Saturday, December 27, 2008
It all started at the beginning of the 80's. I was five and up until that point, the Christmas gifts I received were rather big in size. This was partly due to choking hazards in small children, and partly due to being a kid and getting large toys. Just around the age of five, things changed. I was getting away from the large plastic play sets and heading towards the small plastic LEGOs and Star Wars Action Figures. While the boxes began to appear in different sizes, the wrapping paper design stayed the same. I can distinctly remember my Mother wanting us to open presents in a careful fashion. I didn't know why? As a kid, your first instinct is to just rip everything to shreds, looking for the prize inside. It didn't make sense to me that my Mother took the wrapping paper and kept it to the side, once we had extracted the goodies from within its bowels. She even had a paring knife on hand and I remember seeing her folding over the ripped edges and slicing them off, like a baker removing excess crust from a pie. For years, I never knew what to make of this until I was a little older and the truth about that jolly old elf came out like discovering you're inside The Matrix.
Turns out, that my Mother was saving the wrapping paper to use over next Christmas, and hopefully, many Christmas after that. It was nothing to see the wrapping paper used on our Atari at the age of five, show up six years later wrapped around batteries. The older we got, the smaller our presents got, until I was sure I'd be given a gold chain or some other small item utilizing that old wrapping paper. My siblings and I would joke every year that we'd seen that pattern before and every year we'd make sure we'd rip a little more off in order to force our parents to buy new paper. I mean it was totally understandable during the early 80's. Times were a bit tougher then, and you made sacrifices where you could as parents. But, by the time I was in high school, wrapping paper became a cheap product, filling the Dollar Stores across the nation. There was no need to keep using the same paper, year after year. However, my life has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other.
I have no intention of reusing paper once it's been wrapped around a gift. In fact, I'm all for using up as much as possible as I am deficient in the art of wrapping. Sometimes, my gifts to family members are deceiving as they are mostly made up of paper. We've even been able to break my Mom of this old habit, although a trip to Promises and a session with Dr. Phil was needed. But it's gone from famine to feast to gluttony when it comes to wrapping paper. My wife will go out and start to do her Christmas shopping and buy a few rolls of paper. Then she'll get done shopping and prepare to start wrapping and will go out and buy more paper. After Christmas is over and we pack up all the decorations for their pilgrimage back into the attic, I am stuck with two or three shopping bags with half used tubes of wrapping paper. The next year comes and the cycle repeats itself. Each year I tell her that she has plenty of paper and each year she worries that my estimate of the supply is about as sound as the Public Works' assessment of the level of road salt available for the coming winter.
As space becomes a premium in our attic, I'm forced to reorganize, shuffle, and unfortunately break a few things, shoving them into any available slot in the attic. This year is no exception. Now, while we go through a lot of wrapping paper on the gifts, we never get the supply level within acceptable limits. Working within a supply chain environment and understanding the concept of inventory vs. space, I continue to argue the point with my wife that she needs to start using the older paper instead of buying new. Her response ranges from the old paper being just that.old or that the older paper won't cover the larger items and she doesn't want to get stuck. My response is, then get rid of the old paper. I'm still waiting for an answer. Boxes are just as bad and take up even more room. While, it isn't the safest of practices, cardboard gift boxes make for excellent kindling in our wood burner. They burn hot enough to help get the wood started when you build a fire. The ink used to color them white or whatever pattern is probably laced with lead and I've inhaled enough fireplace smoke to probably do some damage later in my years.
So, while I lug bags of paper and boxes back up into the attic, somewhere, close by, a woman is probably laughing at me, reminding me that parents truly DO get it. We make fun of them for being adults and not "with it" in terms of social mores but when it comes to parenthood and life, they would gladly give you the gift of hindsight, no wrapping required.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Ok, perhaps you’ve been wondering what the hell this post is all about? Perhaps not. Some might have come here thinking they’ve stumbled onto a fan page for Mega Bloks intending to diss LEGO.
Nope, this is just me turning over the blogging reins to the man who begat Mongo in order to share a Christmas tale of woe from the perspective of a Father who shops on Christmas Eve, or as the holiday is officially known in my family as Piss On LEGO day. I could try to give you an explanation but it just wouldn’t be as good. I think I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that I love a good story. In fact, I’ve used that same line in both The Coffin Story and The Baseball Story. What can I say, I come from a long line of storytellers. You see, my Father has the ability to spin and weave a beautiful tapestry of details and facts with enough gravitas to make Morgan Freeman wish he could narrate it. Then, he yanks the rug out from under you with a punch line that you never see coming. The man is that good. So, for me to try and recreate the story of Piss On LEGO would be like having Britney Spears recite Shakespeare. I wouldn’t let here read Dr. Seuss. Now, occasionally, I may bust in with a footnote or some exposition to highlight the details but in order to not detract from the flow, I will add a note and the bottom of the page will reference those. Now, without further ado, I give you the origin of Piss On LEGO.
1. Ok, I realize that it didn’t take long for me to have ruined the flow, but I had to jump in here and point out that Dad is partially the reason I’m so warped. After all, when you can recite the Dead Parrot Sketch before you learn the pledge of allegiance you’re doomed for life. In any case, opening with Star Wars just goes to show where I get it.
Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away1, two brothers would go Christmas Shopping. Only one of the brothers had children at the time, and the other brother would go along for moral support, and to drink beer at Bud's2 later.
It was a very difficult task for the older brother to purchase gifts of a quality suitable for the wonderful, highly intelligent, and generally superior children that he had begat.3 It came to pass that on a cold and snowy evening late in December the two Brothers odyssey came to a crucial impasse at the Ames store at the Uniontown Fayette Plaza4. Having not yet found the suitable gifts that his children deserved, the dejected Father walked up and down the aisles searching for his elusive quarry.5
In utter and abject futility, the hapless Father cried out, " I just don't know what to get those kids for Christmas" The younger brother, ever helpful said "Why not get them LEGO"? The older Brother, without thinking, and not realizing that he would be coining a phrase that would live through the ages, said "Aw, Piss on LEGO" and from that moment on, every Christmas shopping trip became a mission to Piss On LEGO.6
2. Bud’s is a local pizza and beer joint in my hometown. If you are very familiar with the Pittsburgh area, you’ll know what a Vinnie Pie is. Bud’s is the equivalent, save for the cigarette ash. Either way, you could take the empty box home and lube up a Ferrari with it.
3. That’s a pretty bold statement. Between my brother, my sister, and myself, I’d say we were more enthralled with the boxes toys came in then the actual toy. In fact, pretty much every toy we got, that had internal parts, was disassembled by my brother and rebuilt with more power. Of course, I ended up breaking them soon afterwards.
4. Now, for the sake of authenticity, it is very possible that my Dad meant Hills. I could be wrong. I’m a little fuzzy on the geography of the Uniontown Fayette Plaza circa 1979-1984. I was only aware of Hills being the major store there at such a young age.
5. Well, it was Christmas Eve. What would one expect? We’re lucky we didn’t end up with the Alex P. Keaton Christmas Gift Extravaganza consisting of Beef Jerky and a TV Guide from 7-Eleven.
6. I can’t make this stuff up. This is really what he calls Christmas shopping. I don’t know if he still waits until Christmas Eve to do it, but for the longest time this was the running gag.
Monday, December 22, 2008
No “Christmas Shoes” Listed.
This has been pointed out in every other comment listed under the article, online. This song is truly depressing. A little boy scrapes together enough money to buy his dying Mother a new pair of shoes for Christmas in case she should meet Jesus, tonight. I mean, come on, I’m tearing up just typing that last sentence. This particular song is on the DNP (Do Not Play) list in my life. If I’m driving down the road, holding a scolding cup of coffee in one hand and a map in the steering wheel in the other, I will either gladly crash the car or burn myself just to switch stations. My wife, who is a glutton for punishment, has to listen to this song, even though it depresses her. The fact that EW neglects to even list this song in the bottom half of the list means one of two things, the author, either never heard of the song, which I find hard to believe, or they have mentally blocked it out altogether.
“Same Old Lang Syne” at a measly 26.
At 26, it is hard to fathom that 25 other songs…besides country ones, were more depressing than the story of two old lovers who find themselves years later in a grocery store on Christmas Eve. Both have led comfortable but unfulfilled lives since their departure at school. The sustained silence between them lasts forever, or at least longer than a six pack and they can't find any more common ground like the memories of Auld Lang Syne. Soon they realize they have nothing more to say and they part ways as the snow turns to rain.
Now that’s depressing. Not only are they living hollow, albeit successful, lives, the years have transformed them so much that not even memories are enough to sustain a conversation outside of six beers. Leave it to Dan Fogelberg to pull off that one...from a real life experience, no less.
