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Archive for November, 2008

thanks for pissing on my christmas tree

[A few days ago, I published an article at Pajamas Media called Christmas Shopping in a Time of Recession. When the incident at WalMart happened, my editor asked me to update my article to include a bit about that. The tone of the article changed, as did the comments. Though the commenters were already questioning my motives about toning down Christmas (I was being self-serving, what do I know about Christmas because I’m not a true Christian, etc), the part about WalMart really changed direction of the comments, and I felt like my original message was lost in the battle of who could be the most judgmental. So I’m republishing the original article here, with a few minor changes and additions. Basically, all I was trying to say is a) Christmas does not have to be about how big the presents are and b) you don’t have to be Christian to enjoy the spirit of the seaons. That people couldn’t get that and instead chose to politicize and/or argue the point is NOT going to ruin my holiday cheer, but it WILL make me think less of them.]

Everyone knows the real meaning of Christmas, but we are all aware of what Christmas has become. It’s a weeks-long festival of commercialism and materialism. It’s a constant barrage of ads reminding us that our spouses are waiting for that very special gift and our kids are expecting a bagful of toys. It’s the time of year when parents fight in the aisles of WalMart for that last “must have” toy, when we become stressed and short tempered, turning mall parking lots into battlefields.

Times are tough. The economy is looking bleak. But it’s Christmas time, and Christmas time is spending time, right? What happens when we can’t spend like we used to? What becomes of Christmas when our wallets are thin and our credit is stretched to its limits? What will we tell the kids?

We could start by telling our kids no. Sure, a lot of us already do that, but let’s face it; we live in a time of overindulgence. Kids with expensive Macbooks and iPods. Kids who freak out at the thought of not wearing clothes emblazoned with the most elite company logos. When children are used to expecting more, and we’re used to buying more, it’s hard to suddenly stop the tradition of Christmas overindulgence.

Perhaps now is a good time to have a talk with our children about the economy. Now is a good time to take Christmas back.

What does Christmas mean to you? What would it be without the mall Santas and stack of bills? Why does it have to be about presents, whether giving or receiving?

Perhaps the downturn in the economy could be taken advantage of. We could all use this opportunity to turn Christmas from a time of greed and stress to a more traditional time of family, love, and peace.

The winter holidays are a wonderful time of year. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, towns are lit up in beautiful lights, telephone poles are strung with garland, and, if we are lucky, it snows just a bit, just enough to lend a feel of authenticity to the season. There are parties with spiked eggnog and trees adorned with stars and angels. Houses glow brighter each night as another candle on the menorah is lit. On the surface, it’s a beautiful season fit for a Norman Rockwell painting. We need to enjoy that aspect of the holidays more, and let the monetary aspect go.

Talk with your family about this and find ways to ease the financial burden of Christmas while keeping the spirit. The idea of homemade gifts or just giving the gift of time to each other may not sit well with kids at first, but this could be a great opportunity to let them know that things are a little tight right now – not just for the family but for everyone – and Christmas will have to be low key.

It sounds easy, right? Just gather the family, give them the talk, and everyone will understand, and be happy to make and give popsicle stick art for Christmas, and renew their closeness by singing carols in front of the fireplace.

Or not.

Maybe somewhere out there exists a family in which Martha Stewart has married Norman Rockwell and the kids are all as sweet as Cindy Brady, but I’m now inclined to believe that family exists only in paintings, made-for-TV movies and commercials that make us think if only we buy the right products, our families will be less dysfunctional this Christmas. Apparently, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup are all the therapy we need.

It’s hard not to buy into the commercialism. It’s difficult to tell our kids that while last Christmas they all got new laptops, this Christmas they will get McDonald’s gift certificates and a hug. Anyone who is a parent knows what will happen if you hand out coupons for hugs instead of presents. There will be mutiny. Let’s face it, our kids won’t get excited over an imaginary Christmas. And it’s not just the kids; it’s us, too. We get caught up in the frenzy of ads, of well-meaning friends and relatives who want to buy our kids more than we can afford to give them. The Christmas music, the holiday displays, the Ho! Ho! Ho! at every store; somewhere along the line they all became synonymous with doling out cash. The Ho! Ho! Ho! Is more like Buy! Buy! Buy!

Sure, capitalism is a good thing. I’ve always rallied against those who call the day after Thanksgiving “Buy Nothing Day.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy anything. But most of us will be able to buy less this year, and instead of thinking of how that will ruin Christmas, we should be thinking of how it will save Christmas. We can get back to the warmth and joy of the season; back to appreciating the holidays for the time we spend with family, instead of the time we spend agonizing over gifts.

