Tuesday, December 27, 2005


We dashed out of the cold wind and into the warm building. We'd been driving all day and some leg stretching was in order, so a walk through Wal Mart it was. However, as we left the car, we realized that the warm Dallas winter we'd left behind had slowly transformed into the cold Missouri one. Joy.

I reached into my pocket and realized that my phone wasn't there. No worries, I was sure it was in the car.

But it wasn't. Nor was it in the trunk. Nor under the seat, or in the glove box. I was without phone.

All things considered, it was a great weekend. I'd just met the rest of Darcy's family. We had a plesant Christmas. We were headed home. No disasters, problems or spats. All was peaceful under the heavens.

So in order to add a little spice to my life, I decided to drop my phone somewhere in Oklahoma.

I handled it well -- for six seconds. What if mom was calling? What if work needed me? What if someone had it and was calling 1-900-SPANKME? What the hell was I going to do?

"It's okay," Darcy said. "I'm sure someone turned it in. If not, just call Sprint tomorrow and have them shut off the phone."

"But I need a phone." I said.

"Why?" Darcy said.

"Because. I need one."

"Who's going to call you? Why do you need one now?"

"Because that's the number I give out. People know to reach me there. I need a phone, dang it!"

"I don't think the world will end if you don't have a phone," Darcy said while smiling.

"I'll be cut off from society; I'll cease to exist! I'll be a giant hole in the space-time continuum!"

"You're so cute." Darcy said.

So maybe I didn't wink out of existence, but I'm feeling lost and somewhat naked without a cell phone. I don't have the reassuring weight in my pocket; no one can reach me RIGHT NOW. Dear God, I'll have to listen to the radio while driving! Lord, give me strength. And now I learn that if I wait until Sunday, I can get an extra $75 off a new phone.

Of course, this could be a positive experience. Perhaps between now and Sunday I'll learn to cherish the silence; I'll have to be a little more careful in planning my time out, but I can manage, and if I need to call someone, I go home or I use a pay phone. Sure, I could embrace the simplicity forced upon me and enjoy the freedom, but I'll probably end up like the guy in the Shawshank Redemption who hung himself because he couldn't handle it.

However, I'm pretty certain I'm going to lose my damned mind between now and then. If you see someone hustling down the street, glancing furtively to the left and right, while talking to himself, take pity on him. It could be me, so kindly take my shoelaces, belt and any matches or sharp objects. I'll thank you later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Random Stuff, Take 99

Happy Holidays!

A few pre-Christmas random notes before I head out of town again:

  • What’s with all the anti-Christmas hysteria? You hear all the conservative gasbags going on about how Christmas is under attack because people say “Happy Holidays”. Note to assorted windbags: Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve. Last time I checked, that’s four – count ‘em – four separate holidays. Therefore, if you say “Happy Holiday,” you’d look like a fool – there being four holidays and all. I looked it up: the plural of “holiday” is “holidays”. So here’s a suggestion – TONE DOWN THE FUCKING RHETORIC FOR ONCE! That way, we might take you seriously when you babble on about all the other made-up crap, like the liberal media, the war on terror and judicial activism.
  • Better yet -- how about not worrying about what Target, Wal Mart, K-Mart, S-Mart, Joe's Lamp Shack and Billy Bob's House of Knives does to acknowledge Christmas and just try making the season as pleasant as possible for you and those around you.
  • Lesson learned from writing the book – have an actual idea before starting. Paper-thin plots pretty much die by word 15,000. I’ll be at it again next year, though.
  • Charlie Brown Christmas? It still rocks – 40 years after it first aired.
  • Four days of little to no sleep = messed up sleep schedule. Messed-up sleep schedule + post-Vegas exhaustion = pre-Christmas cold.
  • I hate Kohl’s.
  • I also hate Christmas shopping. Next year, it’s all online, baby!
  • I still believe in Walt Jocketty, but I’m starting to get kind of nervous.
  • Don’t give suckers the benefit of the doubt. Odds are, they’re just as stupid as they look and act. (More on this later)
  • Have a safe and wonderful holiday, everyone. Enjoy the time with your friends and families.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tree Memories - Pt. III

It’s three weeks before Christmas; carols have taken over the radio, a winter chill has settled in, keeping people cloistered in their homes, huddled against the cold. Everyone, that is, except for me – my fingers were numb.

