Christmas Wrapping

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!

Photo by Joyce G on Unsplash

17 thoughts on “Christmas Wrapping

  1. I love this post, Jeff!
    We had our Christmas today. I’ve got my photos of us is our matching PJs. We have a rule in our family… we say “I love you” every time we part. Even if it’s to go to the corner market.

    I hope you and your family have a fantastic Holiday!🌠🎶

    Like

    • Thank you Angie. Right now we all have headaches from eating too many sugary snacks. I worked hours on this post. The topic is so esoteric and I was trying to make it easy to understand. I’m glad *someone* likes it. I hope the rest of your holiday season (no zoom, yay) is relaxing and fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A Christmas post this year has to have some shadow, doesn’t it? You’ve sailed the course confidently, Jeff; hope and loss, expectations and regret.
    Enjoy every sandwich, they say.
    Hope you enjoy some yummy turkey leftovers to navigate into the new year.

    Like

  3. A Tale of Two Songs, neither of which I’ve ever heard, really teased out a lot of thoughts in me. Nice piece.
    I haven’t even charged up my I-pod for a while so haven’t listened to my Christmas playlist. It includes none of the songs on your list, nor does it include Bing or Andy. I’ve been getting my Christmas music fix on the radio, but just plugged in my I-pod after reading this.
    Thoughts on reading this:
    What have I looked for in Christmases past compared to this crazy year’s plans to be alone, or at least in much smaller groups. How will future Christmases look now that we have broken the tradition of a twenty person gathering?
    I recall we talked before about both losing our mother’s at a young age. Your story about how you celebrated that first Christmas after her death reminded me that my sister and I hosted a Christmas Eve open house and invited anyone we knew who was adrift that year – people from out of town, people who had no family, etc. No one knew each other but it was a remarkable evening which repeated the following year. Will new traditions arise next year?
    The whole deathbed thoughts. That’s a post of it’s own.
    Yes, it’s about family, friends, and ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a nice tradition you and your sister developed. In my house, this Christmas is virtually identical to the last. Our local relatives typically travel at Christmastime leaving us to celebrate in our close knit family. My kids are just waking up so our celebration for the day hasn’t really kicked off yet, but as usual, I’m looking forward to spending the day with them. Hopefully a family walk is on the menu as well. I’m glad you’re back on WordPress. This is the sort of thoughtful comment I was craving.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this post; I found it engaging and intriguing. Was not familiar with the artist or either of the songs you referenced. So, a bit of research was done. Interesting lyrics for both. Your parting sentiment is absolutely 100% on-target! Nice piece of work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very nice message, Jeff. I have always liked this song and it is on our Christmas playlists as well, although I guess I never really paid attention to the lyrics or knew what they were. I hope you had a very happy day with family. With just the five of us it was one of the most chill and relaxing holidays ever, and easily became our favorite. Hope it was the same for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ours was actually pretty similar to other recent Christmases. We rarely see anyone that day. The big change for me this year is the holidays are always a pretty big exercise time for me with lots of running, hiking and biking. My current injury has me sitting around a lot feeling lazy.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t remember the song from the lyrics. I am going to listen to it as soon as I post this comment (before I forget what I wanted to say). One of my favorite authors is Annie Dillard. One of my favorite lines from A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (my favorite book) is something like this: we spend too much time making hay when we should be making whoopie. Yes, delayed gratification is good (we teach that to our kids because we have to) but there is something to be said for eating dessert first. Hope your Christmas was a good one!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love that song too. I met her briefly one night when a friend of mine was the sound person for some tour of theirs. Anyway, I’ve been doing a holiday mix. Maybe it’s too late to want to hear it this year, but maybe next. Hope you’re doing better soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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