Tag Archives holidays

What It’s Like Being Single During the Holidays

Slice of Sweet Potato Pie | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Katie, flickr.com Text & design: The Girl Next Door is Black

“C’mon ladies, you can do this! 15 more seconds! Think about all the delicious Thanksgiving food you’ll get to have next week. I just made a butternut squash casserole last night to test out and it was so tasty. There’re sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, turkey – which I don’t even really like…Why do I have Thanksgiving food on my mind?”

My bubbly Pilates instructor gabbed on about Thanksgiving as we held our planks for what felt like the longest 15 seconds in history. A classmate chimed in: “You have one week and a day!”

What did she say? I cocked my head to the side as we moved on to triceps exercises on the tower.

“It’s next week?!” I asked, more with surprise than an actual need for confirmation.

She nodded and gave me a curious look, probably thinking “How do you not know it’s next week?” I bet she started prepping for it weeks ago. My class is often half-full of these super-stay-at-home moms and sometimes it’s like we speak different languages and live in two different universes. When they get to talking about mom stuff, like leaky post-pregnancy bladders that prevent them from joining in certain jumping exercises, I certainly understand the concept, but I can’t really add much, unless it’s to say, “Oh yeah, I have a few girlfriends that have that problem. My bladder is in tact though; no babies. So..there’s that. Yay, Pilates!”

Well crap, I don’t have plans yet. Where did the time go?

It’s again that time of year where I have to figure out where I’m spending the holidays, so I don’t spend them alone and marathon family- and romance-oriented holiday movies on Hallmark Channel that leave me a blithering mess buried in used tissues. Or log into Facebook, scroll through friends’ festive family photos and magnificent foodscapes of mouth-drooling Instagram-worthy meals, growing bitter and more self-pitying with each “like” of a photo. To top it off, a cheerful type will post,

“Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!! ūüôā ūüôā I’m so thankful for my blessings and to be here with my loving family on this special day. Enjoy your time with your loved ones everyone!!!!!!! ūüôā !”

Sometimes Facebook is evil.

Most days I’m generally content with singlehood. A notable exception is when the holiday trio of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve roll around. Instead of being filled with glee and anticipation, I feel anxiety: “What am I going to do with myself this year?” These three holidays are when I’m most vulnerable to loneliness and melancholy. It ain’t easy being alone on holidays that revolve around love and togetherness. When these holidays are good, they’re fantastic. If you’re single and your family (of origin) lives states away and other single friends fly off to reunite with their families, these holidays become a source of stress.

Thanksgiving is particularly more difficult to plan for because traditionally, I, like many others, don’t get much time off from work. Flying somewhere for a four-day weekend at Thanksgiving prices doesn’t seem smart. So, you’re alone. What to do?

Christmas Dinner Table Set, Photo cr: Celeste Lindell, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Celeste Lindell, flickr.com

The single folks aren’t the first thing that come to mind when most people are planning Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure. They’re just focused on their families. I’ve done a few Friendsgivings with other single friends in the past. I could never find a consistent group though; people kept moving. I’ve spent a few Thanksgivings with other friends’ families. Though, I can’t help but feeling like “one of these people doesn’t belong.”

I’ve volunteered a couple of times. I don’t much like volunteering for holidays. It’s a lot like being a regular gym-goer on January 2nd. Suddenly the gym is packed with people who’ve vowed to get fit this year! By February 2nd, the gym is back to normal.

I’ve spent at least one Thanksgiving and one Christmas alone and I didn’t really care for it. Though, you can’t spend the holidays with just anybody.

Sometimes you get the pity invites. Where, for instance, a random coworker asks what your plans are for Thanksgiving and you panic because you don’t have plans yet, but you don’t want to say that and seem like a friendless loser. You also don’t want to lie, so you casually answer, “I don’t know yet…” Trailing off to allude to the million wonderful invitations you are sifting through. They reply, with an undercurrent of hesitance, “Well…you’re welcome to spend the holiday with my family. My grandma’s kind of racist, haha, but she’s harmless. I’m sure she’ll like you. I’ll have to check with my husband/sister/cousin/brother/mother/uncle’s wife’s dog first. I’m sure it’ll be fine though! The more the merrier, right?”

You know they’re just being polite and given you don’t even hang out outside of work, spending an intimate holiday together might be a little awkward.

