Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Well, tomorrow officially kicks off the Christmas season. It's time to pull the ghost lights off the porch and break out the multi color C9s! I love the big cheery Charlie Niners. They are my favorite Christmas lights, next to the neat bubbling tubes of colored liquid they used to put on trees when I was a kid. You can still buy those today, but they aren't the same. When I was a kid you could roast a marshmallow with one of those lights. Long third degree burns were a sign that Christmas was nearing.

Stupid safe LED technology.

I think we're going visiting today, but when we get back I hope to prep the living room a bit for Christmas Village. It's time for the town people to gather round and listen to Sister Sarah and her Band of Sinners in the tiny village, displaying their unflappable Christmas spirit despite living in a town that's often overrun by zombies and fishmen.

The fishman is a little hard to see.

It's amazing how these people keep a-wassalin' despite roving packs of Krenshar.

So, here's to you unflappable citizens of Christmastown. Neither poor economic climate nor rampaging monsters keep you from spreading goodwill and cheer in your little town. I hope you don't loose too many carolers to the cult of Dagon this year.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Red and Green Crush

Thanksgiving is over and done with. It went pretty well this year, all things considered. Now we're facing the slide, kicking and screaming, into the Christmas season.

The main thing about Christmas that makes it one of the most stressful holidays ever is money. Christmas always coincides with days off for holidays, most notably Thanksgiving. My job is pretty awesome, but the rare holidays that I get off are of the unpaid variety. AND when an unpaid holiday falls on a Thursday (stupid Thanksgiving) there a disturbance in the economic force that is my paycheck.

I know I shouldn't stress about this. People like to say that Jesus wouldn't want us to commercialize his holiday all the time, but you may note that of the three original Christmas presents one of them was freaking GOLD. This, I believe, is what lead to the evolution of Christmas movies where the hapless dad turns to a wacky life of crime to finance the big day.

I had wanted a guitar for Christmas, but I'm revising my Christmas want list right here, right now.

1. Razor blades. I like Gillette Mach 3, which are pricey but way the hell cheaper than the fancy dancy four-blader they have out now.

2. The H.P. Lovecraft compendium that Barnes and Noble printed. It's a thirteen dollar hardback on the bargin shelf. Can't miss it.

3. Some string.

4. A rock, to wind the string around.

That's it. That's all I want for Christmas this year. I'm not going to say anything cheesey like world peace, though it would be nice if we could collectively get through this fiasco without anyone getting pissy with anyone else.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I logged in to Facebook this morning to find a friend invitation from someone I went to high school with. This is the second time this has happened, and I think I'm going to have to click the little deny button again. It's not that I have anything against these people; both of them were nice to me and nice people in general.

The thing is, on Facebook when someone sends you a friend request you can look at their list of friends. In both cases the list of friends seemed to be mainly comprised of people I went to high school with. I skipped out on my 10 year reunion (a number of years ago, in fact). I did it on purpose too. Other than geography throwing us together for a few years of public school I don't feel like I have a lot in common with these people. I only talked to a handful of people in high school to begin with and only talk to one person from the Dark Days here in the Present Era. And that's because I married her. That and she's pretty rad.

I remember one day in a college history class a feisty professor telling us to look around at the people in the room, proclaiming that these people were the pool from which we would draw the people that we'd be friends with until our dying days. She told us that the people we went to high school with would fade away into obscure memories and our college friends would last us until our golden years.

I didn't really make a lot of friends in college either. There are five or six, but not people who I met in classes. They were neighbors in crappy leaning-to-one-side-quite-noticeably apartment buildings, friends of friends, relatives of my future wife. The other people I met in college were just there, the people you talk to more out of proximity than inclination. Not that I have anything against most of them. Maybe I just don't connect with people very well, or at least very often. I did make one friend, but I haven't seen him in person for years.

Anyway, back to Facebook. I feel betrayed, like Facebook has ratted me out. My cover is blown; my vague ideas that I would be the one student from high school that no one would remember more than vaguely are shattered. Thanks, Facebook. Thanks a lot. Asshole.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like the Same Old Thanksgiving Blitz

So, Dad got a divorce. This happened a while back; I can't remember if it was after Thanksgiving last year or the year before, though I tend to think it was last year. My parents divorced a long time ago, so for the last 20-something years I've been one of those people that has at least two of every major holiday. Two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmasses. Then, oh about eleven years ago, I got married. Bang! THREE holidays. Mom's house, Dad's house, T's parents.

It's exhausting.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining that there are so many people who want to see us on the Holidays. It's nice to be in demand, even if it's just a couple of days a year. But the divorce did lead me to trick myself. I thought to myself, "OK, back down to two holidays. Two is do-able."

