PLACES TO GO


Wednesday, December 31, 2003
 
THE YEAR I DIDN'T SAVE CHRISTMAS

My worst Christmas ever was the first one after my parents got divorced. I was a sophomore in college, and my parents were determined not to let the big change in our family have any effect on our holiday. My dad, who had moved into a tiny, shabby bachelor pad that made my dorm room look palatial, would be spending Christmas Eve with us at home, just like he always had. He'd be going to church with us, just like he always had. He'd even be staying overnight so that he'd be there first thing in the morning to open presents. Sure, he and my mom would be sleeping in separate rooms, but everything was going to be normal. Totally, totally normal.

Well, apparently, no one told my father this, because he showed up without any presents for my mom. He was shocked to see the pile of gifts she'd bought him, and he pulled me aside in a panic. We both agreed that when my mom found out he no longer deemed her gift-worthy, things would get ugly.

Christmas had already withstood one major blow that year. It just so happened that this was the year I finally put my foot down and refused to go to church. "Why isn't Jerry dressed for church?" my sister asked when she came downstairs in the dress she'd picked out especially for the occasion. "I guess he doesn't believe in God anymore," my mother replied. My sister looked at me disapprovingly, not so much for my heathenism, I think, as because I dared to stir up more drama on such an emotionally fragile day.

As it turned out, skipping church proved incredibly convenient. Skipping church would allow me to do something noble, the kind of thing Christmas specials are made of. I was going to save Christmas. "Give me some money," I told my dad as the good Christians were getting ready to leave. "I'll take care of everything." While Mom and Kathy waited in the car, Dad slipped me a hundred dollars in twenties, and I quickly assessed the situation. The church was about half an hour away. A Catholic mass on Christmas Eve lasts about fourteen and a half hours. I should have plenty of time.

But there were other things standing in the way of my heroic act. It turned out the mall was already closed. I drove by K-Mart just as they were shutting their lights off. Even the supermarkets were closed. Then, finally, I found the only place within a ten-mile radius that was keeping normal hours on Christmas Eve: Blockbuster Video. It was my only hope.

My mother was never much of a VCR person. When my dad moved out, she let him take the family VCR without much of a fight. But not long after that, she went out and bought her own, a move which surprised us all. She just figured she should have one, and she asked me if I could show her how to use it. I knew that teaching my mom to work the VCR would not be an easy task, but now, it would be a necessary task, because my she was about to get a hundred dollars worth of videotapes. Merry Christmas, Mom.

My mom didn't really like movies, and this was back before anyone but super-rich super-geeks collected VHS tapes of all their favorite flicks. So that certainly limited my options. I grabbed three Jane Fonda workout tapes (well, they were all the rage among middle-aged women back then, I guess), an economy-size package of blank tapes (which everyone with a new VCR needs, right?) and plenty of candy. As I walked up to the register, I felt a great sense of relief, and a little bit of pride. Christmas was saved. I put my gifts on the counter and handed over four of my five twenties. Then, the cashier winked at me and made a good-natured jab about last-minute shopping, and I felt like I might cry.

By the time the rest of my family got back from church, my mom's presents were under the tree, neatly wrapped and stacked in a little pile just for her. I surreptitiously slipped my Dad his change and told him about my triumph -- how I had to drive all over to find somewhere that was open and how I left the gift tags blank so he could write "To: Maureen, From: Jerry" in his own handwriting, and how my gifts weren't the greatest, but they were better than giving no gifts at all. He asked me what I bought, and the look on his face when I told him made it clear that he probably would've preferred giving no gifts at all.

On Christmas morning, the normalcy we all hoped for lasted only until we opened the gifts. My father's gifts to my sister and me made it clear that the Santa duties in the past had probably fallen mostly on my mom. They weren't great gifts, but we were determined to love them because we loved him, and because we wanted to have a normal Christmas. Totally, totally normal. My mother was less hesitant about showing her disapproval. When she opened the first Jane Fonda tape (all of which were separately wrapped to give her gift pile added volume), a blank look crossed her face.

I wasted no time in stepping in to choreograph her response. "Wow, you love Jane Fonda! Oh, and you just got your own VCR! What a thoughtful gift!"

"Thanks," my mom said, dryly, and she put the tape aside. I'm still agnostic, but I do believe that Hell is seeing someone give that response to a Jane Fonda tape and knowing she has two more left to open.

Since then, Christmas has never been simple. My mom got remarried and then re-divorced. Dad remarried and then passed away. I graduated and moved to California. Kathy married and had kids and then had to split her holiday time with the in-laws. And now there's Drew and his complicated family to complicate things further.

