Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Always on the Sunny Side

For a long time the White House folks have been complaining, and at last I have seen the light. "You writers only focus on the bad things and never acknowledge the good things," they say.

I'm sure that my readers (all three of them) have come to see me as a Negative Nellie. It's true that the more you read the news, the harder it is to stay perky. However, I have to say that it's been heartening of late to see the Republican Congress FINALLY stand up for the little guy. At last there is advocacy, and legislation has become an extension of Republican values.

Who is this new focus of compassionate conservatism, you ask. Is it the working poor? Will there finally be some assistance in paying those skyrocketing home heating bills?

Well, no.

How about the senior citizens, who, entangled in the Medicare D silly string, have less chance than ever to save on prescription costs?

Ah, no.

Okay, how about body armor for the troops in Iraq? An end to plundering the billions of dollars ostensibly set aside for the rebuilding of that sad country?


So, who is this lucky recipient of congressional largesse? Whose plight has finally moved the hard heart of Congress to blessings during this holiday season?

Give up? It's analog television viewers.

Yep, before Congress recessed, it voted to provide Americans with analog television sets two coupons worth $40 each for converter boxes to attach to their sets in advance of the big date, 2/17/09 at which time TV networks will have to surrender their analog broadcast licenses and apply for --paying a fat fee-- the new digital licenses. Selling the new licenses is going to be a big money maker for the Treasury, so hey, Congress can afford it. They'll also be able to sell the turned-in analog license to other parts of the communications industry. Money, money, money.

Okay, so two vouchers of forty bucks won't go far, won't even cover the cost of the converter boxes for those Left Behind analog TVs. But it's the thought that counts. Our members of Congress are thinking of us. They want to keep us nice and complacent, more concerned about whether or not we will be able to see the next Supermarket Sweep or reruns of Hawaii Five-O without experiencing the desperation of a screen gone black.

So, really, everybody wins. Those injured soldiers returning from Iraq, those cold and unhealthy working poor can simply bundle up and know that for all their problems, they will still enjoy government support for watching their favorite shows.

I've been too hard on these people, I now know that underneath those zillion dollar suits beat real hearts; beneath those Rolex watches race genuine pulses.

A moment of silence, now, while we count our blessings.

Monday, December 26, 2005


O Tannen-Bomb

We didn't get the tree in until Dec. 23. It sat for a week in the snow, its Bad Side exposed to the entry way.

We'd bought it almost a week ago, an early date for us. I am married, okay... espoused to one of the great cheapskates, an anti-participant in American consumer culture. She likes nothing better than to buy a tree at half-price on Christmas Eve. One year she experienced true ecstasy when Lyman Johnson, the self-proclaimed Christmas Tree King, abandoned his trailer palace early and left his entire stock free for the taking. (He abdicated shortly after that, leaving no heir apparent.)

I don't know what we were thinking when we set out a week early, a date alien to our rhythms. It may have been a drive to purchase an additional tree for my darlin's parents, two dear but mostly sour beings who pretty much resist or forget about our attempts to cheer them.

Since our favorite lot was located on the Boulevard from Hell, a continuing exercise in small town gridlock, we headed for a quaint farm stand to escape the crowd. There a decidedly Nordic type in a red plaid jacket stalked us, muttering in what I guessed was Swedish, as we made our way around the ad hoc forest.

"These trees are from northern Vermont," Arvid told us. That was fine with me. Good, tough All-American trees ready to promote democracy in foreign lands. None of those sissy Canadian interlopers. No sir. Despite their warrior pedigree, they did seem to possess a slightly yellow pallor at their twig-tips.

I suspect that one of the reasons my spouse prefers last minute tree shopping is that she is spared the ordeal of dickering on the price, at which her lack of prowess rivals mine. She is especially ineffective at negotiating with men, not because she finds them irresistible, but because she expects them to be unfair. She was therefore a reluctant pawn of Sven. Or Hans. Or Lattke.

