Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Counting the Days 'Til January 2nd

The candy grows stale in the pantry. The pumpkin rots on the porch. Then why, pray tell, does the eeriness remain? It remains because dreaded figures keep haunting stores, both far and near. Three figures, in fact, that embody a season awash in terror—a terror far worse than what the spookiest ghouls could conjure on Halloween. I shudder to even mention their names: snowman, reindeer and Santa Claus.

Big surprise, huh? As you may have guessed, Professional Sourpuss Left is not a fan of the holidays. But allow me to clarify my griping. I don’t dislike the core ideas behind the holidays. Giving, sharing, gathering with family and friends, commemorating significant religious events. I bow to all the winter holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and any I might’ve missed. These are all worthy occasions that deserve to be celebrated.

Therein lies the bone I wish to pick. As our society (d)evolved into its modern form, few of the core ideas behind these celebrations survived. We’ve chosen to focus on social homogenization, speed, status and price. In doing so, we’ve stripped these holidays of their essences, the fundamental reasons why we celebrate them. What remains is one big hysterical bash—draped in ornaments, candles, blinking lights, ribbons, balloons and streamers—that stretches from late November to early January. It comes and goes so fast and is “celebrated” so furiously, it runs together like several colors of paint. Six months later, all you have left is a gray blur you can barely remember. I call it “the holidaze”.

How’s this for irony? These holidays, initially dedicated to communal or spiritual concerns, now concentrate almost exclusively on personal and material issues. That, at the very least, is true of the Big 3. Thanksgiving: food and booze. Christmas: presents, food and booze. New Year’s: booze, booze and booze. We can’t consider the spiritual side of these occasions because we’re stuffed to the gills, drunk and drooling over all the goodies we netted from rich old Uncle Kenny. Which holiday? Doesn’t matter, we seem to say. As long as there’s beer, at least three desserts and presents, it’s all good. Not.

I suppose I should apologize. I probably shouldn’t be singing the blues in this season of red and green. Maybe this is a result of my having worked in retail for so long. Retail veterans tend not to fa-la-la, if you know what I mean. Nothing kills holiday cheer quicker than a December spent toiling in a department store. The horrors Charles Dickens imagined for Scrooge in A Christmas Carol pale by comparison.

I hear the snickering and scoffing. Those of you who are, most likely, are the Uninitiated. Lucky people who have never worn a name-tag or piloted a cash register. Come, you blessed souls, walk a mile in my tattered shoes. Share with me a page from my rookie year, the Christmas of 1994, and taste the trepidation through which I lived. Picture an overcrowded, understaffed general merchandise store one week before December 25th. To make it more palpable for you, I’ll put it into the musical format of a traditional holiday standard:

On the 7th day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

On the 6th day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

On the 5th day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .a whining shrew returning a Flowbee with a 3-year old receipt, two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

On the 4th day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .four adult men wrestling over Power Rangers, a whining shrew returning a Flowbee with a 3-year old receipt, two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

On the 3rd day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .a 25-foot long checkout lane! Four adult men wrestling over Power Rangers, a whining shrew returning a Flowbee with a 3-year old receipt, two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

On the 2nd day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .a manager who wrote me up for saying “Merry Christmas” to a customer who turned out to be Jewish, a 25-foot long checkout lane! Four adult men wrestling over Power Rangers, a whining shrew returning a Flowbee with a 3-year old receipt, two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at me.

One day before Christmas, retail gave to me. . .12 trashed aisles I had to clean up before I could leave at midnight, a manager who wrote me up for saying “Merry Christmas” to a customer who turned out to be Jewish, a 25-foot long checkout lane! Four adult men wrestling over Power Rangers, a whining shrew returning a Flowbee with a 3-year old receipt, two brats shoplifting Sega games and an asshole throwing his maxed-out charge card at meeee-eee-eee-eee!

I hope my little ditty helped you innocent ones visualize the “Apocalypse Now”-like horror in your minds. Pity, truly, the retail drone at year’s end.

At the end of the day, plain ol’ griping never got anyone anywhere. You’ve got to take a proactive approach and DO something about it. Hey kids, why don’t we do the holidaze differently this year? Why don’t we do the opposite of Emeril and turn it down a notch? Holiday shopping wasn’t meant to be a pissing contest. Isn’t one truly considerate gift, one you spent quality time physically going out and selecting, better than a truckload of crap you found online? Isn’t it? Either I'm going deaf or the crickets are chirping extra-loudly this season.

