Monday, December 26, 2011
We were just like every other kid in the world, is what I'm saying.
Kids who celebrate Christmas, that is.
And like most families, we had a few time-honored traditions that made the holiday season even more special. For example, after opening our presents and enjoying them for at least a couple hours, Mom and Dad would take us across town to our grandma's house where the routine would start all over again. Another round of spectacular games and toys -- and one Foot Fixer by Clairol, on that Christmas That Will Live in Infamy -- followed by a nice dinner of turkey or ham with all the trimmings. Most Christmases, we would then head down to Florida for a week or so to visit my mom's family.
In addition to these fine traditions, there has always been one other small-but-significant detail that has made every Christmas complete. I am of course referring to the Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls.
For as long as I can remember, Mom would diligently prepare a pan of those scrumptious danish with the orange frosting, and we'd munch away as we opened our presents. It just wasn't Christmas without them. In fact, for the past several years, my wife Theresa has whipped up a batch for us to enjoy on Christmas morning, before heading down to my parents' house.
Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls are to Christmas morning what turkey is to Thanksgiving, trick-or-treating is to Halloween, and getting totally rip-roaring drunk is to New Years' Eve. The orange-flavored icing on the cake, so to speak.
Until this year.
Before I continue with the story, I have to share with you my mother's opinion that in many of my stories, I tend to make her look like "the bad guy," that I'm unfairly harsh in my retelling of events. Personally, I call this "responsible and accurate reporting," but in the interest of fairness, I thought it best if I make you aware of an opposing viewpoint. Of course, this "opposing viewpoint" is held by a grown woman who would, on more than one occasion, chase her pre-adolescent sons down the upstairs hallway, wielding a stretch of plastic track from a Hot Wheels set yelling, "Come back here right this minute, or you're getting this across your butt!"
So I leave it to you to judge her credibility as we proceed.
Since our kids are older and therefore do not pounce on us anymore, Theresa and I woke up this Christmas morning at around ten o'clock. At least that's when I woke up. Theresa was already up and around at this point, so to be honest, she could've risen at dawn for all I know. Since we had planned on heading to my parents' at noon, there was no urgent need for breakfast. Theresa hadn't prepared the orange danish, but I didn't figure this would be a problem since my mother was sure to have taken care of it.
Little did I know.
So we arrived at my folks' where Mom was busily preparing dinner for the houseload of people that would arrive shortly. Turkey, ham, three different kinds of stuffing, various pies, almost everything one could hope for on Christmas day.
I do not mean to sound ungrateful here, but somehow my mother had forgotten all about the traditional Pillsbury orange danish. To make matters worse, if that is even possible, when I politely brought this egregious oversight to her attention, she didn't seem to know what I was talking about.
"What do you mean, where are the orange danish?" she asked.
"You know, the Pillsbury orange danish that we've had every single Christmas since I was a little kid."
She seemed incredulous. I guess overwhelming pangs of guilt can cause one to feign surprise. "I haven't made those in years."
"You're joking, right? Where are they?"
"Chris, why would I make orange danish?"
"Why WOULDN'T you?"
We went back and forth like that for several minutes, so to bolster my argument (which really shouldn't have been necessary when you stop to think about it) I turned to my brother Eric and asked, "You remember the orange danish don't you? That we have every year?"
I guess he didn't want to hurt Mom's feelings or something, because he said, "I remember having them, but not that it was some kind of tradition."
So then I asked our other brother Bobby. His reply?
"I don't know what you're talking about."
At this point I must have been carrying on a bit, maybe acting like a baby about all this, because Theresa said, "You know, you're acting like a baby about all this."
Easy for her to say. She hadn't been looking forward to orange danish for 364 days.
Aside from that (which is sort of like the old question "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"), our Christmas was very nice and dinner was outstanding. Mom did a wonderful job as always, which is why we all love her so much. One of the reasons, anyway.
But next year, Mom?
Don't forget the danish, please.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Not to worry, I'm here to help.