Christmas is about heart. It’s about sharing, joy, family, and traditions. Our maxed-out credit cards and thinning bank accounts should in no way keep us from embracing those parts of the holiday. Our children may not appreciate the smaller gifts and family togetherness now, but they will learn a valuable, lasting lesson about doing without when money is tight.

No, I’m not a Christian. I’m agnostic, but that does not mean I can’t embrace the joy and warmth of the season, and it does not mean that I can’t understand the celebration of the birth of a man who preached a pretty important message. This is why I love Christmas: I love way the neighborhood is lit up in color and light at night. I love the excitement in the air, the way people give so freely of themselves in the spirit of the season, the way the kids bounce when they walk through the mall, thrilled at the thought of picking out presents for those they love.I love the traditions that have been passed on in my family through many generations. I love decorating the tree and family gatherings and the excitement of a two year old tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas morning. I love the warmth and the comfort and the giving spirit.

I’m not saying I’m not giving out gifts this year. But I am going to make sure that we stress the importance of togetherness, love, family and giving over everything else this Christmas.

Yes, the economy is bad. We’ve heard some people use the word “depression.” Times are hard. But let us remember Scrooge, who said, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep the holiday feel all year round? I’m a realist, I know the world does not exist in which we can keep the holiday feel all the time. Which is why it’s so important to make the most out of the season. Someone in the comments at the other site implied that Christmas is when people do things in order to feel good about themselves for a little while, as if all the giving is self-serving.

Maybe that’s what she sees, but it’s not what I see, nor is it what I feel. People need to stop reading so much into the actions of others. If gift giving and family gatherings and making annual donations to charity is part of the holiday season, then why not just go with that? Stop looking for the negative in everything and sit back and enjoy yourself for once. With people stampeding each other for bargain bin prices on toys, stop questioning the religious/moral motives of people who want to embrace the holiday season for the warmth and joy of it.

Happy holidays.

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Rudolph: The Real Story

Before you all go grab your latest issue of TV Guide and start circling the various holiday specials you intend to watch, I’d like to talk to you about something.

Rudolph. Is there a creature so beloved as that red-nosed reindeer? Is there any stop-motion animated movie that tugs at your heart more? No, of course not. You will gather – and by you I mean everyone; Christians, Jews, Atheists, Satanists – in front of the tv with your children at some point in December to watch this time-honored tale.

Well, I’m here to put a stop to that. Rudolph is not a cuddly, warm, fuzzy story. Rudolph, in fact, is a tale of pacifism and appeasement and mental abuse.

When Rudolph is first discovered to have the light bulb nose, his father is appalled. Ashamed, he tries to cover up his son’s nose. What kind of father is that? He is telling his kid right off the bat, kid, you’re ugly and you embarrass me. Disguise yourself in public, you malformed little bastard. Right then and there someone should have called social services to tell them that there was a brute of a stag emotionally damaging his child. I mean, the poor kid has a disfigurement. They should have been helping him, not making him feel even worse about it. His parents, instead of encouraging him to embrace his uniqueness or be proud of all his other wonderful attributes, instill in him a sense of shame for being who he is. Never mind that either one or both of the parents had some gene that gave Rudolph this disfigurement, or the father is a drunk and this is the reindeer version of fetal alcohol syndrome. Either way, Rudie’s not to blame for his light brite nose, but the father doesn’t explain this. Instead, he treats his only son as if he were a zit on prom night and tries to cover up the blemish.

Eventually, everyone finds out about Rudie’s nose. Of course, the kids torment him and pick on him and turn him into an outcast. He’s not allowed to join in their games because he is, gasp!, different. A freak. A weirdo. Shun him!

All of the other reindeer, well, they used to call him names. And not let him play their reindeer games. Sorry, Rudolph, my mom said you’re too ugly to come over and play Guitar Hero with us. And, I wanted to invite you to my birthday party, Rudie, but I just can’t be seen with you. No hard feelings, k?

Rudolph makes himself a MySpace page where he lists his mood as “bleak” and post videos of himself with his nose covered in bandages, singing along to Linkin Park songs. His life is a series of suicidal poetry, ridicule, isolation and endless viewings of Heathers.

So what happens? Does Rudolph finally have enough of the bullying and dons a trenchcoat, listens to Marilyn Manson and mows down his enemies? No, Rudolph goes off on an adventure. He escapes his problems instead of confronting them. When you think about it, running away on adventure isn’t so bad, as he could have turned to a life on the streets, doing “favors” for old barflys in exchange for salt licks.

