Christmas Traditions Worth Keeping

It’s Christmas and your parents have been amazingly generous with your kids, as the piles of presents can attest. Though their parenting style left something to be desired—“Because I said so, that’s why,” is still not a valid reason to eat broccoli—their Grandparenting style is superb.

But don’t be fooled, to them Christmas is not about love and family and fresh-baked snickerdoodles. No, Christmas is about one thing, and one thing only—revenge gifting.

Yeah, baby, it’s payback time, and the Christmas Karma Fairy is about to collect.

For years your parents have suffered, and now it’s your turn to pay for all those chaotic Christmas mornings packed with the toys that you begged and whined for until your parents—I mean Santa—finally gave in.

Your parent’s generosity is actually sweet revenge for that mind-numbing pull-string clacking duck—quack, quack, quack—retribution for that toy lawnmower that measured twenty decibels louder than a John Deere riding mower—varoom, varoom, varoom—and for that insipid talking doll that repeated—“Hi, I’m Skipper, Hi, I’m Skipper”—until your parents wanted to skip her straight into the Yule log.

Revenge gifting is repayment for all the migraine-inducing sour notes you banged out on your toy piano and the deafening racket you pounded out on your drum set. And still today your poor parents have PTSD from the explosions and machine-gun fire on that World of Warcraft Christmas morning, which guaranteed that they would never again have a silent night.

So don’t let their gifts fool you; they’re not to help with your tight money situation, what with the mortgage, three kids, two dogs and a gerbil to feed. Ever since your first child’s birth announcement, your parents have been plotting ways to inflict as much pain on you as you did on them. Continue reading “Christmas Traditions Worth Keeping”

Stoned at 3,700 Feet

There’s something wrong with these people. That’s what I thought when my husband and I bought a vacation home in Kingman, Arizona—a land five hours and a world away. First off, they seem unnaturally happy and smile all the time. How creepy is that?

When you pass someone on the street, they wave and ask, “How are you today?” And they hold doors open for me and call me “ma’am.” This polite deference to my age immediately roused my suspicions. Their overt niceness had to an elaborate ruse to dupe interloping Californians into a false sense of security. And when we relaxed our guard, they’d brandish their right-to-carry side arms, and rob us blind—or at least until we needed glasses. Continue reading “Stoned at 3,700 Feet”

Install Never

What are the two most hated words in all of computerdom? No, they’re not: Fatal Error. They are: Update Available. It took me months of experimentation to arrive at the perfect combination of computer presets, and a system update can wipe them out in twenty seconds.

Hey, give me twenty seconds alone with that tech-giant bully and I’ll shove his pushy Update Available to a very dark place where he can never hurt any of us again.

Separately those seemingly innocent words do not raise a red flag, or any color flag for that matter, but together they make my brain shout Noooo!

Just before it explodes.

Yesterday those words appeared on my screen with this added message: “A security and stability update has been downloaded and is ready to be installed.” It left me two options: Install Now or Install Later. How about Install Never? Why is Never never a choice? Continue reading “Install Never”

Film at Eleven

Forget about presidential infidelity accusations or Russian collusion, the real fake news is—weather reporting. How many times have we been warned of a coming El Niño and it amounts to five minutes of sort-of steady rain followed by two minutes of sporadic dribbling, like an old man with prostate problems.

But Expect Sporadic Dribbling doesn’t sound sexy like: AccuWeather Storm Watch Drone Force Nine with Mega Doppler 7000. And why is there always film at eleven—never now? And why does the army of cloned weather Barbies always say, “Tracking the storm. When will the rain stop?”

“When it will stop?” Really? It hasn’t even started yet.

Luckily for you, I have deciphered weatherspeak, and as you’ve probably suspected, they make this stuff up.

Slight Chance of Rain actually means: This “storm” will produce thirty-foot raindrops, which are raindrops that are thirty feet apart, or it could just spit a little, like my 90-year-old dad when he yells at the TV while watching Jeopardy.

Chance of Rain starting Tuesday: Means don’t wear your raincoat until Thursday. And even then it’s iffy. You know, just forget it. Who needs a raincoat in Southern California?

The term Storm Watch is a blatant teaser that really means—Enjoy the big puffy boy-who-cried-wolf clouds that look like rain, but will blow away without even spotting your newly washed car.

Storm Warning means at least 15 minutes of steady rain—somewhere, but most likely, not where you are.

40% Chance of Rain means, “Don’t cancel your bar-be-cue plans.”

Scattered Thunderstorms means, one clap of thunder that might actually have been the neighbor slamming his gate, hard to tell. Just an aside, have you ever wondered why it’s always thunderstorms, never lightningstorms? If I were lightning, I’d feel slighted, like I was getting short shrift. And speaking of that, have you ever wondered why there’s no long shrift?

But I digress.

