The Day After Christmas

tree

My niece and nephew picked out a lovely tree.

It’s definitely Christmas.

I know this because my mother-in-law has already baked a peach cobbler and a fruitcake today and also made up food boxes to provide Christmas dinner to two local families who are desperately poor, one with three children and the other with seven.

Pastor Mom had already purchased turkeys and made up food boxes for two other needy families.  But then this morning, the needs of two more families who are unfamiliar to us came to our attention.  My wife and mother-in-law took off on a moment’s notice for an unplanned Wal-Mart run.  We need a couple more turkeys and ten pound bags of potatoes.  Must get more oatmeal packets and cookies.

One of them reportedly had nothing in the house for the kids to eat.  We know that their Christmas dinner will come early and that they will have to work on finding additional food for the big day on Wednesday.

And I thought I had problems.

Funny how Christmas has a way of putting things into perspective.

I think it’s wonderful how Christmas is known as “the season of giving.”  We all wish to be wise like the three kings of Orient and offer the finest things we have to those in the humblest of circumstances.

Okay, some of us forget.  In the hustle and bustle of the days leading up to Santa’s arrival, we may focus on getting the perfect gifts for our loved ones wrapped and under the tree, or on beginning preparations for the perfect holiday meal.  I suggest that we ought to pause in our exertions long enough to think of those who have nothing.  Those who don’t have to worry about what’s under the tree because they have no tree and wouldn’t have money for gifts even if they did.  Those who, in another time, may have had the pleasure of bedding down with the animals, or say, enjoying yet another packet of Top Ramen for dinner.

I know.  It’s easy to become jaded.  We are subject to too many requests for handouts.  They come to the door, wheedle for contributions at work, ring annoying bells in front of Target.  We don’t have enough to even make the kind of Christmas we really wish we could for our own families, and now every time we turn around we have to deal with people trying to make us feel guilty enough to fork over what little we have.

We’re already under enough stress as it is, and we wish the beggars would just stop already.  Don’t they know we’re doing what we can?

Oh, and don’t even get started on the scruffy characters who stand with tattered signs at the end of the freeway off-ramps where they have a captive audience waiting for the light to turn green.  Half of them have bicycles or dogs or even jackets, for heaven’s sake, so you know they’re fakers who aren’t really homeless.  They hang out in the same spots all year, lying in wait outside the fast food restaurants, but then comes the holidays and they write Merry Christmas Please Help on their signs.  What do they think we are, idiots?  We know blatant guilt-tripping when see it.  They’re not interested in food anyway.  All they want is a 40 and a blunt.  Don’t waste your money on that heap of trash.  Look straight ahead and keep driving.  Society’s detritus spread out before us like some kind of freak show when all we’re trying to do is earn a living and get to school in time to pick up the kids.

Truly, we’re doing the best we can.  But people just don’t get it.  Talk about living in an acquisitive America with Christmas marred by commercialism.  Everyone wants more, more, more, even the filthy drunks and transients.

As for those truly in need, aren’t there programs out there to help them?  Where are the food banks and the churches?  Let them do their jobs.  Most of the beggars are addicts or mentally ill or the product of their own bad decisions, so they are beyond help anyway.  There’s really nothing we can do for them, so don’t waste your time and money.

Yes, the charitable organizations are running at full tilt.  The bi-county food bank is having a big giveaway tomorrow.  There will also be a free meal on the church lawn on Saturday (along with toys for all local kids who show up).  We’ll make sure that the members of our little community in need have a decent Christmas on Wednesday.

But it’s not Wednesday that concerns me.

It’s Thursday.

The day after Christmas.

 

Rockin’ the Interview

interview

I did it.

The big interview was this afternoon and I survived.

Okay, I did better than survive.  I rocked it!

Yes, I was nervous as hell.  I made sure to arrive early, with the result that I ended up sitting in the waiting room chewing on my fingers and tugging at my socks for 45 minutes.  The sock thing was necessary because my holey hose (of course I discovered a big hole in one of them while I was sitting there) simply would not stay up.  They kept falling down, revealing my distended cankles and making it clear to all the world that here is a candidate who definitely does not have his act together and isn’t worth the trouble to interview, never mind hire.

I owe a large part of today’s interview success to my wife, and even a little to my sister, who called yesterday to complain about my mother for an hour.  But Sis and I, both currently unemployed, did spend a few minutes commiserating about the incredibly stupid questions asked by interviewers and how on earth you’re supposed to come up with a response that sounds halfway professional when what you really want to do is tell the panel is what a bunch of dorks they are.

My sister particularly mentioned a question that comes up repeatedly in the course of her job interviews:  “Tell us about a time that your boss made a decision that you did not agree with and specifically how you implemented that decision with staff.”  This, she said, is not a question to which one can respond effectively on the fly.  It requires preparation.  It’s almost a trick question, because you’re not supposed to admit that you have differences of opinion with your boss.  My sister said she’s working on putting together something that sounds decent so that she’ll be all ready when they drop the bomb on her.

