Tag Archives: christmas

Lame Adventure 443: Test Time

Last month I had an annual checkup. I was wondering if my doctor might notice my fifteen-pound weight loss. She did:

My Doctor: You’ve lost seventeen pounds from a year ago!

Me (thinking): I was seventeen pounds heavier last year? That’s like packing a terrier!

My Doctor: This is terrific. For someone your age, it’s not an easy thing to do. What made you do it?

Me (thinking): Feeling like crap and looking like crap.

Me (saying): I thought things were going in the wrong direction.

I didn’t mention that my gastroenterologist had read me the riot act about my weight, prompting me to invest in a spin bike that I strenuously ride four times a week for forty minutes a session. In addition, I eat significantly healthier and do something highly un-American: practice portion control. I steer clear of processed foods. I am no longer on eating terms with cookies, chips and bread.

On my Do Not Eat list: beer flavored jelly beans.

Coincidentally on my Do Not Eat list: beer flavored jelly beans.

All year I have been predominantly eating organic: mountains of whole grain, acres of leafy greens and fields of fresh fruit. Gone are the days when I’d slap together a sandwich in twenty seconds and toss a banana in my satchel for lunch at The Grind. Now I spend over an hour preparing cous cous, sautéing tofu and steaming vegetables for a low calorie, nutritious mid-day meal.

Mid-day meal now: organic cous cous, mushrooms, kale and black beans.

Mid-day meal now: organic cous cous, mushrooms, kale and black beans.

As much as I hate cooking (and the subsequent clean-up), I hate feeling like flab on feet even more. Home cooking fresh ingredients is not only a cheap and healthy way to eat well but it keeps the lost weight off. My formula for staying fit is simple: eat less, eat well and exercise.

But now it is holiday season, a.k.a. eating season. My self-control will be sorely tested. I am not going to be eating less. That pimp, Trader Joe, has brought back one of my favorite seasonal indulgences: Brandy Beans.

Crummy iPhone photo (was not drunk when taking this image at The Grind).

Crummy iPhone photo (was not drunk when taking this image at The Grind).

I bought those the second I saw them — and brought them straight to The Grind. Sharing them with The Boss and my colleague, Godsend, allows me to eat them, but not inhaled in a single sitting, something that could happen if I were alone with them in my sanctum sanctorum.

I will be spending Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my long-time friend, Martini Max. With a name like that, he’s not the type who guzzles sarsaparilla. Max and I spend Thanksgiving Eve at his man-cave and Thanksgiving Day at his sister’s house. She makes a superb turkey basted in bourbon and butter. I am not much of a turkey fan. I think it’s rather bland, but turkey basted in bourbon and butter is quite tasty. If tradition prevails, Max and I will stuff ourselves royally on alcoholic beverages and appetizers. One year we ate so many deviled eggs, by the time dinner was served, they had expanded so exponentially they completely filled our intestinal cavities. I can say with authority that I know exactly what it feels like to be a hen. This coming Wednesday and Thursday are two days that I intend to thoroughly indulge, but I will practice restraint around those eggs.

In the weeks ahead, there will be more occasions when I will ditch my diet in favor of holiday conviviality, but I will still be riding my spin bike regularly, possibly closer to six times a week at five hour stretches. Come Christmas, my spin bike will remain in New York, cooling off, and I will be with my family. My sister, Dovima, who loathes kale, knocks herself out preparing food. She has some great holiday dining traditions.

Kale ready for steaming: nowhere to be found at Casa Dovima.

Kale ready for steaming: nowhere to be found at Casa Dovima.

On Christmas Eve, she bakes a spiral cut ham on the bone. She uses the bone to make a terrific split pea soup. Christmas morning, she prepares pancakes and bacon. Christmas dinner, we have Chicken Marsala, a dish she hit on several years ago that everyone likes. There’s usually a night when she serves fresh cracked crab with incredible San Francisco sourdough bread. She also always has a stash of Brandy Beans on site as well as other candy and a bottle of port we quaff together. When I visit, Dovima gets great wine. My niece, Sweet Pea, bakes her brains out. Her specialty: cookies.

