Here’s a Christmas Tip: Be Sure to Tip
“It’s a thankless, thankless job.”
- The Ghost of Benjamin Sweet
“Duke that guy a hundred.”
- Frank Sinatra
There was a time when we Americans would get a lot of things delivered to our door.
For the sake of illustration, I’ll go ahead and sacrifice myself on the altar of age. There wasn’t just the milkman who showed up
in his pristine white suit and captain hat clinking glass bottles together on our back porch. There was also a bread man who delivered loaves of white and rye and pumpernickel every week, and there was even a
Charles Chip man who would bring big tins of potato chips to our door. And my father’s white shirts were also brought around by someone from the dry cleaner, all packed in individual boxes, every one of them with
a paper hankie square stuck in the front pocket bearing an encouraging message such as, “Your freshly pressed shirt, sir!”
At Christmastime, all of these delivery people would receive a thoughtful note from my mother and a gift of a few dollars. It was her
way of thanking them for their personal attention to our family’s needs, for making sure we got the small curd cottage cheese and not the large curd.
And she tipped the mailman and the newspaper carrier too, because it was the right thing to do. It still is.
In these times, when we are all pumping our own gasoline without a squawk, we have lost many of the service people who helped us out as
a matter of routine. But we still expect our newspaper to have arrived before we pad to the kitchen in our slippers and start the coffee. And just about every time, it’s right there for us. And every day, anthrax
be damned, we receive our mail through the appointed rounds of our letter carriers. These are great daily occurrences that tend to go unnoticed.
This year, especially this year, remember the people who bring you the newspaper and the mail. These are anonymous people, largely:
family people more often than not, who work hard and who deserve some show of thanks. I’m not talking big bucks here. But just imagine. If everyone on the route gave two dollars, it could really add up to a
meaningful gift. The two bucks itself would be a meaningful gift for these people who rarely get a word of thanks from anyone and who only hear bad news from their bosses when a newspaper happens to land in
My brother Chris in Tennessee took on a newspaper delivery route to supplement his income when his second child came along a few years
ago. In the dark and cold, he would hand fold the papers until his hands were chafed. If there was rain, he’d take the extra step and put a plastic bag around each one. He had the route for years, and the only
gifts he ever received around Christmas-time were two small Whitman Chocolate boxes and some coupons for half-off on some Krystal cheeseburgers (the Southern equivalent of WhiteCastle).
Imagine the nice Christmas he could have given his kids if all the folks on his route had put a dollar or two in an envelope.
Promise me you’ll think about it
©Mark Andel 2001
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A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose
I may never forget something I read once about a gift of red roses on Valentine’s Day in an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine while in a
dentist’s waiting room.
The writer of the article mentioned once receiving a dozen red roses delivered to her office, a scenario that will be repeated many
times throughout this favored land on this day, and her scathing appraisal was that they appeared to her like “twelve shrieks for attention.” Shrieks?
I can’t help but imagine the boyfriend or husband in that instance, waiting expectantly by the phone for an acknowledgment of some
kind, a breathless “Thank you” or “They’re just beautiful!” and instead getting a testy, “Thanks for the twelve shrieks for attention. I hope you didn’t wear out your little finger calling the order
Perhaps the “blush is off the rose” now on Valentine’s Day because it’s too simple a thing to do. Nowadays, to send a woman red
roses on Valentine’s Day shows a certain perfunctory predictability, an “I better remember” malaise rather than a true stirring of the heart. It’s a simple phone call or a few taps on an order form on the
Internet. On the computer, you can even spare yourself the embarrassment of saying a “special message” for the enclosed card out loud to a clerk at the flower shop, which was always the toughest part of ordering
a flower delivery.
The exchange might go something like this:
“And on the card, sir?”
“Oh, yeah. Umm, could you say, ‘Pumpkin Pie . . . “
“To Pumpkin Pie?”
