Monday, December 31, 2012

Ashton and the Car Keys

Being a parent is really really hard. It's my personal belief that a father has to involve himself as much as possible and follow up on everything. Now... Having said that... I can tell you I hate my daily, self-imposed 'To Do' list and have come to dread Saturdays. And my kids aren’t too thrilled about my ‘following up’ philosophies.

And sometimes.... Sometimes....

My oldest son Ashton is growing into a teenager. It’s tough having three kids, because you spend so much time multi-tasking their development you never really feel like you’re getting the one-on-one time you need and you’re always missing something.

So Ashton, being the oldest and most advanced developmentally, is the one that seems to be growing up fastest. He doesn’t need the kind of oversight that the other two need.

HOWEVER… however…

I’m fully aware that Ashton is head and shoulders over his peers according to his capabilities. He’s in honors classes, he reads voraciously and has since an early age, he’s the only kid in his age group who sought out a job last summer, he exercises regularly, and he is responsible for most of the household chores.


A few months ago, I asked Ashton to load up the trunk of the Volvo with the recycling so I could take it to the recycling center after work. This is a task that he’s performed many times before. Every time something goes wrong with one of these chores, my first indication is the amount of time that goes by before he goes back to his iPad or the TV or whatever he would rather be doing. My second indication is the scurrying. I mean the silent walks through the hallways, always carefully planned out to avoid me and get to my wife. Lorie participates in the scurrying, silently walking down the hallway with whatever kid is in unacknowledged trouble to help them deal with whatever situation that no one wants me to know about.

See... the thing you don’t know is that I’m a horrible beast. Sigh

During this particular incident of scurrying, all involved were madly trying to find the car key to the Volvo. Which Ashton had lost. According to Ashton, he has a recycling-loading process. (Which is good!) The process involves putting the spare key to the Volvo on the bumper while loading the trunk. (This is dubious.) Never before has this resulted in the loss of the spare key. (This is a miracle.) But this time, the key was gone. (This was inevitable.)

Lorie and Ashton searched everywhere. The yard, the driveway, the trunk, the car, the house, they backtracked steps, they checked pants pockets, bathrooms, and even the mounted hooks where the key is normally kept. Nothing.

I’m taking a huge risk in telling you this. If you were to come to my house and search the yard, there’s a chance you could find the key to the Volvo and drive off with it. Please. Please come take my car. You could be EVEN MORE fashionable than I am while driving it.

It concerned me that Ashton’s main stake in this was whether or not he was going to get in trouble. Yes… I KNOW he’s only thirteen. I don’t accept that excuse and neither should you, knowing what we were capable of and what was expected of us decades past at age thirteen. He’s more than capable of securing the keys. I was disappointed in what I perceived as his lack of responsibility.

But this wasn't his concern at all. I was being a pessimist. He was feeling the weight of responsibility in losing the car keys. And he wasn't happy with himself. He proved this the very next day.

Ashton went across the street for his lawn mowing job on my neighbor’s lawn. It’s something that has been quite lucrative for him this last summer. It’s also, lest I should forget, his idea. I didn’t push him to get out and make money this summer. He’s doing it of his own accord. He’s enjoyed it, and he’s certainly enjoyed padding out his bank account.

I became aware of the scurrying while I was sitting on the couch in the living room working on the budget. I’m not a fan of being distracted from the budget, so I didn’t try to butt in. But obviously something was up. Ashton was making multiple trips from our house to the neighbors house and back again. Lorie was involved. Lorie was handling whatever it was. I stayed back.

The scurrying ended after awhile and Ashton settled in and went about taking a shower and cleaning up for dinner. When he was out of earshot, I hunted down Lorie and got the scoop.

"What's up?" I cornered Lorie in the kitchen. She turned to face me and leaned against the counter.

"Ashton lost the money Joe gave him. Including a ten dollar tip." Lorie sighed.

I stood there stunned. It had been ONE DAY since the dreaded Volvo car key incident.

