Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Christmas Present #5] The Waiting is the Hardest Part

“Damn it, Amazon: SHIP THIS CRAP ALREADY!”

It’s a mantra for many right about now, I’d assume, and your humble blogger is certainly one of them.  Is it partially my fault for being so late to the spending frenzy?  No, not at all!  I ordered this stuff LAST WEEKEND, blast it!  That’s FIVE WHOLE BUSINESS DAYS before Christmas Eve – why aren’t these frigging elves who fill the smiley-face boxes working faster?  They can rest in February, for fuck’s sake!  Bluster!  Screaming! Per-blickety arrggggghhhhhhhhh!

Of course I do know better; the irony is not lost upon me that I (a) worked Christmas Retail in a brick-and-mortar store for nearly a decade, and (b) I sound just a weensy bit like what I always despised in that role.  So it’s time to take a step back, breathe for a minute, realize that (a) Amazon guarantees this stuff will be at my door by Christmas Eve at the latest, and (b) even if it isn’t, so what?  It’ll still be loved, as will I.  Ahh, that’s better.  How about some Holiday music, then, now that we’re all calmed down?  An excellent idea; one of the great things about being a few years removed from retail is that I’ve really begun to enjoy Christmas music again this year.  Hell, I’ve even got some on my iPhone right now.  Here, then, is a personal favorite, presented in two distinct versions – something for every mood, kinda:

Into the Christmas vibe / Cheesy:

Showing your true colors / Snarky:

The smartest among you will, of course, watch both.

And the dumbest among you – by which I mean me – will now go check your email inboxes to see if THAT STUPID SHIPPING NOTICE IS THERE YET.  If you’ll excuse me….

Sunday, December 16, 2012

[Christmas Present #4] We Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute

I’ve no idea how I could even hope to write a funny and/or cute article about the holidays today.  Like everybody else in the world, I am at a complete and utter loss to even put my feelings about what happened two days ago in Newtown, Connecticut into any sort of rational order, let alone try to reconcile it all and come up with some sort of logical conclusion about the tragedy.  If nobody has Facebooked it to you yet, you should take a few seconds out and read this article over at The Onion.  Whether it’s even comedy is debatable, but man…talk about the nail hit squarely on the head.

In last year’s holiday run, I posted about a teacher near where I live who took it upon herself to inform her young pupils that there is no Santa Claus.  In light of what happened on Friday, even debating such a thing seems hopelessly silly; almost quaint, really.  In that post, I posited that there is nothing wrong with letting young children believe in Santa, that he is simply a way for developing minds to personify and understand the spirit of giving and goodwill until they’ve reached a comprehension level where they no longer need the ideas wrapped up in red.  I think that applies here, too.

I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion of the fact that this has happened at the holidays, and what Christmas might possibly mean to the families of Newtown in the wake of this horror.  In some ways, I think that those families need Christmas and Santa now more than ever.  If there is any vestige of innocence left in any of those poor children, it needs to be respected and clung to mightily.  Christmas is normal.  Santa paying a visit on Christmas Eve is normal.  Normalcy is, in whatever quantity it’s even possible to create the illusion of, the best present I could imagine any of these bereaved children receiving this year.  Think of it as a re-affirmation of secular faith, a way to broach the idea that it's still okay to trust other people, and to believe in the values you’ve always held dear.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my Rhea is in graduate school, studying for a dual masters in Early Childhood and Special Education.  As such, I’m sure you can imagine her reaction.  In moments like this, it’s my job in our never-ending dance to be the calm, rational one.  Without a doubt, this is the most difficult that role has ever been for me: how, after all, do you remain rational about a horrifying tragedy that has no sane, lucid explanation?  I think I did an alright job; at the very least, it was the best I could do.  You know the cliché about the man staying stoic and controlled, only to completely lose his shit once he’s safely alone?  I guess it does actually happen like that every so often. Who knew?

