Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

His name wasn’t Gianni, but that’s what everyone called him.

His real name was Polish and hard to pronounce.  He’d picked Gianni from the label of a jacket a client had loaned him.  The jacket and the client were both long lost.

The girls called him “Hollywood” when he worked Highland with them, at the corner by the Donut Time.  Computers were taking all the work off the streets but Highland was a show that had to be seen live.  The trans on that corner competed for the attention of the traffic orbiting the block.  You couldn’t get that on computer.

Gianni didn’t much care for computers and all their English and reading.  He was all about the show.  Gianni was a hard worker with a strong back.  He was quick enough to get out of Poland and evade immigration in America.  But in Hollywood, no one cared about his mind or his work ethic.

He lived in Florida when he first arrived in the states.  It was a place that was easier to be for people who weren’t supposed to be here.  He’d been Derek then — not his name, but closer to the truth.  He got a job making plastic milk jugs.  He laughed every time the little pellets blew into identical gallon bubbles, until the sameness dulled his wonder.  He learned English from the dozen Cuban refugees he shared a motel room with, sleeping in shifts.

In Florida, Gianni met his true love.

Theirs was an enduring romance.  It weathered jail and flight and life on the streets.  It made Gianni’s life worth living and a living hell.  It was the reason he got up in the morning and stayed up all night.  It was what he lived for and it made him long for death.

He’d never had much of a taste for wine.  He’d take a beer every now and then, when it was hot and he was thirsty.  He sniffed cocaine – it was Florida, after all – but he found more fun and comfort in a shot of vodka.  But the first time he smoked the little cocaine rocks, he knew it was love.

His love was deep but cocaine was a harsh and constant mistress.  The job at the bottle plant didn’t pay enough to keep the romance alive and the hours kept them apart too long.  He tried selling it, but couldn’t bear to part with the rocks once he had them in hand.  He tried stealing to repay those he owed for all he’d smoke before he could sell it.  But when he got money, he just bought more rock and smoked that, too.  That’s how love works.  You just want more.

Jail saved him from the people who were trying to collect.  After a third visit to prison threatened to become permanent, Derek changed his address and then his name.  The stolen car got him to the one place in America everyone in the world knows, Hollywood.

It was there that Gianni discovered his true talent.

He sold the car, got a room in a motel on Sunset Boulevard and went in search of Hollywood.  Gianni couldn’t find it.  There was a big sign on a hillside and stars on the sidewalk for a couple of blocks but that was about it.  There were no movie stars or studios; no such thing as Hollywood.  But there was lots of rock.  His money and his motel room were soon gone.

Walking the sleepy streets to keep warm late at night, he chanced upon the activity at the corner of Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.  The girls there weren’t the prettiest he’d seen but they seemed willing.

“Hey bonitaful,” he said, dragging his toes and giving it his best walk.  “Soy Derek.”

“Mmm, mm, mijo,” the raven haired beauty said, arching a painted brow at him.  “I’m Ruby.  You workin’ or playin’?”

“Always ready to play,” Gianni answered in his thick accent, cocking his head to the side and grabbing himself.  “You got game?”

“You are a mess,” Ruby answered laughing and folding her arms.  “You got cash?”

“I don’t pay to play,” Gianni said, raising his hands.

“Then you on the wrong corner,” a nearby dark skinned beauty snorted.

All the girls within hearing laughed, Gianni knew, at him.

In need of courage, he ducked down the dark street that ran behind the check cashing place and the sandwich shop in the corner strip center.  The center’s parking lot, like a little street, opened onto both Highland and Santa Monica.  It was repurposed after closing and almost as busy as both of the major thoroughfares it adjoined.  Donut Time lit up the corner like a beacon, brightly lit and open all night.  It was part of the center but free standing.  The lights, the sugar and the coffee kept the corner’s nighttime traffic lively in the parking lot that surrounded the shop.

Behind Chex4Cash, Gianni found an alley doorway where he could smoke up the nerve to go back and talk to Ruby.  He was more in need of sleep than bravery and nodded out with the glass pipe still in his lips.

He awoke to see his Latin love talking to a man in a deep blue BMW sedan.  Hidden in the shadows, Gianni watched as the business transaction played out.

“Ohhh, Papi, I make you feel so good,” Ruby cooed, pressing her breasts against the car’s partly rolled down window.

“Let me see,” the beamer’s lone passenger asked, hoarsely.

“Bad boy,” Ruby said, wagging a finger.   With a deft tug at the front of the sequined top, a generous brown breast spilled out, its nipple like dark chocolate.  “You like?”

“Not that,” the driver said, gesturing lower.

“Oh, very bad boy,” Ruby laughed, her voice deep and rich.

Gianni pressed the heel of his hand against the front of his jeans.  He watched from the darkness as Ruby raised the front of her short skirt.

The guy in the car reached out to touch the front of Ruby’s panties.

“Unh, uh, uh,” Ruby teased, stepping back.  “No touching, Papi.  Not yet.”

“Then let me see it.”


“To see it?” the man demanded with a short curt laugh.  “Forget it.”

The sound of the electric motor whirring filled the alley as the car window slowly rose.

“Okay, okay, Papi,” Ruby said with a wave.  “A little preview.”

The motor’s whine fell silent.

Gianni could no longer feel the chill of the night that enveloped him.

A thumb in the waistband, the panties came down and Ruby’s secret was out.  So was her cock.

Gianni’s laughter broke up the little scene.  The car sped away as Ruby tucked herself away.

“Quien? Who’s there?” Ruby demanded.  The glare from the street light flashed off the blade she wielded.