The Most Depressing Christmas Song Isn't Even Listed.
While not everyone will agree with my choice, I suggested that there was another song missing from the list. A song of childhood dreams unknowingly smashed to pieces. Among the broken shards are the security of a marriage flung aside by the outright betrayal of a mother, who dares to bring her infidelities home on Christmas. Her child sees the act, not fully grasping the implications of such a heinous crime to their happy home. Then, when it appears that maybe there has been mistake and the sacred vows of matrimony are spared, they are replaced with the realization that everything a child holds dear at Christmas is a huge fat lie. I’m of course speaking of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
Let’s examine the evidence….The child in the song has snuck downstairs to catch a glimpse of the elusive St. Nick, only to discover him necking with his mother underneath the mistletoe. Unaware of the audience, who knows how far the act will continue. Santa might even unpack his Yule log. The child, clearly oblivious to this desecration, find it humorous to imagine his Father walking in on the act. Could you imagine the devastation in the child’s eyes were he to see a furious Father walking in and dispatching Santa with his 12 gauge? Ghastly! Then and only then is the listener entreated to the secret that it’s really Santa underneath that beard all snowy white. You want to ensure that you child remains in therapy well into his adult years? It’s bad enough that he’s spying on what could be considered adultery. But what happens if he were to question it? “Hey, Daddy. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” “Oh, well, that’s ok.” Dad, doesn’t realize that he’s just instilled the idea that it’s ok to kiss men, other than a spouse or significant other, passionately. Just think, in 20 years, you’re son or daughter could be relying on these lessons to explain away their own acts of infidelity. Lastly, if you choose to let your little one in on the ruse that you were the jolly old St. Nick, you’ve now blown their little imaginations to shreds. “So, if you were Santa Claus, that means…there is no real Santa Claus?” or “My Daddy is Santa, be nice to me or you’ll get a lump of coal next year.” In any case, the only thing you’ll be stuffing into their stocking is Prozac. That is down and out, depressing. Get that kid a leather couch.
Friday, December 19, 2008
- Take advantage of Free Shipping Day.
Now, I know you might have missed out on this. I managed to sneak in under the wire. A lot of retailers recognize December 18th as “Free Shipping Day” as a way to entice shoppers to place their last minute orders online. This is recognized as the last day most can guarantee delivery by Christmas on standard shipping. Yule still have to pay for premium services if you wait until the 19th which is “Crap! I’m a Dumb Ass Day."
- Look for deals and coupons before buying.
At my office, we just received a gift basket from Wine Country Gift Baskets. These kinds of gift baskets are typical in an office setting and I pondered the idea about maybe getting them for people on my list. I went to the website and was faced with an onslaught of goodies for pretty good prices. However, I did take advantage of free shipping. Now, the moral of this story is that you can get pretty caught up in a new site that looks great. If you take your finger off the buy trigger for five seconds, you may find yourself additional savings. I went to Google and typed “Wine Country Gift Baskets Coupons” and let Google do the work for me. I managed to get an additional 5% off my order by obtaining a coupon code from one of the sites I was given in the search results. In previous years, I’ve managed to save an additional 5-10% on orders by opening up a card with the retailer and then close it after the balance is paid off. These are specialty items from sites that I would probably not look to again. “I call these One Offs."
- Shop at odd hours
I recently took a Saturday to do some Christmas Shopping and returned an item for credit. I spent 10 minutes in line at the return desk with a child who was becoming increasingly cranky. I managed to return that item and did nothing else. This was a Saturday at 2pm. Big mistake. Unfortunately, more and more people are shopping off peak hours creating a consistent flow of traffic in the stores. While, I dread shopping at Wal-Mart, I know that I can get in and out late at night. The only issue is the store is stocking shelves in this slow time and I have to travel out of my way to get around pallets that are blocking the isles. The move to online shopping is becoming a model of real store traffic. As conventions like “Free Shipping Day” and “Cyber Monday” become more widely accepted, traffic to websites can slow down your experience and cause crashes right when you least desire it. If you can stand to be in the stores among a sea of bargain hunters go ahead. Me, I’d rather not let my frustration with that shopper, who blocks the aisle and proceeds to stand there oblivious to anyone around them, carry over to the parking lot where I might overlook something like a car or pedestrian in my path.
- Homemade Gift Baskets
I know it seems trite, but there are some pretty cool ideas out there. I mentioned that Country Wine Gift Basket website and while I suggest using them, a more thoughtful idea might be to create your own. If you have a hard to shop for person on your list, a gift card is fine, but the idea of getting a gift card is becoming increasingly lazy, in my opinion. Not to mention, a lot of gift cards nowadays carry hidden caveats like expiration of funds, fees, and the threat of the store being out of business before they can be redeemed. Also, with different family members buying me gift cards, I end up getting competing store cards and have to split up orders between retailers. The homemade gift basket is cheaper and more thoughtful, because you’ve taken the time to put work into it.
- Shop at a store like Marshalls or TJ Maxx and buy cheap but pretty baskets
- Go to a craft store or discount store and get wrapping supplies like cellophane and shredded paper or hay or whatever they call that stuff.
- Get your themed items. If the recipient is a movie fan, get some microwave popcorn, their favorite candy bars, and perhaps a gift card for movie rentals or tickets to their local theater, and a couple of other items that are indicative of their tastes. For a classier looking basket, get higher end chocolates like Ghirardelli or other premium brands and real popping corn instead of microwave….if they have the means in which to pop it. My wife went to Target and found several packs of coffees from Jack Daniels and Frangelico, all in the dollar section near the front of the store. Add a couple of nice looking coffee mugs, premium chocolates, and maybe a gift card to Starbucks.
Be creative. You’ll save some cash and give them a lot for the effort.
- Give Yourself
No, I don’t mean in terms of prostitution, I mean in terms of time. The economy is slumping, no one can afford high credit card payments. Now is the time to be in someone’s life. Take the time and help out. Maybe it’s something that they have either neglected or need assistance in doing like cleaning out the garage. Maybe it’s a home improvement project. A case of beer and a few days of work will increase the bond of your relationship….or completely destroy it in a drunken fight with power tools…who knows. Drink responsibly.
Another example is my parents. They worst to buy for because they say they don’t need anything but their family. They always want a list from us but they never give us one in return. We fumble around the stores and get them gift cards, but they just pile up. We rack our brains to buy them gadgets and other items they might want and they just collect dust. But, as they get on in years, there are numerous projects around their house that appear incomplete or not even started. Hint around to what’s going on in someone’s life and find some time to help them. Take them to the store that they love but hate to drive to. Offer them a night away from the house at their favorite restaurant and pick up the tab. These are things you don’t have to try and buy at the last minute and there is no shipping dates to adhere by. This is a gift that can be redeemed throughout the coming year, especially if it is a nice weather project.
Whatever you finally decide to do with your holiday shopping, just remember to be mindful of your wallet and your identity. These are tough times and as much as we want to be generous with our loved ones, they will understand. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that you can’t buy in a store or online. Sometimes, the littlest gift is something that they would never buy themselves but only mentioned in passing. Gift giving is 25% monetary, 25% presentation, and 50% thought. Don’t get caught up in the spirit of commercialism. Alternatively, a poor gift is something you think they need….a great gift is something you know they want. When in doubt, money always works, but if you agree to a budget or a set limit….it’s rather unimpressive.
Be safe and be well.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
With that, the final ten and all the rest.
16: Rankin/Bass Stop Motion Animated Specials (1964 - ????) It was too hard to slice and dice these shows as they are truly classics. The Island of Misfit Toys would be found on a Pop Culture Globe for sure. For a complete list…check out the Wikipedia entry.
17: Bad Santa (2003) Hilarious and completely politically incorrect, Bad Santa is like Festivus. It’s the Christmas movie for the rest of us. Brett Kelly steals this flick from everyone as The Kid aka Thurman Merman. If you went through and just cut every scene out except for ones involving him, you would die from laughing.
18: “Christmas Party” The Office (2005) Speaking of inappropriate. A boss that buys an obscene amount of alcohol for an office Christmas Party, institutes a “Yankee Swap” when he’s disappointed by his gift, and takes a picture of a topless, drunken coworker can only mean one thing, Emmy nomination. For a breakdown of the Secret Santa gift exchange, go here.