In the midst of consoling Rhea – or at least letting her talk out what she needed to about it all – I hit on one thing that I think was completely spot-on, and I’d like to share it with all of you as well.  I told Rhea that there were really two stories here: the one that we’re immediately familiar with, unspeakable in its horror and darkness.  The other story, the one that we must try to keep near the front of our thoughts even as we’re deluged with the terrifying and incomprehensible details of the Newtown massacre, is that more than 99.9 percent of the billions of human beings currently calling Earth their home agree with us that what has happened is unspeakable, unacceptable and unrepeatable.  No matter what our other political and theological differences, we are to a soul united in our abhorrence of what has happened, and our empathy and sorrow for the victims.  If that is not the spirit of Christmas, if it is not the intangible value system made accessible by the character of Santa Claus, then I’ve simply no idea what is.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a half-decent night’s sleep.  With any luck, “a good night” might once again end that wish sooner than later.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Re: Westboro Baptist Church and the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

Cross-posted from my Facebook feed:

I generally regard the Westboro Baptist Church as some sort of particularly depraved meta-parody of religious extremism, being the "fag-enabling" (to use their delightful term for not hating homosexuals) agnostic that I am. But really, you inbred freaks, picketing the funerals of slaughtered kindergarteners is beyond the pale even by your so-low-as-to-be-practically-nonexistent standards.

The rational part of my brain knows that posts like this are giving the bastards exactly what they want: attention. The part of my brain that - like everyone else I know - can't process yesterday's events AT ALL thinks that some things are just too goddamned egregious to let pass without protest.

God - or Man, or Whoever - bless the Human Chain.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Christmas Present #3] Your One-Stop Lexicon of Christmas Retail!

Today began the true Christmas Shopping Offensive for your humble author.  Sure, I’ve got a few things stashed away already, but today is when the fun started for real.  Between the life that takes up my time (and occasionally delays a blog post by twelve hours or so) and the way my paychecks and bills have fallen this month, this weekend – defined for my purposes as RIGHT NOW through Sunday night – is going to both begin and (hopefully) end my 2012 FESTIVAL OF SAVINGS, to steal a phrase from one of the 9,208 new emails that has cluttered up my inbox since I last flushed it, oh, about an hour or so ago.

Having spent so many holiday seasons on the employees-only side of the retail counter, going through the endless parade of e-advertising has become something of a pastime for me.  If nothing else, spending a handful of ho-ho-holidays employed by a retailer will set you up with an entirely new dictionary: bottom-line to English, as it were.  For those of you (un-) fortunate enough to not have this sort of experience to lean on, allow me to translate some of the more common templates for you:

XX PERCENT OFF COUPON!  In this case, the nature of the devil is in the details, and the desperation level correlates to the percentage offered.  Under twenty percent, it’s mostly a matter of well, everyone else has coupons so we need to have one, too.  In the twenty-to-thirty range, it’s more we’re not absolutely empty, but some more foot traffic would be helpful.  More than thirty, and it’s Christ, we’re shitting bricks hoping Santa doesn’t bring us a nice, fat Chapter Eleven…now get your sorry, un-spending ass into our store!  Perennial exception: Bed, Bath & Beyond, who pretty much laugh at you if you don’t show up with a wad of expired coupons, no matter the season.

GREAT GIFT IDEAS FOR HIM/HER!  Do you know your significant other so poorly that you need a mass email to suggest a potential Christmas gift for them?  Well, then it’s pretty much over...wait, I mean no it’s not!  Dazzle them with these excellent, generic, gender-stereotyped things they’re sure to love return.  Then break up with them right after New Year’s…and be sure to find someone new to buy the exact same crap for by Valentine’s Day!

GREAT PICKS JUST FOR YOU!  And you alone!  No one else got this exact same email, we swear!  That’s why you should shop with us: we know you, not like those other guys who just want your money.  Fuck Macy’s!

BUY 2, GET 1 FREE!  Because there’s no way you’d ever buy more than one (if that) of these pieces of crap otherwise.  Our buyer is a dolt.  Enjoy!

MAKE SURE TO GIVE YOURSELF A GIFT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!  Because the spirit of giving is for suckers, especially at the holidays! Also, buy more crap!

THE LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON!  Legally mandated to be the truth at the time the advertising is published, although you’ll also notice that they make no guarantees about what next week’s prices might be, should sales be insufficiently brisk.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR FREE SHIPPING!  Spend now, lemmings!


IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR EXPRESS SHIPPING!  You lemmings thought you were done spending?  Stupid lemmings!

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR HUMANITY!  The Mayans once disagreed, although they’ve become considerably scarcer since making that prediction.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

[Christmas Present #2] Latke Larry and the Festival of Lights

Years ago, when we were barely dating, I bought Rhea one of these dolls.  A prophet am I.
Ah, Chanukah, that enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in potatoes and onions and then fried.  I never really have gotten to the bottom of its significance as a holiday.  Sure, I’ve digested what Wikipedia has to say on the subject, and I’ve polled those whose backgrounds have had the festival of lights as a “thing” for longer than I have, but mostly I’ve come up a bit short.  The best thing anyone’s ever told me came, as it often does, from my beloved Rhea: “Actually, it’s not really that important a holiday.  Mostly, it’s puffed up to be more than it is because it falls near Christmas.”  I think I’ll go with that – it makes sense to me.

It also falls in perfect line with how I view and celebrate my Very Agnostic Christmases: as a largely secular celebration of family and togetherness that just happens to derive from religious history and tradition.  From that perspective then, I give you a list of things that largely defined last night’s Chanukah Kick-Off, in roughly chronological order:

1)      Latkes.  Celebrated in last year’s Chanukah post, referenced in the first sentence of the post you’re reading right now, and salivated over for every moment in between.  Seriously, folks: I don’t care if you worship Jesus, the Easter Bunny, Satan, Steven Tyler, or the Nor-Easter Bunny; we are talking about shredded potatoes which are mixed with Onions and then fried.  If that doesn’t sound like good times to you, then the terrorists have truly won.

2)      Siblings.  Namely, Rhea and her brother Alan, who between them made the latkes.  They did a great job, and clearly had a great time in the process.  Sometimes, a good in-law like myself just takes Billy Joel’s sage-like advice and leaves a tender moment – or even a tender hour-and-a-half – alone.   Which leads us to:

3)      TruTV.  World’s Most Shocking Chicks Who Got Arrested!  Hillbilly Meth-Head Roundup!  Wipeout!  Just the kind of drivel to pass the time when all around you are cooking, bonding and cleaning and no one really needs your help.  Woulda been perfect if they’d been showing Killer Karaoke – my new most-est favorite-est empty calories on television – but nearly perfect is certainly close enough.

4)      Beer.  An obvious accompaniment to all of the above.  Alan’s much more of a connoisseur of the hops and barley than I am, but I gotta admit that everything I tried last night was delicious.  I’m not a huge fan of beer that doesn’t taste like beer; if I wanted chocolate or coffee, I’d have some, but all of last night’s selections tasted both (a) like beer, and (b) delicious.  Cheers!

5)      In-Laws.  A quick spin around the blogosphere – hell, even around my Facebook feed – reminds me how lucky I am to not only love but also respect and like mine. 

6)      FOOD!  Latkes!  Brisket!  Donuts!  Gelt!  All delicious!  What more could you want?  A gym membership, I suppose, but that’s for after the holidays.

7)      Gifts.  I need to backtrack a bit here: in preparing for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, an accident occurred in which I broke a bunch of my most-used pint glasses.  For the most part, this was really no big deal: you use them, and they eventually wear out or break.  (It’s a lot like life itself, if you think about it.)  That said, there was one – a White Castle Coke glass – which I’d had for a few years and really used more than any of the others.  ‘Twas truly a bummer to see it go.  Yesterday, I received the following from my darling Rhea, wrapped in a towel in a shoebox:

At the end of the day, I may still not understand the true historical significance of Chanukah, or even which of its eight thousand spellings is correct.  But family that I can truly appreciate and enjoy, and a partner who knows what the right present is?  I get all of that – and how precious it truly is – perfectly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

[Christmas Present #1] And So It Begins...Again

One of the truly great things about the holiday season  is that it has its own continuity.  In some ways, it hasn’t actually been around eleven months since my last 31 Holi-Days post; it has simply been “since last season”, a measure of time that isn’t reflected on any calendar, Mayan or otherwise.  So here I am again, ready to pick back up where I left off.  In the intro, I called it a sequel, but really it’s more of a continuation after a gap necessitated by the politics of time.  I mean, you can blog about the holidays in mid-July…and you can also enjoy a nice fall stay at Bellevue as a result of doing so.

