A Season’s Greeting

Roseanne Roseannadanna: Mr. Richard Feder from Fort Lee, New Jersey
sent me this Christmas poem that says: [reads aloud from a greeting
card
]
Dear Roseanne Roseannadanna,

Well, the holiday season is finally here,
Bringin' Santa and sleigh rides
and lots of good cheer.
Children are laughin', there's lights on the trees.

Everyone's happy except for me.
Folks goin' to parties, folks having
fun.
I wanna blow my brains out, get me a gun!
Christmas is here and I
should feel swell
But I'm cryin' in my room and I feel like hell. What
should I do?

Saturday Night Live, “Elliot Gould/Peter Tosh” (12/16/78)

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For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, I grew up in the New York
Metropolitan area, and mentally I’ve still got some pretty strong ties. For
instance, I still listen to WCBS-FM a lot, mostly so I can listen to Bob
Shannon, who is one of my favorite DJs.

One of the DJs who left the station awhile back was Harry Harrison, whose NY
radio legacy is vast. Harry did six years of radio in Illinois before coming to
New York City in 1959, where he became one of WMCA’s “Good Guys”. He held the
midday gig until 1968, when WABC picked him up as their new Morning Mayor. He
stayed there until 1979, when WABC’s format began the slow, painful change from
Top 40 to News/Talk that completed in 1982.

Harry Harrison and Ron Lundy  By 1980, however, Harrison (seen here at left, with Ron Lundy)had joined WCBS-FM, still in the morning slot.
Incidentally, this makes him the only New York DJ who was on WMCA, WABC and
WCBS, all of which spent some time dominating the ratings for their format. He
remained there until March of 2003, when he left the station, retiring only
briefly and returning in a weekend morning show that lasted until WCBS began
their disastrous experiment as “Jack FM.” When the oldies format came back,
Harrison did not, and he remains retired in New Jersey.

Now, the backstory is a little hazy, but it appears that in 1965 he located a
holiday-themed piece that he liked, so he recorded it with some music and sound
effects. It was released as a single on the Amy label, and it made the Billboard
Christmas charts that year.  Some time later, he re-recorded the piece for WCBS, where he'd play it several times during the season. I don't think the station airs it anymore (at least, I haven't heard it), but you can still get it on certain Christmas music collections. Or, just click below to listen to it. 

Peace.

 Harry Harrison-May You Always

Pfeffernüsse!

[Ross is selling girl scout cookies]
Chandler: So, how many boxes did you sell?
Ross: 517.
Chandler: Wow.
Ross: Yeah, I know. A week ago, I was at the planetarium, and as they were leaving I sold like 50 boxes. That’s when I realized what sells a lot of these- munchies. After that, I started hitting NYU dorms around midnight. They call me "Cookie Duuuude".

Friends, “The One Where Rachel Quits” (12/12/96)

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Not a typo, not a reason to be all wacky and reply, “Gesundheit”. Pfeffernusse is a cookie, and it’s generally only available during the holidays, and it’s a slippery slope, my friend.

Pfeffernuesse

The word literally translates to “Pepper nuts” in German, Dutch and Danish, referring to both the flavor and the fact that most recipes include just that: nuts and black pepper.  The cookie is rather hard and therefore difficult to eat when it’s fresh, unless you dunk it in something. It gets softer over time, and it’s usually a soft cookie that you buy. It’s ordinarily coated with powdered sugar and is just a joy for me.

As noted above, it’s one of those limited-time cookies, perhaps because traditionally they’re made for Sinterklaas, the Feast of St. Nicholas, which is in early December. More often than not, there are just a few brands that make the pfeffernusse available: Entenmann’s, which doesn’t appear to carry them in the Baltimore area; Stella D’Oro, which seems to be a rapidly dwindling brand in this town; and Archway, which is also pretty hard to find.

Once in awhile you’ll find them in a small cellophane bag in the grocery store, with some off-brand name on them, but those cookies also have a hard shell rather than the powdered sugar. Not so great, those.

This year, they’ve been all but impossible to find. I’ve been to at least five supermarkets, ranging from the Safeway on 25th and Charles, to the Shoppers on Joppa Road, and come up empty-handed. This is part of my holiday tradition and it’s disappearing on me. So if you’ve seen them, please share their location with me before it’s too late.