“Lo siento, chico,” Gianni said, hands raised, emerging into the light.

The other girls came running in answer to Ruby’s shouts.

“They pay for that?” Gianni asked, still laughing.

“Plenty,” Ruby said, emboldened by the little mob behind her.

“How much for this?”  His pants puddled around his ankles.

“Ay, dios mio!” Ruby screamed, dropping her razor.  “Que bonito!”

“We could all retire if you charge by the inch for that thing,” Ruby’s friend shrieked.

They shared a laugh.  The girls treated Gianni to donuts and coffee.  He learned his new trade from them quickly and soon found that there were more and better customers a few blocks west.  He hadn’t retired, but he’d made enough to keep his romance alive.

Time passed.  He couldn’t say how much.  Get some money, buy some rock, smoke the rock, get some more money.  It was hard to count the days when they were all the same.  Internet changed Gianni’s business but not much else.  Each rock seemed harder to come by than the last.  His street corner show was available on line.  People could order in what they used to cruise the streets to find.

His pockets were empty but there was a rock under his tongue.  He stood in the car port at Sweetzer Court, watching through the gate.  The manager, Rudolph, took the kid into his apartment.  Gianni snickered at the old man fluttering around the kid like a woman, he thought.  He’d seen those tea party manners gone like smoke in the wind when he’d crossed the building manager in the past.

Gianni wasn’t taking any chances.  He waited until they were out of sight, then darted across the courtyard.  He hugged the walls.  Careful not to be seen, Gianni made his way along the gallery to the windows of one of the ground level apartments.  Pressing his talent against the glass like he’d seen Ruby do that long ago night, he lowered the front of his trousers.

“Hey,” he hissed.  “Look what I brought you.”

To be continued . . .


Read Full Post »


Twenty years ago this August,  I moved to West Hollywood.

I came for a lot of reasons, mostly because I’d lost the life I’d spent years making for myself.  What I found here was life as I’d never imagined living it.  Life here is still hard sometimes.  They still charge rent – too much, if you ask me.  There are lines at the grocery store.   The traffic gets snarled and parking is a pain here, same as everywhere else.  But West Hollywood offers me something I didn’t come looking for because I didn’t know it was on offer.

In West Hollywood, I’m nothing special.

Oh, I’m still my special unique self.  As you might expect from our storied geography, special is the norm here.  There’s tons of movie and TV stars, singers, musicians, directors, writers, poets, rappers.  You name it, we’re all right here.  I love living in the midst of dreams and creativity.  Hollywood’s on one side, Beverly Hills is to the west.  My next door neighbor is Johnny Depp.  The Vanity Fair Oscar party takes place across the street.  When the helicopters were over Paris Hilton’s house, they were over mine.

But more than any of that, you can’t sling a dead cat in this town without hitting gay.  I don’t know if gay people are even the majority in West Hollywood, but there are so many of us here, it’s impossible to stand out just for being gay.  I didn’t get to grow up in a gay home.  I didn’t go to a gay school.  God knows, there’s no gay church.  There was no place where I ever felt like I really belonged.  And, as you may have noticed, there’s been considerable effort over the years to make gay people feel even less welcome pretty much everywhere.

Here, not so.

Here I get to shine for being who I am.  Being gay isn’t really an important or interesting fact about me in West Hollywood.  It’s like being a southerner in Atlanta – still charming but just not that remarkable.  I love it.

West Hollywood has changed my life.  Here, I get to forget about this one relatively minor aspect of who I am that gets made such a big deal of in so many other places.  In West Hollywood, I get to be me.  If people take note or ignore me here, it’s for who I am or am not, for what I do or don’t do, for the choices I make.  Not because of something I had no control over.

With the changes that are happening in the world today, I hope that West Hollywood will spread and that gay people will get to be not special where ever we go and live.

In tribute to this place that has come to feel like home for me in a way that I didn’t even know was possible, I’m starting a series of interrelated short stories based the city, its residents and my time here.  As with the rest of this blog thing, we’ll see how it goes.

I’d thought of calling it 90069, our unintentionally obvious zip code.  But I’ve settled on a different name.  It’s based on my first address here.  Let me know what you think of the name and the stories.  It’s fiction.  But, I hope, it will be an accurate portrait of this city that beckoned me home to a place I’d never been a minute before I arrived.

Welcome to:                        Sweetzer Court

Read Full Post »

1 ~ Sans

Los Angeles was everything he’d hoped and less.

It felt like he could breathe for the first time.  The light seemed different somehow.  Perhaps it was the angle.  Maybe it was just not filtered through the haze of bigotry and hypocrisy at the other end of the highway he’d followed there.

I-20 begins in Florence, South Carolina, his home town.  It merges with the 10 in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas and comes to an end in the tawny enclave of Santa Monica on the west side of Los Angeles.

Sanders Aiken Nicholson Santee — Sans to his friends — got on the 20 when there was nothing left for him at home but bad memories.  The journey had been as liberating as it was unplanned.

His life had exploded.  Everything he’d worked for since graduating from college was ripped from his hands.  There was nothing to do but run away.   Although, in truth, he’d been forced to leave.

Los Angeles was the end of the road.  Literally.  He got off the freeway, had a look at Venice, drove east on Santa Monica Boulevard back through Westwood and Beverly Hills.  He stopped for lunch in West Hollywood at a restaurant called The Silver Spoon.