19: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) Only earning back half of its estimated budget made it a flop and harsh reviews from critics won’t make Santa’s nice list, but I still like this film. For anyone who loves origins and back stories it does really well and is in depth as an Star Fleet Manual on the Enterprise. The imagery of the North Pole makes you want to move there or at least go there for a ski trip. It’s got a trippy over sized toy look to it. I’m in agreement that Lithgow’s B.Z. doesn’t go far into evil territory and is more cartoonish, but it’s a kids’ Christmas movie. Plus, look the film as a business major. You have Santa Claus’ tried and true method of producing toys with optimal satisfaction ratings, and along comes Patch. While he’s a visionary along the lines of Henry Ford, his methods beget shoddy workmanship and customer dissatisfaction which nearly results in fatalities.
20: “Noël” and “Bartlett For America” The West Wing (2000 and 2001) Episodic television is hard to rank in terms of Christmas themed offerings as most long running shows have several from which to choose. However, “Noël” is an exception because it sets up a recurring event when Josh suffers from PSD after being shot in the season opener. Leo tells Josh a story about a guy stuck in a hole and how people walk by offering suggestions of help but not actual help until the guy’s friend jumps in the hole with him. When he admonishes his friend for doing such a stupid thing, the friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out." A year later, when Leo’s alcoholism is brought into question during the investigation of the President’s non disclosure of his M.S. during the re-election, Josh refers to the parable in regards to helping Leo out of the line of fire.
21: While You Were Sleeping (1995) Christmas with family is all about misunderstandings, miscommunication, and general chaos. So, what happens when the man of your dreams nearly dies in your arms and he doesn’t even know you exist? Pose as his fiancée and get to know his family. Simon-esque obstacles prevent Lucy from coming clean to the Callaghans and she ends up falling the brother of her now comatose fiancé. Randy Edelman’s soundtrack is excellent on this one and the best scene of the movie is a “blink and you’ll miss it” sight gag involving a paper boy with balance issues.
22: Lethal Weapon (1987) Suicide and depression go hand in hand for the holidays. How comforting? And even though Christmas in LA is rather uneventful weather wise the movie touches on several themes of holidays, family, and life. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s one of the best action movies of all time. I had to include it. The film being set at Christmas is incidental.
23: Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) The threat of being naughty will get you a lump of coal is taken to a whole new level. Here, you’re liable to get an axe in the head. Truly a guilty pleasure for any horror-phile. The fact that Billy says “NAUGHTY” when he chooses to kill someone cracks me up the most. There are so many bad Christmas puns to be used it’s worthy of being a classic.
24: Elf (2003) While Will Ferrel’s man-boy on screen charm is starting to wear thin, this movie is perfect for his shtick. The pure joyful moments that Buddy feels when he believes that the things that occur in a store during Christmas are part of his real world experience are excellent. And answering the phone, “Buddy, the elf, what’s your favorite color?” cracks me up every time. Yeah, James Caan seems out of place and Zooey Deschanel looks like she’s lost…she’s not, she’s rather great in this film as an acerbic and dry humored store employee…everyone works well, and having Bob Newhart on screen is always a treat.
25: “Bedtime for Sniffles” (1940) Staying awake for Santa is not an easy task, especially with all kinds of signs like a poster for tires that says, “Time to retire” and features a child in a sleeping gown, carrying a candle, and yawning. Another good moment that has been seared into my memory is Sniffles falling asleep on a bristly brush providing what looks like five O’clock shadow.
The rest of the best:
Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Batman Returns (1992)
All I Want For Christmas (1991)
Santa Clause Trilogy (1994-2006)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) I highly recommend the MST3K version
Reindeer Games (2000)
Trapped in Paradise (1994)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Love Actually (2003)
The Holiday (2006)
“Woodland Critter Christmas” South Park (2004)
"A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas" Family Guy (2001)
The Ref (1994)
Unaccompanied Minors (2006)
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Have a Merry Christmas and every other Winter Holiday known to Human Resources....
Back to Part 1 (1-5)
Back to Part 2 (6-15)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
And now Part 2.
6: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Another instant classic that offers Holiday quotes for whatever the occassion. Who can forget, "Shitter was full!" The last great Vacation movie from the minds of National Lampoon. From displaced psychotic squirrel's to leg humping hounds, what tried and true family Christmas warrior could not find something in which to relate?
7: Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (1977)
Two things from my childhood were a given. I liked Christmas and I liked Muppets. The combination of the two are perfect match made in Frogtown Hollow. As a take on The Gift of the Magi, Ma and Emmet Otter sacrifice each other's source of income in order to compete in a talent contest. Unbeknownst to each other they intend to use the winnings to buy a Christmas gift the other really wants. I still quote this show when my wife asks me to hang a holiday themed item on the wall. If the task requires a hammer and nail, I say, “But to do that, you gotta put a hole in the washtub.” She doesn’t get it. It’s ok. I do.
8: The Polar Express (2004)
Though, I've never read the book, the film is becoming a favorite. It has some wonderful imagery of a fantastical childhood adventure to the North Pole. These are the kinds of landscapes that you envision as a kid when you think about what it would be like to go visit Santa. And with the message of believing in Christmas and growing up a believer, it clicks on all holiday cylinders. The only detraction is those dead soulless eyes that comes with CGI rendering of people. PIXAR and Dreamworks are fantastic in creating realistic environments, but they always caricaturize their humans and it works. It seems that the more you try to make a CGI character look like a real human, the less real it looks.
9: "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" (1997)
As far as Christmas cheer goes, some people can’t do much better than talking poo. Reminiscent of the Great Pumpkin in terms of believability adults and plausibility to children, Mr. Hanky supposedly emerges from the toilet bowl to spread good cheer and, in all reality, poo stains wherever he goes. The episode remains a classic because of the biting commentary on the controversy of Christmas vs. Holiday nomenclature in today’s more, if not overly, politically correct society. Because Kyle’s family is Jewish, it’s offensive to his mother to have Christian imagery in the public school pageant. The end result of the holiday pageant’s stripping of all things Christmas leaves a minimalist song and dance accompanied by Philip Glass. It’s not what is wrong with Christmas, Mr Hanky teaches, it’s about what is so right with Christmas that is important.
10: "Amends" Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1998)
Vampires at Christmas? Ok, but hear me out. "Amends" is a favorite of mine. It’s a twist on the Dickens’ Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life motif. Angel is haunted by First Evil, a pivotal antagonist for the series in its final season. Showing him the visions of his past victims, he is slowly driven insane in an attempt to get him to kill Buffy. Because of his feelings for the Slayer and his restored soul, he can’t follow through and opts to kill himself, instead, as a release of his pain. Buffy confronts Angel on a hilltop just before sunrise, which will kill him, in hopes that she can talk him down off the ledge. When dawn brings snowfall blocking out the sun, the miracle gives Angel and Buffy hope that a higher power is guiding his destiny instead of an evil one.
11: Scrooged (1988)
When in doubt parody convention. Better than half of all Christmas movies are remakes, parodies, or homage to traditional stories. Scrooged is just that with a shot of Vodka added. Frank Cross is a rich and conceited television executive who markets the hell out of the holidays for a live television version of A Christmas Carol. Meanwhile, life imitates art as ghost show Cross the error of his ways. It’s campy, well staged, and has its message all done up with a bow. For being 20 years old, it’s very well placed and relevant in today’s entertainment world. Besides, nothing screams Christmas like a soundtrack done by Danny Elfman.
12: Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s a straightforward retelling of Dickens’ work but the magic is in the muppets. The gags, the humorous spin on certain elements make it a great addition to all things Christmas in my book. My favorite part, Rizzo’s peck on the blue beak of Gonzo.
13: "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" Fraggle Rock (1984)
While it’s not overtly referenced to Christmas as the holiday being celebrated in Fraggle Rock. After all, only the silly creatures know what that is. However, the thematic ideas of a “true meaning” and the “spirit” of a holiday are there as Gobo tries to put a face on faith and locate the “Great Bell of Fraggle Rock” at the expense of his friends.
14: Gremlins (1984)
Now, you know we can’t have too much despair at the holidays and Gremlins brings the bah humbug full tilt with evil little creatures terrorizing a Norman Rockwell version of small town life. When Billy gets the coolest gift ever for Christmas, he ends up causing havoc as he breaks the first two rules of Mogwai by getting them wet and fed after midnight. As the townsfolk prepare for the holidays, the newly hatched gremlins wreak havoc across the town. It’s enough to make you want to skip Christmas.