All Kinds of Wonderfulness

Note: This post is pinned till next weekend. Scroll down for new stuff. 

George Bailey: Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan! 

–It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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I gotta tellya, I was pretty worried this year.

After all the back and forth and the this and that and all the worrying about the future fate of the Senator Theater, I (and many others, I'm sure) was quite worried that they wouldn't be doing the annual food drive at the theater. 

Fortunately, they've managed to come through yet again. It was announced today that The Senator Theater will be holding its 19th Annual Food Drive this year, and the usual suspects will be there.

Here's the basic outline: Your admission to the theater is $6 worth of nonperishable food, or $6 in cash. Since it's such a good cause, we usually head to BJ's or Sam's Club and get multi-packs of something such as soup or whatever. So for the same six bucks, we're getting way more food than that money would buy at the supermarket. Everyone wins! Head on into the theater and settle in, because it's a Double Feature. 

Scrooge585_447007a  First up is the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (which is really titled Scrooge, but everyone gets a pass on it because, hey, it's Christmas). This is the one starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, and he's the guy who most people will agree is the definitive Scrooge. 

Of course, that's if you don't count Mister Magoo. He was pretty good too. No, I'm not kidding. 

I'm sure you know the story: a miserly old guy gets a shot at redemption when he's visited by ghosts one Christmas Eve. 

123107itsawonderlife  But wait! That's not all! It is, after all, a Double Feature. So after seeing Alastair Sim, stick around a bit and they'll be showing a vintage print of the 1946 Frank Capra classic, It's a Wonderful Life. You've seen it a million times on TV, but you get so much more of it on the big screen. I swear I find something new each year. 

This film, which has been imitated numerous times and ways, is still the archetype story of a businessman who, at the end of his wits, learns what the world would be like if he'd never been born. So in its own way, it's a bit of a haunting with a personal redemption at the end. 

But that's not even the best part. In years past, the screenings would be a one-day thing and that would be it. This year, it's practically a film festival. The schedules run like this:

Date

 A Christmas Carol

Cc01

 It's a Wonderful Life

IAWL run on the bank

Friday, 12/18 6:00 PM 8:00 PM
Saturday, 12/19 3:15 PM
8:00 PM
1:15 PM
6:00 PM
Sunday, 12/20 1:15 PM
6:00 PM
3:15 PM
8:00 PM
Christmas Day
Friday, 12/25
1:15 PM
6:00 PM
3:15 PM
8:00 PM

The prints, incidentally, are loaned to the theater by an anonymous film collector. There are also a couple of extra bonuses involved that I won't tell you about; you'll just have to go and see for yourself. 

See you there! 

Thank You.

ArlingtonArlington National Cemetery

Balto Natl CemeteryBaltimore National Cemetery
CalvertonCalverton National Cemetery. My grandfahter is buried here. 
Iwo-jimaRaising the flag at Iwo Jima
Vietnam-women's-memorialVietnam Women's Memorial
WWII NormandyNormandy 

Tomb_of_the_Unknown_SoldierTomb of the Unknowns

GettysburgGettysburg
Vietnam Memorial StatueVietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam_vet_wallVietnam Memorial
WWI MemorialWorld War I Memorial

Mother’s Day, or Why I Haven’t Seen Star Trek Yet

Daisy: I bet she's cheap and common! Have you noticed how they all go for cheap and common?
Rose: Don't knock it! I've had some of my best moments being cheap and common.

Keeping Up Appearances, "A Celebrity for the Barbeque" (9/19/93)

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Once a month, GF likes to spend several hours scrapbooking. It's a pleasant enough diversion that keeps her off the streets, I guess. This leaves me with Wee One for the evening, so we usually go out for dinner and find something to amuse ourselves.

Captain-kirk Denny crane This time around, Scrapbooking Night was this past Friday, so Wee One and I figured we could go see Star Trek. Since they've been airing the remastered episodes, I've been re-watching specifically to catch the new CGI shots. And since the show airs very late at night, I record the shows to the DVR and watch them at some point during the week. Wee One often joins me to see these shows, because she thinks Captain Kirk is all kinds of hot. (Naturally, I shattered this when a promo for Boston Legal came on and I pointed out that "That's Captain Kirk!")

