‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (A Jewish Girl’s Lament)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the land,

Jews went out to the movies, exactly as planned;

In pairs and large groups, they selected their shows,

And headed to Regal, AMC, and Lowes;

Their tickets Fandango-ed, the popcorn they bought,

And through their shows they all talked quite a lot;

When the movies had finished, they left two by two,

And went for Chinese food, as all good Jews do;

 
But me? I’m still stuck with my parents each year,

Which, let’s face it, always is my biggest fear;

“Next year in Israel,” we say at Passover,

But I just pray for Christmas to be over;

Too old to be single, too young to go die,

Each year it’s my mother, my father, and I,

But why, you might ask, don’t I go with my friends,

For Chinese food and movies like on weekends?

The answer, you see, is simple and quite sad,

Of all my friends, there’s not a Jew to be had;

I could blame my parents, for the public school years,

When there wasn’t a Jew among all of my peers;

I could blame Hillel for scaring me away,

With the songs they sang and the games they would play;

But whoever is at fault, and/or to blame,

The night before Christmas is always so lame,

That I vow each year to seek friends who are Jews,

So I’ll never again feel Jew-Christmas blues;

“Next year,” I say, “I’ll find Members of the Tribe,”

(And if they don’t like me, there’s always a bribe,)

And off to the show I’ll go with my buddies,

All of them experts in their Jewish studies;

So Jacob and Ari and Rachel, you too,

Next year please invite me to go out with you,

‘Cause I mean what I say, without any jokes,

I can’t handle Christmas alone with my folks.

 
So Jews, enjoy your movies and Chinese fare,

And Merry Christmas to all you goys out there.

What do Yogi Bear, Bullwinkle, and Santa have in common? No idea, but they’re all on your lawn!

I’m just going to come right out and admit it: I don’t get the whole Christmas decorations thing.

I know, I know, you think I’m just being Grinchy because I’m Jewish. But it’s not that, I swear. I actually really like Christmas lights…when they’re tastefully done.

I’m not a huge fan of all the random Santa stuff everywhere, but I could see the appeal of putting Santa and reindeer on the roof of your house, especially if you have young children. And I’m not going to lie, I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who spends their money on a truly funny Christmas display. Yes, it probably scars young children for life to see a Santa peeing off the roof of a house, but is it really any worse than the idea of Santa making out with your mom?

What I DON’T understand, however, are the insanely tacky OTHER decorations.

It’s no secret that I can’t figure out what a bunny and eggs have to do with Easter (especially because rabbits are mammals and therefore do not lay eggs… mammals, in fact, that are known for excessive fornication… NOT exactly the message that the church usually tries to send), but I honestly think that the Easter Bunny makes more sense than a thirty-foot, light-up Yogi Bear in a Santa hat on your front lawn.

Maybe it’s me.

I mean, I AM a little rusty on the whole meaning of Christmas after all. I must be forgetting the part of the story when Jesus is born and then Yogi turns to Boo Boo and said “Heeey Boo Boo! Let’s go steal a pic-i-nic basket full of frankincense and myrrh for our Lord and Savior!” I mean, if that’s actually part of the story, then by all means, put Yogi in that Santa hat and use enough electricity to fuel a third-world nation for a year to make him light up bright enough to be seen from space.

Otherwise, maybe Yogi should be used for a different holiday.  Or maybe there’s just no place in organized religion for Yogi Bear.

Of course, Yogi is far from the worst of the Christmas decorations that I’ve seen.

For example, I understand the desire to put up a nativity scene. Technically, it’s even a lot more appropriate than all of the Santa stuff. But when I see a nativity scene comprised entirely of Rocky and Bullwinkle characters, I have to wonder if the house actually belongs to a Jew who’s mocking the whole season.

Because kids today don’t even know who Rocky and Bullwinkle are. I mean, I probably wouldn’t know who they were either if not for Cartoon Network and my ex-hippie parents. But even I’m slightly offended when I see Boris and Natasha as Mary and Joseph. And I mean, Peabody was wise, but casting Sherman as one of the Three Wise Men is a stretch. Not to mention Dudley DoRight. And I’m not even going to get into the fact that they had a moose as the baby Jesus.

When I was a kid, I remember pouting and stomping my foot and telling my parents that I didn’t want to be Jewish if it meant that I couldn’t have Christmas lights. But driving around and looking at how ridiculous some of the displays are now has finally made me side with my parents on this one. If I celebrated Christmas, I’d seriously debate destroying some people’s decorations just to stop them from bringing shame on my entire people. Because trust me, if you have inflatable cartoon decorations that are taller than your house, you ARE bringing shame on your entire people.

Because I’m the daughter of a scientist, I always try to find formulas to explain the oddities in the universe. And after many years of study, I finally solved the mystery of the tacky Christmas decorations.

Are you ready? It’s about to get intense. You might want to get some paper and a pencil to follow along with my calculations. Just warning you.

The tackiness of a Christmas display can be calculated by taking the income of the house’s resident, divided by the distance (in miles) of the house from the nearest Walmart.

In layman’s terms, that means that the poorer a person is and the closer he or she lives to a Walmart, the more ostentatious and ridiculous his or her Christmas display will be.

