Friday, December 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time During the Holidays-Part I

Sorry, this post (and part II) are a little long.  They really should come in three parts (well, who wouldn't want to come in three parts?).  But, I'm running out of time and need to get this to you before Presidents' Day (don't want to interfere with that holiday's wild celebrations).

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.
That's what got Mr. Mraz in trouble with the cops.
    Christmas has gotten way too complicated.
"I did so invent the Internet!  Bitch.
Can I buy you a drink?"
    Staring helplessly at the indecipherable instructions for my daughter’s new iPod, I break out in a cold sweat.  It dawns on me that I have as much chance as breathing life into this pricey little gizmo as Al Gore has at getting lucky at a sorority mixer.
    Mrs. Penwasser long since gone to bed, it was up to me to play Santa Claus for two kids who stopped believing in the jolly old elf years ago.
    I didn’t have a beard, my belly didn’t shake like jelly (well, okay, maybe it does), my nose wasn’t like a cherry, and I didn’t grip the stub of a pipe in my mouth.  Nevertheless, this Ghost of Christmas ‘Presents’ was doomed to failure.
"Oh....F!!!!!  This is a Palm Pilot!!
Frikkin' Crazy Larry's Bargain House of Gizmos!!"
    Dejected, I flopped into a chair next to our tree and slowly sipped one of the season’s most noxious beverages, egg nog.  It wasn’t always like this, I whined inwardly.  Why, back in my day there were no such things as iPods, iPads, iPhones, or iTunes.  And, you didn’t need an engineering degree to slap together a Schwinn.
    Exhausted by my fruitless labors, I reluctantly gave myself up to the Ghost of Christmas Past....   
    Christmas was always a big deal at my house.
    No sooner had the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade concluded than my father was rattling around in the basement, grumpily searching for decorations he’d dumped into boxes last January.  As always, he groused that this year he’d make sure to label everything so he didn’t have to paw though cartons like an alley cat digging for fish heads in a trash can.
    Triumphantly emerging from the cellar several hours later, he’d toss each of us an impossibly knotted ball of Christmas lights.  He ordered us to unravel each one and check to make “damn sure” each light worked.  Meanwhile, he’d be in the house, inventorying our mother’s Nativity salt and pepper shaker collection.
    How he managed to pull this off from the couch we never knew.       
Like this.  But not as fancy.
    As darkness began to fall, we proudly informed our father that we were ready for his inspection.  We confidently assured him that each strand was meticulously unwound and each bulb was double-checked for brightness.
    Glancing at our work like a drill sergeant, he walked up and down the many rows of uncoiled lights, barely nodding his head.  He gave no indication whether he was pleased or not.
"Mama Grizzly's gonna bag that
dang moose, you betcha."
    With a final nod, soft grunt, and glance at the setting sun, he pointed at one set, “That one.”  Dutifully, we pulled out the old wooden ladder and positioned it under the porch eaves.  After handing him the approved string of lights, we watched Dad whip out his staple gun like Sarah Palin at a moose hunt at Staples (NOTE:  I realize Sarah Palin was unknown in the 1970s.  It just makes for a funny joke, though, huh?).  After a few choice holiday expressions of goodwill, he managed to secure the wire strand under the gutter.
    After Phil plugged in the lights, bathing the porch in a soft red, yellow, and blue glow, my father pointed at the other strands and said, “Take those downstairs.”
    “Tomorrow,” he said, “we’ll get them tomorrow.”
    In other words, halftime was over.
    Lights forgotten, the next day was devoted to the annual Real Tree or No debate.  Each year we always argued over the wisdom of tramping through a muddy lot, binding a deformed evergreen with twine, flopping it onto the car’s roof like a dead antelope, and wedging it into a tree stand which was usually missing a leg.
    Put that way, we went artificial.  At least then we wouldn’t have to remember to water a real tree, vacuum millions of dead needles from the oh-so-classy gold shag carpet, or surreptitiously dump its drying carcass on the Spinelli’s lawn come the first night of the new year.
No, like this.  But not as classy.
    Unfortunately, when we got to the store, our parents fell in love with, of all things, an aluminum tree.  Crowing that it was the future of fashion to have such a monstrosity perched in the living room window, they assured us we’d get used to it. 
    When we complained it had no color, they showed us the snazzy color wheel which came with it (“All the primary colors!  Plus Green!” the ad roared).
    In retrospect, I now realize that nothing screamed the 1970s quite like a tree made of Reynolds Wrap.  Back then, though, all we knew was that it looked like something you’d see in front of the Munsters’ house.
    Enamored of their choice, my parents tossed the future in the open trunk and headed home.  Right past several lots full of natural trees that looked downright beautiful by comparison. 
    As Christmas Eve drew closer, our disdain for that hideous tree was replaced by a sort of fascination.  Who could have guessed that its metal branches could pick up FM?  Or that the color wheel made for a wildly spinning torture device for our Karen’s Barbies?
It was long suspected that Derek was a little
too enthusiastic about donning "gay apparel."
    There are many things in life that I wish didn’t exist:  mimes, televangelists, the Kardashians, you name it.  We looked at Christmas carolers in much the same way.
    Don’t get me wrong.  Christmas carols, with the possible exception of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world.  When you really want to get in the Christmas spirit, nothing does it for me like The Little Drummer Boy.
    The song.  Sheesh.
Notice how the black kid isn't really part of the group? 
You can bet Franklin did, despite his smile.
    It’s just that I objected to being ripped from A Charlie Brown Christmas (it was still fairly new back then) and banished to the front door to gawp as a mob mangled Away In a Manger.  Now, if the Vienna Boys Choir showed up on my front porch, you’d have a deal.   
    I also had a problem that neither of our parents sat with us as we endured off-key holiday favorites by a gang whose hearts, if not talent, were in the right place.  No sooner had the Yuletide revelers clambered onto the porch than we were ordered to sit and listen while Mom and Dad hid.
    Thankfully, the impromptu concert usually only lasted for three songs.  At which time, our father would throw the group a few dollars, wish them “Merry Christmas,” close the door with an alligator smile, and turn off the porch light to avoid further intrusions.
    Meanwhile, much to our dismay, the Peanuts gang had already started singing, Hark, the Herald Angel Sings!
    Now, there’s a Christmas carol for you!

To be continued....
Next:  Part II (well, I would think that would be obvious)


  1. hahaha that tree is really ummm ugly. Glad I skipped the 1970's. And how can you hate a mime, it gives me a rhyme to rhyme with rhyme well rhyming at rhyme time. Wow that was a lot of the use of the word rhyme. Those song mutilators need to take a hike too, they hurt the cat's ears.

  2. Great post Al. Here's hoping you and your family have an incredibly awesome Christmas like all your previous ones by the sound of it.

  3. My parents used to make us go was dreadful. I too love Christmas carols, preferably sung by highly trained vocalists or at least a choir in a candlelit church. I did not love interrupting some poor person's supper to caterwaul at them.

    Of course, we also visited people with mobility problems who were thrilled to see us and would stuff us with cookies, but all too often it was awkward for everyone involved.

  4. I love the nostalgia in your posts!

  5. Oh yes, gold shag carpet, only ours was red ..... even more hideous. The metal trees look great on the mezzanine at Macys. :)
    Wishing you and the family a very Merry Christmas.

  6. Hi, everyone! Getting ready to head to Virginia for Christmas. So, commenting will be sparse for a bit. But, I promise to get to you all when I get back.
    Just so you know...Part II of the above is on delay and will post tomorrow.
    Merry Christmas!

  7. Merry Christmas Al. As always, your post go places I never see coming.

  8. Aah, yes. We had an aluminium tree...back in the 60's. I think my parents had graduated to a large and lifelike green artificial tree by the 70's.

    And how do you persuade your carolers to sing an actual carol? Where I used to live, the most we got was two rather grudging lines of "We wish you a Merry Christmas" accompanied by belligerent tin-shaking. I think more civilised societies call the practice "protection".

  9. Yeah, I'd like to forget the 70's and our stupid fake tree altogether. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm surrounded by real ones all the time!! Happy holidays, Al!

  10. i used to hate it when carolers came to our house! i didn't like it that they were singing, but i was the one standing stupidly on the porch while they all looked at me and seemed to await my cheering. i didn't invite them or want them there!
    i guess i've always been slightly scroogey.
    merry christmas, al!

  11. If i comes before the name of the product, it doesn't come into this home. At least knowingly.
    We always had a real tree, but it never came from a farm. Dad went deer hunting and came back with a tree he thought looked good.

  12. Kits hid conversion headlamp assemblies, which contain all the components that allow you to change your car or motorcycle traditional halogen headlights to HID xenon bulbs.

  13. I grew up with rust shag carpeting and a leopard couch. If we celebrated Christmas, I'm sure my mom would've insisted on the same tree to make it easier to rake the carpeting. Looking forward to part II. Merry Christmas and have a great time in Virginia! Julie

  14. A scene right out of "A Christmas Story". I swear you could make a movie out of this! It would be hilarious!