Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Ho-Hum

Time for a Christmas ramble. Put on your seatbelts, folks, I’m all over the place on this one, so try and keep up.

I’m no Scrooge; just to be clear. I’m not the Grinch, not this time of year. But I’m just not into Christmas this year, and I can’t figure out why. I’m wearing a red shirt. I wrapped a gift tonight and I’m watching a cooking show about how to make the perfect fruit cake (“Good Eats” Alton Brown, you're so funny). I even ate Christmas cookies not twenty minutes ago, but for some reason, December 25th, to me, seems just like another day on the calendar. I even have an freelance article due that day… yeah, on Christmas day. Sure, the weather’s cold, somewhat, and for Southern California, that’s a big deal. But, I think it could snow little frozen snowmen and pictures of jolly Saint Nick and the Christmas magic wouldn’t beam into my heart (that’s indeed two sizes too big…and no, I don’t have cardiomegaly).

The house is decorated, but just barely. There’s plenty around to let you know that it’s not Halloween, at least, but we’ve done better previous years. Half-assed is a good description, and I shrugged indifferently during much of the process. Stoic impassiveness takes its toll. I hate decorating, flat out, but worse than that, I hate putting lights on the tree. Is it enough that I dragged the thing in from outside, and didn’t I do enough to make sure that it is only slightly leaning to the left this year, and didn’t I say I would make sure it was watered so it doesn’t burst into flames like a Roman candle? Isn’t that enough, so that I don’t have to give the tree several prickly hugs while wrapping it with hundreds of tiny lights, only to have Kara look at it, cock her head to one side and curl up her lip with some suggestions for improvement. To her credit, she couldn’t have cared less about the lights, I think. And wouldn’t if figure that I bought the wrong kind of lights? Groan. I’m not going back to Target for more, that’s for sure, even though, for some inexplicable reason, all the Christmas stuff is already on a 30-percent clearance aisle. It was as if it was a couple of days after Christmas instead of a few days before.

Our bedroom looks like a Christmas factory has exploded and all that remains is that stuff they broom up after an industrial accident and throw away into some kind of HAZMAT-labeled barrels. Yeah, it’s that bad, so much so that I’m not 100 percent sure if it is even all of our stuff. Did the neighbors come over and dump a bucket of Christmas crap on our bedroom floor and then steal into the night like sneaking bandits? Where did we get an ornament with Santa giving me the finger? I don’t remember that one, and I’m saddened that I have to pack all of the stuff up again in two weeks and haul the boxes off to the attic. Not that I’m disappointed that Christmas has ended, no, I’m disappointed that they’re so damn heavy…and there’s seven of them. We’re not nearly old enough to have seven boxes of Christmas decorations, and I fear the Christmas 10 years from now, as all I’m going to have to do to get the decorations out of the attic is kick down a support beam and 37 boxes will crash through the ceiling and into the living room. Natalie got into the boxes, of course, deciding that all of the stockings needed to be friends and that the Little People Santa needed to hide somewhere, maybe until Valentine’s Day (and if I were Santa, that’s what I think I’d want to do about this time of year). Really, the Little People Mrs. Claus is worried; she sent out a search party of Little People elves and they haven’t yet returned. I’m sorried

But, for me, Christmas hasn’t come yet and I don’t know where it is; or if its even coming. Sure, I’m smacked in the face with it every time I turn on the television (I’m smacked with a lot of stuff when I turn on the TV, but Christmas is the biggest offender now, as each commercial is telling me that I can find the perfect gift for anyone if I only give them lots of money); well, that isn’t that accurate, as I’m told to have a wonderful season or a happy holiday, so I’m not sure what to think about it. With trepidation, I observe the strange fact that these commercials look like Christmas commercials—there’s a Santa, a tree, stockings, a disturbingly multi-cultural group of people opening gifts like it is the most joyous thing in the world—but I just don’t see Christmas. I see an unnamed holiday…and the whole season (all three months of it) is recognized.

And we’re supposed to greet it.

And it’s not like I’m too busy to celebrate Christmas or to embrace the king of all holidays. I’ve got lots of time right now to go out into the world and interact with the populous, and you’d think, during all this communal action I’ve participated in lately, at least one of them would wish me a “Merry Christmas.” So far, not a one. Not even a “Season’s Greetings” from the lot of them, and I would have remembered that: For one, I would have cringed at the diluted politically correct dampness of the phrase “Season’s Greetings,” and for two, I would have shot back a “Merry Christmas” to remind them that Christmas is what it is all about.

It only took a couple of paragraphs this time, but I think I’ve figured it out: Whiney, bleeding heart pacifists who are afraid to wish me a Merry Christmas because they might offend someone within ear shot are bringing me down this year. Where on television have you heard someone say “Merry Christmas?” The news? Nope. Commercials for big-box stores? Nope. TV show promos? Not a one. How about in the newspapers? Heaven forbid any of those lefties let on that there is such an entity as God, but it doesn’t stop them from having a Christmas party… but maybe they call it a holiday party, which is fine, but corner one of them and ask “what holiday?”

That’s the gist of the whole thing, I feel. What holiday? “Happy Holidays” someone tells you. “Season’s Greetings” another adds. What holiday am I supposed to be happy with, and which season is this? Why do we greet a season? I think I’ll start saying “Season’s Greetings” in the Spring. It makes more sense to me. Spring is the season of rebirth. Butterflies emerge from their cocoons. Baby cubs are born. Grass grows out through the last snow. We should greet them. Somebody should.