The thing that struck Sans most as he drove into the city was the lack of a city.  There was no there, there.  As he crossed the country he saw city after city, each unique but all the same.  Each sprouted like a nipple, peaked at the center and radiated out to identical edges.  All had the same stores, fast food polyps and housing blemishes.  All were laid out from greatest concentration to least.  Traversing each was the same.  There was more and more and then there was less and less until there was no more, over and over.

But Los Angeles wasn’t like that.  It was all less and then more less.  There was no center.

Sans felt lost and free.  The city seemed to dismiss expectations by not meeting them.

He’d heard of West Hollywood all his life — well, he paid attention since puberty arrived with a surprise package.  Body hair, wet dreams and you’re in love with your best friend, Roy – Surprise! He’d never denied his sexuality; he just never mentioned it.  California in general and West Hollywood in particular loomed like legends.  It was a magical land where people didn’t hate almost everyone and everything in the name of their god of love.

Sans hoped the legends were true.

As he sat alone at this table at The Silver Spoon, he looked around at the other diners.  An old movie star he’d thought was dead, a mom and dad with their kids, two women kissing, two men holding hands waiting to be seated – all were of equal value.  There was no shock.  There were no stares.  Well, other than Sans’.

He peered at the marvelous alien landscape around him over the top of the newspaper he’d bought out front.

“What are you looking for?” the waiter asked, stopping by to refill Sans’ iced tea.

“I’m sorry?” Sans answered, reddening, caught.

“The classifieds?” the waiter said, giving the paper a thump.

“Oh, that,” Sans laughed.  “I’m looking for an apartment.  I’m new to town.”

“Really?” the waiter said with a meaningful grin that Sans missed.  “Well, that’s not how you find an apartment in LA.”


“The best way is to go to the neighborhood you like and walk around,” the waiter explained.  “Write down the phone numbers from the For Rent signs and call them.”

“What neighborhoods do you like?” Sans asked, looking for the code.

“This one’s great,” the waiter answered with a sly smile.

Could he be? Sans wondered of the waiter.  It was hard to be a part of an invisible minority.

After lunch, Sans tossed the paper into his car.  He set out into the neighborhood in the landscape that rose behind the restaurant.

The Hollywood Hills begin their steep incline just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, the Main Street of West Hollywood.  Sans wandered up the gentle grade for a bit of sightseeing.  He could hardly believe the waiter’s notion.  Ads and rental services seemed a much more sensible way to go about finding a place in a new and unfamiliar city.

It took West Hollywood a little more than two blocks to change his mind.  Up one block, over one and up a little farther, there it was.  The sign out front said “Sweetzer Court, bachelor and 1 br for rent.”

It was a strange building, a little out of place on the block.  It was surrounded by huge glassy modern structures, pocked with balconies.  The one immediately next door was an embarrassing leftover from the pastel and glass block architecture of the Miami Vice era that would have been more at home in South Beach.

Sweetzer Court was a cross between the familiar Victorian architecture Sans remembered from back home in the South and the pictures he’d seen of the Alhambra in Spain.  The asymmetrical profile of the building seemed almost whimsical.  Tile roofed turrets protruded from walls and corners and sprouted on the roof like a fairy ring of mushrooms.   The walls were scored with mismatched windows and sculpted from stucco, not the clapboard he knew from home.

As he stood on the street out front, the building gave Sans the feeling of back lot facade or stage set more than a real place.  The archway that opened onto the street led into a motor court that reminded him of the movie Sabrina.  The circle of narrow ports opened onto a jigsaw of terracotta tile and cement medallions grouted with wide bands of grass.  Above, a gallery lined with windows and numbered doors looked down through clouds of magenta bougainvillea blossoms onto the fanciful car park.

The sound of splashing water beckoned Sans through the second barrel archway.  Flanked with brass mailboxes, set into cracked and gap-toothed blue and white mosaic tiles, the little passage opened onto a second courtyard.  The forbidding iron gate stood open, like a hand extended.  Sans could not resist.

He stepped through into a secret garden, at once frowsy and grand.

Old roses, unkempt and heavy with white blossoms tangled around the pilasters and railings of the double galleries that bounded the plaza on three sides.  The same grass grouted medallions radiated out from a moldy looking tile fountain at center court.  Two cherubs, on the backs of entwined dolphins, spit water onto the tile and lilies below them.  The water drained lazily through notches in the four sides of the central square pool below the angelic pair.  The water collected in a cross shaped pond surrounding the angels set even with the ground.  Gold and white koi flashed against the blue and white tile at Sans feet.

It was a place of magic and it held its new visitor in its thrall.


Sans cried out.

The cough tinged laughter was deeper and more elegant than the voice that had given Sans such fright.

“I’m so sorry,” Sans apologized, ever the southerner.  “I didn’t mean to intrude.  I just couldn’t resist.  Such a perfect place.  ”

“You must be the new tenant,” the man said drawing nearer.  The panama hat he wore cast a shadow over his face that made it hard to make out his features.  There was a grandeur to his manner that put Sans at ease in the way that knowing the words to a prayer gave him a sense of his place in the universe.

“I’d love to be,” Sans said, taking the hand that was offered.  “I’ve only just gotten here.  I saw the sign and, well, here I am.”


“South Carolina,” Sans blushed.  “Mouth full of grits?”

“I love southern boys,” the man smiled.  He looked past Sans though he still held his hand.  “That accent.  I had a beau from Savannah, a sailor.  Drove up from San Diego so he could come out without getting found out.  But that was more than your lifetime ago.  I’m Randolph, welcome to the Sweetzer Court.  I’m sure you’ll be very happy here.”  He gave Sans’ hand another little shake, more an embrace, with both of his.