15: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and (1994)
Whether you are a traditionalist and love the 1947 version or a lover of contemporary films and follow the 1994 version, you cannot deny that at the heart of every Christmas is a child’s faith and belief in Santa Claus. When grownups get in the way of this belief, bad things happen. Someone who believes he is really Santa Claus draws on everyday jaded folks fear that this person must be sick or criminal. The real victim is the child who sees her belief system challenged by the people (grownups) who instilled it in the first place.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Dear Santa Claus,
How have you been? I’ve been good. Honestly, there’s no need to check that list a second time, I’ve been great. Well, ok, there was that moment, last year, when I hid the fact that I was getting a PS3 from my wife. Really, she wasn’t mad because I got it but that I did it behind her back. She always complains she doesn’t know what I want for Christmas and instead of telling her, I went ahead and got one on my own. Granted, I saved her $300 because I got it for free…but that’s a whole other story. But since that happened before last Christmas, it doesn’t count. Every year starts me with a blank slate, right? Kind of like a priest with confessional. Once I get communion, the count resets.
Anyway, I thought I would send you a letter because you’ve reached your friend limit on Facebook. That sucks, BTW. So, I grabbed this weird thing called a pencil and found something called paper and tried it out. After three seconds, my hand cramped up. I’m not used to using the whole thing. I manage to get through a whole day using my fingers….and my thumbs if I have my Blackberry. Do you have an email address or myspace page? How about Twitter? That would be kewl LOL! So, if you get this letter, please consider the following as what I would like for Christmas.
- A Nintendo Wii. Ok, I thought I’d just throw that out there first. You know, tee high and let it fly. I know I have a PS3 already, but all my grown up friends have a Wii, now, and peer pressure is such a drag at the office. They constantly pick on me and call me things like, Luddite….whatever that means. While, they’re off at their own little table eating the Lunchables, talking about their cool games, I’m left alone to talk to the one guy who talks only about how much he loves running Linux on his PS3.
- A 50+” LCD Flat Screen Television. Again, I hear it from all the guys how they watch their football on a big screen TV. Now, it’s not that I want it all, but I have to at least keep up with the Jones. It’s really, really, really important. Pleeeease!
- A set of Hedge Trimmers and extra extension cords. I know that it seems like a weird thing to ask for, but I borrowed my Father-in-Law’s 4 years ago and managed to cut right through the cord in less than 20 minutes. Last week, after much trepidation, I attempted to trim the hedges again. Four years made them really high. I figured I’d save on lights and electricity, trying to decorate them. This time I only made it five minutes. I figure three cords will work.
- Snow Tires. This is more for my wife than me. Honestly, I don’t see the value of having snow tires when we get more ice than snow. I had snow tires on my car and slid all over the place anyway. My Father-in-Law told me he doesn’t have any trouble because he has four wheel drive. I told him, “Meh” and that he was a noob because four wheel drive doesn’t mean four wheel stop. Still, my wife will feel safer with me on the road if I have snow tires. Do you think you can get me the kind that helps other people stop better? They tend to slide into me when I’m sitting still at stop signs. I’ll let you decide.
Well, I think that covers it. If you have any trouble getting the elves to make any of this stuff, let me know. I can prolly figure out something. Cash works good. But no stocks. I heard they aren’t so good this year.
Your “nice” friend
P.S. I apologized to my Father-in-law for teh “noob” comment. He’s ok with me now. I just wanted to throw that out there as it might slide me into the naughty column.
GetMongo. We got shirts, caps, bibs for the babies, boxer shorts, mugs, etc. "Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the blog is made!"
In any case, other than a blatant ad to schlep products, I was just happy to have someone buy one. So, to the guy who bought my sweatshirt, thanks! Now, tell your friends.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Bloggers were picking their favorite shows for the fete.
The big names in media all published their lists
while the we were all left just waving our fists.
“Well, they forgot such and such. That show is the best.
How could they rate this crap over the rest?”
We cried and we bitched and we all wrote in our blogs
ranking our own favorite shows that go great with egg nog.
When what to our wondering feeds did appear
but another list from St. Mongo and his angry reindeer.
The cranky old blogger, his wit lively and quick
compiled his favorites for us to nitpick.
“It’ll go on forever, “ Everyone cried, “he lists every show."
"Before it ends you’ll be in hell and be able to find snow.”
Still, we did look and his favorites they came
and he gave his thoughts freely next to each and name.
“Now! Itchy, now! Lumpy, now! Malla…” Wait, who are they?
“They’re Wookies from the Star Wars Holiday Special I bought on eBay.”
“Fine, just get on with it, you’re wasting my time."
"Just give us the list instead of this stupid rhyme.”
“Ok,” he said, and gave us his list.
“There’s a lot of oddballs there, but you’ll get the gist.”
We read and we pondered as he drove out of sight,
and couldn’t believe he included, Silent Night Deadly Night.
Now without wasting any more days of Christmas, I give you my favorite Christmas Shows.
1: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I thought for a change of pace, I’d start at the top. And what better show to be at number 1. In my little fragile world, Christmas doesn’t start until I’ve watched CBC. The malls can be decorated in November, George Bailey could have found Zuzu’s petals, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get into the holiday season until I see Linus walk out on stage and say, “Lights please.” It’s as relevant today as it was 40+ years ago. Commercialization of Christmas. Christmas vs. Holiday ideals. In fact, Schulz had to fight a battle with network execs over the aforementioned speech by Linus’ because they felt that viewers would not want to sit through bible passages. “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” Quite simply, whether you subscribe to any one religion or none at all, everyone can agree that CBC is what Christmas is all about.
2: A Christmas Story (1983)
I manage to catch this one every year. Not all at once, but when it's aired for 24 hours, I can catch all of it over the course of the day. A Christmas Story is probably one of the most quotable Christmas movies I know, yet there aren't a lot of uses for phrases like, "We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice." But, it's still a great line. Jean Shepherd's storytelling is phenomenal and I can see a lot of my childhood escapades through the eyes of Ralphie.
3: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Considered a flop at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life is perennial classic. This is nothing new or Earth shattering. But look at It’s a Wonderful Life this year and see the relevancy and you’ll know why it’s such a permanent fixture in our lives. Compare today’s financial woes with that of the film. The run on the bank, the privilege to own a home, financial institutions on the brink of collapse. All of these elements are a part of today’s culture. In fact, when the mortgage crisis began and people first started shouting recession, I remembered George’s speech to the mob on his wedding day.
You're thinking of this place all wrong…Why, you're lending them the money to build, and then, they're going to pay it back to you as best they can. Now what are you going to do? Foreclose on them?...Now wait...now listen...now listen to me. I beg of you not to do this thing. If Potter gets hold of this Building and Loan there'll never be another decent house built in this town…Here, Ed. You know, you remember last year when things weren't going so well, and you couldn't make your payments? You didn't lose your house, did you? Do you think Potter would have let you keep it? Can't you understand what's happening here? Don't you see what's happening? Potter isn't selling. Potter's buying! And why? Because we're panicky and he's not. That's why. He's picking up some bargains. Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other.I get a lump in my throat every year watching this. It never gets old to me. I identify with George Bailey's life of missed opportunities in the name of helping others that lead to a more rich and wonderful life overall. In fact, he is one half of the inspiration for my daughter’s first name.
4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
“You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch. Yet, I’ll watch you every year.” I prefer the original television special as opposed to the Jim Carrey movie, not because I disliked it, but because I’m a traditionalist when it comes to these types of things. With that said, the television special follows the original book closely even keeping nearly all the narrations provided by Boris Karloff. And who could not be a fan of Tony the Tiger singing the Grinch song.
5: Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard II (1990)
Oh, come on. Don’t look at me like that. How can you not want to watch these two movies at Christmastime? Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and "Let it Snow", there are tons of references to Christmas. Granted, the movies were released in July of 88 and 90. So, what? Now, I was only 13 when Die Hard came out and I saw it in the theater. Apparently, they didn’t care to check IDs at my local theater. The same came for the sequel when I was only 15. I was a bit put out when the next two sequels weren’t set during Christmastime but I got over it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some “Christmas in Hollis” and make fists with my toes. Ho. Ho. Ho.
On to Part 2. (6-15)
Skip to Part 3. (16-25+)
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Now, it doesn't matter who you think is the best Bond, although a lot of kids born during the 70’s will most likely point towards Roger Moore as their favorite. After all, it’s not like we had much chance to see Connery in action and let’s face it, Dalton was arguably a good Bond in two bad movies. Personally, I think the order of Bonds puts Lazenby at the bottom, just because he wasn’t really Bond to me, followed by Dalton, Moore, Craig, who is closely coming to surpass Brosnan, and finally Connery at the top. I mean really, Connery was the original and still the best. So, while watching those 15 straight days of misogynistic, vodka soaked, scantily clad Bond girls get bedded by British’s Best, I am reminded of my earlier youth when I used to watch the movies on television and be intrigued by the opening sequences that dotted the edge of puberty of a child born before The Spy Who Loved Me.