Imagine how novel a more modest holiday party would be. Instead of weeks of frantic preparation for a Disneyesque pageant that lasts less than 24 hours—BIG FOOD! BIG DRINK! EVERYONE YOU EVER MET SINCE THE FIFTH GRADE!—downsize it. Plan a smaller, more personal and heartfelt gathering to which you invite just your closest family and friends. One that doesn’t require bowl game-watching and boozing as a competitive sport. One that focuses on being together and sharing the occasion. It could be a holiday party your guests might actually remember next July.

If you’re going to go that far, why not go all the way? During your downsized holiday party, set aside a little time for collective consideration of those core ideas behind the holidays. True, these “heavy” topics often make some folks uncomfortable. In order to avoid that, you might ask them to recall their favorite or most unique holiday experience ever, or perhaps the earliest holiday experience they remember. Everyone likes to reminisce—especially those family members my mom affectionately calls “the old farts”. Still, you have to plan ahead for party poopers. Say one of your guests questions the validity of this activity. What should you do? “Hey,” you respond kindly, “it ain’t just about presents and food, right?” Only a doofus would disagree. If this person happens to be a doofus, just cram some fruitcake in their yap before they can spout off again.

I think I’ll close this off with a brief consideration of my favorite winter holiday. You won’t find it listed on any calendar, because officially, it isn’t a holiday. But it should be. January 2nd, the day things return to whatever passes for normal. I call it Holiday Recuperation Day. Stay home, turn the TV off and the answering machine on. Ignore all doorbells. If anyone knocks, to hell with them. Spend this day in quiet contemplation. In layman’s terms, this is called “sleep”. Rest you, merry gentlepeople.

As inviting as this proposed holiday might seem, I will acknowledge that many of you out there would find the idea distasteful. You're the “energetic” type, someone who would never “waste” Holiday Recuperation Day on recuperating. Fear not. I have a suggestion for you, too. Why not spend January 2nd pulling all the festive outdoor decorations down off your house? Including the blinking lights that have been ruining your neighbors’ sleep for the last six weeks? This will enable you, for the first time in years, to spend Spring just enjoying the weather.

Housecleaning Issues

Hello again, Kindred Souls. Sorry for the long gap between posts. Allow me to do a bit of “housecleaning”, i.e., address a couple issues and answer a question or two.

1.) My medical condition: I saw an orthopedic surgeon last week. For a few anxious days, I thought I might have to go under the knife. But the surgeon checked my MRI and said that wouldn’t be necessary, thank God. He took me off most of the painkillers I was on. This made me happy, since I was tired of being a drugged-out zombie. (At first I truly needed the pills, but certain nameless physicians I no longer see need to be a bit more attentive to their jobs. Three months on Gabapentin is ridiculous!) Now I just take Aleve for occasional pain. The surgeon extended my physical therapy until December. God willing, I should be good to go in January.

Those of you who asked: thank you for your concern. I truly appreciate it.

2.) “My Fair Brady” update: Okay, slap my wrist and call me “butthead”, but I watched the whole damn thing. I'm sorry. I know what I said. But I got hooked on it, like soap operas or chocolate. It's a similar addiction, only much worse. With chocolate, you gain ugly pounds you can at least see. Empty video calories like these make you lose something—IQ points—and you don't realize it until after the fact. “My Fair Brady” reduced me to the intellectual level of your average “Maury Povich” viewer. "Thank God for Professors Crick and Watson," I found myself saying. "If they hadn't discovered DNA, we might never have guessed that mouthbreathing trailer park residents practice unsafe sex and suffer from a complete lack of scruples!" In order to bulk up my gray matter, I’m on a strict PBS and History Channel diet for the next three months.

For both of you who care, here is a Cliff’s Notes summary of the conclusion of “My Fair Brady”:

When all was said and done, Adrianne Curry decided that she’s a good Catholic girl. Never mind that she’s also a recovering drug addict, an admitted bisexual and a cheesecake model who habitually prances nude in front of TV cameras. In her own mind if nowhere else, Adrianne is batting for Pope Benedict’s team. So the 22-year old beauty threatened to dump her boyfriend, former “Brady Bunch” star Christopher (“Peter”) Knight, unless he agreed to marry her. Throughout the series, Adrianne maintained that her fondest dream was to wed Knight, make a traditional-style home with him and bear his children—in other words, a real-life “Brady Bunch”. It was time, she said, for Knight to make a “commitment” to her. After all, they had been dating (and sleeping together) for almost seven whole months.

