Oh God, It’s Christmas: Yule Laugh, Yule Cry

A White Christmas

It was a Christmas that only Sid and Nancy could have loved. Two newlyweds — one a British music critic, the other an aspiring model from Detroit — were shacked up in a former welfare hotel indulging a bohemian fantasy of Yuletide spent without any of the traditional trappings (families, gifts, religion), but with plenty of drugs.

The year was 1988. The place was Hotel 17, the Stuyvesant Square boardinghouse for trendy transients. Around the turn of the cen­tury, when the place was originally built as a res­idence for a few wealthy families, Christmas must have been celebrated on a grand scale here. Our Christmas, however, was a far more inti­mate occasion, observed in one dingy, cell-like room lined with designer clothes and books of obscure French theory.

The word room hardly does justice to the eight-by-10 stained brown box we were paying $30 a night for. In keeping with the tan color scheme, the taps coughed up diarrhea-colored water. The whitest thing in the room, including the sheets on the bed, was the neat pile of crys­talline powder glinting on the beat-up dresser. That, and the waxy squares of paper that lay crumpled on the threadbare carpet.

We’d been up for three days taking cocaine and crystal meth, grinding our teeth and talking shit about the true meaning of the season. In our deluded euphoric state, we decided that festive excess was what it was all about. Christmas is an opportunity for the casual drug-user, a time when the discipline of work and the normal restrictions on hedonistic behavior are relaxed. So it was easy to convince ourselves that staying up all night dancing and drugging was more in tune with the pagan roots of Christmas than the homogenized and domesticated rituals taking place in the world around us.

Personally, I loathe family Christmases, so I was, initially at least, more than happy to spend the holiday season snorting my brains out. But as as the drug supply began to run low, an edgy gloom set in, a mood amplified by the melancholic sounds of an old man muttering to himself in the hallway, a leftover from the day before the influx of drag queens and club brats, when Hotel 17 was a place where the elderly, the ill, and the drug-addicted came to die.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

Like latter-day postmodern Scrooges, my wife and I thought we were immune to the re­lentless commercial propaganda of the season. Who did we think we were kidding? The reli­gious significance of Christmas may be often ob­scured by the gaudy displays of advertisers and shopkeepers, but as a holiday it retains a tremendous power to evoke communal and family feel­ing. It’s a spirit that can rarely be ignored with­out emotional cost, as we began to find out.

It was Christmas day. For the first time in my life, I was feeling homesick. There was no telephone in the room, so neither my wife nor I could call our parents. There was no television set, so we couldn’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life to get us in the requisite mood. We finally decided to venture out into the stinging cold to try and forage for a turkey dinner. All we could find open was a Korean deli with a salad bar, so our Christmas repast that year consisted not of roast beast with all the trimmings, but of a wilted col­lection of freezing vegetables. We weren’t that hungry anyway.

By now it was evening, time to get dressed, take more drugs, and make the nocturnal rounds. The supply of cocaine seemed unlimited that season. Speeding us across town to a friend’s loft, even the taxi driver offered us a hit. Once at our friend’s apartment, we played with his kids under the Christmas tree, then retired to a side room to do yet more lines. Then it was off to the clubs; every time we walked through a new door, someone would whisk us off to the bathroom.

“Next year, we’re gonna have a giving Christmas, not a taking Christmas,” my wife in­formed me before we finally fell asleep that night, our nostrils encrusted with powdery sed­iment. There was no need to elaborate. After all, there are only so many white Christmases a marriage can take.

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Open Season

Whatever sentimental phrase signals authentic Christmasness to you­ — sleigh bells jinglin’, angels heard on high, Jack Frost roasting on an open fire — in the down-and-dirty business of consumerism the only one that matters is the one reading OPEN LATE. And for procrastinators, even brighter is the rare sign that flashes OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR. The record store where I worked a dozen years ago considered that sign a talisman and a creed. And so, while most people stuffed their faces and watched Rudolph or the 49ers, we per­formed the act of charity that meant the most to the late-running and the lonely. We cranked up the cash register and sold.

Working on Christmas may seem like a nightmare of Dickensian proportions, but the employees of Sell-More Discs actually competed for yule shifts. Record retail de­mands more love than ambi­tion — at just over minimum wage, few of us had savings accounts or truly habitable apartments. But we got to spend all day and night neck­ deep in the records we loved more than money, more than status, more than anything. On my crew, there was Terry, a hip­pie-maned-jazzboe who drove a hack for extra cash and ate macrobiotic; Korean Rastaman Lester; Southern gentleman-goth, Charles; Max, an avant-garde axman who actually had record bins set up in his house; punk speed-freak lovebirds Timmy and Corrine; folkie­-turned-performance artist Jade, a Wyoming transplant living in her van; and my best buddy, Penelope, a Roxy Music fanatic versatile enough to attend the symphony with one coworker and a Run-D.M.C. show with another. Me, I was a new-wave kid studying poetry and the blues, swiping all the records the simpatico security guard would allow, learning fast.

We were freaks; by choice or destiny, no one really knew. But what else are freaks going to do on Christmas but hang out at the shrine to all that makes them freaky? Many of us either had no parent figures or weren’t currently phon­ing home, so we volunteered for double shifts to earn triple overtime, and broke out the brandy and eggnog under the counter. But it was Bill, our night manager, who engineered the Sell-More Discs freak feast.

Bill and his brother Theo were Guamanian muscle-guys loyal to the company but in love with the employees. For the yule, Bill and Theo or­ganized a potluck, but this wasn’t just your usu­al banana bread-and-pretzels affair: Max made a vat of German potato salad, Lester cooked up some Caribbean bean stew, Terry provided soy cheesecake, and Pen baked a raisin-apple pie just like her mom always did. Even the speed kids managed to buy an Entenmenn’s pie. Best of all, Bill and Theo, generous and subversive to the end, set up a barbecue right by the back vent and smoked a  whole salmon, island-style.

We chowed between cash register shifts and blasted A Reggae Christmas as stragglers and lonely hearts wandered the store’s aisles. Some­body put up a poster of Wham! and started a darts game. A friend or two from outside dropped by for a glass of cheer and a shopping spree, receiving an extra-special holiday discount our bosses would never know about. And as always the local TV news crews showed up with their cameras and their question so off-the­-mark. “Isn’t it awful to work on Christmas?” the perky reporter said, scrunching his nose as we frantically hid our bottle of champagne behind the Yanni tapes. We made some joke or nasty comment — “well, you’re doing it, aren’t you?” — ­and got rid of them so we could get back to our party. It would have been too hard to explain what we knew: Ours was a family by choice, each member a misfit struggling to build some kinship that felt not just comfortable, but real. Sell-More Discs had given us a chance to do that. The truth was, we weren’t working this Christ­mas. We were spending the day at home.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Black Santa

My brother and I knew from whence our dirt bikes, Christie dolls (black Barbies), Star Wars action figures, and Easy Bake Ovens came. From our parents, of course. After all, didn’t we give them carefully prepared Christmas lists, show them the pictures of the toys in the Toys “R” Us catalog? Couldn’t we see the rolls of wrapping paper hidden (not very well) in the closet?

Our parents liked ro keep it real. “Me and Daddy buy the toys, Santa just delivers them,” is how Mom explained the whole Saint Nick phenomenon. In 1979, while feeling the spirit a little more than usual, she decided to take our celebration to another level: she would hire a Santa to come to our building, ride up the ele­vator, and march straight to our apartment with a delivery of gifts. She found a Santa through a newspaper ad, and then she gave us details. He would come around 11 p.m. Christmas Eve and stay for dessert, so we might want to rest up. If I remember correctly, the whole deal with San­ta visiting is that you don’t see him, but that was beside the point to her: he was already paid. My brother Kareem and I had no questions or reser­vations about the fantasy-reality mix. We weren’t about to miss this.

So we left a glass of milk and a chunk of Entemann’s chocolate cake on the dining room table and waited at the top of the stairs for Santa to push through the unlocked door. As we crept down the steps we heard him frantically unpacking, knocking collectibles off the coffee table. Then we saw him.

This wasn’t any Santa — this Santa was as black and beautiful as my grandpa, only taller and younger. Back then I was eight, and I didn’t realize how important it was for me to see a black Santa. The thought never crossed my mind that this was probably the last one I’d see. It was my parents’ idea that Santa can be claimed by peo­ple of any color — black, white, Hispanic, Asian — because what he really represents is an extension of your family. She told me the other day that her goal was not to prove there was one real Santa, but to make sure we knew this gift-­giving guy belonged in our home.

