Saturday, December 26, 2009
Did you all enjoy your Christmas? Were their presents under your tree? Are you happy someone felt kindly enough toward you to part with their hard earned cash to give you something you may or may not have deserved? Now that Christmas is over, have you taken out the check book, wallet and credit card receipts to see what's left in the bank? You may be living on oatmeal and saltines for the next month, but at least its all over.
I was up early on Christmas morning. Don’t know why. I still remember the days when I used to be able to log a good 8 hours of sleep a night. I’m down to 6 now. I have the time to sleep 8 but my brain won’t let me.
We all gathered around the Bodily's tree for the opening of gifts. All very traditional. I took Grandma to my flat after the opening of gifts so she could put the turkey in the oven. She worked away in the kitchen while I cleaned. She called for help. She had Lisa’s bathroom scales out on the kitchen floor waiting for me.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I can’t cook this turkey properly if I don’t know how much it weighs,” she explained.
I read the packaging and found no indication of weight. That meant we had to weigh it somehow. Mother’s solution was the bathroom scales. There was one small problem, were they accurate? Mother wanted me to get up on the scales and find out. How was I suppose to know if the scales were accurate by weighing myself? I didn’t know what I weighed. I know what I wish I weighed but that absolutely would fall into the realm of fiction.
The scales were digital, which placed them beyond my mother’s ability to understand and use. That alone put the fear into her leaving me behind to deal with the situation. I stood on the scales to see what they said. I planned on comparing the scale’s readout to my last known weight from my doctor’s scales in August. The digital numbers rolled a few times to the left and right, as if the machine couldn’t decide on a correct number. A few seconds later came the reading. The small window between my feet displayed this
“Err” The scales gave me an error reading. What was that all about? What did it mean? Was the error against me for attempting to use them to calculate my weight or was it something else? Maybe “Err” was the scales commentary on my life, kind of like the mechanical fortune tellers you find at a local carnival. Drop in a coin, the Gypsie opens its marble eyes, says something in gibberish - the official language of all carnivals, raises it wooden arm draped in someone’s curtains from the 1930’s and dispenses a card detailing your fortune. In my case, the scales didn’t attempt politeness. What I should have gotten was a ridiculously low weight to boost my self esteem and confidence. What I got was an “Err”. Story of my life, yes?
We were still left with the problem of weighing the turkey. Instead of putting my whole weight on the scale I tried my foot. The numbers rolled and landed on a number that seemed reasonable. I stood on the scale again, never wanting to admit defeat. Grandma handed me a warped aluminum baking pan holding our Christmas turkey. Another “Err” appeared. OK, time for plan 2. We took the turkey out of the pan and placed it directly on the white digital bathroom scales. So there we were, Grandma and me standing over Tom Turkey, barely balanced on the scale with its two legs hanging out and down. It was comical. The scale thought for a moment then displayed “Err”. Finally, the scale and I found something we could both agree on. It was a complete error to do what we were doing. To make a long story short, after several attempts we finally got the scale to give us a reading of 18 pounds. The scale was dripping with turkey juices but we got the job done. There would be turkey for lunch.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent in controlled chaos as Lisa and Grandma prepared the meal. Then a catastrophe. We were out of brown sugar for the candied yams. Lisa sent Grandpa and I on a brown sugar Christmas quest. Cloverdale's Piggy Mart was our first stop. They had the butter we needed but no brown sugar. As we left, the kindly clerk at the cash register wished us both a very merry Christmas.
“Bah Humbug,” Grandpa shot back. I stopped long enough to make excuses for his poor behavior. I explained the fact that he was born during the Great Depression, had a hard childhood, had eight kids, many of whom were intelligent enough to hold down real paying jobs, and was in his 70’s. I also added the fact that he’d recently fallen over a curb, hit his head and for the past two months has no sense of taste. I must have done a good job because they were all in tears.
“That poor man,” one older lady said to the clerk opposite me. Having been a showman my whole life I understood when to make an exit. I left the store knowing someone’s life may have been changed because of our brown sugar quest.
The Red Owl was our next stop. It was closed. The third stop was the gas station on the outskirts of Cloverdale on Highway 1. Again, no brown sugar. I purchased a diet Mt. Dew. Grandpa bought a bag of orange circus peanuts candies.
“What are those for?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t be buying them for himself, having lost his sense of taste.
“Lisa,” he responded. “Kind of like a peace offering for not finding Brown Sugar.”
When we got home we discovered the yams were in the oven. Thank goodness for neighbors that thought ahead for any possible Christmas necessity.