I empathized with my sister on this one, as I, too, have run into this question with prospective employers on more than one occasion.  I wish I could just tell the truth, that it doesn’t matter how I feel about decisions that come down from above — that, as a manager, it is my responsibility to present policies in a positive light and to implement them effectively without regard to my personal opinions.  But that’s not good enough; the interviewee is expected to cite specific examples.

Before my interview today, I solicited the advice of my wife.  She reminded me of a particular procedure change that I experienced a number of years ago, and how I implemented it by treading lightly on the onerous aspects and emphasizing the positive results that were likely to ensue.  My wife also reminded me that it is often difficult to see the big picture; that’s what the more experienced members of upper management get paid to do.  Thus, what looks like a turkey of a decision in the short run could well turn out to be brilliant in the long term.

Sure enough, the question came up in the interview today.  The panelists were nodding and smiling, so I tend to think that they were positively disposed to my answer.  I believe there is a lesson to be learned here:  Preparation really is the key.

I am accustomed to five to eight questions at panel interviews.  Although I didn’t count, there must have been at least a dozen at this one.  I had to be reminded (twice) that I was going over the allotted time, because once I get started, I tend to go on and on.

The three panelists were very pleasant and professional and most of the questions they asked appeared to be well thought out rather than stock questions from some HR handbook.  Somehow, I never needed a moment to think of a response, nor did I stumble over my answers at all.

In short, this was the most successful interview I have experienced in some time.  Not to jinx myself, but I will be rather surprised if I don’t get this one.

(to be continued)

 

I’m a Neutral Party

neutral

My mother called this morning.  She wanted to gripe about my sister.

Then my sister called this afternoon to gripe about my mother.

When I attended law school two and a half eons ago, I never dreamed that I’d be cast in the role of family mediator.  Having worked in the court system, I’ve seen plenty of “partners” (really?) at each other’s throats.  Although I’m no stranger to familial strife in a professional environment, I never expected to be cast into a situation in which I’d feel compelled to play intermediary in my own family.

Calling Henry Kissinger. . .  Um, we’ve got a Mideast situation brewing here.  Please proceed to northern California immediately.  Bring a dove and an olive branch.

Oh, and some Pepto Bismol for me.

Seriously, guys, what is it with the holidays and internecine warfare?  Sure, this can and does crop up any old time of year, but somehow the season of peace on earth and good will toward men seems to bring out the worst in all of us.

You may recall that my sister was planning on camping out at my parents’ house for four months while she looks for a job.  She made it four days.

My understanding is that the latest round in this boxing match has something to do with whether my sister’s cat did or did not throw up in my parents’ house and where.  And also whether this particular feline, who goes by the name of Butternut, did or did not claw at the family room drapes.  And also something about dueling radios, Sean Hannity vs. NPR.  My mother may or may not have used the phrase “you shit on my head.”  My father may or may not have asked my sister to leave.

Recriminations and allegations abound.  All parties involved are nursing hurt feelings.

All I know is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle (because it always does) and that my sister’s current residence is an extended stay hotel in Reno.

I explained to my sister how to apply for unemployment online.  She says she’s working on signing up for Obamacare first.  I refrained from mentioning that we can’t afford Obamacare bur aren’t yet eligible for Medi-Cal.  Then again, if we pay for Obamacare, that may sufficiently impoverish us to allow us to receive Medi-Cal for free.  The world’s gone crazy and unemployment sucks, my dears.

My sister is worried about running out of money.  I have a hard time sympathizing.  She owns homes in two different states, both of which are rented out so that the proceeds from one can pay for the other one.  (We own nothing.)  She says her divorce settlement won’t last forever.  As it amounts to more than ten times the funds that have ever appeared in our coffers even when I was earning a good salary, once again, I have difficulty relating.

Meanwhile, my mother feels that she has inordinately extended generosity toward my sister by turning an office into a bedroom for her, and that my sister has repaid said generosity with nothing but rudeness and insensitivity.

Sis is looking for long-term temp work in the medical field and is registered with an agency that specializes that this sort of thing.  Apparently, she lost out on several opportunities when she missed calls due to being in the shower.  She doesn’t understand why this keeps happening.

But she’s holding out hope for a job with a hospital in Colorado.  Her phone rang when she was halfway down a ski run in Tahoe.  My mother says that Sis skied over to the side, sat down in the snow and did a phone interview right then and there.

We are spending Christmas here with my wife’s family, but my parents have asked us to drive down there to visit for New Year’s.  We’ve agreed to go for two nights.  I know I can expect another earful at that time.