This is one test I am destined to fail, but I don’t mind. This is why I time seeing my doctor before holiday season. The masochism of my healthy habits will resume after the New Year.

New Year's Day breakfast.

New Year’s Day breakfast.

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Lame Adventure 258: Let’s Discuss Holiday Cards

Due to my growing like kudzu contempt for the US Postal Service for their consistently crummy delivery of my favorite magazine, The New Yorker, I had decided that 2011 was the year I was going to join the legions of former holiday card givers and end my tradition of sending holiday cards out of spite.  I briefly considered e-blasting Jib Jab e-cards but I decided against that since most of us are already inundated with too much crap on the web.  Luckily for the US Postal Service, my dear friend, Milton, talked me into sending holiday cards this year.  He is right; recipients like to receive hand written paper cards, but considering that he was sending sixty, I’d be inclined to sign my name with a rubber stamp.

Around Thanksgiving I embarked on my annual search for the appropriate card in questionable taste.  Milton feels very strongly about sending traditional holiday cards.  Pictured below is his elegant greeting of the season that he found in his favorite card store, Papyrus.

A holiday card dripping with elegance, taste and a ton of glitter. The crease comes courtesy of my letter carrier, Alice Sneer.

Milton sent sixty of these beauties and in each he hand wrote a personal note.  In mine he composed this heartwarming sonnet: “Have a truly cynical Xmas!”

When I opened it half a pound of glitter fell out and I anticipate I’ll be seeing shiny stuff sparkling in my humble abode well into 2012.  That’s cool with me.  I much prefer it to the large economy size jar of 183,217 popcorn kernels that I spilled in my sanctum sanctorum’s kitchen 28 years ago.  I’m still finding those kernels through today which is amazing since I even had my kitchen floor replaced.

Traditional holiday card tied with swatch of real ribbon from my best friend from college, BatPat.

There used to be a hole-in-the-wall greeting card/gay male novelties shop on Christopher Street I frequented for all of my greeting cards called Alternate Cards.  The guys that ran the place were very quiet men of South Asian decent.  Forgive me for being so narrow-minded, but they did not strike me as the type of chaps that reveled in selling penis-shaped pasta or cards captioned, “My left leg is Christmas.  My right leg is New Year’s.  Come up and see between the holidays.”  Yet, this shop was the best source for off-the-beaten-path holiday cards in New York.  Unfortunately, they suddenly shuttered about three years ago.  I don’t know if it was for the usual reason terrific businesses cease to exist — their rent was raised obscenely high, or if they were actually a front for al-Qaeda.  I do know that I miss them terribly.

Card from my boss, Elsbeth, with note on the back, "This Card was Printed Letterpress by Hand on a 100-Year-Old Chandler & Price Platen Press." Excluded note, "This card was not purchased at WalMart."

Then I realized I could send holiday cards based on cartoons that were published in The New Yorker.  I decided I would do this forever, but forever ended this year when production of tee shirts, mugs, and greeting cards featuring New Yorker cartoons ceased.  That was another devastating loss.

Adorable card from my sister, Dovima, that instantly triggered my cat allergies.

Last summer, the fine folks at Café Press gave me a sweet deal on their Stranger’s Day cards by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.  I decided that they would be my new go-to source for holiday cards, but there was one barrier to this brainstorm.  Most of their cards were “eh” at best, and the few I liked said, “Merry Christmas” inside. I have several Jewish and atheist friends so that was a no go.

Hand-selected just for me card from my friend Martini Max.

Many of the funniest holiday greeting cards I’ve sent through the years were published by Noble Works, but I was at a complete loss as to where to find their cards.  I Google searched them and within a nanosecond discovered that they’re based in New Jersey, they have a vast library of a variety of greeting cards available online, I could buy my holiday cards directly from them tax-free, and if I needed any further incentive to hit my enter key, they were including free shipping, too.  As much as I would like to say that Noble Works online is my new go-to source for holiday cards, I have learned the hard way that this type of completely satisfied customer thinking invites a curse.  Therefore, I will offer my endorsement of Noble Works – and hope that this company outlives me.