And there’s another thing. Season’s Greetings is an euphemism for Merry Christmas—they mean Merry Christmas when they say Season’s Greetings, so why don’t they just say it? I don’t like it when people say shoot when they really mean shit or when they say darn it when they mean damn it. What are they hiding? I know what they mean. Instead of me calling someone from the South with a mullet and a 1978 Pontiac Firebird a redneck? He is. It’s obvious. But instead, I might hurt his feelings, so I have to call him demographically challenged.

Yet, I can’t say Merry Christmas because I might offend an atheist who doesn’t believe in Christ, and me merely saying Merry Christmas reminds him that December 25th is celebrating the date we believe that Christ was born (though he probably wasn’t). Why should I care about offending him? Why, as a society, do we cater to all the tiny squeaky wheels in this world? Why should the companies that produce the commercials that I watch care about that? I think they may need to be offended. Some people need their feelings hurt; it lets them know that they aren’t the only people in the world, and in a democracy, the majority should rule. Go cry to God about it if you don’t like it.

There was an episode of “The Simpsons” where Milhouse’s dad was being fired from the cracker factory and the boss was explaining how the cracker business is a family business. He says something to the effect of: “Families eat crackers. Sure, single people may eat them too. We don’t know. In fact, we don’t want to know. Frankly, it’s a segment of the market we could do without.” That’s the attitude companies should have in regards to Christmas. If they don’t want to celebrate Christmas, then they’re not going to by Christmas presents. I can’t imaging a menorah company saying “Happy Holidays” in their advertisements in the hopes of not offending anyone not associated with Chanukah. They’re going to say “Happy Chanukah” because people that don’t celebrate Chanukah aren’t in the market for a menorah.

It’s like they want us to experience all that Christmas has to offer earlier and earlier each year but they don’t want us to talk about what we’re celebrating. Just give us the money while we finish fleecing you and get ready for Valentine’s day. It’s like going horseback riding where nobody ever talks about the horse. Sure, the owner of the dude ranch is happy because you gave him loads of money to ride the X-orse, and we’re having a great X-orse ride, but Heavens no, don’t mention the X-orse, otherwise you might upset the cowboys or the shepherds.

So, that leads me to believe that Christmas has no purpose anymore. The actual holiday is becoming less and less important, so much so, that we should start doing it in June. At least we could go to the beach and have a bonfire and exchange gifts and it won’t be so cold. Really, what’s the point? We don’t go to church to hear about the real story of Christmas, if you subscribe to the “real” story of Christmas. I haven’t been to a Christmas party yet—a real one--and haven’t in years. You know, where everyone wears those stupid antler headgear, snowman sweaters, eats Christmas-shaped cookies while trying to trick that cute girl to stand under the mistletoe. I don’t remember the last time carolers donned my doorstep and lullabied me with quaint Christmas songs… wait a minute. Do you know why Christmas Carolers have gone the way of the dodo? That’s right, Christmas songs are religious, and we’d sure hate to stroll up to the Schwartzman’s house and start bellowing out “Little Town of Bethlehem.” I’d hate to offend the Schwartzmans, but they don’t seem to mind to put the Star of David in their window, right?

Wouldn’t our faces be red, and that’s the sad part about Christmas these days. People have self-segregated themselves based on their religion, so badly that there are so many different camps around the world, each one secretly celebrating their own thing without pride, joy, happiness and camaraderie. The Jews have Chanukah, the blacks have their made-up Kwanzza, Christians have their Christmas… but everyone have a Happy Holiday. We’re just not telling you which one to have, because you’re not responsible and socially graceful enough to discern the differences that make this a unique and wonderful world.

Who cares if there are different ways of celebrating Christmas. The point is doing it, and if you don’t like the religious connotations to the holiday, who cares? I don’t. It’s all Christmas, whether you call it Chanukah or Kwanza or whatever. I’m just sick of hearing about it. It’s all Christmas in the same sense of the word, and if we can cater to the blacks and the Jews, we can cater to the Christians. But nothing pisses me off more than seeing “X-mas” in writing. I’m not a religious person, but at least I understand that without Christ, you wouldn’t have Christmas, and if you celebrate Christmas in any way, you celebrate Christ.

Jesus people. All I wanted was a “Merry Christmas” from someone on the street. One simple freakin’ “Merry Christmas,” just to let me know that the whiners and the bitching minority in our lopsided out-of-whack society haven’t completely squeezed out all that is special and warm and meaningful in the day that is turning out to be just another reason to spend some money.

Joy to us. Maybe Christmas will come to me someday soon.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ho, Ho, F-ing Ho

Last year when we trekked out to get our Christmas tree, our ancestors would have been swelling with pride because we went to one of those cut-down-your-own tree farms, and with saw in hand, the then-three of us (Kara was about to burst with little Matty) pioneered the forests in search of a suitable Christmas tree. It was fun. Natalie loved it. The process took about an hour to find just the right one, hack it down, yell “Timber” and then carry it from the Back 40 to the truck. It was beautiful, and like shooting dinner, it couldn’t have been more fresh. On top of which, three weeks later, we could have tossed lit matches at it without worry that it was going to burst into flames. In fact, we’ve had From-The-Lot-Trees that, after three or four days, you could fondly gaze at it, fill your head with warm thoughts, and the tree would start to smolder. For years before that, I just thought Christmas trees were supposed to be brown. A little spray paint will touch that right up.