But after all, I do see my role as that of a listening ear.  I know perfectly well that there is little I can do for either my mother or my sister.  Any suggestions I might make will only result in allegations that I’m taking the side over the other.

And that I am not prepared to do.

Call me Switzerland.

 

When I’m 84

extended

I’ve heard this before, and over the weekend I heard it again.

“I have to be good to my children because they’re the ones who will choose my nursing home.”

I suppose this statement is supposed to be funny, but really I find it rather sad.

Does this line of reasoning indicate that if we are “mean” to our children (or if they feel that we slighted them in some way when they were six years old), they will take their sweet revenge in our dotage by summarily shoving us into a subpar nursing facility paid for with discount coupons and MyPoints?  And does the expression of this sentiment summarily reject the possibility of adult children participating in the care of their elderly parents in favor of sloughing off such duties to institutional care?

I like to think that when I reach a place in life at which I am no longer able to fend for myself, I will still be in possession of sufficient mental faculties to make informed decisions as to my own care.  And I hope that among my options will be remaining in the comforts of home and being cared for by my nieces and nephews, because they want to even though they don’t have to.

The very concept of a “nursing home” is rather ghastly, despite good intentions.

So let’s say you have no family willing to care for you and therefore have no choice but to reside in a skilled care facility.  While I have never investigated the subject, I have no doubt that those with more money to spend are able to purchase better quality of care (or at least more frills and amenities) than those with fewer funds available.  Still, one would hope that our elected legislators and our taxpayer dollars would enforce at least a modicum of standards even upon the lower-cost facilities.  There might not be dancing, speakers and musical performances every evening, but we do expect regulatory protection from the worst ravages of neglect and malfeasance.

And, let’s face it, is there really any such thing as a “good” nursing home?  The very concept smacks of a pretty façade and a coat of paint concealing interior horrors.  Even in places with decent standards of care, with staff who are committed to providing quality of life, there are lights on 24 hours a day, medication being dispensed, people and carts moving up and down the hallways all day and all night and a constant cacophony of nurses, visitors and disoriented patients yelling and crying.

I will never forget my wife’s grandmother, who resided in one of the better assisted care facilities, begging over and over again to be brought home.  Eventually, we were able to grant her that wish.

Even if our children agree that we have been their guardian angels and generous to a fault, I don’t see how the attendant hazards of institutional care can be avoided.  Life in even the best facility can never be the same as living at home among loved ones.

There is, of course, the option of skipping the nursing facility altogether.  This means relying on adult children to assume the responsibility of caring for aging parents.  While anecdotal evidence indicates that this may have once been a more common state of affairs than it is today, the demands of the nuclear family frequently make such arrangements impractical, if not close to impossible.  Even in an “intact” family composed of two adults and minor children, chances are that both adults will need to be in the workforce to keep the family afloat economically.  Thus, even if adult children are inclined to take aging parents into their homes, there is often no one there to care for them during daytime hours without going to the expense of hiring skilled nursing care.

The fact is that only a small percentage of nuclear families are interested in pursuing such arrangements.  The “sandwich generation” often finds itself squeezed between caring for children and aging parents simultaneously with fewer resources to rely on (smaller homes and smaller incomes).  With decreases in American family size, there are fewer siblings among whom to distribute the responsibilities of caring for aging parents.  Thus, a couple with minor children may easily find itself in the untenable position of making arrangements for the care of two sets of parents, four elders with vastly different needs.

The breakdown of the nuclear family has only exacerbated matters.  How is a single mother, already stretching her meager resources to care for minor children, supposed to come up with the time and money to care for elderly parents when they are no longer capable of living on their own?

And what becomes of childless singles and couples when they require assistance with basic self-care in their so-called golden years?  While relieved of the consequence of vengeful adult children “sticking them in a home” (whew!), at best they may have a partner taxing his or her personal reserves of energy to continue to care for the loved one at home for as long as possible.  Where the senior in need is single, widowed or divorced, the option of staying at home or with immediate family vanishes more quickly than a dream upon awakening.

The only practical answer for the heavy responsibility of caring for aging parents with increasing care needs is the extended family.  While this was once status quo, when industry and then the service economy eliminated the need for many hands to participate in subsistence agriculture, large and multigenerational families became unfashionable in favor of many decades of American nuclear family worship.  As the stay-at-home-mother vanished and then the nuclear family began to disappear altogether, fewer and fewer resources were available to draw upon for the care of children and elders.  More recently, it seems, families are rediscovering the value of sticking together to share economic and emotional burdens and resources across generations and even among “non-blood” families of affiliation.  The old adage that “many hands make light work” was never more true.