Drew and I are both bad at making decisions, so this year, we decided to split things up. I flew to New Jersey to my sister's house on Thursday. Drew came in on Saturday, then left on Tuesday for Rochester to be with his family. I left NJ mid-day on Christmas for Rochester, then came back to LA on Saturday. Drew stayed in New York two more days, until Tuesday, before heading back. So we each got two days with the other's family and a week with our own, and we each made about a thousand trips to the airport.

My schedule allowed me to spend Christmas morning at my sister's house, where the most anticipated event was how my two-year-old niece would handle the occasion. Last year, she was barely old enough to unwrap presents, let alone understand what all the fuss was about. Christmas last year started with all of us excited about how much fun she would have, then ended with us disappointed and anticipating how much more fun she'd have next year. So at 7AM, as my mom brought her downstairs for her first glimpse of Santa's bounty, everyone gathered at the foot of the stairs with our cameras ready. Her tiny, pajamaed feet came down the steps slowly, one at a time, and when her little face came into view, she stared at all the presents under the tree and was completely petrified. Speechless, she sat down on a step and gazed silently at the tree for a long time before my sister finally implored her to come downstairs. "SpongeBob in the wagon, Mommy!" she said, more excited about the wrapping paper (which was covered in little SpongeBobs wearing Santa hats) than the actual gift (the wagon). Soon, the shock wore off and she was plopped under the tree tearing open her gifts. She barely had one open before she started on the next one, as if the fun weren't at all in the getting, but merely in the opening.

My niece's favorite words are "no" and "mine", which work great in tandem when she's trying to steal toys away from her seven-month-old sister. Surrounded by tons of brand new stuff, the only toy she ever wanted to play with was whatever Duplo block or plastic keyring her baby sis was sucking on. A scolding followed, then tears, then a quiet, awkward breakfast where we all anticipated how much more fun she'll have next year.

Thankfully, I was able to cut out at that point and jet off to be with Drew for the rest of the day. There are seven people in Drew's family. Some of them have moved out and moved away, but they all come back for Christmas. They like to buy lots of gifts, and they like to talk a lot. So in his house, Christmas lasts all day. By the time I arrived at 3PM, they had barely made a dent in opening their presents. Every gift had a story behind it, and by the time they were done giving and sharing (adding in a dinner break and the trip to the airport to pick me up), it was almost midnight.

Buying gifts for people you've only met once before isn't easy, and getting gifts from people who've only met you once before can be even worse. You end up with first impression presents, like clothes that you may never wear but that speak volumes about what kind of vibe you give off. It's not always pretty. But ultimately, it didn't matter what anyone got me. It felt great just to be included. And they were just as understanding of my clueless attempts at thoughtfulness. Drew's dad was overly grateful for the gift I gave him: a golf thingamabob (even I'm not sure exactly what it's supposed to do), which is probably already tucked away at the bottom of his closet.

This year, the gifts really didn't matter. And Christmas was a lot better because I didn't feel the need to save it.

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Saturday, December 20, 2003
 
APPRECIATION

Wednesday, 10:30 AM:

BOSS: I need you to fax this Agreement You Don't Give a Crap About to Annoying Jerk Who Calls All the Time.
J: Okay.

Wednesday, 3:05 PM:

B: Did you fax Agreement You Don't Give a Crap About to Annoying Jerk Who Calls All the Time?
J: Yes. This morning.
B: I don't think you ever gave it back to me.
J: Yes I did. It's in your inbox.
B: Oh. Okay. Hey, I also need you to messenger this Crappy Christmas Gift to Pampered Client first thing tomorrow morning.
J: I won't be here tomorrow morning.
B: Then do it tomorrow as soon as you get in.
J: I won't be hear at all tomorrow.
B: Are you out the rest of the week?
J: Yeah.
B: Next week, too?
J: Uh, yeah. We talked about this a month ago when I requested the time off. I marked it on your calend--
B: Is someone covering your desk?
J: Yeah, there's a temp coming.
B: Shit, I didn't get your Christmas gift yet.
J: It's okay.
B: Shit.
J: Really, don't worry about it.

Wednesday, 5:02 PM:
B: My wife just ran to the mall to get your gift, so--
J: You really don't have to--
B: Don't leave till she gets here.
J: Great.
B: Hey, where's Agreement You Don't Give a Crap About?
J: In your inbox.
B: Okay, I probably just have to look for it.
J: Yes.

Wednesday, 5:20 PM:
B: Can you come in here please?
J: (Deep sigh)
B (big fake smile): Happy Holidays!
BOSS' WIFE: Happy holidays, Jerry!
J: You really didn't have to.
BW: We wanted to get you something to show we appreciate everything you do.
She hands Jerry a nicely-wrapped box from Tiffany. Jerry's sense of dread rises.
BW: If you don't like it, that's okay. But I really think you'll like it!
Jerry unwraps the box and discovers the most expensive keyring ever created by humankind, which his brother-in-law will later look up online and discover is worth $125.
J: Oh, it's great.
BW: For your keys!
J: I have plenty of keys.
B: Happy holidays.
J: You, too. Bye.