This year, it turned out a little different. We decided to wait until after Matthew’s First Birthday on Saturday to get our tree, and Plan A was to drive out into the country like last year and Paul Bunyan one of them to the ground. However, it was supposed to pour down rain today and instead of tromping around in the rain and mud searching for a tree, we suggested the consolation prize would be a local lot where we’d pay too much for a scrawny tree that has been dead for weeks. Fine, tradition be damned, I guess for once I can give in to convenience, at least for the sake of the weather.

Funny enough, this morning dawned crisp and bright, sun shining down and all clouds properly whisked eastward over the suckers in Arizona. Before I awoke, I even made a checklist of things I would need: boots that can get dirty, jeans with which I don’t mind kneeling in the mud and my gloves to stave off that most menacing Christmastime annoyance, tree sap.

I got up, and even sang the “I’m a Lumberjack” song in the shower. But alas, it wasn’t to be. With Kara’s mother visiting for the holidays, I’m out-voted or vetoed more easily when there’s one more vote against me, and it was decided that a local lot would be easier, quicker and not so dirty or tiring. That, and by the time everything was said and done about the day and what everyone had planned, it was getting dark.

As we piled in the car, I heard Kara say, “Let’s get one at Target.”

What? Target? For a Christmas Tree? What? It isn’t bad enough that they’ve stolen the entire holiday from the “It’s a Wonderful Lifers” and the “A Christmas Storiers” but to actually walk into the store, under the red target and into the bright fluorescent lights in search of a Christmas tree seems, dare I say it, sacrilegious, almost like blasphemy in church. I pictured perfectly shaped trees fresh from a factory in southeast Asia, each with the bottom of the cast-wood stump stamped a Target logo to forever remind us that we sold our faith, our Christmas spirit and our even our very souls to the Almighty Target this year was too much for me to bear.

No, if we are to throw away a nice tradition this year, such as cutting down our own tree, we are at least going to try to veil the act by getting our tree at a local lot; at least those trees had seen the light of day before being trucked south to the land of palm trees and eternal sunshine.

The first lot we came to was probably called Frosty’s Flockin’ Ripoff, as I stood amazed at the exorbitant cost associated with something that grows naturally. They don’t take credit cards or checks, but there is one of those portable ATMs strapped to a tent pole, and I always feel that if I use one of those, I might as well just tattoo my ATM PIN to my forehead and start making copies of my card for the local riffraff. Plus, I was certain we weren’t going to buy anything at this place. It’s akin to paying for rocks and dirt, and I was slack-jawed at the numbers tacked to these trees. Then I saw Kara. She was standing next to a stunning Noble Fir that had to scrape the sky at 10 feet, perfect triangle of a tree, and she had that look on her face like, “This is it. Wrap it up. We can go home now.” Out of the night, a shaft of light from Heaven splashed down around her and the tree and the angels began to sing in a beautiful chorus. Okay, even I was impressed at this specimen of evergreen, and if the price is right, I’m sold. It was $175. For a tree. For a tree that will only be in our house for two weeks, tops. $175, that’s dollars. There’s 10 times the amount of wood in my office desk here than in that tree and this desk cost about a third the price.

Then I even gave in, apparently admitting even to myself that tradition does have a certain price tagged on it: “Let’s go to Target.”

It was at this point that the night turned against us. We piled back into the truck (which is no easy feat with three adults and two kids), and headed to the Mother Ship that is Target. Now, folks, I have been to Target probably three times in the last week or so—that’s just how my life is—and every time I go, I have to navigate the garden section like I’m Lewis and Clark trying to find the Pacific through the forest of trees. Chock full of the heady fresh-cut pine flavored smell… every time. Tonight, we roll up to the garden section and it was as if this was Christmas Eve and I’m Charlie Brown searching for the right tree for the school play. The place was empty aside from a half-dozen left-over Christmas trees, the doors were closed and I thought I saw someone sweeping up pine needles and trying to shape them into a tree so he could take it back to his soon-to-be disappointed family. We didn’t even have to get out of the truck; Kara and I know that we have to look at, at least, 450 trees before finding the right one (usually the first one we looked at three lots earlier or in the case of cutting it down… the first one now 15 acres away) and the odds were marvelously wonderful that those six trees left over didn’t represent the stock that we were searching for.

Okay, let’s go to Home Depot. Kara says her friend always gets them there, so let’s give it a shot. I remembered Home Depot from a couple of years ago. It was like looking for someone in the morgue, but all the bodies are standing up, as they have open-faced bins for each height-range and most all of the trees were still tied up, straight from the “factory” so to speak, and the only way to get a good look at a tree (in the failing light of Home Depot geniuses who wired the converted storage cage cum tree lot) is if you pull it out, cut off all of the mesh and shake it out. They're cheap, but they’re cheap for a reason.

It wasn’t late, maybe just a few minutes after seven, but they were closed, chain link pulled across the entrance and a few orange aprons were cleaning up. Was there a bomb scare or something? Did someone call in a bark-beetle attack? It was a ghost town, but there were some trees poking up in the shadows, so what gives? I was getting the impression that we were on some futile voyage into what appeared to be the Twilight Zone; you know the one, where a family drives around for all eternity searching for a Christmas Tree, and you see them for a fleeting second or so in the corner parking lot of the county fairgrounds at a lot, but when you take a second look, they’re gone, on to the next one somewhere in time and space.

That’s us.