“No, Pumpkin Pie as an intro, like, ‘Dear Pumpkin Pie . . . .”
“You want to say that then?”
“Fine, just, okay, how about, ‘Pumpkin Pie, so sweet and . . . .something.”
“Oh, great. Just put, ‘I love you’ will you?”
And that’s why so many women get cards that say “I love you” and nothing else.
Men want to be creative, they’re just at the mercy of sarcastic florists.
Anyway, after reading the Cosmopolitan article, you might as well just say on the card, “Look at me!” twelve times. That
arrangement would be called the “David Mamet Bouquet.”
Remember “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” when Andrew Duggan brought Patricia Neal a bouquet of roses for a Christmas present?
She was thrilled, marveling at the fact that here in her Appalachian hands were “Roses, in the dead of winter.” It was tender moment back when roses meant something.
Perhaps if they were harder to come by, they might carry more romantic weight.
That’s true of most things. Somewhere deep in our genetic code, Early Man, the hunter and gatherer, started bringing Early Woman
pretty and unusual presents, and liked the result he achieved by doing so. Eons later, roses caught on, and we haven’t quite shaken them, event though florists charge more than double for them on Valentine’s
Day. Supply and demand is also a concept deep in our genetic code, which we all abide by.
Which can be bad or good, depending on the timing. In a few weeks, I’ll be able to stock up on foil-wrapped chocolate hearts and
roses from Fannie Mae at 75 percent off. And further into springtime, I can grow my own wild and bright red shrieks for attention and put them quietly in a vase on our windowsill when my wife least expects it.
Of course, this is from a guy who got his wife breakfast cereal for Valentine’s Day. She happens to have a childlike enthusiasm for
Quisp, so I went to Netgrocer.com and ordered some for her. In my book, if the person you care about has a childlike enthusiasm for something, you provide it for them.
What are hunters and gatherers for?
Happy Valentine’s Day.
©Mark Andel 2011
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A Native American Thanksgiving
IT HAS TAKEN a while, but Native Americans have finally found a way to take their country back.
That notorious deal that was struck to purchase Manhattan Island from the Native Americans for twenty-six dollars worth of beads must
have stuck in their collective craws like a stubborn bit of turkey gristle from a hastily prepared sandwich, and they finally found a way to appeal to so-called "Americans" on their own level: use their
own greed and avarice against them!
Open a casino!
The government can't say no to them due to the provisions of the act that put reservations on the map (in some of the most unattractive
real estate in the country, by the way). So now, certain Indian tribes are getting rich from watching white people in baggy pants and colorful polyester-blend tops throw money into silver slots hoping to get some of
it dropped back to them. The beauty of the casino business is that the House always wins, and everyone is okay with that, as long as a few people make out all right and there are enough bells and whistles going off
when the money starts totaling up on the inserted card to keep the folks standing there blindly jamming more money into machines with absolutely no hope of getting an Orange Crush or a Coke in return.
Had the Native Americans who gathered on Plymouth Rock in the early 1600s known what havoc these seemingly pleasant folks all dressed
in black with the buckled hats would visit on them in the very near future, they would have been less forthcoming with the roasting ears and the popcorn, adopting a refrain that my ex-wife used to tell me sometimes
in the movie theater: "Get your own bag."
How can you not feel for these people who were so thoroughly shafted by the United States government? And how can you not wish them
well when they build monumental casinos with Orrefors crystal sculptures of noble tribesmen preparing to spear bison in their hotel lobbies, all bought with the money of the ancestors of the very people they fought
so bitterly against at the time when they were served eviction notices signed in congressional blood? Some of these dudes playing blackjack even have wispy goatees just like George Armstrong Custer. And by
nightfall, they're scalped all right! Oh, yes they are!
I can envision the board members of one of these Native American casinos celebrating Thanksgiving this year. Perhaps they'll hire out a
wait staff to bring on the fine roast, all dressed in retro Pilgrim hats and white aprons.
