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Wednesday, December 28, 2011


So how was your Christmas? Did Santa bring you everything you wanted? Santa brought me everything I ruined in the past year. I spend an entire year destroying just about everything I come in contact with, and Christmas is when it all gets replaced. That is, if I don't get to it first and try to fix it. If I try to fix it, it goes on next year's list.

But I do enjoy the whole seasonal schpiel leading up to the big day. I like rating everyone's Christmas decorations outside their house. I have a strict code, and I would love to have the power to fine people who violate my rules: 1.) Nothing on your lawn should be full of air. Whenever I travel in December I usually bring an extra cat with me just in case I see one of those inflatable snowmen. 2.) If you have only two strings of lights, don't try to put them on a 30-foot spruce. Put them on your mailbox or something. 3.) Don't use those crappy lights that look like a net that just captured a shrub. 4.) Our neighbor Dennis had these nifty neon-looking moving lights, but they looked vaguely like anti-aircraft tracer fire, and I think the Navy made him take them down because I don't see them anymore.

I like the singing, except for that horrible Carol of the Bells. I have a funny feeling that the reason it's in every commercial is not because it's so wonderful, but because it is now in open copyright. It goes on forever, the same four tones, and two of them are the same note. I can usually operate the mute button on my remote in just two notes.

Christmas songs are great for my little game of "Maim that Tune." I like the one that goes, "Do you see what I see?," because I always sing in response, "Not without my glasses!" Try it- you'll be hooked. I also empathize with the song, Angels We Have Heard While High. Whenever carolers carol Silent Night I think of that Holy Infant, so tender and mild (like a steak), and I wish that just once, in this lifetime or possibly the next, I could sit next to one of those on a plane.

I like the Christmas cards. Everyone sends a picture of their kids, which is nice, but I would rather see the whole family- Usually the kids look pretty much alike until they are old enough to know that their parents don't know how to help with math homework anymore.

I don't even mind the weather. It's not the cold, it's the lack of humidity that gets you. For Christmas day, you want a coating of pristine white snow when you wake up, say about three inches. Then by 10AM or so, you want the temperature to shoot up to about 70 to melt the snow, then back down to like 40 by noon, when the company comes so you can have a fire. I can create a warm and cozy masterpiece, but apparently only in the toaster oven.

We will have opened our stockings by then, which were hung by the chimney with care. The less care you use, the more likely you are to have to explain to the insurance company the role hosiery played in the five-alarm fire you caused.

The cats and dog get their own stocking. The fish don't get a stocking because: DUH! Fish don't have legs. This year the cats got some high-tech gifts: a battery-operated toy bird that chirps, and a little laser shaped like a mouse. We had to take them both away; one cat obsessed on the talking bird and now both the cat and the bird are in therapy, and the other cat kept pointing the laser mouse at flying aircraft.

We spent Christmas Eve with Paul and Barbara next-door and their family, as we always do. I was informed that I was to be recruited next year to play the part of Santa, since the kids are old enough to recognize all the family members now through the disguise (some of them are in their 20s). I embrace the idea, since I don't picture Santa letting exercise and diet get in the way of his work. Also, as Paul will realize, just about the only natural talent I possess is the ability to use children to insult their parents with pinpoint accuracy. I have to work on the belly laugh though, since I always confuse him with the Jolly Green Giant. I don't think it's unethical for Santa to accept tips, I'm just throwing that out there in advance.

I ate most of the dessert table as they were exchanging gifts utilizing the "Yankee Swap." I tried to picture how Jorge Posada would get along with Nick Swisher's wife (good), but it has nothing to do with that. This one is like a more sophisticated "grab bag," where you can trade the loser gifts for something better. In an evil allegorical twist, one poor sap opened a box filled with canned anchovies, artichokes and Spam. There was more Spam in that box than coming home after two weeks of vacation. He pawned it off to the fellow next to him, a veteran Spam-lover from way back. As we all chuckled, the originator of the gift chimed in, "There's an envelope at the bottom...." A fifty-dollar gift card! Which just goes to show: don't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Why? Because it would be virtually impossible to hide a fifty-dollar gift card there!

Incidentally, the Carol of the Bells was originally titled Shchedryk, named during a time when vowels were in severe shortage and saved only for emergencies. It was composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, although “composed” may be overstating it. I could have composed the damn thing by lobbing pebbles at the half-full glasses left on the table after dinner, and that’s putting it optimistically.

Friday, December 2, 2011


This Thanksgiving when my sister came over, as she does every year with her kids, I took time to be grateful that they had grown up. I don’t have any idea what to do or say around little kids. True: infants don’t seem to know what to do or say around me either, and they don’t seem to make much of an effort to keep me amused. Especially when they are REALLY little. They don’t get my jokes, for instance.