When he heard two kids approaching, our guest freaked and ran to hide in the bedroom, emerging only after Kareem and I assured him that he was expected. We sat on the living-room floor with our legs crossed, grinning from ear to ear as our very own black Santa chuckled “Ho, ho, ho!” and laid exactly the presents we’d asked for under the tree.

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A Kwanzaa Carol

“I’m celebrating Kwanzaa this year,” my I nephew announced, a bit self-satisfied, when I asked him a few weeks ago what he wanted for Christmas. I assumed it was just another phase he was going through, like the time I want­ed to be called Balaniké, refusing to answer to anything else. My nephew, Daevon, is seven, and the oldest of my brother’s three children. And in years past, he’s enjoyed the kind of Christmas largesse that comes with being the first and, un­til recently, only child in the family. So for him to disavow Christmas would be a big deal.

“So, does that mean you don’t want any­thing for Christmas?” I asked, hoping I might be off the hook for gifts this year. “No! What are you, crazy?!” (Kids always speak in exclama­tions.) “Well, exactly what are you celebrating, Christmas or Kwanzaa?” I said, trying to force the issue. “Both, of course.”

Of course.

I grew up in the ’60s, before Kwanzaa’s sudden emergence as a major black holiday­ — now more popular than Juneteenth or Black History Month. Beginning the day after Christ­mas, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of fam­ily and spirituality. It’s thriving for the same rea­son black parents look for books with black faces or buy Shani dolls — it’s something they can use to build a “positive self-image” for their kids. Given the scarcity of black Santas, Kwanzaa makes the holiday season a bit more culturally correct. To me, the “tradition” sometimes seem a bit forced — but to Daevon, it’s clearly an ex­citing, if confusing, part of a burgeoning cultural identity. “So how do you celebrate Kwanzaa?” “On each day [sigh], you do different things with your family. But you have to read from the Kwanzaa book.”

“The Kwanzaa book?”

“Yeah, the Kwanzaa book. Everyone has the same words.”

“You read something out of a book?”

“No! You read from the book and then you do something with your family. But you don’t have to do exactly what’s in the book.”


“Well, hmmmm … Aunt Muffy, could you hold on just one second?”

There’s a long pause.

At this point, I’m not so sure Daevon really understands what Kwanzaa is all about. He hasn’t mentioned the traditional candle-lighting ceremony or the seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

“I’m back. I was looking for my Kwanzaa book.”

“Tell me what you do each day to celebrate Kwanzaa.”

“Every day you and your family do some­thing together [another sigh]. Like on one of the days, all the money you save up … no, uh. One of the days, right, you make like a little piggy bank?’


“And you save up money, and put it in that bank. And then, and then the next coming Kwanzaa, that’s when you buy something BIG, for saving up all that money.”

“Okay, so the money you save up, do you buy something the next day or do you buy something the next year?”

“You buy something whenever you have enough money to buy something big.”

“Do you still celebrate Christmas?”

“Yes, you can still celebrate Christmas. But on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, that’s when you’re supposed to open all your gifts. The next Monday [a week from Christmas].”

“Are you having a Christmas play at school.”

“Yeah, I’m in it. It’s all the second graders.”

“And what are you doing in it?”

“Oh, I’m singing a song. It’s not like a play, it’s a presentation. Every second-grade class is singing a song, one song. Like ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘Must See Santa,’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’ We’re doing songs like that. And there is a Kwanzaa song.”

“What’s the Kwanzaa song?”

“l really don’t know all the words. Hold on, I have to think this through.” (Barely audi­ble mumbling as my nephew tries to remember the verse.)

“While you’re thinking, tell me what you want for Christmas, I mean Kwanzaa.”

“Oh, I know some of the words — ‘Children learn their history.’ ”

“Children learn their history?”

“Huh-huh. Yeah. I know half of the song.”

“Do you know when Kwanzaa began? Where it came from?”

“It came from Africa.”

“No, it didn’t. In 1966, a guy named Ron Karenga, a black man, decided to create a holiday that was more nationalistic, more Afrocentric. But it’s based on African traditions. There’s a harvest celebration in Africa that’s similar to it, but it’s not the same thing. It actually began here in the U.S. Did you know that?”

“No. I did not know that.”

Well, I’ve done my bit for black history.

“Do you want different gifts for Kwanzaa than you want for Christmas?”

“Yeah, totally different.”

“What do you want for Kwanzaa?”

“Like African American things.”


“I don’t know … like scarves that have …”

“Kente cloth?”

“Yeah, and, like, stuff that has the colors of Kwanzaa and other colors. And in the middle of it, it has ’95. That’s the year I got it.”

“If ’95 is in the middle, what’s going to be on the outside?

“Around 1995, I want the border to be red, black, and green.”


“I think that’s it for Kwanzaa.”

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The Worst Noel

“Bubbe-meises,” my New York Jewish mother snapped whenever the subject of Christmas came up. Lies and superstitions, all of it: the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth. A lot of nonsense. She’d get cross and impatient. We never had trees; we exchanged modest gifts at Hanukkah; when we got older there were no gifts at all, just her gen­erous check “for your birthday, really,” which followed in January.

Then a guy proposed to me; a sculptor, sweet and shy, a lapsed Lutheran from the out­skirts of Buffalo whose terrific homemaker mom announced, when she first met me, that her best friends were Jewish. It was 1969, and the no­tion of getting married seemed as bizarre as everything else in the zeitgeist, but at the same time made sense; we’d create a safe haven for each other amid the prevailing sexual and political chaos. I became a legal member of his Chris­tian family (albeit in a Jewish ceremony). Dodg­ing his draft board, we’d emigrated to Nova Scotia, miles from everyone we knew, to teach at an art college in an officially Christian country. I embraced Christmas as impetuously as I’d entered marriage. That year, I participated enthusiastically, readying the tree in the picture win­dow, crafting elaborate ornaments and baking spicy German cookies like his mother’s. Hand­ made presents winged toward us; we scrambled to reciprocate on our entry-level paychecks. He made oyster stew on Christmas Eve, as his clan had always done; we spent the holidays cook­ing and welcoming new acquaintances.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

By the next Christmas we knew he was about to lose his job, but we kept shopping, cooking, entertaining. The Christmas after that, he was unemployed. The one after that, he was, I guess you’d say, self-employed, experimenting in our cellar with prototypes of furniture he hoped to manufacture and sell, filling the air with chem­ical smells and the sound of a ripsaw. I was earn­ing all our money, still cobbling together cele­brations, frightened and anxious and tired.

Something had to change. Never marry anybody you wouldn’t hire, I found myself mut­tering under my breath. The next Christmas we got a tree, but all I felt like hanging on it was food: popcorn, cookies, foil-wrapped chocolates on golden strings from the vast sweets empori­um down the road. That year he gave me a steam iron and a pair of ice skates. I don’t remember what I gave him. But on Boxing Day I began eat­ing the ornaments, one Santa after another, until the boughs were bare. Then I started packing. I walked the mile to work every morning, took a dance class every night. Three months later I quit my job and moved across the country, alone.

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Holiday on Ice Cream

I’m probably the only nondysfunctional Christmas guy in the entire metropolitan area. Home for the holidays to my parents’ kitsch-laden house in Bensonhurst, I return to the awe-inspiring decor that, in its own magi­cally garish way, spells love. Crocheted flowers, stickpin owls, and dolls of many nations blind­ingly adorn the joint, and most eye-catchingly of all, half the fridge door is done as a homage to Jesus Christ, while the other half is covered with pictures of my parents’ other idol, me (their on­ly child, after all). Everything’s equal here — not only am I aligned with the Christ figure, but beautiful clocks equal 99-Cent Store Pierrot heads — and the Christmassy doodads add even more festive layers that further steamroll every­thing to the same lovely level.

But the real celebration is in the food; to quote the well-spoken duck in Babe, Christmas means carnage. A gigantic lasagna or baked ziti could easily serve as the main course in any other home in the world, but in this place it’s a mere hint of a shred of an appetizer. It’s followed by voluminous amounts of meatballs, sausages, and other gravy meats, all covered with blizzards of parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Then, if you’re still alive, come the entrées: wildly delicious chicken and ham dishes, plus an array of sides — namely sal­ads, candied yams, mushrooms, and a quiche made with artichoke hearts. Just when you’re sure your stomach is about to blow apart, out come the insanely large tubs of sherbet and ice cream, plus the donuts, pastries, cakes, and pies, with Reddi Wip, Cool Whip, and La Creme standing by for good measure. Say no to any of this and you’re driving a knife through my mother’s heart. These loving if artery-clogging offerings say she cares. To accept them means you care back.