"He's searched everywhere." Lorie continued. "Joe gave him the money, Ashton says he stuffed it in his pocket, and then it was just gone."

"Wow." I sighed.

"But here's the thing," Lorie said. "Ashton won't let me help him look for it. He thinks that Joe will see me, figure out what happened, and try to pay him again. He doesn't want that to happen because he says it's not fair to Joe."

This news was like a blow to my head. I thought for sure that Ashton would be bemoaning the loss of money or the fact that he had done all that work for free. I was half expecting Ashton to ask us to 'fix' it in some way. But no, I underestimated him yet again. He IS responsible, he HAS been learning these lessons. And this was a glimpse of the mindset that he's started to build for himself.

A week later, Joe knocked on our door. He had found a twenty dollar bill stuck against the fence and was more than a little confused. Lorie explained what happened and how Ashton handled it. Joe walked off chuckling to himself and shaking his head.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Robin Hood

When sitting here writing and thinking about characters that have been able to transcend through the decades, I've been remiss in mentioning Robin Hood. Yet another character whose story gets told and re-told and re-imagined for new audiences constantly.

My first introduction to Robin Hood, and for many years my only knowledge of the character, was from the 1973 Disney movie that used anthropomorphic animals as the characters. Robin Hood, most fittingly, was a fox.

We recently bought the movie as a Christmas gift for Brynn, my friend Steve's daughter. She also happens to be my six-year-old son Alex's girlfriend, but that's a blog for another day. The acquisition, wrapping, and giving of the gift had the movie high in my thoughts. And I recently watched it again with my own kids.

I must have seen the movie as a child sometime in 1974, as it released in late November 1973. But this was at a time when the only option for seeing movies was in the theater. There were no digital releases or DVD's or VHS tapes for me to play the movie over and over again to become so familiar with it. Instead, I learned the movie so well from yet another Christmas gift early in life.

I had a copy of this record featuring 'songs and stories' from the movie. I must have played it a dozen times and memorized the artwork from the storybook. I had many records that constituted songs and stories from another source. Most notably Power Records that would re-hash super hero adventures. This form of childhood entertainment is one of the mediums that has been made completely obsolete by advancements in technology. Why listen to a record while reading along with the story when you can get the actual movie on your Apple TV months after the release?

To me, if you were going to go Disney, Robin Hood was the most manly way to do it. He was an adventurer, a fighter for justice. It was something I could wrap my head around. Peter Pan seemed to be a shiftless layabout that was only spurned into action for selfish reasons. Robin Hood did the right thing no matter the personal consequences and for no gain of his own.

In re-watching the movie I got a few surprises in the cast. As I was watching the opening credits, Andy Devine was listed as the voice of Friar Tuck. This was a surprise because I was familiar with Devine's jarringly scratchy voice from early episodes of the Jack Benny show. In the late 1930's, early 1940's, Andy Devine was a semi-regular on the show. So seeing him here was a pleasant surprise.

But then, while doing some looking into the history of the movie, I found something I hadn't noticed in the initial credits. Phil Harris played Robin's right hand bear Little John! Phil Harris was Jack Benny's band leader for many many years. Even going on to marry Alice Fey, earn a radio show of his own, and become a comedian in his own right. Having become familiar with Phil Harris in my adulthood, I was floored to learn that he was the distinctive voice of a childhood favorite.

Robin Hood joins the ranks of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Superman as a character that gets reinterpreted many different ways for many different audiences. He's become an eternal, iconic piece of our shared culture and even stretches this sharing past American shores. But despite the movies, books, comics, and TV shows, when someone mentions the character this is the version that comes to my mind.

It really is the things that hit us in our childhood that form us as adults.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Katie's Christmas Breaththrough

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And while I do think that this picture qualifies, I still feel the need to clarify a few points.

Our house is sorta small, before the gigantic house addition we just put on it. Only three bedrooms, a hallway, a kitchen and a living room, really. So in order to maintain some Christmas morning magic mystery, Santa has been wrapping the open walkway between the hallway and the living room where the Christmas tree is sitting. That way, mothers with cameras have a chance to get into position before the kids get a chance to see what madness Santa has wrought.

