Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Diary

[Family Christmas 1973, taken by my brother, so he is missing in the photo]

8:30 A.M.

I woke up early (6:30), which I didn’t expect to, but I guess I’m still following childhood habits on Christmas morning! (The rest of the year, not so much.) It’s now 8:30 and I have made several trips downstairs to dump some garbage. I do believe that I am the only one in this building up, which is surprising. Of course, not everybody is here. I realize that this is the first Christmas morning I have ever been here, or even the days leading up to Christmas, and following it.

After I got up, I lit an angel candle for the apartment and a vanilla-cinnamon scented candle for the kitchen. Then I sat down on the couch with a wonderful cookbook that my friend Patty gave me, The Early American Cookbook, which is made up of the favorite recipes and dishes of famous men and women throughout America’s early history. I wanted to figure out special dish to cook for breakfast. I had bought enough staples yesterday that I probably had whatever ingredients I needed.

I selected a dish I had never made before, “Mrs. Jefferson’s Egg and Tomato Bake,” which I think is fitting in that Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorite people in history. That dish is currently baking in the oven.

In order to even prepare that dish, I had to wash a couple of sink-loads of dishes. I won’t even tell you the condition of my kitchen (or the rest of the apartment); I’ll leave that your imagination. However, one of the projects I want to work on during this break is the apartment, so today is as good of a day as any to get a good start on it!

I also needed to throw away some garbage, thus the trips I made up and down the stairs. It was fresh and cool feeling outside, and very quiet, which is unusual for Hollywood. It had been extremely windy last night, and the evidence of that was shown by the large number of palm fronds that were all over the patio. The poor pool man is going to have quite a time when he comes to clean the pool! Even though the pool was covered with various palm tree detritus, the pool still looked inviting enough for a swim (but not this season!). Since I had used the pool so much in the summer, I wonder what the residents of would think if I went for chilly swim Christmas morning! (But I’m not that brave.)

The idea of maybe taking a nice walk later popped into my head, but meanwhile, I am getting my exercise by dumping this garbage—three trips up and down the three flights of stairs so far. And, sad to say, I’ve got several more trips of garbage-dumping yet to do! In fact, right now I’m going to do some more before my breakfast is done in the oven.

9:09 A.M.

The breakfast was good, although I think what made it was the fried bread crumbs and bacon topping, not the tomatoes and eggs. Of course, in a way, I may have lost all ability to correctly determine. While I was waiting for the eggs to bake, I was thinking of what to drink. I decided to follow our family’s “adult Christmas” pattern (which means that we who had once been children were now drinking adults...but there were still children present, in the form of my sister’s kids). We’d wake up, having something hugely sticky-sweet, such as a coffee cake or some kind of sweet rolls (something we wouldn’t normally have for breakfast 364 days out of the year) and coffee for those who want it. I decided to skip the coffee this Christmas morning.

Then, as we sat in the living room SURROUNDED by presents, we’d chow down on the coffee cake and Dad would place on the coffee table Dad’s punch (we know no other name for it), which really gets the present-opening party going, which will last all day until it is time for Christmas dinner.

We’d open our presents one-by-one, starting from the youngest in age and moving on up. I don’t want to open presents in any other way, because it is so much fun to see what everybody else is getting (we don’t just care about only ourselves) and, this is especially good if what somebody is opening is something that YOU gave them, which everybody else gets to see. As I think you can imagine, we were very careful and thoughtful gift-givers in our family, always working extremely hard to give amazingly wonderful gifts that were to be well-received, which they almost always were. Which is one reason why I am (kind of) glad to not be doing that right now, because I just don’t have that kind of energy this year. (But then again, here it is Christmas morning and I don’t have any presents to unwrap. Maybe I’m kind of stupid! I am also wishing that maybe I hadn’t opened Donna’s box of gifts so soon, as, other than a few people at work, she is the only person who gave me gifts this year.)

Huh, what’s that you say? You wanna hear about “Dad’s punch”? Well, glad you asked!

This is for sure a “crowd pleaser” no matter what your guests normally think about liquor. Dad says that this is his own version of a “French 75”, and I can see that is somewhat close…but no cigar. For one thing, Dad always liked to put in about five times the liquor than normally called for. I mean, Dad wanted the liquor! (Mom, too.)

I haven't made this in a long time and I think maybe I got one aspect wrong, but I already see that regardless, it has begun its desired effect. Now, this drink will send your brain right up to the stratosphere! It actually feels “spiritual” in a good and positive way, but I think maybe all it is is a very effective drunk.

Anyway, the way Dad makes it is in a large sterling silver punch bowl (because you are going to serve a crowd). I don’t have the silver punch bowl, so I just used a crystal pitcher, which even that is probably too much drink for this poor single body.

Pour in one whole bottle of champagne and one whole bottle of vodka, then add a certain portion of…well, for years Dad used frozen pink lemonade concentrate, but the past couple of years he used frozen limeade concentrate, which was a huge hit, so that is what I used this year. I don’t remember how much, I think one can of the frozen juice, but today I think I used too much. You repeat the above recipe, bottle-by-bottle of champagne and vodka and can of frozen juice concentrate until the punch bowl is nearly full. Then you fill the bowl with tons of ice (I think the ice is probably necessary to dilute all that liquor). This is a drink that will make you HAPPY very FAST!