As we cruised the trees it became increasingly apparent to us both that it had been a while since these trees had seen Northern Vermont. A wilier soul would have pointed out this sign of truck-lag to Ole, but we are polite lasses, unaccustomed to assuming critical tones with strangers. We chose one tree with a kind of lurch-limb off to one side and a bald top shoot offset by a mole-like tuft of needles just below. It was thirty bucks, a fortune to my spouse. Somehow she bought a slightly smaller tree with none of the Charlie Brown touches for ten. Lars insisted on helping us lash them to our roof rack, and we drove away feeling only vaguely jolly, due more to a sort of renaissance in our un-civil union than the magic of the season. We brought the tree home, plunked it in a snowbank, and headed indoors to wrestle with the Times crossword, our daily guilty pleasure.

There the tree stood for the next while. Around us lights were strung, ornaments hung by merrier neighbors than we. I slunk around walking the dog, guilty as the anti-Christ for neglecting the tree, but each night my spouse came home too weary to bring the poor little sucker inside.

Finally, we took pity... gave in, really, since we were almost out of time. I would be working the day before Christmas and therefore too footsore to tackle the chore afterward. My out-laws would be coming Christmas Day, and their gifts would be more attractively displayed beneath the tree than on a pile of old New Yorkers.

We hummed tunelessly as we wound the lights around, selected the origami birds a friend made, added some cardinals from the Co-op, a few ornaments from friends. We didn't decorate heavily, preferring the beauty of the tree to shine through.

"That was surprisingly easy," my darlin' admitted after we'd finished. "I don't know why I put it off this long."

The tree looks nice. I'm not sure that there is such a thing as an ugly Christmas tree, that Disney monstrosity aside. Ours bears the intrusions of holiday lights and ornaments quite well. And its scent is divine.

We inhale deeply as we toss another log on the fire, push the kitties off our places on the loveseat, and huddle over the day's crossword, wholly happy to have a tree in the house.

If the Christmas tree didn't already exist, it would be necessary to invent one.


Figgy, Piggy Pudding

Although the holidays are filled with parties and programs for the mainstream active set, my own dance card is relatively polka-free. My only friend to host holiday festivities had a Yankee Swap, but otherwise my invitations for holiday socializing rise from the workplace. I have resisted work-related Christmas parties since my last round of school days, when my former principal (whom I called Petunia) hosted an annual bash at her condominium, the centerpiece of which were her chicken divan and her narcissistic personality. I lodged my regrets under the comforting bough of Miss Manners' general disapproval of command performances at work-related socialitization.

I know, I know. We Americans keep trying to foster a "family feeling" in our workplaces. One counselor at my former school even termed the bunch of us "our school family," a phrase that gave me the heebie-jeebies. I'm from a WASP branch of the Buendia clan, each of us bearing the indelible mark of solitude. My only sibling doesn't speak to me, largely because of "the lifestyle difference," as he calls it. After that there's no point in adding to the list of default relatives.

But I digress. My party-ducking aside, I did attend a Christmas program at the local assisted living palace last week. My mother out-law, Holly, was featured in a couple of key supporting roles which called for my support: one as "guest conductor" of a carol, the other as co-reader of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." (That's "The Night Before Christmas" to you literary non-purists).

The latter role was a compromise. She had originally been scheduled to recite the whole thing, but another resident, Jack, who coveted saying the first lines, suggested that they "all" read it. Holly can recite the entire thing from memory, complete with good diction and expression, but at the palace the model is based on inclusiveness over skill, so the activities director quickly relieved Holly of her starring role. She sustained the blow of her demotion and called her fellow resident and co-star a pig. Role changes were duly noted on succeeding copies of the script.

I attended the event in large part to support Holly's bruised self esteem and further to support my spouse, whose attendance is nearly mandatory at all flowerings of her mother's talent. It felt like a secure and responsible thing to do, akin to attending church and the PTA. There's hardly a co-star who doesn't relish an addition to her audience.

We sat in the dining room where the chorus had assembled. The room was thick with walkers parked by the wall, and the wheelchair section called to mind an old Kathryn Kuhlman revival meeting. One chorus member was so bent in her wheelchair that her nose nearly touched her knees, but she was there and ready to go. The A.D. ran around, making sure that her performers had their scripts, their sleigh bells and Santa caps. A pianist accompanied them with one-finger versions of holiday favorites, since the A.D. feared that chords and a few more fingers would confuse the performers.

