January 4, 2001
I'm doing my laundry on Christmas Eve. The Ebenezer Scrooges who own my building see fit to provide only one dryer for all the residents.
It's positively Dickensian, I think to myself, as I stand watch over the dryer, lest one of my neighbors cut in line, leaving my laundry in a damp heap to mildew the night away.
"Aren't you going anywhere tonight?" asks a neighbor, loading her laundry into a washer, wearing perfume and freshly curled hair. I wonder how she knows I have no plans, until I glance down at my cut-off sweatpants and inside-out T-shirt. You don't have to be Nancy Drew, I suppose.
"Staying in tonight," I say. I finish the thought only in my head: "though I plan to drink heavily, if that makes you feel better."
I don't bother explaining the whole Jew-on-Christmas thing to the poor woman, who's trailed by a young girl, presumably her daughter, and an obese black cat. The woman leaves and the cat stays behind.
"Hey, kitty," I say, petting the space between its kitty ears. "Why are you so fat? Huh? Are you old? Are you pregnant? Don't look at me like that. You're a cute, fat kitty cat. I'd like to catnap you and take you home. Yeeeessss."
I'm using that clenched-teeth voice I reserve for cats, babies and boyfriends who are mad at me.
I'm having a meaningful dialogue with a cat because it's the only living creature I've had real contact with in two days.
Everyone has left town, gone home for the holidays. I opted to stay in town, thinking I'd need the rest and solitude after a busy work month.
"Every man needs both solidarity and solitude," says my dad quite often, quoting I don't know who.
I've had enough solitude, so I drive myself to a nice Christmas Eve movie, "Cast Away." I chuckle to myself in line, thinking about the time I went to the movies on Christmas and the only other the guy in the theater turned out to be my rabbi, all decked out in a Bill Cosby sweater and enjoying a rare day off.
I allow myself the indulgence of a pack of Milk Duds, as reconstituted caramel and waxy chocolate do take the edge off a lack of companionship. I settle in my seat and look around the theater. I note a fine collection of Jews and society's castaways -- not the Tom Hanks kind but the kind with excessive nose rings, odd overcoats and unfortunate orthodontia. I guess I'm both, minus the headgear.
Here's a suggestion. If you're feeling a little socially isolated, do not, do not see a movie about a man all alone on an island for four years with nothing to talk to but a volleyball.
"Merry Christmas," I say to the usher on my way out. He looks at me as if I were a tainted batch of wassail, and I go on my unmerry way.
I get home, and while not drinking heavily as I silently promised my neighbor, I do take a few tiny nips of Southern Comfort. Please, don't write letters. I'm only human, people.
I decide that 9 p.m. is way too early to go to sleep and that such an early bedtime will undoubtedly result in my waking at 5 a.m., with nothing to do but watch those bad insomniac news shows and wish I knew how to fish. I decide to bake cookies for my building manager, with whom I've been in a gift-giving war all year. With NPR blaring on my portable radio, I measure and stir. I feel productive.
The cookies don't seem quite right and I can't trace the culprit. Was it the butter? The eggs? The Southern Comfort?
I tell myself it's not so bad and continue to scoop the dough onto baking sheets and stick them into the oven.
Earlier in the day, I cleaned like a mad woman. I reorganized my closet, discovered the attachment on my vacuum cleaner that lets you suck all the dirt out of the corners of your rugs. I went to yoga. I read an entire book. Isn't this what solitude is all about?
For a misanthrope, I sure have failed at taking a dip in Lake Teresa. I want out! I hate Christmas and everyone leaving town so I'm left alone to bake bad cookies and dust every possible surface and talk to cats. Solitude and solidarity, I think to myself. And I agree with my dad's quote, and hope for balance, and wait for the holiday to end and my world to be repopulated with all the people I didn't think I'd miss.
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