The mood is generally warm, the company familiar. But some­how, amid the threat of all that happiness and satiation, semidysfunctions do tend to crop up. In this setting, my attempts at dark humor — so delightful elsewhere — can be misinterpreted as cruel; other family members’ politically incorrect comments drive my friends into the bathroom crying (there, they can enjoy mom’s doll-shaped toilet paper coverings); and, as everyone jockeys for attention, merriment sometimes leads, at the drop of a meatball, to hurt feelings, none of them directed by Jodie Foster. But in the wake of all this, mom has the best response of all: “Come on, have some more ice cream!”

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Manger? Mangia!

My family is extremely Italian. You want proof? We come from a small town called Cansano in the mountain ranges of Abruzzi that had one road in and one road out. We immigrated to the States in 1955 (making the front page of Il Progresso in a “just off the boat” photo) and settled on that most Brooklyn of all Brooklyn street corners, 33rd and Third. We got guys named Mario and Antonio in our family, but thank heaven no one wears gold chains. Like all good Italians (southern Italy, at least; anything north of Milan is Ger­many anyway), we celebrate every Christmas Eve with the biggest seafood dinner this side of Jesus and that loaves-of-bread episode. The funny thing is most Italians don’t know why we party this way; phone calls to organizations such as the Italian Cultural Institute and the Italian Heritage and Cultural Commission were met with the verbal equivalent of shrugged shoul­ders. Words like history and tradition are thrown around, but the only fact that seems to count is that a minimum of dishes must be served (ac­cording to one coworker nine, my sister eight, my mother 12). No one seems to know why we do what we do every year without fail.

But ours is not to question why, ours is just to eat, eat, eat. Not, however, until everyone is ready. My sisters bring out plate after heaping plate, only to yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF THAT!” with all the love they can muster if anyone moves too soon. It’s friggin’ torture. Picture Red Lobster, except the fish is real and cooked by humans. Homemade pasta with calamari. Baked clams. Salmon steaks. Breaded scallops. Octopus salad. Baccala. Stuffed squid. Shrimp scampi. Shrimp cocktails. And that’s just for starters.

More than once, I’ve fasted before the feast, making penance for my sins and drooling thanks while fantasizing about the greatest meal of the year. Talk about tripping! Some years were classics, like the one when 11 main courses were served (the record!), or the one when we were invaded by non-English speaking Danish students. Everyone is welcome at the table as long as they can endure my family’s penchant for demanding they sing Christmas carols for their supper; even faked lyrics bring a loud roar of approval. It’s an offer guests can’t refuse, because even the feeblest attempt brings a non-stop embarrassment of riches in the form of lobster, breaded shrimp, mussels, seared tuna, raw clams, and more. Christmas day is almost an afterthought, because year after year Christmas Eve kicks its butt hands down.

Recently, a faction of American-born offspring has started a separate “kids’ meal.” A pasta with meatballs dish is served to children who won’t eat fish. Of course, certain family members (including me) grumble that if they aren’ going to eat seafood they should starve. Why? It’s tradition!

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God Bless Us, Every One

It was Christmas 1974 at the Immaculate Conception Children’s Home, and Suprima, Ineeda, and I had already planned all the things we were going to make in our Easy Bake Ovens. We were nine, and the nine-year-old girls always got ovens; it was a tradition. How else would we learn to cook? Certainly not from Sister Mary (their middle names were always Mary) Bougofawa, the home’s head cook, who didn’t make anything if it wasn’t white and boiled beyond recognition. The ovens were handed out at the home’s yearly holiday extravaganza. That day, we set our hair, dug out our good dresses and church shoes, and filed down to the gym in anticipation of an unrecognizable dinner and Christmas presents.

But this year things just didn’t look right. The tree wasn’t as large as I’d remembered it; the head table, reserved for the community sponsors of this shindig, was nearly empty. Where was Mr. Harold? He was town supervi­sor and always the Christmas party organizer. And what about his good friend Mr. Vinny? He took care of all the construction needs around the Children’s Home for free, and in return thee older boys went to work for him. The nuns tried to be tight-lipped about it; only after a good bit of badgering did Sister Mary Josephine (whom I’d recently witnessed executing karate moves on a wayward boy) offer that Mr. Harold was in jail. I don’t remember exactly what for, bribery or embezzlement, but it must have had something to do with Mr. Vinny, because he seemed to be making himself pretty scarce, too.

Everything seemed dimmer. Even the local football ream, whose B-string usually put in a two-minute appearance to have their pictures taken with us orphan children, barely stayed one minute, and in the time it took me to run down the hall to go to the bathroom, they’d all been and gone, leaving behind some sort of apolo­getic team manager. (We once met O.J., but we had to be bused to a location more convenient for him — an awards dinner where we were trot­ted out for a group photo with the man himself. Later, we were each awarded a tiny plastic auto­graphed football for our well-behaved perfor­mance as the grateful needy.)

But the worst was yet to come. The party ended, and we were commanded to say our thank yous, gather up our gifts, and, in an or­derly line, follow the nun in charge of our re­spective groups back to our playrooms. Ineeda and I were already suspicious. All our boxes seemed small — hell, all mine seemed to be the same size. Could they possibly contain an Easy Bake Oven? Maybe they packed it in parts­— how ingenious and surprising! We sat on the in­door/outdoor carpet, our presents arrayed in front of us, waiting impatiently for Sister Mary Luciose to give us the go-ahead. She counted: five, four, three, two, one … We went mad. When all the wrapping was cleared away, I had two crib toys, recommended for children ages 0-3, and seven identical boxes of Shrinky Dink Make-it-Yourself Christmas ornaments, which, to my horror, I needed an oven to make.

As I turned in dismay to Sister Mary Lu­ciose, I saw her wrinkly 60-year-old face flush. Her eyes began to bulge from behind her brown cat-eyed glasses. Uh-oh. I thought her head might explode — I thought she would lose that veil, so I would know once and for all if that shock of hair on her forehead was indeed the imitation hairpiece I had once wagered it was. Sister Mary launched into a lecture on material­ism and the beast it would turn me into, how I would never get to heaven with that attitude, missy. She feared for my soul. I didn’t care. Even as she marched me off for the special emergency confession she had arranged with Father Walter the next morning, all I could think about was … I want an Easy Bake Oven, goddammit.

I wasn’t really an orphan — I had a mother, though she had shed her worldly trappings to live as a hermit in the Genesee River Valley. And I had a father. When he arrived to collect me for my allotted holiday visit on Christmas Eve (appar­ently having passed the Breathalyzer test Sister Mary Rosanne reserved specially for him) I was still hellbent on some decent presents. I had no illusions about who Santa was. As he deposited me with my two retired, never-married school­teacher aunts, I dispatched my guilt-ridden fa­ther to the mall to retrieve an Easy Bake Oven.

As the evening wore on, I began to fear that perhaps he couldn’t find me anything. The aunts were dazed and unsure of what to do with me. My yammering about the Easy Bake Oven sent one aunt running to the kitchen for a bourbon straight up, while the other slipped in and out of the living room to refill her glass with an amber liquid she said was apple cider, but which my watchful eyes knew was beer. When I quieted down, the aunts whispered to each other that he’d probably gone oven shopping at Jo-J’s Bar & Grill. I occupied myself with reruns of Hawaii Five-O and slowly began to surrender my dreams of being a chef I was ready for bed when I heard his familiar staggering steps on the front porch. Aunt Jean flipped on the porch light, and there was Dad — squinting and disheveled in the sud­den illumination, but holding a box. I could tell instantly what the abused wrapping concealed, because I knew the shape by heart — here, at last, was my Easy Bake Oven.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Bah Humdrum

This is going to be a shitty Christmas. John is going upstate. Ditto David. Ditto Bob.

Darrin’s found a lover. Lucky him. They’ll want privacy as they model their new His & His flannel robes.

Devra … Michigan. Jeff … Fresno. Blaine? Maybe — or no, isn’t he going to India?

My roommate is working coatcheck again, regrets, though it will be fun opening gifts at 5 a.m.

Out of everyone, I’ll be missing Liz the most. She’s the woman I’d go straight for if such a thing were possible. A soulmate since the 12th grade (she might peg the date further back, to Mr. Compton’s Exploratory Reading class at Petalunia Junior High, but hopefully that argu­ment’s settled), Liz came east with photos of her handsome fiancé in ’92, and left just before Christmas. In ’93 the pair returned, married, but at Rumbul’s on Christopher Street the first of many heart-to-hearts began. In ’94, she was divorced, depressed, but nowhere near the lump of coal she thinks she was. For ’95 she’s staying put in California. Can I blame her?