We decided to eat around the table! I know how shocking that is to everyone that knows my family. We are the kind of people who use the living room as our dining room and the TV as our excuse not to speak to each other. Having a neutral party in the room as we eat (like any TV show that happens to be airing at the time) keeps us focused on the small screen and not each other’s personality and character flaws.
The food was spread out on the table. It all came together perfectly. I even mashed the potatoes. It is my belief the potatoes were the highlight of Christmas dinner - something I had to point out during the consumption of the food thus forcing everyone sitting around me to dispense compliments, sincere or not.
We gathered around the table for formal blessing of the food. Grandma had the honors, considering she was the least haggard of the group. We bowed our heads and folded our arms. She started.
Half way through the prayer a cell phone rang, right in the section where she was thanking the good Lord for her children, grand children and all her other many blessings. We looked up and saw something so disturbing it put many of us off our food. There stood Grandma with her hand down her blouse. Her hand was fumbling around in her bra looking for her cell phone. I’m proud of her though. She kept saying the prayer, paying no attention to the fact that everyone else in the house was staring at her in shock. The teenagers started laughing, then did their best to stifle the laughs when they saw she wasn’t going to abort the prayer.
We started eating. There were uncomfortable pauses as we stared at each other. We quickly exhausted polite conversation and quickly descended into commentary on each other and others not present who couldn’t defend themselves. Those with weak nerves ate quickly and asked to be excused. The rest of us continued for some time, stopping only when the food was cold and orders were going out for the cleaning.
It was an interesting Christmas day. Its all over now. Christmas 2009 is a thing of the past.
I’m hoping this Boxing Day finds everyone in good spirits and health. Unfortunately I’ve fallen victim to a bad cold. I felt fine this morning, even went on an invigorating 45 minute walk. Right after the walk I felt the start of a sore throat. So, I have the pleasure of keeping a sore throat company, along with its companion, the runny nose.
We stopped at the Piggly Wiggly earlier today. My mother found a homeopathic treatment for the relief of symptoms associated with the flu and cold. The name is long, taking up the entire front label of the box. I wondered why the French makers of this stuff couldn’t come up a name easily remembered. Wouldn’t be in their best commercial interests to give a product a name simple enough for their costumers to use when they recommend it to their friends and family? If you called me right now and asked me I could only tell you the name is long, it starts with an O, and the package is orange and white. I’m hoping this medicine, along with my Coldeze and the occasional swig of DayQuill will keep me functioning.
So, good night friends. I'm enjoying my holiday from the Other World. Wish you were all here in Cloverdale with me.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
This was the day for my annual drive to Capital City to do my last minute Christmas Shopping.
Normally I take the train but considering the number of gifts I had to buy I realized I needed all the trunk space I could get. I got into my Lincoln early this morning and ventured north on Highway 1. My radio was tuned to Radio Cloverdale's nonstop day of Christmas Carols. I was hoping for a quick trip up and back, and no scars to show for it.
Today my eyes were open to the horrors of modern urban life outside my tranquil live in Cloverdale. Capital City's traffic reminded me of New York City. Cars everywhere. So many in fact there were times I just held my breath, said a quick "Hail Mary" and pressed on the gas hoping someone in the never ending line of oncoming traffic would take pity on an old duffer in a big Lincoln and let me in unmolested. It worked, for the most part. I was only honked at twice. I felt pretty good about that.
The lines at the traffic lights stretched forever. So far in fact that sometimes I'd get in the turning lane for a light you couldn't see in the distance. I inched my way up over several light cycles until it was my turn to turn. Even then I rarely got the green arrow. It was usually me pulling out into the intersection where I'd wait for a break in the oncoming traffic to make my turn. That was dangerous in its own right. Today the break rarely came so I'd sit there until my light changed from green to yellow and finally to red. Of course, I didn't dare go on the yellow, or the red. I had to wait until I was sure the oncoming traffic was stopped. That usually meant holding up traffic from the other two directions. Pleasant isn't a word I'd use to describe the mood of the cars waiting for my hugh Battlestar to maneuver the turn, catch the wind and sail free of the intersection.
Finding a parking place was laughable. Luckily I planed ahead for that and brought hiking boots, a canteen and energy bars for the long trek from the last parking place in the 30 acre lot to the store's entrance. I'm happy to report that WalMart was prepared and had drink and first aid stations set up at regular intervals throughout the lot to rescue and rehydrate exhausted hikers. It was so bad at the Capital City South WalMart that the Salvation Army swapped the Red Kettle and bell ringer for a 50 cot MASH aid station caring for the holiday's shopping casualties. I stopped for a moment to take a whiff or two of pure oxygen. A nurse took my blood pressure. I think I was OK. They let me go.