In an effort to make classic novels accessible to a new generation of whacked-out, Facebook-addicted nimrods, I'm taking it upon myself to translate them (the novels) into language that is easily understood by everyone, even your teenage daughter who thinks "OMG U R SO STOOPID LOL" is a complete sentence.
So here we go. We'll start off with one of my favorites.
THE DUMBED-DOWN LITERATURE SERIES PRESENTS:
John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN
Here's a tale of two men, who set out on their own
To earn honest wages, and perhaps find a home.
George was the smart one, stern but kind-hearted
His pal Lennie was, to be blunt, retarded.
Lennie was enormous, but wouldn't hurt a fly
At least not on purpose, as we'll learn by and by.
For a mouse he could pet, that's all he was wishin'
But what Lennie calls "pettin'" most people call "squishin'"
When he made George mad, to make light of the fuss
Lennie would beg, "Tell about guys like us."
It was a ritual they had, a mantra, you'd say
And they had to run through it almost every day.
"Other guys," George began, "ain't got no one else,
The things that they do, they gotta do by their self.
But not us, because we both got each other
We walk side by side, we're loyal like brothers."
"Go on," Lennie pleaded, "tell about our own place,"
And he listened to George with a smile on his face.
"We'll have our own house," at least so they'd planned,
"And we'll work hard and live off the fat of the land."
"We'll sell off our crops, and we'll share all the money,"
Then Lennie burst out, "Tell me about the bunnies!"
George let out a sigh, as became force of habit
"Yes, Lennie," he said, "you'll tend to the rabbits."
But to make this dream real, they'd have to build up a stash
Not drugs, you dumb asshole, it means save up cash.
They were hired as farmhands, and they labored each day
Feeding the livestock and baling the hay.
|"Aloha, Mr. Spicoli."|
Who had western-type names like Slim and like Whit.
A stablebuck Crooks, and Candy the oldie.
In the movie, the same guy who taught Jeff Spicoli.
The villain of the story is a punkass named Curley
The son of the boss, he was hostile and surly.
Simply put, he was a prick that nobody could stand,
But they put up with his crap so they didn't get canned.
Curley's wife, let me tell you, she was quite a hottie
She didn't mind showing off her sensational body.
Making passes at Carlson, flirting with Whit,
Yeah, the bitch had a knack for stirring up shit.
One day after lunch, Curley seemed even meaner,
He'd misplaced his wife, asked if anyone seen her.
Which, for some reason, Lennie thought was quite funny
And Curley got pissed, "What you laughin' at, dummy?"
He swung at the big guy, whacked him right in the chops,
And Lennie cried out, "George, please make him stop!"
When Curley saw that Lennie wasn't going to fight,
He tagged him again with a left and a right.
And turned his pal loose yelling, "Go get 'im, Lennie!"
The next punch, Lennie caught in the palm of his hand,
And he crushed Curley's fist, ground his bones into sand.
Blood spurted everywhere, it was really quite gory,
To save Lennie's job, they came up with a story.
The farmhands discussed it, and all that they'd seen
Was Curley getting his hand caught in a machine.
With things back to normal, George continued to plan
For the day when they'd live "off the fat of the land."
Candy overheard and asked, "Is that really true?
I've got some spare cash if you'll let me come too."
George worked the numbers, and much to his delight,
He realized it could work, you know, it just might!
So the three men worked together and saved up more money,
And assured Lennie that he could still tend the bunnies.
But just when their dream was there to be had
Lennie screwed it all up, and he screwed it up bad.
See, Carlson gave Lennie a pup to take care of
A mistake, of course, he should've been quite aware of.
As I said once before, Lennie liked to pet things
But because he was "slow" he would tend to forget things.
Like when you grab puppies to stop them from yapping
If you grab them too hard, it's their neck you'll be snapping.
So he killed the poor puppy, and he knew it was trouble,
But when Curley's wife wandered in, well, the trouble was double.