If it’s me and my cat sharing a can of tuna on Christmas Day, it’s my fault. Mom and Dad needle me to hop a plane. But the sour taste of predictable yule traditions still lingers and besides, I hate to fly. I have to improvise. One year, it was lasagna and a Georgy Girl video. Another, it was the Monster Bar employee dinner: Miss Shari, the drag queen, presided, and Lady Aaron, the 70-plus bookkeeper, gave us tiaras and white taffeta.

This year? Glenn might be down from Provincetown, and Michael will surely throw a pre-Christmas shindig, although nude Polaroids are usually involved, and I vowed never to end up in that scandal shoebox. Then there’s Nesha, Liz’s and my friend, who, bless her heart, has ex­tended an invitation to dinner “if you don’t have anything else to do.”

Will I? The 11th hour is the moment great things happen in this town. Like Christmas Eve ’92, when Hunter, Scott, and I drifted into the chapel of the Theological Seminary in Chelsea, where the burnt-out Church of the Holy Cross congregation was holding services. “I’m an athe­ist,” Hunter protested in the cold, reluctant to go inside. “Do you know what this means?” So? I was a lapsed Lutheran, and Scott was Jewish. Inside we shared a pew with another group of spectator-worshipers dressed more like they prayed at the altar of Barneys.

But then the Episcopalian pastor delivered a message of antidiscrimination, which he ex­tended to sexuality and health. And the female chorus members sang She in place of He during the Nicene Creed. That stole any grinch left in­side me; even my atheist friend smiled. Sud­denly I was terrifically glad to be there, and nowhere else.

Here’s hoping.

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Window Pain

I’m Jewish. This wasn’t my idea ro begin with, so imagine how I felt at the age of three when I discovered that there was an upcoming holiday full of twinkly lights, candy canes, and piles of presents, the centerpiece of which was a tiny doll lying in a toy cradle sur­rounded by its mommy and daddy (well, he cer­tainly seemed like the daddy … ) and a lot of cute little animals. Oh yes, my mother conced­ed. She knew all about this holiday, she rold me brightly. But it’s not for us! We don’t have it!

Quite frankly, I have never gotten over this revelation. I have spent the last three decades trying to effect a working compromise: Do I send out cards but draw the line at lights? Go for the lights but eschew the tree? Once I actually did drag a tree up six flights of stairs (did I know you need a tree stand? Did I know there would still be pine needles sticking out of the carpet on the fourth of July?). I even tried to avoid the festivities altogether by fleeing to Eu­rope, but like death in Samarra, Christmas was waiting for me when I got off the plane.

I burst into tears a lot at Christmas time. Mr. Magoo induces spasms of sobbing. I can’t watch Meet Me in St. Louis without practically having to call an ambulance. So why do I undertake my methodical investigation of each and every store’s holiday windows each and every year? Same rea­son some people hang out at the Vault, I guess.

My first srop is usually Bloomingdale’s, a store I always think of as Jewish anyway. (Saks and Bloomingdalc’s are Jewish. Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf’s are not.) This year’s display con­sists of 12 trees decorated by Robert Isabell, the hot society florist recently employed for the gar­ish wedding of one of the so-called fabulous Miller sisters. The trees are hung variously with grocery produce (strawberries and zucchinis­ — or maybe they’re cucumbers?), glitzy jewelry (the contents of a morning sweep at the 26th Street flea market?), candy, roses, crystals, Vic­torian toys, and sheaves of wheat. They’re beautiful, but not particularly snivel-inducing. Far more enticing is the small mannequin in a side window: she’s bright red, holds a green garland wound with black and white Chanel ribbons, and she’s sprouting a little tree where her head should be.

Two blocks over, the witty, vaguely cyni­cal windows at Barneys make no reference to the imminent festivities at all. They’re like the senior project of a prestigious graduate school design seminar: Dada-esque tableaux, in beige and pewter (Barneys’s version of red and green), illustrating proverbs like “many hands make light work” (disembodied digits holding lightbulbs). I can see they’re clever, but instead of inducing yuletide longing they make me feel like I’m standing outside a nightclub while the doorperson is telling me I’m not on the list.

My next stop is positively homey by com­parison: Tiffany & Co., where the tiny jewel­box windows reflect the tasteful treasures with­in. The conceit here is ornithologic: faintly Disney-esque penguins with party hats (hey, this is 57th Street) celebrate New Year’s Eve; the P. Johns family (get it?), a nuclear unit dressed in 1940s outfits, nestle in a tree house; Santa rides in a sled pulled by green parakeets, etc. The on­ly jewelry in evidence is around the neck of a woodpecker — he’s wearing a stunning cabo­chon ruby and diamond cross. (A woodpecker gets to wear a cross and I don’t?)

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I’m still dry-eyed, though I have a weak moment when the Salvation Army girl lets loose with a heartbreaking rendition of “Hark the Her­ald Angels Sing.” I have to grit my teeth and think about the plot of Guys and Dolls (I hum the Fugue for Tinhorns to distract myself) as I march down Fifth Avenue to Saks. On the way I pass Henri Bendel, where the vitrines show leering, huge­-eared automata-elves done up like doormen brandishing merchandise from their out-stretched palms. (Do Bendel’s shoppers really need this unsubtle reminder that it’s tipping time again?)

At Saks, I’m confronted with my first real­ly traditional windows of the season — a series of mechanical tableaux depicting the story of Margie and Nick and the little snowman they befriend. I won’t bore you with the details, but Nick and Margie make friends with Santa, who takes everyone to the Rainbow Room for “mu­sic, dancing, cakes and cookies. It was swell.” Suddenly I’m all choked up: I’m dying to go to the Rainbow Room on Christmas Eve too, and I ain’t ordering cookies either. After a few min­utes wallowing in my sad fate, it dawns on me: isn’t it a little fishy that Marge and Nick and even the snowman are spending Christmas Eve at the Rainbow Room instead of midnight mass?

Thus cheered, I proceed to that bastion of Christian gentility, Lord & Taylor. This is year the windows feature an old-fashioned version of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. There are mechanical pyrotechnics here as well — Santa’s big tummy heaves as if he’s about to have a heart attack, reindeer jog in place, and there are winsome little mice scuttling over the rafters — very charming unless you have lived on the Lower East Side where little mice still scut­tle across the rafters. (Once a mouse got trapped in my toaster oven. You don’t want to know.) The scenes are sentimental and touching and perfectly serviceable, if not terribly original.

In the corner window, there’s a poignant display of one of those Dickens Christmas vil­lages full of miniature 19th-century houses, skating ponds, dwarf trees, and surgical-cotton snow. For some reason, this little town gets to me far more than the main display. I’m starting to feel really sorry for myself (it’s easy! try it!) when I see a bunch of bedraggled second graders on a field trip being whipped along by a sullen teacher’s aide. They’ve been forced to wear big cardboard signs with their names and addresses, and although a few are facing their fate with false hilarity, many others are sunk in the pro­found existential misery I remember so well.

Nothing lifts the spirit quicker than the agony of others, and suddenly I’m so light­hearted that I fairly skip to Macy’s, a store over­loaded with Christmas mirth. I try to affect a stance as hard-bitten as the six-year-old Natalie Wood’s in Miracle on 34th Street, but it’s not really necessary: these circus-themed dioramas (a plate twirler, a clumsy acrobat) leave me al­most entirely unmoved. The coup de grace is a couple of clowns cavorting around a Volkswa­gen piled high with presents like TV sets and CD players. (A Volkswagen is supposed to make me feel nostalgic about Christmas? In my fam­ily, you re not even allowed to buy a comb that’s stamped Germany.)