The concept of caring for each other rather than depending on government and other institutions to take on this role is roughly parallel to the cost savings that businesses seek to achieve by squeezing every drop out of existing resources rather than spending money.  Many government entities have started recognizing the benefits of maintaining elders at home by providing some level of compensation to family members taking on care duties.  Ultimately, however, it’s not about money.  Maintaining the resource-pooling advantages of extended family requires a decrease in selfishness and an increase in selflessness, a willingness to forego a certain amount of freedom in exchange for giving and receiving security and a commitment to building bridges rather than burning them.

Part of the difficulty in achieving widespread acceptance of this model is the paradigm shift required:  Trading conditional love (do what I want or I’ll throw you in a nasty nursing home) for agape, the unconditional love (“love your neighbor as yourself”) that most faiths equate with God’s love for His people.

Clearly, we have a long way to go.  I can only hope that my nieces and nephews will care for my wife and me when the time comes.

But, if I am to be totally honest with myself, I am forced to admit that this is not something I can unequivocally count on.

 

Olympic Anticipation

sochi

We’ve been spending the evening watching the Dew Tour (Ion Mountain Championships) on DVR.  Freestyle skiing and slopestyle snowboarding from Breckenridge, Colorado.

This is the first qualifying event for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a little over six weeks away.  You could say that we’re getting psyched.

We are not a sports family.  That’s putting it mildly.  None of us have an iota of interest in watching televised sports.  In the current vernacular, you could say I’ve “lost my man card” in that I don’t care a whit about football and won’t even watch the Super Bowl.  Ditto for the World Series.  I simply don’t care who’s playing, much less who wins or loses.

To me, it’s just a bunch of sweaty guys running around a field in goofy-looking uniforms.  I have better things to do.

But all that changes every other year when the Olympic Games approach.  Suddenly, my wife and I are glued to the TV, checking out the broadcast schedules and recording as much as we can fit on the DVR.

I don’t think I could come up with the name of a single person playing in any professional sport today.  But I know that Shaun White opted out of the slopestyle at Breckenridge due to an aggravation of an old injury, not because of the fall he sustained in the halfpipe.

I know.  This makes no sense at all.  It’s totally ridiculous.  And I have to laugh at myself, because it’s so unlike me.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to the slalom, the downhill, the luge, the graceful figure skaters performing their triple axels, salchows and lutzes.  The spectacular falls and crashes as well as the breathtaking successes.  The interviews, the coaches, the platforms and medals, the strange-sounding national anthems from around the world.

I think back to the opening ceremonies of last year’s Summer Olympics in London, and remember how I stared open-mouthed and wiped a tear from my eye.  The whole historical sequence of British life from agrarian days through the Industrial Revolution to the modern service economy.  The children from Great Ormond Street Hospital jumping on the beds before drifting off to sleep and having Mary Poppins and Captain Hook dance in their dreams.  The Mister Beans guy playing the same note over and over in the Chariots of Fire number.

It still gives me chills.

So what will the opening ceremonies look like in Sochi?  I can barely begin to speculate.  Will the classic works of Tolstoy, Pasternak, Dostoevsky and Turgenev be represented?  Will Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky show up in the musical numbers?  And how will Russia’s long, colorful history be portrayed?

I can’t wait to find out.

Only 52 more days to go.

Not that I’m counting or anything.

 

Zynga Zinger (חלומות בעברית)

wtp

I have been experiencing the strangest dreams lately, and last night’s was a doozy.

My wife recently introduced me to a new Zynga game on the iPhone.  As if my addiction to Words With Friends weren’t bad enough.

This one is called “What’s the Phrase?”  She and I usually have half a dozen games of WTP? going on at any given time.

When I slide on my iPhone, the game notifications scroll all the way down my screen.  Some of these Wheel of Fortune style puzzles boggle the mind.  When the blank squares show up on my phone, my first thought about WTP? is usually WTF?

I’m already suffering from “mouse hand” and the beginnings of a repetitive stress injury from spending entirely too much time behind this glowing laptop screen.  Because one good turn deserves another, I’ve gone ahead and exacerbated the situation by becoming addicted to a game that requires me to flick my wrist repeatedly to “spin.”

First, the player gets to observe his or her opponent’s last series of moves played back.  You gotta love Zynga’s sense of Schadenfreude as expressed in its status updates.  “Yes!  Your opponent Busted!”  (Not to mention the mascot’s long teal tongue sticking out each time you win a round.)

This stupid game has so saturated my soul that now I’m dreaming about it.

I didn’t buy a vowel (all that this game is missing is Vanna White), nor did I spend some coins on a Bomb from my Power-Ups.

No, indeed.  That would make too much sense.

Instead, in my dream I was trying to solve one of these dastardly puzzles entirely in Hebrew.

Somehow, I was able to sense that the answer to the puzzle was something like “The children would like a ball and a doll under the Christmas tree.”  Only I couldn’t remember the Hebrew words for half these things.

So I was left spinning and spinning, striking out with the big red X each time I chose a khaf, zayin or shin.

