Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tis the season.

As with so many things, I find the holiday season particularly fascinating, but (as with so many things) not in the ways in which you would imagine.
Year after year it's the same thing. Hoards of shoppers, agony over what to buy for people, the struggle of how to pay for it all and the (seemingly) endless bombardment of advertising directed at us in an effort to make the season "happy", as though it all equated with happiness somehow.
We think that all that junk we wheel out of the store, wrap in cheap paper and place under a dead indoor evergreen tree will translate into gratification and (eventually) happiness, when all it really does is make us want more junk that subsequent years will bring. While that stuff may bring happiness, it is fleeting and the financial measure is what really matters sometimes. The shallow among us compare what we spent versus what they spent and use that as a gauge for the level of love. The spirit of Christmas is measured by what is in the box.
I wonder what would become of the retail industry if they didn't have these 32 days at the end of the year to reconcile their books, keep their stores open for 18 hours at a time and remove otherwise needless merchandise from their inventory? Give thanks for the capitalistic holiday season, because it's part of the reason prices are low the rest of the year.
We drag religion into it (or religion dragged itself in - I don't know which) and pretend that it is Jesus' birthday. Whether or not you believe that is irrelevant, because the idea that this nonsense has anything to do with religion is so far down the evolutionary ladder as to be completely irrelevant - as much so as patriotism has to do with a July 4th picnic.
Part of my fascination is that I see the same group of people going through the same nonsense every year. There isn't much of a turnover in participants - a few die and a few come of age - but generally it's the same mass of people doing all the same things they did last year. Sometimes, they vow "never again" - like the drunk that comes home from a night out and winds up with his head in the toilet bowl - only to repeat the same behavior next Saturday night. It is learned behavior and difficult to stop.
As children, we were told this fairy tale about a fat guy with a beard who had Caribou who could fly, and somehow he made it all the way around the Earth in less than 12 hours, dumping gifts on us. We believed it because our parents wouldn't lie to us. We ask for some odd trinket because we've been "nice" all year (there's enough lying to go around) and sometimes it was waiting for us, neatly wrapped in cheap paper under our slowly dying rootless tree.
God forbid it wasn't, because that would mean that Santa had forsaken us and the shame would be too much to bear. I suppose that's why parents all over America run around like chickens with their legs cut off and spend money they don't have. They can't bear the shame of disappointing a child on this most sacred of holidays.
As adults, we learn to deal with disappointment, heartache and disenchantment, but things like that can scar a child for life. Spend, spend spend. Your kids need ... er ... want that PlayStation 3. When they have their own children, they'll be right there with the rest of the sheep doing the same things. Psychologists might call it repetitive stress syndrome. We call it a holiday tradition.
In the words of Eric Cartman, "This is pretty fucked up, right here."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Thanks, HBO. I had to search a little (or a lot), but there's something called HBO Comedy, way up there on channel 305 of my cable. That's where I found the Curb Your Enthusiasm marathon that started Thrusday night and ran until 8pm on Friday.
Interrupted only by sleep and a trip to the gym, I had 24 hours of Curb episodes running constantly on the TV, which was nice since there was crap on otherwise.
That's the kind of mundane nonsense that makes life bearable around here during the holidays - or the ersatz advertising-induced holiday that we call Black Friday. I resisted the urge to flip on the local news, but I'm sure if I did, I would have been treated to images of goofy shoppers being trampled at the local electronics store or the local department stores that were open long before I crawled out of bed and flipped on the TV.
Even though I have the DVDs perched nicely on the shelves next to the TV, it's nice to have them running on TV while somebody else changes the discs (or whatever they use on HBO) and I can get up or, God forbid, sleep, while the shows run. At least that way, I feel as though I'm getting my money's worth out of the ridiculous cable TV fee.
What a life.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The great Thanksgiving gobble