So what did Mr. Porkchops-and-Applesauce do? Put yourself in his shoes. Peter (I mean, Christopher) is a 47-year old ex-child TV star. He managed to stay out of trouble, build a lucrative career for himself outside of acting (computers/software), revive his career as an actor/TV host and maintain a minimum of dignity while doing so. Peter (I mean, Christopher) also has two failed marriages under his belt. What would you do?

You got it. He ducked and danced like Muhammad Ali. In episode after episode of “My Fair Brady”, Christopher Knight made more excuses than the mayor of New Orleans and FEMA combined. He encouraged Adrianne to slow down, get her own place and be “independent”. He dragged her to Puerto Rico for a diversionary vacation that I’m sure VH1 didn’t pay for. Knight even went out and found Adrianne a fancy townhouse he said she could “make her own”. But the young model would not be denied. In a tearful finale, Knight dropped to his knees, pulled out a ring (nestled in a box emblazoned with the name of the jewelry store chain Adrianne coincidentally endorses in TV commercials) and popped The Question. Of course, Adrianne said yes. Boo-hoo-hoo, smooch-smooch, the end. Almost.

One day after the “My Fair Brady” conclusion aired, radio personality Howard Stern announced that the two lovebirds had broken up. Adrianne is supposedly dating some “American Idol” reject who’s even less famous than she. Knight is probably at home, searching through his little black book for Eve Plumb's phone number. I emerge from this reality TV cesspool clinging to a single, glittering hope: that VH1 switches back to an all-music video format. As soon as possible.

3.) Moron Alert: I don’t know the exact name of the program, because I came in on it halfway through. But earlier this week (Sunday), A&E aired a show chockfull o’ nuts who claimed that the slew of hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes our planet has recently endured is either:

A.) Proof that God (Christian and Muslim) is punishing us for our sinful ways.
B.) A sinister plot by Russia, China, India or the U.S. to gain world control.
C.) A sinister plot by the Japanese mafia to punish the U.S. for A-bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Then, there’s always choice D.): proof that A&E is so desperate for ratings, it would stoop to giving such shameful tabloid-fodder a national forum. “Arts & Entertainment Channel” my ass. It should be called “The National Enquirer Channel”. Methinks it’s time to use the “Child Lock” feature on my cable box. No, I don’t have kids. I’d be locking A&E out to protect myself. From idiocy, that is.

4.) The Woman: Come on, you’ve seen her. The chestnut-haired beauty pitching, the internet bargain bin, on TV? “It’s all about the ‘o,’” she purrs sensually. Well, I’m in love with her. Truly, madly and deeply. More than Marg Helgenberger or Jennifer Connelly. More than Uma Thurman, Jennifer Aniston, Lucy Liu, Jennifer Garner and Misty Mundae combined. is a point-and-click version of the classic shlockhouse. I’d never shop there. But I love, Love, LOVE the Woman! I saw her new ad for the first time this morning. My beloved strolls down a “winter wonderland in Anytown, U.S.A.” street, clad in a white fur coat and sexy boots. She sings an jingle set to a soft-rock rendition of “Jingle Bells”. “Sweet Christ on a cracker!” I exclaimed, bug-eyed and panting heavily. “She’s beautiful and talented!” Then I passed out. Information overload.

I came to some time later, feeling a sharp hankering for. . .knowledge. A sweaty-palmed Google search revealed my beauty’s back-story. Her name is Sabine Ehrenfeld. She’s a German model, is at least 40 years old (unbelievable!) and is well-known across the pond. Sabine speaks German, French and Italian and she is a licensed pilot. Her wide range of hobbies includes yoga, rock-climbing, skiing, snowboarding, martial arts, target shooting (pistols) and equestrian show-jumping. My God, my beloved is a Renaissance woman! Oh and uh, she’s married and has a couple of kids, too. Bum-mer.

But I can still dream, can’t I? A good place to do that is at the “Sabine Ehrenfeld Internet Fan Page” ( You’ll probably run into me over there. Just follow the trail of drool. If Pamela Anderson can get her own show, why not Sabine? Are you listening, Hollywood?

That’s it for housecleaning. I'm going to go take a cold shower. Catch you later!