As they bend their glasses to be filled with Dom Perignon, perhaps they'll pull out a fifty dollar Monte Cristo Cuban cigar smuggled in
from the Bahamas and tell one of the Pilgrims to light it for them.
At this, another Native American will make an observation. "You know," He'll begin. "When we gave them cigarettes, we
thought that would do them in - who could have guessed how long it would take?"
"Pretty resilient, aren't they?" the Native American with the cigar will respond. "But with any luck, we got them on the
ropes now. All we need to do is give them a glimmer of hope that they can escape their circumstances with the simple pull of a lever or the drawing of a lucky number."
"That's the American Way, right?"~
©Mark Andel 2011
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Halloween at Six Corners
[A PAIR OF EXTRATERRESTIALS land near Milwaukee Avenue, in the vicinity of Six Corners one day in late October. They
disembark from their spacecraft and their first stop is Fantasy Costumes. They go undetected because both of the aliens and their spacecraft are in stealth mode, making them both invisible.
Their phasers are drawn, but in short order, they holster them. The creatures here seem harmless enough, just a little strange.
Following is their de-encrypted c-messages (that is to say, "cosmos messages," e-mails being an antiquated earthling contrivance) which they beam at each other, in preparation for making their report to
the mother ship:]
"Bi-peds. How unusual!"
"Yeah, really. Every planet. Same old same old. YAWN."
"POL." [Phalumphing Out Loud]
"Hey, look, there's Doctor Evil. He appears lifeless."
"It's not him. It's a likeness that appears to be some strange gummy material."
"When do you suppose he visited this planet?"
"Hard to tell."
"There's Darth Vader, too."
"Haven't seen him for ages. He looks lonely."
"Yeah, no one is going near him. There are more life forms surrounding the rather puffy beige face that
resembles their own, but there is something in its energy intake."
"They call it 'mouth' here, according to my ionic translator."
"What does the object represent?"
"It says - 'cigar.'"
"Ask it what that means."
"It's something that these life forms set on fire in order to draw smoke
into their energy intakes."
"Does it propel them?"
"The crowd around it appears to be phalumphing quite a bit."
"Yes - and they are phalumphing at the likeness next to it - which appears to be a female of this species with
"They call it 'hair' here.
"Ahh - and what do you make of the phalumphing?"
"Hard to tell. There seems to be a mean edge to it, though."
"My ionic translator tells me that it's supposed to be a likeness of the
leader of the free world."
"And the woman?"
"It just says, 'An embarrassment.'"
"It must be tough to be the object of scorn like that."
"These creatures gathered here all appear to be inhabiting the life forms of other creatures for a very short
"And then the phalumphing begins."
"Yes. Even when the creatures they inhabit are hideous looking, there is much phalumphing."
"Including that big red horned creature that looks frightening."
"According to the belief system, that red-suited horned creature is supposed to live below the planet's surface.
When they depart life, some of the unlucky ones get prodded by that trident forever and ever."
"And that's funny?"
"Do we have enough for the report to the mother ship?"
"I think so."
"One more thing, though. That Elvis mask doesn't really do him justice."
"Well, what can you do? It's not the most civilized planet in the galaxy." ~
©Mark Andel 2011
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It's A Wonderful Life
“Eee-yaw and Merry Christmas.”
AS BOARD GAMES go, the degree of difficulty is not great - provided you've seen "It's a Wonderful Life" a few hundred times.
We had John and Janice over to play, and it was the wives against the husbands. The goal of the game is help George Bailey (played by
the beloved Jimmy Stewart in the movie - but then, who doesn't know that one?) accumulate at least five friends and $8,000. The first team (or individual) to do that wins. Of course, the $8,000 amount is
significant, too, and hard-core fans of the movie know what that's all about. It's the amount of money that George's foolish Uncle Billy accidentally gives to mean old Mr. Potter.