Why were they numb? Because I was reaching up through the moon roof of Darcy’s car, holding her 8-1/2-foot tall tree on the roof. Despite thick gloves and heat blazing from the vents, airflow at 35 MPH treated my gloves like tissue paper, but I wasn’t deterred – my death grip kept the damned tree solidly against the car’s body as we inched closer to home.

How did I get into this predicament? Well, let’s set the clock back a week. Darcy wanted a tree for her apartment – a live tree; a tall tree; a fresh tree. Meaning we were going to a cut-your-own-tree lot. When she suggested this, I pointed out the obvious flaw in her plan:

“Let’s be honest, sweetie,” I said. “When they say cut-your-own tree, they probably should say Brian-cuts-down your tree.”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “But can we go?”

Again, rather than waste time with just saying no, pointing out how it’s a waste of gas, a waste of time and damned cold outside, I folded like a piece of paper. Sure, pride is nice, but grumbling aside, since I decided to not hate Christmas this year, and it would make Darcy happy, then tree shopping it is.

And there but for the grace of God I went – to a tree lot over in Illinois.

The car ride was uneventful, except that since we were in her car, we listened to Christmas music the entire time. Now, I don’t mind “classic” Christmas music; however the new stuff – mostly stuff written in the past ten years or so – really stinks. Mariah Carey warbling about something; Faith Hill – ugh. And of course, the most hated version of all – Stevie Nicks croaking Silent Night. It sounds like frogs fucking.

So we arrived at the tree lot – trucks as far as the eye can see. We go to the cashier, pick up a saw, hop on the trailer being dragged by the tractor and off we went into the wilds of Eckert's tree lot.

The cold wind blew into the 30-40 of us huddled on the trailer. I pet the large dog lounging beside me -- there were two dogs on the trailer; I'd bring my dog, except that she'd run off, trying to urinate on every tree on the lot. Between that and the "presents" she'd leave for everyone, and we might not be welcomed back, so Trudy remained behind.

We walked around, seeing various trees. Finally we found It -- green, tall, fluffy. It stood out amongst the other trees - taller, fuller. It was the One.

Next thing I knew, I was on my knees before it, sawing through the trunk, and soon, the tree was down (fortunately, not on top of me -- kind of was afraid of that). Soon, we were in line, paying for the tree.

As we left, I grabbed several strands of twine -- we had no other means of tying the tree to the car, so twine it was, and after several minutes of knotting, weaving, wrapping, we climbed into the car and drove. For about a half mile, when we stopped to re-tie the tree. Two miles later, we stopped again.

The tree kept swaying to and fro on top of the car. This wasn't good, considering we still had several miles of highway to cover before getting the tree safely to Darcy's apartment. After stop number three, I was reaching up through the moon roof, holding the tree on the car. We needed help - and soon.

Salvation came in the form of a nursery that sold trees. We pulled into the lot, and Darcy appealed to their kind natures, while I slinked off, not wanting to be pointed out as the guy who couldn't tie a tree on a car. After he finished tying the tree back on, I belly crawled back to the passenger side door and we made a clean getaway.

The tree fastened to the roof, it was off to Darcy's apartment, where we put it up and added the lights. The next night we decorated it. Then we redecorated it the next night after it fell over in the middle of the night.

I'm still not a big tree fan. As we worked on it, I could feel my sinuses filling up and my head starting to swim. Allergies rock. And in a few weeks, we'll need to take it down. However, the experience wasn't as traumatic as it might have been, and any chance I get to spend time with Darcy is well worth it.