Very early on, the Dill children took to running through this wrapping paper barrier once given the all-clear sign by Daddy.

Christmas, 2009 was when this particular picture was taken. You can see my knee there in the background. For whatever reason, I've been given the traditional Christmas task of kid-control first thing in the morning. And I've just told the kids that it's okay to go ahead in.

My words have not even registered on my sons. Ashton was ten at the time, Alex was three, and Katie... Katie was eight years old.

This picture summarizes Katie perfectly and in every way that matters.

Do NOT get in her way, lest she burn you with her laser beam eyes. And Heaven help you if you're one of her brothers.

Hope you had a Christmas this good:


Monday, December 24, 2012

Face-Off with the Grinch


Today's Christmas Eve. We haven't had a face-off in awhile and I thought it would be appropriate if we did a face-off with the Grinch for the holiday. Vote for the winner, of course.

I don't know how he got in here twice.

So there you go, folks. Who's Grinchiest? I'll give you my opinion...

Colonel Dave Dill, USAF retired. Photographer unknown.


Friday, December 21, 2012

World's Finest Tree

I came across this image while reading as many comics as I could that were published in the month of December, 1941. This image was the back cover of World's Finest comics number 4 and features many of the characters that appeared in the book.

The image took me completely by surprise. I didn't know about it, had never seen it before, and wasn't expecting it. There was nothing particularly Christmas themed about the issue of World's Finest I had just read. And it wasn't part of my current efforts to celebrate Christmas this year. It was an accidental find. And that doesn't happen for me a whole lot anymore.

Several things strike me about this image. First, usually the back cover of comics was devoted to advertising space. This issue of World's Finest cost fifteen cents as opposed to the normal ten cents for comics of the day. It also held many more stories than the normal comic and it was only published quarterly. So maybe the extra 'oomph' of these factors made them think they can give the readers an extra treat.

Also... what an image! So simple and straight forward. Each figure in the ornaments is drawn by their originally artist in the book. Let me clarify, this was probably a copy editor's effort. Someone lifted images of the characters from elsewhere, dropped them in the little ornaments, and then drew a Christmas tree and a bucket. Nothing to it! There's your back cover pin-up, kiddies.

Today's comics are so art-centric and rife with detail, almost overwhelming in busy-ness and action. Every pin-up we get is a highly detailed work of art. Effort went into composition and character choice. In fact, several thumbnails were probably submitted to the editor for his choice of composition before effort went in the actual art.

Something like this would never have gotten through the initial stages of today's comic publishers.

I love it so much it makes me tingle!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Christmas Village

A couple of years ago, I stopped buying physical comics and stopped 'officially' buying super hero toys. These days, I only buy comics digitally and not nearly as many as I used to buy. And toys I only buy occasionally and selectively.

Without this burden in my life, I've begun to pick up some other interests and explore things that I never had resources for before. And it's with this mindset that I finally took the plunge and did something this Christmas that I've always wanted to do.

Started a Christmas village.

I got Katie involved in the process, and Lorie ended up being much more about it than I thought she would. And we started off slow. I only bought one house this year, and one figure. The plan is to slowly grow it into a monstrously huge thing that Katie and I can work on as she grows into her teenage years.

I did some research and found out about Department 56, a company that makes these Christmas villages. The theme I chose to go with is the Dickens Village. I love the Christmas Carol story and it's many interpretations for several different reasons. And the whole 'ages gone by' thing really seemed to appeal to me as well.

We searched online together and it came down to two houses. Either the Scrooge house or the Cratchit house would be our first purchase. To me, it was obvious. We would get the Scrooge house. That's how you start your Dickens village! But Katie's vote was for the Cratchit house. (Katie often picks the opposite of what other people pick just to be difficult and see if she can get her way.) So since this was to be a joint father-daughter venture, I bought the Cratchit house and a little tiny figure of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.