“No, I’m not the new tenant,” Sans said.  He laughed nervously.

“Dear boy, I’ll decide that,” Randolph said, releasing Sans’ hand.  “You’re looking aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Sans nodded.

“Sir,” Randolph laughed.  “You’ll make me feel old.”

“Sorry, sir, I mean . . .”

“And you like it here don’t you?” Randolph spread his hands to include their exotic and homely surroundings.

“I love it,” Sans grinned, nodding.

“Then welcome home,” Randolph said, lacing his arm into Sans.  “I’ll make us some tea and you can tell me what you can afford.  I’m sure that we’ve got something in this rambling old heap that will suit.  I’ve got a sense about these things.”


To be continued . . .


Read Full Post »

People are especially considerate in traffic when you have a tree tied to your car, Rose observed.

She’d never had a tree, so she’d never had the experience.  It was a challenge.  The windows were open to accommodate the rope.  She was freezing.  She was afraid it was going to start raining.  She was afraid to drive too fast for fear the bloody thing would fly off the roof.  She imagined the updraft in the branches lifting the car off the road.  She saw herself flying.

She smiled as she sat at the stoplight.  She turned idly and found herself looking into the smiling face of the passenger in the car beside her.  It startled her.  The woman gave Rose a wink and a thumbs up.  Rose looked a bit confused, until the woman pointed at the tree on top of her car.

“Oh,” Rose said aloud.  She grinned and gave the woman the thumbs up as the light changed and the two went their separate ways.  After the chance encounter at the light, Rose began to notice that people went out of their way to let her over when she needed and that no one blew the horn despite the fact that she was driving below the speed limit.  Instead, she got nothing but smiles and waves.

“I should drive around with a tree tied to my car all the time,” Rose said out loud alone in her car, though she didn’t realized she’d spoken.

Getting the tree home was a bit more of a challenge.  She tore off a couple of branches pulling into her parking garage.  Then there was the matter of the ropes.  Ray had tied them with slip knots, but Rose didn’t know it and, having never encountered a slip knot before, would not have benefited from the information.  She tugged on the rope and the knots released.  The rope slipped free.  The tree slid across her roof and fell at her feet.

“Well, that happened,” Rose said.  Her voice echoed off the hard surfaces of the garage, all wrought iron, concrete and cinderblock.  It made Rose aware that she’d spoken her thoughts again.

She made an effort to keep her curses confined to the running dialog in her head as she struggled to get the tree into the elevator and up to her apartment.

One of her neighbors, a twenty-something young man who’d never spoken to Rose or looked directly at her, actually took time to hold the elevator door for her and help shove the tree inside.

“Thanks,” Rose said, beaming at the young man.

“No worries,” the young man said with a salute.  “It’s Christmas, right?”

“Right?” Rose agreed.  “Gotta keep on Santa’s good side.”


The young man turned toward the garage where he had been headed when he’d arrived in the elevator.

“Here,” Rose said, remembering the invitations in her purse.  “I’m having a drop-in tomorrow, if you don’t have plans, come by.”

The young man turned and looked uncomfortable.  He took the envelope tentatively.

“No, worries,” Rose said to put him at his ease.  “It’s Christmas, right?”

“Right,” the young man said with a smile.

He turned to walk away.  As she watched him go, Rose realized that there was a substantial path of tree needles leading from the elevator to her car.

The elevator doors closed.

The young man pitched the invite into the recycling bin as he passed.

Rose hadn’t been as lucky when she got to her floor.  There was no sign of anyone.  She managed to get the tree down the hall and into her apartment.  Several of her neighbors watched through their peepholes, attracted by the disturbance.

Once she got the tree in her door a thought struck her.  How silly that she didn’t know any of her neighbors well enough to ask them for help.

She went down the hall and tucked an invitation under each door.

“Why not?” she said aloud as she returned to her own door.

Tree placement was a bit of a challenge.  She’d never had a tree, so she’d never considered it.  Eventually she chose a spot in a corner of the living room because she could move the small table that was there by herself.  Getting the tree there was the ordeal.  She broke a lamp and completely covered the room in pine needles by the time she got the balding little tree into place.

“You just needle little love, don’t you,” Rose said.  She laughed as she filled the carafe from the coffee maker with water for the tree.


It surprised Rose how much was actually open in the middle of the night.

Decorating time was at a premium and she’d decided to get started right away.

The gas station had Christmas CD’s and she bought several – a collection of Elvis, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and a special Exxon/Mobil holiday edition.

“That should do it,” she thought, tossing them onto the counter.

“Okay, then,” the clerk answered, startling her.

She’d done it again.  Maybe she was losing her mind.  She smiled at the clerk, an Indian man wearing a cheap Santa hat on his shaved head.  He gave her a quick grin in reply as he rang up her purchases cheerfully.  She looked around at the Christmas decorations in the little gas station store.  She liked the use of lights in the garlands, she thought.  Her favorite, though, was the tiny Santa hat on the diminutive Vishnu behind the bullet proof glass with the clerk.

“Vishnu a Merry Christmas,” she thought, laughing in spite of herself.

“That’s what I thought,” the clerk said, beaming.  He patted the handsy little god affectionately.

Rose was horrified that she’d said it out loud, but figured she’d have looked crazier if she had just burst out laughing for no reason.

The clerk, far from bothered, was delighted that Rose was in such a talkative mood.  She came in often and he’d tried to engage her in conversation many times before.  Try though he might, she’d never spoken more than a cursory “Pump 9” or “Credit please” on previous visits.  The clerk thought Rose was a fine looking woman.  Her smile and laughter over the shared joke filled his heart with joy.