It may seem counterintuitive, because logic would imply that the more money a person spends on a Christmas display, the more disposable income he or she has. But when it comes to Christmas, it just doesn’t work that way. So if you want to appear richer, don’t buy a knockoff purse or a used BMW. Just go minimalist on your Christmas decorations. Like you paid someone else to do it because you’re so rich that you just can’t be bothered to do it yourself.

And if you ARE going to go overboard, do us all a favor: take the decorations down by January 2. If you leave them up until July 4, I personally will not be held responsible for any vandalism that occurs. Even though it will probably be me doing the vandalism.

Just kidding. For legal purposes, I feel it’s necessary to say that I will NOT be vandalizing ANY Christmas decorations this year. (Insert evil laugh here.)

Enjoy celebrating Christmas. Which, if a drive through the neighborhood behind Walmart is to be trusted, is the holiday when we celebrate the birth of our Bullwinkle J. Moose under the star provided by a flying Rocket J. Squirrel, while a Santa-hat wearing Yogi Bear and Winnie the Pooh look on and an overweight white guy lands on a herd of reindeer on your roof.

I’ll stick to my movies and Chinese food to celebrate the holiday.

Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey–the REAL Jersey Shore

A couple of times a year, I hop in the car and take the three-and-a-half hour drive to my own personal Mecca.

No, I don’t mean the DSW headquarters or the Stila cosmetics factory (both of which I would LOVE to go to though… road trip anyone?). I mean Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Now I know that when I say any destination on the Jersey Shore is my version of Mecca, you’re immediately picturing steroid-filled, spiky-haired, Ed Hardy-wearing, drunken guidos and their silicone-filled, hair extentioned, whore-y female counterparts. But none of those stereotypes are actually FROM the Jersey Shore. They just migrate there in the summer like really obnoxious birds that you can’t dislodge from your trees no matter how hard you try.

So Saturday night, I took “that drive, cross the river to the Jersey side” to see Jesse Malin perform at the Stone Pony. I’d seen him Wednesday night in the DC area and when I talked to him after, he told me that I should try to make it to the Asbury show. He did tell me that Bruce wasn’t a definite, but that didn’t matter, nor did it matter that in the end, Bruce didn’t show up. Because that’s not why I wanted to go. The truth is that you don’t have to work very hard to convince me to go to a concert (especially when it’s Bruce, the Gaslight Anthem, or Jesse Malin, who are my three favorite live performers), and it takes even less convincing to get me to Asbury Park.

Before you misunderstand me, I feel the need to point out that Asbury Park is still pretty shady. It’s kind of the polar opposite of my other Jersey Shore destination (my uncle’s shore house in Avalon), which is like the Disney version of the Jersey Shore (very clean, very safe, a pain in the ass to get to, and WAY overpriced in every possible way). In fact, if Avalon is Disney World, Asbury Park is Chuck E. Cheese. (Which would make Seaside Heights, where Jersey Shore is filmed the equivalent of the old Wild World Water Park in Prince Georges County, before it became the Six Flags, when it was dirty and disgusting and always had an alarming vomit-to-water ratio in all of the water rides.) It’s gritty, and you’re far more likely to encounter a giant rat than Mickey Mouse (because I don’t care what anyone says, Chuck E. Cheese is a rat).

But to a diehard Springsteen fan, it’s home.

Asbury Park, in fact, despite being a little scary at night (and sometimes during the day), is the ONLY place (other than my uncle’s house), where I can feel like I’m NOT a freak for how much I love Bruce. In Asbury, even on a non-concert day, I’m a lightweight. So part of why I love it is probably because it makes me feel more normal than any place in the DC area ever could.

But that’s not why I go there so often.

And no, it’s not because there’s always the off-chance that Bruce could pop up wherever you are there (which has only happened to me once in the six years that I’ve been going there. I have terrible Bruce-spotting luck. Although he DID stop his car and say hi to me the one time he WAS there at the same time as me—because he CLEARLY loves me too). It’s because everywhere you look, everything you see is straight out of one of his songs.

Granted, it was a little more fun from that perspective back before they started revitalizing the town, but even with many of the major landmarks gone, Asbury Park still holds a special place in the heart of all of the “tramps like us” who were “born to run.”

The funny thing for me is that Asbury Park’s “Glory Days” were long over by the time I was born (nevermind when that was. It was decades after Asbury Park’s heyday, let’s leave it at that). I never got to see the Palace when it was open (although I was there the week before they tore it down, which is when I got the photos that would later become the front and back covers of my first novel, Beyond the Palace).

The Palace, after the back was already demolished, May 2004

By the time I got to the Circuit, the northern end of it had already been closed off by the water plant. Madam Marie was no longer telling fortunes in her shack on the boardwalk (although a year ago, her granddaughter DID do a tarot card reading for me there, which was ridiculously cool, even though I don’t believe in that stuff).

Kids busking outside Madam Marie’s, May 2004

There was no joint underneath the boardwalk where girls could promise to unsnap their jeans (although before the town turned around in the last couple of years, there WAS an abundance of prostitutes who would probably have been willing to act out any Bruce-related fantasy for the right price). And that “giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light” was a poorly paved asphalt lot by the time I got there.