The last window I look at holds two huge elephants flanking a slinky brunette mannequin in an evening gown. It’s an uncanny homage to Dovima, and I have a funny feeling that the fel­las in the display department snuck it right over the heads of Macy’s executives. But maybe they didn’t! Maybe the bureaucrats at Macy’s simply worship Avedon! Strangely buoyant, I descend the steps to the BMT, ready to go home, string up my dalmatian-and-fire-hydrant lights, and face the difficult days ahead. ❖


The 2014 Fall (Arts) Issue: An Index

While your pumpkin spice latte cools, peruse the this index of our 2014 Fall (arts) Issue:

[Art] This Fall, Embrace the Unfamiliar in the Art World, by Robert Shuster

[Art] Robert Gober’s Angsty Minimalism Hits MOMA in October, by Jessica Dawson

[Dance] Choreographer Kyle Abraham Copes with Prosperity, by Elizabeth Zimmer

[Dance] The Comeback of Narrative Dance: Visions in the Dark, by Elizabeth Zimmer

[Events] Thirteen NYC Can’t-Miss NYC Festivals This Fall, by Alexis Soloski

[Film] Dear White People Director Justin Simien on the Multiplicity of Black Experience, by Inkoo Kang

[Film] Here are At Least 18 Movies You Should See This Fall, by Aaron Hillis

[Musical Theater] Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree Bring Found Magazine‘s Epistolary Flotsam to the Stage, by Alexis Soloski

[Theater] New York Theater Takes a Fresh Look at the Classics This Season, by Tom Sellar


65 Things to Do in New York City During Spring 2014

Paul Taylor Dance Company
Through March 30
The last master of American modern dance, now in his ninth decade, Taylor celebrates his brilliant troupe’s 60th anniversary with two new pieces and 19 repertory masterworks. Fusing contemporary wildness and sturdy traditional technique, they’ll take your breath away. David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, –Elizabeth Zimmer

Congo: The Epic History of a People
by David Van Reybrouck
March 25
The one thing everyone seems to know about the Congo is that it’s a gigantic war-torn mess. But Belgian renaissance man Van Reybrouck — an archeologist, reporter, playwright, and poet — has set out to catalogue in epic fashion the forces that created it. The resulting 656-page tome displays the narrative aplomb that arises from Van Reybrouck’s background as an artist as well as his post-colonial consciousness: “I decided it would only be worth doing if I were able to include as many Congolese voices as possible,” he writes. But how to create such a history in a land with an oral tradition and a life expectancy of 45? Ecco, 656 pp., $29.99. –James Hannaham

Red Velvet
Performances begin March 25
This is not a play about a cupcake, but don’t let that disappoint you. A great success in its London premiere, Lolita Chakrabarti’s biographical drama concerns Ira Aldridge, a celebrated African-American actor of the 19th century and the first black actor to play Othello. Adrian Lester, Chakrabarti’s husband and a clever, kinetic, immensely appealing performer, again plays Aldridge in this production from Tricycle artistic director Indhu Rubasingham. Will audiences love it wisely and too well? St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay Street, Brooklyn, –Alexis Soloski

“When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South”
March 27–June 29
An extensive selection of outsider art (loosely defined) from the past 50 years looks at black life in America, with particular attention to the South. Pieces made by the self-taught, such as Joe Minter’s marvelous junkyard sculpture, mix with boundary-crossing work from insiders, including Kevin Beasley’s installation of sounds recorded at his Virginia family home and Kara Walker’s silhouetted puppets depicting slave-trade cruelty. The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, –Robert Shuster

The Heir Apparent
Performances begin March 28
Where there’s a will, there’s a French farce just waiting to be updated by David Ives. Ives, who treated Classic Stage audiences to School for Lies, an adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, returns to the theater with this version of a lesser-known Jean-François Regnard play. Directed by John Rando, it concerns an ambitious young man promised a tidy inheritance from his uncle. Trouble is, that uncle insists on staying alive. Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, –Soloski

Kronos Quartet 40th Anniversary Celebration
March 28
The string quartet that busted open the idea of what a string quartet could be celebrates its 40th year with this Carnegie Hall date. The rundown of composers they’ll play — Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Bryce Dessner, for starters — highlights just how Kronos has helped shaped the contemporary repertoire. Minimalist OG Terry Riley has prepared a new piece for the group to premiere, too. Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue, –Seth Colter Walls

Tortured Dust
March 28
Throughout his career in the avant-garde, Stan Brakhage transformed footage he shot at home into unsettling cinematic poetry. His celebrated 1959 short, Window Water Baby Moving, portrays the birth of his first child with jittery editing and graphic close-ups. The shadowy Wedlock House: An Intercourse (1959), ostensibly about sex, looks like a horror-flick preview. His most involved effort was the rarely screened Tortured Dust (1984), a s ilent, 90-minute sequence of memory-like fragments that record the filmmaker’s family in their rustic cabin. The length is indulgent, but Brakhage considered the deeply personal work his magnum opus.
Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, –Shuster

The Raid 2
March 28
In a genre that hadn’t evolved much in years, Gareth Evans’s ferocious Indonesian martial-arts ballet The Raid: Redemption redefined the action movie much as The Matrix once did for science fiction. With the bar set incredibly high, rookie cop Rama (the wholly impressive Iko Uwais) returns to kick it even higher in this bloodier, brawnier crime saga, which expands everything: the set pieces, choreography, production values, even the plot. CG effects be damned; it’s amazing no stuntmen were killed in the making. Sony Pictures Classics, in limited release, –Aaron Hillis

Finding Vivian Maier
March 28
She was born in NYC in 1926, spent her childhood in France, and later led a quiet life as a Chicago nanny before dying a recluse in 2009. Vivian Maier was also one of the great street photographers of the 20th century, which nobody knew until more than 100,000 of her negatives were unearthed at an auction. Co-directed by lucky finder John Maloof, this incredible and haunting investigation into Maier’s life, posthumous fame, obsession, and mental illness is at its best when her images bloom for the big screen. Sundance Selects, in limited release, –Aaron Hillis

“Tout Truffaut”
Mach 28–April 17
That poignant freeze-frame on Jean-Pierre Léaud closing The 400 Blows. Jeanne Moreau mischievously cheating in a footrace against Jules and Jim. The sly merging of comedy, tragedy, and noir that is Shoot the Piano Player. Though critic-turned-auteur François Truffaut’s body of work was cut short by his death at 52, the many miracles in the French New Wave co-founder’s inventive body of work live on in Film Forum’s comprehensive 27-film series. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, –Hillis

Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra
Performances begin March 28
Having relationship trouble? You could see a couples counselor. Or you could purchase some marital aids at a West Village boutique. Or you could just break up. But the couple at the center of Kirk Lynn’s play has a more original idea: They decide to re-create their sexual history with each other. Lynn — a canny, stylish writer who often works with the Austin troupe Rude Mechs — brings this erotic comedy to Playwrights Horizons, under Anne Kauffman’s direction. Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, –Soloski

Mr. Loverman
by Bernardine Evaristo
April 1
Antiguan immigrant Barrington Jedediah Walker lives in London, but he also lives a lie. Though he’s 74 years old and married, he has for many years been carrying on a very clandestine love affair with his best friend, Morris. All this time, what has he told his wife, who thinks he’s a womanizer? “Dear, I ain’t never slept with another woman.” As his marriage self-destructs, Barrington sees an opportunity to be with the man he loves, but after such protracted misery in this comic, touching book, happiness seems distant and frightening. Akashic Books, 300 pp., $20.96. –Hannaham

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade
by Kevin Brockmeier
April 1
Award-winning fabulist Brockmeier turns his pen (well, laptop, probably) toward one of the weirdest, most mystifying, emotional subjects in the world: seventh grade. The tightly focused memoir resonates oddly with the tales of apocalypse, surreal landscapes, and eerie purgatories he has imagined in previous novels and stories. Instead of making the strange familiar, this one does the reverse, not least because it’s a memoir written in the third person: “He has a fantasy dating back to preschool that all the mirrors in his house are secretly windows, magic spyglasses for the girls in his class.” Pantheon, 208 pp., $24. –Hannaham

The Velocity of Autumn
Performances begin April 1
The leafy streets of Park Slope are unlikely to suffer much in the way of bomb threats, particularly as the de Blasio family has now decamped for Gracie Mansion. But in Eric Coble’s play, a spirited widow threatens to blow up her brownstone and perhaps much of the block rather than leave it. (And they say it’s a seller’s market.) In this Broadway two-hander, Estelle Parsons stars as the retiree with a penchant for Molotov cocktails and Stephen Spinella as the son who must convince her to go more quietly. Booth Theatre, 225 West 45th Street, –Alexis Soloski

The Unknown Known
April 4
To many Voice readers, the name Donald Rumsfeld inspires clenched fists and grumbled expletives, but the two-time U.S. Secretary of Defense (under Ford and Bush II) is as undeniably fascinating as he is divisive, manipulative, and possibly sociopathic. In this unsettling thematic sequel to his Oscar-winning doc The Fog of War, director Errol Morris turns his “Interrotron” camera on the grinning, sharp-tongued Rummy, grilling him on his Zelig–like political career, notorious memo writing, and public contradictions. RADiUS-TWC, in limited release, –Hillis

