Stuff I think

Recently, the Daily News’ Kevin Modesti wrote a piece called “Nine Things to Look Forward to in 2009.” You can read that along with a goofy, collage thing that I made to go with it at the bottom of this page.

Kevin is just a damn fine writer and I am no match for his pithy (the most overused word of 2008) wit, but it did make me think about some stuff. So, I’ll try to put that stuff into some 2009 kind of context.

Disclaimer: The following may well be somewhat less-than-Modesti-optimistic and you might rather go here.

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A Christmas Storage

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and back then, I won’t give away my age here but it was sometime during the last ice age, we pretty much counted on a white Christmas every year.

It was a time when sea levels were much lower than they are now and there was a land bridge between North America and Asia.

And it snowed in the winter. A lot.

It snowed so much that we never wondered if we would have a white Christmas or not. We rarely wondered if we would have a white Thanksgiving.

We just did.

For some reason, even though there was already snow on the ground on Christmas Eve, the universe would dump another foot or two overnight as if to make sure that six-year-olds, with brand-new sleds, would have plenty of virgin power to test them out in.

Nearly every memory I have of Christmas, as a kid growing up in that great, white north was just extraordinary, bordering on supernatural. I’m sure that’s true of most kids growing up in middle class America during the last ice age. But there is something otherworldly about waking up on Christmas morning before the sun, standing in the twinkling light of the Christmas tree, looking out the front door and not being able to see the steps up to the front porch.

There are no streets or curbs or sidewalks. There is only a single, unbroken blanket of fizzy brilliance as snowflakes the size of silver dollars fall silently and constantly straight down, as if in slow motion.

This morning, Linda and I went out to a local Starbucks for coffee and just outside the door was a young girl, probably about 13-years-old, sitting on what was clearly a brand-new Christmas bicycle and guarding a second one nearby, likely belonging to her older sister.

As I passed her I asked, “Is that a new Christmas bike you have there?”


Of course it was. Once inside Linda and I talked about how a new bike had to be one of the ultimate Christmas presents a kid could get. I told her that we never got bikes for Christmas because you couldn’t use it for another 6 months. You’d just sit in the basement and look at it and dream about summer as an ice storm raged outside.

Standard Christmas gifts for kids growing up in the great, white north during the last ice age were, sleds, toboggans, ice skates and usually some new mittens or boots or a scarf.

The way I remember it, we weren’t rich or even as well off as more than half the kids I knew at school, but the economy was pretty good during the last ice age and we all loved Christmas.

One of the things that has stayed with me for all these millennia was the excitement of dragging all the boxes of Christmas lights and decorations down from the attic. Opening up those boxes and taking out all the ornaments meant Christmas was finally and officially here and it always slammed me back to the year before.

I would remember putting those things away the year before like it was yesterday and then, there was the smell.

The scent of last year’s Christmas tree still lingered inside those boxes as if you’d just cut it down and rolled around in the sap.

Inevitably, in the haste to put an end to Christmas and return it to it’s tomb, some pine needles or maybe a small bit of a branch still attached to a bulb or an icicle would get packed away. I grew up loving the smell of the remnants of last year’s Christmas tree. It is still one of my favorite memories of Christmas as a kid.

Now, and for the past few years, Linda and I purposely take a piece of our tree from the current year and pack it away with all the ornaments and decorations.

The photo above is of the top of our tree from last year and a small slice of the trunk which we packed away on January 5, 2008 at about 4:45 p.m.

When we took it out of it’s storage tub a few weeks ago, it smelled awesome and as always, slammed me back to Christmases during the last ice age.

Merry Christmas Vanillaville

I’ve said this before but, we don’t belong here, not really.

For some reason, I not sure how, we ended up on this street, in this town. A place we sometimes like to call Vanillaville. Sometimes we call it Stepford.

We like to give it those names because really, only white people live here. And they’re all the same age and have the same number of kids and the same Lexus SUV with the little, white, silhouette decals of their family and their pets on their rear windshields.

Most of them have McCain/Palin stickers.

And they all seem to have the same kind of unconscious awareness. They robotically careen their Lexus’ around the wide avenues at high rates of speed, oblivious to anything around them, desperate to fill a prescription before the soccer game ends.

Some have cell phones which have actually merged cellularly with the subcutaneous tissue just under their scalp and will eventually have to be surgically removed, when their plans expire.

Freud would have a field day here.

We call this place Vanillaville and we call it’s residents oblivioids.

But one thing that the oblivioids of Vanillaville do well is Christmas.

The above photo is not the best representation of Vanillaville’s holiday zeal, it’s just one that I like and was taken directly across the street from my house on what could arguably be called Candy Cane Lane.

Driving around this town during Christmastime it’s hard to tell if it’s night or day. You don’t have to turn on your headlights and you may even reach for your sunglasses on some streets.