Now where? There was another lot down the street from the first one. Kara suggested we hit the one on Magnolia, and I flat-out refused, for two reasons I didn’t bother explaining again, and since she didn’t ask, I knew she knew why I’ll never go there: 1) It’s like a circus there; I demand that my tree lots be quaint, damnit, and if the proprietor has an Oregon or backwoods Washington accent, all the better; and 2) They always have jumpers for the kids and one in particular is a giant inflatable Titanic with its stern in the air as if it is sinking that kids can slide down the decks to their gleeful peril. It is in such horrible taste, so much so, that, next to it, I almost half expect to see little inflatable ovens with kids writhing in ecstatic jubilance at being exterminated. “Look Mommy, I’m a Jew!” “Nice honey… remember, if you want to play in the Hurricane Katrina kiddie pool, you’ve got to hurry up.” Gasp. Gush. My God.

So, off to the other neighbor lot, and I had a sneaking suspicion that they were related somehow. For one, it was housed in the same kind of tent and for two, they had a very similar sign hanging out front, not-so-subtly reminding you that the guys that lug your tree to your car don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. It said, “Tip Boys are Here to Help You” on both signs at both places. But at least they took MasterCard.

The downside is that they had perhaps 20 trees left, and their lot looked more like they were the custodians of the 20 trees that won’t get sold because they will soon be touring the world in an exhibition of 20 trees that shouldn’t have ever been cut down and purported as Christmas trees. They’re supposed to be green, for one, and if I can stick my head into the side of a tree without a single needle touching any part of my face, it ceases to be a tree in the sense of the holidays and instead becomes firewood.

Five minutes later we were in the truck again, and with a heavy sigh, I pointed the steering wheel toward the first lot we visited earlier. Of course, first, I decided that I’d get some money from a brick and mortar building instead of a portable ATM that was probably hiding some midget inside scribbling down my card numbers for future grifting.

As soon as we started browsing the lot of trees, I wasn’t surprised that the family gravitated toward the $175 Statue of David-esque tree, like a preacher to the lost souls of Christmas Tree Hunters or a well to the insanely thirsty. Christmas Tree heroin. I wandered away in search for a tree that won’t chap my wallet after it gets a good reaming and when I noticed that they were standing in its shadow (it was so grand that it was blocking out tomorrow’s sunlight), I half expected Kara to attempt to talk me into it. Given its grandness, it would have been an easy fight, like I need a reason to buy a Ferrari; you just do it if you can. The commanded the whole lot and the lot of us, for certain, and we almost gathered around it, hand-in-hand, to sing that joyful melody of nonsensical words at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Before we had the chance to roll up Matty’s pants so they wouldn't get dirty, we were greeted by the “tip boy.” It was the same “boy” as before, who looked about 35; I didn’t expect him to remember us, as I can’t blame him when everyone he sees that comes onto his Christmas tree lot resembles a five-dollar bill.

I told him I wanted a tree exactly like the $175 tree—the one my family is hugging and the one my little boy keeps calling “daddy”—but I didn’t want to pay $175 for it, naturally, unless it gives lap dances and maybe takes the wife out for a nice meal from time to time. He escorted us to a slightly shorter Noble, not nearly as nice, for sure, but it was more in our range of believablity, and I suggested another model of tree that wouldn't involve loan documents and my concerning myself with the current interest rates. If you don’t want to afford an Infiniti, get a Nissan I say, so we stood before a giant Douglas Fir (which, by the way, isn’t considered a real fir... I don't know why), and at this point, I wasn’t too picky, and it wouldn't have taken much at the time to convince me not to get a tree at all. I think I'll start a trend of painting a picture of a tree on the wall... or better yet, use your presents and stack them up in the shape of a tree.

The tree before us in the darkness of the lot was about three-quarters as nice as the expensive one for about half the price, and that ratio made some sort of mathematical sense to me at the time and I just figured I was getting a good deal. Fine the Ghosts of Christmas Consumerism got the best of me. “Wrap it up, Jerry, we’ll take it.”

A tree is a tree is a tree is a tree, or so it seems.

Each year of my life, for Christmases as far back as I can remember, the family Christmas tree leans, and no matter what you do to shore up the slant, the world becomes a crooked place at Christmas time and there were years that I didn't think it was going to win out over gravity and we'd wake up Christmas morning with a passed out evergreen in our living room. I stopped by my folks’ house last week to gaze unblinking at their first-time-ever fake Christmas tree (I think you get one with your first Social Security check), and sure enough, it is bowing politely to somebody on its left. When we dragged our goliath home and yanked it upright in the living room it’s massive size couldn’t be supported by our puny tree stand. It took nearly 45 minutes to get it to stand on its own, and each time I had to adjust it, I had to lay it down and reposition the stand because there was no way I could lift it straight up, and just getting my arms around it is like trying to give Dom Deluise a hug and convince him to stand on his toes in a terracotta pot so I can keep him fresh and watered.

Believe it or not, all I wanted to do this evening is work, but it took two hours from the time we left to the time I bought the big bush in through the front doors. Hundred dollars for a tree, what a world. Ho, Ho, Ho indeed; Whoever thought of this whole Christmas-as-a-Commercial thing ought to be taken out and shot.

Does Natalie like it? Of course she does, and she's already put presents under it, and I have no idea where these gifts came from, but they're under there.

Christmas has officially begun.