Thursday, 5:17 AM:
Jerry's phone rings. Jerry doesn't answer it.

Thursday, 5:45 AM:
Jerry plays back his answering machine messages.
B: Hey, sorry to call so early, but I don't think you ever gave me back Agreement You Don't Give a Crap About. Could you leave me a message at the office and tell me where I can find it? Happy Holidays.

Saturday, 1:30 PM:
Jerry still hasn't called him back.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
 
HAVE A CRUDELY-DRAWN CHRISTMAS

The bad news is that my new annual tradition of creating my own Christmas card every year lasted exactly one year. As much as I enjoyed doing it in 2002, I just didn't have the time or energy to crank out a new one this season.

The good news is that most of the people who read this blog are not on my Christmas mailing list, so it's new to you!

The really good news is that I've finally learned the bare minimum in web publishing necessary to cut and paste it onto my new domain, which unfortunately, is still eons away from being blog-ready. (If I had more time or knowledge, I'd gussy it up real nice, but I trust that in the spirit of the season you'll overlook the crudeness of the design.)

I'm heading to New Jersey tomorrow to visit the family for a little while, so I may not be able to post much for the rest of 2003. In the meantime, here's my little Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa present to all of you.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Monday, December 15, 2003
 
FAUX PAS POURQUOI?

Person A tells Person B that his hair looks really distinguished now that it's going gray. Person B takes offense. Person A claims he meant it as a compliment and doesn't see why B was offended. Person B finds it dubious that A was being sincere given that i) A is generally known to be a smug asshole and, ii) to all but a few close confidants, A claims to be ten years younger than he actually is. A 40-year-old who says he's 30 can't feign obliviousness to other people's insecurities about aging. At least, that's B's opinion.

Person C gives Newlyweds D and E a very generous gift certificate to an electronics store as a wedding present. Months go by, and D and E fail to acknowledge the gift, which I repeat was quite generous, in any verbal or written way whatsoever. Both D and E pass up many opportunities to acknowledge the lavish, heartfelt token given by their good friend C (in conjunction with several others) in celebration of their marriage. Eventually, E begins telling C of pricey items he intends to buy at the store where C purchased the bounteous gift certificate. Is E making use of C's generosity? Well, no. In fact, E makes a point of telling C that he'll be using cash his grandmother gave him for Christmas to procure the otherwise-out-of-their-young-married-price-range goods. C wonders if in fact D and E received the ample gift certificate, or perhaps it fell out of the envelope at some point between when C handed it to them at the garage at Disney's California Adventure and two minutes later when they peeked inside in the stairwell? At what point is C entitled to check and say, "Hey, seriously, I'm concerned, did some horrible accident befall my generous gift, or are you just an ungrateful goon?"

Let's say Person F has a difficult time buying Christmas gifts for Person G because G always buys everything he wants as soon as it becomes commercially available. Then F comes up with a great idea for a gift Person G doesn't even know exists. But after F orders the gift, G learns of its existence and immediately announces his intention to buy it for himself just ten days before Christmas, because he's too much of a clod to adhere to the rule that you don't buy yourself ANYTHING in December. Is F allowed to punch G in the nose?

Person H has a girlfriend who's looking for a job. Person I has a boyfriend who has the coolest job in the world. So H calls I and says, "Hey, is it okay if my girlfriend asks your boyfriend to help her find a job?" And I say, "Uh, sure." Then girlfriend H proceeds to call boyfriend I ten gajillion times within two weeks. At what point am I supposed to call H and say, "Can she please stop calling? He's doing his best, but he's not an employment agent."

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Friday, December 12, 2003
 
OFFICE HUMOR

The office party, as expected, was part Solondzian hell, part old-people-let-loose scenes from "Cocoon". Honestly, I've never seen grown people so excited by the opportunity to drink in the middle of the day. When I was growing up, I never had the urge to break into my parents' liquor cabinet when they were out of town, and I wasn't so thrilled with milking the open bar dry just because the bosses were looking the other way. Drinking at work, let alone with people from work, just seems weird to me, so I opted for a Sprite.

What followed was some of the worst peer pressure I've ever experienced. Mind you, this was from the forty and fifty-year-old women at my table. I pointed out that Patty was drinking a Sprite, too, as if to deflect attention away from myself. It turned out Patty is eight months pregnant. Who knew? I clearly need to work on my observational skills. And, uh, congratulations, Patty.