The Casino, May 2004

I described the scene that first greeted me in Asbury Park in a chapter of Beyond the Palace, through the eyes of my two main characters:

Asbury Avenue brought us into the city itself. I had taken over driving after we stopped at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, but Laura told me to pull over as soon as we saw the Palace Amusement complex looming on the horizon, its cracked and peeling green façade rising abruptly out of the flat seaside landscape. Commanded is a little closer to what she actually did. I thought she wanted to get out and walk around, so I looked for a parking lot, but she told me that the side of the road was fine. We had only seen a couple of cars on the road since coming into town, so I obliged. Laura hopped out of the car practically before I brought it to a complete stop. She ran around to the driver’s side and opened my door before I could open it. “I want to drive the circuit,” she said, excitement showing in every curve of her body. The circuit was no longer really a circuit by the time we got there in 2003, as the water purification plant at 8th Avenue effectively closed that end of it, but we had heard Bruce’s stories from concert bootlegs. In the 1970s, four one-way streets formed a sort of hangout/racetrack through town, where girls would “comb their hair in rearview mirrors” and the boys tried “to look so hard.” The Palace was a crumbling landmark from Bruce’s songs, a testament to his city of ruins. But the circuit was where you could still find the Bruce from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Driving it was something that we knew he had done. And I knew that Laura would want to give me a chance to drive it too, so I had no problem letting her take her turn first.

She pulled the car into drive and took us slowly down Asbury to Ocean Avenue, where we passed the Casino. She had timed her mix almost perfectly. The next song was “Sandy,” which was about the attractions on the circuit and the beach. We made our way past the rotting hulk of the Casino, which had been an arcade with an arm that jutted out onto a pier in better days, but that part had long since washed away. We could see the boardwalk to our right, and the legendary Stone Pony to our left. Past a bizarre, rusted, half-finished high-rise, past Lance and Debbie’s Wonder Bar, which Clarence once owned, past the Howard Johnson’s, orange and space-age looking in its un-maintained 1960s splendor. Convention Hall rose up on our right, by far the nicest building in town, which wasn’t saying much. Facing the end of the circuit, we turned down 7th Avenue to Kingsley Avenue, and again Laura’s mix proved perfect, as the opening line of the next song was about driving down Kingsley and deciding to stop for a drink. Laura looked around in wide-eyed wonder. She drove us down to where we had started and then we switched seats and went back around the same course, this time with me driving. After a full lap, I looped back to park near the Stone Pony so that we could walk around and explore the town.

Laura usually left the top of her car down with the windows up on nice days, and this certainly qualified. Her car had a strong alarm system, and no one could really reach anything with the windows up. But Laura started putting the top up before I could even suggest it. This didn’t look like the kind of town where it was smart to leave anything remotely accessible if you ever wanted to see it again. Not that there was anyone around to steal anything. We got out of the car and I walked immediately around to Laura’s side. It was creepy. We hadn’t seen a living soul yet. It looked like no one had lived there for about twenty years. The only signs of life were a few old, dilapidated cars parked near the Pony.

Laura dug into her purse for quarters to feed the meter and I fished two out of my pockets. Laura inserted one with a dull clink, then peered at it.

“Shit,” she said idly. “Broken.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I’ll move the car.” I looked around. There was a sea of empty spaces and the meters looked older than us. No flashing red lights to show which had expired here. Laura started to climb back into the car, but I stopped her.

“Let’s find a working meter first,” I said. I went to the one next to the one Laura had tried. It was expired. I put a quarter in, but nothing happened. I tried the one next to that, and again, nothing. Laura started to look amused. She tried the one on the other side of the car. Looked at it curiously. Then tried one more.

“They’re all broken!” she exclaimed. “Does that mean we can just park here?” I looked around. Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked older than dirt. Stringy grass sprouted up in large clumps all around and a rainbow of brown and green broken bottles glittered in the sunlight.

“Yeah,” I said finally. “If we get a ticket, I feel like this place needs the money more than we do.” Laura smiled weakly and nodded. I don’t think she had expected it to be quite this bad. We knew it would be fairly rundown, or else Bruce couldn’t have written a song about it that would later be used to describe New York after September 11. But we hadn’t imagined the level of devastation that we actually found there. We didn’t know how dead a place could feel.

I felt disappointed too, but I wanted Laura happy again. “Let’s go exploring.” She nodded again and hooked her camera strap across her body as we set off toward the Palace of “Born to Run” fame. An exceptionally seedy-looking motel stood on the corner of Kingsley and 2nd Avenue. Laura stopped and stared at it. I turned and looked at her while she worked out whatever she was thinking. Finally, a huge smile spread across her face. I turned and looked where she was looking. A battered sign read “The Flamingo Motel.”

“Do you see it?” Laura asked. I looked more carefully. It looked like the sign had fluorescent lights along the looping words once, but if they had been there, they were long gone now. Pink, fluorescent lights, I would assume, to go with the Flamingo part. She watched me expectantly, but I shrugged. I didn’t know what she wanted me to see.

“What if I said ‘Flamingo Lane’?” she asked, hinting. Flamingo Lane? A line from “Jungleland.” Off Born to Run. The two lovers “take a stab at romance” and vanish “down Flamingo Lane.”

“Oh!” I said as I realized what she was getting at. Flamingo Lane wasn’t a street. Disappearing there meant getting a room at this motel. It was one of the many things that both of us loved about Bruce. His songs were poetry. If you didn’t look deeper, Flamingo Lane could be a street somewhere. If you did, the story became a love affair, with the sax solo acting as the un-vocalized verse that represents the culmination of that passion in this little dive motel. But it doesn’t matter that it’s a dump, because to them, it’s beautiful; it’s not a motel anymore, it’s a whole world that they can disappear into.