Anyhow, on this adventure of his he meets up with elves and a prospector and an abominable snowman who all in one way or another teach him valuable lessons about life, love and friendship and of reaching for your dreams and being proud of who you are, all lessons his bastard parents should have taught him. Eventually he meets up with Santa and you know what happens. It’s time to turn our zero into a hero. Santa’s too drunk to drive the sleigh on Christmas night and Rudolph gets to be the designated driver. Wait, that was a different version. Oh yes. The blinding snowstorm that threatens to cancel Christmas. If only there was some way to see through the storm! If only there was some kind of light that could guide us! If only reindeer could fly……Rudolph! With your nose of bright! Won’t you drive Santa’s sleigh tonight? So, instead of investing in some headlights for his sleigh, Santa decides to put some reigns on Rudolph and turn on his nose light.

The rest of the reindeer gang find out that Rudolph is going to lead Santa’s sleigh through the snowstorm. Well, look at that. Hey, the kid is a freak, but he’s a useful freak. You know what happens. They suddenly love him. He’s a hero. Even though he’s been scorned and ridiculed and isolated, the other reindeer discover that they can use Rudolph’s disfigurement to their advantage, so now they’ll let him in their little club.

And what does Rudolph do? He leads the damn sleigh and saves the day. Now, everyone in this movie – from Rudolph’s parents to his girlfriend to Santa, plus all the other reindeer and even the Yukon guy – mock him throughout or at least make him feel like an ugly, useless misfit. Apparently, Rudolph has no balls. If he did – and if he learned anything on that great adventure of his – Rudolph would have turned around and said fuck off and die you miserable bastards. Find some other sucker to save Christmas for you. And then he would take out his AK-47 and turn the whole crowd of miserable reindeer into a carnivore’s dream. Then he would go back to the Island of Misfit Toys, become their ruler and plot to take over all of Rankin-Bass land.

Instead, he uses the very thing that everyone made fun of to make all his tormentors happy and to become accepted. Do you understand how wrong that is? This is all his father’s fault. Dad turned Rudolph into the reindeer equivalent of a nerd when he taught Rudie to just take the abuse from his neighbors and classmates and let him believe he deserved it. After all, he was hideously deformed. In essence, he taught his son not to stand up for himself. And that lesson would follow Rudolph his entire life, through high school and college and after, where at office Christmas parties he would get drunk and let everyone take turns lighting up his nose because it was the only way to get noticed.

So parents, don’t let your babies grow up to be Rudolphs. Don’t even let them watch the show. Or it could be your child standing in the middle of the forest one day, gunning down all the kids who wouldn’t let him play their reindeer games.

(originally published in 2002, updated as the years went on)

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Lots of emails and twitter messages: Are people on Long Island insane?

No, not all of us. And I don’t want to say that what happened at WalMart today is not indicative of Long Island but…..

I don’t go shopping on Black Friday. I don’t like shopping as it is, and I avoid the mall at all costs any time of the year. However, there was one year I decided to brave the Shop til You Drop crowd. It was about seven years ago. WalMart had a bicycle on sale and all my son wanted for Christmas was a bicycle. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time and the chance to actually get my kid something he wanted for a reasonable amount of cash was too good to pass up. So I went to WalMart the day after Thanksgiving. At 5am.

By the time I got there, the line was snaked around the store. The doors wouldn’t open until six. I thought about going home, but then I thought about the bike and my then-adorable child and decided that I – someone who had an abject fear of crowds and hated stores – would make the ultimate sacrifice and stand outside freezing for an hour, then enter the store with this horde of hyped up people just to see my son smile. Also, it would make for great martyrdom later on.

Six o’clock came and the doors opened. The line that was just perfectly formed in front of me dissipated into thin air as everyone rushed for the door at once. Visions of Who concerts danced in my head as I lagged behind the surging crowd. It was like Elvis just appeared in front of Graceland. Pushing, shoving, screaming. I waited until the last of the screamers got into the store and walked in behind them, heading straight for the bike aisle. Within two seconds, I was knocked flat on my ass by an old lady wielding her cane like a sword. Elbows were flying, people were literally running through the store to get to the aisles with the biggest sales, and they were pushing out of the way anyone that stood between them and that 50 dollar tv.

The store had been open all of thirty seconds and already the floor was covered with merchandise that people knocked off the shelves. There were kids crying, mothers screaming at each other in the toy aisle, workers yelling for people to calm down and in the middle of all this I just stood there, frozen in fear. I could feel a panic attack setting and I had no idea which way the bicycles were. It was chaos all around me. I willed myself to walk into the thick of things, keeping my son’s “I got a bike!” smile in mind. I finally found the right aisle and walked toward the boys’ bikes.