Under duress, I finally caved and ordered a margarita. The table burst into cheers. Everyone in the room looked over to see what the commotion was about. So by caving to peer pressure, I actually invited even more attention. Mental note: just say no! "Attention everyone! Jerry just ordered a drink!" the (drunk) receptionist announced. More attention. Are they still looking at me? Can I leave now?

Then I had to actually drink the thing, which I say without hyperbole was the strongest margarita ever made. I was threatened with further ridicule if I didn't finish it. By the time it came, dessert was being served, so I was going to have to hurry. Well, at least I know they like me enough to tease me. I still wish they liked me enough to smile at me and say hello in the hall, but this'll have to do.

The Big Boss gets up to make his annual speech. People are really excited for this. I'm just wondering how long it'll take for him to say something I can use to mock him in this blog. He starts off by taking a few shots at my boss, who skipped the luncheon. In a move characteristic of my boss' hubris, he recently demanded a bigger office for himself. Since there were no bigger offices, one had to be created for him by moving someone else's wall back five feet. This turned our entire workspace into a construction zone for about three weeks last month, and I don't think I've ever seen my boss happier. Some people really enjoy attention.

Then Big Boss set aside the schtick and moved toward the sincerity part of his unscripted, rambling speech. He was struggling a bit telling us all how much he appreciated our hard work blah blah blah when at some point, he uttered the phrase "this Christmas party". "You mean Holiday party!" someone politically-corrected him. I was only halfway through the margarita at this point, so I trust my memory when it tells me that this is what follows:

"You know, I was having lunch with my daughter recently, and she was talking about how much she loves Jesus." [I could have plenty of fun with that sentence alone, but trust me when I say the best is still to come. Continuing…] "And she asked me, 'Daddy, why don't Jewish people celebrate Christmas?' 'Well,' I told her, 'because Jewish people don't believe in Jesus.'" [I only interrupt again to point out that there are about fifty people listening to this, and quite a few of them are Jewish. Continuing…] "I have never seen her so upset in my life. I still don't think she's recovered." [This is the moment where, I assume, I hope, I pray the punchline/point of all this is finally going to be revealed…] "Anyway, that's all. I guess now I'm an anti-Semite." Big laughs. I don't get it. The speech ends there.

The waiters take the last plates away, and as people start leaving, one woman runs around with a digital camera taking pictures of everything and everyone in sight. I quickly down the rest of my drink, pose for exactly one group picture with the rest of my table, and follow the throngs back to the office.

It turns out Camera Lady wasn't just trying to beef up her personal photo album. A couple of hours later, she's posting blow-ups on the break room message board, which is usually full of people's baby pictures, along with her "funny" captions. I quickly spot the picture of my table. Seven people looking into the lens and smiling. Caption: "All of you! Go in the corner!" [Que?] I foolishly think I got off easy, until I spot another picture, a picture of me and me alone – in fact the only solo picture she's hung up of anyone. It turns out she zoomed in and blew up that same group picture to feature just my face, which is now pixellated almost beyond recognition. Caption: "Jerry takes a walk on the wild side. He's just one margarita away from breaking out into song. … take a walk on the wild side… doo de doo doo doo do doo."

Every time I walk through that room, I see the picture. I see people looking at it. Inexplicably laughing. The lunch from Hell has been extended for a few more weeks, at least until the next batch of baby photos arrives. Patty, you screwed me on the Sprite, but you may just be my savior yet. Please be premature.

I refuse to say I'm glad I went, but I'll concede that I'm grateful for the margarita, which made the rest of my work day much more tolerable. I'm beginning to understand how alcoholics are born.

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Thursday, December 11, 2003
 
THERE'S GOT TO BE SOME WAY TO KEEP MY TROUBLES DISTANT…

Just some random thoughts for today:

  • I need to hear "The Sun Always Shines On TV" by a-ha exactly once every three years. Someone please remind me of this on December 11, 2006.

  • Has there ever been a band I've lost interest in faster than The Strokes?

  • When, oh when, will the Cheeky Girls come to America already? Dammit, I want to have a cheeky Christmas!

  • I'm dreading today's office Christmas luncheon. If it's anything like last year's, it'll be just like the lunchroom scene in "Welcome to the Dollhouse" ("Um… can I… sit… here?" "Go ahead. Somebody barfed there fourth period."), except for the open bar and the complete absence of cool kids. Man, I wish I had friends at work. Or at least drinking buddies.

  • I can't believe I almost completely remembered the Quadratic Formula last night. All I forgot was the –b part. Man, I am a geek.