Ah yes, the silhouetted naked women, the guns firing, the trampoline action all sent my hormones to the breaking point. Now that was cinema. With the 22nd film bowing at the box office with the most unrelated to the source material title, Quantum of Solace offers a second go around for Daniel Craig as Bond and another chance for a music artist to make their mark on opening sequence history. NPR recently ran a story on All Things Considered letting Total Music Geek‘s Drew Kerr rank the Bond Theme songs. While, I will agree with him that Madonna’s "Die Another Day" is perhaps the worst of the lot, I can’t help but disagree with most of his ranking of the other songs, although we both placed "The World Is Not Enough" and "Tomorrow Never Dies" at nearly the same spot. You can see his list by following the link right above to Total Music Geek. For Mongo's ranking, see further down.
First off let’s look at what makes a good Bond Theme. Marty Norman and John Barry laid the ground work for success. There has to be horns and lyrics that relate to the film itself. Now, while some theme songs don’t include the title of the film, that’s not as important as capturing the essence of Bond and the film itself in that opening three to four minutes. The format for authorship is (performer/writer/writer/etc.)
23: "Die Another Day" (Madonna) Die Another Day
No argument here. Either Madonna should have been allowed to do the theme or been in the movie, but not both. The techno house rhythm just kills it, not to mention the film was near crap and it paid tribute to every Bond film before it, so there's a missed opportunity for Brosnan to go out Onatopp.
22: "Another Way to Die" (Jack White and Alicia Keys) from Quantum of Solace (2008)
I will give them credit, they managed to work the Norman/Barry theme into a couple of notes, teasing you, before switching to another which is exactly what this song is, so close yet so far away. It’s another way to kill a Bond song. At least it cracked the Top 10 in European countries while it only peaked at 81 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not a good second outing for Craig's Bond when Chris Cornell turned in such a great song for Casino Royale.
21: "The Man With the Golden Gun" (Lulu/John Barry/Don Black) from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
This was definitely a stark change to the traditional Bond themes. More funk and rock than horns and strings. Though it is a true Bond song, meaning it deals with the title of the movie and villain, it is a mess of a tune and Barry himself hated it the most. I've never heard the Alice Cooper version, but I'm sure it's much better.
20: "The Living Daylights" (a-ha/Paul Waaktaar-Savoy/John Barry) from The Living Daylights (1987)
A new Bond on screen and another attempt to synthesize Barry's theme and still sound as good as "View To a Kill." A lot of in-fighting between Barry and a-ha makes for a general understanding of the songs feeling of being all over the place. It gets points for trying to stick to Bond territory but it totally misses the mark unless Bond becomes a pencil sketch character and dukes it out with wrench wielding racers.
19: "Moonraker" (Shirley Bassey/John Barry) from Moonraker (1979)
Even though the novel was written before the sci-fi blockbuster film genre became a staple at the box office, the producers waited until the success of such films as Star Wars and 2001 to launch Bond into space. It seems as if a lot of things were kept on hold until the last minute as Bassey was asked to sing the title song just weeks before release. Bassey, herself was not pleased with the final cut and didn't get the chance to promote it first. The song has a Star Wars feel to it, albeit the version sung by Nick the Lounge Singer from SNL. Spacey and really celestial, Barry orchestrates "Moonraker" with very little established Bond themes save for some string pieces. William Shatner would feel at home singing this alongside "Mr. Tambourine Man."
18: "License To Kill" (Gladys Knight/Michael Kamen) from License To Kill (1989)
It's a full blown R&B Bond theme here on the Quiet Storm (cue soft sound of thunder.) Gladys Knight is spot on in voice but, other than the title, there are very few ties to the original theme other than the horn riffs that reach back to Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger", and they paid royalties to use it. In all fairness, I believe if you dropped Gladys' soulful singing and made the song a little more up tempo, it would be a different song, a better song. This version, however, belongs a K-Tel soulful sounds of the 80's collection album.
17: "The World Is Not Enough" (Garbage/David Arnold/Don Black) from The World Is Not Enough (1999)
"TWINE" is not exactly Garbage, but it's a recycled mishmash of "Tomorrow Never Dies." Shirley Manson must not have heard Sheryl Crow's vocals as she pretty much imitates them with the same drawn out syllables. The worst part about "TWINE" and "TND" is that the songs are great, it's the singing that drags them down from Everything to Nothing.
16: "Tomorrow Never Dies" (Sheryl Crow/Mitchell Froom) from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sheryl Crow's offering goes down the checklist of all the essential elements of a Bond theme and hits each one, brass, heavy strings, jazzed up drum riffs, retro electric guitar, lyrical references to Bond's props and nods to the original theme. What it lacks is general enthusiasm on the part of Crow. It's soulless, not sultry. It's a vodka soaked, late night rendezvous of shame in a back alley after last call.
15: "All Time High" (Rita Coolidge/John Barry/Tim Rice) from Octopussy (1983)
By now, Bond has been totally emasculated by lite rock and soft ballads. Saxophones and high strings have replaced electric guitar and brass instruments. While, I can't see composing a song with the title Octopussy, you'd at least think there would be some allusions or references to the plot or to Bond himself. Yet, there is none. Thankfully, 1985, would see a return to a more rocking, albeit 80's pop, theme song.
14: "For Your Eyes Only" (Sheena Easton/Bill Conti/Michael Leeson) from For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The move to neuter Bond with a progressively Lite Rock format at 007 FM hits its full stride. I must say, I actually like this song and it lends itself to the style of sexual imagery present during the Moore years. It has a dreamy and soporific feel that became part of Moore's appeal as Bond, not abrasive and manly like Connery, but smooth and sensitive. The opening also marked the first and only time the singer has appeared in the credit sequence.
13: "From Russia With Love" (Matt Monro/Lionel Bart) from From Russia With Love (1963)
The second Bond theme song seems more of a Sinatraesque Italian crooner song than the portrait of a Cold War Russian postcard. This is something I expect to hear in the background at The Olive Garden. However, I do get the image of a matryoshka doll, listening to the well placed strings. The Producers wouldn't hit their stride until number 3 when Barry would get full creative control.
12: "GoldenEye" (Tina Turner/Bono/The Edge) from GoldenEye (1995)
With every new Bond on screen there's a reason to revisit the template for a great Bond song. Tina Turner has that Bassey quality in her voice and the song manages to be current for its time and still capture the feel of Norman and Barry's themes with just a bit of Cold War Russia. Actually, for a Bond song, it stands on its own as a great song, which it did on Tuner's album Wildest Dreams. Bono and The Edge helped to produce one of the highest charting hits of Turner's career.
11: "Skyfall" (Adele/Paul Epworth) from Skyfall (2012)
I don't like to praise Top 40 singers taking on the Bond Theme, but I have to give it to Adele for nailing this one. She gave the franchise its first Golden Globe win out of six tries for Best Original Song, beating out Taylor Swift and Les Miserables. That's pretty impressive. So are Adele's pipes in this song. It's not the normal fare we've come to expect from the Craig era. Chris Cornell and the combo of Jack White and Alicia Keys ratcheted the rock in bringing the new Bond into the 21st century with their gritty ditties, but Adele returns to what served her Majesty best with the Shirley Bassey like smoke and soul. The lyrics fit the plot well, once you've seen the film. This song is more about a relationship of fate or destiny, not sex.
10: "Diamonds Are Forever" (Shirler Bassey/John Barry) from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
To think that Shirley Bassey was singing about diamonds as if they were a phallus is a humorous innuendo. The song is soft yet still powerful shifting to a funky beat midway through. Perhaps that is what happens to a "diamond" when it's held and caressed and undressed. "Oh James!"
9: "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (John Barry/The John Barry Orchestra) from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
A break from the norm ushered in Lazenby's one off as James Bond. The theme was the first since Dr. No to have no lyrics. It was also to feature a Moog synthesizer, used in its baseline. Without having actually seen the entire film, except for the tragic ending, I already had a sense for the landscape of the film. The theme evokes imagery of a Bavarian or Swiss backdrop and there is anger laced in the film with the short staccato blasts of the horns. Barry's work on the film is a worthy addition to the collection of Bond songs.