Flash Flood Warning means that the skies will open up in Biblical proportions, but only on those daring risk takers who bought a house on a cliff or beneath a cliff. Just stay away from cliffs and you’re fine.

Now I’d like to add one more category, which I call: Just Kidding. This is for when they get it outlandishly wrong, and would, of course, be the most-used category.

And this bit of technological flummery really gets me: Download our free Weather Tracker App. Tell me, who in Southern California needs a weather tracker app?

Today with all the Doppler radars, satellites and cute weather clones, you’d think they could predict rain with at least flip-of-a-coin accuracy. But, no.

How many bogus watches and warnings can they issue before we stick our fingers in our ears and say: “La, la, la, I’m not listening.” Any one of us could make better predictions by simply stepping outside. Yep. No rain today.

TV meteorologists should dump all the technology and go back to the look- out-the-window method, and frankly, I don’t care if they have film at eleven.


You Look Like a Million Bucks

In November my sister said to me, “Let’s go to South Coast Plaza to see the Christmas decorations.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m a sucker for twinkle lights.”

Because of my sister’s rheumatoid arthritis, the walk from the car was painfully slow. Yet her step quickened when we entered the mall, and I soon discovered that she had something other than Christmas decorations in mind.

“I want to go a jewelry store,” she announced.

“Okay,” I said. “But you know the jewelry stores here are pretty high end.”

“Oh, I don’t want to buy anything,” she said. “I just like to look.”

That’s how we ended up at the renowned jeweler, Harry Winston. Entering the store, a hulking, stone-faced guard in a black uniform, locked eyes on us. I felt intimidated, like my every move was being watched, which of course, it was, but this didn’t bother my sister. She walked in confidently, went right up to a saleswoman, and said, “I’d like to see the most-expensive piece of jewelry in the store.”

I did not see that coming. That cringe-worthy line made my face turn a brilliant shade of embarrassment pink.

Without blinking, the stylish saleswoman, whose badge said she was a Sales Executive—replied, “Certainly. That would be our yellow diamond ring.”

She led us to a locked display case and brought out the ring. Every facet of the stone glistened under the bright store lights. “This stone is a cushion cut yellow fancy intense diamond.”

What language was she speaking?

“It weighs 10.28 carats, is surrounded by white diamonds, and is priced at nine-hundred and ninety thousand dollars.”

At least I think that’s what she said. The size of the stone dazzled me and my brain went a little mushy.

I felt surreal, like I’d been dropped into a Fellini film. We were all adults, and yet we all knew we were playing make-believe. My sister pretending she had the net worth to afford a million-dollar diamond and the sales executive, pretending my sister was her most important client.

“May I try it on?” my sister asked.

In a velvety voice the sales exec said, “Of course,” and directed us to sit.

From the moment my sister slipped on that diamond, a satisfied smile spread across her face.

“This ring was made for your hand,” the sales exec said. “I do not have the style to carry off such a stone, but you do.”

Tilting her hand from side to side, throwing sparks of light in all directions, my sister said, “If I win the lottery, this will be the first thing I buy.”

The woman handed my sister her gold-embossed card. “In case you do win, keep me in mind.”

As we left Harry Winston, maybe I imagined it, but my sister appeared taller and she seemed to walk a little easier. Her disease had retreated into the background and she floated on an endorphin cloud of make-believe happiness. I loved seeing her like that, until she said, “That was fun. Should we go to Tiffany’s next?”

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I was good all year. I recycled, fed stray cats, gave money to homeless people, even the scary guy with the sign that says, “Victim of Reality.” So, why, why did Santa give me a fruitcake?

Ah, fruitcake. The world’s most unwanted Christmas gift, even worse than the Chia Pet, but a close runner up to the Salad Shooter.

Anyway, back to the “F” word. Fruitcake. What do I do with it? Maybe I could try the disposal option on my Christmas card. It shows an ice fisherman, but instead a dropping his line down the hole in the ice, he’s dropping fruitcakes. The whole town is lined up, waiting their turn to offload.

And I guess I could always re-gif it—by the way, that term that was invented for the sole purpose of making fruitcakes disappear. Have you heard the theory that there has only been one fruitcake in all of history and it just continues to be re-gifted? It’s true; it was baked in 1620. Continue reading “The Gift That Keeps On Giving”

Eat Your Pie and Listen

It’s Christmas and most people have some time off work, except we writers, who are always on the job—even more so at the holidays. But this is not as hard as it sounds if you follow my easy method. At your holiday gatherings with family and friends, load your plate with a few thousand calories, settle back in a comfy chair—and listen to Uncle Fred’s stories. It’s that simple.

Every family has an Uncle Fred, the gregarious guy with the Spanx-tight memory who loves to go on and on about the old days. Well, let him. And give yourself permission to shamelessly mine his stories for new material, let him dredge up the long-buried family embarrassments that will make your writing come to life.