Laura beamed at me. “That is just the coolest thing ever.” She took my hand and pulled me across the street. “We have to check this out!” But the Flamingo, like just about everything else in town, was closed. Laura’s smile faded quickly.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, even though I hadn’t expected to have to play it that soon. I leaned down to whisper into her ear. “We’re less than a couple hundred feet from where Bruce will probably be tonight.” She smiled again and turned back to face me. She looked at me for just a second too long, her face a little too close to mine. I hesitated. She pulled back, kissed me noisily on the cheek, then turned away to walk down Kingsley toward the Palace. If she had stayed a second longer, would I have had the nerve to kiss her? Would she have let me? Doubtful, but I couldn’t help but wonder. She was halfway down the block before I realized I had better catch up. Maybe she would have let me kiss her. But there were still no guarantees that she would wait for me when anything involving Bruce was at stake.

The Palace, once one of the largest arcades in the country, was hardly more inviting than the Flamingo had been, as it was closed down in 1988. It was hard to believe, but it had gone way downhill since Bruce shot his video for “Tunnel of Love” there. A chain link fence surrounded the building, keeping vandals and teenagers out. There was barely even any graffiti on the peeling, faded paint; almost as if Asbury Park was so deserted that there weren’t even enough people there to vandalize an abandoned building. Instead, only the weather desecrated this once unmistakable landmark of the Jersey shore. Even the words on the street sign at the corner were faded and missing a letter. We walked around the side of the long-since empty building, reading the attractions advertised on the side in reverent silence. Laura stood in the middle of the road to take pictures without even needing to worry about traffic. The only moving car that we saw since arriving in town passed us as we walked down Kingsley toward the lake that separated Asbury Park from Ocean Grove, which was an entirely different universe. Ocean Grove was populated. Booming. Rich. Alive. Yet one block away, Asbury Park was as decimated as if a bomb had been dropped on it. We both turned to look at the car as it passed. It was the first sign of life that we had seen.

I personally thought that would have to be the worst of it. But the Casino had trees growing inside of it. Literally. Trees. The roof was torn off in some storm in the 1980s and never replaced. The carousel, which had once been world-famous, was sold off piece by piece and the space around it turned into a skate park before the entire building was shut down. By the time we got there, it was completely boarded up, and the only windows that weren’t broken were too high to reach with rocks or even BB guns. The remains of the pier hung perilously over the edge of the beach, guarded by a lone “No Trespassing” sign, which I doubted would have been enforced if people who wanted to trespass ever showed up. Nearer to the edge of the pier, only the frame of the roof remained, with big patches of blue sky visible through the broken windows. Plant life was clearly thriving in that end of the building, but the windows were higher there and there wasn’t a chance of getting a peek inside without a tall ladder.

An empty paint bucket stood near some of the lower windows and I turned it over. “What are you doing?” Laura asked. I climbed onto the bucket.

“Seeing if there’s anything inside.” I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up enough to see inside. She watched me expectantly as I looked in. But there wasn’t anything exciting to report back. I climbed down and shrugged at her. “Do you want to see?”

She nodded and climbed up onto the bucket, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see, so I picked her up. I held her while she snapped a few shots of the inside through the broken window, and when I put her down, we wandered around to the boardwalk side, where an entire panel of windows was missing and the foliage inside was clearly visible.

Turning away from the Casino on the boardwalk, a ramp to our left led up to nowhere. It just ended about ten feet off the ground. I looked from there to the beach and touched Laura’s arm to get her attention. “There are some people, at least,” I said, pointing toward the beach. Laura looked relieved. The beach was pretty deserted, but a handful of people had also played hooky from work (or maybe in a town like this, they didn’t have jobs to skip out of) and were scattered along the shore, enjoying the beautiful day.

Laura had started down the boardwalk and when I looked at her, her jaw dropped open. “Look! It’s really there!” she almost shouted, pointing toward the Convention Center. She was pointing at a tiny white shack, which was barely noticeable, but a serious attraction for a Bruce fan. It was Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. Madame Marie was a fortune teller who supposedly told Bruce that he was going to become famous. Although, according to Bruce, all musicians in Asbury Park received the same fortune, just not always with the same level of accuracy. She was mentioned in “Sandy” as being arrested for telling fortunes better than the police. Her shack, of course, was not open, nor was there any trace of Madame Marie herself, other than the faded lettering on the white walls of the building, which couldn’t have been more than about eight feet by eight feet. But we had once seen a picture of Bruce standing right in front of that spot. Laura traced a finger over the lettering on the side. She looked disappointed. I think she had expected Madame Marie to be sitting inside, waiting to tell our fortunes.

Today, it’s infinitely better. For starters, there’s a working parking system (wait, that’s not actually a better thing for me on a teacher’s salary!). It’s safer, it’s cleaner, there are cute little stores, and it no longer looks like a third-world country by the sea.

And even though the Palace and most of the Casino are now long gone, and Madam Marie has finally gone to a better place, where the cops can’t bust her for telling fortunes better than they do, Asbury Park remains one of the few places that I’ve ever been to where there still IS “magic in the night.” Whether it’s catching a show at the legendary Stone Pony (which I’ve done often enough at this point that some of the bouncers know me—I feel like that’s NOT a good thing when I live three-and-a-half hours away!), spending a summer day down the shore, or even just “driving down Kingsley, figuring [you’ll] get a drink,” it’s a special town. And even if Bruce never DOES show up while you’re there, he doesn’t need to. Because to anyone who’s ever felt a strong connection to his lyrics, just being there provides you with that “moment when the world seems right.”