Thanksgiving is as close to a National holiday as we get, unless you count the retailers, who seem to have no shame. After dinner and a game of Mexican Train Dominos with mom, we sat down for some TV. I had no idea that so many stores were either open today (K-Mart) or opening at midnight tonight (Value City). Of course, there are the usual early morning openings (Circuit City and Boscov's), but it seems that it's getting worse (more greedy) instead of better.
Year after year, the retail industry whines and moans about how it's going to be a tough season. Either because Thanksgiving is "late" and Xmas is "early" (fewer shopping days) or because people have less money to spend because of high energy prices or the increasing costs of living.
Blogger's Note: I choose to take the Christ out of Xmas by replacing it with the heathen "X".
Friday, the local news will be jam packed with stories about the rush of shoppers at Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart ... (blah blah blah) ... and the incredible bargains that they are scoffing up at 5 in the morning while the lucky among us are sleeping or the unlucky are working.
Blogger's Note: Those news stories fall under the category of "free advertising" every time the retailer's name is mentioned, hence the early-opening scam.
If you are sleeping or working, consider yourself fortunate. I've worked plenty of Black Friday's and I have never wished I was standing in line at 4am waiting for a beleaguered minimum wage store clerk to open the doors so I can be trampled by goofy weirdos who figure that five hours of sleep is worth a 50 dollar discount on a square TV or a close-out computer. While you're out spending money, I'll be rolling over listening to the cat purr. Knock yourselves out. Please.
Here's a clue: There isn't anything that you can buy on Friday that you can't buy on Saturday or three weeks from now. Or even better, not buy.
There are 32 shopping days left, and we've been convinced by advertising and our own stupidity to think that the only day worth being out shopping is Friday. It's amazing to me that the stores will be jammed and people will be out. Either we forget over the year or we are spawning new and goofier people. Or both. The strange thing is that most of the people that are interviewed by newspapers or TV will admit to being "stupid" for being out on Friday. Stupid is as stupid does.
Face it, the retail industry has figured us out and they have determined that it is financially worthwhile to open at midnight (technically Friday, so they don't have to pay holiday wages) or so early that even the chickens are laughing at us. The short answer is that they don't do anything that isn't helping their cause, and they will make it appear as though they are doing us a favor. How does it feel to be a tool of merchandising? I thought so.
So, get out there and spend! I'm tired of hearing them complain. You'll have 31 days left and years more to pay for it all.
You'll likely be out shopping on Christmas Eve, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday in Philadelphia

As you no doubt remember, today was my Renoir Day at the Art Museum. I love art but I am not a student of it, so whenever I get the chance I take advantage of the guided tour. The one that our Art Museum puts on for its Renoir exhibition is particularly good, and if you are so inclined I highly recommend it.
Other than our excellent guide, the best thing about the tour was that it took place an hour before the gallery opened to the public, so we had the place to ourselves for the better part of the hour, making for a peaceful roaming period.
I won't bore you with the details of the exhibition (unless you insist) other than to say that it is a wonderful exhibition, even though one thing leaves me wondering. What is it? Glad you asked.
As is always the case, the exhibition leads to the gift shop. Galleries and museums are built that way, and we expect it. The thing that bothers me is the choice of souvenirs. Artists spend a lifetime of sweat and toil, often in abject poverty - so that we can purchase a necktie with one of their great paintings on it.
Get your Seine at Chatou mouse pad or coffee mug, as Renoir spins in his grave, I'm guessing. I certainly don't mind a poster or repro book, but the T-Shirts and refrigerator magnets leave me cold. It strikes me as shameless marketing and I think the art deserves more.
Meanwhile, the Parkway is alight in color for the autumn season, and I suspect that we're running out of time for that particular view. Most of the roads surrounding the museum were closed today, as local TV prepares itself for our big Thanksgiving Day Parade. I'm not a big parade guy, and as Mitch Hedberg advises, I like to walk backwards to speed them up a bit. On TV, however, they seem to take forever, as the Mummers prove year after year.
Sadly, I have no amusing anecdotes to report. The NJ Transit bus was on time and I was courteously escorted to the museum by a Mr. Singh, one of Philadelphia's fine foreign taxi drivers. For eleven dollars, it was a hoot. Next time, I might try a SEPTA bus, but for sheer entertainment, you can't beat a taxi ride. Honking horns, quick lane changes and a total disregard for traffic laws makes for a high value.
Since Wednesday is the biggest drinking day of the year, I had the option to hang around and get drunk with the rest of America, but I reached my limit with the two-beer lunch at Friday's and headed back home for my regular Wednesday night spin session. I have Friday off too, so there's plenty of time for that drinking nonsense.
To youse and yours (as we say here in Philly) have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fiction is sometimes stranger than truth.