8: "You Only Live Twice" (Nancy Sinatra/John Barry/Leslie Briscusse) from You Only Live Twice (1967)
Connery's last turn as Bond in an official EON produced film has him storming volcano lairs and pretending to be Japanese with some clever makeup. The thin veil over the suspension of disbelief was enough to make me laugh out loud but Nancy Sinatra's title song made me a little warm and fuzzy. Her voice calls out to you like Bali Hai and the Asian influenced Xylophone riffs feel more in place than the more traditional Barry/Norman horn blasts. Describing the strings I could only help think of a later produced song called "Main Street" by Bob Seger. The last turn for Connery and soon the last turn for a strong and commanding theme song as we delve briefly into Lazenby territory and head into the lite rock realm of Moore.
7: "A View to a Kill" (Duran Duran/John Barry) from A View to a Kill (1985)
Duran Duran provides a guilty pleasure to those who missed the short brass jabs of the original theme, in no small part to John Barry's help. While, they're electronic and poppy, they're still there and Le Bon's voice hits some familiar highs but can't reach the stature of Bassey or Jones. This is the only Bond song to date to have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
6: "You Know My Name" (Chris Cornell/David Arnold) from Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig taking on the role of James Bond was a huge risk for the franchise. His take on 007 proved profitable, though. Younger, tougher, more akin to Connery in purpose while reckless and immature. The same can be said for Cornell's theme song. It hits you immediately like a freight train and barely lets up save for the bridge. Then it's back into the fray. Brass punches, electric guitar, and orchestral strings hit all the Barry thematic elements. Though, it's another song that isn't titled the same as the film, the lyrics play on all sorts of gambling and card game references as well as other themes like loyalty and dispassion which feature prominently throughout the film. It didn't get the credit it deserved despite being nominated for a Grammy Award.
5: "Live and Let Die" (Wings/Paul and Linda McCartney/George Martin) from Live and Let Die (1973)
Perhaps one of the most successful songs at the time for Wings and for the Bond series. It marked a real departure from the standard Norman/Barry format. It also marked Moore's first turn as Bond. Perhaps those ideas went hand in hand. There's really not much to do in terms of Bond styling as the lyrics are rather nonsensical yet the tune is really a great song and measures up to the rest of the Bond themes. The worst thing about this song is that Guns and Roses remade it 20 years later.
4: "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon/Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager) from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
When Roger Moore took over for Connery, Bond went from misogynistic and manly to genial and gentlemanly. The switch in Bonds plays over into themes as the decade changes from the 60's to the 70's. Gone are the brassy themes of Norman's original theme and ushered in are the lite rock ballads which would dominate Moore's run as 007. This marks the first time a Bond theme was not titled the same as the movie. However, the lyrics include allusions to Bond and the title of the film, all which work well when you stack it up against the opening credit sequence full of silhouetted female forms and the sexual imagery and trampolines and gymnastics. Bond goes from irresistible caveman to suave quiche eating Casanova.
3: "Thunderball" (Tom Jones/John Barry/Don Black) from Thunderball (1965)
Building off of Goldfinger's intro, which utilizes Norman's original theme, Tom Jones oozes sensuality and sinistry with his booming voice. He almost becomes Bond himself. The elements are all there and that end note that Jones holds for nearly 10 seconds is amazing. Is it any wonder he fainted while belting it out. The man had some friggin' pipes on him!
2: "Goldfinger" (Shirley Bassey/John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) from Goldfinger (1964)
Wow. This is truly a classic to which all others are compared. There are parts where it sort of sounds like Tony Hatch's Downtown. However, it's quintessential 60's Bond in nature. The lyrics are a perfect meeting of Grim Reaper and King Midas with the subconscious imagery of an evil proctologist.
1: "James Bond Theme" (The John Barry Orchestra/Monty Norman) from Dr. No
Here's the blueprint. The original and still the best. The muted trumpets and punchy brass section, the electric guitar picking away, the jazzed up percussion section, and of course ending on that sustained note all spell 007. All great Bond themes build off of these elements.
If you would like to take a listen for yourself, head on over to James Bond Multimedia and check out each theme.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Whether you are a die hard bargain hunter standing in line during the wee small hours of the morning of Black Friday or a cubicle warrior taking advantage of the empty office and lack of supervision on Cyber Monday, you probably feel the same amount of stress, regardless of your location.
Imagine shrugging off the effects of late night, leftover tryptophan ingestion just so you can stand in the freezing cold with other lunatics in sleeping bags and tents waiting for the doors to open so you can make a mad dash for that DVD/VCR combo unit made in China. You sprint towards your quarry like a linebacker, mowing over anybody who gets in your way all to save $20. On the other hand, you could be digesting those leftovers all the way through to Monday, where you arm yourself with a tankard of Starbucks digging through countless retail websites looking to see if you are really saving any money only to make up the difference in shipping costs and aggravation at continually slow connectivity that sends your IT workforce into panic mode.
Personally, I’ve done both and could do without either. In 2000, I made a trip out on Black Friday and found myself a stress free go of the adventure. Granted, I had to work that morning and didn’t get out to the store until well after 11:00 AM, which, in contrast to deer hunting is when all the big bucks show up. I went out again this past Black Friday for one item, Vanilla Beans for my mother. Again, I had to an earlier appointment and didn’t make it to the store until the sales had ended. It’s amazing to watch people suddenly drop everything and run to the checkout when the clock strikes “SALE OVER!” I also decided to check out Cyber Monday from the comfort of my living room and bought two items online that were discounted by 50%. In this case, according to customer service the website could not process my order due to a “glitch” which kicked out a lot of online purchases. The order did not process until Wednesday and the website shows those two items for the same price as they were on Monday.
Shopping on these two pseudo holidays has become a tradition. The term Black Friday, itself, has many recognized definitions since its inception. The more widely accepted one being the day retailers start to see black on the financial records. In fact, a lot of stores depend on this day to counter balance the year’s losses. Cyber Monday has only been around since 2005, but people revere it as a day when those few unfortunate souls have to go back to work yet shrug off productivity to shop online. Whether it be the struggling economy or a slew of other factors, this year the concept of Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem to either be nonexistent or extend past their respective weekdays.
For me, the stress and agitation of the holiday season only started creeping in the last eight years. It was like once I hit 25, it all went downhill. Social anxiety, road rage, and general laziness all kicked in at once and I didn’t want to be bothered with crowds and slow Internet connections. Not to mention, it's not safe. This year will be forever remembered as the year a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by the mob of bargain shoppers. This is perhaps the greatest shopping related act of senseless violence since the Cabbage Patch Fights of 1983. It's even sparked a proposed "Doorbuster Bill." Sounds like Bob the Builder's more aggressive cousin. In my sick and twisted mind, I wanted to start humming old School House Rock ditties, changing all the words to make it a relevant parody of this year's tragedy. I opted not to.
In all seriousness, no sale is worth risking your life or sanity over. I would rather pay 20% more at the store in December than lose my mind and a couple of teeth, fighting with the crazies on Black Friday. Quite frankly, the savings aren't all that great. After all, some stores are using the recession to take advantage of people. Some have touted big savings but they aren’t any different than any other day. Others have used Black Friday like coastal beachwear stores use “Going out of business” and “Store Closing” as a tactic to drive sales. If you’ve ever gone to Myrtle Beach or other coastal tourist locations you see these beachwear stores like WINGS and others, all claiming to be going out of business. These stores have been going out of business for years. Because most vacationers stay at a spot a week at a time the turnover rate for new suckers is every seven days. The prices on items in these stores are no big savings. They’re slightly marked up enough to make a profit and the threat of going out of business deceives shoppers into thinking the prices were higher before. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who lives in those areas full time.
No, I’ll take the 25 plus days of shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get my shopping done. Why stress yourself out. It’s supposed to be a fun holiday, right? I can remember as a kid that the holiday shopping season was rather exciting. My Dad would be at Lions Club meetings on Monday nights, so my Mom would do her shopping then. Since she didn’t want to cook a big meal for the two of us, she decided that we would eat at the mall. Monday’s were a rather slow day anyways, so it wasn’t too stressful. By the time, I was in my teens, we would decide to split up at the mall and I could loiter or hang out in the arcade or do whatever until time to meet up to go home. It was awesome. For four straight Monday’s I had free reign at the mall. And it wasn’t like we went to the same mall. No, there were different stores that she needed to go to and you couldn’t find them all in the same place. We used to go to three different malls in a 40 mile radius which meant three different arcades, video game stores, and food courts. It also meant an overload on Christmas decorations. The music and the decorations made the season bright, you know? Who doesn’t remember the animatronic displays in the middle of the halls and the poor bastard that had to sit inside that cleverly disguised gift box booth with a giant reindeer spilling over top, complete with blinking eyes and movable maw. As kids would wander by, Rudolph, the sadistic hourly employee would scare the piss out of their Garanimals, springing to life and asking them if they’ve been good this year.