She sat down next to Lennie, in the barn where it's dirty
And Lennie said, "Gee, ma'am, you hair sure smells purty."
Curley's wife let him touch it, which wasn't real bright,
And before very long, she was shaking with fright.
Lennie, as usual, started getting too rough
When the woman cried out, Lennie said, "That's enough!"
"You gotta be quiet, please lady, don't yell,
If George hears you hollerin' he'll come give me hell."
But she kept right on screaming, the terror had filled her,
And before Lennie knew it, it seemed that he'd killed her.
He knew that he'd done it, dog gone and dag-nabbit.
There was no way in hell he'd be tending them rabbits.
So he hid by the river, waited there for his friend
He knew that ol' George would come save him again.
Back at the barn, Candy got the shock of his life
As he was the one who found Curley's dead wife.
He went and got George, and the two men felt sick
They knew Lennie'd hang for this, and it wouldn't be quick.
George made up his mind that he'd find Lennie first
And make sure that bad didn't end up as worst.
So he went to the river, where he knew Lennie'd be
And he found his friend crying, sitting under a tree.
"You gonna give me hell?" he asked softly, while wiping a tear.
"No," said George, "We'll just sit quietly here."
"Tell me again," Lennie said, "About the fat of the land,"
And George stood behind him, with trembling hands.
"Some guys got no one gives a hoot in hell about 'em
In fact, the world might be better without 'em.
But not us, that's not how our life will be
Because I got you, and because you got me.
One day we'll have a place of our own
A farm, and some livestock, and even a home.
It's right out there, Lennie, just reach out and grab it."
And Lennie called out, "I get to tend the rabbits!"
Just then George heard Curley's mob coming to get 'em.
But no way in hell was he going to let 'em.
They'd torture poor Lennie, beat him till he was dead,
So George took out a gun and he shot him instead.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
"This has been coming for some time now," Kringle told reporters at a recent press conference. "We've always been a non-profit organization, but unless we make drastic changes, we'll no longer be able to provide children with the service they've come to expect."
The biggest change will be the discontinuing of Christmas Eve delivery of presents and goodies. This will allow Santa to sell his Icemaster Turbo SL-500 Sleigh and also terminate the employment contracts of his reindeer staff.
"This was a tough decision," said Kringle. "But the reality is, no one is allowed to see me making the deliveries anyway, so if we just ship gifts all around the planet, the impact on our customers will be minimal. FedEx has agreed to give us a substantial discount on shipping costs, so when you balance that against the expense of sleigh maintenance and the housing, feeding, and upkeep of our reindeer, we'll come out ahead."
When asked what will become of Santa's legendary sleigh, Kringle replied, "We're putting it up for auction right after the holidays. The Icemaster is a one-of-a-kind vehicle, equipped for both land and air travel. The ultra-super-sonic engines allow it to cruise at Mach 7, and its stealth mode feature renders it invisible to enemy radar. Slap a few missile launchers and a bomb bay on that sucker and it will undoubtedly become the linchpin of some lucky nation's air force. We're starting the bidding at fifty million dollars."
The revelation that the sleigh is powered by engines, not reindeer, came as a shock to members of the media. When asked to explain, Santa said, "The reindeer are purely cosmetic, used mainly to support our company's image. What magic would there be in Santa Claus soaring through the sky in a supersonic sleigh? No, Donner, Comet, Vixen and the crew are simply along for the ride."
Santa's elves have not escaped the proverbial head-rolling either. Currently, Santa Claus Enterprises maintains a staff of over five thousand "vertically challenged" employees who work year-round to build toys for children all over the world. However, with today's kids becoming more and more sophisticated, the demand for generic, hand-made gifts has decreased to practically nil.
"Look, what kid wants an airplane carved out of wood or a skillfully-crafted red wagon when they can have a laptop computer or an iPad?" said Santa. "We're going to keep five hundred or so elves to work in our I.T. department, where they'll be ordering products from Nintendo, Sony, Apple, and other manufacturers for us to send off to the good boys and girls. Everyone else is being let go. Even at minimum wage, the savings will be significant."