“I dreamed about Ray Charles last night. He could see just fine.”
- Joan Osborne, “Spider Web”

I was in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, getting ready to watch a show that featured (among others) Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and his wife Linda.
Before the show began, each of the principles emerged from a place in the audience, “excuse me"-ing their way across the aisles and onto the stage. Linda was groped by a couple of guys and she politely laughed it off, and seemed to enjoy it. The show began and they started to play some unrecognizable music.
I could hear the music, but I couldn’t see very well because the people in front of me had giant heads that I couldn’t see around. At one point, a child decided to move and the man in front of me moved into the child’s seat. “Thank you,” I thought. Now I can hear and see.
At one point in the show, a man emerged from a few rows in front of me playing some sort of giant guitar with an extremely long neck and a tiny body. Maybe it was a Sitar. He was dancing around and singing in gibberish, and quickly exited.
Through all of this, the people sitting next to me continually got up and down, moving in front of me and coming back with all manner of food and drink. Even though there were only three of them, it seemed like ten times that many, and their continual leaving and re-entering had begun to annoy me to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on the show.
After the man with the giant [Sitar] finished playing, I looked to my left and saw that their seats had been removed and there was an empty space next to me. They returned (food in hand), wondering where their seats were, I shrugged and told them “I don’t know,” and smiled quietly to myself.
The show continued on for a bit, with a lot of singing and some odd cavorting by the musicians and the audience, when suddenly, we were summoned outdoors.
When we got outside, we were instructed to look up. What appeared were an untold number of F-15 fighter planes, flying in a formation that looked like about 12 jets in 3 diamond patterns - one group in front and two in the back - perfectly spaced and moving very quickly. We were amazed as they roared overhead, and we applauded wildly.
Then, from the left emerged two huge helicopters. They were each carrying the fuselages of six other helicopters, dangling them like a bunch of grapes and (presumably) transporting them to another location much in the way a truck carries cars to a dealership.
Suddenly, one of the helicopter shells dropped from its “Mother ship” and crashed into a house below. The stunned neighbors ran outside to see what had happened as the two helicopters continued on their way with one less fuselage to carry.
Just as suddenly, I found myself embracing a woman (who strangely appeared to be my ex-wife) up against a vehicle in a passionate kiss. From behind, I felt the ominous presence of her parents, and one of them said to the other, “Boy, that’s exactly what you wanted to see today, isn’t it?”
Then I woke up.
I’m not sure whether to blame the Dulcolax or the Advil PM or both.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Life in The Magic Kingdom