I had made it one time (with the lemonade) for a party I gave when I was in law school and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the goings-on that happened that evening. [I mean, some guys took to walking around with their cock and balls hanging out of their unzipped pants which the girls seemed to enjoy instead of running away screaming, and one friend, whenever he had to take a whiz (which was often), simply used a handy wastebasket…he was having so much fun that he didn’t even want to “leave the party” for the time it took to go to the bathroom. Yet, even with all that, not one person vomited. It’s a high like you won’t believe, but it doesn’t make you sick.] All of which reminds me, I’ve got to get back to giving parties….

For myself here today, I used one split of champagne, which I poured into a measuring cup first to see how much a “split” was (it’s basically a cup), and then poured in a matching amount of vodka, which was kind of hard to do, because I am used to making drinks by the jigger, not by the CUP (by the 1½ ounce, not buy the 8 ounces)! But anyway, I poured it in, and then put in a cup’s worth of limeade concentrate and then filled the pitcher with ice cubes.

I think maybe I should have put in only half a cup of limeade; the “lime” in this mix is a bit too intense for me.

So far, I’ve had only one old fashioned tumbler full of the punch and already my head is a hot air balloon several thousand feet above my body. And during our adult Christmases, we would keep drinking this punch ALL DAY until the entire Universe was spinning and about the only way we could walk from one end of the room to the other was to lie down flat on our backs in the living room. Not that we were drunks or anything.

This really makes me miss Dad. He was sure some bartender, LOVING to mix drinks for guests, who loved to come visit and enjoy his drinks. This is part of the reason that after my parents got old enough that most of the friends of their own generation died, they merely moved down to the next generation and made friends. Of course, it was mostly due to the fact that they were cool, loving, and brilliant, but one can’t discount the positive effect of the liquor! Mom always said that it ISN’T a party without liquor, and to her, a “party” was two people sitting together in the same room.

Gosh, what great people they were!

[Dad at the bar, Christmas 1985]

2:00 P.M.

Well, I spent most of the morning looking for a particular cookbook out of which I wanted to make several dishes for my Christmas dinner. It’s the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek cookbook, one of my favorites. I know it saw it around here somewhere a couple of weeks ago, but now it is nowhere to be found. I carefully looked on every bookshelf and restacked numerous stacks of books that I have no place to put, so they are all over the floor. I also have hundreds, if not thousands of books in boxes in storage in various locations. I can’t even imagine what books are in those boxes at this point, but I do know that the Cross Creek cookbook isn’t one of them. It really hurts my heart to have so many wonderful things that I not only can’t use, I can’t even find, or, worse than that, remember that I have. I somehow feel good about all that, though, for some reason. A solution will come, a decent place to move to, I can’t help but keep feeling that. It’s unreasonable to have to live this way and therefore there is a solution that I will be willing to take.

I wasn’t terribly set on those Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings recipes, anyway (pecan-stuffed chicken, cream of peanut soup, and so on), so found a recipe for stuffed whole chicken on the Internet that looked good (and it sure smells good cooking right now!), and I adapted an Adele Davis recipe on chestnut dressing so that I could use the pecans I had bought. I think it will all turn out okay, so I am happy.

When the Cross Creek cookbook finally does turn up (I will be happy to find out where it actually was!), I will laugh and then treat myself to recipes from it some other time. One of the things I really plan to do STARTING NOW is do a lot more cooking, and by that I don’t mean the simple, easy to do (diet) crap that I have been making lo these many years, but delicious, wonderful recipes that are a joy to prepare and even better to eat. Careful with the portions, though. But today, Christmas Day, to hell with the portions.

The whole time I was looking for the cookbook, and also doing some sorting and cleaning up while I was at it, I was, of course, enjoying Dad’s punch. I see that with more of the ice melting, the limeade isn’t too bad, so maybe I did make it right after all. It FEELS right, anyway.

While I was looking through stuff, I found a pile of papers that had been Dad’s, one of which was his top-level security clearance application he had filled out so that he could work on government contracts with the Atomic Energy Commission. It’s very cool in that it has a resume of all the schools he went to, and when, and all the jobs he ever had. It has every address where he lived ever since he got married, and the dates he and Mom lived there (and me, too, for most of that). I’m going to put those addresses and dates on a spreadsheet so that I can get a good picture of my personal history in that regard. Some of those moves were confusing to me when I was young and the memories have gotten distorted, so now I will understand their timing more.

5:00 P.M.

I got a “Merry Christmas” phone call from my friend Bob in Palm Springs. He was having a quiet day himself, too. He said the view from his apartment was glorious, the setting sun was reflecting gold on the snow-dusted mountains. He makes me feel thankful for the job that I have. For one thing, all this time off we get right now. He works at a Petco and worked yesterday and will work again tomorrow. I guess he was lucky he hadn’t had to work today, too!