So we had Friday afternoon/evening planned out: I'd get her from school, we'd go to the store, pick out a Mother's Day present, then get a bite to eat and then hit the theater. That was the original plan.

So our first stop was JC Penney, because I usually have fabulous luck buying jewelry there. And, as it happened, once I got Wee One past the really gaudy stuff that she seems to gravitate toward, we found a couple of pieces that were A) nice and B) reasonably priced. We asked the saleslady to see them and it turned out that one of them was sold out. But the other was there. It was an earring set–three pairs of gold on silver or silver on gold–hell if I remember. But they were not only on sale, they were about 70% off. See? I always get lucky at JC Penney. Here's another tip: if you're getting the nice jewelry there, get the lifetime care package. If something goes wrong you'll be glad you did.

Wee One thought that Friendly's would be a good place to get dinner. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but it's right outside Penney's so what the hell. During dinner, however, Wee One got an idea and asked to bail out on the movie. She wanted to put together a Spa Day for her mother. And, since she would be with her father on Mother's Day morning (because he'd missed a couple of weeks due to the cheer meets), she needed to get it together that night so that Spa Day would be on Saturday morning. I acquiesced and we headed back to the house.

Her Spa Day involved a few different stations, including hair brushing and a foot massage, using one of those foot spa jobbies that I got GF a Christmas or two ago. And, she decided, she was going to put the earrings inside a plastic bucket and fill it with flower petals. Her first choice was the dogwood petals that were all over the yard, but they were kind of damp and getting icky, so she settled on pulling flowers off the azalea bush. (I have no problem with this–I hate that goddamn bush.)

Now, since all this was going to happen on Saturday, I had to miss the big reveal because I was at the Renaissance Hotel having my intelligence insulted. But at the end of the day, I mentioned to GF that I got the care package and she said "On those?"

Aha, says I. Because I wasn't there for the unwrapping, and because Wee One had picked them out, GF thought I punked out on her with cheap jewelry. "Yes, on those. Those weren't cheap dollar-store earrings, you know. Those were nice earrings!" I pulled out the receipt from my wallet and found the original price on it. "This is how much they would have cost if they hadn't been on sale."

Her response, and I quote: "Holy shit."

So that's my not-seeing Star Trek saga. With any luck I'll catch it this weekend.

They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright a Couple of Miles From Here

Older Ted: New York is famous for its theater, but there are different levels. There's Broadway; off-Broadway; off-off-Broadway; homeless people screaming in the park; and below that, the play your Aunt Lily was in.

How I Met Your Mother, "Stuff" (2/19/07)
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Daughter (who you may have heard has been accepted to Towson University and SUNY New Paltz) has been spending some time with the big kids of late. 

Botd
In January, she did an internship with a small group of theater majors from Queens College who call themselves the Benefit of the Doubt Theatre Company. At that time she ran the sound board for a show called The Actor's Nightmare. I didn't know a lot about this particular venture, although she did ask my advice about talking to her boss about getting the time off. The show ran over at the college (I think). 

This month I learned that she was working with the same group again, doing the play Don Juan in Chicago. (The link goes to a Times review of the play from 1995; either this company decided to cut some material or the 1995 company added stuff.) This time around she'd be running the lighting board. We learned the dates that the show was running and determined that we could attend on the show's closing night. Pack up a bag, honey, we're going to Off-Off-Broadway!

So pack we did, deciding to come in on Friday night and spend the day wandering the streets of Manhattan. Somehow we didn't get on the road in earnest until about 7:30, but in the long run there wasn't a rush. GF, thinking about other times we'd been on the Belt Parkway, figured that we wouldn't see the hotel before 1:00 AM. I told her we'd be there before midnight. 

As it happened, I was right in that respect: we arrived at the hotel at 11:30. I pulled into the carport area, gave them my name and I was checked in within about thirty seconds.

Here's where it got ugly, however. 

Being a reasonably clever person from time to time, I noticed that there were no fewer than three hotels in the immediate area, including the one I'd booked. When I say "in the immediate area", I mean literally a stone's throw apart. The last thing I wanted was to get my car towed because I'd parked in the wrong place, so I asked the desk clerk where I could park. "On the street out front, in the lot to the side or to the back," he said. It was at this point that I noticed the sign that said I needed a parking pass, so I asked about it. He said, "Oh, yeah, you definitely need that" and printed one out for me to put on my dashboard. 