Which is why I’m going back in a month for the annual Light of Day show. If I find a ticket. (Hint hint, if you’ve got extras!)

Me after Madam Marie’s granddaughter Sabrina read my tarot carts, just before the 2010 Light of Day show.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow… unless it doesn’t get me out of school!

Yesterday, as I was going about my job (you know, nothing too exciting, just educating the youth of America), I experienced one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher.

It began to snow.

Now, I personally get more excited about snow than any student could ever understand. Because when the kids get a snow day, they just get a day off from doing their homework. When I get a snow day, I get a PAID day off from doing my homework. Sorry kids, I win this one.

But when the snow starts during the school day, it turns into every teacher’s worst nightmare. Because the second even a single flake falls from the sky, all hints of civilization vanish from the classroom and it descends into complete and utter anarchy. The kind of anarchy that makes Lord of the Flies look like a British etiquette class run by Audrey Hepburn.

It’s pretty scary. Once it starts snowing, I tend to hide under my desk bomb-drill style and pray that I survive until they let us leave for the day. And if the kids find me, I’ve learned that playing dead works pretty well. Just like when you’re attacked by a bear. Lay perfectly still and you might survive.

I also try to avoid ever finding myself in this situation by keeping the blinds of my classroom completely closed when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Why 40 degrees? Because the DC area’s weather is so screwed up that apparently the freezing point ranges from 4 to 25 degrees and 36 to 40 degrees. Between 26 and 35 degrees, water is still a liquid. It’s one of those paradoxes of the universe that no one can explain. I mean, there was an eight year period when I thought I understood—clearly God was mad at the Bush administration. But I don’t know how to explain the freakish DC area weather now.

So even if there’s no hint of snow in the weather forecast, I’ve learned that it’s better not to take chances. I plan ahead and book as much time in the school computer labs as I can during the winter months because most of them in my school are windowless.

But that doesn’t help much. Kids can sense snow the way dogs sense fear. The way animals sense earthquakes and tsunamis. The way I sense shoe sales. It’s instinctual and unavoidable.

 Although cell phones don’t help. Because as soon as one kid knows it’s snowing, the news spreads faster than the rumor of a celebrity death on Twitter.

Last week for example, it flurried for about an hour. Now, I’m personally of the belief that flurries are the cruelest of all weather phenomenons. I’d take a tornado or typhoon over flurries any day. Because flurries get your hopes up for a snow day, but don’t deliver. And they make everyone and their mother forget how to drive even though the roads aren’t even damp, let alone treacherous.

And when the first of the microscopic snowflakes fell last week, my classroom turned into a scene that would make a European soccer riot look sane. Literally. A kid whipped his shirt off and ran around my classroom at full speed yelling “IT’S SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWING! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” while waving his shirt over his head.

Granted, that particular situation was my fault. I hadn’t closed the blinds that day.

But once a kid is screaming and waving his shirt like a flag, there’s no real way to regain control of the class that day. Like honestly, what do you do then? Send the kid out, shirtless and screaming? Then the rest of the school will know how ridiculous my class got! Although, to be fair, I’m pretty sure my class wasn’t the worst of the snow-mania. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I heard a rumor that some kids literally climbed out of a classroom window to roll in the snow. At least mine stayed in my room that day.

Yesterday was worse, however. Because the weather had predicted that it would snow all day. So every three seconds, a student would run to the window to see if it had started. And short of covering the windows in electrified barbed wire or bringing a cattle prod to school (which I’ve been told is frowned upon… they don’t let teachers have ANY fun), there just isn’t any way to keep this from happening.

It’s actually not that bad when we get out of school early though. I’m not going to lie, I don’t mind getting paid to go home. And even though the kids are more amped up than if they’d chugged six gallons of 5 Hour Energy (which I’m 100 percent positive shouldn’t be legal. I swear I had heart palpitations after drinking half of one. To misquote Shakespeare, an amphetamine by any other name is still an amphetamine), if they know they’re going home, they’re amped up and HAPPY.

But when the message comes down from the powers that be that we’re staying for a full day of school, that excess energy turns to horror movie-esque rage. And it’s not directed at the people who actually make the decision about whether schools stay open or not. Oh no. It’s directed at any authority figure that the kids can find.

Luckily, I’ve developed a solution to keep from being sacrificed to the snow gods when this rage strikes. If I complain before they do and louder than they do about the travesty of staying for the full day, they think I’m one of them.

Which, let’s be honest, I am. At least when it comes to getting out of school early.

Yes, Virginia, there is a gift that even a picky woman won’t return!

The Christmas season is rapidly approaching, and we all know what that means.

Well, it means absolutely nothing to me, except that I’ll be going to the movies with my parents on December 25, because I have a grand total of zero Jewish friends.

But to the goyim out there (that means non-Jews for all the goyim who didn’t understand that), it really only means one thing:

The mad, panicked search to find a present for the women in your life.

Because in case you didn’t know this already, women are…um… difficult. I don’t mean to shop for. Women are difficult in general. When it comes to shopping for us, women are impossible.

