my thinking about. It is, as they say, what it is.


Who should say it: all of us. We should all say “Sarah Christmas.” 

Things that were not funny: on the way to town, we saw a black car sitting on the shoulder of the road. Sometimes the local police wait for speeders under the nearby bridge, so I thought maybe it was just that. 

What I saw on the way home: I got a better look at it on my way back. The ground was all torn up from the skid, and its front bumper was gone. It had spun and wound up perpendicular to the road. Only the dense brush had held it back from falling backwards into a ravine.


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545; min-height: 14.0px} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545; min-height: 15.0px}

I picked one.

What I saw: the trees that were left.

What I did beforehand: the last few years we lived in the country and found places to cut our own Christmas tree. It was never a matter of looking them up; there would be hand-lettered sandwich boards on the side of the road. 

This year, the Bacon Provider has been traveling so much I was worried we’ wouldn’t find time to get one together. 

I asked Google. It offered Hartsdale, NY and Danbury, CT, both of which stretch the definition of “near.” I revisited the garden center mystery, which I have  tried to solve almost monthly since moving here; where do my neighbors buy plants, I ask. I found one a bit over four miles away, on a road I haven’t driven. I called.

“Do you have Christmas trees?” I asked.
“Yes, we still have some left,” a woman replied. “But all of the 11 foot ones are gone. We only have the 9 foot and 7 foot trees.”
“What kind are they?”
“What are your hours?” 
“9 to 5.”

Something I ate: cereal.

What I wore: jeans. Waterproof boots. My biggest puff coat. 

Why I saw this show: my mother’s love of archly tasteful Christmas decorations and slavish devotion to giving us what we asked for color my every Christmas impulse.  


Who went with me: the Bacon Provider was delighted to go. We took the truck. It seemed grumpy about starting, because of the cold. The steering wheel squeaked familiarly as steered out of the driveway. We talked about when we will get a new truck. 

How I chose: I didn’t know where to park since ours was the only vehicle. We were greeted by a guy in work gloves who seemed relieved to have a customer. He apologized for how few trees they had left.
“We only need one,” I said, though on the way over we had discussed the possibility of getting two.


Things that were funny: the Bacon Provider always wants a perfect tree, and will gladly spend 20 minutes considering every angle of every tree available, including the ones that are clearly too tall. He and the guy who worked there stood trees up for me to look at. After the fifth tree I went back to the first one. 

“This one is the best,” I said. I didn’t mean it. I was bored. All trees are somewhat imperfect. As long as the trunk is reasonably straight, you can find a presentable side.

I opened the tailgate of the truck and went to look at wreaths.  

Things that were sad: another couple arrived, he a tall, dark-haired capitalist in a navy cashmere overcoat, she a gently aging blond trophy in a quilted Barbour jacket. They considered whether the enormous 48” wreath was the right size for what they needed. I tried not to smirk. A very pale, older woman came out and caught the capitalist’s wife’s eye. 
“Oh, hello!” said the capitalist’s wife. “So nice to see you. How are you?”
“Not well,” began the older woman. “I lost my son.” Tears poured from her eyes. 
The capitalist’s wife hugged her. 

I turned to the little live trees and engaged the attention of a third employee. 
“Do you have a matching pair in this size?” I asked. 
“Yes, we do.”
“Do you know how big they will get? If I put them in the ground, I need to know how tall they will be. You, know, eventually.”

Things that were not funny: when we went inside to pay, there was a stack of photos of the dead son. He appeared to have been in his early 40s. The sad, older woman came in. I told her how sorry I was. She told me he had run the business, and had done all the ordering. Then, he had gotten sick, but not very sick. And then, he had died. Just in a matter of days. The whole family had had to come and pitch in. She said everything felt like a dream.

Where I sat: I had driven there. The Bacon Provider drove back. I had to tell him which way to turn. I said that I thought that Christmas would be forever sad and ruined for the family that owned that garden center.

What it is: my mother’s birthday is 9 days before Christmas, and so, though she died in April, for me the holiday season is as much about grieving her as anything else.  


Who should see it: we haven’t started decorating it yet.