Friday Dad and Maria (his girlfriend, who is a lovely woman who talks and smiles and does everything else that a nice, normal person does) came to dinner at our house. I asked what his Thanksgiving plans were, thinking he'd say something about ordering a pizza and watching football. To my surprise (I almost said "Horror" instead of "surprise", but really that would be a vast exaggeration) he drops the bomb.

"We're having a ham and a turkey. Are you going to come by?" Dad asks.

Hell's Bells and cockleshells. I say yes.

So, now we are at two dinners, minimum. My Aunt Donna will be at my mom's place. I don't know what's going down there on Thursday, but I imagine that we'll be expected to put in an appearance. I didn't have the mental fortitude to find out for sure. This was a mistake, because now it's looming on the horizon like a tropical storm. Hurricane Third Dinner.

The only real problem with a three-dinner run is that you have to seriously pace yourself. At dinner numero uno, you have one plate piled low. This is vital to the mission if you don't want to end up in the hospital tent with army doctors hovering over you at the end of the night, shaking their heads and muttering how you are the worst case of exploding stomach that they've ever seen. Even if you do manage to pull this tricky balancing act off, you endure a dinner of "you-barely-eat-anythings" and "that's-why-you're-so-skinnys". This usually takes place at the first house. At Dinner Two, the Plan dictates that you eat a bit of the food left out for people to graze on. If you're lucky, which means getting there after everyone has already eaten. If you get there on time, it's another uncomfortable round of "is-that-all-you're-going-t0-eats". Dinner three is too much for most humans. I generally fold and just have a cup of coffee, enduring the dirty looks of whoever spent all day in the kitchen.

I'm ready for it. I can take it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Snow Day!

Last night I walked out of my office into a Winter Wonderland. It was a twenty mile an hour drive back home on the fifty five road, snow everywhere. You couldn't even see. There is always a noticeable disparity in the weather between home and work. I only work something like seven miles from my house, but that seven miles includes an elevation change. So if we have one inch here, there are generally three or four there. Things got a little less out of hand as I got closer to my house, but there was still snow. Impressive snow, at that.

I came home and joked around with Tracy that if it kept up like it was we wouldn't be having school tomorrow. I even checked the Snowbird report. (Side Note; Snowbird is a penguin mascot at a TV station in the town I grew up in. I loathe the Snowbird, but he is a reliable source.) Then I went to bed and set an alarm.

I get automated phone calls from the county school system to keep me posted. So my phone rings at 5:30 to tell me there is a two hour delay. I reset the alarm and go back to sleep. Forty five minutes later it rings again; no school. I try to go back to sleep. My daughter wakes up and it's all over. The dream of sleeping in is officially DOA. I give up, get up and start in on my morning coffee.

There isn't enough snow to go out and play in, but it's beautiful outside. Last year we didn't have any snow until just before Christmas. We have a tradition of going out to a tree farm (King's Family Tree Farm), and we don't go until we have snow. So the D wanted to go get a tree today and start decorating for Christmas. I had to invoke the "not before Thanksgiving" rule.

So here we are, our first day off due to inclement weather. It's freezing outside, so we can't really go out and run around. Later when Tracy gets home we'll huddle into the car and go to the bank and grocery store. My car is a VW, so it has a heater that can cook a ham. It seems like a good day to cook soup.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Damn It!

W. Virginia Town Shrugs at Poorest Health Ranking

Huntington, W.Va., home to highest percentage of obese; also tops in diabetes, loss of teeth

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Big Funeral

Saturday I missed a phone call from my dad. That evening I happened to notice that I had a voice message. I checked it while we were planning out what the pizza order for Dungeons & Dragons night would be. Dad is always straight to the point when he leaves a message.

"Hey, your great grandmother died. The funeral is tomorrow at two. Call me back."

Well, crap. I called back and left him a message, then reflected on what a crappy great grandson I was. My parents divorced when I was five or so, and after about the age of 13 I just sort of fell out of contact with most of dad's side of the family. So my great grandmother had never met my wife, let alone my daughter. Being the terrible person I am, it didn't bother me overly much. I don't mean to sound callous, but what's done is done and wailing in lamentation does little in the way of positive action.

I decided to go to the funeral. This was going to be awkward. My great grandmother had fifteen children, most of which are still alive and kicking. They all had children, most of those children in turn there would be something like five hundred people who may or may not know or care what a terrible grandson I am.

We get in the car and drive to the funeral. I had to call dad three times on the way because he gives terrible directions. Sorry dad, but "it's in Salem" and "it'll be on your left" aren't very specific. Pulling into the parking lot some older guy comes to my window and starts asking how I'm related. Sadly enough I can't name many of my relatives, but I damn sure know the answer to this. After a while I get, "Eh, I don't know any of 'em. I'm just a neighbor".

