No room at the inn. Transferred colleges and couldn’t get into the dorms, so lived in a tiny hole in a decrepit, single room occupancy hotel in downtown Albany. Took the bus back and forth to campus, five miles away, even when the temperature was below zero. Glad to go home for the semester break. Bundled up and walked a mile to the record to store to buy the double album Barry Manilow Live to bring home with me. Planned to take Amtrak down to the Hudson Valley, where a friend would pick me up. Had to take a taxi across the river to the train station in Rensselaer. Had the hotel bellhop call me a cab and carry out my luggage. Became frightened when he started to yell at me. Later realized I was supposed to give him something called a “tip.”
Slacking and slouching my way through college. Finally got into the dorms and hated living with a bunch of creeps. Accidentally bumped into the dorm Christmas tree and knocked it over. Hated taking political science courses to please my parents, who wanted me to be a lawyer. Allowed my mother to talk me into taking Constitutional Law. Hated it with a passion but was afraid to drop it. Plowed through piles and piles of mimeographed cases, understanding next to nothing. Final paper was due right before Christmas, but I put it off until it was too late. Stayed up all night to try to put something together. Couldn’t. Wrote a note to the professor explaining that I am a square peg being forced into a round hole. Walked across campus to the PoliSci office and gave the note to the secretary. Told her to tell the prof to just fail me and get it over with. Walked back to the dorm and went to bed. Went home for winter break the next day. Shouted “I hate the Constitution!” in front of my parents, earning a tongue-lashing from Mom.
My parents had recently won some money in a lawsuit and purchased a Honey motor home. The thing slept eight, got nine miles to the gallon and drove like a tank. Rode down to Florida in it with my parents and sisters. It was my senior year of college and I figured this would be my last chance to do this. One of my college friends had taken a shine to my sister, and she really liked him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t Jewish and my mother was having none of it. Mom and Sis fought and carried on the whole trip. My sisters and I slept on chaise lounges on my grandparents’ lanai in Florida. Sis cried all night and my heart ached for her, particularly since it was my stupid friend who caused this mess.
After graduating college with a useless liberal arts degree in May, my job prospects were exactly zero. My mother was working in Rhode Island, so I lived with her and started taking the courses I needed for a teaching credential. Took summer and fall classes, but Mom quit her job in November and moved back to New York. I moved into the dorms (where I lit Hanukkah candles but blew them out after about 30 seconds for fear they would set the curtains on fire or set off the smoke alarm), but when the semester was over in December, my parents said they were done with Rhode Island and I should come back to New York and look for a job. A few days before Christmas, my father arrived to pick me up. I cried as we drove away.
Quit my first job. Eleven months on the night shift at minimum wage was enough for me. I had found another job, so I just called in and quit without notice. It was a weird feeling, half guilt, half liberation. On Dec. 8, started working at a huge, stinking chemical plant that I will call Carcinogens R Us. Thought I had won the lottery because I was making union wage, $8.07 per hour.
Threw a thirtieth anniversary party for my parents on Christmas Eve. Tried to keep it a secret, but then learned that they were planning to fly to Florida for Christmas and had to tell them. Invited distant relatives whom we hadn’t seen in forever. Most of them came. Spent a lot of money on catering but had no music. My girlfriend, who was also Jewish, kept asking me if this was a Christmas party. Dumbass.
In charge of the Christmas party for our section at work. There were a hundred of us. Arranged for the food, but there was no money in the budget for music. Didn’t have any Christmas music because I still lived at home and, well, we’re Jewish. Went through my collection of vinyl records and made a party tape using the cassette player on my stereo. Discovered that a lot of people really hate Barry Manilow. Was mildly embarrassed when my coworkers kept rewinding the tape to play Gloria Estefán singing “Conga” over and over again.
Quit my job back in August to go to law school full-time. Quickly found that I was in over my head. I had begun exhibiting agoraphobic tendencies a couple of years before and started having full-blown panic attacks as exams approached. At Christmas, foolishly decided to ride to Florida with my parents again, with yet another girlfriend along for the ride. We were staying with my grandparents while the girlfriend was staying at her father’s house down there. My sisters had wisely flown the coop. Mom hated everyone on my father’s side of the family and hated my girlfriend even more. She decided to take it out on me. Endured ten days of listening to Mom scream, yell and curse at me. Never rode to Florida with them again.
My parents drove to Florida by themselves. I stayed up at law school in Massachusetts. I was renting a room along with several other law students in a huge house owned by empty-nesters. They invited me to stay for their family Christmas and I eagerly accepted. Their four children came home for Christmas with their spouses. The depth of the pile of gifts around the Christmas tree staggered my imagination. It took hours to open them all on Christmas Eve. My landlord’s son-in-law referred to this exercise as “death by presents.” I just called it awesome.
Quit my job as a clerk (Do you see a pattern here?) when I realized the temp-to-hire position was all temp and no hire. Also because I had failed the bar exam once already and figured I’d better study full-time for a couple of months if I were to have any chance of passing in February. Also because I was sick and tired of the boss and his secretary imitating my parents by having daily screaming matches with each other. The first Gulf War got underway in Iraq and I was horrified. Wrote my first letter to “any soldier.” Wrote an anti-war poem and had it published in “Yellow Ribbons,” a tiny local mimeographed piece of shit. Wrote another poem titled “Daddy Hates Chicken.” My agoraphobia worsened and I tried to stay at home as much as possible. Of course, “home” was still my parents’ house, where I figured I’d have to live til I was old and gray. Had multiple fights with my girlfriend (who still lived with her mother) because she didn’t know how to explain to her friends that I wouldn’t go places. Memorized the causes of action for all the intentional torts and wrote one practice essay after another, lying on the blue carpeted floor of my childhood bedroom.