We whooped and cheered when Holly's guest conducting gig game up. I have adopted the applause style of Kermit the Frog, since I enjoy saying "Hooray!" Holly was so overcome by our warm reception that she had to be reminded to conduct the chorus, a chore she tended to absently. When the reading of "A Visit from St. Nick" began, we bowed our heads together and hissed, "Pig!" as her arch-rival read (tonelessly, lifelessly) the opening lines. (Our job was not to serve as impartial ethicists or mediators, but as Family Members, forever biased in Holly's favor.)

The big wind-up was a singing of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," which includes a verse pleading for something called "figgy pudding," and another stating that "we won't leave until we get some," a threat, actually. Imagine these melodic mooches encamped on your stoop, for say, all twelve days of Christmas, befouling the landscaping and frightening the mail carrier, while waiting for figgy pudding.

I turned to my mate. "Figgy pudding?" This was just the sort of phrase that threatened to lodge itself in my amygdala for days. I am very impressionable and therefore must guard my little brain cells zealously.

At that moment, whether by coincidence or design, the A.D. signaled her Christmas elves who slipped into the kitchen and emerged with large trays of the stuff. It was blobby and brown with a little rosette of whipped cream on top. She'd found the recipe on the internet, the chef had whipped up a batch, and it was be to ours upon the conclusion of the program.

As it turns out, I won't be whipping up my own figgy pudding anytime soon. If a chef can't make anything more enticing than gritty fig newtons without the crust, then neither can I. I took a couple of exploratory bits and renewed my fealty to pumpkin pie. I did not congratulate Jack upon his performance.

However, the afternoon was a success. We'd had the opportunity to applaud Holly, to assure her that hers was the authentic and expressive reading of the role, and in our own implicit way, to put Piggy in his place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Multiple Forms of Tender

In the land of big boxes I have exited the garden/seasonal department for the cash register. Plants don't get much respect from the management, but money does. Why not bond with the power element?

I always felt as if managers thought I was slacking off when I was watering the plants, as if somehow I was avoiding the "real" work. You could hear announcements coming over the loudspeaker about being sure to pack down the UPS arrivals, all of them insensate. No one ever got worked up about the gigantic boxes marked "Please Open Me!" and "Live Plants!" This culture of life stuff stops short of our little green friends.

More pressingly, I was becoming increasingly irritated working for my department supervisor, who is best described as a pompous twit. He races around the store all day barking into his cell phone, always much too busy to work, unless it's driving the fork lift or sucking up to the managers, his ideas of a Real Man's job. Watering? It'd dissolve his testicles.

I needed some distance, and the guy who heads up the cashiers is bright, hard working, fair-minded, and kind spirited. I took the 18 hours of training required for certification, watched videos with scripts of stilted dialogue ("And will you be putting that on your ---- ----- credit card today?" we are advised to say in the hope that it will remind customers who have not yet applied to get one..."And thank you for shopping at The ---- -----!" as we place merchandise and receipts in their waiting little hands.)

Now I have a little patch that proclaims me to be certified and the least desirable station in the store, the outdoor garden cashier booth. It's cold out there, and not very often visited. Brandy, often the head cashier on my shifts, refuses to put me out there when temperatures hit the single digits. Otherwise, I hide inside, looking as inconspicuous as I can, and read home improvement tomes. Since I'm still in garden/seasonal, I can direct folks to potting soil, powerized snow shovels, and artificial trees, since we sold all the living ones a week ago.

Alone in my booth I can contemplate the latest Chinese cultural revolution and ponder its relevance to the Confucian Analects... or whatever. Just outside my window are pre-lit Oregon pine trees, Kodiak fir trees, icicle lights, mini net lights, and garland lights; boxes containing self-inflating Santas and sleighs, moose and reindeer, acrylic penguins and polar bears, animated holographic Santas, light rope choo-choos, and big gift boxes that open and close... all made in the People's Republic.

What would Mao think?

The p.a. system spins out 30 different versions of "Let It Snow"in the course of a shift. Stevie Wonder sings "Everyone's a kid at Christmas time, a holly-jolly kid at Christmas time," and some boy-band is more direct: "It's almost Christmas I want everything I can't wait." Occasionally there are digitized sleigh bells, jingling all by themselves, divorced from any song with a cheerful vengeance. Aren't we merry? Feel the magic!

And Bill O'Reilly whines about being wished Happy Holidays?

I want to hit someone.

At least I don't have to tell anyone the price of the Disney Princess Christmas Tree, a monstrosity pink enough, stiff enough to give Princess Sparkle Pony nightmares.

I just perch in my cashier booth with my till and enjoy the draped pine roping and holographic candy canes, cheerfully relieving customers of cash, teaching them how to swipe their credit and debit cards, standing at the edge of the pit of their collective indebtedness, processing multiple forms of tender.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Oh Dear...

I'm afraid I was carried away.

Please know that these aforementioned events completely eclipsed my certain knowledge that nothing is more important in these times than a TAX CUT.


How We Live

Out of the spotlight, we live.

One lives after the fire that wiped out her son and his wife and two children, this week, after the loss of her other son years ago, beyond the round of breast cancer she fought last summer. She said then, I'm not afraid. I have one son on each side. Now she hesitates at the edges she sees.

Another lives on after the knee transplant gone terribly wrong that resulted in the amputation of that leg. She lives in a tiny house on disability, dependent upon the decency (never mind kindness) of those who would enable her to live on. Her husband, never a powerhouse, wonders how he can nurture her; he has never been much of a caregiver.

Still another tends the flicker of her flame, glancing up to see the swift advance of the pancreatic cancer that will take her from children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, after a lifetime of loving. When Doc retired she didn't want another doctor. She won't have much time for one now. She cleaves to her faith. She has often prayed for Doc and even for me; now I pray for her, however rusty and uncertain my pleas. I lift them now.

Doc sits in his living room, upright only because medication gives him permission to be. He has tended the aches of the world, which now have sifted into his own bones. His patients have paid sometimes, often not. They have seen him as the father they never had, their best friend, their hero, a prescription pad, a drug connection. They have worshiped him. They have used him. They wonder how they will go on without him. He attempts to make the telephone calls that will give some measure of comfort to the patients who suffer. They call with hesitant questions about him, ask if he will ski this year, wonder if he will still see a few "select" patients. His wife and I keep them at bay.

Today the snow falls and seals us into our separate cocoons.

The people who make decisions about us know nothing of us, sit in meetings far away.

Blessed are they who mourn. Blessed are they who suffer. Blessed are they who whisper here.

Blessed are we.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Access Can Be Hazardous

This time of year we take the downward slide into darkness.

Yesterday I shopped for Christmas cards, came across Solstice cards in the mix. Marked the contrast. I'm one of those poor saps who doesn't adopt new traditions eagerly. I have enough trouble with the old ones. Then I came home and leapt back into bed for a long nap. It's as if I just didn't get it.

I still don't, on some level. Once I was up again I read the rest of Walter Cronkite's autobiography, A Reporter's Life. I was anxious to get it back to its owner, who re-reads it repeatedly (she's 91 and grew up in Walter's birthplace, St. Joe, so it's connective tissue for her).

In passing Cronkite referred to a private dinner he and his family had enjoyed at Bush I's home in Kennebunkport, at which time George Sr. received a call. I forget the rest of the story--I just found myself put off by the idea of Uncle Walter dining with Daddy George.

No wonder Woodward has turned into such a sleazeball in his maturity! There must be something numbing about frequent contact with the Big Boys. Everybody does it! Suddenly I see Uncle Walter as just part of the extended family of power, however noble his intentions.

The media are so depressing. Don't worry, they're on the job, everything is under control unless you hear otherwise. We've gotcha covered, little lady.

None of these folks know us. We are invisible to them, hence their reliance on polls. The American people will tolerate a war as long as they believe that it's winnable. Get out the soapboxes marked with victory slogans. Unfurl that optimistic banner. Our elected officials wouldn't lie to us.

I was listening to Diane Rehm interview Mike Wallace the other day, and she raised the question of Cheney's having lied on the existence of WMD's, the connection(?) between Saddam and Al-Quaeda. "I'm reluctant to call anyone a liar," he weaseled.

Of course not. Let's not endanger that access. It takes a little person to call a liar a liar, Frank Rich aside. His Sunday column is a weekly shot of relief, political church attendance. I don't expect that his calendar shows a lot of dinner dates with our elected prevaricators, bless him.

We are in the middle of a communications revolution. It's up to us little folks to keep up the noise. We have no access to lose, except to each other.

Suddenly darkness looks an awful lot like light, despair like hope.

Shine on brightly!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?