Anyway, after the wives made with their usual snickering over a photo of a much skinnier John and me wearing acetate disco shirts taken
when we were college roommates in 1977, we started things off with a nice spiral sliced ham and a few bottles of bubbly. Then, while our kids went off to Nintendo heaven (which is actually murderous video
mayhem), we sat down for some serious "Wonderful Life" competition. Afterwards, we'd watch the video and gloat over the right answers we'd gotten.
But first, some snifters of cognac and can we please get Kenny G. off there and put on the Elvis Christmas CD, for crying out loud?
That's better. Much better. Somewhere into the number where Elvis bawls out, "It's Christmas time, pretty baby!" I felt compelled to put my holiday cloth napkin around my neck and swivel over to my wife,
wipe my brow gently with it, and hand it to her as an Elvis-like souvenir. Her reaction was not at all like the reaction I had seen folks give Elvis at the Chicago Stadium in 1976 when he did it. The napkin fell to
the floor and my wife said, "Yuck."
Overall, we were doing fine, John and I. We were accumulating friends apace, and were waiting for the luck of the draw to bring us the
When we were almost there, we were stumped by a question involving Eustace,George Bailey's strangle little accountant.
The question was this: "When the office finds out that Ma Bailey had lunch with the president, what does Eustace say?"
The going was getting tough, so I resorted to my ace-in-the-hole tactic, my "phone a friend" lifeline. In this case, it was the resident family expert on all things related to movies (especially beloved
holiday movies): my brother Chris in Tennessee.
There was much loud protesting and Janice said it was "cheating," but the call was made. Chris's answer was confident and
immediate: "What Eustace said was, 'What did they eat?" "Are you sure?" I asked needlessly, bragging rights for the year riding on it. "Yeah, that's what he wants to know."
Good enough. And then the gloating started by my wife Linda over a technicality. "WRONG!" She said with glee. "The
answer is, "What did they HAVE to eat?"
"That's the same thing!" I shouted. "Alex Trebek himself would give it to me!"
But she wasn't sorry, and so the game continued. We laughed some more, had a few more sips of cognac, and when we eventually ran the
movie, we made little ham sandwiches on halved biscuits, and enjoyed each other's company as George Bailey himself discovered what the film's title meant.
When Eustace said the line, "What did they have to eat?" I felt my wife nudge me and she smiled, and the only lights on were
coming from the Christmas tree and that great old black-and-white movie, bathing us and our old friends in a contented holiday glow.
It's a wonderful life.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!"
- from the James Bond film "Goldfinger"
INSTEAD OF WASTING time doing a post mortem on the year that just was, let's take a moment to look at some trends that are coming to
life that will find the full flower of their expression in 2001.
Although I've never made any claims about being psychic (although it seems like pretty easy work) here are some items that look like
safe bets, pretty much.
Number One: Coffee's OUT, Tea is IN
And I'm not just talking Lipton's stuff (whether it's in that jazzy brisk blue can or being sipped by that mustachioed guy in a
sea captain's hat). Tea will be turned into a yuppie craze, and knowing yuppies, their tea will have to come from certain patches of land from places with names that are difficult to spell and pronounce, and the
more difficult the name of the place it comes from, the more expensive it will be. Look for tea shops to counteract coffee shops, and look for Starbucks to lead the trend (check out the new "chi" products
available presently - now with FRUIT FLAVORS! Another prediction: there will be a giant tea company from the East that will take on Starbucks and do quite well, because, let's face it, Starbucks has become exactly
the corporate franchise it begged to differ from in the Eighties, as omnipresent as McDonald's. Look also for fancy, costly teapots to become popular, even though to make tea all you need is a pot to boil water or a
ceramic mug to put in the microwave.
Speaking of McDonald's. . .