Nymphomaniac: Volume II
April 4
Unlike Kill Bill, that other bifurcated four-hour saga of female empowerment costarring Uma Thurman, Danish provocateur Lars von Trier’s smutty, nutty, and fearless tragicomedy can be seen in its entirety just two weeks after Volume I dropped. Unashamed sex addict Charlotte Gainsbourg recalls to aging bachelor Stellan Skarsgård her decades of erotic milestones since childhood, seen in explicit flashback episodes that run the gamut from insightful profundity to puckish absurdity. Did your jaw drop, or is that your O-face? Magnolia Pictures, in limited release, –Hillis

Roberta Allen: “Works from the 1970s”
April 4–May 10
Art from the 1970s heyday of Conceptualism can look a bit dated now, the intellectual conceits having gone flat. But Allen’s spare work still retains its wit and whimsy. In one group of photographs, the artist gestures at floating clusters of lines labeled “pointless arrows” — a feminist presence enduring or shifting the conventional (male) wisdom. Her chart-like drawings, too, wryly scoff at logic while a series of canvas boxes, each poked full of holes, suggests escape from bland confinement. Minus Space, 111 Front Street, Brooklyn, –Shuster

Perfect Pussy
April 5
By mixing her blood into a limited-run vinyl edition of Perfect Pussy’s new album, lead singer Meredith Graves continued a stunt-packaging tradition that runs back to Big Black’s Lungs EP (the first copies of which came decorated with actual razor blades and bloody bandages). Thankfully, the band connects with more than just edgy record-release theatrics: Their small catalog already shows off an ability to join hooks and scuzz in classically underground fashion. Add blunt lyrics more interesting than most of those by their punk contemporaries, and you’ve got something more than mere revivalism: art that actually refreshes the genre. Mercury Lounge, 217 East Houston Street, –Walls

Brooklyn Flea
April 5–6
Once the weather warms, the Brooklyn Flea escapes its winter quarters and returns to the plazas of Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and now Park Slope, too. Some locales combine handmade goods and vintage finds with local delicacies. Others concentrate on the delectable food alone. Until then, you can huddle indoors at the Flea’s winter location at 80 North 5th Street in Williamsburg or check out the nearby Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint. Open every Friday and Saturday night, it boasts not only crafts and eats, but also live bands, ping pong, and black-lit mini golf. Brooklyn Flea, various locations,; Brooklyn Night Bazaar, 165 Banker Street, Brooklyn, –Soloski

Acts of God
by Ellen Gilchrist
April 8
Some Southern writers have nastier wit than Gilchrist, or a keener sense of American politics; say, Flannery O’Connor or John Kennedy Toole. But how many such formidable Dixie types still walk among us, gathering accolades? Jesmyn Ward, maybe? In a pinch, I’ll take Gilchrist’s downhome women, set adrift (sometimes literally) in the aftermath of various natural disasters, brought to life by the author’s light touch, tough mind, and buoyant spirit, without washing up too near to religious platitudes. Call her the Anne Richards of literary fiction. Algonquin Books, 256 pp., $23.95. –Hannaham

Can’t and Won’t: Stories
by Lydia Davis
April 8
The fact that Davis won the 2013 Man Booker International seems to expose once and for all the decidedly English flair of her oeuvre, despite her Yankee roots. There’s a quasi-autistic, trainspotty quality in the terse precision of her language, her pithy wit, and her laser focus on such mundane subjects as semantics, dogs, neighbors bearing peach tarts, Flaubert (whose work she has translated), and cows. Her work is brief and super dry, her prose crystalline, and her obsessions wax bourgeois. Jolly good. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 304 pp., $26. –Hannaham

Men Explain Things to Me
by Rebecca Solnit
April 8
“The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women,” wrote venerable nonfiction scribe Solnit in her 2012 essay that elucidated the male behavior pattern dubbed “mansplaining.” In the mordantly funny book-length version of that essay, Solnit makes a case for the way in which some men’s insistence on the credibility of their own voices over those of women — even experts like herself — represents the milder end of a pattern of silencing women that devolves into rape and murder. Haymarket Books, 100 pp., $11.95. –Hannaham

Stephen Petronio Company
April 8–13
Bold, bald, and heavily tattooed, Nutley native Petronio celebrates his contemporary troupe’s 30th year, and his appointment as the Joyce’s first artist-in-residence, with the new Locomotor, with a score by hip-hop artist Clams Casino. Melissa Toogood, late of Merce Cunningham’s ensemble, guests with his fine dancers. Petronio also performs a new solo, Stripped, set to a Philip Glass piano étude, and reprises part of his 2000 hit Strange Attractors to music by Michael Nyman. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, –Elizabeth Zimmer

The Great Immensity
Performances begin April 8
Climate skeptics insist the earth’s temperature hasn’t really risen in the past 100 years. Can a Public Lab show change their mind? This new piece by documentary drama troupe The Civilians explores our vexed relationship with the environment, as a young woman searches for a missing colleague amid rising sea levels and threatened extinctions. Steven Cosson writes and directs the thriller-like drama, while Michael Friedman’s songs should warm hearts, if not globes. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, –Soloski

City of Conversation
Performances begin April 10
Congress may deadlock, lobbyists fret, justices snipe, and presidents grumble, but no matter how impolitic Washington politics becomes, the tony dinner party continues on. Lincoln Center presents Anthony Giardina’s new partisan play, directed by Doug Hughes, which concerns a glittering capitol hostess. The play follows Hester Ferris from Carter to Obama (with some Bushes and Clintons in between), exploring political triumphs, private challenges, and sticky seating arrangements. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 50 Lincoln Center Plaza, –Soloski

Anthony Braxton Festival
April 10–12, 17–19
The revolutionary improviser, composer, and teacher turns 69 this year, and celebrates with this wild two-week festival. On the first two nights, the “Tri-Centric Orchestra” performs vintage chamber-symphony pieces by the maestro. Braxton the saxophonist jumps onstage during the first Saturday. (In a nod to his pedagogical legacy, the opening acts are Braxton mentees James Fei, Nate Wooley, and Fay Victor.) The second week brings performances of Braxton’s new opera, Trillium J: The Non-Unconfessionables. His drama-rituals are as unique as his approach to jazz: You can hear post-Stockhausen atonality, textures from American drone and early minimalism, and then the libretto’s shards of science fiction, monologues on class and race, plus the odd bit of slapstick humor. Forty-five years after For Alto, Braxton still knows how to shock. Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, –Walls

Under the Skin
April 11
Following Sexy Beast and Birth, British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s third feature is a mind-melting masterpiece, a tense and otherworldly social-realist mystery about the alien qualities of humanity and the existential angst of being “the other.” Sent to this planet (the highways of Scotland, mostly) to lure lonely men to their doom, Scarlett Johansson’s raven-haired femme fatale is sensual and frightening as she experiences pleasures and pains of a flesh that’s not even her own. A24, in limited release, –Hillis

King of Escape
April 11–17
Hot off the celebrated release of his minimalist homoerotic thriller Stranger by the Lake, undervalued French auteur Alain Guiraudie’s rambunctiously funny, lovably perverse 2009 road movie gets an overdue theatrical run. After being saved from bullies, a rural teen (The Secret of the Grain’s Hafsia Herzi) falls in love with her protector — a hefty, fortysomething gay tractor salesman (Ludovic Berthillot) — and convinces him to run away with her, as her father and local police follow in kooky pursuit. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, –Hillis

The Art of the Real
April 11–26
Previously a monthly event, the inaugural yearly edition of the Film Society’s boundary-pushing series investigates the expansive, beautiful possibilities of nonfiction cinema. Opening with La última película — an unclassifiable, feverish reimagining of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, set during the cusp of the Mayan apocalypse — and Romanian auteur Corneliu Porumboiu’s entertaining political/familial essay The Second Game, this showcase could use a tagline: “These ain’t your daddy’s talking-head interviews.” The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadway, –Hillis

The Cripple of Inishmaan
Performances begin April 12
The poor, lame lad at the center of Martin McDonagh’s drama likely looks familiar. Stare beyond the painful limp and bare haircut and you’ll see erstwhile boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe. Back on Broadway after stints in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Radcliffe plays the lead in McDonagh’s dark comedy about love, death, disease, and Hollywood stardom. Happily, the role does not require the erotic caressing of horses or the dancing of jigs. Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, –Soloski

Performances begin April 13
Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of food and cooking. Should we expect an unusually robust concession stand at this New Group show? Sharr White’s play, which opens on a scene of frying sausages, concerns a long-absent wife and the dying “cowboy poet” husband she comes to visit. But here’s the twist: In Bart DeLorenzo’s production, the estranged Emma and Ulysses are played by happily married TV stars Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman. Acorn Theater, 410 West 42nd Street, –Soloski