A few weeks later we were attending the Ritchey family Christmas reunion party. At the party, there are gifts to the kids from the relatives. Under the tree that day were the Scrooge house, a figure of a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts, and several background trees. More than doubling our meager beginnings to a Christmas village. Thanks Grammy and Gramps!

We have a brand new sun room as one of the only finished parts of our house addition this year. It's where we have the 'real' Christmas tree. We threw a white table cloth over the kids air-hockey table and set the village pieces out on that. We even had enough room to set out the Christmas train set in it's entirety around the tree.

My sizable toy collection is currently all boxed up because of our work on the house addition. But once I'm unpacked, I may have some Justice League figures that will visit in the Dickens village next year. I'm picturing a tiny Aquaman with a scarf and a Santa hat standing next to Bob Cratchit. Lorie's against it.

There's a quote from my favorite Christmas movie that seems appropriate here: "I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy; the exactness, the attention to every conceivable detail. It's beautiful."

These houses remind me of that quote. Department 56 did a fantastic job, and it makes the pieces of the Dickens village all that more impressive. See for yourself.


P.S. What movie is the quote from?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Toy from 1975

Memories of Christmas always lead to the inevitable discussion that starts with “Oh... I had that as a kid.” It’s an honestly delightful exercise, and when you can match up a memory with another human being, so much nicer the experience. It’s this exercise of nostalgia and memory and that makes certain Christmas moments so delightful for me.

My buddy Matt and I recently had such a moment of memory magnetism when remembering this:

The G.I. Joe Sea Wolf Submarine. 1975. Complete with pincer arm, underwater camera, transparent cockpit, periscope, remote control buoyancy mechanism, and menacing squid.

I’ve got many pleasant memories of many different toys. But why hit you with all of them during my inaugural Christmas as a blog writer. You’ll notice I’m covering many different Christmas-themed topics this year, and I think in doing so has upped my own enjoyment of the season. So why not save some tongue twirling topics for next year?

Before my full-on obsession with super heroes really fully took root, I was into GI Joe’s. Santa kept bringing them for Christmas and I kept loving them. The big, full size, pre-1980’s GI Joe. With playsets and accessories that could take up an entire room.

The story of GI Joe toys is a famous one to toy collectors. Toy execs knew exactly how much Barbie was making in sales to little girls. And it was the accessories, not the doll herself, that was turning the big bucks. So how to appeal to boys? Up until this point, boys playing with dolls, or ‘action figures’, wasn’t really a thing. GI Joe changed all that. The action figure that’s sitting on your desk right now might not exist if it weren’t for Joe. Playing with any kind of doll was looked down on for boys. Until toy execs decided in 1964 they could sell weapons of war and vehicles of awesomeness as the requisite accessories. And if anyone was worried about seeming to be too girly while playing with dolls, they just had to look at the GI Joe figure they were holding and revel in the little, stubbly beard that graced his manly-scarred face. And if your pals with marbles and tops and slingshots and footballs still had their doubts, you could introduce them to the kung-fu grip.

I remember this particular sub very vividly. Fact is… I’m not entirely sure it was Santa that brought it to me or that I got it for Christmas at all. What I do know is that thinking back on the toy, it invokes a nostalgic feel.

I loved the fact that you could play with it in the bathtub! And that squid… I played with that thing for hours.

I received this when we lived in San Antonio, Texas. Not the house with the court and the hill and the back yard, but the other one. The smaller house. You remember? It was waaaay before my baby sister Robyn and therefore I still got SOME attention. At least for a little while.

When moving in the Air Force as often as I did, you didn’t get to keep a lot of your toys. In fact, if you weren’t playing with it at the very second of packing it was fifty-fifty whether or not Mom would put it in the pile to leave for Goodwill. This was just a practical part of weight-restricted moving. So I think the actual sub only made one or two moves with me. But that squid! The squid went from menacing GI Joes to menacing Mego super-heroes to menacing Micronauts and I think it even severely threatened a couple of Star Wars figures before it was lost in yet another move.