She came out of nowhere. She was about 400 lbs of solid fat stuffed into a fur coat and she was waving her hands in the air and screaming something. I froze again and she barreled toward me and as she got closer I could make out part of what she was saying “….AWAY FROM THAT BIKE, THAT IS MINE, YOU HEAR?” Her hands reached out for me. I was sure she was going to shove me right down to the floor and I managed to stumble backwards a few steps, but I backed up right into another woman who began yelling obscenities at me. All the while the fat fur lady was coming full force toward me. I sidestepped at the last minute and the fur lady did an inadvertent chest thump with the cursing woman and my fight or flight instincts kicked in. Hell no, I wasn’t going to fight. I was running. Fast. The hell with the bicycle. The kid would probably ride it for five days and get bored with it, anyhow. I was getting the hell out of there.

It took me ten minutes to navigate my way out of the store. I had to step over thousands of dollars of merchandise and run around at least three abandoned kids and one overturned shopping cart and what seemed like a thousand strong army of desperate housewives looking for the ultimate bargain.

I got to my car and just sat there, shaking and smoking, until I was sufficiently calm enough to drive to work. I never went out on Black Friday again.

And that is why the story of what happened at WalMart today does not seem inconceivable to me. I’ve seen the way people behave and, unfortunately, it seems to be a way of life here on Long Island. This is a place where everyone is always in a rush, where people drive as if they are the only ones on the road, where everyone acts as if they are owed something, where people have no problem taking up two spots with their Escalades or parking in handicapped spots. The longer I live here (46 years now) the more tired I grow of the self-centered, me-first, demanding attitude I see every day. This is why I have spent the past year talking about moving to California.

Maybe it’s like this everywhere. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I don’t know. I just know what Long Island is like. I used to defend this place when people would make fun of it, but no more. The bad attitude here has become more prevalent in recent years. Nobody gives a shit about anyone else. I feel like I take my life in my hands every time I get in my car because nobody is paying attention to the people around them. They’re on their phones, they’re yelling at their kids (who are rarely buckled in), they’re sailing through stop signs. And it’s not just the driving. The attitude encompasses every part of the daily routine. I deal with it at work, I deal with it in stores. The rudeness, the sense of entitlement and the “gimme and gimme now” attitude is everywhere. It certainly doesn’t surprise me to see people stampeding over one another to save a few dollars on a television when just this morning I saw a woman who just got out of a new Mercedes stomp into Walgreens and demand the cashier get fired for shorting her A FREAKING PENNY in her change.

Like I said, I don’t know if it’s just here or if it’s everywhere, but what the hell has happened to our society?

2,000 people were waiting to get into that WalMart at 5am. They literally ripped the doors down because they didn’t want to wait for the store to open. They knocked the 34 year old WalMart greeter down, then stomped over his body and continued shopping as workers asked them to exit the store.

Everyone who helped rip that door open, everyone who stepped on that poor man and everyone who didn’t give a shit and kept looking for their god damn bargains as the emergency crews worked to save the guy’s life…you are all pigs. You’re less than human.

Happy holidays.

[Update: He wasn’t a greeter, he was a temporary worker sent to that WalMart today by his temp agency. Not that it matters, just like to have my facts straight as the news is updated]

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that left 4 dead song

Seems like everyone wants to know what that song is on the new Left 4 Dead commercial.

It’s Train to Miami by Steel Pole Bathtub from the album Miracle of Sound in Motion. I’ve written about them here before, and at Faster Than the World, and I reviewed the album at This is Not Pitchfork. You can download the song over at the music blog, but I really, really recommend the entire album. I’m hoping this ad finally gives them band some recognition.

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that left 4 dead song

Seems like everyone wants to know what that song is on the new Left 4 Dead commercial.

It’s Train to Miami by Steel Pole Bathtub from the album Miracle of Sound in Motion. I’ve written about them here before, and at Faster Than the World, and I reviewed the album at This is Not Pitchfork. You can download the song over at the music blog, but I really, really recommend the entire album. I’m hoping this ad finally gives them band some recognition.

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new PJM article

Christmas Shopping in a Time of Recession

Maybe somewhere out there exists a family in which Martha Stewart has married Norman Rockwell and the kids are all as sweet as Cindy Brady. But I’m now inclined to believe that family exists only in paintings, made-for-TV movies, and commercials that make us think if only we buy the right products, our families will be less dysfunctional this Christmas. Apparently, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup are all the therapy we need.

It will be interesting to see how the comments pan out on this one after the murderous rage from the commenters on my last two articles. This story should be so non-political, but I’m betting I get called a socialist at least once.

Also got three new reviews up this morning: Anti Nowhere League, KISS and Dead Milkmen.

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stuffing

I’ve made a “what’s this about“page for the pitchfork thing.

On the essay site, the small things I am truly thankful for.

And, of course, the reviews from yesterday/today:
Rolling Stones
Wire
The Eagles
Superstars of the 70s
My Chemical Romance
Eazy-E
The Jam
Soundtrack to the Forbidden Zone

I swear, I am putting the computer down now, and I’m going to go enjoy Thanksgiving. Really.

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