Dang it!  Okay, Aron, get your act together here.  You can do this.

I know “children” are niños.  No, wait, that’s Spanish.  Dammit!  Oh, yeah, y’ladim.  Got it.

Ball is kadur.  See?  Now we’re getting somewhere.  I have no clue how to say “doll” in Hebrew.  May have to buy an aleph or an ayin  for that one.

“Tree” is etz.  But what the heck is the Hebrew word for “Christmas?”  Is there even a word for “Christmas” in the Hebrew language?  We celebrate Hanukkah!

I think takhat is the word for “beneath” or “under.”  If I can hit that golden 1,000 square on the wheel, I can pick a tav and get two for the price of one.

Okay, here we go.  Almost have this puppy solved.  Flick that wrist!  Fwip, fwip, fwip, fwiiiipppp…  No, no, stop, stop, STOP!!

Ewwww…. Busted.

 

Thirteen

wreath

Today was Friday, the thirteenth.

But now it’s midnight, and it’s the fourteenth of the month, so it looks as if I made it through yet another one of those scary, spooky days unscathed.  And with a minimum amount of blood to show for it.

I’m safe for another six months.  We won’t run across a Friday, the thirteenth again until June.

I don’t know what it is about the combination of this date and day of the week that makes people want to stay in bed and pull the covers over their heads.  It just seems so silly.  I think it must have something to do with all those Freddy-Krueger-in-a-hockey-mask movies my sisters went out to watch with their friends when they were teenagers.

The number thirteen is itself supposed to be unlucky — again for reasons that may be rooted deeply in historical (hysterical?) myth, but still unfathomable to myself.

I think thirteen is a beautiful number.  I hope that doesn’t make me evil or something.

In my faith, thirteen is the age of majority, the age at which young men achieve the status of bar mitzvah and are held to adult community standards of responsibility.  It is also the number of children fathered by Jacob in the Torah.

Thirteen is also a baker’s dozen (a thing of beauty in a bagel shop) and a prime number (a thing of beauty everywhere).

So I think that all those suffering from triskaidekaphobia are missing out on some good stuff.  But it always gave me a lot of laughs, growing up in New York City, standing in the elevator of a skyscraper and noticing that there was no button marked with the number 13.

The thirteenth of December puts us squarely in the middle of the Advent and is thirteen days until Christmas.  Which reminds me of the most hilarious version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” I have ever heard (performed by Indiana University’s a cappella group, Straight No Chaser), which you can listen to here.  Thanks to my wife for this one!

Meanwhile, I have Perry Como crooning “Home for the Holidays” through my headphones and I am looking forward to enjoying Christmas with my wife’s family less than two weeks from now.  Finally, we won’t have to drive 1,300 miles round-trip to pull off this trick.

And when I hear Doris Day sing “Be a Child at Christmas Time,” I will think of how blessed we are to be able to experience the holiday with my one year old grandniece.  She gets so excited any old time we walk through the door that I can’t imagine how she will react to dozens of gifts and a living room magically transformed into a sea of red and green wrapping paper.

Pass the fruitcake, please.

 

Festivus or Pfeffernüsse – Take Your Pick

festivus pfefferneuse

I learned something today.

I was listening to a local radio station in the car while my wife was in the post office when I heard the announcer say:  “Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Festivus and happy Kwanzaa!”

It was one of those taped greetings that are played throughout the broadcast, and I wasn’t paying close attention.  But once I had processed what I had just heard, I did a double-take.

Um, excuse me?  Hanukkah?  Festivus?

I’m sure this greeting was recorded weeks ago and was the radio station’s (weak) effort at being “inclusive.”  But really!   Hanukkah has been over for more than a week.  I wonder what kind of strange looks I would get if I were to wish someone merry Christmas sometime, say, during the first week of January?  I’d expect him or her to say “aren’t you a little late, bucko?”  I’ll have to do some experimental research on this one a few weeks hence and get back to you.

And what the heck is Festivus?!

Hanukkah is the winter holiday that I grew up celebrating, and it would be hard to reside in the United States and not be aware of Christmas.  Kwanzaa I learned about back in the nineties; after all, the seven-day festival was created by a college professor right here in California.

But Festivus — well, I have to admit that’s a new one on me.  Not being one who enjoys ignorance, of course I had to look it up.

I could hardly believe what I was reading.

Apparently, Festivus is a “fake” holiday based on “The Strike,” an old episode of the TV show Seinfeld.  I have to admit, I get a kick out of the phrase “fake holiday.”  While it falls short of oxymoron status, I believe it qualifies as a non-sequitur.  How can a holiday be “fake” if there are some who actually mark the occasion and participate in its traditions?

If you don’t know anyone who celebrates Festivus, that makes two of us.  However, a Festivus pole composed of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans is about to be
erected in the Florida State House alongside the menorah and crèche.  So you tell me who’s on first.