We walk in and spot dad sitting with his girlfriend Maria. Joe, dad's friend, is behind him. They're in the section reserved for family, which I am, so we go plant ourselves in chairs. Now, I've been to funerals with dad before. Neither of us has ever seen the other inside a church, but funerals are old hat. With typical reverence dad leans over and tells me he's hungry.

We sit there a little while, trying to figure out who's who. I play a little game I invented at the last funeral dad and I both attended. It's called, "Let's Find the Guy Who Looks Most Like Johnny Cash". I believe my uncle Mike took the trophy.

At one point I lean over and whisper to dad, "Hey, if there is anyone from out of state that doesn't know us and asks who we are, we should tell them you're Popeye and I'm Popeye, Jr."

Dad consents.

Finally the minister guy (these are Methodists we're dealing with, by the way) gets up. Apparently he's also a relative, though I believe he married in. There was no singing, though there was music over the PA. I believe I detected some Conway Twitty, but I could be way off-base there.

The funeral ends. We all get up and file past my great grandmother, who I do indeed remember. Then we start re-meeting relatives. Aunt Candy knows us right off the bat. Uncle Kenny knows who I am by sight, as I look exactly like my dad and his father before him. My grandparents, of course, know all of us. I only got a few skunkeyes, but did get a lot of "I haven't seen you since you were a little kid" remarks. Most of them were very kindly. As usual at funerals, I begin to sort of enjoy myself. Again with the not wanting to sound callous, funerals don't bother me overly much. I've never been happy that someone is dead, but if you're in a casket your problems are over. I much prefer to celebrate that this person was alive to begin with and think that since you're in a room with a bunch of people who all know each other but seldom gather you might as well make the best of it.

We get in the car and drive to the cemetery. Salem, WV isn't that big a place to begin with, but we drive for something like forty-five minutes on roads that get progressively more remote. We make a 315 degree turn up the hill to the cemetery proper. Had it been snowing a Sherman tank wouldn't have made it up this road.

We were there for all of five minutes. Another prayer and we're off.

Dad and I are the first ones out. The trip that took forty five minutes in a funeral procession takes closer to twenty when dad is in the lead car. We are the first ones at Van Horn school. Van Horn School is where we were told everyone would meet for the post-funeral food gathering. Van Horn School is not where this was all going down. It was going down next door. We find it after milling about for a while, trying to open doors that are ajar but chained shut from the inside.

The food part of a funeral is, of course, the best part. People begin to realize that they're all alive and start enjoying it. I'm glad my wife and daughter are there, glad that we're at the same table with dad and, oddly, glad that some of the people did remember me. A few people may have wondered what prompted me to come visit my grandmother after she died instead of before, though no one said anything to that effect and I may well just be imagining it. Jerry was giving me a flat, hard stare, but he gives everyone he meets a flat, hard stare. We hang out a little while, eat dinner, talk mainly to the relatives that we're most familiar with. All in all it was a positive experience. My daughter wrote an essay about it in the back seat on the way home, dad and Maria agreed to come to dinner at our house two weeks from now. Things went so well that I'm going to try to make it to the family reunion this year, for the first time since 1988.

Friday, November 7, 2008

End Times

First off, I'm glad the election is finally over. I was a nervous wreck for the last few days leading up to it. Being a Democrat is kinda like being a Vikings fan; your team goes almost all the way before something goes awry.

I apologize to anyone I was mean to over those few days, except for that girl in the green car. I'm not sorry about that at all.

Anyway, I'm glad things turned out the way they did. I'm hopeful that we will see some meaningful change. I'm not expecting magical koalas to crap a rainbow in the economy overnight. I don't expect that anytime between now and, say, Christmas my situation will improve any. I do expect things to get better in the next four years, but I think people have to come to terms with a few things before that can happen.

First off, the tax increase. Those of you making over $200,000 to $250,000 a year will pay more taxes. I'm sure you're pissed about this. I've heard a lot about how this is unfair. Consider these few points: The extra burden may mean you have to make a few sacrifices. Things like having to maybe not buy a new car every year. Perhaps only going on one vacation. Maybe even eating out less. These sacrifices will help out those making less than you do.

Screw them, you say?

If you own a business, you cannot have this attitude. Consumer spending is drastically low in our me me me economy over the last 18 months or so. Helping out people who are currently unable to buy anything in your stores may well keep your store from folding. Or from having to lay off a few people, cut back hours-you know, taking steps that keep people from having the money they need if they are to frequent your business and keep you afloat.