The interior of the stores were a nightmare. Shopping carts were everywhere, leading dazed shoppers aimlessly around the store in a macabre version of bumper cars, only with carts. Children swung from the overhead light fixtures, giving one the feeling of jungle life. Every check out was open, even the ones not used since the middle of the Cold War. They were the ones with the big, non computerized cash registers where the cashier had to manually enter each price into the machine. Forget any sense of accuracy. Every employee of the store was manning a register so forget getting help with an item. It was a mad house. Some shoppers paid a bit extra for the shopping carts with GPS units attached so they could be found if they didn't return within a certain amount of time. The local Search and Rescue Teams were on hand to "go in" if necessary.
In one store the managers stood on tall ladders in every department directing traffic up and down the aisles with large megaphones and exaggerated arm waving. I found the fire brigade and paramedics at another store. They were called in to treat the wounded from a multi cart pile up near frozen foods. It was ugly, bodies everywhere, not to mention the horror of seeing civilization nearly break down completely as other shoppers were arrested for picking through the purses and wallets of the fallen. It was horrible. A sad commentary of modern life.
By the time I reached Target I was nearly done for. It seemed all was lost. It seemed the world was at an end. I began wondering if life was still worth living. I got out of my car a good 3 miles from the store's doors and started to walk. What I saw caused my heart to numb. Bodies of shoppers everywhere. Some half in their cars and half out, others overcome while loading their purchases in their trunks. The smell of exhaustion's fumes tainted the air. I felt all holiday joy ebbing from my body. I sank to the tarmac ground, I could hear the sound of wild, rabid dogs nearby. I thought all was lost.... and then, a miracle. I heard singing. It was coming from my left. It was the sound of Christmas carols.
I struggled to my feet. Pulling every ounce of strength out of my being I walked. Ten minutes later I came into a clearing. In front of me was a congregation of shoppers, all gathered around what appeared to be a Priest standing high on the top of a large Hummer. He led the crowd in holiday songs and urged us onward. He reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas. He told us that with God on our side nothing was impossible.
"Remember your families waiting for you back home," he shouted. "Don't forsake them. Find the strength to continue. Do it for them. DO IT FOR THEM!"
The crowd cheered. I felt new breath filling my lungs. Yes, I could get through this day. I could make it back to Cloverdale. Yes, this could still be a Happy Christmas.
With my new found strength I persevered and finished what I had to do. I made it home. All is well now. All is well.
Happy Christmas Friends. May your Holidays be full of fun, good food and good company.
Rejoice and be Merry. Mormon Tabernacle Choir
For Unto Us a Child is Born. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
For Unto Us a Child is Born. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The village was on hand at the train station Friday night to welcome the arrival of the decorated Coastal Express. DunceRail decorates all the Confederacy’s trains one week before Christmas. The Holiday Trains run until January 2nd.
A crowd filled the station’s waiting room and platforms. The Comprehensive School’s band greeted arriving villagers at the front door by played Christmas Carols. The Kicking Donkey Pub’s waitresses ran back and forth between the station and the Pub taking and filling drink and food orders. The elderly from the Nearly There Home for the Elderly and Infirmed sat in their van. It was too cold to stand outside. Their matron kept them supplied with candy canes. They sang Christmas carols, accompanied by a cassette of Lawrence Welk’s Christmas favorites. Piggly Wiggly served Hot Cocoa and sticky buns on one end of the waiting room. The Red Owl Grocery Store served hot cider and rolls on the other.
I found a seat near a make shift stage near the ticket window. This year's pre-train arrival entertainment was supplied by the village's school children. At 7:25 P.M. the Confederacy Primary School’s Head Master walked onto the wobbly stage. He tapped on the microphone several times then spoke.
“Attention, Attention. Let’s quiet down now." Of course, nobody listened. He tapped on the mic several more times. Each time unsuccessful.
“Come on folks. Quiet Please. Quiet,” he continued. He wasn’t getting any cooperation from the crowd. The train master saw the situation, walked up to the mic and blew his whistle. That got everyone’s attention. The Headmaster thanked the Station Master then read the entertainment schedule. He read a short poem he'd written himself just for the occasion. It was unremarkable and easily forgotten. He received a few grunts and a couple of half hearted "Well Dones," from his Parent Advisory Council members who happened to be in attendance. He bowed then hastily disappeared behind the curtain (a blanket attached to a rope by clothes pins).