Which is why you’re so lucky that you have me. Because I’m about to decode what women want as presents so that you can buy the lady in your life something that she WON’T return.

Are you ready?

It’s actually simpler than you think as long as you remember one basic underlying principle:  ALL women will tell you not to worry about a present for them. This is a lie. When a woman says this, what she really MEANS is, “You’d better have picked out something super nice for me already, or you will never see me naked again.”

(Or, if it’s a woman buying a gift for a female relative, it means “You’d better have picked out something super nice for me already, or I will make you feel so bad about yourself for the next thirty years that even if you spent every day of the rest of your life in therapy, you couldn’t even begin to undo the psychological damage that I’m about to unleash on you.” Trust me. I’ve messed up on this one before. And I now spend the month before any holiday that requires gift giving huddled under a blanket in the corner of my bedroom sobbing because when I was four years old, I gave a macaroni necklace to a female relative, who shall remain nameless. But it wasn’t my mom. I swear. Please don’t hurt me, mommy.)

Basically, you have to get a present, ESPECIALLY if a woman tells you not to. And you know that expression, “It’s the thought that counts”? That’s up there with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Boogeyman in the closet. Because unlike the monster under your bed (who, in my case, is unfortunately all too real. He’s friendlier than I thought he would be, but he’s still there. His name is Steve. He said to tell you all hi), “It’s the thought that counts” is just one of those lies that parents tell children. And by the time you’re seven or eight years old, you’re not supposed to believe it anymore.

So what SHOULD you buy a woman in order to see her naked again and/or avoid massive psychological trauma? (Because seriously, the PTSD from giving a woman a bad present makes Vietnam vets look totally sane and normal.)

The key is to understand why women want a present: we want to feel like you really understand who were are and what we want. But to quote the movie Sliding Doors, women “don’t say what we want. But we reserve the right to be pissed off if we don’t get it. That’s what makes us so fascinating.”

The trick to finding the right gift depends on what type of woman you’re dealing with. There are four types, and all women fall into one of these four types.

1) The Vickys—These women love underwear, and it’s no secret. If she comes home with a striped pink bag every time she goes shopping, can name more than two Victoria’s Secret models, and/or has any item of clothing that says the word “Pink” on it, you’re dealing with a Vicky.

2) The Bathing Beauties—These are the women who are obsessed with bath products. They have different scented soaps for all seasons. The easiest way to spot a Bathing Beauty woman is to peek in her bathroom. If she has a loofa and more than one type of perfume/body spray, look no further. You’ve identified a Bathing Beauty.

3) The Imeldas—Me. Aka obsessed with shoes. To the point where we pick out our shoes in the morning and then pick out an outfit to match the shoes we’ve selected. If the woman you’re shopping for has ever done that, she’s an Imelda.

4) The Weirdos—non girly girls. If a woman falls into none of the above categories, You might as well just buy her a softball mitt or a powerdrill.

I’m kidding.  She already has both of those. 

Once you’ve identified the type of woman that you’re shopping for, picking a gift is fairly easy. If she’s a Vicky, do NOT pick out the underwear that you would like to see her in.

She’ll hate that. Instead, buy her something from Victoria’s Secret that SHE’LL be comfortable in. If you buy her a comfy robe or cute pajamas instead. Trust me. She’ll WANT to break out the sexy underwear for you if she feels like you appreciate her even when she’s dressed down.

If you’re shopping for a Bathing Beauty, it’s all about pampering. I’m less of an expert in this category because I’m happy with Dove soap and loofas just confuse me. But figure out her favorite store to buy her bath products from (if she’s a Body Shop girl, don’t get her something from Bath and Body Works, and vice versa. Look at the labels in her bathroom and stick with the winner!) and then pick out something that’s geared toward relaxation. They all have home spa products. If you get her something like that, she’ll feel safe and secure because you want her to feel pampered, taken care of, and special.

Imeldas, on the surface, are the toughest group of women to shop for. Because it’s practically impossible to buy shoes for anyone else. But an ex-boyfriend of mine mastered this technique (granted, it was pretty much the only thing he ever did right, but he did this SO well that I kept him around for way longer than I should have) and if that idiot could, you can too. Here’s the secret: if you want to REALLY impress an Imelda, go shopping with her one day.

I know, I know, you’d rather gouge your own eyes out with rusty nails. But trust me. When she spots a pair of shoes that she LOVES, but knows she shouldn’t buy for herself, encourage her to try them on, then be a jerk. Tell her she doesn’t NEED another pair of black leather boots/leopard-print heels/black pumps because they look exactly six other pairs she already has. She’ll get annoyed, which is good because it gives you the chance to make sure you know exactly which pair and which size she liked. Then, when you surprise her with the shoes that she loved in the store but didn’t buy, she’s going to think you’re the best boyfriend/husband/creepy stalker/etc in the world. NOTHING will win an Imelda over like this move will. I would know.

Then there are the weirdos. Most women do NOT want electronics as a gift. But if your woman doesn’t fit into any of the first three categories, you can buy her something practical with a sweet touch (like an ipod, but set it up for her and preload it with music she’ll enjoy), and you’ll probably be fine.

However there is one present that trumps all of the others no matter what type of woman you’re dealing with.

I’ll give you a hint: a dog may be man’s best friend, but ___________ are a girl’s best friend.

