Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It is hard out here

We got ants in our pants and we need to dance, Torn Slatterns and Nugget Ranchers

Sadly, Singer James Brown passed away at 73. Do you know what got him? Ironically, he didn’t feel good.

That should do it
NBC has a new reality TV show where contestants are picked to play the lead roles in a Broadway production of “Grease” called “You’re The One That I Want.” This is for people who thought “Dancing With The Stars” just wasn’t gay enough.

Not since then:
The Miami Dolphins lost to the New York Jets 13-10 in a pathetic display of quarterbacking by both the Jets Chad Pennington and the Dolphins Joey Harrington. In fact this was the worst display of quarterback inability since Ryan Leaf was drafted.

Since you asked, Holiday spirit:
We had a wonderful Christmas and Christmas dinner yesterday. Our good friends and next door neighbors invited us over. It was a modern-day Norman Rockwell painting. Really nice folks laughing and telling stories. Afterwards we sat around and sang Christmas Carols complete with a black Labrador named Sidney wagging his tail in time with the music. Our eight-year-old, Ann Caroline, loved it. No, in case you were worried for our neighbors, I did not sing.

A tradition was also started last night where everyone takes turn holding a silver bell, you say what you hope for in the new year, ring the bell and pass it on. The hopes ranged from the silly – mine – to a mother’s tearful prayer that her beautiful daughter’s cancer will go away.

Our neighbor, Mike, brought up a good point that gifts are important at Christmas, and he was right. His point was that gifts come from people for people and they offer tangible expressions of care and love.

With the crushing onslaught of barely-post-Halloween Christmas advertising and the blood- thirsty competition for the Christmas dollar, it is easy to grow cynical and weary of the commercialism of selling Christmas.

But what could be more wonderful than the sight of my beautiful daughter on Christmas morning unwrapping her doll and beaming with joy?

Who doesn’t remember their favorite Christmas present?

In third grade, I was obsessed with getting a metallic-gold Schwinn five-speed Stingray with a banana seat and upright handlebars with a windshield. From the second I saw it posed at some magical place called Knotts Berry Farm in the Schwinn catalog, it was pure love.

When you ask your parents for an unreasonable gift, like a pony or a real gun or knife, they give you the instant and emphatic no. But when they give you the “We’ll see . . .” that is as a good as a yes. And that is what my parents, despite my unrelenting pleading, gave me constantly, “We’ll see . . .” That shiny gold Stingray was as good as mine.

Christmas morning I flew down the stairs with the image of the Stingray parked by the tree dancing in my head. But when I ran into the living room and I saw the tree, something was horribly wrong. No bike.

In a split second my heart sank and my throat clutched tight.

But a split second later, something wonderful happened: as I looked over at my parents standing there drinking their coffee and smiling in their bathrobes and pajamas, I decided that I was simply not going to ruin Christmas with a tantrum or even a snivel or whine, even though the hugest part of me was screaming to do just that.

It was right then and there that I realized that Christmas and my parents were much more important to me than any bicycle could ever be. With the most self-control I’d ever had to muster in all of my eight years, I sat down, smiled, opened and handed out presents and had a great time, even though the whole while, I still had the bike in my mind.

Finally, to get on with my life, I decided that my parents were absolutely right to teach me this hard but valuable lesson. You shouldn’t get something that you want too much. Maybe I would get the bike for my August 15th birthday, which at that time seemed about ten to twenty years away.

After all the presents, even the stockings, were opened, my Dad casually said;

“Oh, Alex, I think there might be one more thing.”

Just as pretty as you please, Dad walked to the back of the living room by the book shelves and, lo and behold, hiding on the carpet behind the couch, he produced the most beautiful shiny metallic gold Stingray with a banana seat and upright handlebars - complete with a windshield - anyone has ever seen. My vertical leap improved three feet on the spot and I didn’t come down for over a month.

To put it in perspective, I was so happy I decided to forgive my parents for cruelly torturing me for one hour, which, in little-kid-wanting-a-bike-for-Christmas time is about, oh, eight days.

That bike had been given to me and then taken away and then given back all in about one hour’s time. And my parents got the gift of pride at seeing their head-strong, typically self-absorbed eight-year-old boy swallow his disappointment and put the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial, to quote the lady searching for the fire engine at Macys in “Miracle on 34th Street."

That bike has long been destroyed by rust and decay, but the image of that Christmas is still strong as it was that morning. It was also our first not-white Christmas after five years in Winnetka which was just fine with me because, with no snow, and temperatures in the unseasonably warm mid-forties, I could ride my new bike all day. It was a veritable Christmas miracle.

Christmas is about gifts. Especially to those in need of a little help. No, you don’t love an object like you love a relative, spouse, friend or pet. But, as any car freak can tell you, or the woman gazing at her beautiful engagement ring, or the young family who just bought their first house, the love of an inanimate object ain’t always all that far behind.

And you should have seen the look on the neighborhood bully Tommy Berger's face when he saw that bike.

Now that is a treasured memory.

P.S. There will never, ever be another James Brown. Why should there be? There wasn’t anything like him before him. The man was a born entertainer/singer/dancer/rock star. Sure, he had personal demons, which is being-nice-to-a-dead-guy talk for an alcoholic drug addict, but he was also an amazing artist and philanthropist.

My favorite James Brown story is that the Rolling Stones were asked if they would care to go on before James Brown on a variety show. Jagger bristled saying the Stones did not go on before anyone. Suit yourself, came the reply.

Well, Brown came out and tore the lid off the dump, including his patented being-carried-from-the-stage-wrapped-in-a-coat-rushing-back-to-the-stage-falling-to-his-knees ending.

A horrified Mick Jagger at first refused to try and follow James Brown, but when told of the inevitable breach-of-contract lawsuit, the Stones went out. Until this point, Jagger was strictly a sing-at-the-microphone-stand singer like the Beatles and everyone else at the time.

Faced with the daunting task of trying to follow Brown, Jagger, for the first time, abandoned his normal act and jumped, and flounced and strutted and rooster walked and essentially invented what he still does today.

P.P.S: Funniest thing on television this year? “SNL’s” “My D*ck in a Box”