Number Two: Look for More Fast Food Mergers
If you thought it was bizarre to get a Burrito Supreme from Taco Bell and a bucket of Extra Crispy from the Colonel under the same
roof, just wait. We've only just begun to see our fast food giants share the big fat market of fast food consumers like potato salad at a summer picnic - with affection and malice toward none, because there's plenty
to go around. It's not that far-fetched to imagine getting a Big Mac and a Big King from the same drive-up window. But don't look for Wendy's to join in. Dave Thomas doesn't goof around with the Big Classic.
Besides, the only other fast food place that could give Wendy's a run for its money in the chili department was Bishop's on Roosevelt Road, and I think they're gone now.
Number Three: Plaid is Back!
And it is a triumphant return! This one I take great pleasure in, because in the early Seventies, I was one of the few guys in
high school who wore plaid pants to high school. I was on the golf team and did it because I usually had practice or a "Meet" somewhere later in the afternoon and therefore was compelled to wear my lucky
Jack Nicklaus pants. I wore shirts with yellow bears or penguins stitched on the pocket, too. More than one girl told me I looked like their Dad, which is not a cool thing to hear when you're seventeen. Imagine
mustering the nerve to ask for a kiss after hearing that. But plaid! It's in some of the trendier and cutting edge stores now. Soon it will be everywhere. Better dust off your old Bay City Rollers collection and get
used to it because I know plaid, and it's tenacious once it takes hold. It'll be on handbags, sport jackets, slacks, umbrellas, rain hats, key holders, even suits! And people who wear them won't feel like parodies
of used car salesmen, because they will have seen a number of skinny, pouty kids with good skin wear them in top fashion magazines so they will know that it's okay.
Number Four: VHS Tapes Die, Long Live DVD!
This is a hard prediction to make, because I dearly love my VHS tapes. Being a filmophile, I have been collecting VHS tapes of
movies for many years, as lovingly and carefully as I once collected LPs: the LPs that are now warping in my brother's garage in Tennessee unless he has decided to use them as clay pigeons. I always believed that I
would be able to turn to my expansive library of VHS tapes in the future, my pipe tilted at a rakish angle, and say to my wife, "Well, my dear, what shall it be tonight? A Hitchcock double feature - or does
that glint in your eye tell me it's time to watch 'Goldfinger' again, eh?" DVDs are clearly superior. There's no denying that, and that is what makes it all seem so unfair. By the end of the year, video stores
will have an extremely small section of VHS tapes to rent, and the year after that, you'll perhaps be able to find VHS tapes at flea markets - and being sold by sentimental nuts on Ebay.
Number Five: George W. Bush's Most Embarrassing Moment
You've read it here first. George W. Bush will unwittingly ensnare himself in a worldwide faux pas event that will make his Dad
heaving up chicken on that Japanese guy's shoes that one time seem like a mere fleck of spinach on a tooth. I can't be sure what it will be yet, because the crystal is going dark, but it's going to be a dilly of a
doozy. And what's worse, he won't apologize for it right away, but merely shrug and raise a supercilious eyebrow, and the rest of the world will suggest that it's just another "Ugly American" circumstance
and get over it.
And then if someone wonders what that means, exactly, well, they won't be able to rent the movie of the same name on VHS. That's pretty
©Mark Andel 2001
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Not to put too much weight on the same overstressed limb I went out on last year when I made predictions for 2001, but let’s recall
what some of those predictions were and make a few new ones for 2002.
Since I make no claims of being a latter-day Nostrodamus, most of what I said would happen did not: namely, that tea would become
hotter than coffee, trend-wise, that plaid would come back strong, and that George W. Bush would embarrass himself by committing a major faux pas on the world stage. But another thing did come true. DVD’s are
edging out VHS tapes in video stores and retail shelves. And I’ll stand by my prediction that by this time next year, you will perhaps be able to find VHS tapes only at flea markets – or being sold by
sentimental nuts on Ebay.
