I went to the barn holiday party

What I saw: barn friends and Hado at the holiday party.

What I did beforehand: overslept, ate cereal and walked the dogs.

What I wore: very dirty jeans and some other clothes I found wadded up on the floor of my closet, Keen pull-on snow boots, enormous purple scarf.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

Why I saw this show: the ascendence of fascism in America has crushed my already limited desire to cheerfully attend social functions. Nevertheless, a party like this is an opportunity to give year-end tips to the hard-working people who take care of my horses. And to see my barn friends.

Where I stood: in the barn aisle.

Things that were sad: last year when I attended this party I didn’t realize it was all about, so I didn’t have cards and tips with me. It was awkward.  I did bring bread I made, which everyone made a big deal about. That kind of added to my feeling awkward. The other thing that happened last year is I had to have the same awkward conversation a bunch of times about who I was, and how long I’d been at the barn, and which horses I owned, and where I had my horses before that. The third time through these questions I fully flowered, via awkwardness, into an overgrown, surly hothouse  middle-schooler, providing one-word, conversation-stopping answers: two months, two horses, Dutchess County. “Oh,” they asked. “Where in Duchess County?”
And I’d say, “Pine Box,” which they hadn’t heard of.

Also, last year I met the barn owner at this party, and had a conversation with him about cakes or something but whatever I said it was said without knowing he was the owner. I thought he was just some guy. When I found about a few days later that I had been talking to the owner, and not just some guy, I marveled at myself for being so supremely awkward.

One good thing about going to parties where I barely know anyone is I can get away with just shaking people’s hands. On the west coast, I don’t remember even having to shake hands all that often, but here in New York you shake hands with new people and are engaged in this grotesquely awkward air-kissing gesture with people you already know (and sometimes even with people you don’t already know). Some people actually press their cheeks into yours, which feels like a completely unnecessary violation. Others smack you, kiss-wise, on the cheek, which at least resembles something your Aunt Ruthie might have done. Then there’s the two cheek thing, and it’s too, too much.  

So this year, I had to hug my friends and try to dodge the kissing thing, except with the French people, who seem to know what they’re doing and will do all the work so all I have to do is stand there limply, feeling awkward and wait for it to end.

Hado goes for an awkward air-kiss

Things that were funny: I was standing with my friend C. and some other people talking about the bread and someone else walked up to tell me how much they like my bread. Also, I ran into the owner again, and this year I told him how much I love the barn and thanked him. If it was awkward, I didn’t even care.

Things that were not funny: two different people asked me if I make my bread using a bread machine. 

Something I ate: there were home-made linzer cookies, and my husband made me try an inch-long piece of the top of his. It was good, though we thought it should have been rolled just a little bit thinner before baking. I also drank a glass of quite decent red wine out of a red plastic cup. Nothing says “PARTY” in America like a red plastic cup.

What it is: keeping horses is an expensive, labor-intensive business, requiring attentive and careful management. It takes a lot of people, and many hours, and good communication. The work is never-ending. I now understand that regular tips are expected and also some kind of Christmas bonus. This summer I was brave enough to ask some of my barn friends what they tip and was enormously relieved to find I wasn’t doing it wrong.

Who should see it: holiday parties might be supremely awkward, being a weird salad event of tossed religious holidays, crumbled gift-giving, and chopped “being busy,” over a bed of shifting expectations for getting dressed up, but you should go. No one ever says, “Ugh! I wish that awkward so-and-so didn’t show up!”

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What I saw on the way home: Canada geese, headed south for the winter. 

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. 

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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.


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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

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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.