Got a particular Christmas toy you remember? If so, what’s the earliest one you can remember?


Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Cartoon Classics

When I drop a phrase like “Christmas Cartoon Classics”, you’re obviously going to let your mind wander to the real mainstays of the holiday. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The Grinch who Stole Christmas. Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. The Year Without a Santa Clause. The Night Before Christmas. Shows like that.

But that’s not exactly what I mean by ‘classic’. I mean old. Old TV shows celebrating Christmas.

Three or four years ago, I picked up a ninety-nine cent DVD out of a bin at a supermarket that trumpeted on the cover “Christmas Cartoons”. The front cover announced “10 Seasonal Cartoons” and had a picture of Rudolph on the front just to help with the additional sale to suckers. The episode listing on the back explained a bit more, and showed ten Christmas shows none of which I had ever heard of. I bought it immediately.

I’m thoroughly delighted by the DVD. It seems to reach back before our current Christmas entertainment and gives me a hint of what specials our culture looked forward to before Rankin Bass came along with their Christmas classics and made themselves a permanent part of Christmas culture. I don’t want to cover all ten in one blog post, but I do want to mention a few of the more interesting entries.

The aforementioned Rudolph on the front cover… the cartoon contained on this DVD has nothing to do with the Rankin Bass classic show of which everyone thinks. And researching what this cartoon was taught me a few things. Apparently, the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was written by a guy named Robert May in 1939 specifically for use by Montgomery Ward for the kiddies around Christmas time. He’s a marketing gimmick that transcended into pop culture legend. The nine minute cartoon was made in 1944 by the Max Fleisher studios and probably aired in movie theatres before the start of the main feature. It’s surprising to find a show about Rudolph that pre-dates the 1964 Rankin Bass classic by twenty full years, but it’s even more surprising to find out that Gene Autry didn’t make his famous recording of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer until 1949. The cartoon pre-dates the song! Not only that, but apparently the cartoon was re-issued with the song added after the song proved to be so popular. You can read more about it here.

I loved the Rankin Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a kid. As an adult, I find it to be an hour long waste of time. It’s downright cruel in spots and excruciatingly slow. The nine minute cartoon is perfect in comparison, only missing out on the years of associated nostalgia.

Another of the cartoons on this DVD of a particular curious nature is the Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives. It actually has it’s own Wikipedia page and you can check that out here. The Merrie Melodies cartoon was first aired in 1933, during the Great Depression. And it shows.

To give you some perspective on the era, the first Mickey Mouse was in 1928. The first Porky Pig was 1935. Fleisher brought Popeye to cartoon life in 1936. A prototypical Bugs Bunny appeared in 1938. The first Superman appearance in comic books was 1938 and the first Fleisher cartoon in 1941.

The cartoon is very fluid and typical of a Merrie Melodies effort of the era. It’s also very racist and hard to watch. It deals with a poor little boy, who sounds a lot like Mickey Mouse, being found by Santa and taken back to Santa’s shanty for a Christmas party with the animated toys. The cartoon has a nice nostalgic feel to it, but I would say you have to view it from a historical perspective in order to get through it. For instance, A little white doll falls into a bucket of coal and comes out in blackface. Then shouts out “Mammy” and is joined by an offensive stereotype black Southern ‘Mammy’. That’s only one short bit. There’s also some time given to a ‘Sambo’ jazz band. I feel it’s important to not shy away from such things that were a strong part of our culture back then, but it’s not a cartoon I would sit the kids in front of and just leave them be.

The cartoon ends when one of the candles on the tree falls over. Back then, candles were the primary method of Christmas lights for trees and the threat of fire was constant. The tree burns and the toys go to work putting it out. Given a last minute assist by the little poor boy.

