Saturday, December 31, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #31] The End and the Beginning

And here we are: the end of this Holiday extravaganza.  As I type this, it's about eleven and a half hours until the world begins anew.  That, for me, is the best part of New Year's Eve: the opportunity to wipe the slate and invent it all again.  The air of hopefulness on people's faces, even if it is only for one night and somewhat alcohol-induced.  I've always been a big proponent of the idea that it doesn't matter how you get somewhere; the only important part is that you do indeed arrive.

Rhea and I have decided to pretty much stay in this year, with a possible escape clause to the ball drop in White Plains should we feel like we'd like to get out somewhere as the night wears on.  We kind of had our big night out already this week for karaoke on Wednesday, and we've got another one planned with some old work friends towards the end of next week.  The last seven days have been fairly chaotic in our corner of the world: Christmas, relatives, 90th birthdays, Rhea's mom's broken shoulder, the list goes on.  Nothing we can't handle, but enough to make junk food and Wii games sound like a greater end to 2011 than listening to loud strangers and bad music in a bar somewhere.

With the impending dawn of a new year inevitably comes two things: predictions and resolutions.  As for the former, I have next to none.  I predict that the Mayan Calendar will replace Harold Camping/Family Radio as the apocalypse du jour, and counter with the idea that I'm far more worried about what will happen given the current field of unacceptable candidates for next year's Presidential election than any visions seen by a society that didn't even manage to foresee their own demise.  Doom from the skies is always far less likely than destruction originating from within our own ranks.  All we can do about it is hope for both the best, and for a higher standard to be demanded.  I'm already doing both.

In general, I also find resolutions to be mostly for the birds, but I do have one for this year.  Without question, the most gratifying aspect of doing this daily series for me has been to watch the numbers jump, to look at my stats and see that people were beginning to actually tune in daily for the latest posts.  Therefore, I'm resolving to keep a new schedule for Turned on Its Ear going forward: new content both mid-week and on the weekend every single week.  Let's define it as two new posts - one each by Wednesday and Sunday - every week, with anything else I come up with to post above and beyond that just a bonus.  This series has proven far too exciting for me to allow any more tumbleweeds on this blog, and I thank each and every person who's read even a bit of it for that.  Daily content is a lot to come up with, especially given the demands of life, work, and family, but bi-weekly content?  No problem.  Please stay tuned.

Beyond all of that, my resolution is the same as it is every year: to better this year.  To learn, do, see, and involve myself with more, and to be happy - as I am very much so right now - with where things stand one year from right now.  As the world prepares to begin yet again, I wish the same for all of you.

See you in 2012.  By Wednesday, for sure.

Friday, December 30, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #30] Griswold Alley: Fail Finale

Fine: I admit defeat.  When I went to take one last photo of this year's sad excuse for Griswold Alley, my camera abruptly decided that its rechargeable battery was now irrevocably dead.  I can't say I blame it, really: it probably wanted to take yet another interchangeable photo of the lower portion of my block about as much as you, dear readers, wanted to look at one.

C'est la vie, then.  It is often true in life that every grand success must have one small strand of misfire somewhere in its midst.  It keeps us restless, and teaches us a lesson.  In this case, I have learned that should I do a daily December series again next year - and this one has been such a success and so much fun that I think I likely will - that I will need to pick something else for my "easy Friday posts."  Griswold Alley should have been a shoo-in; in every year that I've lived here before this one, it has been everything I have fruitlessly puffed it up to be this year.  Next time around, maybe I'll do the email roundups on Friday to give myself a consistent light day and give the Alley the boot.

Ah well, whattaya gonna do?  Damn near everything else about this series went swimmingly.  In lieu of one last photograph of next-to-nothing, I suggest we all take one last, fond look back at the Bronx.  That, dear readers, is how it's done when taste is of no concern.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #29] A Tale of Two Trains

Traditionally speaking, the night before Thanksgiving begins the Holiday Drinking Season.  If you live in the northern suburbs of New York City as I do, and a DWI isn't on your Santa short-list, this means that sooner or later you will likely end up on a Metro North train in the wee hours of the morning.  As I begin to bring the 31 Holi-Days series in for a landing, I thought back to a series of texts I sent Rhea from the train home on the night before Thanksgiving.  Her response to one of these, make sure you take notes - I want a story, may well have been one of the impetuses for the entire series.  Having realized that while thinking about it all last night, I'd be remiss if I didn't feature my birds-eye reporting on drunken jackassery somewhere in the series.  Without further ado:

11/24/2011 ~ 1:53 AM
Just my luck: this is clearly the "bro train".

1:55 AM
Mass exodus @ Tuckahoe!  I give thanks for this.

1:58 AM
Or not: bros replaced by tone deaf drunk chick singing that Party Rockin' song.  Everybody gonna have a bad time...

2:02 AM
Leftover bro to bad singer: "Shut up.  You suck."  Amen, douchebag.

2:06 AM
Drunk chica now caterwauling en espanol.  Next stop White Plains [my stop -ed].  Different bro trying to pick up chica now.  Like sands through the hourglass...

Speaking for myself, I did not become a participant in this year's Holiday Drinking Season until last night, when an absolutely amazing time at karaoke was had by myself, Rhea, her brother Alan and his wife Kristina.  (Apologies to anyone who actually may have heard me sing in public.)  You'd think that a random Wednesday between the holidays would make for a less colorful train ride this time around, and you'd be right...but only by two texts.

12/29/2011 ~ 2:31 AM
On the train.  Totally listened to "Private Eyes" via Callin' Oates while waiting.  Had a great time with you & bro and sis in law tonight!

2:36 AM
Overheard on train home: "I've had way too many shots for this shit."  Girl, in response, starts singing "Happy Birthday."  Interrupts herself halfway through, though: "Fuck you, bro."  Priceless.