He all but hates it. When I met him, he was office manager of a very small business in Beverly Hills. I worked there, too, for a while. The owner retired a couple of years ago and closed down the business, so Bob was out of a job. Bob took this as a good time to get the hell out of Dodge (L.A.), but Palm Springs, where he went, doesn’t have much of a job market. Bob’s biggest problem job-wise is that he never learned computers (they used typewriters in that office), which means that he is utterly unqualified for any office job, now. Thus, the retail sales job at Petco. Actually, retail wouldn’t be so bad for him, except he’d rather the product be a fine line of men’s clothing, something like that. But he enjoys being with the animals and pet accouterments, it’s just that he is lonely there. All the other sales people are “young kids” and he can’t relate. Also, the company is extremely badly managed.

But he was feeling hopeful in his phone call. The company brought in a new hotshot manager to “whip the store in shape for the essential holiday retail season”, some young female martinet whose abrasive attitude rubbed Bob the wrong way from the get-go. He had a meeting with her to let her know that her manner was not working with him (he really didn’t care if he got fired), but she was having none of his advice. “This is the only way I know how to be,” she said. Too bad.

So he wrote a letter of complaint about her to upper management and apparently so did several others. Perhaps most telling of all was that the store had its annual Christmas party and according to Bob, only two people showed up, and he sure wasn’t one of them. “Who were the two?,” I asked. “The new manager and the assistant manager,” he said. (He had been told this by the assistant manager.) I guess that party might have been fun for those two if they were into S&M and it took place in a dungeon. Anyway, this kind of thing is a strong indication to upper management that things aren’t good out there. Of course, their solution will probably be to fire all the sales staff, but Bob thinks they will actually get rid of the manager. Well, we’ll see.

6:30 P.M.

I guess I ought to give an honest review of my dinner, which seemed to take forever to cook (you know how the indicator on that meat thermometer seems to NEVER get up there to the top where the “poultry” temperatures are?). The chicken was okay; it wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t serve it to company. I think the recipe called for cooking temperatures that were way too high, but I am used to slow-cooking a whole chicken in the oven overnight (comes out tender and juicy beyond belief), which of course I didn’t do for this. The person who submitted the recipe said that her family never eats the skin. At first I took this as her telling us how holy she was (no matter what diet I am on, I detest the idea of throwing away the skin and therefore never do), but now I realize that with that recipe you CAN’T eat the skin, which dries up and turns into pork rinds or chicken jerky. The chicken inside the skin was okay, a little dry but at least not burned, but only merely acceptable. I guess if someone likes “extra crispy” when they get Kentucky Fried Chicken, this would be okay. But it could be that my oven runs hotter than it should.

The hybrid stuffing that I made was the best part. What was wrong with that, though, was that there was about a cup’s more of it than I could fit inside the chicken, so I put it on the baking pan all around the chicken on the outside. Big mistake. Although I think that was something I could do with the pecan stuffing recipe I had hoped to make, if only I had found the cookbook. However, being exposed like that (instead of safe inside the chicken), it all burned to charcoal and it looks like I I will have a horrible time cleaning out that pan! Also, it absorbed all the juices as they dripped during cooking, so I couldn’t baste properly. Instead, every so often, I sprayed olive oil on the chicken. I had never done that before, so maybe it was that that contributed to the crispy skin, I don’t know.

The cornbread came out good, though, although I can take virtually no credit for that as I took the easy way out and used a Marie Callender’s mix. So easy, pour the mix into a bowl, add water, stir, and then pour into a cornbread baking pan. Interestingly, mine came out better than the cornbread does in the restaurant. In the restaurant, the bread is crumbly and you can’t eat it with your hands, it just breaks apart, so I eat it with a fork like cake. The home version, though, hung together nicely.

I also went easy with vegetables and merely cooked up a frozen package of artichoke hearts, which I felt was different from the usual fare of peas, corn, broccoli, or various beans, that I eat every day. Ah, they were a bit too fibrous and not all that exciting. But that was my fault; I could have made something a little more interesting. (The recipe I was GOING to cook out of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings cookbook is a truly sinful “carrot soufflĂ©”.)

Having enough starch with the bread crumbs in the stuffing and the cornbread, I decided against the other dishes I considered, some form of rice, or maybe garlic mashed potatoes. What I already had was enough, so that was it.

For dessert I had gotten a Sara Lee frozen pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream, but after all that dry and baked other stuff (and the ultimate result of a faint odor of "burnt" in the air), I couldn’t get into baking yet something else, and my palate craved something cold and creamy, so I just had the ice cream by itself.

9:00 P.M.

I suddenly got very sleepy and decided to lie down and take a nap. I woke up about a half hour ago and figured that maybe that pumpkin pie might be nice, now. So I put it in the oven along with an oven thermometer to check the accuracy of the oven’s thermostat. That will be ready in about another half hour. Meanwhile, I fixed myself an eggnog. Again, I took the easy route (remember, I still actually have the flu) and simply bought “store-bought” eggnog. For liquor, I put in a jigger of dark rum and a jigger of Crown Royal and dashed nutmeg on top. That went down so easy, I just might make another one to go with my pie. I do have more ice cream, but I think I had enough with Christmas dinner.

It looks like this holiday was more about drinking than anything else. I went through the pitcher I had made of Dad’s punch and enjoyed every drop. I knew with my first drink of the stuff that I wasn’t going to go driving anywhere today, Which is fine, I am perfectly content to stay home.

9:35 P.M.