Schwartz moves in for his inspection

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545; min-height: 14.0px}

What I saw on the way home: the Bedhead Hills Office of Gravel and Thoroughfares regraded the dirt road on the way to our house, but I realized that they left many of the potholes intact. They function like speed bumps.


It’s the week between Xmas and New Year’s, and I have some of my kids home but not all. Mostly, we’re just cooking, taking out the trash, and doing dishes. Though the tree is still up, I washed and put away the red and green tablecloth today. It has pinecones on it, flecked with gold, and is big enough for my big dining room table; it was my mother’s. In my current state it seems unlikely I would ever buy a holiday tablecloth.
My mother really loved Christmas. Not in a religious way, but in her own joyous, restrained perfectionism. She chose her trees for their correct shape and symmetry, neither too tall nor too bushy, and decorated them according to a strict sequence of steps that I, having absorbed her teachings as the one, true way cannot yet deviate from despite years of genuine efforts to chill the fuck out. My mother had a stockpile of gorgeous wrapping paper, and wrapped each of our presents with an assortment of different giftwrap, finished with a tasteful explosion of hand-tied and curled ribbon and tagged with antique Victorian reproduction cards, our names written in her 50s textbook–perfect cursive on the back. Each child and grandchild got a stack of similar size on Christmas morning, so that no one had a sense that anyone got a single gift more than anyone else.
Ok, but the thing is, my mother was originally Jewish. But hers was the kind of mid-western Jewish family that has a very Jewish-sounding last name, but also has a Christmas-tree. My mother was so jealous of her younger sister Mary that she insisted her family say, “Sarah Christmas,” in addition to what she heard as, “Mary Christmas.” And anyway, what kind of Jewish family names their second daughter Mary?

My mother was not a joke-teller, but she did on occasion indulge in telling a Jewish Mother joke, on the grounds, she said, that she had one. Strictly speaking, my grandmother was like Baptist or something, but married a Jewish man. They had a Christmas tree in their living room. Was that what you did, to fit in, living in suburban St. Louis in the 50s? Or, was it what Grandma wanted?
Growing up in St. Louis in the fifties, most of my mother’s best friends were Jewish, too, and she ran with a popular, smart, and beautiful crowd. The stories  she told me about their Jewishness were these: that had my mother been born in 1940 in Germany, she would have been a “mischling, second degree,” and therefore just Jewish enough to be persecuted by the Nazis; that my grandfather worked in sales under the name of “Nickels” because “Nussbaum” was too Jewish-sounding; and, that she was introduced by a different, less Jewish-sounding name, by a high school boyfriend to his parents.
In December of 1961, she was up in the middle of the night, feeding my older brother, then a 7 month-old baby. From her chair in the kitchen of their third floor, walk-up apartment, she saw flames flickering in a window of another apartment across the way, and she call the fire department. Imagine her embarrassment when she found out it was the guttering flames of her neighbor’s menorah, during Hanukkah.
When she told this story to me, she expressed the perfect abashment of, “I should have known. I certainly should have known.”
There were stories she didn’t tell, like why she and Dad chose to be Episcopalian, or how Dad’s father handled her half-Jewishness. My parents sent my older brother and I to Sunday school for some years when we were young, but then we stopped. Why did we stop? Maybe it conflicted with hockey games.
When I was 13, my mother arranged for me to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church, with the reasoning that I would want to get married there someday. I did get married there, fulfilling the perfection of her circular logic: because I had been confirmed there. I hadn’t been to Sunday school in a number of years at that point, and there was a fair amount of memorization, some of which meant canceling my charmingly bizarre mondegreen of the Lord’s Prayer, and I’m sure I never mastered the Apostle’s Creed. I wrote the Apostle’s Creed on a piece of paper that I slipped into my pantyhose and could read by sliding up the hem of my skirt. Though I was a practiced liar, this is the only specific memory I have of cheating, in or out of school. I got away with it. The other kids were mostly from other schools, so I had no one to pass notes with. I endured this privation by doodling earnestly in the margins of my bible. The teacher was from my brothers’ private school and he reassured us that the bible was allegorical. I left confirmation class believing that I could go on being Episcopalian even if I didn’t think the bible was literally true.
Many Sundays, we were asked to read aloud, and this had served as an informal audition, for when it came to the Christmas Pageant I got to be a reader.
Of course, I was active in children’s theater in those days, having already played a retired roller derby queen, a horrible, evil gnome, the ugly duckling herself, and an assortment of reading, speaking, or screaming roles. I knew how to read, and project. And I knew the pageant’s prestige went to the three readers. Everyone else got to wear robes and carry a staff and hold very, very still. I had to stand at the dais and read Matthew 1:18 “Now the Birth of Jesus Christ came about in this way….”
The music at our church swelled from tall pipes, driven in joyous familiarity by a skilled organist, and with the candles and lush Christmas decorations, midnight mass on Christmas Eve was a sumptuous hour and a half.  In my memory, it stands out as the most traditionally Christmas-y thing I ever did. The pews were packed. Mothers and daughters wore matching Christmas dresses. Children old enough to stay up this late wore sport coats and ties. It seemed like everyone we knew was there. 
I stepped onto the footstool provided for me before the dais, and stumbled on the “Jesus,” in the opening line. So, it sounded like “juh-juh-jeezizz,” and then, I shouted out the “Christ!” I distinctly heard both my dad and a friend of his snorting with laughter. In the reception to follow, I stood eating cake, dripping powdered sugar on my velvet skirt, and drinking cider from a tiny plastic cup and Dad and his friend were both still laughing.