2:43 AM
I wish this train didn't smell like vomit.  Next stop White Plains, thank god.

I can only begin to imagine what I'll be furiously tapping into my developmentally delayed smart phone on the way home on Saturday night.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #28] And You Thought Your Presents Were Good...

Forget whatever gifts you got, I got, your mom got, your dog got and so on.  My grandmother wins the Christmas sweepstakes hands down with one of the more remarkable gifts anyone could ever hope to receive: her ninetieth birthday.  You read that right: ninetieth.  Nine-Zero.  90.  Kind of makes whatever impressive gizmo you may have received the other day seem sort of underwhelming, at least for a moment or two, does it not?

It does, especially when you consider this: my grandmother is not the sort of woman who barely limped through yet another year of decline.  She is the kind of elderly woman who can refer to her contemporaries as "old ladies", complain about the fact that none of them do anything quickly enough for her, and get away with it.  Left to your own observations and quizzed, you'd probably be stunned to learn that she is a day over seventy or so.  She is spry and savvy.  For all I know, that computer in her bedroom lands on Turned on Its Ear from time to time.  She has become old in that manner which we all aspire to, once we're done with the young-pretty-beautiful-corpse segment of our lives.

A couple of days ago in this post, I alluded to some misgivings I had about traveling a good ninety minutes north with Rhea and my mother for her birthday party yesterday.  I could not have been more wrong about them: while there is an unsavory aspect to my extended family, I'm delighted to report that all the nasty people stayed home.  Without their negativity to burden the proceedings, a true celebration was had: good food!  Cake!  Relatives that I actually wish I got to see more!  A band playing standards fronted by a blind man whom I truly believe to be the Richard Cheese of the geriatric set!  I am fully aware, dear readers, that you will want some proof - or at least some more details - regarding that last one.  Really, you just had to be there, and will have to take myself and/or Rhea at our word.

In fact, you may just have to take me at my word about the whole thing, as my heart is so full with happiness and admiration for my grandmother that no amount of stilted, belabored prose can really do it fair justice.  Simply making it to ninety years old is a combination of genetics and luck.  Truly living to, and past, that age is a decision that one makes every day when they wake up again.  It is a gift, as I said at the beginning of this post, but it is one that can't simply be handed out.  Its recipient has to truly want it, and be willing to maintain it on a daily basis.  That can be a daunting task for folks my age, let alone nonagenarians.

I'll get back to being snarky tomorrow.  Today, it's all about admiration and acknowledgement of the gift that's been given to my grandmother - and, by extension, me and mine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #27] From Santa's Email Inbox, Part 3: IT'S NOT OVER!

Did your stupid family FAIL YOU MISERABLY with their atrocious gift selections this Christmas and/or Chanukah?  Well, fuck those morons with a reindeer antler!  You're a big boy and/or girl now, and you can conspicuously consume for your very own self.  Do you not feel like you spent enough money on useless crap this holiday season?  Fear not, brave consumers: there is still time to empty your bank account, stimulate the economy, do your part to keep the terrorists from winning, and help keep your favorite mall merchants out of Chapter 11 for at least another month or three.  Let the helpful suggestions commence:

That's right: BLITZ.  Specifically AFTER-CHRISTMAS BLITZ.  Since we said "Christmas", we felt we didn't have to worry about using Nazi imagery that's potentially offensive to all those candle-lighters out there.  Were it the AFTER-CHANUKAH BLITZ, well, that would just be wrong.  Good thing we didn't say anything tasteless like that then, isn't it?

You know, I think I'm done with Santa for good this time.  I must have told him a million times this season: "Santa, what I want more than peace on earth and a healthy, prosperous year for my family and friends is an endless supply of junk from a home shopping network that isn't even QVC".  Do you think he heard a word I said?  No.  He's always too busy listening to those damned meddling kids to bother with me.  Self-centered jerk.

This is actually a great idea: waste money on Christmas-related stuff that was too gaudy to actually sell before the big day.  Take it home, stash it somewhere where you'll be "sure to find it next year".  Eleven months or so from now, when said crap is either hopelessly lost or long since dumpstered thanks to your big Spring Cleaning Initiative, you'll get to swear up a blue streak about all that goddamned money you've now just flushed down the toilet because no one in this fucking house can just leave anything where it is.  Win-freaking-win, baby!

With straight talk as practical as this, it's hard to believe that the Post Office is in as much trouble as they are: Don't even bother with that crap people bought for you.  Why not just pack it up and send it back in one of our convenient FREE BOXES?  (Of course, when you find out what Priority Mail costs these days, you'll understand why we give away the materials).  In fact, why not take it a step further and really get into the spirit of the holidays?  Instead of shipping your unwanted gifts back to their point of retail origin, why not just pick a random name out of the white pages and ship your free box to them instead?  Imagine the holiday joy that will ensue: "Look honey: an officially licensed Rebecca Black self-tuning Karaoke machine!  No, I don't know who sent must just be a Christmas miracle!"

Monday, December 26, 2011

[31 Holi-Days Related] Goal Set and Made!

My announced goal for this series - to be the number one Google search for "31 Holi-Days" - has been made and then some.  As of right now, WALK A PLANT DAY is eighth on the list, beaten out by seven - count 'em! - seven Turned On Its Ear entries.  Walk that plant on outta here, losers!

Needless to say, I'd like to thank the academy, my agent, and the neighbor's cat.  I will now use my celebrity to promote world peace.

[31 Holi-Days #26] Living in the Aftermath

Before we get rolling for today, I'd like to wish all those celebrating it a happy Kwanzaa.

I know that there are many people for whom today is one of the year's more depressing days.  For me, it's the exact opposite: the mad rush is over, the trips to the store are over, and now it's time to just relax and live a little.  Time to enjoy the Christmas haul by day and maybe see some folks we don't get to hang out with all the time by night.  No, folks, the week between Christmas and New Year's is hardly a letdown for me; actually, it's quite possibly my favorite week of the year.  Even in previous years where I've had to spend the days of it processing many (un)happy returns over at Borders, there was still something great about that between-holidays glow.