**In the lead picture above, don't think that I'm smiling because I'm so happy to have a 100-dollar Christmas tree in my house a week before the holiday; I'm smiling to keep myself from cussing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Long Lost Thoughts

I was sitting here at my desk one day, really minding much of nothing as is par for an idle Wednesday with nothing due on the immediate horizon, and it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten something, something that I had left behind. You know the feeling in the gut of your stomach that you’ve misplaced something: You’re walking down the street thinking everything is right with the world and suddenly, it hits you that you left a jacket at your parents’ house, a book at the train station, your briefcase at the office…that the iron’s on. For me, the day’s ruined until I can find the missing item or replace it with a suitable facsimile. That anxiety alone is pressure enough for me to have rarely ever lost anything during my life; that and I am very careful with my belongings.

What I had forgotten so long ago was something quite similar to what you’re reading right now. Unless you know me and know where to look, the odds are really good that you’ve stumbled upon my site by mere accident, a chance encounter with the “next blog” button perhaps, so it goes without saying that, save for a few strangers, everyone reading this hasn’t really discovered this page… as I showed you were to look and now you read it through obligation. And for those of you who read this in lieu of picking up the phone and talking to me, then you know more about me than I could ever share in person. Sadly it seems, my thoughts and this Digital Me are much more interesting than the real thing.

And that is what I had forgotten.

Since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by the concept of posterity, the unknown future and the people that leave behind clues about who they were, what they were like and how the world around them functions. Pioneer 10 is a great example, a spaceship launched in the late 70s for the twofold purpose to take a few pictures of some of the outlying planets and then amble out of the solar system in the vastly remote chance of stumbling into another life form. It’s like dropping a thimble into the ocean in California and hoping that it not only reaches Japan, but that somebody will be able to spot it (when they’re not even looking for it), pick it up and use it to find their way to California. That’s Pioneer 10’s ultimate mission, only multiply the span of the Pacific Ocean by a million and you have the scope of the optimism involved.

Couple that with my enthrallment with buried treasure, secret codes and hidden messages, pirates’ booty, Pharaohs gold, bank robbers of the old west, cryptologists during World War II, spies of any era, and anything that has some hint of cloak and daggers is my enthusiasm for all the secrets that people squirrel away in hidden places for others to find. Recently I read about a Donald Trachte (whom you may know as the illustrator for the comic strip “Henry”). He purchased a painting from his neighbor in Arlington, Vermont, for $900 in 1960, and in 1973, he and his wife were going through a bitter divorce. He had a copy of the painting made and tucked the original one (along with some other paintings) behind a fake wall in his home office, no doubt, hiding it from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Perhaps he forgot about it or he just didn’t want anyone to know, but he died last year and while his sons were cleaning out his house, the found the painting. So, who was his neighbor? None other than Norman Rockwell, and the painting “Breaking Home Ties” sold for 15.4 million a couple of weeks ago at Sotheby’s. Now that’s hidden treasure!

And that is what I had forgotten. Strangely, it struck me suddenly out of the blue, so I decided to take an afternoon to see if it could be found, something I had “squirreled away” nearly 17 years ago.

I took U.S. History my Junior year at Glendora High School, and I was always interested in the subject so I decided to overlook the fact that the teacher had been instructing for a number of years and the presentation of the material, to be kind, had staled somewhat. This was monumentally evident in something we called “busy work,” that in-class pop quiz or impromptu essay assignment that teachers spring up when they are nursing a hangover or preoccupied with romantic thoughts of the Physics teacher or what have you. The class was an “accelerated,” International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP) course which meant it was full of university hopefuls none too concerned about padding their GPA with an easy class, so I was delighted to discover “busy work” as a time to do other things, like homework for the next class or scribbling in my journal. But it isn’t like we sat back and accepted the fact that we were going to sit there and waste our time with rote memorization tricks about the state capitals or who is the secretary of what department; several of my classmates, at first, blurted “busy work” through a concealing cough when it was evident we were about to be employed in such mindless time-bending activity. Then, perhaps steeled by a sense of intellectual superiority to the rest of the school (remember, IB/AP), we were brazened by the lack of challenge busy work offered and began to defy the assignments, arguing that we wished for something more demanding of our knowledge.

However, “busy work” prevailed, as always.

Most of the truly galling “busy work” occurred during our frequent visits to the library, where we’d spend five minutes of a 55-minute period completing the assignment and the rest of the time goofing off with our friends. Most times, during the library excursions, I took this time to write pseudo-journal entries on lined loose-leaf paper.

Perhaps I did four or five of such one-page entries, and lacking any place to keep them—perhaps even then I was interested in posterity (after all, I wrapped a nickel in a piece of paper with my name and the date and threw it up on top of the p/a speaker in Mr. Gonzalez’s Spanish class my Freshman year in the hopes that I could come back many years from then and find it again)—I shoved them into a large book on the shelf behind me. And since I was a tremendous creature of habit then as well as now, I always sat in the same chair at the same table in the southwest corner of the library, near the Audio/Visual section on the other side of the bookcases.

What were they about? What did I write about those long many years ago? Who knows, as I only remember one entry, and that was a lamentation of the fact that pretty girls can usually get what they want as long as they flash their big blue eyes and flip back their hair in that flirting manner they learned from somewhere. It stemmed from a girl (who will remain nameless) asking to borrow a couple of dollars for lunch, and when I said no—I never had more than two dollars to my name at any given time before I was 20 years old—she got miffy and stormed off in a huff. That deserved preservation in my eyes.