For my troubles, I had been promised a gold ring with my monogram on it. I still wear it. The letters engraved on it are almost completely rubbed away. On the inside it clearly reads, “1977.”

Holiday, Packed Away

We put an end to Christmas here yesterday, and packed up the ornaments, unwound the lights, folded up the stockings, and hauled the tree outside. It’s the first year in a long time that we even opened all the ornament boxes.
When I was growing up most of the ornaments on our Christmas tree were the fragile glass balls Mom had bought at drugstore, hung next to the colored lights on the inner branches, and then there were a bunch of homemade ones on the outside, wooden and baked salt-dough. My mother was known for being particular about her tree, and disdained tinsel. One year, Mr. and Mrs. C_____came and threw tinsel on our tree anyway. My mother was silently angry about it, but waited until spring for her revenge.
She had a strong throwing arm, and tee-peed the tallest evergreen in the C______’s yard. In my mind it was the most precisely tee-peed tree ever seen in the neighborhood, with toilet paper reaching from the ground, all the way up to the highest branches and all the way down the other side. My mother did nothing half-assed.
The year that I came home for Christmas with her first grandchild, my mother had replaced all her meticulously handmade ornaments with new ones, had bought twelve place settings of Spode Christmas tree china, and hired a professional photographer for posed pictures. It was all perfectly new, and meant to look like it had always been this way.
When she died, my mother left behind a lot of Christmas stuff, and since I already had my own, I only took a single box of ornaments and a box of wrapping paper and ribbon. Eleven years later, I have not used up the paper yet, and I’ve barely put a dent in the ribbon. I have more ornaments in my collection than just that one box from Mom; she sent me a few new ones every year. I have a lot of weird animals wearing clothes, and some not wearing clothes. I also have a commemorative ornament from a former employer, and “World’s Best Teacher,” from a student, and “Baby’s 1st Christmas,” but I don’t remember which baby it was for.
There is a Thomas the Tank Engine with my oldest son’s name painted in large letters on it, and James and Percy with his sibling’s names. Both of my younger two children have asked to be known by different names in the past year. How can you not honor such a request? No, neither my husband nor I remember every time, but we try. The children whose names are painted on the red and the green engine ornaments are not different from the young adults who now go by other names, but am I dishonoring my kids by hanging the ornaments? Am I clinging to the identities we gave them as newborns? Maybe next year I will leave them in the bottom of the box.
I have made three resolutions for 2015: to only use “LOL” when I actually laugh out loud, to write more, and to argue less. In support of the second, I have made the ambitious goal of blogging every week in 2015. As I write this, the moon is my witness (waxing gibbous, 88% illuminated). It isn’t quite full yet but it is shining on the bedroom floor, filling the space between the wall and me with pale parallelograms.