This year there's no day job, but there are a few more calls for the guy who knows how to hook up electronics than usual.  Between my parents and my (all but) in-laws, there are two Kindles, a Wii and a Blu-Ray player that need to make friends with the internet.  In the case of the in-laws, this means that there is also a wireless router to get up, running and gregarious.  On the one hand, all of this means that the tapestry of obscenity I weaved while wrapping gifts may pale in comparison to the one I'll be knitting over the next few days.  More importantly, though, it also means that I get to be the good guy who gets the electronic things whirring, blinking and communicating.  All these years after my parks and recreation gigs, I'm still playing Santa in a way.  Nothing wrong with that.

Tomorrow should be an interesting one: myself, Rhea and my mother get to ride about an hour and a half up the line into Connecticut to attend my grandmother's 90th birthday party.  I don't really know what to expect from this; most of the party guests will likely either be people I haven't seen in decades, or have never met in my entire life.  Those who do (sort of) know me will likely still call me Billy, a moniker I declared passé about three days into my Kindergarten career - and also a fair indicator of how close we are.  My extended family - to which my adopted mother is not blood-related, thank god - is riddled with alcoholics, bigots and anti-Semites, the latter of which I've always tried to shield Rhea from.  So while it's true that my breath is a bit baited about the whole thing, it's also much more true that Grandma doesn't turn ninety every day, not to mention that she's the kind of self-sufficient, still-with-it ninety that refers to her fellow senior citizens as "old ladies."  That's the important part, and if there are any good stories that come from it all, then I've had one of this week's posts handed to me on a platter.

But all of that is later, tomorrow, and beyond.  Right now, I'm going to excuse myself for the afternoon; after all, there is an entire pile of new toys, games, t-shirts, CDs and DVDs that won't play with, wear, listen to, and/or watch themselves.  As I look at it sitting across the room, I'm suddenly very glad that no one in my life is a fan of practical gifts.  Sometimes, I think that the most important part of the holidays may just be the acknowledgement that we all need an excuse to just play once in a while.

Time to do just that.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #25] The Evening of a Very Big Day

In the above photo Casey, my family's Labradoodle, speaks for us all as the clock nears 7 PM on Christmas Day: curled up on the couch with one eye open, a touch overfed but perfectly content.  It is now time to rest a bit, knowing that the giant bone Santa dropped off for him will still be around and exciting once the effects of a big dinner and a day with his family have worn off.

On behalf of myself, this blog, and my canine friend: Merry Christmas one and all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #24] Christmas Eve Through the Ages

It doesn't matter how old I get: my first thought on Christmas Eve is always of just how long this day always seemed back when I was still young and waiting on Santa.  It just seemed absolutely endless, like a week somehow compressed and rolled up into one day. All of the distractions in the world wouldn't turn my mind away from it, either: no Christmas specials, no decorations, no going to the mall to see Santa, no cookies and fudge would work for any appreciable length of time.  Santa was coming, presents were coming, magic was coming - and time was not cooperating.

In my teenage years, I took a common defense of that age: hide any cheesy anticipation behind a wall of sneering sarcasm.  Beneath it all, I was of course nearly as excited as my younger counterpart, but like so many 13-16 year olds, I was simply TOO OLD FOR SUCH NONSENSE.  Which was all well and good, but I still needed a way to make Christmas Eve pass into the main event, whether or not I would exactly have copped to that need at the time.  So I'd meet my other snotty friends down at the mall, where we'd walk around and feel hormonally, smugly superior to all of those dolts rushing around doing their stupid last minute shopping.  Whadda buncha idiots!  Which, to be fair to my teenaged self and his friends, they probably were - but really, so were we.  The fact that I spent years later on in my life working at Borders serving said idiots on Christmas Eve?  Yeah, probably some kind of karmic justice, I suppose.

In my later teenage and college years, I became a participant.  Through my father's job at a local recreation and parks department, I came to be Santa, at least for a night or five each season, generally culminating on Christmas Eve.  It was great fun and highly gratifying; should any of you ever have the opportunity to don the big red suit, I'd heartily recommend that you do it.  For the big town tree lighting, they used to ride Santa in on a fire truck, lights and sirens blaring and a spotlight on yours truly.  This remains the closest I've ever come to feeling like a rock star; amazing, thrilling stuff.

These days, I've finally found a way to beat the waiting.  For the last few years, Rhea and I have made it a tradition to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve.  Just us, with no worries about what ever-changing plans her family or mine might spring on us at the last minute on the Big Day Itself.  With this fantastic new tradition, Christmas Eve has gone from the most anticipatory day of the year to one of its most anticipated.  Little me would be thrilled beyond expression, not to mention now highly antsy on the 23rd instead.

Friday, December 23, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #23] Griswold Alley, Week Four

I think that the time has come for us to put our cards out on the table.  I don't know why our relationship has taken such a rough turn in the past few weeks, but I can certainly tell that you no longer wish to be seen in public with me.  When it's just us alone, we seem to have as much fun as ever...but the second the camera comes out, or the second I invite a couple of my friends along with us, you vanish quicker than talent in the Kardashians' gene pool.

Certainly this shyness is something new for you.  When we first met you shone brightly, lighting up not just the room but the whole neighborhood with your electrifying personality.  Now, I'm left with just the quick, momentary flickers of a relationship that is losing its luster.  I'd hate to see things end this way between us, given the bright sparks that we enjoyed for such a long time together.

Perhaps it's partially my fault.  Maybe I should never have taken that picture of Sharon, and then posted it on the internet for you to find.  I'll admit that it wasn't the brightest decision that I've ever made, but I never really thought of you as the jealous type before.  Live and learn, I suppose.