Some say that Nostrodamus did predict this year’s tragic world events with deadly accuracy, and e-mails with his antiquated,
portentous quotes about “twins in the New World” falling victim to the “king of terror in the sky” accumulated quicker than Taliban troops surrendering in Kabul. We like believing that someone, anyone, might
have a handle on even the most heinous of events, because without any foreshadowing or prophecy or grand plan at work, then all is truly chaos, and there can be no sustainable answers and no valid predictions. In
other words, the world would operate much like this column, which is a terrible thing to contemplate.
That said, let’s edge out a little on the branch, and let fly.
Scandal will rock a charitable institution
The blood-glut dilemma faced by the Red
Cross recently and the delay in getting needed funds to families of New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania victims will pale in comparison to what will happen to another charity. No names yet, since the Magic Eight
Ball’s outlook is hazy, but an event of misappropriation will occur that will make all givers to charities wonder about the validity of nonprofit organizations and shake them to the core.
Bat Boy will be awarded a special military commendation
Readers of the Weekly World News are familiar with the exploits of Bat Boy, the half-bat, half human creature discovered in a cave a few years back. Well, according to Weekly World News reports, Bat Boy joined the Marines and is now serving in Special-Op forces. I hereby predict that Bat Boy will distinguish himself in the service, and be awarded a medal. Keep checking the pages of Weekly World News to find out. Who better, really, to explore the caves of Afghanistan?
The anthrax mailer will be found
On a more somber note, the person
responsible for sending anthrax to the senate offices and media outlets will be discovered, and will be found not to have any formal ties to a terrorist network.
Pop Stars, Survivor, and Fear Factor will flop
People will grow weary of the exploitation
of appealing to the lowest common denominator of freak show human experience on television, and will turn away, appalled. Bands will once again form based on friendship and actual musicians having something
interesting to say, and not on how easily they can be choreographed and trained to follow orders, and no one will ever eat bugs on television for money again. Of course, maybe this one is just wishful thinking.
“Just Say No” to Terrorism
People will become more aware of the hasty
anti-terrorism legislation that was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy allowing the government to check e-mails and tap phone lines, and will want freedom and privacy back in their lives again. The freedoms
taken away, the government will reason, were taken away to ensure their freedom. The War on Terrorism will ultimately become similar to the War on Drugs, a lengthy war in the abstract sense, without discernible
Bin Laden will be caught or killed
And when it happens, it will be somewhat
anti-climactic, like when they found Hitler with his mouth shot off next to the body of Eva Braun, his bride of one day. The overwhelming sentiment will re-echo what Lincoln once said to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the
author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “So you’re the little lady who started the big war.”
And the big old world will keep on turning.
Wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy new year!
©Mark Andel 2001
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Santa Claus Comes to Town
THIS IS A TRUE story about someone who wrote a letter to Santa Claus.
It was not easy for her to take pen in hand and write the letter, because she was in pain from the chemotherapy she was getting for her
cancer, and because, well, deep down she thought it was a little silly – a grown woman writing to Santa Claus to bring something for her four kids for Christmas.
But somehow Santa Claus got the letter. At nonprofit agencies, requests for help come from every cold corner of the city around
Christmastime. In every sack of mail, there’s heartbreak and need, enough to make even the Jolly Old Elf himself a little melancholy. But the letter was somehow full of good cheer. All she wanted was to see smiles
on her kid’s faces on Christmas Day. There was no mention of anything for herself, although it’s not difficult to imagine that a woman facing cancer must have many, many needs. She left a phone number and an
address – a basement apartment just off Cicero Avenue.