My 2011 questionable taste holiday card:

What is not widely known is that this wabbit is a direct descendant of Bugs Bunny.

Lame Adventure 142: Après Christmas

I am still vacationing in Marin County, thousands of miles away from blizzard smothered Manhattan, where I refuse to worry too much about leaving the window open in my humble abode …

Usual view outside my window following a blizzard. I hope this is not the same view inside my apartment at this moment.

As soon as the clock struck midnight Christmas Day, while I was assisting my sister, Dovima, with setting up presents and as I imagined falling thunderously into the fireplace, waking the entire household and setting off the dog, Thurber, I sneezed four times.  Sixteen minutes later, I sneezed twice more.

Always looking for trouble Thurber.

Fortunately, as we opened gifts later that morning, my sneezing took a reprieve, but it returned with a vengeance at 10:47 am when I sneezed an additional twenty-five times through the course of Christmas proper until I exhausted my supply of sneezes at 11:01 pm.  As I sneezed a final three times at that moment, this exertion prompted my sister to ask:

Dovima:  What was that a million?

Me (disappointed):  That was only 31 for today.  At least I made it to thirty.

Dovima:  Now you can shoot for forty.

My niece, Sweet Pea, found this exchange hilarious.

I have been counting my sneezes since my birthday last May 4th, and I intend to count them through May 3rd since I start what I finish, no matter how inane, useless and absurd.   With the 31 I accrued on Christmas day, I am up to 372.  Après Christmas I have returned to a modest number of sneezes again, four on Sunday and zero thus far today.

Dovima was baffled why I had such a sneezy Christmas.  The house is clean.  Tangy, the cat, lives outdoors which is great for me since I am deathly allergic to the kitties, but if there was one cat I’d love to pet, it’s super cool Tangy.

Mellow Tangy keeping warm on my brother-in-law's carhood.

Thurber, Tangy’s nemesis, the pampered prince of a dog Tangy finds pathetic, is a hypoallergenic Poovanese (poodle-Havanese mix).  Back in early 2009, then 14-year-old Sweet Pea, either in an act of supreme self-sacrifice or obscene sibling rivalry, was willing to donate Thurber to the Obamas before they adopted Bo.  This was coincidentally during the period when Sweet Pea and Thurber had rather frosty relations.  I am pleased to report that they have since made amends and are now on much better terms.

Best buds Sweet Pea and Thurber chilling together on Facebook.

Lame Adventure 141: Fear of Francina

I am illustrating this episode of LA with images of Christmas trees thanks to Francina, the shining light of the TSA who personally made sure that every traveler unfortunate enough to walk through JFK’s T5 Jetblue terminal Lane Eleven, her lane, to undergo passenger screening, suffered.  Had I taken photographs, I am certain I’d be spending Christmas in Guantanamo.

My brownstone's 2009 Xmas tree planted in front yard before heading to Rockefeller Center in 2040.

Francina, a hardy woman built like an early 20th century fireplug, but with a less cheerful demeanor, was a meticulous screener.  Nothing explosive, sharp, or shiny would possibly get past her.  In that respect, we need thousands more screeners that share Francina’s level of attentiveness, but then we should also prepare to arrive at the airport at least half a day early instead of the suggested two hours.  Her line creeped along in inches while passengers in lanes ten and twelve whizzed through at lightening speed.  Stuck in Lane Eleven, I suffered stoically, but was relieved to see that no one was ordered to go through a scanner nor were they subject to a pat-down.

Martini Max circa 1960 Xmas tree courtesy of Reynolds Wrap.

Then, the back-to-back wheelchair women arrived.

The most effective way to leapfrog to the head of Francina’s lane is to arrive via wheelchair.  The most effective way to ensure that the upright masses in Francina’s lane feel further punished is to subject them to waiting for Francina to screen anyone in a wheelchair.  This process alone easily shaved a half hour off the clock.

The first woman traveled light and the TSA agent that assisted her spread the pain; she had her belongings, not much more than a clutch bag and hat, screened in Lane Twelve.  The second wheelchair woman, a woman traveling with her husband carried a stunning number of carry-on bags; I counted at least eight and groused to my compatriot, the patient and calm woman standing behind me:

Me:  I thought you were only allowed to carry on two.  Look at this, they’ve unpacked the Winnebago.