“Sixty-two, fifty,” he said seductively.

“Here you go,” she said slipping her card and an invitation under the glass.

“What’s this?”

“I’m having a Christmas drop-in, tomorrow evening at my house,” she said, smiling at him in a way that made him screw up the charge and have to redo it, twice.  She worried that she might have offended his religious beliefs.  “Holiday really, in case you don’t . . . anyway, if you don’t have plans, you’re welcome to come.”

“Thank you very much,” he said fingering the invitation.  “That is most kind.”

“Tis the season,” she said signing her charge slip.

“Vishnu a Merry Christmas,” they both said at the same time.

She left laughing.

He loved her laugh.  He slipped the invitation into his breast pocket and patted it.  He would have to get his brother to work for him the next night.  He thought himself the luckiest man in the world.  His wife didn’t observe Christmas so she’d think nothing of it if he “worked” through the night on Christmas eve.



The CVS was open when Rose drove by.

She made real headway there.  Lights, decorations and sweets.  All the Christmas stuff was marked down so she was able to decorate for half-price.  She’d accidentally said it out loud but again got a laugh from one of the other people on the aisle with her.

Two things occurred to her.  It hit her that maybe most people just said what they were thinking and she was just out of the habit and not crazy after all.  And maybe, just maybe, she really was funny.

So far, so good anyway.

She was able to find plastic pine garlands with lights already woven into them.  The tree lights were a little picked over so she’d had to settle for mostly novelty strands of stars, angels and chili peppers.  Pepper are red, she though as she tossed them into her cart with the random collection of shiny plastic beads and balls she’d collected.

“In a way,” she said, no longer even trying to keep her thoughts to herself.  “Decorating is easier like this.  I don’t have to think about it.  If they match, it’s a bonus but I’m really only looking for ornaments that aren’t broken.”

“I know that’s right,” a nearby store clerk said, looking up from the wrapping paper she was listlessly marking down.  She smiled at Rose for speaking to her.  Most people only regarded her as a store fixture.

Rose smiled back.  “Did you get that Santa hat here?”

She left with a Santa hat on her head and no more invitations in her purse.

It was after one in the morning when Rose got to Pavilions.  She stood just inside the doors a moment, looking at the store expectantly.  She hesitated, uncertain of what to do.  She usually came with a list, but she hadn’t really thought about what to serve a minute before she’d gotten there.

Flattened Christmas music squeezed out of the speakers concealed somewhere in the ceiling.  It was just enough to suggest the holidays.  It was only a pale suggestion of music, for that matter.  There were a few shoppers, but mostly just employees, all in Santa hats, stocking the shelves in anticipation of a rush the following day.

“My favorites,” Rose decided aloud, in accordance with her new policy.  She would get all of her favorite things and serve that.  It was her party after all.  She’d be there longer than anyone else.

She bought cream cheese and pepper jelly.  She got caviar and smoked salmon.  She bought eggs to boil and red onions to chop up and sprinkler on water crackers with the caviar and the smoked fish.  She got chocolate covered cherries and two Whitman samplers.   She splurged on good champagne and got a lot – just in case – as well as good brands of scotch, bourbon, vodka and gin.  She got rum and eggnog to put it in.  To round out the spread she got a lot of little frozen, bakable treats – whatever taquitos were, pizza rolls, bagel bites, and those weird tiny quiches that are mostly crust.  She liked crust better than quiche so it seemed the perfect choice.

When she woke up on her living room sofa the following afternoon, two things were true.

First, she had a champagne hangover and second, her house was totally decorated for Christmas.  What the decorations lacked in quality or coherence they made up for in exuberance and quantity.

She made a Bloody Mary with the Grey Goose and some V-8 she’d had in the pantry since her last diet.  She sat, and marveled at the decorations flashing all around her.

“To half-price Christmas,” Rose said, toasting the room.

She spent the afternoon watching old Christmas movies on cable and sneaking hors d’oeuvre.  She switched back to Champagne when the V-8 ran out during It’s a Wonderful Life.  She avoided temptation and did not even so much as check her email, knowing that she’d get sucked back into work.  Rose was determined to enjoy her day.

By seven she was showered and dressed in all the red clothes she owned.  The Exxon/Mobil Christmas Singers were belting out the carols, the hors d’oeuvre were hot or cold, as was their want, and the Santa hat was perched jauntily on Rose’s head.

By eight the hors d’oeuvre were all pretty much the same temperature and Rose switched to spiked eggnog.  By nine, the Santa hat was off and Rose was eating caviar out of the jar and watching a Die Hard marathon that was scheduled to go on through the long winter’s night.

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” she shouted at the screen leaping to her feet and then falling back on the sofa.

At first she’d been hurt when everyone dropped out of her drop-in.  She knew it was last minute and she hadn’t counted on a big crowd.  She had enough food and drink but not nearly enough space.  But no one?

She started to get a little weepy around eleven so she switched to Diet Coke.

“No one likes a crying drunk,” she said laughing at her own joke.  “I really am funny.”

Just after midnight, Bruce Willis’ wife punched out the reporter.  Rose cheered.  The credits rolled.  She started to clean up a bit, putting things in the fridge that should probably already have been there.  She would definitely eat well while she worked on the end of the year accounts the next day in the quiet of the empty office.

The text of the invitation was still on the screen of her computer when she got to the office the next day.  Her first reaction was to erase it and drag the document into her trash can.  For some reason she read the words of the invitation to her ill-fated party out loud.