The pie is ready, but I am supposed to let it sit and cool. The oven thermometer read a perfect 350, but the dial was set at 375, so it actually cooks a little LOWER.

10:30 P.M.

The pie was good enough that I had two pieces. And what the heck, it needed to have ice cream with it, so I succumbed to that. While I enjoyed my pie, I also enjoyed watching on my computer all my favorite music videos that I had bought from iTunes. I’ve long loved music videos and decried the decline of MTV. Now it looks like the iTunes store may be taking up some of the slack. It's a good thing I bought this iMac with the huge, wide-screen monitor!

Bedtime:

I’m writing this final section the day after the fact. Around 11:30 P.M., I got into bed, but read a couple of chapters out of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, which is the third or fourth book I have gotten in the “PIG” series, which I love. I hadn’t known before that the word “capitalism” was a pejorative devised by Karl Marx, capitalism’s gravest enemy. Prior to his coining of that word, it was known as “Free Enterprise.” However, free enterprisers willingly adopted Marx's word "capitalism", because they understood that capital, which you get when you don’t spend all your money but save for future productive investment, is a foundation of free enterprise. Those who agree with socialists somehow think that free enterprise is bad, but that’s because they didn’t have the foresight to save their money. Envious of those who did, they devised a method of stealing it (“'fair’ reallocation of assets”) from those who have it and giving to those who don’t (themselves). Isn’t there a fable about this? The grasshoppers and the ants, maybe? Is that really saying that socialists are a plague of locusts? Yes, I do think that is exactly what that is saying. But no wonder socialism is always a clock that gets wound once and then runs down and eventually stops. It’s run by people who don’t understand money, and when you systematically steal it from those who do, you remove their incentive to make more of it. So you kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Wow, I’m just now realizing how much economic sense exists in old fables!

Anyway, it was a quiet, but enjoyable Christmas. No complaints…just a non-frantic feeling of bliss.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Snapping Out Of It



Yesterday it was reindeer, so today we will have a sleigh! Isn’t that beautiful? There actually is a company, called Sugarloaf Mountain Sleighs that makes “real live” sleighs for people to use (wouldn’t do me much good here in L.A., but it would be cool to have something like this in a rural location in a snowy region). Sugarloaf Mountain Sleighs is located in Pennsylvania, and I wonder if the Amish buy sleighs from them? Probaby not, as these are too pretty for the Amish, but the Amish strike me as the perfect people to use something like this. But wouldn’t it fun to ride across snowy hills and dales (to grandmother’s house!) in something like this (assuming you had the horse and all)? It takes my imagination back to quieter, more peaceful times. Of course, I’m not against snowmobiling! But this seems romantic.

Does anyone here subscribe to GoodWord? One of our school librarians turned me on to this and I have subscribed ever since. Every day you get emailed a word, its pronunciation (which you can hear), its use in conversation, and its derivation. It’s the derivation part that I like the best. It probably goes without saying, but there is a lot of wisdom located inside of words, and if a person wants to keep learning, understanding words themselves is probably a good place to start.

Today’s “good word” was “sleigh,” and it was that site that had the link to the Sugarloaf Mountain site.

I feel much better after what might have been a somewhat mournful post yesterday. Well those moods do come upon us, sometimes (and lots of times around Christmas), but I snapped out of it. I opened a box of Christmas gifts sent to me by my good friend Donna, and among some great books and music, she tucked in some Crabtree & Evelyn shower gel, after shave balm, and soap, all in a manly scent called “Nomad” (which I still am, a nomad, although perhaps more in spirit now than in actuality). I don’t really know how to handle shower gel, I guess you just squeeze some on a natural sponge and scrub away. That’s how I used it, anyway, as a special “perk me up” treat. With that and the after shave balm that I used afterwards, I was surrounded by a very subtle masculine fragrance that made everything seem wonderful. I’m going to treat myself to some of it today, again, after I post this. I haven’t showered yet, today…I just had a breakfast of blueberry waffles and, sorry to all those health nuts out there, but I used only white flour this time, so that, too, was a special treat. (I normally put in half or three-quarters whole wheat flour, but I happened to be out of it, so I gave myself an indulgence.) WITH butter and real maple syrup, thank you very much! (I probably would have loved to have gone in a sleigh to get some maple sap up in a forest in Vermont. And if the butter had been churned from freshly-drawn whole Jersey cow milk…. Okay, let’s not go too far; picking these things up at the grocery store three blocks down is pretty nice; I’m not complaining about commercial convenience!) I also had one three-cup size of hazelnut-flavored coffee and a glass of orange juice. I don’t know what it is about orange juice and me, these days, but suddenly there is no more delicious thing on Earth. Orange juice is the nectar of the gods! I can’t get enough of it. Maybe due to the flu my body is craving Vitamin C, which I haven’t been so good about taking this time. But the natural source of it is probably better than a pill, anyway. Regardless of the reason, I have become “a pregnant woman and pickles” about orange juice.

I spent the rest of the day yesterday combing through dozens of websites, trying to find the ideal combination of “mountain lodge in the snow” that also offered a huge Christmas brunch (that I could afford), or, failing that, some other potentially beautiful fun place. While I found lots of possibly good places, none of them quite hit the mark I was searching for. I tried Big Bear Lake, Yosemite National Park, and Idyllwild (in the mountains above Palm Springs), all of which do have snow, but then I worried about the drive getting INTO those places (not quite so eager to slide my Cadillac off the side of a mountain or get it stuck in a snow drift just for a Christmas dinner in the snow). If I were going up for a weekend of skiing or snowshoeing, that would make more sense.