By the way, Festivus is celebrated on December 23 — coincidentally, also the date of National Pfeffernüsse Day.

Among those participating in Festivus are “secularists” seeking to call attention to their position that the U.S. Constitution requires a more complete separation between church and state.  Reports are that some atheists (I have recently started seeing the phrase “nontheists”) are adopting Festivus as an alternative to religious winter holidays.

Among the things I have learned is that the family of Dan O’Keefe, one of the writers of Seinfeld, had an alternative holiday tradition during his childhood, which he embellished for the show.  The rhyming tag line was “Festivus:  For the rest of us!”  The idea seems to be a parody of religious holiday traditions with particular emphasis on rebellion against the commercialism to which Christmas has succumbed.

The symbol of Festivus is a plain, unadorned aluminum pole, which appears to be an alternative to the candelabra of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and the Christmas tree.  In the Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza says he “finds tinsel distracting.”  The starkness of the pole fits in with the theme of objecting to commercialism.

O’Keefe states that the family Festivus celebration of his youth also included “a clock in a bag,” the significance of which he cannot recall.

The “Festivus miracles” pointed out at the holiday dinner, a parody of the miracles in the Hanukkah and Christmas stories, can be any coincidental or everyday occurrence upon which one of those in attendance chooses to remark.

Festivus events appearing in the Seinfeld episode include “feats of strength” and the “airing of grievances.”  The former involves the head of household challenging a guest at the Festivus dinner to a wrestling match.  The holiday celebration is not done until one of the guests successfully pins the head of household to the floor.  As for the “airing of grievances,” those gathered are supposed to gripe about the specifics of each other’s conduct that has disappointed and annoyed them during the course of the year.

In light of the above, it appears that Festivus is not complete until invective is spewed, everyone is crying and someone is rushed off to the hospital for the treatment of wrestling injuries.  Sounds like good will toward men, wouldn’t you agree?

Et in terra, pax.

 

References

Chumley, Cheryl K., “Christmas secularists get 6-foot beer-can Festivus pole at Florida State House,” Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2013.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/10/christmas-secularists-get-6-foot-beer-can-festivus/

FestivusWeb – Comprehensive description of origin and traditions of Festivus, including song lyrics.  Includes the script of the Seinfeld episode “The Strike.”

Salkin, Allen, “Fooey to the World:  Festivus is Come,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 2004.  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=F30616FD3E540C7A8DDDAB0994DC404482

Wikipedia article:  “Festivus” –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus

 

Party of Four

hands

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my mother.

My father turned eighty over Thanksgiving weekend and my mother will reach that milestone in March.  My mother called me yesterday (twice) — mostly to complain about my sister — and it didn’t take a whole lot of discernment on my part to realize where we were headed.

When I encouraged her to talk about her concerns, we ended up overtly discussing a topic that has been a not-so-subtle undertone running beneath our relationship for a while.  Like so many Baby Boomers, it is just a matter of time before the care of aging parents has to be addressed.  It is a difficult subject, not only because of the nature of the alternatives, but also due to the emotional subtext.

It is a blessing that, at her age, my mother remains relatively healthy and very active.  She has always been an avid gardener and, since her retirement nearly twenty years ago, she has taken advantage of the California sunshine to tend her fruit trees out back, grow vegetables and build brick and stone paths.  She’s either planting something or pulling something up, messing with irrigation or hauling a truckload of peat moss.

My father plays along to the minimum extent he can get away with.  He mows the very large lawn and, upon request of my mother, will dig a hole or take a chain saw to a tree.  Most of the time, he prefers to putter with his Model A Ford, surf the Net, watch movies or just sit outdoors for hours.

“I wonder what he thinks about when he’s sitting there,” my mother pondered during our recent Thanksgiving visit.

My parents’ house and property is large enough that upkeep would be a burden for any octogenarian.  Despite my mother’s love of digging in the dirt, it has become a lot more difficult for the two of them to handle.  The orange trees bordering the property on three sides are all dead now; the constant supply of water that they require in the blazing heat of the central California summer became too much for my parents.

In the past, my parents have discussed the possibility of eventually selling the house and purchasing a condominium in south Florida.  However, it’s been a few years since I last heard them mention this option.

I say whatever makes them happy is fine with me.  I hope they both live to be happy and healthy centenarians.

I can’t predict the future.  But the future is a funny thing.  Once a haze off in the distance, it now looms larger and larger as it approaches at an accelerating rate like some Δx / Δy problem from physics or calculus class. The statistics indicate that the husband is much more likely to go before the wife, so I can’t help thinking in terms of my mother being the one who is left alone.

For the first time, we actually talked about that scenario yesterday.