And suddenly the memory of that day, for reasons inexplicable to me, came flooding back into my head and I was curious to know if that book was still there, still holding the secrets that I had written. There was nothing stopping me from looking, right?

It had been 17 years since I last saw them. I remembered the general area where the book I stashed them in should be and I remembered what I thought was the title, “Celebrity,” a choice I made most arrogantly and egocentrically, thinking I might become one in the future and it would be poetic for my biographer to find some of my early thoughts in writing hidden in a book at my Alma Mater called “Celebrity.”

I remembered “Celebrity” being blue and I remembered the book was oddly large enough so the pages I wrote snuggled nice and flat within the book. But I didn’t know who wrote it.

The campus of Glendora High School hadn’t changed much in the last 15 years since I graduated, but there were subtle differences that stood out as I walked across campus. The Drama Department had moved to its new location by the student parking lot, and I thought it would have been nice to play Orin the Dentist on a new stage, and walking by the Teacher Lounge didn’t invoke the gag reflex from the exhaust fans blowing out cigarette smoke.

The most outstanding difference was that they remodeled the library. Which figures, of course. I spoke with the librarian, the very same one I gave a hard time when I wanted to see the “banned books” list, insisting that there was a list somewhere of classics like “Huckleberry Fin” that they decided was too un-politically correct for impressionable minds to read. She looked up what I thought was the title and it wasn’t listed in the database, so my luck was waning. On top of which, she informed, the library’s collection of books was culled quite a bit during the remodeling some years ago, and everything was rearranged.

I asked her if it was okay that I poke around for what amounts to a quixotic pipedream of finding the right book after so many years, and she seemed as if she wanted me to find it as much as I did. I guess the daily life of a librarian must not be filled with strange requests and odd visits, much as this one. In the corner of the library that I usual sat, now stands a large TV, and over the wall from that are banks of computers where the A/V storage had previously been. No wonder they had to get rid of so many books, I contemplated sadly, to make way for computers… it’s a Fahrenheit 451 of a different nature.

A big blue book with the title “Celebrity” was nowhere to be found on that wall, but as I scanned the shelves in the corner, near the television, a book caught my eye. Blue, somewhat large, and the word “celebrity” emblazoned across the spine.

I had found it. Improbable though it may have been, I actually found it after nearly two decades. Quickly I yanked the book from the shelf and thumbed through the pages.

It was empty. No lined pages filled with my familiar chicken scratchings clung into the tomb. Disappointment replaced anticipation, and one thing bothered me when I first reached for it. The book wasn’t big enough. If I had put them in there, I would have had to of folded them in half, something I don’t remember doing. Instead of being what’s known as an imperial octavo (yeah, that’s right, I know old fashioned book sizes, so what?), which is roughly 8x11, it was smaller, perhaps a medium octavo, about 6x9. And I remembered that it had a dust jacket with the title in large bold letters across the front. This book didn’t have that.

There are three theories as to what happened: 1) They had two copies of the book and during the remodeling they figured they didn’t need the bigger one so they discarded it along with my prose; 2) Someone found them and promptly threw them in the trash where they probably belonged; or 3) It was the wrong book. Any of these could be the case, and I’ll have no way of ever knowing.

Perhaps I’m better off not reading what I had to say as a young know-it-all kid of 17. I’m sure I would just be embarrassed, much in the same way I will be after reading this 20 years from now.

It will remain, as always, a lost memory.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bill Cosby Was Right…

When Kara was pregnant with Natalie those many moons ago, we took the prerequisite Lamaze classes at the hospital where we intended to have the baby. Perhaps we convinced ourselves that Lamaze was this magic elixir that was suppose to make the ordeal easier to bear for both her and I, I’m sure, but it ended up offering no salvation, at least not from where I was standing. As an innocent and completely helpless bystander during the actual labor and delivery process (despite the five solid hours I rubbed her lower back with a tennis ball), I can tell you first hand that Lamaze might work for some, but not for Kara. At least not that night (and neither again when she had Matthew). There was no focus or concentration, no breathing techniques applied, no gimmicky yoga-like Zen mind alterations supposedly aimed at triggering pain-relieving endorphins; instead, all I saw was just a lot of white-knuckled grinning and clenched-teeth bearing. And me, with a lot of sympathy pains and a never-ending stream of, “Can I getcha anything?”

At the end of the last class of the six-week Lamaze course, the enthusiastic teacher (one of the RNs at the hospital) decided it would be fun to have a pot luck dinner—as most all of the six couples in the class were first-timers—and watch “Bill Cosby Himself” on video while we ate and chatted.

My admiration of Bill Cosby’s talents is limited to only two performances, his groundbreaking “The Cosby Show” and “Bill Cosby Himself.” I have yet to see him in anything else that I remotely enjoyed, especially his trademark “Fat Albert” (I grew up in white suburbia. I had no idea what those kids were saying). Since I first saw “Bill Cosby Himself,” I have always enjoyed this particular stand-up routine (even though he’s actually sitting for most of it), but I never really took most of it to heart, merely face value, as the majority of what he says didn’t apply to me. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t go to the dentist. I wasn’t married. I did eat chocolate cake for breakfast though.

So, it was what it was, funny because of Cosby’s comedic timing and subject matter, but only recently have some the situations come closer to home.