So instead I tried Disneyland, which is definitely open on Christmas Day, from 8 AM to midnight—but then discovered that is the single most crowded day there in the whole year. So next I tried the Danish town of Solvang (that was the best bet financially), and The Festival of Lights at The Mission Inn in Riverside (one of my favorite hotels in the world) and THAT made Solvang pale in comparison, but realistically, it was just too expensive to enjoy all by myself, so ultimately I hung up the whole idea and went to bed.

My sister called me back this morning and yes, it had been her cell phone cutting out because while we were talking, she had been driving through the wine country of Napa heading toward Clear Lake, but when she started to ascend into the mountainous portion of the trip, she immediately got beyond signal range. Then, making it into a comedy of errors, the back of her cell phone fell off and her battery fell out and as the car swerved around curves, the battery disappeared somewhere into the ozone under the seats. I think her cell phone is one that is “rode hard and put away wet,” because (to my knowledge, anyway), she doesn’t have a landline, since she has three different domiciles (if that is the right word), so the cell phone makes more sense. (So she is more of the nomad than I am, currently. As for me and MY cell phone, I think I use it only to call AAA, which means I use up about ten minutes every two years.)

My sister definitely sounds like someone who could benefit from a Bluetooth cell phone connection to her car radio or some such technology. Maybe her fiance will give her one for Christmas.

So she hadn’t hung up on me, but had been incommunicado for a day, until she managed to find where the phone’s battery had hidden itself.

She had also been depressed and crying, though (she told me), for reasons I wrote about yesterday. I definitely do understand.

She’s going to have a quiet Christmas with her two kids, just the three of them in their beautiful house on the lake. I think that will be wonderful and probably better than a noisier and more crowded “family thing”. Since she’s in that mood (and I think I am, too), I am guessing that my brother and his wife are also wanting the same thing. This will actually be the first time they will have had Christmas in their beautiful Las Vegas house, and I imagine them being like a honeymooning couple, which they deserve, because they so brilliantly help so many other people with their weddings. And as for my other sister, she wouldn’t have ever joined the rest of us for the holidays if our parents didn’t more or less make her come. Now that they’re gone, so she is she.

I decided this morning that I wasn’t going to let nostalgia and sentiment ruin this Christmas break, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off in trying to make this one day into something that I remembered from the past was a bit silly. Instead, I should work on making the whole break into something fruitful, STARTING with Christmas Day. I was strongly reflecting on that beautiful slogan that had been on the Grove Park Inn site, “Over nine decades of history. It’s time for your story now.” That’s MY responsibility, and nobody else’s.

Right now, I’m planning on cooking my own Christmas dinner for tomorrow. I am going to enjoy my personal setting and location and make it into something nice—a task that will take the whole of Christmas break and beyond, but now is the perfect time to start.

So I’m going food shopping right after my “Nomad” shower gel and after shave balm treatment! (But first, another glass of orange juice, please!)

Have a Merry Christmas, everybody!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Looking Backward Through The Tunnel


Here is a picture of three of Santa’s reindeer, resting up for the big night (tomorrow night!). I took this picture several years ago at an arctic animal zoo in Swedish Lapland beyond the Arctic Circle. (I am very pleased to say that I have been beyond the Arctic Circle, just as I have also been as far south as Stewart Island, New Zealand, which had been used as the southernmost disembarkation point for explorers headed to Antarctica…although, sigh, I have not been to Antarctica, itself.) I think these animals are extremely cute and elegant with that immense rack of antlers they carry like emperors’ crowns on their heads.

These magnificent animals are, for the Lapps, like buffalo were for the plains Indians, except that the Lapps have domesticated the reindeer, like cattle. It’s because of their selection as Santa’s mode of transportation in Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit From Saint Nicholas that I have become more fascinated with them. I think Professor Moore needed to locate Santa Claus in a secluded hideway and somewhere way up north was a great idea. What better beast of burden to select for pulling Santa’s sleigh than the reindeer (whose name is a derivation of the Old Norse “hyreindyri”, meaning “horned animal”)? I don’t think vicious and deadly-dangerous polar bears would have worked as well, for example (although, heaven knows, they sure are cute).