Every time somebody brings the new baby, we all sit around smiling, looking at it, waiting for it to DO SOMETHING. An amoeba could surprise you all of a sudden by splitting into two cells. Watching paint dry is boring but at least once it’s dry it stays dry; a baby? Quite the opposite. “He looks a little like his mom,” I stutter. He would be a dead ringer for her if she was a Don Rickles bobble-head doll, but I leave that part out. “He has his dad’s eyes…” Meaning he will be legally blind by the time he is 12. I wonder which traits he will inherit, and from whom. Will he get his alcoholism from his side of the family or from hers??

Clearly I am being too hard on babies, because they eventually grow up and become engaging, smart and a source of unwavering pride. That first sentence that comes out of its mouth is a major milestone. Junior formulates one word, then another and yet another, until in a couple months he is able to ask to borrow money. Now that he is talking, will he be able to finally get my jokes? Why do I have to constantly explain that you have to just TRUST that a penguin can drive a car?? After I explain, still no laugh, a feeling that I am disproportionately accustomed to.

One time when we threw a party and one of the neighbors brought their children, a little boy approached and he looked pissed. At ME. “You don’t have any toys,” he indicted. “Because you don’t have any KIDS.” I felt like such a jerk and I told him to check back with me later. Why DIDN’T I have kids? I know a lot of parents, and whenever the kids are with them they have that dazed, tired look on their face like you just came out of the bathroom and didn’t realize that a tornado had flattened the neighborhood. Didn’t you know it was going to be like this? “Oh I wouldn’t trade them for the WORLD!” They say. “What about for a Mercedes SLS AMG?” I goad. “Does that come with the extended interior carbon fiber package? And power windows?” Mom asks.

It still doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with the kids when Mom skips out the back door to have a smoke with the other moms who don’t even smoke, leaving me with a bunch of babies who don’t know how to shoot pool. I try discussing the Giants horrible pass defense, which goes nowhere, and venting about the Kardashians, which at least makes ME feel better, but I end up stumped. When I was a kid all you needed to have a perfectly good afternoon of play was a sandbox, a hammer and some unspent shotgun shells. Nowadays, of course, you would never even suggest such a thing because nobody wants that sand all over the place. I think of trying to pass off the cat litter box as a play area, but reject it immediately because the cat would throw a shit fit, literally. The cat has made a big stink over a lot less.

But it gives me an idea, and I try to get the kid interested in the cat toys. I get him to chase a catnip mouse for a while- the cat watches from the couch, rolling his eyes. The baby starts to get a little woozy from the catnip, and sharpens his claws on the side of the chair. When the baby starts to eat one of the houseplants I abandon the idea.

What about playing with the cat itself? Kids love animals, and I wish I lived on a farm, where every day, really disgusting things happen that kids would love. I picture milking the cows, squirting milk at each other until I remember that I am lactose intolerant. We watch a new foal being born: the kid watches rapt and amazed as I vomit uncontrollably. We play with the goats, which eat the child’s coat, mittens and hat as a prix fixe package. Anyway, I point over to the couch, where the cat immediately shows a look of terror, and disappears into the bedroom. I let the kid take the fish out of the tank and pet them for awhile, but he wants to play with the eel and I begin to wonder how Consumer Reports would rate it as a toy.

That’s another thing- you can’t let children play with anything anymore that might be dangerous. Which is tremendously and unfairly restricting. They are always recalling things that pose a danger to infants- a beach ball? NO WAY! The kid could swallow it and CHOKE! Matchbox car? NO THANK YOU! A really small child could get inside it, drive to the 7-11 and get BEER! Barbie Doll? DEFINITELY NOT! I don’t want to have to have the conversation about how her breasts got that big until my kid is at least 40.

When Melissa’s kids came over one time and realized that we had no toys that were suitable for children, the toddler started playing with the stereo system. “Isn’t that cute?” We all purred. 20 music-free minutes later, with my reading glasses on and the instruction book out, I learned that my receiver has a little button called “Tape Monitor 2” that is so simple even a child could use it.

I went to the bathroom at somebody’s house and they ran out of toilet paper. I couldn’t get into the cabinet under the sink because it had childproof locks on it, and had to use the shower rod to pry it open. It made me realize how many poisonous things there are under my sink, and also how cheaply made shower rods are.

Guests used to bring a portable playpen with them, which looked like a little jail cell with bars around it, and you could keep an eye on the baby, let him out once in awhile to get a prison tattoo or something. When you want to do Jaeger shots you just re-incarcerate the baby and jiggle his mobile.

Finally I decide on a game of “Nap and Seek,” where the kid searches for the perfect hiding place, and remains there for a couple hours until Judge Judy is on.

Incidentally, there were several children’s toys recalls in 2011. The “Pottery Barn Kids,” Chloe, Sophia and Audrey, were recalled due to “strangulation hazard.” How many children these evil dolls strangled I have no idea, but steer clear of these sluts. The Radio Flyer “Scoot ‘n Zoom” riding toy was taken off the market due to “fall hazard,” but I bet they’ll be back by spring. The “Gripper Musical Shaker” percussion toy was withdrawn due to “choking hazard.” It’s unclear whether the children were being choked by the toys or the parents. If anything was recalled before 2011 I can’t recall it.