Coy and coquette, those words pop into my mind when I remember the song I Know What Boys Like by the Waitresses. A one hit wonder, their claim to fame. A flame, a fizzle. It came out during my second year of college. An instant campus hit, I recall Meagan Heath, pretty, confident, unattainable, but always present—her roommate dated my friend Pat—sprawled on my couch, drunk, saying “Jeff, play I Know What Boys Like” again and again.
I know what boys like, I know what guys want,
I know what boys like, I know what’s on their minds,
I got my cat moves, that so upset them,
Zippers and buttons, fun to frustrate them,
I know what boys like, boys like, boys like me.
Admittedly, a stupid song, simple, repetitive. Singer Patty Donahue, reminiscent of those kittenish sixties singers like Ann Margaret, talk/sings the mostly monotonal lyrics. For whatever reason, it works. I bought the album. You couldn’t buy just a song back then. Nothing digitized yet, no internet to shop. The first song on Side A, the rest of the album listened to once and then discarded. Dull, but it only cost five dollars, less than two hours of work at my minimum wage job. And it made Meagan Heath happy.
Calling the Waitresses a one hit wonder is a little unfair. The same year, they released the sleeper hit Christmas song Christmas Wrapping. As soon as I heard it, it ranked in my favorites. I put it on my Christmas mix tape that included the Kinks’ Father Christmas, Give Us your Money, the Ravers’ Punk Rock Christmas and Joan Jett’s Little Drummer Boy—forty-five minutes of new wave and punk tunes to pay tribute to the season. While my father played Bing Crosby and Andy Williams on the home stereo, I rocked out to an irreverent collection of modern songs on the car stereo.
Christmas Wrapping recounts the wrap-up of Donahue’s song-character’s busy year—so exhausting, she skips making Christmas plans altogether, intending to spend the holiday alone. She sings of her yuppie life-style, the guy she met the prior winter, and how she never found time to go on a date with him.
Bah, humbug, no that’s too strong ‘cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur, don’t think I have the energy
To add to my already mad rush just cause it’s ’tis the season
The perfect gift for me would be completions and connections left from
Last year, ski shop encounter, most interesting
Had his number but never the time, most of ’81 passed along those lines
The song ends on a happy note, with Donahue bumping into her crush in the grocery store on Christmas night, but until that point, her rejection of the holiday celebration left me feeling sad and fearing my future.
So deck those halls, trim those trees, raise up cups of Christmas cheer
I just need to catch my breath, Christmas by myself this year
My mother died the same year this song caught my attention. That first Christmas, we all overspent on presents. My father, my brothers and I gamely tried to celebrate through the massive hole left by her absence. This is the exact vibe I felt over the years when I heard the song. Bitter-sweet. Rough memories, but memories of my mother all the same.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
But I think, I’ll miss this one this year
By the late nineties, with I Know What Boys Like a distant memory, Christmas Wrapping remained my favorite Christmas song. As the world wide web blossomed, we suddenly had a repository of all the answers we ever wanted. I wondered where the Waitresses went, whether they morphed into other bands I knew. I signed onto the internet and ran a search. Patty Donahue died at age forty in 1996.
Christmas Wrapping is my cautionary tale. A reminder to not put off the good and important things in life waiting for a more convenient time. It’s impossible for me to separate the singer from the song. I’ve heard Christmas Wrapping every year for thirty-six years. Each time, I think of Donahue and wonder if she was satisfied with what she achieved in life as she slowly died of cancer. A couple of global hits is a big deal, but did she set aside important relationships and once in a lifetime events to score those hits? There’s a hackneyed axiom that no one lying on their death bed says “Boy, I wish I’d worked more.” Sometimes I wonder if this is true.
A&P has provided me with the world’s smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot, Oh damn! Guess what I forgot.
So on, with the boots, back out in the snow to the only all-night grocery
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, in line’s that guy I’ve been chasing all year
“I’m spending this one alone,” he said “Need a break, this year’s been crazy”
I said, “Me too, but why are you? You mean you forgot cranberries too?”
Then suddenly we laughed and laughed, caught on to what was happening
That Christmas magic’s brought this tale to a very happy ending this is true.
The universe is unlikely to solve your problems for you. Please take time on this winter holiday to give attention to the three things that matter most: your family, your friends and yourself. Happy day!