My brownstone's 2010 ornament collection with a spot of tree.

Second Wheelchair Woman’s TSA assistant placed all of that traveler’s luggage, as well as her husband’s, ahead of mine.  Their load filled both metal tables.  Francina suspected their carry-on contained the weapons of mass destruction we could never find in Iraq, so she screened it repeatedly.

Twenty minutes worth of solid screening.

When I was finally given the clear to allow my duffel bag to go through, I noticed that Second Wheelchair Woman’s husband digging through his wife’s suitcase, full of pink clothing, as another TSA agent hovered.  Eventually, they were cut loose – and then probably missed their flight.

My sister, Dovima's perfect tree, that she finds light-deficient.

Francina glanced at me, and resisted the urge to spit.  I walked through the screener, no bells or whistles rang.  I thought:

Me:  Yes!  Home free at last!

Francina (thinking):  You’re dreaming, Bozo.

My jacket with one boot, exited the scanner in its tub, and so did my personal carry-on item with my book and wallet.  Yet, my white MacBook, in a tub with my second boot, brought the screening process to a screeching halt.  Francina’s no-nonsense face went even more dour.  She glanced at me with contempt, and then I made the fatal mistake, I returned her scowl and yapped:

Me: What?

My fatal use of “what?” immediately atrophied into “oh, shit” when she slowly slipped a rubber glove on her left hand.  A fear shot through my entire being as I assumed the worst:

Me (thinking):  Digital cavity search here I come.

Anemically I asked the patient and calm woman waiting behind me, whose flight was about to board in three minutes:

Me:  Do you think she has an issue with Macs?

Patient and Calm Woman Behind Me:  I have one, too.  I think I’m gonna be subject to the same fate.

She was, but since she had the brain cells to not follow my lead in the whining department, her MacBook Pro was subject to a less intense scrutiny, she was gifted with a Get Out of Jail Free pass, and hopefully made her flight.  I, on the other hand, was taken aside, and I instinctively knew, “Shut the hell up or prepare to enter Strip Search Land.”

Francina glared at me with complete contempt and then proceeded to elaborately swab my entire MacBook with a white disc that looked uncannily similar to a Tuck’s Medicated Hemorrhoid pad.

Francina:  You can go.  Merry Christmas.

Possibly, she really meant, “Screw you.”

I reached my gate five minutes before boarding.  When my plane was wheels up, I felt immense  relief even though I had to listen to the sounds directly behind me  of an infant wailing across the entire country and a teenager vomiting incessantly into her air sickness bag.  Those sounds were akin to a symphony when I remember the growl of Francina’s stern grade school principal voice.

Bat Pat, best friend since college's, green thumb Christmas tree cut down by a decendant of Daniel Boone.

Lame Adventure 132: You Better Watch Out, You Better Hide

In 2003 my favorite Christmas film was released, Bad Santa.  Terry Zwigoff directed this clever dark comedy written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.  Billy Bob Thornton is Willie, a hard-drinking, self-destructive thug playing a department store Santa so that he and his fellow con man, Marcus (Tony Cox), playing Santa’s Elf, can fleece the store on Christmas Eve.  One day, a chubby snot-nosed loser-kid (Brett Kelly) visits Santa.  The Kid is certain that perpetually drunk, burned out Willie really is Santa so Santa moves in … and it just gets better from there.  I highly recommended Bad Santa to my sister, Dovima.  She saw it and emailed me her review:

Dovima:  Gross!  I can’t believe that’s your favorite Christmas film!  Are we even related?

Bad Santa Willie, the Kid, and Marcus

For years, I did not think I would live long enough to see another Christmas movie that would be as satisfying as Bad Santa until Milton and I saw Rare Exports, a fantasy-action-comedy hybrid set in snowy Finland at Christmastime.  Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, he offers a fresh and original take on the “real” story of Santa Claus and his very dedicated and oh so memorable elves.

