12/13/2014

Airing of the Christmas Grievances

When I was younger, Christmas was always an exciting time.  We would be keyed up at 5am, have the presents opened by 7, be at our grandparents' house by 9, eat lunch by noon, and be in bed by 8pm so our parents could exchange gifts.  Even as teenagers and college students, we actually looked forward to Christmas because it meant tons of food, presents (later on, cash), and good times (except for 1993, when I got sick on Christmas Day).

These days, the old fogey in me is looking forward to New Year's, the first crippling blizzard, the first time the sunset is at 5:00pm, filing my income taxes, and St. Patrick's Day.  Heck, I'm ready for the first day of over 90 degree weather with a dewpoint of 75.

Why, you ask?

I like Christmas.  I hate the hype.

The relentless Christmas songs, sung by people of mediocre talent, just for another paycheck.

Christmas marketing pushed ever so farther back that Christmas sales begin in August (which actually wouldn't be a bad idea - putting the fourth of July and Christmas together kills two birds with one stone).

Enough tinsel and pine trees to put a Broadway set designer into a sulk for years.

Atheists screaming that Christmas is too religious.  Christians screaming that Christmas has become too secular.

People making total fools of themselves on Black Friday, snatching up garbage "because it's cheap."  Anti-consumerists going into long, self-indulgent speeches about corporations.

The constant shoving of Christmas into the faces of people who don't want it or don't want to be reminded of it.   "Remember your Uncle Pat who once weighed 350 pounds and wasted away to 150 due to cancer with this Chia Pet!"  "If you don't buy this $900 stereo, the terrorists have won."

And schools?  Someone with a sore across their buttocks manages to get themselves in the news for suspending a student saying "Merry Christmas," or alters Christmas songs to something so unrecognizable, it might as well be sung by a thrash metal artist.

Everyone who participates in this ridiculously obnoxious Christmas circus must go home.  Take your red-and-green pom-poms elsewhere, preferably with someone who kills "Silent Night" and not in a favorable way.

For those of you who don't buy into the hype, who eschew all its garish trappings, this is for you.

When you believe the real meaning of Christmas - the one with not just holy reverence, but one that not only encourages celebration, includes reflection of the year, remembrance of times and people past, and a resolution to do better in the next year - everything else is filler.

There will always be people who we will miss (living or late), pain (physical or emotional), conflict (armed and unarmed), debt, poverty, and other unpleasant things during the holidays. The things that happen every single day do not stop during the holidays.

Even if you have a deity other than God and/or Christ, or believe in no deity at all, the holidays are more like a pause button.  One day to give thanks to your deity, or to celebrate Festivus, or simply to enjoy solitude, won't hamper those who celebrate Christmas.

Once December 26 rolls around, though, those who have been high on the Christmas hype will be forced to come down to earth.  The hype will be gone, until Harvey Leonard sees a "major coastal storm with snow measured in feet."

Then the hype for bread, eggs and milk to make French Toast will be upon us.

11/28/2014

"Thankful I'm alive"

Yesterday, at my family's Thanksgiving feast, we all were asked what we were thankful for.

I was pretty much caught off-guard by this question.  I didn't want to say anything flip or rude, so I blurted something out fast, like "Thankful I'm alive."

Back in June 9, 1989, I was working at what was Crown Shoes over on Hyde Park Avenue and getting change from what was then the Suffolk Franklin bank.  I was crossing the street and I got hit by a car.

To say that Someone Upstairs was keeping an eye out for me was an understatement.  I walked - yes, walked - away with two stitches in my head (the only pain I felt was the lidocaine burning and numbing my head) and numerous scrapes.  I was well over six feet then, but anyone smaller would have easily been dead.

When it came to that revelation, it was one resting in my subconscious until it got jostled by accident.  Awaking the slumbering part of my life that was bad at one moment but turned out very lucky, as it were.  Sidney Friedman, the MASH psychiatrist played wonderfully by Allan Arbus, would be the one sitting in front of me, asking why I said that, and then after recounting what happened, would drolly say, "It's funny how what happened earlier in life comes back at the strangest times."