Or you accept a friend’s invitation to dinner with her family who isn’t American, so Thanksgiving means something entirely different to them. Ordinarily you love to eat myriad cuisine, but on Thanksgiving you just want Thanksgiving food, there are 364 other days in the year to eat other stuff. You can’t complain though. Your friend invited you and that was very sweet of her, so shut up and eat the rice.

Also, why does everyone in California eat pumpkin pie? Has no one never heard of the far superior sweet potato pie?

Yes, I like marshmallows on my sweet potatoes; no I don’t think it’s too sweet. My family originated in the South – well, after Africa – I want my Thanksgiving food to taste like someone put their foot in it.

Why are their raisins in this dish?

Jokes aside, it’s a beautiful thing when other people invite you to be part of their family for the day and include you in their holiday memories. There are no rules for what makes up a family and I’m grateful to those who’ve included me.

I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do this year. It’s a week away!

Thank goodness I’ve got a trip planned for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

 

Can anyone else relate?

Saying No to No

Recently during lunch with a co-worker, Mighty* – we’ve bonded in our search for sanity in the crazytown that is our work environment – she exclaimed, “Keisha, I have to tell you! Something you told me really helped me!”

A few weeks earlier, on our way back from lunch, dodging poo on the sidewalk (dog? human? who knows), sidestepping a disheveled-looking man angrily muttering to himself and quickly breezing past a urine-scented staircase, – in other words, a not atypical walk in certain parts of San Francisco – Mighty¬†told me how she’d fallen victim to a scam on a popular website – a website which began as a consumer-to-consumer auction site, we’ll call it, “eCray”.

She sold an expensive electronic item to someone who conned¬†her out of four figures. Distraught and poorer, she complained to eCray’s customer service who told her due to some loophole, “Sorry for ya, but you screwed yourself. Sucks for you though, we get that. Maybe call a lawyer? Ok, bye! Please shop again!”

Refer-a-friend.001 (1)Clearly exasperated and frustrated, she concluded, “I guess I’m just out all of that money! It was stupid! I can’t believe they won’t do anything!”

I recounted to her the tale of my great battle against the big online bookstore that put many baby bookstores out of business. But, I didn’t buy a book from them, I bought something else, because they sell other stuff too, everything actually, it’s pretty amazing. Let’s call that company, “Jungle.”

Due to a botched transaction with a reseller (they have stuff for resale too!), I was owed a refund which I never received. At the time, Jungle’s customer service that was so bad and it angered me so much I wondered if I needed therapy, after all, it wasn’t all that much money. But, THEY messed up and THEY needed to give me back my money. It’s the principle of the thing. So, when Jungle’s customer service hit me with:

“We are sorry for your inconvenience, but¬†our policy states that we must be money-hoarding automatons with fake names – because¬†you¬†know and¬†I¬†know my¬†name isn’t really ‘Brad’ or ‘George’ or ‘Angelina’, but something less easy for the average American¬†to pronounce – and we can’t give you a refund. But, sorry, that sucks ma’am. Ok, bye! Please shop again!”

photo cr: Ryan Li
Don’t mess with my money! photo cr: Ryan Li, flickr.com

Screw¬†that. I drafted a letter and an¬†email – old school and new school – to “whom it may concern”, about the small amount I was owed, why it was owed to me and the amount of ridiculous shenanigans and fuckery that ensued when I tried to reclaim my money thanks to their blood-pressure raising, script-reading, customer service.¬†In summary, I added how I’m not going to be shopping there anymore because they’ve left a bad taste in my mouth and I will never be the same. Ever.

Letter stamped, dropped in the mail and email sent to the VP of Customer Service, the VP of Marketing and the VP of VPness. That should about reach at least one person high enough who will care that a customer is so upset she’ll take her fight up the ladder and tell the whole damn neighborhood about it.

A few weeks later, I received a lovely email from a VP expressing intense regret at the unfortunate experiences I’d endured at Jungle’s hands along with a refund for the full amount owed and¬†a¬†gift card to buy anything I like (you can buy Q-tips! Q-tips delivered to your doorstep in two days!).

When I finished the story about my battle against the giant Jungle, Mighty let out a big breath: “Wow, I didn’t think of that. You’re right; I should do that, because I am so angry! That is so wrong, they should be protecting their customers!”