However, I still don't want to carry the damn thing out of her apartment. I'm nothing if not lazy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tree Memories - Pt. II

Sometime in September, it became increasingly obvious that Darcy wasn’t going to dump my ass by the holidays. This, by the way, is a very good thing; however, my past relationship history generally keeps me peeking over my shoulder.

In any case, we began discussing the holidays, and I soon learned that Darcy loves Christmas. She. Loves. Christmas.

This is kind of a funny contrast to me, who, as I said before, likes the family time, the food (Lord, do I love the food – rub the belly! Look at it jiggle! Roll, fat roll! Err . . . I digress), and the giving and receiving of presents, but I couldn’t care less about the stores, commercials, bad Christmas music and the tree.

Yes, the tree. My fingers and toes turned numb just thinking of the tree, and now my girlfriend is suggesting that I go out and buy one. I needed a distraction; I needed time to think, to clear my head, I needed to say something so brilliant that it would put it out of her mind completely for the rest of time.

“Um – I’ll think about it,” is what came out.

“If you have a tree, I’ll want to spend more time at your house. Otherwise, I won’t come over as much,” was her response.

“Err – I’ll think about it?” kept rearing its ugly head. And so we tabled the discussion until Thanksgiving.

I had some extra time that morning; my services weren’t required for the parade, so Darcy and I lounged around watching television and reading the paper.

“Lowe’s has an artificial pre-lit tree on sale for $25,” she said.

“So?” I came back with. Probably not the best response, but I had turkey on the brain. Sweet, sweet turkey, with stuffing and cranberries and . . . .

“I think you should buy it. While it’s so cheap.”

“But I don’t want a tree”

“Yes, you do! We’re going to enjoy this Christmas, and I want you to have a tree here!” is basically what she said. So I looked her right in the eye, gathered my resolve and folded like a piece of paper.

But hey – since I was going to lose the fight anyway, why not save a few bucks in the process? I’m nothing if not practical.

Up bright and early Friday morning. Had to beat the shoppers. Had to beat the shoppers. What’s my damn problem? Lowe’s isn’t going to be infested with crazed shoppers drunk from turkey and lack of sleep; maybe a few surly contractors who need to get some work done, but crazed post-Thanksgiving shoppers? Not so much.

And I was right – sort of. It took awhile to get past Crestwood Mall, where the cars lined up and down Watson, patiently waiting to get in before all the stuff was gone. Because, you know, stores sell out of everything for the rest of time unless you make it there at 3:00 AM.

So I bought my tree (and I went to the casino to kill a few hours and not deal with traffic --- and I won $50 – thereby paying for the tree). And last weekend, we finally set it up, and decorated it.

All I had for this tree was lights – no ornaments or anything, so my beautiful girlfriend bought me the coolest ornaments ever – Star Wars and Batman ornaments! This rules. Then we went out and bought some generic ornaments along with a tree topper – a model of a robot with huge guns! Robots rule! I was going to have the coolest tree ever.

We returned home; I walked the dog and popped The Two Towers in the DVD player – I needed a little Christmas decoration movie for inspiration. We assembled the tree and plugged it in. And a strand of lights didn’t work.

Unfazed, Darcy tugged at the strand, and they came on for a second – but only for a second. Remaining calm, I checked the instructions. It was either the bulbs or the fuse. I hoped for the fuse and tried replacing it. And failed – because I have REAL FREAKING FINGERS!!! Apparently, they designed these lights for the wee people, because you can’t change the fuse, unless you have needles for fingers. What the hell were they thinking?

I started tugging at bulbs, feeling frustration and anger mounting. But before I blew, I realized I was becoming my father, which brought be back from the ledge. I put the burned-out strand on my to-do list, and we sat in the glow of the tree lights, contemplating warfare and politics in Middle-Earth. Well, I did; Darcy fell asleep.

So I have a tree. Sure it’s artificial, sparsely decorated and kind of small, but I have a tree, and I didn’t traumatize myself while putting it up! Progress! Bring on the next challenge!

Little did I know that the next tree challenge was only a few short hours away . . .