Santa went on to say that he was going to have to make some changes in his own day-to-day activities as CEO. "I'm still going to be making a list, but now I'll only be checking it once. I figure, if one or two naughty kids slip through the cracks, it's not that big of a deal. And no more 'seeing you when you're sleeping.' I've got better things to do, if you want to know the truth."
|Kringle and Salaben, in happier times.|
"This is total frickin' elk dung," said Salaben. "Laying off ninety percent of your entire manufacturing staff is just insane. Most of these guys have been working at the North Pole since they were teenagers. Their fathers were toy-makers, their grandfathers were toy-makers . . . it's a legacy around here. And now Kringle is just gonna put forty-five hundred elves out in the cold? It's not like there are a lot of other employment opportunities for them up here above the Arctic frickin' Circle. You ever see a homeless elf? Break your heart, man."
The Global Reindeer Association (GRA) had no such concerns about their laid-off members.
"Not a problem at all," said Dasher. "It's not like the fat tub of figgy pudding ever paid us anyway. He kept us locked in a stable all year, feeding us hay and oats. Like we were HORSES or something! Firing us? More like liberating us, if you ask me."
Asked if the timing of Kringle's announcement might negatively impact the upcoming Christmas, Dasher replied, "Nah, fat boy timed it perfectly. The elves can't do squat because the toys are already packed up in the warehouse, and we reindeer are just decoration to begin with. What are we gonna do, strike?"
Comet, though, has other ideas. "Oh, it's gonna have an impact, all right. Starting a week or so ago, I've had a couple disgruntled elves bring me nothing but burritos and prune juice for every meal. Come Christmas Eve, I'm gonna be packed to the antlers with turd bombs. Let's just say I'm gonna make an impact on most of North America."
In related news, the Wall Street Journal reports that stock in Santa Claus Enterprises (SNTA) has dropped 35% in the wake of recent events, trading at $28.03 per share at the close of business on December 14.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The assumption is, when you use "X-mas," you're "taking Christ out of Christmas," and by doing so you expose yourself as a pagan nimrod, destined to spend eternity burning to a crisp in the company of Satan, Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, and whoever invented beat-boxing. How dare you "cross out Jesus's name" from the holiday where we celebrate his birth?
I did some research (believe it or not) to determine when this illicit yuletide abbreviation was introduced. Turns out that in Greek, X is the first letter in the word "Christ," and was used as early as the 1600's to abbreviate words like Xian (Christian), Xianity (Christianity), and Xanthemum (Chrysanthemum). It wasn't done out of disrespect, it was done because when your only writing instruments are chisels, or perhaps the Gutenberg Printing Press (invented by Johannes Gutenberg, the great-great-great-great grandfather of Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg), you want to shorten as many words as possible.
But I digress.
I realize, of course, that certain devout types will still object to "X-mas," so in an effort to bring peace and joy to all mankind (and womankind, back off ladies), I am offering a solution. A way to "level the playing field," if you will.
We're going to start replacing the letter X with the word "Christ" wherever it makes sense to do so. For example, the game Tic-Tac-Toe will require one person to be "O's" and his opponent to be "Christs." Sure, they'll be harder to draw, but we're talking about equality not convenience.
When burying treasure, pirates will "mark the spot" with a Christ.
Hospitals' radiology departments will stock up on Christ-ray machines.
David Duchovny will star in the next Christ-Files movie.
Wolverine and his buddies will be known as the Christ-Men.
Women will spend weekend after weekend searching for a hot guy with the Christ-factor.
And of course, the 1960's civil rights leader will henceforth be referred to as Malcolm Christ. I'm sure that won't cause a ruckus, right?
Now if you'll Christ-cuse me, I'm off to do some X-mas shopping.