We cruised the area for at least twenty minutes, looking for a space, before GF went inside and asked where we were expected to park. The guy, who was in his third week on the job, had no idea. Just drive around, was the best advice he had. Fortunately, the guy who drove the airport shuttle had a solution and he helped me get parked for the night. Unfortunately, by then it was nearly 1:00. We got our stuff into the hotel and went to our room, where I discovered that the key didn't work. I had to go back to the lobby and get the guy to re-set the key. 

So you see, GF and I were both right: I got us to the hotel before midnight, we didn't see the inside of the room before one o'clock. 

On Saturday, I let GF sleep in while I surfed the news websites and read email. She'd taken a fall about two weeks ago, and her hip was still bugging her, and I knew it was stiff from being in the car all night, so I figured let her get the rest. Later, I drove us out to a Long Island Rail Road station so we could take a train into Manhattan. (From the hotel, the subway would be well over an hour, vs. 20 minutes for the LIRR.) We worked our way downtown from Penn Station over to the Strand bookstore, home of 18 miles of books. Strand is a great way to divert yourself for awhile, and GF and I spent the entire time in different parts of the store. We didn't see each other until I finally called her cell and told her it was about time to go. That's how convoluted this place is. 

Cozy
At this point, she was starting to feel the discomfort in her hip, so we decided to find a place to eat. As it happened the famous Cozy Soup & Burger was nearby, so we popped in there. GF had the Reuben, which was made with some wonderful corned beef, based on the piece I swiped, and I had a bacon cheeseburger. 

I realize I make it sound like I dropped in at McDonald's or some such, so let me clarify: this is a big honkin' cheeseburger, which started out at nine ounces. This is a Binford sandwich, which takes two hands even after you've cut it in half, assuming that you cut it in half, ya big pussy wimp. For being in a diner, we ate very well.

Daughter's show was at the Kraine Theatre, which actually has several different events going on at any time, some of them in the bar on the floor above. This theater is on Fourth Street, between Second and Third Avenues, so it's about as off-off-Broadway as one is likely to get. The theater has 99 seats, I'm told. I didn't count, despite my compulsiveness with that sort of thing. 

When we first got there, there were several lovely young ladies in the lobby and on the stairs leading up to the bar. Apparently they were models who were just wrapping up a shoot and helping to pack up the equipment. We had to wait for them to get finished before we were allowed into the theater itself. As a result, the start of the play was delayed a little bit. But that's OK; GF took the time to snap a couple of pics of the stage and such, which I'll share in another day or two. She wasn't so much preserving the memory as she was looking for fodder for a scrapbooking project. Can I complain? I'm using it as blog fodder. 

So anyway, the play was a bunch of fun and not at all like the crankypants at the Times made it sound. For a bunch of college kids, they did a really nice job and they clearly took some pride in their work. Given their probably limited budget, they offered up a sparely-dressed set that nonetheless conveyed exactly what it needed to. (There's a story about the company's fundraising efforts that I'm going to save for the next post, the one with the pictures in it.) 

And, of course, I can't say enough good things about the lighting. Because, you know, whenever the lights went on or off, I was able to say, "Did you see that? My kid did that." 

Barbecue Dreams

Robert 'Granddad' Freeman: Do you know how long I wanted to own my own restaurant?
Huey Freeman: Three weeks. At Sunday dinner, that was the first time you mentioned it. And you only started doin' the stupid Sunday dinner thing because you saw Soul Food on cable.

The Boondocks, "The Itis" (1/22/06)
————————————————–

Or, How I Poisoned The Well. 

My brother, who lives in Florida, works in the air-conditioning business. Now, one would think that having that sort of job in that part of the world would be recession-proof, but there are several reasons why it's not, not the least of which is that my brother's company specializes in new installations rather than repair and replacement of existing systems. So he's been sweating (heh) the economy for the past year or so. Because the new construction is growing scarce, he's being sent farther and farther from his home to the job locations. Lately he's been working in the Orlando area, which is at least 90 minutes' drive from home. 