At lunch, she recalled the telling of that anecdote and being marveled by my perseverance. I offered as explanation:

photo cr: Kari Sullivan, flickr.com
photo cr: Kari Sullivan, flickr.com

“I guess I just never take ‘no’ for an answer. I never really thought about it, but I think I just figure there’s always a way around most things. There’s almost always someone higher up who can get you what you need or another solution around a roadblock.

I just keep trying until I decide either it’s no longer worth it or I’ve exhausted my solutions. I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and decide if it’s worth it.”

I added, “I think it’s a family thing.”

Ready for another story within a story?

I shared with her how Last Christmas, back in Texas to visit the family, I went to the movies with my mom and younger sister to see the film Mandela. Unfortunately, an older version of Martha and the Vandellas were there too, gossiping like church ladies. Now this is Man.de.la, a movie about a man of great historical importance, who, along with his fellow South African supporters, suffered through much violence and debasement as demonstrated in evocative scenes. Imagine having your stream of emotions interrupted by obnoxious braying:

“Honeyyyyyyyy, I couldn’t!”

“Hahahaha, I know!

These heifers.

My mom and sister periodically turned around presumably to mean-mug them. A few other patrons in the mostly empty theatre attempted to shush them, but they’d start right back up again, clucking away like plump hens freed from their pen.

Ordinarily, this is exactly the kind of shit that sticks in my craw. I have paid damn near the price of a concert ticket to sit in this dark theatre with strangers and my family, eating overpriced artery-clogging popcorn because the stuff is addictive, and these women here, these women here, are bleating their way through Mandela. Mandela!

However, I was more fascinated with my mom and sister and their fascination with Rude, Ruder & Rudest.

My sister huffed. Then she stood up. She is 22 and has more confidence and self-assuredness at her age than I had my entire high school experience. She whispered, “I’m going to find the manager.”

Oh snap.

451744-phone-and-cinema-and-genericA long 10 minutes later, my sister returned,¬†shortly followed by a¬†young usher, who looked like he’s capable of nothing more than wrestling a stuffed tiger, peered toward the back of the theatre where the three assmigas¬†have caught on and were silently behaving themselves.

He stood in place for a beat, probably sizing up the women, shrugged – I’m sure he realized they could take him and the stuffed tiger he wrestled – and he exited the¬†theatre without a word to them.

We were not impressed.

For a blissful half an hour, the women remained largely silent, shuffling and shifting weight periodically, almost as though the pain of holding back their witty commentary might eat them up from inside, until finally bits of conversation, varying in volume from a whisper to audible travel-level and worked its way toward us:

“and then…yeah, uh huh…right, so then…and he…”

Gah!. We did our best to ignore their voices as they chittered intermittently during the movie.

After the film, my mom approached the useless usher and requested to speak to the manager.

“Yes, ma’am!” He immediately turned and headed for a private door.

I think he would have flown¬†to the manager to get there faster if he could. My mom’s tone indicated, “I mean business.¬†You better get moving! Nobody’s playing here!”

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When the manager arrived, my mom and sister calmly explained to the him the pain we suffered through having our Mandela experience ruined: Do you know how much movie tickets are these days? And my sister/daughter is in town all the way from California! and this is what she has to go through? I just find this unacceptable. We did not enjoy ourselves.

I stood silently in awe trying to avoid breaking out in a full smile of pride.

In less than five minutes, we emerged from the theatre having received an apology and 8 passes to see any movie we like.

“I wrote to the Vice President of Customer Service at eCray like you suggested,” Mighty said, “and I got it resolved! It was so fast! They refunded all my money! I have to remember this! Thank you for your help!”

Sometimes it pays not to take no for an answer.

* Name changed for the sake of making my life easier

Awkward Encounters at the Greeting Card Store

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper in 'Mama's Family'
Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper in ‘Mama’s Family’

A few days ago I was at my local greeting card store picking up what seemed like stacks of birthday cards because I tend to befriend and befamily* a disproportionate number of Pisces/Aries/Taurus people (those born in March and April, for the non-astrology folks). As I approached the cash register to pay, I kind of hoped that I wouldn’t be helped out by the somewhat eccentric older woman with the Thelma Harper hair and with whom I’d had an off-putting encounter around the Christmas holidays.