 Thanks to Olivia for this one.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
When we were young, my brother Eric was our family's Eeyore -- pessimistic, rather gloomy. Experience taught him early on that if something bad was going to happen, it was going to happen to him. Most of the time it wasn't even his fault, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, fall victim to a misunderstanding, or suffer some other stroke of random misfortune like putting his arm through a window or sliding down a wooden bench and getting a foot long splinter embedded in his thigh.
One Saturday afternoon when I was thirteen and Eric was nine, our dad came home with two bikes that were given to him by a friend whose kids had outgrown them. One was a sleek metallic blue five-speed with a banana seat and hand brakes, the other was a small turtle-shit green K-mart model with coaster brakes and a basket on the handlebars. In retrospect, Dad should've decided beforehand which of us was going to get which bike. Maybe he was hoping it would work out naturally, but whatever the case, Dad committed one of the Cardinal Sins of Fatherhood -- he asked both of us which bike we wanted. The result was not a surprise.
"I want the blue one," I said.
"No, I want the blue one," said Eric.
After several minutes of arguing back and forth, firing phrases like "I'm older, I should get it," and "No fair, you always get your way," at each other, Dad decided to flip a coin.
"Chris, you call it," he said.
"Why doe HE get to call it?" asked Eric.
"Fine, you call it then," I said.
"Heads," said Eric.
Dad tossed the coin, caught it, and flipped it over on the back of his hand.
"It's tails. Chris, you get to pick your bike."
I'd like to say that I took this golden opportunity to be the bigger person, to set aside my own selfish desires and accept the turtle-shit green K-Mart clunker so my little brother could have the bike of his dreams, to be a thoughtful and caring big brother who Eric would look up to for the rest of his life.
But I think we all know what really happened.
"I'll take the blue one."
Eric, predictably, pitched a hissy fit and ran upstairs to our bedroom. I felt guilty for about eight seconds, then I hopped on my bike and rode to my friend Paul's house, shifting gears the whole way.
A similar incident had occurred a few years prior only instead of bicycles, the subject was Halloween costumes. Most years, our Aunt Patti took me, Eric, and our youngest brother Bobby to FAO Schwarz in New York to pick out really cool outfits to wear for Trick or Treat. One year I was an astronaut, another time Eric was a snazzy-looking Canadian Mountie, and Bobby spent Halloween 1975 gathering Tootsie Pops and Milky Ways decked out as a four-foot tall Spiderman.
One year, though, all we had to choose from were the family's Costumes of Halloweens Past, those that were recycled year to year and passed along as hand-me-downs. Bobby was a tiger, I was Batman, and Eric was a clown.
Eric, however, had absolutely no interest in being a clown. He griped, he grumbled, he pouted. To this day, no one is sure why he was so against the idea, but it may have had something to do with the time we were all kidnapped by Giggles McYukyuk at one of our mom's Cub Scout leaders' meetings.
It gets worse.
Not only did Eric have to don the clown suit, Mom insisted on stuffing the front of the costume with balloons so he resembled one of those inflatable punching bags. As a result, Eric is the only child in Halloween history to sulk his way through Trick or Treating.
It also led to the most hilarious picture in our family's scrapbook:
So yeah, Eric always seemed to be the one getting the bum deal, which makes what happened on Christmas 1979 all the more pitiful.
Every Christmas, we'd wake up at the crack of dawn, roust our parents out of bed and storm downstairs to unwrap our presents. Once the gifts were opened, Mom would whip up a batch of Pillsbury orange danish and we'd spend the rest of the morning playing with our new toys. In the early afternoon, we'd drive across town to our grandmother's house for round two.
Traditionally, Grandma would give us each a stocking full of candy and small toys, a couple mid-level gifts (clothes were the most common in this category), and finally, our one "big" present. Grandma had a fairly close relationship with Santa Claus, so we always knew that the main gift was going to be something really cool. One year I got a complete set of barbells, another time it was a guitar, and when I got a bit older, I received a top-of-the-line Texas Instruments digital watch.
The 70's were a much simpler time.