If I was a member of the Writers Guild (currently on strike) I'd be perfectly comfortable right now. Richard Lewis used to open his shows by saying, "I have so much on my mind - and yet - I have nothing to say." I hear ya, brother.
Right now, I have an internal battle being waged. It's between Dulcolax and Advil PM. Pick a winner. Better yet, don't. One will be determined. Before I nod off on the toilet, I'll let you in on a few things going on around here.
I have a five-day weekend planned for this coming Thanksgiving week. I'll be off work Wednesday, roaming the streets of Philadelphia. First, I'll be hanging at the Art Museum at the Renoir Landscapes Exhibit. I signed up for the guided tour, which takes place at 9:30am, which means at 8am, I'll be on a New Jersey Transit bus headed for the museum. How I'll get from 12th and Market to the far end of the Parkway is as yet undetermined, but there could be a taxi ride in my future. We all know I refuse to drive over there.
What will follow will likely be a boring blog post all about my experience. I'm taking the guided tour (for an extra $13) because I love art, but I don't always know what I'm looking at. I also like to learn about the history of the pieces, and since taking one of the tours at the East Building in D.C., I'm kind of hooked on them. The guides are usually great, and in D.C., the tours are free - and ya can't beat free.
I haven't planned much of the rest of the week, other than Thursday's dinner with mom, but as they say, a bad day at home beats a good day at work. We have Friday off and hopefully I can forget about the place for a while until reality invades again on Monday.
But, first things first. It's a Battle Royal between the sleep aid and the other thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's my def?

I flipped on the TV today and found that ABC was showing the MLS (that's soccer) championship game in hi-definition, so naturally, I expected NBC to show the LPGA ADT Championship in a likewise fashion. But, no. Sadly, the hi-def package for which Comcast charges me extra for was not in use for the three hours of coverage of the last tournament of the ladies' season today. Soccer gets the hi-def treatment, I'm assuming, due to its huge popularity. Sure. I'll still get the bill, but I won't like it.
I'm guessing that Lorena won't be able to get that giant check through the pneumatic tube at her local bank - but it will be fun trying.
By the way, the New England ML Soccer team is called the Revolution, which to me, signifies that we have run out of names for sports teams. The announcers (yes, I had the game on long enough to pay attention to the announcers) were telling us that the fans (there are fans) of the Revolution were hoping that the recent good fortune of New England's sports teams would continue with their soccer team. I am pleased to report that they lost, so screw you guys. As it turns out, the futbol team is owned by Robert Kraft, the same guy who owns the football team. I'm assuming he needs the tax write-off.
I don't see the point in having hi-definition channels on my cable service if the program is going to be shown in the same square format that I had before I bought the fancy TV and paid for the premium cable service. I'm writing e-mail's, I promise.
"Get the latest on the rain and snow, after Football Night in Philly." So goes the promo I just heard over our local NBC affiliate. Snow? Sure, in the Pocono mountains in northeast Pennsylvania on the fringes of their viewing area. And so begins the winter of make-believe snow emergencies, designed to make people tune in for the 11 o'clock news, only to find that the snow is falling in a place that most of them couldn't locate on a map. Every weather promo from now until Easter will include the word snow in a lame-assed attempt to scare up viewers and send people running to the grocery store for milk, bread and eggs. Apparently, French Toast is comfort food when it snows.
Rain forecasts don't lure viewers, even though they are local and accurate. Technically, they aren't lying, since they'll tell us about the rain, too - but only after the frightened viewers tune in to find out how much they'll be shoveling on Monday morning. The answer is zero, and they'd be better off getting a good night's sleep.

Karma Schmarma

I was making my usual Sunday run to the big Post Office with my bag of Ebola items, and I walked in just ahead of a woman who needed to use the small stamp machine to buy a stamp to mail a letter. She began griping because the machine had a sign hanging on it, saying "Out of Order", which I happen to know has been hanging there for a number of days.
Frustrated, she began to walk out when I summoned her over to my fancy box-weighing machine, saying, "I can get a stamp for you."
As it turned out, I had to buy a book. I pulled a stamp out for her and she offered to give me the dollar that she was going to use in the smaller machine.
"No, I don't want your dollar. Take the stamp. It will be my good deed for today," I told her, and I gave her the stamp.
"Thank you. This will keep me from being evicted for another month," she said as she put the stamp on the envelope and dropped it in the box. "You have a good day."
"You too," I said, figuring that Karma would find me and I would receive my meager reward for helping the humans.
On my way home, I stopped and bought a bottle of wine to sip while I watched Lorena Ochoa win another tournament. It turned out to be one of the more rancid, ill flavored wines I have had - ever.
Maybe Karma Day is Monday?