As I was packing away the holiday cards I’d just purchased (holiday-neutral, no religious symbols, no mentions of Christmas, baby Jesus or miraculous pregnancies) in the reusable bag I’d dutifully brought with me (you’re welcome, Earth), she wished me a, “Happy Holidays.”

“Thanks, you too!”

“Oh, thank you. You know, last week, I said ‘Merry Christmas’ to a customer. She snapped at me, ‘I am Jewish!’ Sor-REEEE. You don’t have to jump down my throat! Can’t say anything these days without somebody getting offended. Do you celebrate Christmas?”

I nodded.

photo cr: cutiepiecompany, flickr.com
photo cr: cutiepiecompany, flickr.com

“Then MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, young lady.”

I tilted my head in false sympathy for her plight and left.

Erm…okay. I mean, maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s religion? Maybe the customer is Jewish and in the religious minority in this country and gets tired of people assuming she celebrates Christmas?  I mean, I get annoyed when ignorant dudes approach with me some fake swagger and a “Hey girl, what’s up?” trying to sound hood, but the same dude will greet my white or Asian friend with, “Hi, I’m Joe,” using perfect diction, sounding like they’re ready to give a speech to the President. It just so happens that I also speak Standard American English and am capable of understanding simple words like, ‘Hi, I’m Joe.” So, spare me the blaccent. Assumptions, assumptions. Just assy.

Photo cr: Brian Everett, flickr.com
Photo cr: Brian Everett, flickr.com


A few months later, I stood at the register and who else but eccentric older woman made her way toward me? Three employees in the store and I get her.

“All set? Oh! Let me show you our Easter cards!” She motioned toward the front of the store.

“Oh, no thank you.”

“They’re just right here. I’ll show you.” She started toward the cards.

Her voice was loud enough for me and the rest of the customers in the store to hear.

“Thanks. I don’t celebrate Easter.”

“Ahhhh…” she walked back to the register. The woman standing in line behind me tensed up, shifted her weight. The woman still hadn’t even rung up my purchases; she was too busy badgering me into looking at Easter cards.

I was raised Christian, but don’t consider myself Christian and don’t really make it a point to celebrate Easter. I do celebrate Christmas, but for the secular reasons.

“It’s just, there’s one with an [she lowered her voice to a loud whisper] ‘African-American’ on it. We don’t usually have those, so…”

Why is this happening? For real? I just wanted to buy some damn cards.

On the one hand, given I’ve written about the lack of color representation among greeting card choices, it’s positive there’s a card with a black person on it. But, it’s ONE CARD. What if I didn’t like the card? What if the person on the card was wearing some tacky ass outfit? Or looked ratchet? Or looked like a white person whose skin was painted a horrible brown shade that doesn’t exist in humans? Like I’m not supposed to notice the European features on the chocolate skin. They do that. Thanks for the charity. One card.

Grossest Easter candy | Photo cr: wikipedia
Grossest Easter candy | Photo cr: wikipedia

On the other hand: woman, seriously? Stop being so pushy and sticking your foot all the way in your mouth. It’s kind of ridiculous to single me out because you have one black card. She probably meant well, but c’mon.

“Yeah, not a lot of cards like that. I’ll have to check that out some other time.”

It seemed like it took her ages to ring me up before finally I could bolt from the store. The lone black customer has exited the store, off to do some black stuff. Goodbye.

*made up word

 

What Halloween Taught Me About Economics

This is the third year that Jimmy Kimmel encouraged parents to torment their unsuspecting, innocent, sticky-fingered¬†children by pretending the parents ate all the kids’ Halloween candy. These candy-nappers film the interaction as they break the news to their presumed beloved spawn. We, the adults, are expected to laugh at the pain these helpless tykes¬†feel at the shocking and unexpected¬†loss of their sugar haul.

“That’s not a very kind thing to doooooo,” one sweet boy¬†wailed at his candy-napping parent.

No, kid, it’s not kind. It’s not funny. I feel your pain.

I grew up during the¬†“How Halloween Candy is Killing Your Kids – Film at 11!” hysteria of the 80s. Panic-inducing reports warned concerned parents¬†to check their kid’s Halloween candy collection¬†for razors and other non-treat items. Nefarious derelicts were out to poison your children one tainted Snickers bar at a time, the news warned.