I think there's still time for us.  I know it's a cliche, but I think we should give it one last try.  Pull out all the stops, put on the biggest, most public display that we can.  Flip that switch and shine as brightly as you're capable of, would you?  Don't just do it for me; do it for you.  Do it for us.  Do it for the children.  Do it for the Con-Ed workers depending on those bonuses this month.  Do it...for Christmas.

But mostly do it for me, because I've built this thing up like hell in this series, and I'm beginning to feel like I'm just hangin' in the wind here.  The dark, dimly lit, highly unspectacular wind.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #22] Last Minute Status Check

We're now less than three days out from Christmas, which means it's status check time.  All of my presents have been purchased, and all of them that needed to ship have arrived in the mail.  All but one of them have been crudely gift wrapped by my team of not-quite-gifted five year olds me.  The other one, which I had to pick up on the fly yesterday when it was discovered that we needed another gift for someone, will be wrapped just as soon as I stop being A BIG, DIAPERED BABY about the fact that I had to buy it after I'd wrapped the others.  I'll man up an do it shortly after I finish this post and finish recording my Christmas album, Butt-Hurt for the Holidays.  On second thought, maybe I'll hand that title off to some shitty emo band and just wrap the goddamned present.  Sounds like a plan.

With all systems pretty much go, I now get to take a deep breath from all of this Holiday mania.  As does Rhea: I haven't mentioned her as much in the last week or so of 31 Holi-Days posts because she has been sidelined with the end of semester crunch.  Two of her three Graduate courses for this semester are complete as of this writing, and the third is well on its way.  She could also use a deep breath.  It's a good thing that we've got one scheduled for later this evening.

Nearly every year, Jesse Malin does a hometown show right before Christmas, and Rhea and I do our best to get there.  We were in the audience for the show that formed the basis of his Mercury Retrograde live album a few years back; this time around, he's promising a three-tiered show: acoustic, electric, and covers.  Should be a great time, and the whole shindig benefits Toys for Tots.  While the recent (and, apparently, continuing) D Generation reunion has gotten a lot of coverage on this blog in the last few months, Malin's work as a solo artist is equally inspired; his most recent album, Love it to Life, is certainly one of my absolute favorite records in recent memory.

It's an interesting thing: while it's obviously in my best interest as a blogger to post about the holiday traditions that most of us participate in, there are also the small traditions.  The ones unique to your family, your relationship, your corner of the world.  For Rhea and I this is one of them, and as usual the timing is perfect for a few hours off from the holiday-work-writing-shopping-family treadmill, no matter how accomplished and gratifying much of that has been this year.  Sometimes, it's just as important to hit pause for a moment or two, to jump up and down and sing along, to move your body in the artificial light - and to power up for the home stretch all the while.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No Longer "Out of Touch"

I don't care if this is nothing more than a silly attempt by some corporate executive to create something that goes viral and thusly propels his career up the ladder.  I had absolutely no idea how much I needed the ability to hit a speed-dial number on my cell phone and hear my choice of "One on One", "Rich Girl", "Maneater" or "Private Eyes".  For that matter, I also had no idea how much I needed to save "Hall & Oates" as one of my cell phone's contacts.

Like most new-to-the-market tech products, Callin' Oates - which wonderfully describes itself as "your emergency Hall & Oates help line" - isn't without its bugs.  Were I truly having a Hall & Oates emergency, I'd probably also need "Out of Touch", "She's Gone" and "Kiss On My List" to be available choices.  Still, it's a great idea whose time has come.

That number again: 719-26-OATES.  You know you want to.

[31 Holi-Days #21] A Happy, Classy MTA Holiday!

There is something to be said for organizations that do not change their colors during the holiday season.  So much that we see around us this time of year is over-sanitized, kept well scrubbed and family friendly in a concerted effort to maintain the wonder of the season for the little ones.  (A skeptic might well add "and keep their parents' wallets open" to the end of that sentence, but Turned On its Ear is happy to focus on what's good - and give likely undeserved benefits of the doubt - this time of year).  This phenomenon is particularly visible in New York, and while I'm usually the first in line to decry the overall sterilization that Manhattan has undergone in the past decade and a half or so, I really don't see all that much wrong in creating an environment that isn't all that different than what the tourists and their children have seen in movies like Miracle on 34th Street all these years.

The observer and comic in me, on the other hand, enjoys seeing the occasional slip in the facade.  Usually, it's deliberate: the porn store with the SANTA LIKES BIG HOOTERS billboard, or the bar whose advertising suggests that Mr. Claus might want something other than cookies left out for him on Christmas Eve, those sorts of "clever" things.  The photo you're about to see, captured a few weeks back by my always out-of-focus cell phone during a drive down Fifth Avenue to take in all the displays and the sights of Christmas in the City, is far better than any of that, largely because its existence was sanctioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a government organization.  Ask any native New Yorker: they'll likely agree that the MTA is by far the merriest of agencies, and then they'll add an opinion or two that makes "fuck me with a reindeer antler" sound like the last line of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  This ad was photographed on the back of a city bus; it is hawking a product describing itself as Energy Sheets (I can only imagine...)

I realize that my developmentally disabled smart phone takes lousy, blurry pictures, but you did read that correctly: I TAKE A SHEET IN THE POOL.  Merry Christmas, dear tourists and their children, from the always jovial, certainly always classy MTA!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #20] The Best Sundown in December

Happy Chanukah!  Sundown is just moments away as I type these words, which means that candles and presents are sure to follow.  Not to mention food: delicious, belly-filling food.  Before dating Rhea and being introduced to a wider range of Jewish culture and tradition, I held the same misconceptions that most outsides do of the culinary end of Judaism: that everything was gefilte fish and unleavened bread.  Don't get me wrong: that stuff is there, and all these years later I still avoid it like the plague, but there is also brisket and rugelach and kugel and all sorts of delicious stuff.  Perhaps best of all, there is that old Chanukah favorite, the latke.  Deep fried crispy potato goodness; even if you could resist, why would you want to?  For those about to gorge, I salute you.