I’ve ordered for myself from Amazon.com a beautifully-illustrated children’s book, The Reindeer People, by Ted Lewin, which I hope to read to some children’s class or another next year, as we head into the Christmas season. I notice that Amazon.com has continued what I see as a recent trend to include some pissy negative review from an unhappy librarian from somewhere (but I choose to follow my own eyes which were strongly drawn to the art on the cover, plus the immensely glowing review by another reviewer). Honestly, I understand and trust what some view as “capitalist greed” more than I accept a hidden sociopolitical agenda, whatever that exactly is for Amazon.com. I wouldn’t mind too much if every single review they publish is glowing for the product they are trying to sell—I would expect that and keep it in mind. (Does the local car dealer, for example, publish articles about how their cars are lemons?) Of course, I realize that one of the good things about Amazon.com is that basically they sell everything, so they aren’t picky about product. And they are already more or less quite fair in letting the general public review the books, as well, and it seems at first glance that they publish the bad as well as the good. Whenever I order a book from them, I glance at both the very positive and the very negative reviews, to get a good spread of opinions. But lately I have noticed that Amazon.com will remove some negative reviews, which I most recently discovered them doing with the reviews of Al Gore’s latest book. So obviously Amazon.com shares the Al Gore agenda and feels that it is within their right (as a what?) to support his point of view, as do other corporations whose product I otherwise enjoy or admire, such as Apple Computer and Starbucks. (It’s been reasonably simple for me to boycott Starbucks, but Apple, I can’t boycott as I think their products are the best ones going, and in their case, Gore is actually on their board of directors--yikes!)

I guess corporations have had political agendas all along, but when that agenda is socialist (or downright communist), I get very confused. That’s been explained, though, by several analysts, that socialism is only for the “people”, not for the “elites” (I dislike that term, particularly when applied to those who are anything but really “elite” in my mind, but human garbage, instead, but I haven’t yet figured out another word to use), so I guess I should understand it. After all, I did have the dubious privilege several decades ago of helping escort a Russian Communist party member on a tour of Disney World (not a good combination of energies). While most of the people in the Soviet Union were living a cold, somber, gray life waiting in long lines for bread, this privileged party member was buying all her cosmetics and fashions from France, could buy a new car whenever she wanted one, and lived in elegant quarters with a glorious view of the Kremlin. She would spit out expletives whenever you mentioned the name “Gorbachev” and his “glasnost,” which she abhorred. Her main reason for coming to the United States was not to see the sights (which she cared nothing about), but to buy as many computers and peripherals as she could carry back home on the plane (Aeroflot, of course).

Those beautiful reindeer may be waiting for the big trip, but I doubt if they are stopping at my house. This is looking like it will be a “solitary” Christmas this year, which I guess is about 65% my fault.

For one thing, I’ve had a terrible case of the flu these past couple of weeks. I had it a couple of weeks ago where I stayed home from work for a couple of days, attempting my usual healing regimen of sleeping the whole time, except I really couldn’t sleep. But it did seem that I got better (but not all the way), so I went back to work. I had things I wanted to do there, anyway.

However, this last week at work, it came back upon me very seriously and while I really didn’t want to do it, I just had to stay home some then, as well, which meant that I missed out on a lot of the Christmas goings-on and only returned to work that last half-day before the break began. Even now, I still don’t feel really well—while the cockroach-throat and whooping cough is bad, it is body aches, especially in the neck and upper shoulders, that are getting me the most—but I can’t see staying in bed this whole break, so I’m doing my best by being out and about in a limited way.

Meanwhile, I finally figured out that Christmas is only two days away, Christmas Eve is tomorrow! I had been waiting, once again, just like I have been ever since October, for my brother to say that the work on our parents’ house is done and the house is now on the market. He wants us to come up there to see the completion of his (and our) glorious handiwork. I’ve been saying all along that he definitely deserves the great family “ooh and ahh” show, plus we all want to see it, but waiting like this for this call to come any minute messed up my sailing lessons which I couldn’t sign up for, so now they’re held off until February, and Thanksgiving was almost ruined because of it, too. Since the house wasn’t ready for Thanksgiving, Christmas, for sure, was the chosen time. So I have been waiting to hear about that and finally called one of my sisters last night to ask her if she had heard anything—and just got her answering machine. (Calling my brother feels like pushing him, which I am in no way trying to do…I only want to know what kind of holiday plans I can or can’t make.)

She called me back this morning and the gist of it is that the house is still not ready and my brother went back home to Las Vegas without telling anybody, so now she feels that there is no way to expect him and his wife to drive all the way up north (again!) for Christmas at her house, which she doesn't feel like having anyway, and he seems totally dispirited and disinterested in Christmas right now as well, so for sure there won’t be Christmas at his house, either.

I feel stupid and helpless waiting around like this for OTHERS to make Christmas plans, but I do not have a place where anybody can come to, so no matter what happens, I’d be some kind of a hanger-on to whatever family Christmas somebody else was going to devise or else have no family Christmas at all. Not really a good situation, but that’s how it is.

I think the deeper truth is that none of us really know how to celebrate it without our parents, and since things are still in flux, we’re all in a state of limbo.

Last night as I tried to fall asleep with my aching neck on a heating pad (didn’t work, so I gave up on the heating pad which felt like it was just burning me anyway), I reviewed how many Christmases in my life I had had without my parents and the rest of the family. I could think of only three times. There might have been more, but I sure don’t remember them. That means that out of my total lifetime of 59 years, 56 Christmases were with the family, and the nucleus of all 56 celebrations was our parents. And since I don’t have a family of my own (i.e., no wife and kids, for example), I’m just a loose ball bearing running around aimlessly on a field.

Not every family Christmas was total joy (a few of them were blasted miserable), and one of the non-family Christmases was, strangely enough, one of the best Christmases I ever had. The other two non-family Christmases were not good though; they were when I was a guest at some OTHER peoples’ Christmases, and that is something I know I don’t want. Plus I don’t like the idea of a couple (or a group) of pathetic solitary individuals getting together and attempting to make something of a holiday for themselves sans family. I’d rather be alone.