Santa decided to give her a call to find out more about her kids and what they wanted for Christmas. “Anything at all” came the
quick reply. “Just anything at all, really. My goodness.” She sounded surprised to hear from anyone. With some more prompting, she told Santa Claus about a few items her kids had mentioned. They were four, six,
ten, and thirteen, and the ten-year-old girl was moderately retarded. The younger ones were crazy about “Toy Story” and were hoping to see the new sequel that’s out soon. Their friends at school liked it and
talked about it quite a bit. And the ten-year-old liked Pokémon, but her collection amounted to only a few cards with well-thumbed palimpsests at their corners like old information cards in a library’s card
The oldest girl, if she could dream as big as she could, would like a Nintendo setup, but would never ask her mother for it. The mother
knew she liked it because sometimes after school, she would play at a friend’s house, and come home talking about “levels” reached, and so on.
Santa happened to run into a friend of his that day, who mentioned that he had two hundred dollars that he would like to donate to a
good cause. The friend’s name was Ken Anderson, who runs City Food Equipment in Chicago. He was concerned because he knew the world was full of good causes, and he really wanted his money to count.
Santa Claus pulled out the woman’s letter and showed it to Ken. Ken gave his two hundred dollars to Santa Claus and said, “I hope
this will help.” Santa talked to another friend named Mike O’Connell, who promptly contributed some money to try and help get the woman some of those smiles on Christmas Day that she was asking Santa Claus for.
And on a cold, clear day last week, Santa called the woman and asked if he could bring a bag of gifts over. Her basement apartment was
modest but clean, and when Santa Claus appeared at the door, the kids’ faces brightened. They were some of the most beautiful faces Santa had ever seen. Santa sat on a sofa and began pulling out toys that Mrs.
Claus had wrapped the night before, toys that were to be opened on Christmas Day. He even produced a fleecy throw blanket that was wrapped up for the Mom. And then the youngest children began asking questions of
“Where did you park your sleigh?”
“On a flat roof not too far from here,” Santa Claus said. “There was no snow, so the reindeer had a tough time of it.”
“What do your reindeer like to eat?”
“Carrots,” Santa said. “They can’t get enough carrots.”
“Did you ever get stuck in a chimney?”
“Yes, I did. I had to have one of my reindeer throw down their harness rope for me to grab.”
“Which reindeer was it?” The six-year-old boy wanted to know.
“Rudolph,” Santa answered. “He could see me down in that dark chimney because he has a bright . . .
“We know. Red nose!”
“How did you know that?” Santa asked.
“From the song.”
And the child began singing the first verse of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
“You know all about Rudolph it sounds like to me,” Santa said.
“Yeah, we do!”
And the little retarded girl who is ten years old went to retrieve a picture she had drawn. It was a large figure in a red suit with a
cotton ball for a beard, and a big red curve of a smile.
“Hey!” Santa said. “That looks just like me!”
And the little girl smiled a smile that was as big as anything.
“It IS you!” She said.
And in that moment, it sure felt like it was true, and Santa’s
heart was so full that he nearly wept.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Smashing Pumpkins and
Other Halloween Idiocy
DESPITE MY NEIGHBOR Eric's warning, I put all the pumpkins on my front porch.
He sidled up to me as I was putting the pumpkins in place (some of them grown myself in a pumpkin patch on the side of my house) saying
in a somber, world-wise tone, "Pumpkins don't last in this neighborhood."
I asked him to clarify. Was the rain causing their untimely demise? Thievery? Bands of marauding Hell's Grannies in search of pie
"The smashers," Eric said, casting a furtive glance to both sides, as though the mere mention of their name would send hordes
of them swooping down. "The smashers will do 'em in."
"I'll take my chances," I said, and placed all the pumpkins I had in descending order down the stairs. My crop from the side
of the house came to about ten, all told, most of them pale and medium-sized. Not too good, considering I had to park my car on the street for half the summer when the vines started growing across the driveway. I
coddled my pumpkins, checking on them every day, drenching them with water and affection, bragging about them to anyone who would listen. Yes, I'll say it -- I loved them! So if someone sees it in their black little
heart to smash these little darlings, well, they're walking on the fighting side of me, as the Merle Haggard song goes.