To those whose holidays begin tonight: may your candles burn bright, may your presents be right, and may your in-laws not fight.  Mazel tov!  Oh, and if you need to pass some time until the festivities get under way, why not rock the virtual dreidel game?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Everyone Should Be So Honest

Just another reason why Richard Cheese is a genius.  Pasted without permission from his Facebook post of about an hour ago, once I stopped laughing at the computer screen:

[31 Holi-Days #19] Of Love, Laughter and Creative Obscenity

I found myself on line at Sam's Club this evening, behind a couple who looked to be in their late 20s or early 30s.  (Disclaimer: relying on my ability to determine someone's age on sight is only slightly more advisable than depending on Stevie Wonder's parking skills.  We all have talents, and that simply isn't one of mine).  They are discussing when they'll be visiting whose parents during the coming holiday week, and both of them seem equally - and mutually - fed up with the politics of it all.  It's mundane in that way that most of us can nevertheless empathize with until the following exchange:

[He:] Your mother seriously wants us there on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  Jesus.  Fuck me with a reindeer antler.
[She:] What did you just say?  (She shoves him playfully; both they and I begin to laugh.)
[He, to me:] Oh shit, did I say that really loud?
[Me:] Eh, no worries.  It was a great line.  (All involved laugh some more.)

Well, it was a great line.  Thinking back on it now that I'm home, I'm left feeling extremely grateful that everyone I'm going to see in the next week-ish is someone I actually want to spend time with.  I also like the fact that these two folks laughed about their predicament rather than simply fuming over it; 'tis the sort of reaction that solutions - and tight families - are borne of. 

I'm also slightly jealous, given that I truly wish that I'd coined the phrase fuck me with a reindeer antler myself.  Well played, Christmas stranger, well played.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #18] The Pathos of Packaging

Time for a little reality check, and a little togetherness: Christmas is one week from RIGHT NOW.  For my Jewish friends, Chanukah begins in less than forty-eight hours.  Kwanzaa begins on the 26th, and I've got it on good authority that Festivus begins, well, sometime in the next week or so.  That's the reality of the situation; as for the togetherness, let us now bow our heads in unison, regardless of our celebrational differences, and begin to swear at the gift wrap, scissors, and tape.  Can I get an oh, hell yeah from the congregation?

The photograph above is of the world's largest ball of tape, photographed in 2001 at the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ontario.  (This is a Turned on Its Ear first, loyal readers: the attribution of a photo blatantly swiped via a Google Images search.  It's a holiday miracle, I know).  Until a decade ago, it also might as well have been a photo of any random gift I gave somebody.  A decade or so working for Borders cured me of this malady, to an extent.  I can now wrap things that come in standard, square or rectangular shaped packages like a semi-pro.  Listening to the Real Housewives of Scarsdale nitpick your every sexy bit of cutting, taping and tucking will school you in the art of wrapping well - or at least in the equally-important art of hiding your mistakes efficiently - in a hurry.

I'm certain that some of you caught the qualifier in that last paragraph: standard, square or rectangular shaped packages.  What follows is a desperate plea to the manufacturers and shippers of America (and, more likely than not, China): please, for the love of Santa, can you maybe not package things in a tin the shape of someone's head?  Might you possibly entertain the notion of declaring a moratorium on packages that are round?  Perhaps you could add a few cents to the packaging budget and not use a plastic blister pack with all sorts of things jutting out from it at odd, sharp angles?  I know, it's radical thinking, but stay with me here.  If I did not have to wrap these sorts of things, I would not have to emit an annual string of obscenities that makes the old man in A Christmas Story's battle with the boiler sound like Pat Boone reading from the Bible by comparison.  I would have more time to be with my family, to bake cookies and pet puppies and build snowmen...

...whoops, I meant shop more.  Last-minute shopping, even.  It would be good for the economy.  It would be good for America and for freedom and for not letting the terrorists win.  Most of all, it would be good for my thumb to go through at least one Christmas season without being stabbed by the scissors.  Speaking of the scissors, did I lose them again?  Damn it!  I just had the fucking things one minute ago!  Son of a bitch where the hell...oh god, really, am I sitting on them?  I am!  Shit!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #17] Jive Talkin' and Time Travellin'

The internet truly is a magical thing.  Through what other means could you find yourself face to face with an obscure Christmas present you received more than thirty years ago within five minutes of randomly awakening with the silly thing in mind for no rational reason whatsoever?

I can't imagine that I got my Bee Gees Rhythm Machine any later than 1980, which means that I was six years old at the most at the time.  Even likelier would be 1979, given that the product was introduced in '78 and my folks, not being made of money, were often a year behind on their toys.  No complaints here: even as a kid, I wasn't really the newest-latest-or-bust sort.

While you're still busy wallowing in the amazing kitsch of this thing, there's something I need to tell you about myself: whatever small dollop of musical ability I may possess is solely as a listener.  I have never shown even the slightest aptitude for composing or performing music, much to my eternal chagrin.  I'd love to play, even on the most modest level, but it's always just been beyond me.  Guitar-wise, I can maybe stumble my way through "Blitzkrieg Bop", and even only then if someone reminds me where my fingers are supposed to go and if I keep my eyes glued to them from there.  My singing's no better, either; there is a reason, and a very good one at that, why Karaoke is held almost exclusively in establishments that serve alcohol.