One particular segment in his sketch that I never really gave it much thought was the part where he describes sending his kids upstairs to take showers and get ready for bed. The crux of the comedy in this scene is his insisting that if he didn’t spell out exactly what his children needed to do, in a specific order, the kids wouldn’t get it right. They would come downstairs soaking wet with the pajamas stuck to their bodies or one of them would have soap in her hair and another would be completely naked.

I never thought kids were that absent-minded or flippant until Natalie started gaining her independence, just recently. She loves to do things on her own, and, for the most part, she’s very good at them, the computer, eating, setting the table, dressing Baby Sara, putting on her shoes, etc., etc. But the whole sequence of events that makes for a successful trip to the bathroom has completely eluded her. Sure, she gets what needs to be gotten into the toilet alright, but it is all of the ancillary activities she must feel aren’t completely necessary, from turning on the light to drying her hands.

If I’m not standing next to her, ticking off the laundry list of things that needs to take place before she’s done, I usually get a variety of results when she does them herself. Sometimes it is interesting to see what comes back after I send her off to the lavatory. Usually, she comes back not wearing any pants. Her hands are soaking wet. They were soapy once. She brought the towel back with her as a cape around her neck. Her long sleeve shirt was soaked up to the elbows and the sink was half full of water. The lights are always left on. The toilet seat always up and rarely flushed. The sink sometimes still running. Towels on the floor. Soap dispenser oozing. There’s been water on the mirror, the sink, the floor, the door, the walls, her stool and even in the hallway. Sometimes, she doesn’t even come back, so I go in there to see what happened and she sitting on the toilet, swinging her legs back and forth singing a song.

“Oh, hi Daddy. I was just singing.”

“Do you know that you’ve been on the potty for 15 minutes now?”

“I was just singing.”

Rarely does she get it right unless I’m there, and it usually goes like this:

“Turn on the light.”

“Pull down your pants… and your panties.”

“Okay, hop it up there.”

She takes care of business. She actually has to hold onto the seat (as she’s refused to use the little seat adaptor), and if she doesn’t hold on, we’d have to go upstairs for a bath because she’d certainly fall in.

All related noises stop. “Are you done?”

No response, just a blank look, maybe a smile (or a grimace if there’s more). Give her a minute. “Are you done yet?”

“All done!”

“Okay, hop it down.”

She’ll actually responds sometimes like a chain gang to the warden (like from “Cool Hand Luke”) “Hoppin’ it down.”

“Wipe it off Natalie.” I hand her a Kandoo Flushable Wipe (yep, there’s such a thing) and we chant, in unison, “Wipe the front… wipe the back.” Since I don’t have the equipment, I didn’t know there was a specific order—front, back—until Kara taught her about that.

“Throw it in.”

“Okay, now flush it.”

Sometimes, it is hard for her to get the leverage to pull the handle, so I’ll do it (which explains why she rarely ever does). “Close the lid.”

“Pull up your pants… no, panties first.”

“Okay, let’s wash your hands.”

“Turn on the water.” She won’t get her hands wet until I tell her to, even if the water’s on.

“Soap it up.” There’s three soaps currently on the sink. I’m not sure why or where they came from, but she usually samples a partial pump from each to create some floral soap assemblage that pleases her when she squeezes it through her fingers.

“Okay, scrub, scrub, scrub… get the backs of your hands too.”

“Rinse them off.”

“Alright, let’s get down.” Meaning off of her stool, the one that her Great Uncle made for her soon after she was born. She loves it.

“Dry your hands now.” Even when I’m there, she does a poor job at it, merely scraping her palms down the front of the towel. She figures she’s done with the actual work from going to the bathroom, so she’s eager to get back to whatever fun thing she was previously engaged. “Do it better than that.” And she does.

“C’mon. Turn off the lights.”

There. By then, I’m usually tired of telling her what to do, but if I don’t, I know she would get a big fat checkmark next to “incomplete” on her report card for the day, which means that she’d dry her hands off on my shirt, she’d be naked from the waste down, and/or I’d hear water running in the bathroom from down the hall.

Maybe one day she’ll get the hang of it and the next time I watch “Bill Cosby Himself,” which I haven’t seen since that pot luck Lamaze class, the predicaments which Cosby describes will be that much more truthful.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Off to Disneyland… Again

For about two weeks, I had been putting off working on this project for a client with whom I had a meeting scheduled for this morning, but a couple of days ago, I finally put the spurs to the horses and got down to going through it. It means many thousands of dollars for me in 2007, which is nice, so I figured I should give it a cursory glance before I sit down and try to explain the best method of tackling above said project. As a result of this meeting, I would have to leave early on Friday morning, miss dance class and have to arrange some sort of sitting for the kids (they don’t go to school on Fridays). Instead, Kara had decided to play hooky from school so Natalie wouldn’t miss her dance class (because of the big show next Saturday), and she was looking forward to a nice quiet day off with the offspring.

Right: Matthew and I take a self-portrait at the Hungry Bear while we wait for the girls to get back from the restroom.

As luck would have it for me, the scheduled meeting with the client was cancelled on Wednesday due to lack of time for a “face to face,” as the client put it, which meant two things: 1) I didn’t waste a couple of week’s worth of work and effort pulling together a presentation for an eventually cancelled meeting; and 2) I could make it to dance class and then convince the rest of the family that a Disneyland trip was in due order. For the good of the family unit, we needed to go to the Magic Kingdom. It seemed paramount, a destiny.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Left: Matthew and Natalie decorate a Christmas cookie with Kara, and (below) Matty enjoys playing with the box. Of course, Matthew got it all over the place and Natalie was a little less than impressed with the experience. Go figure. I enjoyed the $5 cookie, however. That's right, $5 for a freakin' cookie!