The other issue he has is that it's physically demanding work. The compressor units (the big boxes that sit on the side of the house) weigh a couple hundred pounds, and there's also ductwork that has to be run through the house, usually through the attic space. By the time he's brought to the job site, the roof is already completed, so now he's in a closed attic. In Florida, this means that the attic space can get very hot (i.e. in excess of 120 degrees), which limits the time that a person can work up there. Plus, most attics aren't finished, so he's on his knees crawling over rafters. As a result, he's 44 years old but his knees are probably 60. So he's been looking around for the Next Thing for him. 

Every once in awhile he'll talk to me about a new career that he thinks might interest him, but then he finds out how much work is involved in getting the credentials and he gets spooked. He's a smart person–probably smarter than I am–but he was never a good student, whereas I was. School came easily to me but I can't look at a house and instantly calculate how much A/C it needs. He can give me a statistic like "From 1976 to 2002, the Buccaneers were 0-20 in games begun under 40 degrees" but he wouldn't watch The Lion King and think the plot sounds a lot like Hamlet. We're both smart but in very different ways. Anyway. 

One of the things my brother loves to do is barbecue. Fortunately for him, he can use his grill year-round, and has experimented with gas, charcoal, wood, and using different smokers. He's developed his own dry rubs and even came up with a pretty good barbecue sauce of his own. If you've been to one of my pig roasts, then the sauce you had was his recipe. I just multiplied it several times to accommodate a whole pig. (For instance, his recipe calls for a couple of teaspoons of Liquid Smoke. I have to use the entire bottle.) 

As it happens, he came to Baltimore this past June so that he could be here for the pig roast. We were chitchatting about his job and his financial worries and so on. As it happens, we were driving on Harford Road in the Montebello Park/Lauraville area, down by the Safeway. Near that store, on the other side of the street, is an empty building that I think used to be a gas station. I broke into the conversation to point it out and said something like "You know what? I've always thought that that place could be remade into a barbecue place. Set up a kitchen on the left side, pass-throughs and such to the right, roll up the doors and people can eat in the garage area, and/or they could put picnic tables outside. Plant a few big trees…" 

Of course, I'm saying this, ignoring the fact that Big Bad Wolf BBQ is just a few blocks away, but I was just musing aloud, as I'd been driving past this property for literally years and had ample opportunity to give it an alternate use in my head. It doesn't really matter, though, because the idea actually stuck. 

Later on, he asked me, "Do you really think I could do something like that?" By then I had no idea what he was talking about so he reminded me of the imaginary barbecue place. I pondered it a minute and then shrugged. "Sure, why not." Then he started talking to me about inventory and supplies and such, and how in his mind the overhead for this sort of project is relatively low. I'm a more skeptical type but just nodded. American bistro By the time he'd finished we were up in Parkville and passing that American Bistro place which closed down about a year ago. It looks like it was an old-style Carvel, or a Dairy Queen or some such; a walk-up place. I know of two–maybe three–places that have been in there, plus whatever it was in the first place, so clearly it's got some issues. (To be fair, I think all of the incarnations I saw were variations of the same place.) As a goof, I nodded toward that and said something like, "There's a place that's already set up for food service. The bad news is that the location is cursed." Shortly after that the topic changed, presumably forever. 

Bbq_pizza Flash-forward to Christmas week. When I was down there in August, he and I had noodled around with making pizza on the barbecue grill. (Shut up. We managed to make some great pizza. The pic was swiped from bbqjunky.com, but it's nearly identical to one of ours.) Since it worked out so well in August–with a few tweaks we'd devised since then–we decided to make it for everybody. He went outside to prepare the grill and I stayed inside to get the dough and the toppings ready. We'd have each person design their own pizza, which would be shared among everyone. So I put together a tray with all sorts of good crap we can put on our pizzas–
 
An aside here: Even though my brother and I are native New Yorkers and pretty notorious for being pizza snobs, we're at least reasonable about pizza toppings. We had some stuff that you can't get in most pizza places in NY, including pineapple, ham, and black olives. Thank you. 
 
–and I carried it outside. It was at this point that he brought up the Barbecue place again: "You know, we could sell these barbecue pizzas at this place, too." 

Once again, I'm playing catchup. When I realized what he was talking about, I suggested that if he did that, then perhaps we'd have to get better at making the dough round rather than the weird oblongs I'd managed to work out. "Well, you just shape it into the pan, see." Then, idiot that I am, I threw a little more gasoline onto the fire: "You know, you have to think about being able to do about 200 pounds of meat every day if you experience any measure of success." (I didn't make this number up; I'd recently read a story about a barbecue place that prepared 1500 lbs. per week.) It turned out that he had a pretty quick response to that, as well. 