So I am thankful I'm alive. And I am forever grateful Someone Upstairs thought I wasn't ready for wings yet on June 9, 1989.

11/13/2014

The tyranny of the minority in Westminster

In Berkeley, California, citizens voted on a measure to add 1 cent per ounce to sugar and/or HFCS drinks (diet and water based drinks exempted).  It passed by a majority vote.

In Westminster, MA, three members of their board of health attempted to be the first in the nation to ban the sale of all tobacco products.  The board of health was eviscerated by angry citizens and the hearings ended abruptly.

Both actions were based on controlling health.  Adding $0.20 to a 20 ounce bottle of Mountain Dew may sway people into buying Diet Mountain Dew, water, or anything else with sweeteners to avoid the tax.  With the current excise tax of $4.51 on cigarettes in Massachusetts, people can choose to avoid the tax by not smoking or going to a state with a cheaper tax.

Banning smoking is a noble venture, but the way Westminster's Board of Health is doing it is the worst form of high and mighty paternalism.  It's little wonder that the attendees brought a torches-and-pitchforks fury to the hearings, but when you patronize the residents and attempt to implement personal biases as law, you get the anger and disgust you deserve.

Simply put: without appropriate public comment, imposing these laws would be tyranny of the minority.  Hence, the dissent from the public was justified and necessary to keep a check on power plays like this.

Granted, both Berkeley and Westminster have huge problems with Big Business and are using health concerns as a foil to protest against those practices, but at some point, tobacco sales will be prohibited, or regulated so much that buying cigarettes will be a financially dangerous proposition.  That decision will come at the hands of the citizens, not bureaucrats who blindly impose their will.  What Berkeley did was use the ballot box, and perhaps Westminster would be wise to follow, rather than using a ham-fisted and arrogant approach to being "first in the nation" to ban smoking.

UPDATE 11/20/2014: In a 2-1 vote, the Health Board declined the ban on smoking.

11/04/2014

Slimming down Christmas Creep

It's not even four days into November, and by the time the elections are over, Christmas ads and songs will be foisted upon the populace.  Christmas in December is fine.  Christmas in October is not.

I would like to put a huge lap band on Christmas Creep, because its holly jolly robustness is becoming obnoxiously dangerous to man, woman, child and beast.

Here's a proposal: since there are many others who can't hobble together a Christmas - either because they're away overseas in the military, they've lost loved ones, are infirm, or are broke even after working five jobs and all the money's been divvied up , it's time for the retailers dumping Christmas on us like an unwanted blizzard to pay up.

By pay up, I mean that if retailers want the ads, the blow-up Santas, and the 9 foot trees that take a PhD to figure out before Thanksgiving, they must pledge 25-50% of their total profits from Christmas items to a fund up until December 24, where those profits from selling wreaths alongside the leaf blowers will help those who can't have Christmas at least have a better one.

Those who don't pledge the profits cannot have even one tiny ornament or elf on a shelf until December 1.  (Also, a National Blue Law forbidding opening stores on Thanksgiving until 6am on Black Friday would be in full force.)  After that, let the tsunami of sugarplums, corny tunes, and bad Christmas sweaters commence.

The reason for this is not to deny retailers profit, nor shoppers from getting way ahead before the maelstrom that is Black Friday.  It's to take away a huge incentive from unscrupulous retailers - those whose "bottom lines" need fluffing up - from taking advantage of an extra month to dump stuff others won't use, don't need, or will re-gift to someone else.  It's also to prevent retailers from squeezing lower-level employees just so they can tell their shareholders, "Look!  We made X amount more money to distribute among ourselves!"

Also, smart consumers will avoid being captive audiences where they're emotionally manipulated to buy things.  They will wait until all the drama and hype is gone, and shop out of necessity, not because the latest "it" toy at $39.99 is going for $800 on eBay.

When a major retailer makes $2.5 billion and decides it's better to have half of that money go to people to have a better Christmas, especially when kindness is in short supply, they will receive not just praise, they will bring in new customers, who once they're on their feet will spend in their stores.  They won't miss half the money if a family who's struggling has a nice upgrade on Christmas.