I tell you all of this simply to underscore how brave my parents were in procuring this gift for me.  Then as now, I was something of a fan of obnoxious noise; unfortunately for my benevolent folks, most of the sounds that came out of my Bee Gees Rhythm Machine had more in common with Metal Machine Music than the melodic soft-rock/disco hybrid purveyed by the Aussies pictured on the box.  My creations - all improvised, mind you - started with me picking one of the pre-installed rhythms (usually "Disco" - of the zeitgeist was I, even as a lad), playing something semi-melodic for about three key presses, then:


To me it was great fun: for months following that Christmas, I toted the damned thing with me wherever I went, presaging the soothing sounds of Sonic Youth the entire time.  I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank my folks for their patience, and on a more serious note for pointing me towards music from such a young age, my lack of talent notwithstanding.  I'd also like to pass their gift on to you, dear readers, all these years later.  Provided you've got a flash plug-in installed in your internet browser (which, most likely, you do), simply click here and begin improvising your own avant-garde masterpieces, Bee Gees-style.  Like I said at the beginning of this post, the internet truly is a magical thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #16] Griswold Alley, Week Three

To be completely honest with y'all, Griswold Alley is beginning to piss me off a bit this year.  For every ridiculous display that goes up, another previously seen one disappears.  Every other night or so, there I am with my camera, standing in the middle of the street like a truly schmucky Jimmy Olsen, hoping that all the bright lights will go on at once, for once.  Christ, I'm nearly as bad as the slow-moving, camera-wielding Times Square tourists that I revel in making pushing gestures behind this time of year.  Waah waah boo hoo.

Enough crying and enough waiting on others, then.  This is our contribution.  Please note -and give us due good-taste credit for - our lack of large inflatable things in the yard.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #15] From Santa's Email-Bag

Ground shipping deadline!  Order now or arrive empty handed!  Whip out your credit card right this very minute, or you might as well send the kiddies to school in Nanuet!  Free expedited shipping, since your lazy ass didn't bother to conspicuously consume before now: would you please buy something already?
I swear to Rudolph on high, the last few times Outlook has auto-checked my email, there have been at least four new messages each time bearing some variation on the above.  Truth be told, most of my shopping is finished, save for a few items I still need to grab locally.  All of my ideas are long since locked in, but in the interest of cheap yuks, let's take a gander at what's being hawked hourly in my inbox, shall we?  Some of this stuff is downright bizarre. can't wrap pancakes?   Well, there goes Rhea's Christmas.  Damn it, why doesn't anyone ever tell me these things?  (As an aside, the "Hi, Will" salutation at the top is a nice touch.  I feel so wanted!)

Ahh yes, so the petty criminals of the subway system know exactly whom they've stolen the thing from.  It's the gift that never stops someone else.

Three guesses which of these discounts my particular coupon wasn't for.  First two don't count.

In the interest of full disclosure, Newbury Comics is one of my favorite stores on the planet, and it's probably a good thing for my wallet that their closest location is a solid couple of hours away.  That said, if you can explain to me what novelty hats and vinyl records have to do with each other - and, here's the catch, without using the word "hipster" or a synonym thereof - you will win one fairly scratched up Christopher Cross LP that I have absolutely no idea why I possibly own.  (You pick up - the thing isn't even remotely worth mailing.)

Just white t-shirts?  Racists.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #14] Yes, Virginia...

I was reminded today of a news story from a couple of weeks ago, wherein a teacher in Nanuet, NY - just across the Tappan Zee Bridge from where I sit typing this right now - took it upon herself to inform her entire elementary school class that there is no Santa Claus.  Predictably and correctly, outrage ensued and heads were called for.  In the current economic environment, I find it difficult to advocate for anybody short of an actual criminal losing their job, but it sure wasn't hard to understand where the anger was coming from.

Likely, you've heard all about this by now.  I didn't post about it in this series when it was current because 31 Holi-Days was young then, and I had no interest in starting it off on such a negative note.  Sarcastic and/or funny like Erin McKeown's album/live show is one thing, but cruelty is quite another.  And, yes, I think that what this teacher did in her classroom could be classified as cruel.  At best, it was completely callous.  Everybody likes to prattle on about bullying these days, but how should we react when the bully is the teacher?

Or, for that matter, the public: in a quick perusal of the surprisingly divided comments that follow the Huffington Post article linked above, one really stood out to me: What is the problem with children knowing the simple truth. Where does this custom of beginning your relationsh­ip with your children with a lie come from?    Although it may sound a tad cold at first blush, it's actually a fair question.  Allow me to answer it.

There is no problem in you, as a parent, deciding to let your children know "the simple truth", although I'd suspect you'd quickly discover that said truth is not as simple as it might have initially seemed once your child begins asking questions that they may not yet be emotionally old enough to deal with the answers to.  If that is the path you choose to take as a parent, there isn't a thing in the world wrong with it; it is your right to raise your children as you see fit.  What you would not have the right to do would be to go next door and tell your neighbor's children the same thing.  Your right to make such a choice extends only to your own family, and it ends at your front door.  What this teacher did was inflict her own child-rearing views upon those who may not have wished to take that particular path, and that's an entirely different matter than a decision made by and for a single family. 

Then there's question number two: Where does this custom of beginning your relationsh­ip with your children with a lie come from?   Well, riddle me this: is Santa really a lie per se, or is the Santa story just a way of making an intangible idea - the spirit of familial love and general benevolence at the holidays - more understandable to a young, still-developing mind?  Obviously, the big dude with the reindeer isn't flesh and blood.  But the concept of giving and caring that he symbolizes is real, and is a state we should aspire to whether it's December or not.  Speaking solely for myself, I don't think that presenting that concept to children in a manner they can easily comprehend is a lie.  I think it's a fine, fitting introduction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #13] The Top Ten on GRINCH-FM

Let's talk about music for a few minutes, shall we?  It seems like a good idea, given that this half-music blog hasn't done much music-ing since this holiday series began.  Let's also acknowledge that music discussion naturally lends itself to the unleashing of my inner snob.   It's not my finest attribute, granted, but I have learned how to use it to my advantage at times.  Like now, as I present you with my all-time Holiday Pop Bottom Ten, the songs that will get you thrown the hell off my porch if you even think about caroling them in my direction.