Well, at least one trend from my childhood has made a comeback in this slumping economy and that’s layaway. There were three small market chain stores in my area that highly utilized layaway and all three fell victim to the evil empire known as Wal-Mordor. Montgomery Wards (a.k.a. Monkey Wards), Ames, and Hills. Well, actually Hills was acquired by Ames, which later fell to Wal-Mart. It’s like the subprime mortgage crisis for a different generation. Personally, I only used layaway once to buy something that I needed to hold somewhere else while I moved. It was a curio cabinet for my wife and I was in the process of moving and didn’t want to have another box to potentially destroy, so I put it on layaway and paid it off after I was settled into my new place. Wards, Ames, and Hills, were the big three local department stores for the blue collar folks of Western Pennsylvania and layaway was the method in which to avoid high prices upfront and credit card finance charges. You put a down payment on your item, and systematically pay it off over time. All the while, your item is held at the store or warehouse freeing your home from prying eyes that belong to kids snooping for presents. Hills was especially a great store because that’s where you got all the toys as a kid. I remember seeing a Nintendo for the first time, immediately to the left of the entrance, in the electronic section. I wished and I prayed that I could get one for Christmas but that never happened. Instead, I bought a friend’s system for $100 with three games and a big strategy book.
If you didn’t go to the store, your options for shopping were pretty limited prior to 1995. Granted, we had our own version of shopping online as a kid. It was called catalog shopping. My favorite was the Sears catalog or “Wishbook.” I read those catalogs like they were crime novels, riveted by every page. The one thing I always wanted, but never got, was a train set. Now, this was not some regular old train set from TYCO or Lionel. It was a huge, honking thing that you rode with tracks laid throughout your home. I blame Silver Spoons for causing me to salivate, over this thing, every year of my childhood. I would dog ear the pages of the catalog in an attempt to draw my parents’ attention to that one item much like Ralphie Parker placed a Red Ryder BB Gun ad inside the pages of his Mother’s Look magazine.
But those days are gone. While layaway has made a comeback, the fun and pure joy of leafing through a catalog is gone. Perhaps growing up stole my passion for it. Perhaps the magical allure of Christmas shopping has been replaced the harsh reality of having to actually budget and finance, not to mention having the tag of “Some Assembly Required” mean “I must assemble” vs. “Dad, put this together.” I wish Christmas shopping was still that fun. I wish that I didn’t have to fight the crowds and nitpick over ridiculous pricing ploys that I know are too good to be true. I wish I could go back and be a kid again and believe that Santa brought me my toys and not my parents who had to figure out new and inventive ways to pay for and hide the presents. Well, for that matter, my Dad never had that problem. You see, my old man didn’t believe in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any other day between now and Christmas. He did his shopping all in one night, Christmas Eve, much like Santa Claus. Of course, this holiday is traditionally called Piss On LEGO by my family, but that, is another story.
Need some more nostalgia? Check out a bunch of old Christmas Catalogs, including the Sears ones I referenced. Brought to you by Flickr
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Original O RLY Image
Yet, no one else has seemed to capitalize on the perfect blend of old and new pop culture. Oh, really? Really!
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
On the other side of that coin, the frosted side of my aptitude mini-wheat is the ability to be so profoundly idiotic that I should come with a plastic bag warning. Just today, while coming into work, I walked into our break room to drop my lunch off in the refrigerator and make myself a cup of coffee. While that seems a mundane and rather simple task, I managed to place my lunch by the coffee pots and attempted to put my coffee mug in the fridge. Once I realized my error, I quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed.
Perhaps I need more sleep and less caffeine to function. It's like working in idiot safe mode. You sacrifice functionality in order to operate higher functions in order to discern what causes things to go wrong. For whatever the reason, this week offered a typical situation addressing both my utter genius and downright stupidity.
One of our facilities services technicians, which is PC for office handy man, asked me for help in a couple of items. He's a good guy and I've helped him on occasion in the past. The problem vexing him today was that one of the televisions in the lobby was getting no signal from the dish network. Again, it has a button and a display, so definitely it is in my realm of understanding. Anyway, I agree to take a look and fiddle with the thing for five minutes. While most televisions have remotes nowadays, there are still functional settings on the television itself to handle power, channel and volume selection, and usually some kind of menu. Since he only had the remote to the dish receiver handy, I had to try and figure out the problem with only four buttons on the side of the TV at my disposal. While, I was able to access the menu settings and locate a possible fix, I couldn't select any choices in that menu selection because I didn't know which of the four buttons functioned as a "select" or "enter." After having him track down the actual television remote, within two minutes I solved the problem.
After that, he asked me for assistance in hanging a picture in one of the conference rooms. We had some painting done over the weekend and he needed to re hang all the abstract works of art that really don't say anything in particular. They probably come in a catalog for all office decor items. Now, the picture was a simple item, somewhat flatter than the television I had just figured out, but nonetheless it was a solid object. Two hooks on the wall at the top with one at the bottom, containing some sort of safety latch, gave us our guide as to how to hang the thing. After ten minutes we still hadn't got the damn thing up. Let's see, do we hang it by the top first or the bottom? Does it hang on the inside of the frame or this little track that runs along the frame? Are the hooks in the right spot? Well, they have to be, because they were there before the wall was painted. Round and round we went trying to figure out not what was in the painting, but how to get it on the wall.
Finally, we gave up. I had to actually get back to my desk and do my actual job and he had other jobs to attend to that required more urgency than wasting a half hour hanging a silly picture. So, you see, sometimes even the most intelligent of people can be stupid. There has to be some kind of movie reference here that would be a good analogy. Something that sums up the ability for someone so heavily favored to triumph by skill and technique alone, that nothing could defeat them, but it looks like my coffee cup is nearly empty which means my brain will cease to function in a few minutes. What little time I have left has afforded me to the ability to sum up this entire blog post in one picture.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
This past week, Moe, Larry, and Curly....(actually, it’s more like Shemp since Nardelli just showed up last year) went to Washington to ask for some of the bailout funds. While people travel everyday by commercial airlines and pay high ticket prices and baggage check fees for around $800, these three yahoos decide to use their corporate jets to fly to D.C for about $20,000. I’m sorry, but did anybody bother to tell them why they needed the money or did they just figure they felt left out? When I was in college there were a lot of pan handlers out on the main road through campus. They’d stand there and ask for change as you walked by to class or the bar. On occasion, I did offer up a few bucks, but they failed to realize that they were asking college kids. We have no money. And while they did that, they wore $150 Nikes. Hey, pal, you might want to look the part. If they (The Big Three D-bags) expected to be taken seriously, they should have carpooled to D.C. driving a hybrid. So, onto Washington, pinky ring adorned hands out, looking for cash and finally someone cowboys up.
"You traveled in a private jet? I'm not an opponent of private flights by any means, but the fact that you flew in on your own private jet at tens of thousands itself dollars of cost just for you to make your way to Washington is a bit arrogant before you ask the taxpayers for money."
Rep. Patrick McHenry said what everyone else was thinking. Then, others got in on the act and pretty much blasted the CEO’s hollow pleas for money wrapped up in a snappy commercial for their autos. Then David Scott volleyed this non sequitur, the Titanic’s biggest problem wasn’t the collision with the iceberg. I can only imagine the room got silent for a second and then everyone kind of nodded and understood the analogy. Mouthpieces for the auto makers pleaded that they had already done everything they could to stave off bankruptcy. At that moment, the deafening sound of an alarm went off and Wagoner reached into his pocket to push the “alarm off” button on the key ring to his jet.
Here’s my favorite part. To lessen the already glaring injustice of having three multimillionaires show up on private jets asking for a handout they were asked if they would be willing to take a salary cut leaving them with $1.00 a year. I’d love to see the W2 forms on that. Wagoner said he didn’t have a position on that at the time. Mulally understood the sentiment but said he’s fine where he’s at financially. Nardelli said he would. Oh, wait. He already did that a year ago. So, it’s not like he’s going to lose anything more. In fact, don’t feel bad for the guy, he got a severance package from his previous company, Home Depot to the tune of over $200 million dollars. Even though his current total compensation is a mystery beyond the $1.00 salary, I’m sure he was given other forms of compensation. For that matter, none of the big three CEOs make more than $2 million dollars in annual base salary. They make more than 50% of their total compensation from bonuses and other sources. Wagoner totals just over $14 million and Mulally rakes in the most with $21 million. In my best Belloq voice, “I’m sure he’s very comfortable up there. That’s right, isn’t it. He’s very comfortable up there."