The last special I wanted to cover today is just plain odd. It’s hard to pinpoint ANY of these specials on the DVD to be odder than the others, but this one is unique. It’s called a “Christmas Fairy Tale” and I couldn’t find any information on it at all. It is, however, available on YouTube. The 11 minute special is completely in live action and starts with a little girl reading about fairy tales on Christmas Eve. As she begins to imagine what these fairy tales are doing now, we’re treated to scenes of animatronic toys acting out various scenes from the fairy tales. Creepy, grinny, toy versions of Wee Willy Winky, Simple Simon, Mother Goose, Hansel and Gretel, Robin Hood, Rip Van Winkle, the Three Bears, Three Blind Mice, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss N Boots, and Little Bo Peep all parade across the scene and end up dancing in a Christmas ball. Helpfully narrated for us to make sure we know what’s happening.

It’s… odd. It’s obviously from the 1950’s and it seems the technology and animation available at the time would have made this sort of presentation a little old fashioned. Even my wife Lorie commented on the weirdness of it.

The show ended with an even weirder presentation of the Littlest Snowman. The narrator read the story to us as static scenes of dolls in model houses paraded by on a track past an unmoving camera. Neither animated, animatronic, or interesting… other than admiration of the craft and the oddity of presentation.

My current theory is that I just had the wrong perspective going in. My mind was trying to make it into a Christmas special done specifically for television in the 1950’s. But after some discussion and time has gone by, I know think that what we were seeing was simply a department store window display. I’ve heard of this, where department stores create something fantastic for their street-facing windows for the kids to come see at Christmas time while there parents shopped. But I’ve never seen anything like this.

Of course, that’s pure theory on my part. So if any of you have more information on this crazy special, I’d love to hear it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Wisk Incident

In any group of friends with a sizable chunk of time spent together under their fingernails, there's going to be stories. Legendary stories. Favorite stories that get resurfaced every time a new girlfriend is introduced or someone's sister visits from far away, and embarrassment must be claimed. For my friends and I, this is one of those stories.

1995. I was a very lonely bachelor with very little friends. What few friends I did have, I had known for what seemed like forever and a day. Being with them was extremely comfortable for me. And I tried to be with them whenever possible.

Jamie, Scott and Mario were rooming together in a three bedroom apartment in Fairfax. Bill and I were honorary roommates, as we were almost always there. The living arrangement was the source of endless stories. Like the time Jamie romanced a one night stand for Mario. Or the time Jamie woke up in bed with Mario. Or the several times Mario would weigh himself naked right after a shower. They kept the scale in the living room. Or the time my sister asked Jamie why he doesn't have any leg hair. Or the time...the time...

Or the time I drilled a wisk into my finger.

When Scott moved into the apartment, he bought a complete set of cooking supplies. He bought dishes and pans and cleaning utensils aplenty. He was proud of his fully-stocked and loaded kitchen. He was especially proud of what it symbolized. His independence and ability to feed himself. Although, he rarely ever cooked. He found out early on that if he cooked, Mario would eat. He didn't want to set the standard of being the house chef. Between that and laziness he ended up eating at the pizza shop next to his comic book store all the time. One of the many electronic cooking gizmos he bought was a wisk. A little plug-in handle with a spinning end that had different attachments. Egg-beater, wisk, toothbrush, garage door opener...this thing had it all.

A wisk, in case you don't know, is a little metal wire that spirals in concentric circles. Looked at from the top, it looks like a hypno-disk from the 1950's.

I was looking at the wisk from the top late one Saturday night. Thinking about how the Wizard or Dr. Occult would best use this gadget against Prince Ra-Man. Scott, Mario, Jamie, Bill and myself were all pokered out and sick of junk food. We were looking for one last dose of entertainment before calling it a night. Mario grabbed Scott and left for the video store. Mario had the rental card, Scott had the money. Bill, Jamie and I stood in the kitchen. Talking about sports.

I listened to Bill and Jamie talk about sports, occasionally tuning them out. In day to day life, I try to keep my nerd tendencies suppressed. I try to not make constant comic-book filled conversation, although I fail more often than not. With my friends and their innate ability to let my hair down, I talk about comics a little more freely than normal. So it was only fair to listen while they talked about sports.