Easter Parade
April 20
What would Jesus wear? A fedora? A bowler? A boater? For decades, New Yorkers have celebrated the resurrection, the life, and the oversized rabbits with outsized hats at the Easter Parade. A milliner’s dream since the mid-19th century, the parade provides an opportunity to don your top toppers and most fascinating fascinators as you promenade through midtown. Afterward, you can take your bonnet to one of the city’s 30 Easter egg hunts in all five boroughs and Roosevelt Island, too. 49th Street near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. –Soloski

The Bad Plus
April 22–27
A couple dozen orchestras around the world can turn in good performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But how many jazz trios can play the piece in full? Probably just this one, as their new transcription of the masterwork, just out on Sony, demonstrates. The Bad Plus also have a ton of great original music in their book, not to mention their solid cover versions of tunes by Nirvana and Pink Floyd. They’ve been acclaimed for their punk-ish attack, and pianist Ethan Iverson can talk eloquently about an “avant-garde populism.” Another way of putting: This group is a kick no matter what kind of music they’re playing. Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, –Walls

The Few
Performances begin April 23
Though print media continues its precipitous decline, plays about it thrive. While Broadway’s Lucky Guy and the National Theatre of Scotland’s Enquirer focused on big papers and big names, Samuel D. Hunter’s new drama centers on a giveaway rag in a small Idaho town. Davis McCallum directs a script about the founder who abandoned it, the editor (and ex-girlfriend) who keeps it afloat, and the cub reporter who wants to return it to its former negligible glory. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, –Soloski

Ballet Preljocaj
April 23–27
Snow White, the Grimms’ classic tale of a wicked queen’s jealousy of her stepdaughter, got a makeover in 2008 from French-Albanian choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, who turned it into a two-hour S&M ballet, with music by Gustav Mahler and the new-music group 79D and revealing costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier. Definitely not for kids, it’s been called “part Pieter Brueghel, part Henri Rousseau, and part Quentin Tarantino.” Its seven dwarfs might fly. David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, –Zimmer

Dance Theatre of Harlem
April 23–27
A new ballet by DTH alums Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman Davis traces the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the industrial cities of the North a century ago; music is by Jamie Keesecker and dramaturgy by Thomas deFrantz. Also entering the repertory is Ulysses Dove’s 1993 Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven. A pas de deux from Raymonda pays tribute to the late Frederic Franklin. And more, across two programs. Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 60th Street and Broadway; –Zimmer

April 23–May 4
This 13-year-old troupe of eight feminist acrobats, directed by Sarah East Johnson, interweaves scientific principles with a push to rediscover neglected ancestors. A diverse cast, pushing boundaries of gender conformity, presents Tracks, an evening-length dance that traverses a landscape of swinging ropes and suspended fishnet, improvising amid sound samples from a range of cultures mixed in performance by DJ Tikka Masala. Nancy Brooks Brody and Johnson contribute video; the cast developed its text out of the first-person narratives of pioneer women. Dixon Place, 161a Chrystie Street, –Zimmer

An Octoroon
Performances begin April 23
The last time Branden Jacobs-Jenkins attempted an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s celebrated, troublesome melodrama, creative differences thwarted the premiere. With luck, Jacobs-Jenkins will find a more congenial collaborator in Soho Rep artistic director Sarah Benson. Together, they take on his timely, angry response to this script, a success and a scandal in 1860s America and abroad. (Boucicault wrote a sad ending for New York audiences, a happier one for Londoners.) Set on a plantation, it concerns murder, romance, and sanguinary taint. Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, –Soloski

April 25
Erika M. Anderson (who goes by her initials for her stage name) notched a critical success in 2011 with Past Life Martyred Saints, an album that offered hazy, intimate confession, even at its peaks of intensity. The first track distributed from her new album, “Satellite,” has a bit more public-facing fight in it, and not just during its white-noise prelude. You’ll have a couple of weeks after the record release date to memorize the new tunes, then see how they translate to a live setting. Mercury Lounge, 217 East Houston Street, –Walls

Bernie Worrell, Bill Laswell, Grand Mixer DXT, Dr. Israel
April 26
Who knows what this will sound like? Bassist Laswell, one of the all-star collaborators in all of New York history, once put out a recording with his metal group, Praxis, that featured first-gen turntablist DXT and Funkadelic keyboardist Worrell on a couple of tracks. Is it too much to hope that, without any guitarist dominating the lineup, this set will develop into an abstract canvas for Grand Mixer’s scratches and Worrell’s organ trills? Pretty please? The Stone, 16 Avenue C, –Walls

Sakura Matsuri
April 26–27
Cherry blossoms represent the beauty and evanescence of life. They also represent a chance to watch men swing samurai swords at each other and beat giant taiko drums. And did we mention the plethora of bento boxes? This annual festival celebrates Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s myriad cherry varietals, which transform the esplanade’s trees into fluffy pink and white clouds. Festivities include music, dance, arts and crafts, and an epic cosplay fashion show. The Brooklyn Parasol Society and Friends of Bonsai also feature. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, –Soloski

“River Fugues: Moving the Water(s)”
April 26–May 31
An immersive installation from Margaret Cogswell surveys the connections between industry and water, a subject the artist has been exploring for a decade. Video projected through multi-lens devices (modeled after surveyors’ telescopes) creates a fragmentary documentary that compares the history and politics of Wyoming rivers with those of the Catskills’ Ashokan Reservoir (a supplier for this city’s taps). Separately, Cogswell’s more personal impressions of the areas appear in exquisite watercolors of semi-abstraction. CUE Art Foundation, 137 West 25th Street, –Shuster

“Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men and the 1964 World’s Fair”
April 27–September 7
Warhol’s single piece of public art, a mural commissioned for the 1964 World’s Fair, lasted only a few days before its removal by fair officials, who weren’t pleased to find mugshots reproduced from the NYPD’s list of most wanted men. The controversial moment, brief as it was, serves as a launching point for an exhibit that examines how the era’s conservative culture reacted to Warhol’s provocations, such as the paintings of those same mugshots and the screen-test film they inspired, 13 Most Beautiful Boys (all on display here). Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, –Shuster

Queens Taste
April 29
What does Queens taste like? Single family homes, airports, tennis, baseball stadiums? Well, as the most diverse area in the world, it is home to a vast range of cuisine, which you can sample at the Queens Taste event at the Sheraton Hotel in Flushing. A $100 ticket buys tastes from more than 50 food purveyors serving tacos, truffles, tandoori, ceviche, burgers, momo dumplings, and more. Wine, too, though none of it quite so local. Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel, 135-20 39th Avenue, Queens, –Soloski

Ellen Burstyn
April 30–May 6
The 81-year-old Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning actress is still classing up the big screen with elegance and nuance, reason enough for BAM’s loving tribute to her six-decade-plus career. Burstyn participates in a Q&A after Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (which earned her that gold baldie), but don’t miss her in Alain Resnais’s Providence, Jules Dassin’s A Dream of Passion, and Daniel Petrie’s Resurrection, plus rewatchable favorites like The Exorcist and Requiem for a Dream. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, –Hillis

DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas
May 1–18
Fourteen city presenters collaborate with the French Embassy on an in-depth exploration of France-based dance artists, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens theaters ranging from tiny (the Club at La MaMa, the Chocolate Factory Theater) to huge (the BAM opera house), as well as city streets and art galleries, with as many as seven events daily, some free. Offerings include 16 world premieres, talks on issues central to contemporary dance, two useful new books, and several emerging artists making their New York debuts. Various venues, –Zimmer

Annie Gosfield
May 2
The Downtown composer/keyboardist is the focus of a week of programming at The Stone in late April and early May. But if you have to pick just one date, go for this one: The first half will feature Gosfield’s trio with guitarist Roger Kleier and drummer Ches Smith (a reliably potent group), while the latter draws in other musicians to play Gosfield’s brilliant piano-plus-sampler fantasia “Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers,” as well as a new work for contrabass and electronics. The Stone, 16 Avenue C, –Walls

Kenji Mizoguchi
May 2–June 8
Admired by Godard, Kurosawa, and Orson Welles, the late Japanese auteur (d. 1956) is honored with the most complete North American retrospective of his mise-en-scène mastery since the mid-’90s. Over 30 films are confirmed, mostly 35mm and 16mm prints, including 22 imported rarities such as Taira Clan Saga and Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Mizoguchi’s only two films shot in color). Film historian extraordinaire David Bordwell also gives a special lecture on opening weekend, so get thee to Queens. Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Avenue, Queens, –Hillis