Now, this wasn't the only chat we'd had during the week about alternate careers for him; he's been wanting to bail of the air conditioning business for a couple of years now, so he's constantly looking for something else which will also sustain him and his wife. Whether he does this down there or up here or somewhere else altogether is another question. But I have to wonder if I didn't plant a pretty tenuous seed in his head several months ago. 

We Need Just A Little Christmas

Stephen Colbert: I'm so excited right now, I'm sporting a yule log.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (2008)

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Wpix-yule-log-animGrowing up in the New York area in the 1960s and 1970s meant that there was a Christmas Eve tradition that other people didn't get to do. On Christmas Eve, WPIX-TV, which was on Channel 11, would air footage of a Yule Log for anywhere between two and four hours. This footage would be accompanied by traditional and secular Christmas music. The music was often simulcast on a local radio station as well. I doubt that many people actually sat and stared at this footage for any appreciable length of time–perhaps long enough to figure out where the six-minutes-and-change loop began and ended–it was a kind of television "comfort food" and the television likely served as a talking lamp during that time period.

The Yule Log disappeared from our TV screens in 1989, but came back in 2001, as a kind of response to the events of September 11. Since then, this commercial-free broadcast has actually won the ratings for its time slot every year. This year, according to WPIX's website, the show will run for four hours on Christmas morning.

Now, at this time, radio stations didn't do the "All Christmas Music All The Time" format that is so ubiquitous nationwide. Stations played whatever they ordinarily did, with a smattering of Christmas music thrown in, whatever matched their format. So the oldies station would play Phil Spector and Elvis, the disco station (this was the 70s, remember) would play Salsoul Orchestra, the classic rock station would play tracks from the Beatles' collection of Christmas messages, and so on.

One of the things I liked to do when I was young was to watch/listen to the Yule Log show, but then I'd go up to my room and run up and down the radio dial until I found a station that was playing exclusively Christmas music on Christmas Eve. The music I'd landed on would invariably be light choral versions of traditional carols, instrumental versions of songs, and so forth. I wasn't even getting Nat King Cole and Andy Williams. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd probably tuned in to one of New York City's classical stations. I usually managed to listen, in the dark, until about midnight before I fell asleep. It was a very peaceful way to spend the evening.

(Lest you think that this was a boring, lonely way to spend Christmas Eve, bear in mind that I was a bit of a loner, and that we were a relatively poor family. In fact, someone put our name in for a food bank delivery one year. So Christmas Eve, like many other nights, was usually pretty quiet, especially since my mother worked overnights in a hospital. Also, many families in the neighborhood spent the evening at home. It's just the way it was done.)

And this, I think, is the reason that the All Christmas All The Time radio stations kind of bug me. The ubiquity of the music, combined with its relative lack of quality, has really soured me on listening to these stations. Actually, its the ubiquity of all Christmas-related media that's irritating me. We have a short stack of Christmas videos, so there's no need to anticipate the night that A Charlie Brown Christmas is on. The music can be had by a quick click on a radio preset button. Some cable stations have been running Christmas-themed programming almost all day and all night.

We often hear comments about the commercialization of Christmas, with the sales appearing before Halloween is over with; the All Christmas stations starting earlier each year, the dilution of "Merry Christmas" into "Happy Holidays" or the overall "War on Christmas" stories you hear about (most of which are a crock) and so on. I'm not so much worried about commercialization. What bothers me is that this time of year, whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or whatever, is losing some of its specialness specifically because it's all becoming so accessible. And for this, we're all a little poorer.

Evening in Hampden

Kris Kringle: [smells other Santa's breath] You've been drinking.
Drunken Santa Claus: Well, it's cold outside. A man's gotta do something to keep warm.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
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Before I start this thing, I'm just going to wonder aloud if it isn't past time that Epiphany did his rant about "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"? Snerk. 