  • I finally got around to googling OCDs. It turns out I'm even higher on the freak chart than I thought. Either right now or at some point in the past, I have had every obsession and compulsion listed on that page except "religiosity", "hoarding", "repeating/redoing" and, sadly, "sexual themes".

  • Might I suggest a Dean/Gore ticket? Dean/Gore '04 just has a great ring to it. And by Gore, of course, I mean Tipper.

  • Has anyone else noticed that the people with the most annoying voices are the ones who've stuck around the longest on this season's Survivor? Based on that theory, I bet Darrah wins.

  • I have no idea what this thing does, but someone I know is getting one for Christmas!

  • Does anyone know how long it takes before gift basket cheese and sausage goes bad? Would re-gifting a year-old basket to my boss be too low even for me?

  • Drew won't let me call his dad Mr. T, because that's what we call the toilet.

  • My picks for Paltrow/Martin baby names: If it's a boy, Bruce (after her dad, of course, sob sob), and if it's a girl, Free Trade Now.


UPDATE: I emailed Hickory Farms with the gift basket question, and they emailed me back immediately with a detailed, non-automated response (big props to Hickory Farms customer service, especially since that's not even where my gift basket was from). Their cheeses have a shelf life from 3-12 months, and their "beefstick" is good for 7-9 months. So I've decided that instead of an expired gift basket, my boss gets zilch. I'll deal with the awkwardness of not having a gift to give him. It beats being a chump.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003
 
SWEATER

I'm glad I have no interest in wearing women's clothes, because I'm terrible at buying them. It's immature, I know, but I always get self-conscious shopping in the women's department. I can't say exactly what I'm nervous about – probably either that the salespeople will think I'm shopping for myself or, worse, that they'll think I'm shopping for my girlfriend or my wife and aww, aren't I a sweet guy, and they'll call the other salespeople over and barrage me with questions to try to help me find the perfect gift while they wish they had a boyfriend like me who wasn't afraid to shop in the women's department.

In actuality, when I'm in the women's department, what it means is that it's almost Christmas and I've given up hope. Whenever I ask my sister what she wants for Christmas, I get something like, "Oh, I don't really need anything" or "I don't know. Let me think about it." A few weeks ago, she actually took down her Amazon wish list. Thanks, Kathy. My mom is even worse. If I ask her what she wants, her response is always exactly the same: "A million dollars." If I press further, I'll get something like this: "A new house. A new car." I want to tell her that what she really needs is some new material. Those jokes stopped being funny exactly ten seconds before she first thought them up.

So when I'm shopping for them, it takes some effort. I scour websites. I cruise the mall. I consider their interests and whatever I think they might need. But I'm always stuck with doubt. Kathy loves Buffy, but would she actually watch the DVDs? Probably not. Mom loves running, but you know how those running people are. I'd never be able to pick out exactly the right kind of sneakers or water bottle or whatever. And my mother isn't the kind of person to smile politely when she doesn't like your gift. She'll look at it, shrug and ask, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

So inevitably, I end up at the Gap or Banana Republic or J Crew (I don't have the guts to go into one of those women-only stores), buying them the one thing I know they'll enjoy and use. Sweaters. It couldn't be more boring or more redundant. But they'll love it. "Ooh, what a nice sweater!" they'll say.

Saleswomen in these stores seem to know that men looking at women's clothes are generally clueless, because they're always very eager to help. I figure it's because they've all received a lot of shitty gifts from their own boyfriends -- a jacket they wouldn't be caught dead in or a skirt that, while nice, is sized for a woman who weighs 300 pounds. Gifts can hurt. So a man can't walk five paces in the women's department without being swarmed by helpful saleswomen. The helpful saleswomen don't realize how much this stresses us out.

"Oh, that's a lovely color," the helpful saleswoman said as I held up the pink sweater.

"Um… yeah. She... likes pink."

"Do you know what size you need? How tall is this woman, compared to me?"

"She's shorter than you. A few inches shorter than me, actually."

"Okay, and is she about my size? Is her frame like mine?" She swiveled her hips and stuck out her shoulders, displaying a miniscule Betty Rubble frame.

I have no idea how big my sister's frame is. All I know is that when a woman is asking you about her frame, you have to be very careful. "Oh, no. She's not quite as thin as you." Whew.

"How big is she? Compared to me?"

"Compared to you? She's a bit… er… um… I think she's probably a small."

"Is this for your wife? Or your girlfriend?"

"No, it's for my sister."

"Oh."

And then it was off to Banana Republic to repeat the whole scene for my mom.

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Monday, December 08, 2003
 
RUDE

Drew thinks I don't know what an angry person he is.