“The Dream of the Brothel-Museum”
May 2–June 8
In 1976, Kim Jones started appearing on the streets of Los Angeles as Mudman, a startling figure caked in mud who wore a stocking mask and carried on his back a spiky structure assembled from sticks. The performances were, in part, acts of catharsis for Jones, who had lived through 13 months as a Marine in the Vietnam War. In his drawings of the same period (the focus of this show), similarly strange characters — satyrs, harlequins, monsters, hoodlums — populate densely crosshatched montages of nightmarish disorder. Pierogi, 177 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, –Shuster

The Great Saunter
May 3
New Yorkers are obsessed with speed. How quickly can you get crosstown by cab? How fast can your Chinese food arrive? How can you beat the line at the Metrocard machine? But the Great Saunter encourages a more lackadaisical pace. This annual stroll ambles around Manhattan’s 32 miles of coastline at the leisurely pace of three miles per hour. If you require a more adrenaline-heavy trot, you can head 55 miles upstate for the Zombie Run on May 10, a three-mile sprint during which you flee from flesh-eating monsters (i.e., joggers wearing a lot of smeared eyeliner and fake blood). Circle Line Terminal, West 42nd Street and Twelfth Avenue,; –Soloski

TD Five Boro Bike Tour
May 4
Bike lanes were one of the more contentious aspects of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. But you won’t have to rely on them during the TD bike tour, which offers the chance to bike through all five boroughs (yes, even Staten island), free of traffic. The 40-mile route begins in Lower Manhattan and runs up into Harlem and the Bronx, then along the BQE before crossing the vertiginous Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. After a finish-line celebration, return via the Staten Island Ferry, as riding through New York Harbor is discouraged. –Soloski

Wye Oak
May 7
I guess we can blame indie-rock culture for the fact that this Baltimore-based duo doesn’t have a significantly bigger following. They made soft-to-loud-and-back dynamic leaps sound like a brand new idea on their last couple of seething, tuneful albums for Merge. (Really, 2011’s Civilian should have been the breakout.) In any event, they’re trying something new now: less guitar, more synth action. No matter what instrumentation they use, they’re worth investigating. Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, –Walls

May 7
Merrill Garbus may never impress rock gurus who sneer at any mix of pop form with other compositional practices. But that’s okay. The singer-instrumentalist’s tUnE-yArDs project offers more ecstatic rhythm and hook work than many other bands give up in a full set. (The extended-technique reach of Garbus’s own voice is just the topping.) Advance clips of the new record, titled Nikki Nack, suggest that the catalog’s only going to get better. And if you’re fiending for more of her unique aesthetic before the May street date, check out Garbus’s pieces “Quizassa” and “Ansa ya” for the Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning vocal octet Roomful of Teeth. Rough Trade, 64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, –Walls

Lyon Opera Ballet
May 7–9
One of Europe’s most cosmopolitan, wide-ranging troupes, directed by Yorgos Loukos, presents the U.S. premiere of Christian Rizzo’s 2004 ni fleurs, ni ford-mustang, a moody, mysterious conceptual dance rooted in fashion and the visual arts, with music by Gerome Nox. (See more of Rizzo’s work May 2 and 3 at Florence Gould Hall, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, –Zimmer

Ragnar Kjartansson: “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I”
May 7–June 29
Ragnar Kjartansson’s latest work of straight-faced clowning circles around some family lore: Did his parents, both actors, conceive the artist during a sex scene they made for a low-budget 1977 Icelandic film? That scene (housewife and plumber writhing on the kitchen floor) loops without sound while, like a half-crocked fan club, 10 guitarists strum a dirge of a tune and chant the couple’s grade-B dialogue, including the line, “Take me here by the dishwasher.” It’s completely absurd, and that’s exactly the point. New Museum, 235 Bowery, –Shuster

Lenora Lee Dance
May 8–9
The EscapeandRescued Memories: New York Stories use dance, music, film, and martial arts to illuminate the lives of early 20th-century Chinese women trafficked into the U.S. and pressed into indentured servitude in New York and California. Members of Kei Lun Martial Arts and Enshin Karate, South San Francisco Dojo, join Lee’s contemporary troupe. Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, –Zimmer

Manhattan Cocktail Classic
May 9–13
New York boasts nearly 3,000 bars, to say nothing of the 16,000 full-service restaurants that serve booze. Shouldn’t that mean we have mixology pretty well covered? Apparently not. In early May, the fifth annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic descends upon our sheltered isle, promising five days of “parties, pairings, dinners, dances, workshops, lectures, tiki-tours, bar crawls,” and a two-day industry conference. Past fetes have yielded such tipples as the Kaaterskill Brose, Hudson Rickhouse Rickey, and Aloha from Brooklyn. Ready your liver! Various locations, –Soloski

Lygia Clark: “The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988”
May 10–August 24
An all-encompassing Clark retrospective follows the Brazilian artist’s developing interest in altering our traditional relationships to art. In keeping with her ideas of participation, you’re encouraged to go beyond just viewing: You can manipulate copies of her hinged sculptures (Bichos), cut a Mobius strip to reenact her performance of Caminhando, crawl through a tunnel of tactile sensations (The House Is a Body, re-created), and try out replicas of her “relational objects,” interactive items she intended for use in psychotherapy. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, –Shuster

American Ballet Theater
May 12–July 5
The spring season opens with Don Quixote, but things heat up on May 20 with a program of short classics by Balanchine and Massine. Then, in order, a week each of La Bayadère, Coppélia, Manon, Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, Giselle, Swan Lake, and a program of dances derived from Shakespeare plays. Exquisite dancing, but way too many imperiled women. Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, –Zimmer

The Secret World of Oil
by Ken Silverstein
May 13
A match made in hell, it seems: gargantuan corporate oil companies trading petroleum with shady developing nations. It’s been going on for decades, and the consequences for the environment and for world politics may prove devastating, suggests Silverstein, a Harvard fellow and former Harper’s editor. This fascinating inside story profiles some of the smoothies, crackpots, and hucksters who broker those deals, like the one that left 400 tons of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. As one oil exec tells Silverstein, “You have to deal with governments and ministers, and you have to service those people. . . . You can call it corruption, but it’s part of the system.” Verso, 240 pp., $25.95. –Hannaham

Pierre Rigal
May 13–18
A former hurdler and videographer with degrees in math and economics, Rigal transitioned into dance when he was 23 and started choreographing a dozen years ago. The U.S. premiere of his 2011 musical spectacle Micro infuses the poetry of theater dance with the energy of a “pre-post-rock” concert, as the dancers engage physically with the musicians in Rigal’s Moon Pallas band. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, –Zimmer

Liz Santoro
May 14–17
Santoro’s last outing, Watch It, landed a 2013 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production; ahead is Relative Collider, a quartet that “works on the physics of attention, the collision of watching.” Santoro began as a ballet dancer and then studied neuroscience at Harvard; how she wound up in what passes for the avant-garde is a mystery, but we’re grateful. Chocolate Factory Theater, 5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City, –Zimmer

FCA Manhattan Cup
May 16
Would you dare dine on any fish snagged off the coast of Manhattan? You won’t have to worry during this catch-and-release tournament, sponsored by the Fisherman’s Conservation Association and held just off Pier 59. In categories such as fly, artificial, and bait, anglers belly up to the Hudson and try to hook the largest striped bass and bluefish — some of the catches are worryingly impressive. (What have those fish been eating?) The competition benefits various children’s charities and efforts toward improving beach access. Chelsea Brewing Company, Pier 59, –Soloski

The Kings County Fair
May 15–26
Various ordinances prohibit the raising of livestock in the five boroughs, so you shouldn’t come to the Kings County Fair hoping to gape at prize pigs and fluffy rabbits. But this funfair does boast the world’s largest traveling midway, featuring more than 100 rides. Cotton candy and funnel cakes, too. If you’d prefer something a bit more 4H-ish, head over to the Queens County Farm Museum, where on May 4 you can enjoy sheep shearing, spinning demonstrations, and compost lectures, plus food trucks, hayrides, and a variety of creatures to feed and cuddle. Floyd Bennett Field, 50 Aviation Road, Brooklyn,; Queens County Farm Museum, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens, –Soloski

The Killer
Performances begin May 17
Michael Shannon has played his share of murderers — Iceman, General Zod. But in Michael Feingold’s new translation of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist drama, he’ll play an everyman trying to find and capture a mysterious assassin, even as his new love may fall prey to the killer’s intentions. Darko Tresjnak directs the existential detective drama for Theatre for a New Audience. Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, –Soloski