P.S. In less stringent terms than this article, however, I don't wish a total war on Christmas.   I'd like Thanksgiving to come first. 

11/02/2014

The political message: "Buzz off" is absolutely free

For the past couple of months, we've all heard of the political ads that tells viewers that candidate "A" is "too extreme", candidate "B" is "not for us," and that "we will all lose" if  candidate "C" is elected.  And vote no on Question 19, unless you want to conjure the ghost of Buddy Hackett, and make sure you vote yes on Question 11B, otherwise the deep pocketed vending machine interests have won.

The PACs (political action committees and lobbies who designed these ads will be the real winners in this election, not the elected or voters.  Their super-slick PR packages would put the hardest Type A advertisers to shame.  They also fund robo-calls, push polls, flyers, and other obnoxious materials.  I've gotten to the point where I ignore the ads and change to something else.

It would be very satisfying to tell these groups to "buzz off" (and in even less polite terms) but so long as we have desperate politicians who when the summer began had a comfortable 30 point lead but now are at a dead head, or we have political operatives who fear their influence - along with their own jobs - will end along with their bosses', the onslaught of mudslinging will continue.

What if these ads were actually honest?  You would have ads telling the public they're only interested in being rent seekers on their own constituents; you would have ads telling the public they spend money on their own interests and whoever seeks favors; you would have ads saying "I'm really a socialist/fascist, but because I would be seen as an unelectable fringe candidate, I'll lie my way in as a Party A/B candidate until I'm elected, and then I'll vote any damn way I please."

To be honest in those senses is not to be a politician at all.  In fact, a few months in office with mindset would be grounds for recall, if not indictment.

10/30/2014

Thomas Menino 1942-2014

I actually had two meetings with Mayor Menino, both when he was a city councillor: once, when he handed my diploma in 1990, and the other when he visited my grandparents personally in 1993 in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Depending on your feelings for the former mayor, he was either the savior of Boston or the hardest politician to get through.  He was skilled in getting things done, even though it seemed he was talking through PlayDoh.  If something didn't please Menino, he blocked it until it benefited everyone.

His finest hours were when the city needed him most: the Marathon bombings, major snowstorms, even outside of the public eye.  To serve twenty years as major is a feat that no other mayor in this nation can replicate - not even the notorious James Curley can speak to that kind of longevity.

His health - cancer, especially - was the one thing that the mayor could not negotiate or bargain with, even though he tried with an iron will.  The city of Boston will be forever in his debt for making it better.

10/26/2014

Dale Dorman 1943-2014

Back in the late 1970s, cartoons came on at around 2pm on Channel 56 and my brother and I (and later, my other two brothers when they got older) watched them religiously.  
"Uncle" Dale Dorman came in and announced each half-hour, and told jokes only kids would cackle about in between commercials.   He also did Creature Double Feature and weekends at V66 video channel.

Dale Dorman was a consummate DJ and announcer.  He arrived in 1968 in short hair, and left in his trademark long hair with a ponytail (in one picture in 1973, his hair was nearly at his waist!).  At WRKO, WXKS and WODS, he was more lovable goof ball than boss jock, messing up song titles, telling dumb groaner jokes and announcing that someone from Quincy won two front row seats to see Prince.

Dale was already retired when WODS changed its format to AMP 103.3, but you always wonder if he would be ready for one more go, one more dumb joke that you get out of Laffy Taffy, one more "Aretha Franklin is coming to TD Garden and I've got tickets!"  Now he gets to enjoy life elsewhere, meeting up with legendary jocks of yore like Jefferson Kaye, Jim O'Brien, George Michael (of Sports Machine/WFIL fame, not the singer from Wham!), Juicy Brucie, and stars past who departed much too soon.

I met Dale once when I did the Walk for Hunger in 1990.  (At that time, if I remember correctly, he was wearing a mullet).  We talked for a bit - hey, you don't see local celebrities that often! - and then I went on my way.

Thanks, Uncle Dale.

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