The anger comes out only in brief, unexpected moments, like this weekend at FAO Schwartz. Since the company had just filed for bankruptcy, the place was a madhouse of Christmas shoppers looking for bargains. I've never much cared for FAO Schwartz, because, let's be honest, it's the snobby kids store. And who likes snobby kids? As it turns out, even their liquidation sales are highbrow: a mere 10-20% off everything in the store. Well, la-dee-dah!

Whenever my parents would take me to FAO Schwartz as a kid, I wasn't awed by the enormous piano keyboard you could step on or the two-story-tall stuffed animals, because I knew these were toys I'd never own. I kept picturing what kind of family would spend $20,000 on a mini Ferrari designed for eight-year-olds, and I imagined the kids who'd tool around their estate in it, mowing down the gardeners and wait staff. I hated them even then.

Today, those kids are adults, and they're buying toys for their own kids at FAO Schwartz. And they're still assholes. On Saturday afternoon, I found myself holding the door open for them. All of them. You see, I'm one of those guys who gets stuck holding doors open all the time, not to be confused with a doorman who is one of those guys who gets paid to hold doors open.

I initially held the door because I saw a woman behind me with a young child in a stroller. But before she even got through, three other women squeezed by her. All of them walked right past me without even making eye contact, let alone saying "Thank you". And when the stroller woman finally made it through, she ignored me, too. I've never been a mother of young children myself, so forgive me for being judgmental, but I'd think that such people would be used to depending on the kindness of strangers. We hold doors for them, we give up our seats on the bus, we help them up and down curbs. Well, at least, we're supposed to do those things. Not everyone does, but that only makes me think that a woman with one or more young children would be grateful to those who do. Not this bitch.

And after she walked past me, so did several more people and their kids. No one gave the slightest acknowledgment that I was doing the world a favor. They saw me as exactly what they were making me into: an utter chump.

Drew, who had been safely through the door for over a minute now, was waiting patiently for me and watching me get angrier and angrier. It turns out he was a bit angry, too.

"NICE WAY TO TEACH YOUR KIDS SOME MANNERS!" he shouted.

Drew, like me, is not a guy who shouts often. When someone doesn't shout much, the times when they do shout tend to have a big impact. And Drew's shouting at the FAO jerks had a big impact on me.

Naturally, he got a little embarrassed. He apologized to me. This is because he thinks I don't know he's an angry person. What he doesn't know is that I don't mind that he's angry. Every one of those creeps who walked through the door is angry. What I love about Drew is that he's angry for all the right reasons.

Maybe it's from watching "Angels in America" last night, but all of this put me in a very philosophical mood. And it got me to ponder a deep, eternal conundrum: do rude people go to Heaven?

Of course, I don't really believe in Heaven. I don't want to believe in Heaven. When people talk about Heaven, they talk about choruses of angels and clouds and flowing white robes and all the good people of the world coming together and singing hallelujah in perfect harmony. That doesn't sound fun to me. Heaven sounds like an opera, and I hate operas. I want the afterlife to be more like a Beck concert. That's something I could deal with for eternity. If Heaven is anything like what I've heard, Heaven sounds like my Hell.

But let's say there is a Heaven, and that there also is a Hell. And let's say Heaven is the good one, just for the sake of argument. In that case, I don't think people should be excluded from Heaven just for being rude.

Rudeness stinks, but I have to admit it's not evil. Just because somebody doesn't give you the "thank you" wave when you let them merge in front of you on the highway or say "excuse me" when they body-check you at the mall, I don't think they should get hot pokers jabbed in their testicles for all eternity next to Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer and Dick Cheney. I think it's entirely possible that someone can neglect to say "excuse me" or "thank you" and still believe the Russians love their children, too.

But if rude people are running around Heaven, won't that cheapen the place a bit? Is paradise going to be full of people blowing cigar smoke on my cloud and playing their harps really loud when I'm trying to sleep? I know sin makes Jesus cry, but how does he feel about getting cut off on the freeway? I hope there's at least some kind of etiquette purgatory where non-evil assholes have to go to learn some manners before they can graduate to the big joint.

The thought of rude people in Heaven fills me with dread. All I can picture is me holding open the Pearly Gates while one righteous jerk after another saunters past me as if I work there or something. I'll just stand there, feeling sad and powerless, because I know that St. Peter's watching, and I don't want to make a bad impression. But also, it's because I know that Drew's waiting for me right on the other side. And he's about to lay every last one of those dickwads out.

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Friday, December 05, 2003
 
GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT

Because I've been getting a bunch of hits for "Keisha Knight Pulliam + Chingy" and because the combo rather intrigued me, I decided it was time I did some research on the subject. Apparently, she takes a shower with him in his new video. Well, it beats whatever Tempestt Bledsoe's doing these days.