This time, the snakes can walk
Look, I understand that as a CEO you have a very prestigious and high ranking position in a company. You’re the boss. With that position comes a pretty decent pay grade. But that doesn’t give you the right to be a douche bag and lay off hard workers and steal the pensions of those who have worked for a company for 30 plus years. That’s employee loyalty. CEO’s come and go at a fraction of that time. They seem to come in, puff out their chest, take the golden parachutes and jump out of the plane. Let me clue you in to what a real CEO or founder of a company does when his company is in financial trouble. The company I work for started in the home of our founder. He wanted to develop devices to help patients tolerate treatment better. After he got up and running as an established company he found himself in some tough times. He and a few of his backers managed to forgo their own salaries just to make sure they made payroll. He cared that much about the people to take his pay and give it to his employees and to pay his bills in order to keep the doors open. For 32 years the company stayed in business. Some companies decide, in times of financial crisis, that it is best practice to reduce the work force. I know that the founder of a fledgling private company and the CEO of a multi billion dollar company are two different things but it seems to me that if you take care of your infrastructure and keep the foundation solid, growth can occur without weakening the base. If you over inflate the top, the tower falls over. This is why I'd never do well as a business major.
Now, if it wasn’t for the failing economy’s dependency on the auto industry, I’d say let them fail. I'm not even talking about the buying of cars, but the auto industry employs so many people and that is a lot of jobs to eliminate putting unneeded stress on an already growing unemployment rate. But, just like the housing and credit market, it has to work from the bottom up. The consumer has to purchase a car to help shore up the company. Again, there isn't enough bailout money in the world to give each and every individual, in America, over the age of 16 a check to go buy a car. I don't have any suggestions other than the obvious. Get rid of the Big Three's paychecks, bonuses, and other compensation and funnel that into the companies as operating capital, payroll, benefits, pensions, and restructure the companies. It's a long road to recovery but when three jack asses go to Washington on a private plane, why should the blue collar and middle class car owner give them anymore money when they don't even want to drive.
My fellow blogger over at The Blathering posted avery good and hillarious argument towards giving the auto industry bailout funds. Of course, it was disguised in the form of a post about crushing on Jon Stewart, however, I still admit she has a point.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I’m not going to go into a complete history of what’s been going on, nor am I going to point fingers of blame at any Presidential administration. There is enough blame to go around on both sides of the coin. You know the economy must be really bad when Days of Our Lives has to fire Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn just to be able to stay on the air for 18 more months. Even fictional television is feeling the burden.
The reality is that we have failed to learn from history and are now forced to repeat it. In another 20 years, we’ll probably do the same thing. Look at the current economical situation in terms of a scene from The Matrix Reloaded where Neo reaches The Architect and finds out that he is the eventuality of an anomaly. The economy functions in a state being where, if it were Utopian, by nature, it would ultimately fail. If it (we) were allowed a choice in matter we would accept it, provided we were given just that, a choice. Granted, the small amount of those who chose to reject it will ultimately grow and eventually the system will crash, reboot, and start all over again. Everything is cyclical.
"Whoa! The Economy is complicated."
The fact that it takes decades at a time is unnoticed and therefore ignored. When it does happen, everybody goes nuts and declares it to bet the biggest disaster since the last time it happened. The benchmark appears to be The Great Depression. Perhaps the geniuses that came up the name for the current situation should have gone with a comparative term such as The Greater Depression instead of the more diluted and less romanticized terms, Global Financial Crisis of 2008, The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis, or Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.
However, what’s past is prologue. We’re not going to dissect what caused the issue. We’re here to dissect the continually prolonging of the solution. Unfortunately, we can’t go the same route as The Great Depression in terms of fixing the issue. We’re already at war in two countries. The EESA of 08 or Bailout, Rescue, whatever was supposed to purchase “toxic”(….ooh I like that word) mortgage backed securities in an effort reduce uncertainty of the solvency of financial institutions and restore confidence in the credit markets. In other words. The government takes a crap load of money and pays for the mistake supposedly in an effort to give Wall Street a chance to shore up their holdings. Let me ask you this. If you have a friend who is an addict, do you give them access to their vice? “Sure, Bob. I’m glad you admitted that you have a drinking problem. Why not join me in a glass of champagne to celebrate your first step towards sobriety?” Then Bob goes out and kills three people and a dog while driving home loaded. Oh, and Bob decided to stop at three more bars on the way home. Bob is AIG. Yeah, purportedly by the end of October, AIG spent nearly $90 billion of the $123 billion in bailout money. Almost $1 million dollars of whatever money they had was spent on lavish trips to England, Phoenix, and California for retreats of various kinds. Now, all of a sudden, they’re walking up to the front of the lunch line, bowl in hand saying, “Please, Sir, I want some more.” Apparently, AIG handles money the way a compulsive gambler handles flipping a coin. They don’t flip the coin. They put the coin on black 22 at the roulette table.
So, with major financial institutions failing, merging, failing, partying, etc. we sit idly by and wait for the problem to just go away as if we can reboot a computer. Unfortunately, the problem is the blue screen of death and attempts to reboot the economy have been unsuccessful. Now, while it is obvious that Wall Street has a problem with managing money, so do we. It's not that I don't believe that trickle up economics or other euphemisms for giving the money to the people won't work. It's just that I, like so many other people have been digging holes that need to be filled. We get money from the government in the form of stimulus checks that are supposed to be used to go out and by goods and services and yet we spend it on debt reduction. Actually, in this case, that might help. Regardless, there have been numerous chain emails and other discussions around the water cooler about giving the $700 billion to the American people. This won't work either.
If you look at the U.S. population as of 2008, it stands at roughly, 305 million. For argument's sake, let's say that 200 million people own a mortgage or have substantial debt above $50,000. If you take that $700 billion dollars and divide it by 200 million, you only get $3500 before taxes. I don't see anyone paying off a mortgage with that much, unless you are a thimble and your mortgages consist of Boardwalk and Park Place. If you slice it another way, take a $100,000 mortgage and divide that into $700 billion. You would only be able to help 7 million people before you run out of cash.As bad as Wall Street is with money, the general lynch mob is equally bad at math. They are tired of Government screwing up the country and letting us take the fall. Well, guess what? We elected them.
So, what can we do? Personally, as much as I would love to have the Government give me a slice of the bailout humble pie, I'm not in that group of people who are foreclosing on a house or been affected by job layoffs...yet. So, giving me the money to pay off my mortgage doesn't solve the issue. While a lot of folks are in foreclosures because their banks got greedy, a lot of them got there themselves. They either were duped into a deceptive mortgage arrangement or figured that with the banks just giving away money, they could buy huge, half million, dollar homes and have no trouble paying them off in thirty years. Unfortunately, the banks and the economy couldn't wait that long. There's no way to fix this by giving us the money. However, I would have taken an approach much like I would have done had we, as individuals, received the money. Instead of just writing a blank check to these companies. Give them vouchers for operating capital. Make sure they use that money and restructure their balance sheet (aka bankruptcy) so that the money still had went towards becoming solvent, like paying pensions and employee salaries.
If the government had some mythical pot of gold that could be used to give the American people the money instead, I would still expect there to be two kinds of vouchers. One goes to paying a mortgage and only a mortgage. The other would go towards economic stimulus. It could be in the form of a voucher to buy a vehicle and help the auto industry. While, I'm not going to complain when President-Elect Obama pushes through another stimulus package, I believe if their intent is to have us spend the money on goods and services then they should have issued us the checks before the end of October. That way, we would have money to be used for shopping through the end of the year. Think of it like a book of coupons you get at McDonald's or the movie theater. Within the booklet you have several coupons that are good for the purchase of different types of food and drink. If you wait until after the holidays when Obama takes office, a lot of the damage will be done. Regardless of how much they promise stimulus checks in the New Year, the stores are hurting now and people are leery of loading up a credit card now when the banks and credit institutions are hurting. If you miss a payment, the penalties can be severe.
Well, that's my thoughts in a nutshell. For a lot of us this is a scary time where we are stuck banging our heads against the wall while Wall Street tells us they're pregnant. We're just trying to do the math in our heads in hopes that we weren't the one responsible. And while we resign ourselves to having to grow and learn responsibility, Wall Street is out there drinking and smoking with a baby bump. For the rest the country, everything is just status quo. If you're really savvy you can take huge advantages of the situation in terms of buying a car and shopping. Prices will go down, gas has gone down, and auto dealers are hurting for business. If Warren Buffet can afford to play the game with millions of dollars on Wall Street, why can't Mongo the Middle Class mensch play the game on Main Street. So, hang in there, things will eventually start to look up. Just don't hope for the best, prepare yourself for the long haul. After all, "Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. "