There's something appealing about Christmas lights on a house. I think that, to a certain extent, they reflect a little of the personality of the person hanging them up. Some houses look very elegant, with the lights in perfectly straight lines delineating the edges of the house, the windows, the railings, whatever they're attached to. Other houses are definitely in the "overdone" mode, with too much stuff that's been haphazardly arranged–if "arranged" is the appropriate word to use in these cases. And there are some which make you wonder why they even bothered. 

My house, if you're wondering, has no lights on it. But that's because I have no outlets on the outside of my house. Yet.

C7 bulbs
My favorite lights are the big C7 bulbs. Perhaps it's because that's all there was when I was a kid, so I think of them as being "old school". But there's a certain warmth that they have to them that the tiny modern bulbs don't have. And I'm sure that's not only because they get so goddamn hot, even when they've been out in the subfreezing weather. I'm also a bit of a traditionalist in that I like strings of lights, rather than nets, which are just lazy; or icicles, which rarely look the way they're intended to. The icicle wires have been all cooped up in a box somewhere, so they don't hang straight and they just look all kinky. 

I'm pretty fussy for a guy who doesn't even have lights on his house, aren't I? 

So last night, GF, Wee One and I are out doing a little holiday shopping, and over dinner we decide to pop down to Hampden to check out the lights on the 700 block of 34th Street. We parked in those back-in angle spaces up on 36th, and walked down, not telling Wee One where we were going. "We're just looking around, checking out people's lights" was the general attitude. As we got closer, I started to complain that there wasn't that much good to look at, and that I'd give it one more block before we bailed out and went home. So naturally, Wee One was pretty jazzed to see this block. 

(An aside to non-locals: if you don't know what I'm talking about, just do an image search for "Hampden Christmas Lights". There are hundreds of pictures already on the web.)

Beer can angel
Now, I know what I said above about overdone displays, but this is something else again. This is a block that revels in the kitsch, and you can't help but get caught up in it. We're talking about the house that has the dozens of animated figures, inviting people to come up the stairs and sign in the guest book (and they have a sign that says they've been doing this since 1947). We're talking about the place with the eight-foot Christmas tree made of hubcaps. We're looking at the Crab Santa Claus and his eight Crab Reindeer, one of which is carrying a can of Old Bay. We're enjoying the tree with ornaments made from Old Bay cans and beer cans (Natty Boh, natch), some of which have been cut up into beer can angels. And this is all just the NORTH side of the street. There was a small choir at the end of the street (Mennonites, I think), and a woman who gave a free hot chocolate to Wee One. Another couple of guys were out there selling glow necklaces and such. 

One vendor at the east end of the street was selling food. And near him was a guy dressed as Santa, sitting on a motorcycle which had wooden sideboards to emulate a sleigh. On his back, and on the back of the bike, was a skull logo surrounded by flames and the legend: 
SOB_logo
From what little research I've done, the group attached to this logo is strictly local, although there are many Jewish motorcycle groups across the USA. Go figure!

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Naturally, Wee One wanted to go chat with Santa, so she strolled over there and reminded him of some of the stuff she'd asked him for when she chatted with the man over at the White Marsh Mall. Santa responded by draining whatever hot beverage he'd been drinking and giving her the cup, asking her to throw it out for him. Well…what the hell. She carried it over to the food vendor and he took care of it for her. 

I have to say this: there were a lot of people there last night while we were in the neighborhood, and likewise there were a lot of kids there, although they were clearly outnumbered by the adults. And maybe I was just out of earshot, but Wee One was the only one who seemed to express any enthusiasm for what she saw. "Look mom, there's a Santa Crab!" "Look at the Santa Robot across the street!" "Ooh, this house is playing Christmas music!" The other youngsters seemed unusually quiet, at least to me. 

This sense of wonder was apparently lost to many of the adults, as well: we started at the northwest end of the block, which is where the choir was located. This also means that we started at the ("since 1947") house with all the animated figures. There was a line leading up the stairs to the porch.The line moves in fits and starts, because it's a narrow stairway, but it does move. I took Wee One to the end of the line and waited for it to move. A young adult man walked up to me. He nodded up the stairs and asked me, "What's up there?" Now, I've seen the lights before from the interior of my car, but this was my first stroll up the street, so frankly I didn't know. But "I don't know" was kind of a boring answer, so I smiled and said to him, "Let's find out!" 

He never came up the stairs. 

And that, I think, says more than any rant I could put in this paragraph.