I sent change of address cards, and if you didn’t get one, it’s probably because I don’t have your address. It’s all email or text now, anyway. You know, back when my kids were little, I’d sacrifice the daylight of a whole day to stage a seemingly spontaneous holiday picture. I’d dress them in matching flannel shirts and try to gather them into a group, waiting for that perfect combination of kid-ness and cute-ness, in the presence of decent lighting. It wasn’t easy when the days were as short as they were in Seattle in early December. And I had film in my camera, so it was not possible to know right away whether I’d gotten a usable shot or not. Back then, I sent holiday cards to a long list, over 100, including my friends, relatives, neighbors, and friends of my parents. The list of change of address cards I sent out this November was less than 40 names.
A friend whose kids are in their 20s still gets them to sit for an Xmas photo every year. Every year for the past four years I’ve been like, no way will she get them to do it this year, and then, blammo, she does. And their smiles last year were slightly less ironic than the year before. My kids aren’t all on the same coast, so I have no hope of being able to make it happen this year; I’m not sure when was the last time I got a picture of them all together. I think instead of feeling sad about that, I will put Xmas bows on my pets and pose them in front of the tree for a photo. They will enjoy it. It might be old dog Cherry’s last Xmas anyway.
In response to our change of address cards, I got an actual, handwritten letter in the mail from one friend, and an email from the son of an old neighbor in Seattle. The old neighbor’s son was sad to report that our neighbor died in August. I have written about this neighbor before, because she was the one who so keenly reminded me what a bad neighbor I was sometimes. She was 88, and had a massive stroke.
Here in Bedhead Hills, the dogs are still learning the boundaries of our mostly wooded property. I’ve only let them out the door unleashed a few times; Captain got skunked in October, and a few nights ago he came back to the wrong door, so I was calling out into the dusk and he was barking to be let in, but we were doing it in different doorways. So, I leash them up and go out with them, and when time permits, I try, after walking them on leashes, to take them around so they can practice seeing where our boundaries are.
Yesterday, after a long walk, we took the little path into the woods on our property. We got tangled in the thorny bushes, and I unclipped their leashes. My timing was perfectly wrong. Though our yard is below a steep embankment on that side, the dogs saw a woman and her dog walking by, and charged up the hill, bursting out of the bushes and ambushing the pair on the road. The woman screamed with surprise and snatched up her little white dog; it was barking furiously. I shouted and shouted at my dogs; Captain came back cowering. Cherry, who doesn’t hear anymore, didn’t bother coming back down the embankment at all. She trotted around down the driveway and headed towards the house. So much for introducing myself to the neighbors. I don’t suppose she heard me screaming, “SORRY!” at the top of my lungs.
Captain has never been very good at anything but the most basic obedience, and with Cherry no longer offering him the model of nearly perfect sits, stays, and comes, I’m going to have to go back to daily drills with him. I don’t know how we’ll conquer his desire to chase deer or greet people who walk by with dogs, without having to risk him running into the road. He is fun to work with, though, because of his sweet and cheerful outlook, and he doesn’t get bored as long as treats are involved.

They have their own agendas

Early last January, when we still lived on a big farm, far from the busy road, I let the two dogs out to go potty on a snowy day and Captain did not come back. Because I envisioned the skunk he was tracking or the herd of deer he was chasing, a half an hour passed before I got worried. Was he lost? Had he chased the deer too far to find his way back? Ten more minutes passed. Had someone taken him? My imagination ran away with scenarios: he is a hunting dog, so maybe he’d been stolen. Or what if he’d been dog-napped? I concocted a tale of how it was the revenge of my Twitter troll, trying to threaten and intimidate us. Could she have figured out where I lived? The longer he was gone, the more outlandish my ideas became about what had happened to my dog.
I got in the car and drove slowly down our long, frozen driveway, calling out the window into the cold. I drove to a neighboring farm where our housesitter said the dog had gone once to play with one of the dogs who lives there. As my tires crunched in my steady ascent of the long, straight driveway with snow banked high on both sides, four separate texts arrived on my phone at once:
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“Where are you?”
The narrowness of the drive meant I had to go all the way to the top to turn around, or back out the way I came. I backed out the whole way.