However, much to our chagrin (and expectation), the park was quite crowded today, which meant that we didn’t do a whole lot and I got to reinvigorate my disdain for the average knuckle-draggers, mouth-breathers, double-wide-stroller-pushers, flip-flop-wearers and, my favorite, the stuff-my-butt-into-these-jeans-because-I-think-a-size-65-waist-must-look-just-as-good-as-the-size-4-I-saw-in-the-magazines-but-I-can’t-see-that-it-really-looks-like-I’m-smuggling-sides-of-beef-in-my-pants people who shuffle their way around Disneyland because they either don’t have a job or they were given $50 as a gift and they can’t think of any quicker way to spend it.

Left: Natalie looking cute while waiting in line for Dumbo, most excitedly, I might add. Below: As luck would have it, Pluto wandered into our proximity while we were decorating cookies and since he wasn't immediately hoarded by kids, we had a nice chance at a photo-op.

And I noticed that it must have been ESL day at the House of Mouse, but it wasn’t coming from those foreigners who seem like interesting and classic not-from-this-land kind of people, the ones with the great accents from far flung regions of the world, like an old couple from Switzerland who find the uniforms worn by the Matterhorn crew quaint and reminiscent of their youth, however incorrect they are, or the group of strangely dressed Japanese girls on tour with some spelling bee world competition who giggle at everything they see and each sentence they speak sounds like one really long, high-pitched word. And they’re all wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Instead, Disneyland today was just lousy with those foreign folk that smell. C’mon, your hotel has a shower, man, and it’s not for cooling down your goats on hot summer days. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, take a shower when you know you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with other people. For the love of Irish Spring, you’re giving your fellow countrymen a bad name.

Left: Lovin' Dumbo, Natalie can't wait for the ride to begin, and when it does, she powers that elephant straight to the top to enjoy the view.

But we did have a good time, of course, and we’re turning Natalie into quite the little Disney freak, and she had a specific agenda for today’s activities. We had to go on Dumbo (which we did), we had to go on the merry-go-round (which we did, two different ones) and we had to “go on another ride” (which we could only do for so long). Every time we stopped, Natalie would complain: “I wanna go on another ride, Daddy.” We stood in front of California Screamin’ in California Adventure and watched the roller coaster rocket across the horizon, catapult into the sky and summersault over itself in the big loop in the middle. Natalie exclaimed: “I wanna go on that!” I told her that she had to grow a little bit bigger, and Kara added, “A lot bigger.”

Right: Kara and Natalie (Matthew's in the back asleep) take a break at this picturesque waterfall in California Adventure.

Matthew had a better day today than he did the first time we took him to Disneyland. We didn’t do any of the “dark rides,” so he wasn’t freaked out from the start and we avoided the train. In fact, he only went on “It’s a Small World” and the merry-go-round in California Adventure. Other than that, he slept or watched as one of us took Natalie on “another ride.” He did enjoy sitting on Santa’s lap in the Big Thunder Ranch converted to Santa’s North Pole Ranch… or something like that, but couldn’t make heads or tails of Mrs. Claus. We lunched at the Hungry Bear Restaurant and ate overlooking the water, the ducks and the occasionally passing “Mark Twain”

The day grew long, as it usually does.

Left: Matthew in his bought-especially-for-a-cold-night-at-Disneyland outfit makes him look like a rugby player, doesn't it?

We visited California Adventure for the first time since it was first opened, and it felt as though we were going to a theme park we had never been to before, as everything looked out of place, new, different. It was a pleasant experience of discovery, but we were getting tired. At around 6:30, while Natalie—obviously working on borrowed time and energy and was about to either pass out or burst into a screaming fit of exhausted rage—wanting to go back into Disneyland and ride “It’s a Small World” again because she wanted to see it all lit up for Christmas (and so did we). It was a good idea and a nice night-cap to add to the day, but as we started toward the front gates we stopped short of the throng of after-work masses of humanity streaming through the turnstiles. Assuming it would amount to nothing more than a well-populated hell, especially deep into Disneyland were “It’s a Small World” was perched, we, as the good and honest parents that we are, convinced Natalie that the park was closing and it was time to go home. We told her that it would be a good idea to see if we could find Santa Claus, and she was all for it at first, but then she remarked, much to our laughter, “We don’t need to see him again,” as if to say, I’ve made my requests to the Big Man already and reiterating myself would be a futile waste of resources…plus, Santa smelled like Daddy did when he came home from his concert. Just kidding.

Right: Like a scared little rugby-playing monkey, poor Matty holds on for dear life as if at the mercy of a merry-go-round run amuck. Below: On the contrary, Natalie's loving every minute of it.

So we left. Natalie zonked out seconds after putting the truck into Drive; Matty held on as long as he could but then soon slumped over in his seat as Kara and I listed to AM talk radio and sat in about an hour’s worth of Friday night traffic.

Now, everyone in the house—Elsa too—is asleep, and so soon shall I. It was a good day at Disneyland, and enjoy some of the pictures. Below is a new trick to add to my site, video clips. If this is working properly, below is a small clip of Natalie on the Dumbo, complete with a dizzying overview of FantasyLand. Let me know if this addition works... it takes forever to upload and I don't want to waste my time doing it if it doesn't come out right.


web site tracking
Sierra Trading Post