If that's what brought you to this site, you can read more on the matter here. (Mystery solved: I misspelled her name in an earlier entry about the next Celebrity Mole cast. The correct spelling is Keshia. Re-google it that way and you'll get better info.)


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Wednesday, December 03, 2003
 
BAD SANTA

Every year, my boss buys Christmas gifts for the office support staff, like the file guy and the mailroom employees. It's always some newly-released CD that he buys ten copies of and then distributes. This year, it's the Beatles' "Let it Be… Naked". And last year, it was the Rolling Stones' "Forty Licks". To me, this is a classic case of not knowing your audience, as the people on this short gift list are overwhelmingly Mexican-American. If my boss ever actually listened to the music that blasts from the boom box of the mailroom, he'd know they’d be more likely to appreciate a CD from [insert iconic Latin American recording artist here] than [insert aging British Invasion veterans here].

This year, he had me order ten copies of the Beatles' latest shameless seasonally-timed repackaging of old material from Amazon.com. On Monday, the Amazon shipment came. Ten CDs. He immediately opened one up for himself, then put the others in the corner to wrap later.

Then today, the Amazon shipment came… again. Ten more CDs of "Let it Be… Naked". He had me check online to make sure I hadn't placed the order twice. Nope. Just once. Giggling with wicked, stick-it-to-the-Man glee, he tucked the extra box away and told me not to tell Amazon a thing.

It seemed a bit strange to me. Amazon doesn't just re-ship orders that have already been filled. If they did that, why they'd probably be massively in debt or something. So I checked inside the first "Amazon" shipment. You'll notice that this time I put "Amazon" in quotes. That's because when I looked at the box, I learned that it was actually from Tower Records Online, a fact that would be obvious to anyone who performed even a cursory inspection of the package. There was a Tower Records invoice inside, as well as a couple of little inserts imploring him to purchase more items from Tower Records. Intriguingly, it came addressed to my boss’ wife.

Knowing my boss as well as I do, it was easy to piece this puzzle together. My forgetful control freak boss had told me via voicemail, which he sent at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night, to order the CDs from Amazon. Then, probably about two minutes later, he must've decided he couldn't wait until Monday for me to place the order. So, he immediately commanded his wife to order the CDs from Tower. And then he relaxed, knowing the matter was taken care of and forgetting he had some loose ends to tie up.

So now he paid for twenty CDs, and he thinks he ripped Amazon off for ten. And it's just as easy to figure out what's going to happen next. Soon he'll be giving away all his extras, parading around like Santa and making people think he's just that generous. "Wow, how nice of you! You really didn’t have to get me anything!" He'll get the validation he so desperately craves from ten unsuspecting saps.

And then his credit card bills will come, and he'll realize what a colossal dope he was, but it'll be too late to do anything but suck it up and eat the extra cost.

And I'll hear him cursing and kicking the wall while a “fuck you, Phil Spector” version of "Across the Universe" plays from his office stereo.

The mailroom people will probably use their CDs as drink coasters, but from where I stand, this is the best Christmas gift ever.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003
 
ITANOMTHUB: TRACK 3

Back before Matt and Ben and Bennifer and Ben & Gwyneth and "Ben & Matt" and Matt and Winona and the Sexiest Man Alive, there was a little movie called "Good Will Hunting", starring that guy I remembered from "School Ties" and another guy who I didn't remember from "School Ties". It came advertised on a little flier I got in the mail. Would I like to attend an advance screening of this film?, the flyer asked. Well, sure, I decided, and I called the number on the flier and RSVPed.

I knew almost nothing about the movie, and absolutely nothing about what it was soon going to unleash upon us all. I took my friend Janice with me, and when it ended, I turned to her and said – I believe in these exact words – "So, that was crap, right?" As it turned out, Janice kinda liked it, and so did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and in fact, most of America. Who knew? What Miramax films so graciously gave me with that flier was more than a free movie pass. It was the opportunity to form an independent opinion. And when it comes to movies, that's a rare thing.

A few weeks ago, I got a similar flier, and this one was for “Big Fish”, which I knew only slightly more about. One of the things I knew was that it was a Tim Burton movie. Even if he never directs another movie as good as “Pee Wee’s Good Adventure” – and all indications are that he won’t -- he maintains my undying loyalty for that masterpiece alone. So I RSVPed for this one, too, and in so doing, I got a slight jump on the critics.

My spoiler-free review: eh. It was typical Tim Burton. Moments of fun and inventiveness weighed down slightly by Burton’s weak sense of story. I wanted it to be great, but it was just okay. It certainly wasn’t anything I’d heap bile and venom upon. Well, today, the movie got reviewed in the trades, and both bile and venom were heaped liberally. Did I miss something? Did I sit through the year’s biggest turkey thinking I’d merely had a so-so taco salad? I can’t help thinking that if I’d seen the movie after reading those reviews, I might’ve viewed it differently. I might’ve said, “Oh, yeah, I see what everyone’s talking about. This is junk.” Or maybe I would’ve risen to its defense: “The critics are wrong! This is a misunderstood classic!”

