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Jewish Journal

Solitude

by Teresa Strasser

January 4, 2001 | 7:00 pm

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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