Xmas List

Xmas 1963
1. You can get your tree at the last possible minute from that guy, freezing his ass off, with like four lopsided trees left in the lot. You can leave it up for weeks or take it down in just a few days. You can decorate it with heirloom ornaments or condoms or the little envelopes of spare buttons that come with new clothes or things you found in the recycling bin.  You can hang the lights but no ornaments because your kids won’t help. You can totally skip the tree part of the tree and just hang the tangled lights, half-dark, in a knot from the ceiling fixture. You can just not do the tree thing completely, but you’ll certainly regret not taking one of the aluminum trees when you and your brothers went through your mom’s stuff. 
2. You can make a comprehensive list and hand-made gifts for all the people in your life, including your old nanny who feels like family after all these years. You can also stop at 7-11 on the way over Xmas Eve and bring a six-pack. You can forget to get gifts for anyone this year because, you know what? there’s always next year.
3. You can send beautifully printed custom holiday cards with a professional photo of your family and your dog in matching seasonal sweaters. You can send a long, rambling letter to an old friend. You can do a cheery year-end letter with all your children’s fencing team triumphs and your promotion described in charming language.  You can send a cheap drug-store card that will shower microscopic particles of glitter on the recipient too late for Xmas but just in time for New Year’s. You can skip cards this year, because you don’t want to have to think about someone you lost, or can’t find the right way to describe how you struggled working for that asshole.
4. You can leave cookies and 7-Up for Santa on Xmas Eve, when you hang your stockings. You can decide that Uncle Lenin brings the gifts, or that Santa is a black man, or gay, or both. Maybe your gifts come from Rudolf, or Mrs. Claus. Maybe this year you decide to open them on Xmas Eve.
5. You can make the special lavish traditional meals that are expected of you every year, so that you don’t really get to enjoy Xmas day at all, what with the preparations and table-setting with the special dishes. You can go get Chinese food, too, or make chili because everyone likes chili.
6. You can wear your tacky holiday sweater vest that is so bad it’s not even humorous, or just stay in your pajamas all day.  You can opt not to wrap presents this year, extracting them at the appropriate moment from the shopping bags, pulling the tags off as you hand them over.  You can hand a fat wad of cash to the child who never got around to asking you for anything gift-wise.
7. You can hit every party you’re invited to, bringing a very decent bottle of Oregon pinot noir with a gorgeous red velvet bow around it. You can greet the host and hostess by the wrong names and then get drunk in the corner by the ham. You can lie to anyone you meet and claim to be a screenwriter and leave early because you’ve got to get home to your sick hedgehog because if he doesn’t get his meds every four hours he won’t make it to New Year’s.
8. You can refuse to watch sports on Xmas day. You can treat the day as a religious holiday and be really indignant about all the commercialism. You can be grateful for Jesus as a cool idea because even though you’re not sure you even believe in God or religion, you really like the part about forgiveness and loving others.
9. You can decide to give money to your favorite non-profit at year-end, realizing that without that public radio station, your commute would be even more lonely and soul-sucking.  You can stop feeling guilty about not donating to things you care about because even though you support Planned Parenthood, you might have actually had a tougher year than them financially.
10. You can re-gift without guilt, or even acquire white elephant gifts on purpose so there is a game to play on Xmas night, after everyone is full and feeling slightly agitated. A cube-shaped gift box makes a decent improvised die, and you can write “Take one,” “Steal,” “Take Two,” etc. on the various faces of it. You can even steer your sister-in-law towards the perfectly wrapped and beribboned box of dryer lint, not out of meanness but because you simply want to hear her really laugh.

11. You can spend the weeks before Xmas obsessing about your mother who was annoying and intimidating in her love of Xmas.  You can be grumpy about the whole season because you’ll never be as good at Xmas as she was, with her hundred rolls of different wrapping paper and ribbons in every color and tiny gift cards depicting animals in Victorian clothes. You can hate Xmas. Or you can take it or leave it.