Four sixth graders appeared from behind the curtain and walked to the microphone. Each holding a script. Natalie Uppers stepped forward to the mic.
“Hello friends, villagers and countryman. We are the advanced reading group at Confederacy Primary School. You must read on a tenth grade level before you can attend the advanced reading group. I read once that the average adult reads on an 8th grade level. That means that the four of us read better than half of all of you,” she said as she slowly moved her hand over the heads of the audience. The adults in the crowd looked at each other wondering who the children belonged to. Their parents chose a quick retreat and disappeared into the restrooms.
“Tonight we are going to take turns reading excerpts from Charles Dicken’s classic tale of greed and redemption. Can anyone guess what I’m talking about?” She looked into the villager’s faces. Blank stares were returned. She looked quite pleased. She turned and a gave her fellow advanced readers a look of sheer delight. They answered by smiling and turning up their noses a few degrees to show their obvious superiority.
“A Christmas Carol,” I shouted. She turned and looked at me in surprise.
“That’s right, ah.... Good Guess..... ahhh, you must have seen the movie,” she responded.
“No, I read the book,” I replied. "You are the only ones that can read in this village," I added.
“But that’s college level reading?” she said in a shocked, whispered voice. The crowd was silent. Everyone was looking at me. I stood and waved as if I were the Grand Marshall in a parade of fools. I sat back down and looked at the young girl before the microphone. Her eyes shot daggers back.
The girl's embarrassed mother started a brief round of polite applause to break the tension. The girl started reading her excerpt from the book. She read well, with outstanding voice inflection. I gave her two thumbs up for the effort when she finished.
Thirty minutes passed. The third reader was at the microphone embarrassing himself by overacting the part of the Ghost of Christmas Past. He was a small boy with round glasses and mismatched socks as seen through his floods. To everyone's relief, a train whistle was heard in the distance.
“The Train, The Train,” a small midget wearing a white suit shouted from somewhere in the crowd. The holiday gathering surged forward toward the already full platform. I’m really not sure people whether people were pushing to get outside to see the train or to get away from the Advanced Readers. I’m not one for fighting a crowd so I stayed behind to pick up another sticky bun and hot cocoa.
Just after my first sip of vanilla chocolate I heard a tapping on glass. I turned and saw the Station Master waving at me from behind the ticket window. The door next to the window opened.
“Come on,” he said. I didn’t make him ask twice. I’ve known the gentleman for several years, being one of his better customers with my weekly trips between Cloverdale and The Other World. He took me up the stairs to his office. He had a large window overlooking the tracks. We stood in the window looking at the crowd below. The pushing and shoving was getting out of hand. Several of the weaker were pushed right off the platform onto the tracks below. The constables were unable to control the situation. The train was getting closer, blowing its whistle and ringing its bell. I saw the public announcement microphone on the desk next to the door.
“May I?” I asked the Station Master.
“Knock Yourself Out,” he replied.
I picked up the mic and flipped on the “All Call”. I cleared my throat and spoke.
“Attention, Attention. The Station’s Restrooms will close in 5 minutes and The Kicking Donkey would like to announce the extension of tonight’s Happy Hour for the next 10 minutes. It’s discounted Holiday Cheer at the Kicking Donkey. Make it a great night while you can.” With that I put the microphone down.
One forth of the crowd returned to the waiting room to use the restrooms. Another forth left the building entirely to take advantage of the extended Happy Hour at the Kicking Donkey. Of course, my announcement was a lie but it had the desired effect. The pushing and shoving on the platform eased and the Coastal Express pulled into the station on time.
The train was beautifully decorated both inside and out. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Santa emerged from the engine itself. He climbed a ladder leading to the top of a box car and threw handfuls of salt water taffy into the crowd from his red velvet bag.
“What a Great Railroad,” the Station Master said as he admired this new twist to the Christmas Train's arrival.
I turned to agree but before I said anything I was hit by a piece of well thrown salt water taffy on the side of my head.
“Who threw that?” I shouted from the window. Then I saw her. It was the leader of the Advanced Readers from the school. She was making her escape through the churning crowd. She glanced up at me from over her shoulder. I pointed to her then pointed to my eyes, telling her that I had her in my sights. She stuck out her tongue and disappeared.
The Coastal Express stayed for a few minutes to drop off and pick up new passengers. At 8:05 the whistle blew and the train lurched forward to its next stop at Dibley on the Downs. That ended Friday’s excitement. All that was left was a short walk home and bed.
On a side note, I filled my pockets on the way home with unwrapped black licorice taffies thrown into the snow by the village’s children. Their “I hate those” are “My Favorites”.