Hit it, Marilyn.

It doesn’t have to be a ring, and you don’t have to propose. But diamonds tell a woman that she’s loved. Just make sure you pay attention to whether she’s a white or yellow gold type of girl and pick out something to match. And especially when it comes to diamonds (but, I hate to break it to you, this applies to most things in life as well—sorry), size DOES matter.

Happy holiday shopping!

My name is Sara, and I’m a makeup-aholic… and a shoe-aholic… Help!

Hello my name is Sara, and I’m a makeup-aholic.

And a shoe-aholic. But Shoe Addicts Anonymous meets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, so today it’s time to address my other raging addiction.

I’ve been addicted to makeup for as long as I can remember. It probably started with my mother, who is also a makeup-aholic. Although she doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem, so I grew up thinking it was normal to be obsessed with makeup.

As a child, the most exciting day of the year wasn’t my birthday, which was just another day because I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. No, it was Halloween, when I could wear as much makeup as I wanted. And that’s the entire reason why I enjoyed ballet as a little girl: I got to wear makeup for the recitals. (And a tutu, which of course, as the girliest girl on the planet, I would have lived in from age two to age fourteen if I could have. To be honest, if it was socially acceptable, I’d probably still wear a tutu. But, in one of the great tragedies of my life, it’s not.)

Of course, when I got a little older and saw the pictures of myself for Halloween and ballet recitals, I understand why I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup regularly until high school, because I looked like a prostitute in training. And bright blue eyeshadow isn’t a particularly good look on anyone, especially not an eight year old in a tutu.

Now, as an adult, it’s not even that I wear THAT much makeup on a daily basis. My entire makeup routine from start to finish takes less than ten minutes and, when I’m running late (which, let’s face it, when am I NOT running late?), can take far less time than that.

And because I have Rosie, I’ve even been known to leave the house without makeup to walk her (which horrifies my mother). Granted, I don’t walk her further than ten feet away from my building when I have no makeup on, and now that I’ve discovered that a couple of seriously cute single guys live in my building, I’m less likely to walk her without makeup when it’s not 5am. But I AM capable of leaving my house without makeup, which a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say.

Baby steps, but steps all the same.

So what’s the problem?

Ulta and Sephora.

No, those aren’t weirdo new names for children or (because I have no children) my boobs. They’re the two leading makeup stores. And they (along with shoes and Springsteen concerts) are why I might lose my house in the near future.

Because I am physically incapable of passing either store without going in and spending at least $100. Literally. If I walk into a mall and pass Sephora twice, I have to go in both times and buy things both times. That’s not normal.

I can’t explain it either. I DO know, on a practical level, that I don’t NEED every shade of Urban Decay’s liquid glitter eyeliner. I do. But I was SO upset the one time that I wore my one outfit that had some gold in it (because I’m the only Jew on the planet who’s allergic to gold jewelry. Seriously. I don’t know how that happened) and I didn’t have the glitter eyeliner that would have looked perfect with that dress.

Literally. I wound up dashing out to Ulta in my gold outfit and getting there 30 seconds before they closed and BEGGING them to let me in to buy the one eyeliner that I didn’t have because it was the ONLY thing that could complete my outfit. Which they did, because I am single handedly keeping them in business. And since then, guess how many times I’ve worn that gold glitter eyeliner?

If you guessed zero, you guessed correctly. But I have it. Just in case.

I also have the same eyeliner in magenta, fuchsia, mauve, teal, aqua, purple, light blue, royal blue, navy blue, green, forest green, olive green, blue-green, and green-blue, all of which are JUST different enough to convince me that I need to spend the $17 each on them to complete the collection.

Do you see what I mean? I need help.

Every once in awhile (usually when my linen closet, which in my case is actually a cosmetic closet, explodes and spews old makeup volcano-style sixty feet in the air and shuts down all of the airports over the entire eastern seaboard), I decide to throw out the makeup that I haven’t worn in years. Which, to the untrained observer would seem to be a step in the right direction.

But my fellow makeup-aholics know where I’m going with this.

Because then I have room for all of the exciting NEW makeup that I swear cosmetic companies put out just for me.

It’s actually gotten to the point where one of the employees at my local Ulta tries to help me, because he knows that I can’t afford to keep buying makeup at my current rate. So when I go to check out, he holds up everything I’ve brought to the counter and asks me, “Do you NEED this? Or do you just WANT it?” and if I can’t justify why I actually need it, he makes me put it back.

Which means that I go to extraordinary lengths to avoid going to his register. To the point where I’ll call the store to find out his work schedule, then go in when I know he won’t be there.

They say the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Which I suppose means that I’m on my way. But the real point of this blog post isn’t to explain my problem or recover.

It’s to tell you that if you’re looking for a holiday present for me and you’re not buying me shoes, the next best thing you can get me is a Sephora or Ulta gift card and Curtis’ work schedule for the Ulta in Rockville.

Because makeup may not make the world a prettier place. But only because not everyone wears it.

And it makes me happy. And in the end, isn’t making me happy what the holidays are REALLY about?

The 11th Commandment: Thou shalt leave a note when thou hittest a parked car

Yesterday, something so vile, disgusting and inhumane happened that I’m actually loath to talk about it.

While I spent my day from sunup to sundown (both of which I missed) educating the youth of America and helping to ensure a better future for our world, a vicious hate crime of epic proportions was perpetrated against me.