Now that I think about it, it must be a real burden being one of my friends.

I listened to Jamie go on about basketball and statistics and money. I watched the wisk whirl round and round and round. I pretended I was Hourman, slowly falling prey to the will of the Psycho-Pirate. I touched the end of the wisk, letting the cool metal strand spiraling away from me massage my fingertip. Interesting. More interesting than basketball. I wondered what the reverse would feel like. With no forethought, I hit the reverse button.

The wisk seemed to 'grab' my finger, and the perfect metal spiral circles twisted themselves into a jam, encircling my entire hand. I tried to pul my finger free, at first worried about Scott's wisk. I only succeeded in pulling the appliance close enough to grab my sweater. Still spinning, the wisk wrapped my sweater around my hand and only stopped when it could go no further.

Bill and Jamie weren't really watching what I was doing. To them it came as a complete surprise to look over and see my arms twisted up into my sweater, a plugged-in electrical cord trailing out of the wadded up cloth.

"Chuck has a kitchen appliance." Bill warned.

Jamie laughed so hard he actually put his beer down.

Unable to extricate myself without help, it wasn't until Bill pulled me free that we fully realized what had happened.

The tip of the wisk had drilled INTO my finger. Circling twice, looping around the bone and underneath the fingernail.

We stared in amazement. There was no pain..yet. There was no blood..yet. There was only a wisk drilled into my finger.

I immediately knew this would be one of 'those' stories.

Jamie, unable to handle the sight, swiftly retreated to his room. He could better drink beer in peace in there. Bill studied my finger carefully. Probably thinking about how best to use the microwave to rectify the current situation.

"Get it out, Bill." I gritted my teeth.

"How should I do that, genius?" Bill's question was legitimate.

"Are there any wire cutters around here." I held my hand like it was a fragile porcelain bunny. "If we can cut the wire at the twist, maybe we can pull it free."

"Doubtful." Bill frowned.

"We gotta try."

"JAMIE!" Bill yelled without warning. "Got any wire cutters?"

We waited a moment for Jamie's reply. "No." Came his muffled voice.

"Hardware store?" Bill asked.

"Late on a Saturday night?" I countered. "There's an all-night Safeway across the street."

"Long shot." Bill grabbed his keys. "I'll be right back."

I sat on the couch and turned on the television. Jamie, checking to make sure no one was in excessive pain and there was no blood, quietly exited his room and sat next to me.

"Beer?" He asked.

"No thank you." I answered.

I wasn't even drinking that night. I don't drink beer and that's all Jamie buys. Although, in hindsight, some Old Granddad Whiskey could have done nothing but help the situation. At this point, Jamie's behavior in the face of this emergency might seem a little cold. But offering to part with some of his beer shows the magnitude in which he held the situation.

There's nothing more surreal than sitting on the couch watching television with one friend while you wait for the other friend to get back from the store with wire cutters to remove a kitchen appliance from your finger.

Bill came back with pliers. Best he could do. No wire cutters. After a session of 'foot in my chest' pulling, during which Jamie hid, Bill decided he couldn't handle my screams of pain. It was time to bite the bullet and drive me to the emergency room.

"And your reason for today's visit to the emergency room?" The nurse had a dull-eyed 'seen everything' look about her.

I placed my hand on the desk in front of her. The wisk dangled on the end of my finger like the head from a Jack-in-the-Box. Bobbing back and forth and swaying to and fro.

Bill pointed at my finger and used his best 'eyes wide open, naive and innocent face'. "He did it. We can't get it out." He told her.

We waited in the emergency room for half an hour. You can imagine the looks I got from the other Saturday night emergency room idiots. I WASN'T EVEN DRINKING! My accident was caused while daydreaming about super-heroes. Even in the emergency room I find myself unique.

The doctor gave me a shot, snipped the wire, and yanked it out. Two minutes. He was grinning.