Rose’s First Annual Christmas Drop-In

Festive Food and Christmas Cocktails

Come by for a little holiday cheer and cheering up

At Rose’s Ho-Ho-Happening

7ish on Christmas Eve

She stared at the screen.  She re-read it again.  She laughed.  Every time she read it she laughed harder.  The clip art poinsettias and holiday flourishes were beautiful.  The font was tasteful and the burgundy gave the letters a richness and sophistication.  Her address and phone number, however, appeared nowhere on the invitation.

A quick check of her email revealed dozens of emails from co-workers trying to find out where the party was.  Her office voicemail was the same.

As the years past, and Rose’s Ho-Ho-Happening became an annual tradition, the joke about the first one grew and grew.

Sami was convinced Rose had never intended to have the party, that the invitations were just another of Rose’s weird jokes, and was disabused of the notion only by attending the drop-in the following year with the other guests excluded from the first observance.  She was more than a little disappointed for the loss.

“It was soo exclusive, no one was invited at all,” Rose always said when she told the story.  It always got a laugh.

But as she sat at her desk that Christmas morning, laughing at herself, she realized something that she never mentioned when she re-told the story.

It was the best Christmas she ever had.

Not because there was a crowd at her party or because the party was a hit or for any of the other reasons that had convinced her she’d been cheated out of the perfect Christmas for so many Christmases before.  It was the best because she decorated her house and filled it with her favorite food and drink.  It was the best because she’d been willing to share her holiday, her food and her drink with friends and strangers alike.  Everything seemed different, even though nothing really was.

The only thing that changed that Christmas was Rose.





Read Full Post »

The tree lot was sparse.

There had been no new shipments of trees for days.  Ray, the lot’s proprietor, was letting inventory dwindle as the market for Christmas trees tailed out with the season.

“Everything’s half-price,” Ray called to Rose as she began to move through the trees.  He stayed near the warmth of the trashcan fire he’d started with wood scraps and lost branches.

She was the only customer he’d had that night and he didn’t want to have to mulch anymore inventory than necessary.

“Thanks,” Rose said, as she reached out to test the freshness of a brownish little fir.  “Ouch.”

She instinctively put her finger in her mouth.  A dried needle had pierced her fingertip.  She sucked as though there was venom to be removed.  Was there?

“Those under the tent are fresher,” Ray called helpfully.  The trees under the tent had been on the lot every bit as long as all the rest of the trees.  Ray was a good tree salesman, but not necessarily a good man.

“O-thay,” Rose said, finger still in her mouth.

Rose had never picked out a tree before.  She didn’t even know where she’d put it once she got it home.  What makes for a good Christmas Tree?

“Well, it depends on your decorations and the space you have for the tree,” Ray said, suddenly behind her.

She cried out and bit her finger.

“Sorry,” Ray said putting a reassuring hand on her arm.  “Didn’t mean to scare you.  I thought you knew I was here, since you spoke.”

“I just didn’t realize you were so close,” Rose said, horrified.  It was like Tourette’s.  She could not trust herself not to speak her thoughts out loud.

“Not to worry,” Ray said, taking his hand back.  “Where do you think you’ll put the tree?”

“In the living room?” Rose said, more of a question than a statement.

“Good choice,” Ray said, taking a step back.

“What kind of decorations do you have?”

“I don’t actually have any Christmas decorations,” Rose shrugged.


Rose shook her head.

“What were you planning to use the tree for?”


She settled on a greenish brown fir tree.  It was shedding pretty badly, but Rose was too embarrassed not to buy one.  Ray tied the tree onto the top of her car.  Both pretended not the hear the dry branches snap as he tightened the yellow plastic rope.

“Here,” Rose said.  She pressed one of the invitations into his hand.  “I’m having a Christmas drop-in tomorrow night.”


“If you’ve nothing better to do . . .” She finished her sentence with a shrug.  “Tis’ the season.”

“Sure is,” he said with a smile.  “I’ll sure think about it.  Drive safe now.”

Rose’s smile warmed her up despite the cold night.   She felt a bit of the season seep in.  The invitation to a stranger to share the holiday doubled her determination to make the party the best she could afford and accomplish.

“Merry Christmas,” she called out the window as she drove off the lot.

Ray smiled and waved.  An invitation to a Christmas Eve drop-in? He’d hoped for a tip.

“And a happy new year,” he said, tossing the invitation, unopened, into the trashcan fire.

To be continued…

Read Full Post »

“What the . . .”

Mel trailed off as he opened his Secret Santa gift from Rose.  He stared at the Chia visage of the President.

Rose looked on in horror as the only black staff member at the agency glared at the racially insensitive gift she’d brought.  It wasn’t so much the use of the first African American President’s likeness on a planter that brought offense.  It was the prospect of Mr. Obama’s burgeoning ChiAfro that gave the gift its thoughtless sting.

She hadn’t bought the gift for Mel.  She brought it for effect.  They had drawn numbers for the correspondingly labeled presents under the dusty plastic tree. Mel was at the very innermost in of the creative in-crowd at the ad agency and he had drawn her number.  Rose’s cool-guest-hopes for her Christmas Party sank as she watched the horror unfold.

Oh cruel fate, Rose thought.

The room burst into gales of laughter.

“Oh, cruel fate,” Sami shrieked.

Sami was the coolest of the cool kids at the office.  She was still so young she could actually wear the kinds of clothes pictured in fashion magazines without looking like a complete fool.  Sami was rumored to have slept with the Creative Director – a man – and the head of Account Services – a woman.  Her bisexual liaisons were proof, not of her openness or even her versatility but, of the fact that she didn’t particularly care about anyone.  This of course made Sami the object of everyone’s desire.