Some unholy minion of evil HIT MY PARKED CAR.

Even this, however, I could forgive, under the right circumstances. People call most collisions “accidents” for a reason, after all.

But whoever committed this immoral atrocity also violated the most rudimentary and fundamental law that separates humans from animals: he or she did not leave a note.

I immediately jumped to the most rational possible conclusion, which was that Verizon had hunted me down and lashed out against me in the most unforgivable manner possible as retribution for my (completely warranted) campaign against them.

Then I realized that was super unlikely because they can’t even get their acts together enough to keep my internet and cable functioning, let alone figure out where I work and which car is mine all in enough time to arrive there during normal business hours.

So unless Verizon is MUCH better at revenge than they are at providing reliable cable and internet service, (and factoring in the fact that I work at a high school) it was probably a teenage driver who hit my car.

Which doesn’t make it any better. Hitting someone’s car without leaving a note is one of the most reprehensible acts that a member of a civilized society can commit.

It’s a little known fact, but when Moses went up onto Mount Sinai, God actually presented him with ELEVEN commandments, not the ten that we’ve all been taught. But the Israelites had no idea what a car was and therefore discarded the holy eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not hittest another man’s car without leaving a note with thine name, phone number, and insurance information.

You want to know why we keep having tragedies and natural disasters? Start following the eleventh commandment and maybe the world will be a better place.

As a strict adherent to the sacred eleventh commandment, I am personally of the belief that there is a special circle in hell for people who hit other people’s cars without leaving a note.

No, they don’t belong in the VERY deepest circle of hell, which as we all know is reserved for Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Martha Stewart, Stephenie Meyer (the chick who wrote the Twilight books), and those people who put their children on leashes—that level, of course, is ruled by the master of all that is dark and cruel and evil. He goes by many names. Some call him Satan. Some call him Beelzebub. Some call him the Space Cowboy. Some call him the Gangster of Love. Some people call him Maurice. But most of the modern world just knows him as Dick Cheney.

The eleventh commandment violators wind up in the second deepest level of hell.

Yes.

I mean the circle that is presided over by Dan Snyder. Because having him in charge of that particular eternal torture chamber is the ONLY way to ensure that it will suck enough to truly punish these monsters who are willing to disobey the laws of civilized society.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’m unreasonable. I DO understand that there are some circumstances under which it is not only acceptable, but actually advisable to hit someone’s car and NOT leave a note. In fact, there are three (and ONLY three) situations in which there is no need to leave a note.

Scenario 1: You are Jack Bauer. Granted, if you’re Jack Bauer, the car you’re driving was commandeered *cough*-stolen-*cough* at gunpoint while you were chasing terrorists and essentially saving the free world. And I’m not sure if it’s really YOUR responsibility to leave a note when you hit a car with a stolen car in the first place.

But if it WAS you who hit my car, Mr. Bauer, don’t worry, I completely understand.

Unless you were NOT chasing terrorists down for once and were really on your way to pick up your dry cleaning, in which case I expect an apology and a check for the damages.

Just kidding. Please don’t shoot me.

Scenario 2: You are Legend. I mean you are literally Will Smith. And the entire world’s population has died out due to a cure for cancer that you created and that went horribly wrong, and the only other living creatures are horrible vampire/zombie monsters that are trying to get you.

However, in this scenario, it’s only okay to hit other cars and not leave a note if you’re 1) driving at full speed away from the vampire/zombie monsters in the middle of the night when they can come out and attack you, and 2) spending your days working on finding a cure and therefore saving mankind.

If you’re just driving around during the day, it doesn’t matter if everyone else is dead, you still need to leave a note. In fact, that’s probably WHY the vampire/zombie creatures were so pissed off. They didn’t want to eat you. They were mad because you hit one of THEIR cars and didn’t leave a note. Vampire/zombies deserve common courtesy when you mess up their property too, you know!

Some legend YOU are.

Jerk.

Scenario 3: You’re in a Delorean and you have to make it to 88 miles per hour to get back in time and when you arrive in the past, you hit a car that wasn’t there when you left in 1985.

But be warned, this scenario ONLY applies if you’re using the time machine to see a Springsteen show from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. If you’re messing with the space time continuum to ensure that your parents kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance so that you can be born, you’re still expected to leave a note.

And if you’re not bringing me with you to see Springsteen, and you hit MY car, I will travel back in time Terminator-style to kill your mother and make sure that you’re never born. But unlike Arnold, I’ll actually get the job done. Then I’ll go see Bruce in 1978. Because really, what’s the point of time travel if you’re just going to go hang out with your dorky teenage parents? Lame.

So, to whoever hit my car and didn’t leave a note, I’m going to give you one day to find me and make it right. You have exactly 24 hours to fess up.

And if it turns out that you fit into one of the three aforementioned acceptable scenarios, all will be forgiven. But the odds aren’t in your favor because Jack Bauer isn’t real, the human race hasn’t been wiped out by a killer cancer vaccine, and no one took me back in time to the 1970s. Which means you should be very, very afraid about what awaits you in the afterlife.

Because trust me, you’re going to be BEGGING to hang out with Adolf, Saddam, Martha and Dick Cheney in the deepest circle of hell after ten minutes of being tortured under Dan Snyder’s evil regime.

Just ask any Redskins fan.