When we got back to the apartment, Mario and Scott had returned. Scott was more than a little cross, and wouldn't talk to me for the rest of the night. He was angry for two reasons. One, I was stupid enough to actually drill his wisk into my finger. And two, I ruined his wisk. Scott's not a very forgiving guy. He's kind of opinionated. In this case he was just being a horses' ass.

Still, I never replaced the wisk. And in the face of a ruined set of kitchen utensils, my friendship didn't have much value.

I did keep the tip that got drilled into my finger. I'm not sure where it is now, but for awhile it was my good luck charm. Until I started to get the hospital bills. Five hundred dollars for the doctor to play carpenter on my finger. I hate doctors. My insurance company claimed that since it was an unreported emergency room visit, they had no responsibility. Surprise surprise that an insurance company would have no responsibility. I hate insurance companies.

It almost seems like the rules of the world are built against the man willing to drill a wisk into his finger on a boring Saturday night.

So the next time I drill a wisk into my finger, I'm not going to the doctor. No matter how hard it is to type.


Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I’m much more into Christmas this year than I have been in years. That’s because work is so much better now than before. My job has had consistent major deadlines tied to the first of the year during the past couple of Christmas holidays. As such, the date has been a thing of dread. Not so this year.

My family seems to be enjoying the holiday much more this year too. That’s probably because I’m not walking around grumbling under my breath or grinding my teeth or threatening to shoot Santa Claus on site.

My gym started playing Christmas music the week before Thanksgiving. I was a little irked, but not overly disgusted. My fresh attitude towards the holiday is making me more receptive to the breaking of non-existent rules. But it’s because of this that I drove home thinking hard about my favorite Christmas song.

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” was written by Meredith Wilson in 1951. It’s been covered by many different singers, but my favorite is Bing Crosby. There’s a nostalgic element to the song for me, but deeper than that I just like what it represents.

The song doesn’t really focus on religion or Santa or love or the true meaning of Christmas or any of that. I feel that the song is unique. I feel that it’s celebrating the idea of a personal Christmas within the context of a public one. The singer is obviously enjoying the trappings of a town decorating and preparing for Christmas in many different ways, but ultimately “the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be at your own front door”. I always took that to mean that there’s a personal Christmas involved in the greater Christmas holiday, and that involves the decorations and traditions that are unique to you and your family.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen;
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well,
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

There’s also a historical aspect to this song that’s relevant to the underlying theme of this blog. The song is present every year in our culture, yet it marks itself with references to our past. It’s a distinctly 1950’s view of Christmas. “Take a look in the Five and Ten”. Five and Ten? What’s a Five and Ten? Would your kids know? Do you have a Five and Ten in your home town anymore? “Toys in ev’ry store”. That’s a reference to the fact that many department stores didn’t stock toys year-round. Only during the Christmas season when toy sales were at their peak. That’s something that began to change in the 1970’s.

“A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben.” Ah… Barney and Ben. Those fashion challenged gangsters of the Christmas streets. This is, of course, a reference to Hopalong Cassidy and the immensely popular cowboys of the 1950’s. This was before action figures and GI Joe, when role-play toys were the boys thing to do and Roy Rogers ruled the range underneath the Christmas tree. I may be unique in this, but I don’t see a lot of kids running around and playing cowboy today.

“Dolls that will talk and go for a walk is the hope of Janice and Jen.” Dolls that actually DID stuff were still new in the 1950’s and quite the rage. It’s kinda funny now that the American Girl dolls and similar high-end girl’s toys seem to be going back to the no-frills-except-on-the-outfits roots.

The song seeks to evoke a nostalgic feeling for Christmas and does so quite well. And it keeps getting sung by new singers every year and the classic versions played on the radio every year. So these elements of a 1950’s Christmas buried in the lyrics have become eternal. The song is invoking nostalgic feeling in generations that will never see a Five and Ten and never strap on toy pistol and slip on some Cowboy boots with Hoppy’s picture on it.

So yeah… I love it.