My sister has had a decidedly passive-aggressive relationship with my mother for years now.  Since my sister, who had been a stay-at-home mom, decided to divorce her husband a decade ago, she has struggled with career, financial and emotional issues, all of which she freely unloads on my mother in teary late-night phone calls that have increased in frequency and intensity.

And now Sis wants to move in with my parents for four months.  She had quit her job in Idaho, took a six-week temporary job in New Mexico and now finds herself out of work and trying to limit expenses.  My mother sought to consult with me on how much we pay my mother-in-law to live here as a guide to how much she should charge my sister.

The real issue is not money, however.  The issue that my sister yells at my mother, insults her, argues with her and refuses to honor my parents’ rules when visiting.  But still, she is my parents’ daughter, and they don’t feel comfortable telling her that she can’t come and stay while she’s looking for a job.

What my mother and I agreed on during our phone calls yesterday is that, if left alone without my father, there is no way she could go live with my sister.  Both of them would be emotional wrecks.  They’d tear each other to pieces.  Scenes from Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor come to mind.

Nor do I expect my mother to live alone.  That’s a miserable existence, and it’s just not fair.

Well, where does that leave us?  I do have another sister (who currently lives in Texas and is considering moving back east now that she and her husband are empty nesters), and then there is me and my wife.

I think about the parents of my Texas sister’s husband.  They sold their home in New York and moved in with one of their daughters in Pennsylvania.  They lived in their own mother-in-law quarters and got to see the grandkids every day.  They had a condo in Florida for the winter.  Then he died, and she is not alone.

Except for the grandkids part (my sisters’ children are grown), the story could end up being my mother’s as well.  And indeed, she stated yesterday that she’d probably move in with one of us.  “I’d pay my way,” she said, adding that her retirement income and savings are more than sufficient to last for the rest of her life.

But again, it’s not about the money.  My mother is not the easiest person to get along with.  She can be quite opinionated and has no qualms about commenting bluntly about anything and everything.  It’s not a function of growing older; she has always been like this.  Acerbic barbs are standard fare.  I ignore it as much as possible, a coping mechanism I have nurtured since childhood.  But it is no surprise that my wife and my mother do not get along very well.

It’s not as if my wife hasn’t given my mother every chance.  My wife says she keeps hoping my mother will “be nicer.”  I will tell you right now that this is not going to happen.  Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t comprehend that some types of comments are simply inappropriate, regardless of how deeply felt they may be.

Except for once or twice, my wife has always bitten her tongue, knowing we will be on our way home in a day or two.  I don’t blame her at all for being upset with the way I “just take it.”

So I understand that my wife is totally earnest in her assertion that there is no way my mother could ever come live with us.  It’s certainly not worth placing undue stress on our marriage.  And, who knows?  With my multiple health issues, it is quite possible that my mother will end up outliving me anyway.

I have no idea how my sister in Texas feels about all this.  Prior to Thanksgiving, we hadn’t been in contact for six years or so.  I hope she has room for one more, but I have a feeling that her husband wouldn’t be too pleased with the prospect.

As for my mother, I’m sure that living with a son or daughter and spouse is not exactly her idea of paradise.  But still, it’s better than living alone.

And then there is the matter of my mother-in-law, who (God bless her) is a very easygoing person.  She is getting older too, and I foresee us living together for the long term.

Care to make this a party of four?

 

Inconsiderate Me

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Before there was Back to the Future, there was Peabody and Sherman and their Wayback Machine on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” a standard of 1960s Saturday morning cartoons.

So today, let’s take a quick trip in the Wayback Machine.  We’ll just turn the dial a hair — not all the way to Camelot, just a few years to, say, 1999 or so.  Before Twitter and the iPhone.  Before Words with Friends, Angry Birds and Ruzzle.

If you were on the internet back then, you may possibly remember word games such as UpWords and WordOx.  And, yes, both of these games are still around (although I haven’t heard them mentioned in years).

In accordance with my night owl proclivities, I often played both these Scrabble-like games until the wee hours of the morning.  And who knows?  You may have met me back in my WordOx days.

My screen name was “Inconsiderate.”  I chose this name after my wife, quite rightly, tagged me with this moniker.  Honestly, I was pretty bad back then.  When we were first married, I had no clue what I was doing and continued on in many of the selfish (and childish) ways I had cultivated as a single guy.  Okay, so I’m still pretty bad.  I like to think that I’m a little better than I was back then, that I’ve learned a thing or two in fifteen years of marriage.

But there are a lot of days when it is clear to me that I am still the same idiot as always.

Take today, for instance.  My wife and I were walking around Wal-Mart.  I was pushing the cart.  We had quite a bit of shopping to do, as did the other zillion shoppers sharing the store with us.  Except that I acted as if I was the only person in the whole store.  At the end of an aisle, I made a sharp right turn without looking to see who was coming.  I’m just glad I wasn’t driving my car.  I “cut off” a little old lady with a very full shopping cart.  She promptly pointed out that she had the “right of way.”  I agreed that she did and apologized for not paying better attention.  She made some other choice comments.  My wife later opined that the woman was rude, and I agree.