Harken back to the days of WWII, the Big One. We had a culture of sacrifice in this country. People rationed food and gas for the common good. Now we have a culture that moans about how much gas costs to fill a gigantic, fuel inefficent SINGLE PERSON vehicle. I see it all the time, one dude driving around in his H3, one lady driving around in an Expedition. These very people may be lamenting that a tax increase will prevent them from hopping in their tanks and driving five blocks to Starbucks every morning to spend five dollars on a fancy lad coffee.

Is this what we've come to?

For a little perspective, let's take a look at a family that will benefit from a new tax plan. At the price of your massively unfair new tax bracket these people will now have money to squander. They will go wild with it. Maybe they'll be able to go to the grocery store without worrying wether or not the money they spend on food will prevent them from other wild luxuries, like electricity. Or taking a child to a doctor or dentist. Maybe they'll even be able to go to your precious businesses and spend the money you need them to spend to keep your doors open.

The generation that fought WWII would puke at the current attitudes in this country. No one wants to even think of the greater good if it means they can't live a Blackberry, BMW, Starbucks lifestyle. Our auto industry is in the shape it's in because people just had to have bigger and shinier SUVs to drive five blocks in. People bought more house than they could possibly afford not because they needed the space, but because they felt they deserved it. The level of gluttony and self-indulgence is staggering.

No one is going to make things better without the support of the poeple in America today. We've got to get away from this Hollywood, record industry, selfish, stupid culture we've been slowly buying into. Personal responsibility must make a comeback in a big way if we're going to have even a chance at getting out of this morass. Being an American doesn't have to mean having the biggest, shiniest, best. It can mean being the best. If you're not willing to help out in any way to help ensure that everyone in the country has what they need to survive, if you're so incredibly wrapped up in a sense of entitlement that owning a Lexus is more important than ensuring that families aren't sitting in cold houses with no food, what good are you to your country?

Monday, November 3, 2008

It Might Be Time to Grow Up, America

So tomorrow is the big election. "The most important election of your lifetime" is what they're calling it. A lot of people are going to be disappointed Wednesday morning. This is a given in any election, but this year I'm kind of worried about it.

No matter who wins, the winner will be president. There has been a lot of talk this election cycle about "real Americans". As far as I can tell this is mainly a Republican tactic (and don't get up in arms, I do realize propaganda comes from all sides), but it deeply worries me. Should Obama become president I'm concerned that these self-described "real Americans" will take a "your president-not my president" stance. Everyone is so up in arms this year, passions are running high. It's nice to see so many people engaged in the political process, but I think we need to think back to our time as children on playgrounds-you can't always get your way. Deciding that a president isn't worthy of the office is one thing as a personal view, but we can't let things get out of hand here. Someone is going to be president and, as my daughter says, "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit".

I haven't felt very well represented for the last eight years. I'm of the opinion that President Bush was a terrible choice in '00 and was flabbergasted when he was reelected in '04. I've bitched, moaned, mocked; you name it. What I didn't do was decided that if I couldn't have the president I wanted that I don't have to follow any of the rules. I continued to pay taxes, obey the speed limit, vote...I continued to be an American.

This year I'm hearing a lot of disturbing talk to the tune that if Obama is elected there will be riots, looting in the streets, even civil war. One guy got so worked up about it that he was actually yelling at me at work. "Not everyone wants to be socialist!" He was red-faced, angry, almost out of control. I wasn't even arguing with him. Hell, I didn't even bring it up. I realize not everyone wants Obama to win. This is why we have elections in the first place.

I didn't want Bush to win, I wanted Al Gore and then Ralphie-Boy Nader in the last two elections, respectively. Both times my guy lost. "Hell," I thought. "What the Hell?!"

Then next election I went out and voted again.

I realize I'm rambling here; it's morning and I'm only on my second cup of coffee. So let me boil it down. I'm talking to you, "real Americans". Talking about armed insurrection against the government if your guy doesn't win isn't just childish and unrealistic (they have helicopters and satellites and tanks, you know). It's treasonous, poisonous, cowardly talk. Have faith in our system and our ideals as a people. There will be another election in four years. If you can't work within the system that long, if you can't have faith in your own government to meet the challenges of the modern world, then why are you here? How are you a "real American" if you can't accept the system that we've used for over 200 years? "Real Americans" don't undermine their government when they don't get their way. In fact we have words for people who attempt to undermine their governments. One is "rebel". We fought a big civil war with rebels once, creating a rift in our country that people still, to some degree, suffer from today. The other word we hear quite a bit on the news. It's "insurgent", synonymous with "armed enemy combatant."

I hope Obama wins tomorrow. More importantly though I hope our citizenry can wake up on November 3rd and act like a people who can be trusted with democracy. The alternative is a mob that destroys things when they don't get what they want. I like to think we as a people are above that.

Guess we'll find out.