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It's the hellidays. I can tell because the globally warmed weather went from 85 to 34 yesterday and revved the locals to cut in front of each other on the freeway at breakneck speeds. Shopping days are dwindling; debts are mounting. I smelled the gray, cold scent of their fear. It matched the low clouds, which forgot to rain as we sat in rush-hour traffic. I heard someone honk his horn, which is, like, so Yankee. How much do I not care? Let me count the ways. I am out of the loop in four different ways: I'm a Jewish Buddhist bankrupt vegan. I have "party pooper" written all over me.

It was not always this way. I was born into a nonpracticing Jewish family with a mom who wanted to keep her youngest daughter happy. We celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, or at least we had the symbols. There was the menorah with the candles that melted too fast into colorful blobs, and the tree with generic, supermarket ornaments. Each night of Hanukkah my mom gave me a present, and on Christmas Day my cousin, a lawyer, sans Santa suit but with the shtick, gave everyone presents. Every year my sisters would have a race to see who could rip off the wrapping the quickest and bitch the most about the gifts.

This nonpracticing Jew went to an Episcopalian prep school and sang in the choir. I wore a Waspy white robe and a black skirt and carried one of those candle flashlights in my hand. " I-De-o ," we intoned, " I-De-o, I-De-o, glo-ri-a in excelsis Deo ." The Latin was so beautiful, so otherworldly, so filled with hope. In the real world, I came home from choir practice one day to find my mother dying of a cerebral hemorrhage. There were no more holidays after that.

A few years ago I was rehabilitated from the addiction of credit by going bankrupt, which keeps me on the other side of the fence from shopping. The mall no longer means all. The TV can blat all it wants, and it's just sound and pictures to me.

Then there's that no-meat thing. "Do you want ham or turkey for our holiday lunch?" the queen of marketing tweeted. "Oh... that's right... you're a vegetarian." I could feel her backing away from the phone. "Doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me," I said. "You can have anything you want." I carry my Emergency Protein Source -- pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, rice protein powder, nutritional yeast -- everywhere I'm likely to eat out without a vegan option. I just sprinkle the stuff on the apologetically presented mashed potatoes, or whatever else is offered to me, and I have a lovely meal without any suffering involved.

I used to feel guilty for being so out of the cultural loop, so seasonally affectively disordered, so stern-faced in the psychological flannel of an old-lady nightgown, shaking a depressed finger while revelers yahooed below stairs. I felt lonely away from family and friends, oblivious to my beloved husband and my five baby doglets. I felt as if I was missing something. I'd hear Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and visions of pill bottles danced in my head.

The longer you stay away from a place, the dimmer its memories become. One day, the clangor stopped. The guilt and sadness fled from my mind. I was out of the loop and gone from the culture, never to return. But still...

The fat Italian pines in my yard don't need ornaments; red berries adorn them.

Family and art suffice, and are so priceless that MasterCard hasn't yet acknowledged them.

In a pinch, there's a titmouse or cardinal around to go head to head with Handel or Crosby, and I don't have to spend an hour trying to download them from iTunes.

Whether you're on or off the bus, or in or not of the world, may you survive these holidays, and may next year bring happiness and peace to you and all other beings.


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