Maybe if I’d gone in knowing what the critical mass was going to be, I would have been able to form a strong enough opinion about the movie to debate it. As is, I don’t know what to think, and that’s no fun. I want to argue this. I want to be a Siskel to somebody’s Ebert. Instead, I feel like a Roeper, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Gee, the costumes were nice.”

So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more fun to see a movie after you’ve heard what everyone else thinks, even if it sometimes ruins the film. If I'd gone into "The Full Monty" blindly, I probably would've thought it was a delightful little romp with a few good chuckles. But because I was expecting Best Picture material, I wasn't just disappointed, I was pissed off. I guess I was mad at the hype, but I took it out on the movie. I told everyone I hated it. The same goes for "In the Bedroom". What a piece of shit that was. Not really, but I still hold a grudge against all the people who claimed it was genius. And "Leaving Las Vegas", too. No, on second thought that really was garbage. I guess.

I also saw "The Triplets of Belleville" this weekend. That’s that brilliant French animated film you’ve probably heard all the critics raving about. “Oscar-caliber!” they say. “A masterpiece!” “Truly original!” “A triumph!” Except it sucks. I mean, it was awful. Weird, creepy, confusing and boring as hell. It was one of those eighty-minute movies that lasts five hours. You feel older when it ends, and you've bonded for life with whomever you saw it with. It’s the worst French import since four-year-old singing sensation Jordy. If I had a choice between vacationing in Basra or seeing this movie again, I’d have to dig out my passport. The critics are wrong. “The Triplets of Belleville” is cinematic puke. No, it’s worse than puke. It’s puke that’s been licked up by a dog and re-puked on top of other puke. A pox on this film! A pox!

There. Now see how much fun that was?

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Monday, December 01, 2003
 
THE GOOD AND BAD OF THANKSGIVING WEEKEND

Good: Attending an advance screening of "Big Fish" with Drew and hearing him blubbering like a baby all the way through.
Bad: Drew crying again at the next movie we saw – “Bad Santa”. (Oh, yes, he did.)
Worse: Seeing “The Triplets of Belleville” with him after that, and both of us falling asleep.

Good: Making chocolate chip cookies and cornbread for Thanksgiving dinner.
Bad: Danny complaining that my cookies didn’t have enough chips in them.
Worse: Danny complaining that my cookies didn’t have enough chips all night long.

Good: Realizing that Danny didn’t make anything himself, and that this supplied me with the perfect comeback.
Bad: Not realizing that fact until I was on my way home.
Worse: Eating my leftover cookies the next day and realizing that Danny was probably right.

Good: Clearing out of my old apartment for good and cleaning it as much as possible in one afternoon.
Bad: Being reminded of what it looked like when it was clean and empty and new.
Worse: Realizing how easy it would’ve been to keep it clean all the time I’d lived there and feeling like a total slob.

Good: Getting back my entire security deposit.
Better: Getting a picture of myself with my landlady before I left.
Best: Having to bend down for the picture when standing beside her and feeling tall.

Good: Going day-after-Thanksgiving shopping at Best Buy and Target.
Bad: Having to wake up at 5 a.m. to do it.
Worse: Spending more money buying things for myself than for people on my Christmas list.

Good: Discovering my new favorite song, "Deckchairs and Cigarettes" by the Thrills.
Bad: Playing that song so many times that it vaulted directly to #1 on my iTunes Top 25.
Worse: Seeing Robbie Williams’ “Mr. Bojangles” fall to #2. And then getting sick of that damn Thrills song.

Good: Finding a new place to put the couch in the new apartment, so that it’s no longer blocking the hallway.
Better: Clearing enough space so that we had room for a Christmas tree.
Best: That brisk pine smell and the glow of tiny lights.

Good: Getting to shop for Christmas tree ornaments.
Bad: Suggesting the 99 cent store as a good place to start, and then realizing that 99 cent ornaments are crap.
Worse: Going back to Target for the third time in four days to get some decent decorations.

Good: Finding somebody to see Avenue Q with when I go back east later this month.
Bad: Immediately finding someone else to see it with, too. Someone who doesn’t get along with the first person.
Worse: Trying to unite different groups of friends.

Bad:Not getting to play any Mario Kart all weekend.
Good: Still having four new racetracks and a bunch of karts to unlock on that game.
Best: … and knowing that once that’s done, Tony Hawk is still waiting for me.


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