When Sami laughed, everyone laughed.

Rose’s laughter was of the relieved variety and perhaps more sincere for it.  She had spent the entire morning creating and addressing her party invitations amidst the interruptions of work and getting the office party together.  The end of year accounts could get resolved on Christmas day when Rose had nothing else to do.  The invitations had to be ready so she could hand them out at the end of the office party.  She had a lot riding on the ironical appreciation of her tasteless gift.

Mel smiled and then laughed.  Rose’s party was saved.

After the brief scare, Rose managed to fly under the radar for the rest of the festivities.  She went out of her way to cater to everyone, topping off champagne flutes and making personalized hors d’oeuvre plates.  As office manager, the Christmas party was her job anyway.  That year she did a lot more than just drag the tree out of the supply closet, plug it in and pour red and green M&M’s into a bowl as she usually did.

Rose passed out the bonus checks, her final duty.  Paul, the boss, made his annual toast to the staff for another great year.  Everyone was glowing with holiday cheer.

As Rose presented each person with their bonus, she gave them their personalized invitations.

“I’m having a few people over on Christmas Eve,” Rose smiled demurely at Sami.  “I hope you can drop by for a little Christmas Cheer.”

“What?” Sami asked.  Her tone seemed shocked, as though Rose had somehow offended her or said something Sami couldn’t quite believe.

“I know it’s last minute,” Rose added hastily.  She felt the eyes of everyone at the party on her.  She struggled to beat a retreat from Sami’s rejection.

“What is?” Sami asked.

“The invitation to my Christmas Party,” Rose added, pointing to the envelope with Sami’s name on it, in Sami’s hand.  “I just thought if you were in town and didn’t have plans.”

“No plans?” Sami said with a shocked laugh.  “On Christmas Eve?”

“Well, no obligation,” Rose said, with a nervous, dismissive laugh.  Her face was hot.  “I just thought . . . I’m with you guys more than anyone else.  It’s like family.   It’s the holidays.   Do the math.”

“Do the MATH!” Sami shrieked.

They were all laughing again.

Rose joined them, uncertain and unconcerned if the laugh was at her expense.

“How have I missed this dire sense of humor?” Sami said taking Rose’s face in her hands.  “I wouldn’t miss your party.  I can’t imagine what you’ll say next.”

After that the invites flew out of Rose’s hands.  People who’d been avoiding her at the party — and the rest of the year — sought her out to wish her a Merry Christmas and get their invitation to her suddenly cool-endorsed party.  The air was thick with the stale smell of cheap champagne and promised guest appearances at Rose’s Christmas Eve drop-in.

“Oh, we’d love to be there,” Mel explained.  “We’ve got to hit Syd’s parents and make a couple of other stops, but you are definitely on our naughty list.  Where did you find this divine present?”

Is he gay? Rose wondered.

“Or WHAT!?” Sami shrieked.

The party has been a triumph despite me, Rose thought, careful not to say so out loud.  The staff was gone and Rose was putting things away.  She beamed with satisfaction and even a little anticipation.  With just a little effort, she’d actually enjoyed the Secret Santa party for the first time.

“Thanks for another good year,” Paul said leaning in at the door.

“Thanks, I just . . .”

“You’ll clean up before you go?”

“Of course,” Rose nodded.  “I hope we’ll see you at the drop-in tomorrow.”

“Merry Christmas,” Paul called back to her.  She heard the door slam.  The silence of the empty office was a relief.  She hurriedly raked the remains of the party into garbage bags and tied them up for the cleaning crew who appeared magically each night, no one knew when.

Rose was in a hurry.  She had to completely decorate her house for Christmas and plan and set up a party by the following evening at 7ish.  She shoved the tree back into the closet behind the copy-paper-pyramid and ran for the door.

To be continued…


Read Full Post »

Rose loved the holidays.  Because she loved them, the holidays were her least favorite time of year.

Her own loneliness and disappointment stood in stark relief against those numbered days counting down to the end of another year.  The potential for joy and happiness surrounded her.  The promise of life fulfilled was inescapable.  Every television advertisement and Christmas special, every carol and shop window, every twinkling light and street corner Santa seemed to offer her a glimpse of life as she longed to live it.

She stood in the aisle at CVS.  The glittering ornaments and red and green foil wrapped kisses mocked her.

Where was her Christmas sweetheart? Where were the fond feelings of friendship and family that surrounded even Ebenezer Scrooge in the end?

It filled her with ire.  Ebenezer had been a miserable son of a bitch all his life.  Then in the end, for spending some of the fabulous wealth he’d amassed, all had been forgiven.  He’d been embraced with open arms by the nephew he’d rebuked and the employee he’d exploited.

“I’d settle for the fabulous wealth,” she thought.

Or at least she hoped she’d only thought it.

More and more she wasn’t sure.  She was alone so much of the time, she’d gotten in the habit of talking to herself out loud.  Not a problem until she was out in public.  The shocked expressions of fellow shoppers and elevator passengers greeted the lapses when her thoughts leaked out.

She looked around the drug store to see if she recognized the familiar startled look.

A black woman with a Christmas scarf tied into her hair eyed her furtively over a pile of President Obama Chia Pets.

Their eyes met.  The woman smiled nervously.

“Those look great,” Rose said.  She smiled to try to put the other woman at her ease.

