December 27, 2004

Post-Christmas Observations

Today's Musical Selection: "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC

Hello, everyone! I've returned safely from the Keystone Stone, where a good Christmas time was had by all. I hope that those of you who celebrated the season on the weekend had a good time as well. While I was away, I had a number of thoughts and observations that, despite their having no particular common thread, I felt I should share. Given their lack of connectivity, I will organize them in a numbered list, which is a lazy writer's best friend. I promise to try harder later in the week, when the travel fatigue wears off.

1. If you want to be the most popular person at the Christmas celebration, be the guy who owns the Swiss Army knife. It really is like having superpowers.

2. If you want to nap unmolested during the Christmas celebration, give your Swiss Army knife to someone else.

3. There should be a special circle in Hell for the person who invented those metal twist-ties that bind children's toys to the packaging. Even the Swiss Army knife is no help on those.

4. If you want a canine friend for life, flip him or her chunks of fresh meat from the table.

5. Having a canine friend for life is seriously overrated. Particularly if said friend is one who jumps up on you every time he or she spots you with food.

6. The person who has the most fun at any holiday gathering is the one who entertains the kids and ignores the post-meal small talk.

7. As with Thanksgiving, Christmas Day football games are primarily interesting because they give you the opportunity to nap on the couch.

8. The same is true for Christmas Day basketball games. In fact, the same is true for basketball games generally.

9. Despite what some people tell you, frying is a perfectly good way to cook a turkey. It's not at all greasy, and it's safe if you have the slightest idea what you're doing. (If my uncle can fry a turkey without torching the house, anyone can do it.) Also, it's faster than the oven.

10. Despite with fried-turkey enthusiasts claim, if you were eating a fried turkey and no one told you, you probably couldn't tell the difference.

11. Nothing makes you feel more like a caveman than lofting a turkey drumstick in the air. Particularly if the thigh is still attached. If you express your primal joy by unleashing a few Tim Allen-esque grunts at the dinner table, however, people will look at you strangely.

12. To hell with the food police. There's no better breakfast in this world than bacon, eggs cooked over easy (runny yolks) in the bacon grease, and toast. (This meal doesn't actually have to be prepared by your grandmother, but it helps.) Our society began to run off the rails when we started to deny this simple fact.

13. If people ask you what you want for Christmas and you don't tell them, they won't use their knowledge of you and your likes and dislikes and their native ingenuity to come up with the perfect present, the thing you love and didn't even realize you wanted. Instead, they will get you a gift card.

14. Did you know you can never have too many socks? I do. Now. And they're not even argyle.

15. I understand that Christian groups are getting huffy over the phrase "Happy Holidays" and are boycotting retailers who use the phrase as part of a "Put Christ Back in Christmas" campaign. I'm agnostic on this point, I guess. But it occurs to me that "Happy Holidays" is far less of a perversion of the religious component of Christmas than the rampant commercialism of the season, which far fewer of these same Christians seem to compain about.

16. That goes double for the central Pennsylavania car-dealership chain that sponsors those billboards reading "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" over a picture of a Nativity scene and the name of the dealership. There's a good and holy religious message: "Christ is our Lord and Savior. Come buy a Buick." (There's a different dealership in the same area that displayed a sign over the store at Easter that read, "Christ Died For Your Sins." I found this just plain creepy.)

17. The small towns of Pennsylvania and Maryland all look alike to me. This does not, however, mean they're not charming. Their main streets have a bricky, industrial Dickensian vibe that seems particularly fitting at Christmas.

18. Speaking of Dickens: If you wear a green overcoat with a red scarf at Christmas, people tend to look at you as if you stepped out of "A Christmas Carol." All I was missing was a top hat and a walking stick.

19. If you're sitting next to someone who's playing one of those silly "intelligence test" games and you mock this person for his poor performance, this pretty much guarantees that you will proceed to do even worse on the game when the person you taunted challenges you to try it yourself. Right, Dad?

20. Who decreed that every chain restaurant meal had to come festooned with either roasted squash or coleslaw? Both these side dishes are basically parsley on a larger scale. They're both flavorless but colorful. I suppose the fact that they take up a lot of room on our king-sized plates is what endears them to the chains. But I still hate them. Whoever came up with the roasted veggie/coleslaw brainstorm can join the metal twist-tie guy in that new circle of Hell.

21. On the other hand, any waitress who allows you to substitute a real vegetable for either of the above deserves praise and admiration. Particularly if her reasoning is "I would never force anyone to take coleslaw against their will." Lisa from the Cracker Barrel in York, Pennsylvania, I'd marry you any time.

22. It's a lot easier to dream of a white Christmas if you don't face the prospect of driving in it. I found myself fervently rooting for a green Christmas last week. (Fortunately, my prayers were answered in this regard.)

23. As it turns out, most people who drink egg nog do so because it is a socially acceptable alcohol-intake vehicle, not because they like the taste. This turns out to be important if you buy a gallon of egg nog, expecting someone to help you drink it, and refuse to spike it.