CONVOLUTED CRITERIA: These are all pop songs, not traditional carols.  A pop singer butchering a traditional carol is acceptable, but Christmas tunes that pre-date the rock 'n' roll era on their own are ineligible.  The songs must have been hits, or at least demonstrably popular somewhere.  While I'm a big fan (I guess) of my William Hung Christmas album, as well as the one with carols performed entirely through farting, I'm also willing to acknowledge that the audience for those is limited.  Videos alone aren't enough to qualify a performance.  Divorced from its ridiculous visual component, I like Hall & Oates' version of "Jingle Bell Rock."  Songs are listed in no particular order, except for number one.

Enough with the explanations and qualifications: let's cover our ears!

10. "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer", Elmo and Patsy.  The audible definition of something that's trying far too hard to be funny.  I was ten or so when the dreadful thing gained popularity, and championed it, as kids will, simply because it pissed off my parents so much.  I also backed myself into a corner with it: "Mom, I want that record!"  Came home, threw it on my little turntable...and realized that I'd wasted my week's allowance on a song that I didn't really like, and that was on the radio every five minutes.  Lesson learned, I think.

9. "The Happy Elf", Harry Connick, Jr.  A mainstay of my time working Christmases at Borders, or perhaps a mainstay of my friends there trying to get my goat a bit.  Either way, imagine dealing with Westchester County customers setting new standards in entitlement with this smarmy bit of Christmas crud looping in the background.  To this day, I still refer to it as "The Crappy Elf."  I don't care that that's completely un-clever; it's true, damn it.

8. "Christmas Wrapping", The Waitresses.  You're gonna miss this one this year.  Got it.  No need to repeat the sentiment for the next five minutes ad nauseam.  I've got it on good authority that Chrissie Hynde sends coal to her pale imitators.  Or a PETA t-shirt drenched in red paint.  Or something.

7. "Dominick the Donkey", Lou Monte.  Just you move over, Mario and Snooki: it turns out that neither of you is America's most beloved ethnic stereotype, at least not in December.  Aside from number one, this is easily the song on this list that sends me uppa-da-wall the quickest.  Congratulations, I guess.

6. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", John Cougar and/or Mellencamp.  I can't stand Mellencamp no matter which surname he's using right now.  I can't stand this song no matter who sings it.  Ergo, it's a perfect match, at least insofar as things that suck monumentally can be described as "perfect".  The audio equivalent of coal, coal, and more coal.

5. "Please Come Home for Christmas", Bon Jovi.  'Tis the season for some hairspray.  Fa la la la la, la la la *click*.

4. "All I Want for Christmas is You", Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey.  A real accomplishment: the rest of the songs on this list have made it here by annoying the hell out of me for years.  This monument to insincerity and auto-tune managed that feat in the less than two weeks since it was unveiled at the Rockefeller Center special.  Kudos, Mariah and Justin, kudos.

3. "Wonderful Christmastime", Paul McCartney.  In which the Cute Beatle sets his new Casio synthesizer to the "high pitched fart noises" setting and sings all cute-like over the results.  As usual with McCartney as a solo artist, cute quickly gives way to smug, and the unfailing melodic sense that generally redeems him in moments like this is completely MIA here.  What's left is the aural version of preening and, well, the high-pitched fart noises.

2. "Do They Know It's Christmas", Band Aid.  Charity is wonderful, and an integral part of the holiday season.  That said, this song itself is utterly dreadful.  Monotonous?  Check.  Tuneless?  Check.  Depressing?  Check.  Sanctimonious?  Check, beginning with the title and continuing all the way to the last echo-chambered chorus.  Sung by a choir of Brits likely more interested in how much mug time they got in the resulting video than actually being able to find Ethiopia on a map?  Absolutely.

1. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)", The Chipmunks.  Oh my god shut it off no really please shut this crap the hell off holy sweet Jesus that high-pitched whining makes me wish I were deaf AAAALLLLLVVVVIIINNN oh god where's the turkey baster maybe I can pierce my eardrums with it.

HONORABLE MENTION: "Elf's Lament", by the Barenaked Ladies featuring Michael Buble.  That's right: The Barenaked Ladies featuring Michael Buble.  Let that high-talent combination sink into your grey matter for a minute or two.  I've never actually heard it. I saw it on a list, and verified its existence elsewhere on the 'net with the volume on my speakers pointedly OFF.  Dear readers, I love and appreciate you dearly, but there is only so much I'm willing to endure in the name of research.  I trust you understand.

DISQUALIFIED: The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York", Joni Mitchell's "River", and Wham!'s "Last Christmas", while set in the holiday season, are not actually Christmas songs in any sort of deck-the-halls sense.  For the record, I love the first named of those, admire the second without generally wishing to invite the depression that comes with hearing it, and shrug in the general direction of the third. 

And the Best Record of *2012* Is...

D Generation Plan to Make New Music.  Great article with confirmation from Jesse Malin over at Rolling Stone.

Two words: can't wait.  Their show at Irving Plaza back in September was the music highlight of this year for me.  I'm very glad to see that they know they've still got it, too.

Monday, December 12, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #12] Some Love for Chanukah, er, Hanukkah, er, Whatever...

Chanukah always comes in second, doesn't it?  Even in this blog, even though my fiancée is Jewish.  I've mentioned it about as often as I've name-dropped Festivus, which thus far in this series translates as "once in the first post, then never again until now."  Allow me to take this opportunity to rectify that.

