Maralyn Lois Polak is a Philadelphia-based journalist, screenwriter, essayist, novelist, editor, spoken-word artist, performance poet and occasional radio personality. With architect Benjamin Nia, she has just completed a short documentary film about the threatened demolition of a historic neighborhood, "MY HOMETOWN: Preservation or Development?" on DVD. She is the author of several books including the collection of literary profiles, "The Writer as Celebrity: Intimate Interviews," and her latest volume ofMore ↓Less ↑
Holidays are a funny time of year and even funnier if you don’t have
a family. Not funny-haha-funny, but funny-strange-funny. You worry about
all the good times you think you are missing, when actually, you get to
hang back and watch everybody else having maybe even a worse time than
Even the second-bravest man I know — the Mulder lookalike — who has
crossed the entire breadth of this country on the back of a
fire-breathing mechanical monster, is reduced to emotional rubble when
he contemplates returning East with an airplane ticket he has
compulsively purchased two months in advance. From my own experience,
whenever I went back home to my parents in Jersey, I’d revert to the
child I used to be — a precocious, pimply, painfully shy, attic-lurking
Emily Dickinson wannabe — as I once again slept in my pink bedroom with
the built-in knotty pine furniture and the dormers set into the eaves
where my dad gave the tomatoes an early start.
Until they vanished from the planet due to a variety of mishaps and
misadventures, I called my family The Bermuda Triangle of
Psychopathology, and I know I will get mail from irate shrinks on that
one. “Unresolved hostility.” “Veiled abandonment.” “Hysteroid
dysphoria.” Okay, okay. YOUR contribution can ensure my renewed
participation in therapy. Actually, that Bermuda Triangle appellation is
mild, compared to their reality. But I do miss them. I do. I swear to
you I do. And I definitely miss contemplating the sheer terror, or the
sheer terror of contemplating what occurred on several memorable
The Thanksgiving at my old apartment when I — the low-rent Liz
Taylor lookalike — cooked dinner for my mother, my father, and brother.
After my 84-year-old dad — the Khrushchev lookalike — parked the car,
he forgot where I lived and got lost for a few hours, and then berated
my mother for not letting him have seconds.
The Christmas at my brother’s apartment when he introduced us to his
“fiancee,” a very perky high school English teacher built like Barbie
who he pecked away at with little husbandly kisses, but, as it turned
out, was just a “beard” to keep my parents from guessing he was gay.
The New Years Day when my mother — the Queen Elizabeth lookalike –
wept after forgetting her recipe for roast beef and it turned out tough,
dry, and stringy, like it always did even when she followed her recipe.
The time I brought my husband J.J. — the Joe Namath lookalike — to
a funeral in Long Island and my Hungarian Aunt kept calling him by the
wrong first name, John.
The time after I got divorced when I brought my preppy boyfriend Bill
– the Robert Downey, Jr. lookalike — home to meet my parents, and my
mother openly criticized him for not carrying the bag of groceries from
his MGB into the house for me.
The time my brother — the Omar Sharif lookalike — held me captive
in his car while he blasted bad operatic arias at me ’til I begged for
mercy. What could I do? This was after my marriage ended and my brother
would drive me to our parents’ house in Jersey playing ear-splitting
loud, boring old-warhorse classical music the entire ride from Philly to
Exit 8 of the Garden State Parkway and I got carsick, and then after he
dropped me off, he left for a while to “see friends.” Could I come? No,
he said, “They wouldn’t like you,” and I was devastated. Much later, he
admitted he went to consort with a hooker of indeterminate gender, a
Now I don’t really have any close relatives left, so this is the
season I’m definitely on my own. Each year I always wish I could leave
the country from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but each year it’s
usually a matter of time or money or both. When I have time I have no
money, and when I have money I have no time. And sometimes I have no
time and no money. Someday I am sure I will have both money and time but
by then I probably will have lost the inclination.
Not that we went anywhere when I was a little kid. The only place we
ever really visited was the Bronx — either the Zoo, or my aunts Dottie,
the bottle blonde, and Jean, the mouthy brunette. Same difference. It
was a long and boring drive made worse by my mother chain-smoking Pall
Malls in the closed Plymouth Fury. The air grew thick hands to choke me.
No wonder I was regularly carsick there, too. “Where are we?” I would
ask my father the sadistic minimalist in between great waves of nausea.
Restating the obvious, his redundant reply was always “In the car.” I
promise you, I’m not making any of this up. Surely this was before the
invention of Prozac.