Dutifully, after trick-or-treating I’d turn over my hard-earned candy – hard-earned through amped¬†up cuteness and that trick adults love: politeness; saying “please” and “thank you” –¬†to my parents to inspect. Their turnaround time would be anywhere from 10-minutes to 72-hours. Those 72-hour Halloween seasons blew like exploding chunks of pumpkin.

“How¬†could it possibly take so long to check candy for razors?” my young mind would wonder.

Some years, it seemed that when my parents returned my prized candy,¬†the load was noticeably lighter. Um…didn’t I have more Now & Laters in this pail? Nah, I probably just thought I had more.

Trick or Treat (TV series)

The last year I trick-or-treated, I was a sophomore in high school and did it sort of ironically – at least that’s what I’d tell anyone my age who might have caught me out. Truthfully, my younger sisters were going and I wanted free candy. Besides, most¬†adults¬†thought I looked like a middle-schooler anyway. May as well capitalize on my baby-faced appearance.

As always, when we returned home that evening, I handed over my sack of sucrose to my parents. “I’m 15, do I really need you to check my candy? I know what a razor looks like. And, anyway, I don’t know how you can tell if something is poisonous¬†if it’s in a wrapper.”

Yeah, I was a little bit of a know-it-all.

My plea for adult responsibility via candy-checking didn’t work. Off to my parents my candy went.

The next afternoon, when I was reunited with my candy,¬†I felt¬†certain I’d been ripped off. I KNOW there were Sour Patch Kids in there. I don’t mess around with my Sour Patch Kids! I confronted my parents. I was on to them.

Like a woman from Snapped who slowly poisons her husband by adding small doses of arsenic to his morning coffee, my parents had been siphoning off more and more candy from my collection over the years. This had gone on for long enough. I did the leg work. I asked politely for candy and dressed up like a fool for the amusement of grown people. I wanted what I worked for!

“Parents, I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but I’m pretty sure I’m missing some candy.”

“Oh…,” parental stammer,” well, your sister didn’t get as much candy as you did, so we gave some of yours to her.”

WHAT?! Again, I have to share? Man sometimes I miss when I was an only child. I worked for the candy and because the little ones didn’t hustle enough, I have to give up some of mine? This is crap!

Candy Thief
My parents were candy bandits!. Photo cr: Jenn and Tony Bot, flickr.com

“And we also took a few pieces. You don’t need to eat all that sugar.”

But, I worked for this! It’s mine! I earned it!

There was no point arguing with them. They were in charge. They made the rules. The candy was gone and trying to retrieve the misappropriated goods from my little sisters was like asking for a grounding. Sigh.

The following¬†spring, I earned¬†my very first paycheck from my first non-lemonade stand, non-babysitting, non-chores around the house, job. I’d calculated that at 16-hours a week and $4.25 an hour, a two-week paycheck would have me living in petit baller-land in no time.

I was horrified when I saw my net pay.

“What the hell is FICA and why is it¬†taking my money?!”

I’d known about federal taxes, but what were all these other deductions? Why does the federal government need all this money from me? I’m only 16. I just want to be able to buy a tasty chicken fried steak lunch at school, maybe get some clothes and sit around at Starbuck’s, pretending to be intellectual while drinking coffee that isn’t going to stunt my growth because I’ve already accepted I’ll be 5’1″ forever.

Now I understood why adults were always whining about paying taxes. I worked 32 hours and it seemed like half of the time I worked went to the government. For what?! If this is how much I have to work just to get this piddly little check, I’m going to have to work forever!

The thing is though, I wasn’t actually that shocked. Sure, momentarily, the¬†government raining on my first paycheck parade with its deductions, gave me pause. However, my parents Halloween-candy pilfering and redistribution of candy-wealth to my sisters had prepared me for this moment.

Sour Patch Kids
If you value your limbs, you’ll ¬†back away from the (sour patch) kids. Photo cr: dklimke, flickr.com

My parents taught me about the concept of the sharing the wealth through Halloween candy. My little sisters were quite content with their inflated candy stashes and my parents were right: I didn’t need all that candy anyway.

I feel for the kids whose parents pulled candy-thieving pranks on them. However, maybe they will learn something from this. Something other than, “sometimes mommy and daddy can be mean.” I still won’t take joy in their pain. Don’t be messing with people’s candy. The last time someone tried to steal my candy, bitch almost lost an arm.