But that’s how it is:  If you don’t pay attention to how your actions will affect others, you will inevitably piss them off and they will let you know in no uncertain terms that you are a douchebag.

I probably wouldn’t have thought too much about this little incident if it hadn’t been the second consecutive day that someone had called me out for being, like my WordOx screen name, inconsiderate.

Allow me to explain that I have played in a regular Scrabble tournament via email for the past decade and then some.  I have gotten to know some very lovely people from all parts of the world in the course of playing our turns back and forth.  But I currently seem to be in a feud with one of my opponents who feels personally injured because I frequently do not bother to say “good luck” at the start of a game and “congratulations” at the end.

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s “a man thing.”  I don’t stand on ceremony.  I am not big on the social niceties and, frankly, I rarely notice whether or not others bother with them.  “We’re here to play a game,” is my line of thinking.  Just play!

Or maybe I’m still just plain inconsiderate.  You know, not a very nice person.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I got this way.  Laziness?  Yep, probably has a lot to do with it.  Upbringing?  Maybe.  I am a native New Yorker raised by two native New Yorkers.  And New Yorkers are, if nothing else, a jaded lot.  We push our way into buses and subway cars, cut in line if we can get away with it, flip people off if we are annoyed.  We engage in every ilk of unsavory behavior that I’d rather distance myself from.  We tend to undertip, pocket the excess change given us by mistake and engage in acts of Schadenfreude and one-upmanship that keep the Park Avenue therapists in business.

Suffice it to say that things are a lot different here on the west coast of the United States.  Californians are renowned for their mellowness.  Or so I’m told.  I’m still not sure how the road rage and drive-by shootings of Los Angeles fit into the cool groove of La-La Land.  Chalk it up to the stress of inching along on the freeways and breathing smog.  I am glad I don’t live down there.

A fellow blogger recently posted about a study conducted to determine which states were the most “courteous” and which had reputations for “swearing like sailors.”  California fell squarely into the latter category.  So I think a lot of the groovy surfer dude stuff is more myth than reality.

I’m not sure where exactly I fall on the spectrum.  My annoyed Scrabble opponent asked whether, in my desire to forego the niceties, I don’t bother to say “please” and “thank you.”  My wife, who is extremely courteous, has taken me to school over this issue in the past and I am proud to say that I am somewhat less Neanderthal about it than I used to be.

I still tend to push open store doors and walk straight out without turning around to see if anyone is behind me or holding the door for them if there is.  I’m not trying to be rude; it’s just that most of the time I don’t think about it.  And if the person ahead of me does the same, I blame only myself if the door slams in my face.  I should have been paying attention.

So, as you can see, while I have exhibited some improvement, I’m still rather inconsiderate.

The whole Scrabble thing is an issue that I’ve heard discussed on numerous occasions when I’ve attended “live” tournaments.  Isn’t it being rather duplicitous to wish your opponent good luck before starting a game?  Let’s be honest here:  You hope your opponent draws nothing but vowels and that all the good tiles land in your own rack.  You hope your opponent is preoccupied about something else and misses all the juicy bingoes.  Heck, you want to win!  If you didn’t, why would you have spent all this money on entrance fees, hotel bills and travel expenses?  So isn’t it a big fat lie when you wish your opponent good luck?

Several years ago, one of my Scrabble buddies filled me in on a socially acceptable solution to this problem. The answer, he says, is to say “here’s to a good game.”  Therein lies the appropriate social nicety and an ambiguous turn of phrase, all wrapped up in a pretty little package with a bow on top.  A good game for whom?  We needn’t specify.  It’s perfect, as it allows you to be polite without being a liar.

As for me, I usually introduce myself to my opponents, ask where they’re from and how they’re doing in the tournament, and then shut up.  We’re here to play, and that’s what we do.

This particular online opponent, however, continues to take issue with my behavior and suggests that my failure to say “good luck” and “congratulations” is tantamount to being a robot rather than acknowledging my opponents as real people with feelings.  And when I tried to mollify her by typing “good luck” at the start of our most recent game, she responded that I probably wasn’t being sincere and that most of what I write on this blog must not be sincere either.

Am I really supposed to be sincere in wishing my opponent good tiles and an excellent score?  As for this blog, I will leave that judgment to my readers.

Perhaps I just need to come to a full stop at the end of the Wal-Mart aisle and look left and right before proceeding to reduce the likelihood of running over little over ladies.  Perhaps I need to remind myself to stop dead in my tracks when I push open a door.

And if you expect that to happen, I say good luck.  And I mean that sincerely.

After all, they don’t call me Inconsiderate for nothing.