The wrath of the wreath: How it played out

Man, the life of a fifth grader. Do you remember what that was like? For me it was hellish. All sorts of things were going on. No matter how much I wiped, my forehead was perpetually greasy and densely scattered with acne. No blotting papers or Proactiv back then. You slathered on a little Oxy 10 and prayed for the best. I  had braces and glasses, and a haircut like Tootie’s from The Facts of Life. That was actually one of my more hurtful nicknames in elementary school. There were several others and thanks to technology, I’ve been able to find my name callers on Facebook, then friend and defriend them over and over. Petty but effective.

For the most part, this story was true, though I took my liberties as a writer. (I never tire of saying that; it’s my lawyer’s “I take the fifth” or my journalist’s “I’ll never reveal my sources!”) To start, the entire classroom scene is fiction. We had the usual dime-store decorations like any other classroom. I actually don’t recall there being a baby Jesus, oddly enough. I love wreaths personally, and really only added it to the story as it supported my corny wordplay in the story title. My mom was the Entenmann’s mom. She didn’t have time to bake, nor did most families. We did do gift swaps and I was pissed one year that my $40-$50 item didn’t get bought, screw the limits (usually about $10). I got a scarf pin. Of course, this was a tasteful gift, but at age 10, I wanted the Knight Rider KITT car with remote control. I was very specific with Michael, my Kris Kringle. VERY SPECIFIC.

Silent Night…

Want peace this holiday season? Spend them alone.

Of course, I’ll explain.

For the past few years, I’ve had pretty awful holidays. Daylight savings time would immediately drive me into a deep hibernation. I’d cancel plans with friends. I’d want to go to bed at 6 pm. I’d avoid answering my phone or e-mails, and you’d more than likely find me on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, watching TV in the dark and going at a pint of Haagen-Dazs like a shipwreck survivor with a first meal after nine days at sea.

This year has been markedly different. Although I procrastinated too long to hang Christmas decorations, I’ve otherwise enjoyed the season in an unexpected way that’s been hard to quantify. Sunset before 5 pm is still a drag, but my world doesn’t shut down at 5:01. I’ve met friends for dinner, done errands for my mom, seen movies and concerts, and generally braved the cold 90% more than usual. So what’s changed?

To be blunt, I was working for five years, and now I’m not.

There’s something freeing about unemployment, something more substantial than having time for coffee, a walk around the park,  excessive blogging or endless harassment of your friends to publicize your blog (weren’t these the same  people who urged me to start one?).

For me, being unemployed has meant celebrating the holidays on my own terms. Not schlepping into the city every day has been a major part. I didn’t realize until recently—after more than 15 years of working full time—just how much of the city seeps into everyday life, often without my knowing it. Particularly around the holidays. I worked near several hotels and Central Park, which meant I was constantly dodging tourist groups of four or more who either 1) walked abreast and not single file or 2) stood at stop lights both red and green, gawking, making those of us on the hustle either stop short to avoid barreling into them, or detour around them like a car around a pothole.

Yellow cabs or, trying to avoid felony charges

My friend Leslie hates cabs. She’s athletic, enjoys exercise and if she had her way, she would walk everywhere. She shows up at restaurants and lounges without a hair out of place, despite having walked four miles from her house to whatever bar we’ve schlepped to.

I’m the exact opposite. I will take a livery cab five blocks if it’s cold enough,  if my feet hurt enough, or if the neighborhood is sketchy enough. I can quote cab rates from my house to Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, Canarsie…most areas in Brooklyn. Things get vaguer in the city, but I know most cabs charge at least $20 just to go over the bridge, and it’s about a $25 flat rate from my place to JFK or LaGuardia airports.  

I do pretty well when I can call a livery cab. My favorite is a Dominican-run company with drivers who show up on time in clean, new cars. They’re reliable and charge fair prices (and a call to the dispatcher squashes the hopes of those who try to be cute; he knows me by voice and by address if not by name). I even do OK hailing gypsy cabs; if the car looks like a hoopty or is missing any inspection stickers or TLC license plates, I wave it past. (I hate to admit it but in my 20s, on particularly bad-weather days, I’d sometimes take a questionable sedan operating as a taxi).

Then there are yellow cabs. I know. By now everyone’s had their experiences with them.  I’m cautious to even talk about them: the drivers might put up some sort of taxi signal in the sky and leave me out trembling in the rain the next time I really need them. But nearly being hit by an off-duty cab the other morning reminded me of my worst two yellow cab incidents. I’ll recount them for your enjoyment, because I like to make people happy.

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