I was alone for that one great Christmas, alone in New York City at the age of 24. Not that it had been a quiet Christmas season…just the opposite. Spending the Christmas season in New York could not be more glorious. It was all “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and “Mame” and maybe even “Miracle On 34th Street”. I remember one of my grandmothers, who lived in North Carolina, would go to New York twice every year, once in the summer to go to all the plays on Broadway, and once in the winter to do all her Christmas shopping. Having been in New York for Christmas, I could see why she would do that. I bought tons of presents for everybody--Bloomingdales, which impressed me because they had their own subway stop, was where I bought most of it—but I bought things from several other stores as well, including FAO Schwartz, Macy’s, Barnes and Noble, and a few tiny stores and some street vendors, as well. I saw President Nixon and his wife Pat, who had come to New York for the holiday, at Rockefeller Plaza, and Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy, who had also come at that time, docked their yacht, The Christina, right near the street on which I lived, so I walked two blocks over to the Hudson River and feasted my eyes on that beautiful thing. It had two lighted Christmas trees, one on the bow and one on the stern. Very exciting!

Even though it was cold and the sidewalks were slippery, I loved New York for Christmas. I never felt alone, and actually, I wasn’t until the final days of Christmas, because I had friends and we were busy partying, drinking, and dancing. But then they all took advantage of days off from work (or school, where they were getting advanced degrees) and flew off to Athens or Italy or London. So that’s why I was alone on the actual day, because I stayed in New York.

I loved the apartment I lived in and had a bay window all the way across the width of it that allowed me to look out onto the street, West 71st Street. There was always stuff going on outside my window. I know it sounds peculiar, but I kept my TV tuned to a station that broadcast a constant view of the cheery fireplace in Mayor Lindsay’s mansion while Christmas music played. I know that sounds corny now, but somehow tuned into that fireplace kept my apartment warm and cozy. If I wanted to experience the crush of people, all I had to do was walk two blocks in the other direction to the 72nd Avenue subway stop and hop a train, which I would usually take south to Battery Park and from there catch the Staten Island ferry for a round trip that cost only a dime (this was 1972). This “ocean voyage” would take me past the Statue of Liberty (in both directions) and on the way back to Manhattan, I’d feel my heart thrill at the sight of that famous skyline (which, in those days, included the World Trade Twin Towers). I was proud to be a New Yorker.

On Christmas morning, I woke up and made myself a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, and ham and eggs. Then I opened the box of presents that had arrived from my parents, which had come several days ago, but I wouldn’t open them until Christmas morning. Later that day, I called them and talked and we all missed each other, but it was okay, I felt warm and loved inside.

In the late afternoon, I decided to get out of the apartment and go on a trip up the Hudson River, one of my favorite regions in the country. I telephoned the garage up the street where my car was kept and to let them know I was coming to get it, which they brought up from down below for me to pick up when I got there. I drove across the George Washington Bridge (thrilling, once again, at the sight of the wall of Manhattan buildings that spread out along the Hudson River) and then turned right at Fort Lee to head up north along New Jersey’s Palisades Parkway. It was dusk just about the time I got to Bear Mountain State Park, New York, right near West Point. There was thick snow all over the place and it was a perfect place to go play in the snow until it got dark. Then I was drawn to the welcoming glow of the Christmas lights decorating The Bear Mountain Inn and realized that that would a great place to have Christmas dinner. They had an IMMENSE Christmas buffet of almost every imaginable kind of food, and since I was by myself, I had no trouble getting a table without a reservation and without waiting. That was one of the most glorious meals I have ever had in whole life, even though I was by myself--the atmosphere was so loving and full of such great cheer--and I don’t think many settings could top it except, perhaps, for Christmas dinner at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, but that dinner requires a reservation at least a year ahead. Another wonderful place for Christmas dinner along these same lines is The Grove Park Inn, but it made me cry to look at that site, because that is the area where I am from and we had numerous holiday and other special occasion dinners there as a family thoroughout most of my life. The Grove Park Inn was such a major part of our life. (For example, my mother’s parents met there at a summer dance.) The Grove Park Inn was within walking distance of both sets of grandparents’ houses, and also the last house my parents had there until they moved back to California to what became their final home. I see those pictures and feel in a painful flash how many loved ones of the past two generations are now gone. We’re the ones that are left, now. And wow, even that slogan that pops up on the Grove Park Inn site, it’s as though it is speaking directly to me: “Over nine decades of history. It’s time for your story now.”

Yes it is. Yet none of us quite know right now what kind of story we want to tell.

My phone conversation with my sister was cut short. I don’t know why. We were talking and suddenly I sensed quiet on the other end of the line. I said, “Are you still there?” but everything was dead. I heard no dial tone, so figured her cell phone had drifted away somehow. I hung up, waited a while for her to call back, but she didn’t, so I tried her and only got her answering machine. I left her a message. That was half a day ago and I still haven’t heard back. Now I’m beginning to think that she had hung up on me somehow (why else hasn’t called back?). Why, what did I say? But I have experienced that the family has been very sensitive this past year. You have no idea what you will say that will set somebody off, even the most innocent thing, which is another reason why there have been so few phone calls among us. I am sure there are still too many unhealed wounds there, and, if nothing else, my sister might have been overcome by the realization that we all were stuck without any plans and Christmas is only the day after tomorrow. Mom and Dad’s passing left such a void that we don’t even know how to celebrate Christmas without them. Or maybe it was just her battery died and she had forgotten to bring her phone charger with her to the lake house.