Ahh, Chanukah: the little Christmas that almost could.  In theory, it should be even better than Christmas: presents for eight days!  Pyro!  Less annoying songs to get overplayed every time I'm stuck in the damned CVS because someone I can't be bothered with any other time during the year needs a freaking card sent to them!  The first half of that last digression was one of the biggest thorns in my side back when I ran a music department for Borders.  Every year, the same ugly conversation:

[Disgruntled Customer]: Where is your Chanukah music?
[Me]: It's in the last row of the Christmas music display.
[Disgruntled Customer]: Okay.  (Heads over there, flips through the ten CDs in the display, returns with face the color of Santa's suit.)  WHY DO YOU HAVE SO MUCH MORE CHRISTMAS MUSIC THAN CHANUKAH MUSIC?
[Me]: I'm sorry.  There simply isn't any more available.  Every year, I order everything the distributor has to sell me, but--

Not hardly: no one would have been happier than I if I could have ordered hundreds of Chanukah CDs, if for no other reason than never having to have a conversation along the lines of the above again.  You're absolutely right, dear composite customer: I'd much rather have a confrontational chat with you than simply take your money and send you semi-merrily on your way.  I don't know what to tell you about that: perhaps you could have your friends write and record some new songs?  Or maybe you could convert Mariah Carey.  Buy five more copies of that Adam Sandler album?  Honestly, dear Jewish friends, I don't have a good answer for you.  I'll certainly agree that the pickings are slim.

I do feel bad for Chanukah as a holiday, though: forever stuck in the shadow of the big man and his reindeer, the menorah obscured by someone's over-sized, over-lit tree.  The poor holiday can't even decide how to spell itself in English.  When I started this series, I just came as close as I could phonetically to a spelling, let Microsoft Word correct it, and went with the results.  Sadly, it turns out that both that both Microsoft Word and I were wrong.  To wit:

Sigh.  Alas, poor Chanukah Hanukkah, even your dopey internet humor isn't quite as "good" as Christmas'.  Still, you'll always have one thing that your Santa lovin' friends don't: the Mama Doni Band!

The Obligatory *RICK PERRY IS TEH SUKS* Post!

Alright, fine: I'll make like the rest of the internet and chomp down on this obvious chunk of troll bait.  Having failed miserably when trying to address actual issues, there was nothing left for Perry to do in order to perpetuate the media saturation of his name than to go completely over the top.  Hence, this gratingly obvious exercise in provocation.  I'm not even going to bother to dissect it; suffice to say, the utter doggerel contained in the video should be as revolting to intelligent conservatives as it is repulsive to, erm, liberals on the attack.  It's pure third-grade playground "oh yeah, well your mama's so fat..." style button-pushing, and should be eschewed by full-grown adults of any political persuasion as such.

Didn't your parents ever tell you to ignore a bully and they'll just go away?  Yeah, mine did too, and obviously I'm still not taking that advice given that I, just like the rest of the easily offended/riled world, am giving Perry exactly what he wants: attention.  Point well taken, then: guess it's time to go back to blogging about Christmas...that is, if there's anything left to say about it now that I've learned that children are no longer allowed to celebrate it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #11] The Magic of Unsolved Mysteries

A monster ahead of his time: some days, I'd like to eat my phone, too.

I took Rhea to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens yesterday.  First things first: if you have any interest in the Muppets, do not hesitate to check this out in the month or so it has left to run.  It's informative, entertaining, and perfectly pitched in regard to just how far behind the curtain you're allowed to see.  There's enough behind-the-scenes to whet your curiosity, but not enough to ruin your enjoyment of the end product.  It's a great exhibit, and a great celebration of an amazing vision and body of work.

For Rhea, it was a no-brainer.  She lives and breathes the Muppets.  If one day she wakes to discover she's turned completely to felt, I'd barely register a surprise.  I'd have to figure out how to edge Walter out of the picture at that point, but I'm sure that could be accomplished.  Regardless, we'd been waiting for just the right time to head on out to Queens and take it all in, and yesterday was the day.  In addition to the exhibit, our entry fee yesterday entitled us to a theater screening of 1978's Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, a special that's as close to Rhea's heart as Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or (insert favorite here) is to yours.

In general (and to over-generalize), our little family of two works like this: Rhea is the idealist with the heart full of wide-eyed wonder, and I'm the sarcastic realist that keeps us safe and grounded.  This is as it all should be: said unique qualities give us quite the broad spectrum to work with when pooled.  So why, then, did I find myself getting a little choked up upon watching Christmas Eve on Sesame Street for the first time in several decades?  Because eons ago, it saved my faith in the holiday.

I was probably about six or seven.  I'd reached that age where I'd naturally begun to question the world around me.  I'd always been a curious kind of kid, and that was intensifying with every passing year's worth of increased functioning and reasoning.  At the time, my family lived in an apartment.  Cue the unanswerable question: how does Santa drop off our presents when we don't have a chimney?  A potentially catastrophic query; thankfully, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street's story is hinged around just this sort of quandary.  To this day my mother - never a woman to mince words or over-hype something - refers to it as a godsend.

It wasn't the nostalgia of seeing the special again that made me choke up, as heartwarming as it was to revisit an old friend that I had no idea I'd missed so much.  I choked up near the end, at the realization that Christmas Eve on Sesame Street never actually answers the question.  Therein lies its genius: rather than simply fling a half thought out answer, it simply assures its audience that it's all right not to fully understand everything; that some great things do not require thorough explanation.

There's a core truth about the holiday season in there: sometimes, it's just fine not to ask so many questions that you gyp yourself out of the magic that surrounds you this time of year.  I'm not taking about blind faith, nor religious faith necessarily, and certainly not intelligent design and other such lunacy.  I'm talking about not being so sour or proof-driven that you refuse to let slightly magical things just happen sometimes, be it at the holidays or during the hottest week in August.

The message is a simple one, as applicable to adults as to the children to whom it was primarily pitched: chill, and just let the elves do their thing, wouldya?  Amen.