The protagonist in this twisted tale is a mischievous child, stuffed bear-clutching, rifle-toting Pietari (Onni Tommila), who lives with his gruff father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), the butcher in a frozen mountain village.  (Real-life father and son play father and son in the film.)  Pietari is young enough to still believe in Santa Claus, even though his non-believing partner in high jinks, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), mocks him for it.  The boys’ method of spying on a nearby archaeological dig financed by a multinational corporation has naughty consequences so Pietari suffers guilt.  The dig is in the process of unearthing something mysterious buried deep in the mountain prompting curious Pietari to hit the books and research Santa Claus.  The more he learns about Santa Claus, the more he fears this guy coming to his town.  Pietari is certain that the real Santa Claus is on his way, he’s very pissed at all the children, and he’s not packing presents.  Whenever Pietari attempts to communicate the burden on his mind to his father, he’s dismissed or ignored, and the audience shares the boy’s frustration.

We know that this kid is onto something.

Frustrated Pietari eating his Dad's gingerbread cookies.

As this riveting story unfolds, so does a sense of menace, suspense and humor.  There is also much welcome dry wit throughout that adds to the fun of seeing such a highly original take on the origins of such a very familiar sentimental subject.  Unfortunately, this accessible alternative film is rated R possibly due to the dropping of a few f-bombs and a hilarious cameo by a tomahawk, but this probably has more to do with a liberal amount of innocuous full frontal male nudity that is relevant to the story.  How innocuous is the male nudity?

Milton was not turned on in the least.  He was laughing – as was I.

Rare Exports is a gem that is suitable for most kids 12 and older as well as anyone who appreciates intrigue and fun in a season choking on sap and cheer. For those hungry for sap, there is a taste of that, too, at the end.  Jalmari Helander has written and directed a very welcome new Christmas classic.

Even sap addicts like my sister, Dovima, might like this one.

Lame Adventure 130: Pre and Post Turkey Day Inanity

Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, my company closed an hour early, presumably so that employees could get a jump on the holiday weekend, but my boss, Elsbeth, took it upon herself to shut every single light on our floor Tai Chi-style with my sidekick, Greg, following close behind, leaving Ling, Under Ling and I waiting anxiously by the door.  I had strained my lower back a few days earlier while auditioning for Cirque du Soleil in the privacy of my own bathroom.  Therefore, I stood waiting in agony, carrying my messenger bag, a bottle of wine, a duffel bag and a month’s worth of New Yorkers to read on my journey to New Jersey since I was doing my usual, spending Turkey Day with my friend, Martini Max, and his family.  Fearing that my metamorphosis into a human pack mule would worsen my injury I delicately asked of my superior:

Me:  What the fuck is she doing?  Let’s get the hell out of here before I end up in a full body cast!

Elsbeth, who is equipped with hearing worthy of a feral beast hunting for prey deep in the woods, got the message and joined us in the doorway.  While staring at me grimacing in pain laden with luggage and gifts, she asked:

Elsbeth:  When are you going to visit your friend in New Jersey?

Me (thinking):  If we can ever get the hell out of here and I can forgo getting a morphine drip, the goal is today.

Me (saying):  Today.

It was evident that it never occurred to my Lord and Master that I generally do not carry an extra forty pounds of luggage and gifts on my person every day.  As for the grimace on my face, she probably assumed it is my natural expression as I approach completing a second full year of 2008 level wages memorably reduced by 20% in the wake of inauguration day 2009, an act of cruelty that could soon turn me into a homicidal maniac.  By the time we walked out the door, everyone else in our company had bolted and night had fallen.  When I reached the Canal Street subway station the A train I needed to catch was pulling out.  Fortunately, another arrived quickly, and I was on my way to Max-ville.

My three-day hiatus with Max and his kin was therapeutic and the food, as always, was excellent, the guests were amiable, the children behaved, and even the dog, gifted with a bone, was mellow.  I was so uncharacteristically relaxed I forgot to take pictures.  Upon returning to Max’s apartment following Thanksgiving dinner, we noticed that one of his neighbor’s got a jump on cluttering his hallway with their Christmas decorating, or as Max said:

Max:  Oh look, Christmas dunce caps.

Christmas Coneheads.