At any rate, this looks like it could become another “New York” Christmas if I can make it one, but I’m not in New York, I’m not in an apartment that I love, and I’m not 24 years old. Life looks different from this end of the tunnel.

But I won’t be depressed, only sentimental. Is sentiment a bad thing? Some people think so--they want you to forget the past and forge ahead, bucko! Well, I'm all for forging ahead, but give me a minute, okay?

Perhaps on Christmas day I’ll take a drive into the nearby mountains. Is there snow there? Any cozy mountain lodge with a roaring fireplace and a welcoming Christmas buffet? Should I do an Internet search, or just cast my fate to the wind? Or maybe just stay home with the covers pulled on tight.

Meanwhile, I hope everybody has a wonderful Christmas, however you are able to celebrate it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Crazies Coming Out In Force


The crazies are coming out in force so much that I can hardly stand it. If you’ve ever had the misery of living in a cockroach-infested apartment (which I suffered in New York, and then again in Los Angeles in the mid-70s, where no matter how many times I “bombed” the place to get rid of these horrendous pests, they’d simply come back from elsewhere in the building), then you’ll understand this image of going into the kitchen or bathroom, turning on the light, and seeing hordes of cockroaches scurrying away. They hide from the light, but come out in the dark.

That’s what it’s like in our society now—you see a level of insanity or ugliness that you never imagined before, but, now, you see it suddenly more and more, like cockroaches running across the wall. We must actually be in very dark times for these creatures to come out from whatever underworld they have been nesting, but some immense light-filled event must be on its way, the dawning illumination of which now reveals the presence of this vermin.

Here’s an example, a loonie in favor of “carbon rationing” stated the following: “When the chips are down, I think democracy is a less important goal then is protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it. This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not.” There you go, Ecological Fascism! And Othmar Schwank, whose mother must have had a terrible speech impediment to have mouthed a name for him like that, in supporting a global carbon dioxide tax, crowed that the United States would bear the biggest burden of paying the tax, because the biggest “polluters” must pay the most. Why, exactly, is carbon dioxide, which happens to be “air” for all plant life, considered “pollution”? Well of course it isn’t, any more than oxygen is, or water.

This jolly little report came from the Canadian website I linked to above, in her piece brilliantly titled “Y2Kyoto: The Political Climate”, and it happens to have the very best “comment” section I have ever read on a blog! The people who commented there, every single one, gave me tons of hope. Normally I read people’s comments and really freak out at the drooling stupidity, such as all those people who tripped all over themselves praising Al Gore’s latest book. Amazon.com’s favorable treatment of that book coupled with their deleting strongly unfavorable reviews makes me seriously consider stopping my use of them as a book supplier. I give that company one hell of a ton of money each year, let me tell you. Even though I am not an institution, the loss of my dollars actually could hurt them. But these issues are serious enough that I can no longer stomach companies who sponsor these types of liars and their lies. What they’re really behind is the loss of our very sovereignty as a free and independent nation.

But even this level of madness is more “garden variety Naziism” compared to the people we now discover skittering across our kitchen floor. Of course there was that addle-brained girl who aborted her baby, because “the Earth just couldn’t stand any more carbon footprints.” Wow, now that’s an acolyte that Al Gore can really appreciate! She gave her only baby to his cause! While I mourn the loss of that innocent child, I guess we can be thankful that particular gene line has been stopped. But what are we to make of people who now feel that it is mankind’s philosophical duty to not have children…in fact, to not even exist at all? Somebody like author David Benatar, who actually argues in favor of a philosophy of “anti-natality”, that states that it would have been better if mankind had never been born and that we ought to be extinct. Apparently the meat of Benatar’s argument is that our never having been born is actually better for US, as well, not just for the Earth. I guess for him, “life sucks and then you die,” so let’s just skip the whole thing.

There really seems to be a trend in this direction (which I HOPE is people actually getting ready to volunteer to save the Earth in this way by offering up their own lives—I think that would be a pretty cool franchise to own), such as yet another book, this one by Alan Weisman, in which the author gleefully imagines what would happen on the Earth if mankind suddenly disappeared, due to, say, a virulent virus (which, with this flu that I have, I think I have already). Again, amazon.com’s chosen editorial reviewers may be betraying the corporation’s philosophy by, in one case saying that the book is “anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like”, and in the other case, postulating “the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden.”

Are these examples of an astounding hatred of mankind, or is it guilt so massive as to be implosive?

How odd that in the new environmentalist religion, the “god”, which I suppose in this case is the Earth, demands the sacrifice of the people for their sins. But the only eternal life promised by this religion is eternal life for the planet…without people.

I just might become a Catholic, after the Pope so intelligently spoke out against the whole global warming insanity. Thinking about what I said in the just-previous paragraph, I can now understand why the Pope would be against it. In fact, it would be an antithesis to him.