So anyway, on the Christmas That Will Live in Infamy, we'd plowed through the preliminary presents and were ready for the main event. Family policy required us to open our presents one at a time, so we all got to see what the others had received. Also, it made the process last longer than twelve seconds.
"Okay, who wants to open their big gift first?" asked Dad, clearly forgetting about the bicycle incident of a year earlier.
"I do!" said Bobby.
"Me!" I shouted.
"Here we go again," muttered Eric.
Since there were three of us involved in this decision coin-flipping wasn't an option, so Dad wrote down the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on slips of paper and put them into a bowl. Eric drew first and pulled out the number 3.
"What a surprise, I'm last," he said.
Bobby had drawn the number 1, so he retrieved his gift from under the tree and ripped off the red and gold wrapping paper.
"Cool! A Johnny Lightning racing set! Thanks, Grandma!" He reluctantly set the box aside so he could watch me unwrap my present.
Mine was wrapped in green paper with snowmen all over it. I tore it open, to reveal the gift I'd been asking for since August.
"An Atari video game set with five game cartridges!" I said. "Pacman, Adventure, Kaboom, bowling, and Tank Battle! This is great, thanks, Grandma!"
By this point, Eric was practically bursting with anticipation. Seeing Bobby and me hit the jackpot with the Hot Wheels and Atari, he just knew his present was going to be something spectacular. Taking his time, he removed the silver paper from the box, revealing his special gift. It was exactly what he'd asked for . . .
A few months earlier, Eric and Mom were watching television when a commercial came on advertising an innovative new product. It was an item that Eric did indeed have a particular need for, even if it wasn't something most ten year olds would have any interest in. As kind of a joke, he said to Mom, "Hey, look at that, maybe Santa can bring me one of those for Christmas." Mom, however, didn't realize he was kidding, so she passed this information along to Grandma who went out and bought Eric the gift he was now looking at with a puzzled and somewhat somber expression on his face.
The Foot Fixer, by Clairol.
Think about this for a minute. Here's a ten-year-old kid who's just seen his brothers open a brand-new video game system and a racing set where you can actually juice up the cars and they rip around the track on their own. It's Christmas, the highlight of every kid's year, and what does he have to show for it?
A frickin' Foot Fixer.
All things considered, the kid handled it pretty damn well. He didn't burst into tears, he didn't throw the thing across the living room, he didn't look at Grandma and ask, "What the hell is THIS?" He just let out a pathetic sigh and said, "A Foot Fixer. Thanks, Grandma."
He wanted to cry, though, you could tell.
Here's the rest of the story.
Eric had flat feet. He was always quick to point this out, and he often used it as an excuse to get out of doing household chores, kind of like a ten-year-old on disability.
"Eric, it's your turn to bring in the trash cans."
"I can't, my feet hurt. I have flat feet, you know."
"Eric, it's time to set the dinner table."
"My feet hurt, I'll do it later. I have flat feet, you know."
Truthfully, he did suffer through bouts with foot pain from time to time, especially at night while trying to get to sleep. So when he and Mom saw the Foot Fixer commercial on TV, he thought it might be something that would help.
But not as his Christmas present.
The real victim here, though, is our grandmother. She genuinely believed that Eric wanted The Foot Fixer, and once she realized how disappointed the poor kid was, that it was all a big mistake, she felt terrible. I don't recall what happened in the aftermath, but I'm sure it involved taking Eric to Toys R Us and letting him pick out whatever he wanted.
But to be honest about it, The Foot Fixer wasn't a total loss. If you filled it up with water and plugged it in, the resulting vibrations caused a tsunami that was great for capsizing our toy battleships.
Note: In no way is Grandma at fault for this. She was absolutely the kindest, most thoughtful, and most wonderful human being to ever grace the planet. Her role in the Foot Fixer Incident of 1979 was simply to provide her grandsons with whatever they asked for. The misunderstanding was absolutely not on her. No, the blame lies somewhere else entirely.
I'm looking at YOU, Mom.