The woman frowned.  “They look sort of racist, to me.”  The woman’s voice was surprisingly deep.  Rose wondered if her fellow shopper had always been a woman.  Then she worried that she’d said that out loud.

“I guess you’re right,” Rose sighed.  She’d come for some moisturizer and a Secret Santa gift for her office party.  Now she was discussing life in a post-racial America with a transgendered black woman in the seasonal aisle at CVS.

Where was her perfect Christmas?

“Are you all right, honey?” the black woman asked.

“Oh, God,” Rose sighed.  “Did I say that out loud?”

“Did you say what out loud?” Mr. Black Woman asked, taking a step back.

“Why did you ask me if I’m all right?” Rose asked, unsure of what else to say.  She looked longingly toward the exit.

“You keep staring at me,” the woman said.  “How would you like it if people stared at you?”

“People mostly ignore me,” Rose shrugged.  “Try it some time.  You might miss the stares.”

“So, you are staring at me,” the woman accused.

“I’m just getting one of these,” Rose said.  She took one of the awful racist terracotta Chia Pets and put it into her basket with the Nivea.  “I was afraid you’d be offended after what you said.  I’m sorry.”

Rose fled.

“What did you think you said out loud?” the woman called after her.

Rose paid for her errant purchase and beat a hasty retreat rather than risk facing her nemesis at the checkout.  The horrid presidential likeness would have to be her gift for the office party.  She hoped it would seem ironic.  Perhaps her co-workers at the small ad agency where she worked would think her choice sophisticated.  As the office manager, the creative staff members tended to dismiss her.  They regarded her more as part of the office equipment than co-worker.  At least, that’s how it felt to her.

She grinned at the thought of their amused stares as her wit was revealed through the inadvertent purchase of the racist planter.

The phone was ringing when she got home.   She sprinted to catch the call.  Rose didn’t get a lot of calls.  After the CVS incident, she was in no mood to spend another evening talking to herself and watching the Christmas episodes of her shows.  She longed for her own Christmas episode.

“Hello,” she gasped desperately.

“Rose?” her mother’s voice cut into her heart.  “Is that you?”

“Hi, Mom,” Rose sighed.  “Who did you think it might be?”

She loved her mom, but the only thing she thought more pathetic than getting no calls was getting only calls from her mom and telemarketers.  On her cop shows they always looked at the calls people had been getting prior to their murder.  She imagined the cast of The Closer snickering at her sad little phone log.  Don’t let me get killed tonight, she thought.  Not until there’s something more interesting to find out about my life.

“Let you get killed?” her mom asked.  “Is there someone there with you?”

“No Mom,” Rose laughed.  “Just kidding around.”

“Well, are you all ready for the holidays?”

Rose looked around at the barren apartment.  It was clean, almost clinical.  Rose never decorated for Christmas.  She’d just never gotten around to it.  At first she’d thought she’d wait until there was a special someone to decorate with her.  But as 30 came and went and there was still no sign of HIM, the task had seemed more and more overwhelming.

“Yeah, Mom,” she lied.  “I just got in from the store to get a few finishing touches and then, all done.”

“You’re a terrible liar, Rose,” her mother said with a bitter tone of amusement.  “You should come home for Christmas this year.”

“Mom,” Rose smiled.  She did love her mother, it just wasn’t enough.  “You know I can’t afford it.  Besides, you’ll be at Mindy’s with her husband and the grandkids.”

“You could come, too,” her mother suggested hopefully.

“Thanks, Mom,” Rose said.  She couldn’t help the smile or the tears.  “I’ve got plans here.  You guys have a great time.”

In truth, facing her sister Mindy’s happy family only made her holiday prospects seem worse.

“Look, I gotta run,” Rose said.  “I’ve got to get my present wrapped for the office party tomorrow and I haven’t even gotten dinner started yet.  I’ll call you Christmas day at Mindy’s for a holiday conference call.”

“You know, Rose,” her mother said.  “I’m not asking you to come home for Christmas for me.  I’m asking for you.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Rose said softly.  “I know.”

“Do you?” her mom asked.  “Do you know that you’re life has already begun?”

“Of course I do,” Rose said, confused by her mother’s words and tone.

“Your life isn’t going to start later,” her mother went on.  “Don’t wait to have a life when conditions are perfect.  This Christmas isn’t coming again.  If you don’t celebrate it now, you never will.”

“Look, Mom,” Rose said, stung by her mother’s word.  “I’m sorry I can’t come home.”

“You are home,” her mother cut her off.  “Look around you.  Are you where you want to be?”

“Thanks, Mom,” Rose said.  “I gotta go.”

“Love you, Rose.”

Rose hung up.

Her mother’s words took her breath away.

Rose hated to admit it — and she never would — but her mother was right.  She’d been waiting to have her life all her life.  Life was a party and she’d been sitting home, waiting to be invited.

Mariah Carey serenaded her with Christmas cheer from the television as Rose wrapped the awful Secret Santa gift.  The Holiday Special wasn’t loud enough to drown out Rose’s thoughts.  She’d been putting off Christmas along with everything else in her life.  She had no plans for her holiday.  There was not a single invitation awaiting her besides the one from her mother.

She resisted the urge to toss the wrapped present against the wall.  Only the prospect of having to go back out to CVS saved the terracotta president.  Then the plan hit her.  It was elegant, simple and perfect.  It solved both her no-holiday-invitations problem and her spending-the-holiday-alone problem.

A Grinchy smile split her face.  She’d show her mother and join Christmas already in progress.

“I’m going to have a Christmas party,” she said out loud.

To be continued . . .

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: