Monday, November 26, 2001

When Reindeer Attack!

Okay. Thanksgiving has now come and gone. So now I must accept the things I cannot change: Christmastime is indeed upon us. I like Christmas. Truly, I do. But some years, I'm just not in the mood for it, especially when it gets rammed down my throat like it did this year. So I'm trying to ease into it. I listened to holiday CDs Thanksgiving morning (more on these next week). I watched Miracle on 34th Street Thanksgiving evening at Mom's house.

And I decorated my apartment. Somewhat.

I battle myself annually over the issue of how much decoration to put up in the happy (heh) home. Some years, I dig up the full-sized fake pine tree and use every ornament in the storage container--carousel horses and angels and glass balls and cartoon characters like Superman and Batman and the Tick (SPOON!) and Ren & Stimpy and Pinky & the Brain and I think you get the damn idea so I'd better stop now while I can.

Other years, I give in to my less cheerful impulses and decide that it won't matter what I put up because nobody will see the decorations except for me and the cats so there's really no point, right?

This year, I split the difference. I brought out the smallest tree that I own--the 18-inch-high lighted tree that Grandma kept in her center living room window for year--and stood it on an end table. Then I untangled the string of red chili pepper lights and hung them over the three living room windows. And finally, I decorated the tin dollhouse (a remnant of my mother's youth) with various festive figures, like 50-year-old angel ornaments and a Father Christmas figurine (hand-painted by me when I was inclined to be artistic). But most of the figures placed in, on and around the tin dollhouse were from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I'm not exactly sure why I've always had such an affinity for Rudolph above all other holiday specials. Maybe it's because it first aired the year I was born (1964, if you must know). Maybe it's a matter of civic pride, since the original story on which the song (and, subsequently, the TV special) was based came from an ad writer at Montgomery Ward's, the late, great department store chain that was based out of the Windy City. (Its former corporate headquarters still says "WARDS" in huge white letters.)

But most likely, I like Rudolph for the same reason I like Edward Scissorhands and the movies of Ed Wood. I like outsiders. I root for underdogs. And it's always coolest when the class nerd saves the day.

The special itself still retains its uplifting message, even when viewed as a jaded adult, but some of its elements do seem bizarre now. For instance, I understand the other reindeer giving Rudy shit for his glowing nose. Kids will seize on whatever abnormality they can--thick glasses, crooked teeth, a radioactive schnoz--to make fun of in order to feel some sense of superiority, of power, of not being as much of a freak as the geek with the neon nostrils.

But why are the adults so skeeved? Rudolph's dad, Donner (which should be "Donder," by the way, he said in his most superior, snooty, know-it-all voice possible), is horrified the first time he gets a look at his kid's "blinkin' beacon" and covers it with mud. And Santa comes right out and says that Rudolph's nose disqualifies him from ever pulling his sleigh. But why? His nose doesn't inhibit his ability to fly. Why, Santa, why?

There's only one answer, boys and girls: Santa Claus is a bigot.

That's right. You heard me. Old Kris Kringle, the King of Jingling himself, is the Archie Bunker of the Arctic Circle. And he proves it himself when, during the reindeer inspection, he rejects Rudolph even after the little buck flies his fuzzy little Dynamagic butt off when the adorable doe Clarice tells him she thinks he's "cute." (Funny, I react the same way when women tell me that.) Santa doesn't give a reason for his rejection. He doesn't have to. He's Santa-Fuckin'-Claus, Baybee! Rudolph is different, and that's enough.

Of course, being an outsider has its benefits. Rudolph winds up making all kinds of strange (but wonderful) friends, like Clarice, who sings Rudy a heart-felt song about how "there's always tomorrow for dreams to come true" (with rabbits and raccoons singing backup) even though she's only known him for, like, five minutes; Hermie, the elf with the oral fixation; Yukon Cornelius, the most half-assed prospector who ever lived (and who has a blue poodle in his dogsled team); and most heart-wrenching of all, all the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.

I thought I belonged there. I still think I do.

Rudolph triumphs in the end, naturally. He leads Santa's team (bet that nose is looking mighty tasty now, huh, Mr. Bigot in the Big Red Suit?), Hermie gets his own dentist office, Yukon lands a peppermint mine (highly lucrative, given all the candy canes that need to be made), the Misfit Toys all get homes and Sam the Snowman sings the title song.

And then there's the Abominable Snow Monster, who looks like about 12 miles of hairy ass to an adult viewer, but is one of the most scary things every to crawl over a mountain to a five-year-old hunkered down on the living room rug, staring up at the big black-and-white Zenith console in mingled wonder, awe and fear. The "Bumble" gets his teeth yanked out and is good for little more than placing the star atop the tree without a ladder, but at least he's reformed and lives out his life eating baby foot and getting poked at by sharp sticks by the emboldened elves...

Okay, I made that last bit up. But that'll happen when you've spent way too much time in the so-called "Real World," and not nearly enough time on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Would Ye Like a Turkey Leg?

In a skit on this past Saturday's Saturday Night Live, Martha Stewart (as played by the adorable Ana Gasteyer) suggested that this year, after the evens of the past couple of months, Thanksgiving should be combined with elements of the Fourth of July to form a flag-waving feast of epic proportions. "Martha" then gave tips for how to incorporate patriotism into the festivities (example: cooking a bald eagle instead of a turkey) and ended the scene by dancing about in a bikini top to a Britney Spears tune (don't ask).

I bring up this skit, which was an amusing island in the great, expansive sea of suck that SNL has become, because it does bring up a valid point. This year's Thanksgiving will be unlike any other we've seen. Unlike the Thanksgiving after Pearl Harbor, when the memory of the attack was nearly a year old, we're just a couple of months along from the events of September 11. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the downed airliner in Pennsylvania (which everybody seems to forget--everybody except the friends and families of those who died, that is) are still fresh wounds on our collective psyche. So we might be a bit more serious at the dinner tables this year.

We might also take into consideration what this holiday is meant for: remembering all that for which we should be grateful. And despite the terrible events of the fall of 2001, there are some things in my life for which I would like to give thanks: I'm thankful for my friends--like JB, Andy, Junebug, Praxx, Red Secretary, Embee in Da Burgh and the Fluffies in Michigan--who remind me regularly that I am loved and worth loving;

I'm thankful that my friends and family are relatively safe and relatively healthy this year;

I'm thankful for my employers: yeah, I don't always like my job (who the fuck does?), but at least I still have a job, unlike many of my comrades;

I'm thankful for my cats, Lottie and Ms. Christopher, who sit beside my head at six every morning and chorus their disapproval at the empty state of their bowl in the kitchen and somehow manage to make this activity cute and endearing instead of maddening and enraging;

I'm thankful for this Web site, which helps to keep me sane...well, sort of;

And, finally, I'm thankful for being alive. As long as I have a pulse, life has a chance to get better.

Have a happy and safe Turkey Day. Or, if you're Ana Gasteyer as Martha Stewart, have a happy and safe Steaming Bald Eagle Day. And save some cranberry sauce for me, won't you?

Sunday, November 11, 2001

"O Christmas Tree..." Oh, Shut Up.

On the Sunday after Halloween, as the sun slipped down below the tree line and darkness rose up in its place, I looked out from my third-floor apartment living room window at the street below. And even through the locust trees stripped of their golden foliage by the downpours of October, I could see it: The unmistakable twinkling of lights from a Christmas tree in a first-floor living room window in the apartment building across the street.

I was shocked by this--what, they couldn't wait a full week to put up their Christmas stuff?--but I shouldn't have been. It starts earlier every year, the Holiday Season. This year, I saw Christmas decorations appear in gift shops and drug stores right after they'd taken down their Fourth of July displays. It was dismaying enough to see Halloween fare put in the aisles of grocery stores on hot summer days--wouldn't the cookies in the tins decorated with black cats and Jack O'Lanterns have gone stale by October?--but to see aisles clogged with tinsel and ribbons and wreaths? Too much, I say. Much too much.

I walked to the grocery store today, in spite of sinuses that want little more than for me to lie down for a week or so and do nothing but drain. It was a crisp, clear afternoon. Kids played football and soccer in Horner Park. Couples hurried along Irving Park Road to their warm, waiting homes. And on houses here and there, the remnants of the holiday just passed could still be seen: Cobwebs on bushes; scarecrows along sidewalks beckoning trick-or-treaters to enter, if they dared; Jack O'Lanterns rotting to the point of falling in on themselves.

And this is how it should be. The weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving should be a time for those who tape colorful caricatures of Pilgrims and turkeys to their front doors to duke it out with those too enraptured with Halloween--or too lazy--to yank the pumpkin and bat window clings down and pack them back in the closet until next October.

But I've always been something of a tight-ass when it comes to Christmas decorations. They shouldn't go up until the day after Thanksgiving, and they shouldn't stay up past the first week in January. Period.

Please don't misunderstand. I love Christmas. Not nearly as much as I love Halloween, but Christmas remains a respectable second. Still. This desire on the parts of some to extend the already lengthy Holiday Season well beyond its natural boundaries is working my nerves more than ever this year. Maybe it's because I'm not in much of a Holiday frame of mind this year, what with America being at war and the economy tanking and many good friends out of work or sick or otherwise frustrated to the Nth. Maybe it's just my natural response to having Christmas shoved down my throat so unnaturally early. Maybe I just have a stick up my ass and it's leaving splinters.

Whatever the case, I'm just not feeling that Holiday cheer yet. Give me time. And several cups of warm, spiced cider. Maybe I'll come around. Or at least be to drunk to notice that I haven't come around. But don't expect me to bring out A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector or The Ventures' Christmas Album or any of my other holiday-themed CDs until after Turkey Day is just a pungent morning-after memory of white meat and stuffing and puck-shaped buns and canned cranberry sauce in my overflowing fridge.

Until then, keep your singing Santas and dancing reindeer and animatronic fur trees and cards discounted to sell out NOW out of my face. And maybe I'll remain civil. Maybe.