In the real world, however, eleven months have passed.  In that time, I have bid unemployment a wonderful farewell, and really come up with a game plan for how I might also bid low-income an equally wonderful farewell by the time next year’s Holiday Series begins here on the blog.  Rhea’s mother’s shoulder, which had been badly broken at the end of last year’s run, is still in the process of healing.  It’s been a long road and shall continue to be one for some time to come, but she can once again move it in ways that were merely a pipe dream around the time of 31 Holi-Days #31.  My grandmother, whose 90th birthday party we attended the same day Rhea’s mom had her accident will be 91 this year.  They don’t necessarily rent out the big room nor hire the Richard Cheese of the senior set for 91, but it’s still a damn good reason to celebrate.  And so on and so forth: life goes on, as has been written and demonstrated long before I set up this little lemonade stand on the side of the Information Super-Highway.

In some ways, it’s hard to even figure out what the holidays might mean in the wake of the devastation left behind not very far from here by Hurricane Sandy.  As corny as this sounds, it’s completely true: I have my family, a roof over my head, power, and no river in my basement – and those are certainly gifts enough for anybody.  To the afflicted, I hope the holidays bring some sense of normalcy this year: as bad as things may get, Santa still flies by like clockwork.

The more things change, the more Christmas/Chanukah/[your holiday of choice here] looks and smells and sounds the same.  We never truly solve the mystery of exactly what’s responsible for December’s magic, and I don’t believe we’re meant to, either.  We may unravel a piece or two of the fabric here and there – for example, I have an update on the enigmatic, unforgettable SHARON that I’ll share at an appropriate moment later in the series – but even then, they are duly replaced by new squares in the tapestry.  This is a very excellent thing; after all, if there were nothing new to discover about the season, there would be no need for this continuation.  And that, says the author, would truly be a drag.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Holiday Series Intro: "Christmas Present"

So, yeah: it’s the most wonderful time of the year again.  And just like your average brain-dead Hollywood executive, I’m not at all above rockin’ a sequel to last year’s success.  Just like most sequels, this one will be scaled down a bit from the original; unlike half of most sequels, I promise it will at least have some moments that rival the original.

I’ll pause here for a moment to take a question: “Will, what in the good hell are you talking about?”  Gotcha; let’s backtrack a bit.  Last December, I did a daily series called 31 Holi-Days, in which I posted some sort of seasonal-themed rant/reflection every day throughout the month of December.  The statistics show me that it was the most popular thing I’ve done thus far here at Turned on Its Ear, and my own inner critic tells me that it’s probably the best of my various series as well.  So why not head back to the well?  Honestly, writing last year’s edition was one of the most fun things I’ve done for this blog – and no matter how snarky I may get about it at times, I do truly love the holiday season.

This year’s sequel will be a bit different, mainly in that it will not be a daily feature.  Two reasons for that: first-and-most, I’m far more employed this year than last.  While that will make this a far happier Christmas, it also leaves me with significantly less free time this year.  Secondly, even a math-challenged writerly type like me knows that there are thirty-one days in December.  That’s thirty-one entries I’ve already written on the subject, and I’m fairly certain that strict enforcement of the one-a-day rule for a second straight year would lead to more reruns, topic-wise, than I’d like.  Instead, this year I’m going to set a two-per-week minimum; at the very least, there will be one new post in this series by the end of the evening every Wednesday and every Sunday this month.  Those aren’t strict deadlines: if one week’s posts land on Tuesday and Saturday, so be it.  There may also be more than the minimum promised, should additional inspiration strike; after all, who in the history of Santa Clause [sic] has ever complained about getting more Christmas presents (or, in this case, Christmas Present-s; and yes, you may groan at that sad, shameless pun) than promised?

First entry sometime between now and midnight on Wednesday, then.  In the meantime, why not click right here and either discover or revisit last year’s 31 Holi-Days?