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tree Memories - Pt. I

Almost immediately after Thanksgiving, you could feel it starting: Dad would whistle Christmas carols. A few days later, he’d start clearing a space in the living room. Then he’d dig all the boxes of ornaments out a few days after that. Then the moment came when we could no longer ignore it; the moment we all dreaded – it was time to go tree shopping.

When Mike and I were very young, Mom would start bundling us up early: sweaters, gloves, socks, mittens, socks, coats, hoods, hats, scarves, boots and socks covered every inch of flesh – except for a tiny hole around our faces. As we moved outside, steam would fountain out of the hole. We looked like dolphins with feet, lumbering around the tree lots.

At the first of several tree lots, Dad would inspect each tree, eyeing it critically, making sure it lived up to standards agreed upon – by his committee of one – years ago. He’d stand the tree up and look at it standing out against the sky, and then he would comment on how small it looked – failing to realize that to the sky, everything looks kind of small. To me, it looked huge – towering over us, occasionally obscured by a jet of exhaling steam, but it was big. It was green, and it was a tree. And I could no longer feel my fingers.

But the trees wouldn’t stand up to their inspection. A small bald spot here, brown needles there, and by lot three, I’d lost sensation in my feet. And the search continued, until we found the Tree. Up until now, I couldn’t have cared much less about the damn tree. However, watching them bundle it was the most fascinating thing ever. Cutting the bottom off and then shoving the tree through the chute so it came out wrapped was (and still is) the coolest thing ever. I know – I’m a geek.

The tree would come home and stand up in the corner of the living room. We’d remove the lights from their assorted boxes and begin untangling the Gordian knots. And the fun began.

My father was a wonderful man who loved us dearly. He was extremely intelligent and loved greatly by his students and fellow teachers. He knew more about history than I can ever hope to know. But the man couldn’t use a hammer to save his life. Any project involving carpentry, electrical work or plumbing involved much cursing, stomping and several attempts. So when the lights didn’t work, Dad would be chipper no more. Cussing, and stomping and complaining lead to a trip to Target, where we’d buy new lights, and inevitably, a strand wouldn’t work, continuing the process.

But afterwards, the tree would be up, gently glowing in the corner of the room. Dad would sit in there with it; heck, we all did – it was relaxing to sit in the dim twinkling lights. By Christmas, the tree had worked its magic and I was suffering from pneumonia while Mom and Mike were nursing colds. The allergen factory had to go.

This process continued yearly, but as we grew older, it grew less smooth. Add a little teenage sullenness to Dad’s frustration with all things electric and you can imagine how the scene played out. But even grudgingly, we’d help put the tree up.

Because Dad loved Christmas; he loved the idea of the family being together and celebrating the holidays together. He loved Christmas carols, trees, lights and just the time of the year. And while we may laugh it off now and complained about it growing up, we knew where he was coming from. He did these things because he loved us and wanted us to look back on Christmastime as something special and magical. But by then, my heart had been poisoned off the holidays.

Spend several years working retail around Christmas, and if anything will beat holiday love out of you, it’s some crazed semi-drunk shopper blaming you that he waited until the 23rd to buy his kids the must-have toy of the year. If that doesn’t do it, working the return desk will. So sometime during high school and college, I developed something of a –meh- attitude about the holidays. I liked giving and receiving presents, and I liked spending time with my family, but that was as far as I could take it.

I think it frustrated Dad to no end that we all felt the same about it. Eventually, we switched to an artificial tree, and every year, two weeks before Christmas, Dad would put it up. We’d return from college or come to visit after we’d moved out and the tree would be up. A few weeks later, it would come down.

After Dad died, we never set the tree up again. We still celebrated the holidays, but there were no trappings – it was purely a utilitarian celebration: gifts exchanged, dinner eaten, and then we’d go to the boats – you know, a traditional Christmas celebration.

I never saw a reason to put a tree up in my assorted apartments or house after I moved out, so I never did. And so things continued. Until this year.