24. Despite what the makers of Time-Life's "Soulful Christmas" CD compilation appear to think, "Back Door Santa" by Clarence Carter is not a Christmas song. Yes, the word "Santa" is in the title, which may throw some people off, but the song is actually about a guy who sleeps with other men's wives. The lyrics are not exactly subtle, either. This is the same Clarence Carter who gave the world "Strokin'," a song that the local oldies station still refuses to play for fear of risking an FCC smackdown. I doubt that many parents would like to explain about "Back Door Santa" to their children, which is another way of saying that it's not appropriate for a family-oriented CD. Capisce?

25. When planning a Christmas road trip and cheerfully loading your car chock-a-block full of Christmas CDs, be sure and remember to include a few non-Christmas CDs for the drive back, which will in all probability occur after Christmas. Otherwise, you'll be stuck trying to pull in far-flung radio stations across the countryside or playing that one Lisa Loeb CD that someone got as a present over and over until someone else in the car threatens homicide.

26. Readers in the Fedroplex area are hereby advised to visit Cacique in Frederick. It's a Spanish/Mexican restaurant on Market Street. And it is head and shoulders above any other Mexican restaurant I've visited. Their salsa is worth selling internal organs for. Their huevos rancheros are heaven on a plate. The service is excellent. And the prices are reasonable. It's worth going out of your way to visit. Don't delay. Go now.

27. I don't care how jaded you are, nothing can prepare you for the news that a 43-year-old man in apparent good health has passed away. Godspeed, Reggie White. You were a giant of a man, in all senses of the word.

28. In a world of chaos and uncertainty, it's always good to know that we have a few things we can count on. Like the fact that the Redskins will always find a way to lose big games. Especially against the Cowboys. It's funny... my dad and I were pretty frustrated with the Skins all game, but when the Cowboys finally scored the game-winning TD, all we could do was laugh. Why? Because we so obviously deserved to lose. The Cowboys, who were thoroughly mediocre throughout, nonetheless outplayed us on offense, defense, special teams, and mental approach. Had we escaped with the victory, it would have been a most undeserved blessing. Besides which, the extra loss can only help our draft position. A win would have earned us nothing. This way, our complete lack of faith in the Redskins remains intact.

29. When the holiday gathering is over and you're back home boxing up the fiber-optic tree alone, it can feel lonely, being so recently removed from family festivity and what not. But it's also profoundly peaceful and relaxing, and that cannot be underrated.

30. You've officially become a Grown Person when you're more interested in seeing what the children are getting for Christmas than what you yourself are getting. One of my old teachers called it "seeing Christmas from the inside." It's a rite of passage when Christmas stops being about you and starts being about the next generation.

Hope you enjoyed that random assemblage of nothing in particular. The rest of the week will be more exciting, I promise. Tomorrow, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice will check in. And on Wednesday, we'll meet our new addition. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at December 27, 2004 10:35 AM

Birthday in January, originally from Pennsylvania... how much more crap do Fred and I have in common? This is getting creepy.

Posted by: Carl at December 27, 2004 09:06 PM

Lotta good stuff but I'm busy.

Do you want to know the real "Reason for the season?" Axial tilt!

Oh, and 'holiday' means 'holyday' so put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The essence of Christmas with a large gathering of in-laws and their small children is this simple three word phrase:

"Look at me."

Repeat this over and over and over again with all the possible variations you can think of. Imagine looking here and here and here and here and here and here. Twenty three performers and only one audience member.

For recovery I spent all of yesterday specifically NOT looking at ANYONE.

Posted by: Tripp at December 28, 2004 10:51 PM

Amen on the creepy Christmas messages from businesses. I feel the same way about any commercial establishment (or political candidate) that display more than one U.S. flag at any time. Flying one flag can be a sign of sincere patriotism; flying more than one is never an expression of honest love of country. There is something so cynical as to skirt the borders of evil in a business attempting to sell stuff based on appeals to nationalism or religious sectarianism.

(And, specifically, for most Christians, doing so happens also to be a form of blasphemy and therefore sinful. You don't see Quakers or Mennonites putting up "Follow the SON for Light & Life - Shop at Bob's Hardware" signs. Are there Christian denominations that approve of bringing the money-changers back into the temple? There must be, since that's pretty much what the car dealer you mention was doing, and presumably he has a minister who doesn't mind the billboard. "Great sign, my brother. I've always thought Jesus went overboard that day in Jerusalem; if God didn't want business in the temple, he wouldn't have let the money-changers in there in the first place. Praise Jabez!")

As to the turkey, not even frying solves the basic problem: different parts of the bird need to be cooked to different temperatures. The only way to make a truly good turkey is to cut the thing up and cook the bits for different lengths of time. You can fry, bake, grill, boil, or even solar-oven the meat just so long as you don't try to cook the whole bird for the same length of time at the same temperature. Not even professional chefs can reliably cook a whole turkey properly, not with all the foil shielding in the world.

Posted by: arrScott at December 29, 2004 07:03 AM
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