The holidays make people nostalgic, and with enough rum-spiked eggnog you’ll finally get the truth behind the rumor that Aunt Ruth is really Uncle Charlie’s second wife and why we never ever mention wife number one. Continue reading “Eat Your Pie and Listen”

Calling All Monsters

As I walked a back alley of Ghost Town, Knott’s Berry Farm during Halloween Haunt, an ominous purple fog hung in the air, and with each step it swirled like a brew in a witch’s cauldron. Eerie green lamplights flickered devilishly, casting a sick pallor on my skin. From the corner of my eye, I saw something lurking, something in tattered clothes with a hideous half-missing face, like the victim of a flesh-eating bacteria.

Then it spotted me. Though handicapped by a dragging, lifeless foot, it moved fast, and quickly gained ground. In one huge lunge it split the curtain of fog, the only thing separating me from this abomination. I froze.

It dragged itself even closer and grabbed my arm. Then it spoke. “Pam, my mask is coming unglued.”

“Again?” I said, and reached into my Monster Repair Kit. With spirit gum I reattached the latex prosthetic and sent the foot-dragger back into the fog. When I heard a blood-curdling female scream, I knew my monster was hard at work.

As head of wardrobe for Halloween Haunt, monster repair was just part of my job; I was also in charge of the daily cleaning of 500 costumes. At 2 am, when the talent returned after an 8-hour shift, their clothes were wringing wet and reeking with sweat and bad cologne.

While prepping the first load of laundry, I reached into a monster’s pocket looking for the usual forgotten Chap Stick or Tic-Tacs, and pulled out something I’d never before found—a small folded piece of paper.

I opened it, and read, “Hi, I’m Julie. Call me,” followed by a phone number. I burst out laughing, not because I find young love amusing, but because this particular monster wore a putrid pea-green mask with skin the texture of large-curd cottage cheese. One of its eyes had escaped its socket and oozed down the cheek, where it collided with a torn and bloody lip. This girl clearly had no idea what the person beneath the mask looked like. And because he also wore a pair of fake fangs, I doubted the two had had much of a chance to talk. The monster could only show his interest with his eyes, or in this case—eye.

This had to be an anomaly, I thought, until I moved on to the extremely stinky costume of a monster that sported a gray rotting-corpse mask, complete with pupating fly larvae. I found a phone number in his pocket too. Sandi, a resourceful girl who’d dotted her “i” with a heart, had given her cell and work numbers.

Now, I’ve heard that love is blind, but apparently, it also has no sense of smell.

After cleaning the costumes I debated whether to toss the numbers, but in the end—love triumphed. Yet, even though Julie was attracted to the putrid cottage cheese face and Sandi was more your rotting-corpse type, because it was Halloween, I confess, I played a trick and reversed the mash notes. I doubt the girls ever noticed.

It’s Alive

Every Halloween, after I’ve handed out the last of the candy—okay, I save a few Kit-Kats for myself—I turn out the lights, curl up on my sofa and watch Young Frankenstein starring the sorely-missed Gene Wilder. The script, co-written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, is brilliant. I’ve seen it so many times I can recite the dialogue. I even know when to whinny like a frightened horse when someone says, “Frau Blücher.” I love the scene where Dr. Frankenstein reanimates the creature, who has mistakenly been given the brain of someone named Abbey Normal. While a huge storm rages, the white-coated doctor, with his mad scientist eyes and his wind-ravaged hair, looks up to the dark, menacing sky and shouts, “It’s alive!”

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing, but stay with me. I really do have a point. Continue reading “It’s Alive”

The Key Graveyard

In a fall cleaning frenzy, I tackled my kitchen junk drawer. I chucked expired coupons, dozens of plastic bread ties that I’d saved in case of a severe bread-tie shortage, and handfuls of dried out rubber bands that broke when stretched. Then I ran across a box of old keys.

Hmmm? I lined them up on the kitchen counter. There were nine car keys, which was odd, because in my life, I’d only owned four cars.

I found the spare key to my 1968 Ford Falcon. Three on the tree, pull-out choke on the dash. I bought it used for $200, drove it for three years, and sold it for $250. I couldn’t find the spare key for the new owner, so I’d had a copy made. It cost 35 cents. Today a new key is $200—the same price as this entire car.

I found the key to my first new car. A 1976 Toyota Corolla, which ironically, got keyed the first day I parked it at work. It was Rah! Rah! Bicentennial! Buy American year!

Here was the key to my old boyfriend’s house. We broke up two decades ago when I ‘d found another woman’s underwear tangled in the bed sheets. “Oh, those belong to my fiancée,” he’d said, having never mentioned a fiancée before. It made me wonder if saving this key qualified me as a masochist. Continue reading “The Key Graveyard”