There are entire neighborhoods that you know, it’s really a competition. It’s a competition to see who can drain the power grid in Los Angeles County the fastest. Sometimes neighbors even join forces creating Christmas light block parties by stringing lights across the street from one house to the other, sharing the electric bill and showing up the Jones’ down the street.

They put huge Christmas trees at the end of the block complete with lights, ornaments and even presents. You actually have to drive over the extension cords to get around them.

It’s all really, quite, beautiful.

People decorate their houses with every imaginable kind of spangle and ornamentation. Most houses have those lights hanging from the rain gutters that are supposed to look like icicles and white, wicker reindeer grazing on the lawn.

But the trend for the past few years in Vanillaville at Christmastime is inflatable snowmen and Santa Clauses.

In addition to icicles and wicker reindeer my neighbor has both inflatable snowmen and an inflatable Santa Claus. One of them, I’m not sure which, actually has a motion detector built into it that plays “White Christmas” sung off key and at a too-slow tempo by what sounds like a wino on his second bottle of Thunderbird, whenever a leaf blows past in the yard.

The singer puts emphasis on the wrong beats so it sounds like, “I’m dREEEEAMMing of a whIIIIIte ChrismAAAASS!”

And as for Linda and I, well we go more for the retro, minimalist look.

We have a single strand of the large, old-style, teardrop shaped lights that accent the roofline of the house.

That’s it. All one color. Red.

We love Christmas too but we really don’t belong here, not really.

‘Where’s the time go?’

One of the holiday traditions Linda and I have, for one reason or another, developed over the past few years is to go to the Saugus Cafe on Christmas Eve morning for breakfast.

There’s nothing particularly festive about the Saugus Cafe. They don’t serve Panettone french toast or hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks and I don’t think you could get an eggnog there if you begged for it.

What they do serve for breakfast, and not just on Christmas Eve, is bacon and eggs, chicken fried steak and biscuits and gravy. Good, old-fashioned, stick-to-your-arteries comfort food, with heaping helpings of trans fat all smothered in cholesterol.

Yes, they serve breakfast, oh, and beer.

The Saugus Cafe is not without its charm and does have a bit of a storied past. They’ve been serving hardtack, jerky and hot coffee to cowboys, train robbers and various other drunkards since 1887.

Located along the Southern Pacific Branch line the building itself looks much like a rail dining car.

Inside, strong light spills onto the tables in booths along one side, diffused by picnic-basket-checkered drapes as 18-wheelers and Harleys roar past on San Fernando Rd.

Sipping burnt coffee from one of these booths you can almost feel the rocking of the rails and imagine the stands of live oaks and hilly, California countryside rolling by outside the window.

Last Christmas eve morning, Linda and I sat in one of those booths, contemplating the mayhem the next two days would bring over the last crust of a rye toast.

As we debated our own Christmas menu and exactly which brie goes best with Lebanese fig spread and candied walnuts, I noticed a rather elderly couple in the booth next to us.

Though not their real names I’m going to refer to them as Glenn and Lillian.

Finished with their breakfast, Glenn and Lillian sat quietly for quite some time except for the occasional tink, tink of Lillian’s spoon in her teacup.

Lillian was small and smartly dressed with her raincoat buttoned all the way up to her floral, silk scarf. Her pure, white, fresh-from-the-beauty parlor hair was neat and tidy with not one curl out of place and her bright, red lipstick was heavily applied without being smeary. There was a faint scent of Aqua Net.

She kept her hands folded and fingers intertwined as she continuously stared a hole into her teacup.

Glenn was large by any comparison and sat straddling the bench, one leg inside the booth, one out in the walkway. He wore a pair of shoddy, denim, carpenter pants stained by paint and steak sauce. His threadbare work boots were loose and untied, the frayed laces tangled in knots.

A holey, white t-shirt made no effort to conceal his bulbous middle.

Just then, a waitress cleared a few dishes and placed a bottle of Budweiser on the table. Glenn picks up the bottle and takes a long swig from it wincing almost as if in pain as he places it back on the table.

A few minutes pass and he exhales loudly as a way to camouflage a belch.

“Joe’s daughter Mary got married last weekend,” he spouts loud enough to be heard in St. Louis.

Lillian’s response is a speechless and muted, tink … tink.

A few more silent minutes go by save for a breathy belch or two.

Then Glenn picks up the Budweiser and takes another long swig this time recoiling as if he’s just swallowed gasoline as he puts the bottle down.

“Ehhhhhhhhhhh … heefffffffffffft.”

Another minute of silence passes before Glenn asks a question. The question is really more an acknowledgment and a protest.

It’s a question to which they both know the answer, but neither know the explanation.

“Where’s the time go?”

Tink, tink, tink.