Pumpkin smashing seems to be one of the meaner Halloween tricks to be played on the fabled night when dead souls are said to be allowed
to cavort among the living and settle old scores. Oddly enough, poltergeists generally don't engage in too much hurtful activity themselves, contenting themselves with causing windows to open or tapping on walls
like irritated downstairs neighbors. It's living people in groups who are usually the culprits when it comes to pumpkin smashing. (Smashing them alone would probably take some of the joy out of it, unless you happen
to be a sociopath.)
In the old days on Halloween, Carl McKelvy, Mike Huffman, and I would throw handfuls of field corn on the front porches of old ladies
and run away when they'd come out to see what the clattering racket was, laughing our heads off. If we could get them to cuss, it was a bonus. It doesn't seem nearly as funny any more.
But we never smashed pumpkins. For one thing, too much work seemed to go into the carving: watching your Dad slice into the top like a
surgeon and helping him scoop out the slippery, beseeded goop inside, laying it onto a newspaper, and then dreaming up a face. We may have been small, but we could appreciate art -- and an ugly gash of a mouth was
the coolest art around.
A few nights ago, our dog Reba began barking like a lunatic. I caught the full brunt of it because she shares my pillow. Something was
outside. "Oh, Eric's prophetic soul!" I said to my wife Linda, paraphrasing Hamlet and fearing the worst. My crowd of sunstruck orange globes! I was already writing their eulogy.
I stepped outside. Pumpkins were smashed all right. The jagged pieces teetered like small shipwrecks. Orange pulp stained the road. But
they were not my pumpkins. I did a quick inventory. I don’t' have names for them yet, but I'm pretty close to that. I used to pat "my oldest" on his round side every morning before going to work. He was
still okay. The only carving on them so far has been done by hungry squirrels and rabbits, who have made scary little scars from tiny claws near the stems. This I don't mind.
But the question remains: whose pumpkins were these in the road, and why were they smashed in front of my house while mine were left
intact? Some kind of sick taunt? A warning perhaps? What must be planned for my orange fellows on Halloween night?
I had better carve the scariest faces imaginable on them, and maybe equip them with a tape recorder voice box. If they get disturbed,
maybe they'll wisecrack, "Get a life, loser." They might still get smashed, but the effect on a misguided soul could last for years.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Christmas lights, and the people who bother to put them up.
Food samples in grocery stores on weekends.
Old photographs in scrapbooks.
Roselli’s Italian beef sandwiches on Higgins.
Dogs that sleep in your bed all night long.
Homer Simpson, who is real.
Elvis, who is real, too.
Santa Claus, who is even more real than Elvis.
Jack Nicklaus, who will always be unreal.
Turkey sandwiches with mayonnaise.
The collected songs of Cold Mountain.
Jeep Wrangler drivers who wave to other Jeep Wrangler drivers.
Students who ask questions.
Harry Potter, who never needed the Oprah Seal of Approval.
Shared memories that go way back.
To all Native Americans: Everything about popcorn.
Kids who say “Sir” and “Ma’am.”
Neighborhood bars and dollar drafts.
Cars that start.
Friends who pick up conversations after several months as though you had just spoken with them the day before.
Pork chops and eggs at the Rainbow in Elmhurst.
The resurgence of yoga.
American flags, and the people who bother to put them up.
©Mark Andel 2001
Trimming the Halloween Tree
“What is a man? A tattered coat upon a stick,
Unless, soul clap its hands.”
- W.B. Yeats
- Goethe’s last words
While walking my dog Reba through the neighborhood recently, I had a serious time-lapse moment, in which my senses reeled in a curious
sensation of being unstuck in time. It is early October, according to the insistent crunch of leaves underfoot, and yet there before me, not more than a city block from my house, was a window trimmed in
multi-colored Christmas lights. Upon closer inspection, I saw the words, HAPPY HALLOWEEN spelled out in glowing block letters.
Retailers are famous for rushing seasons, of course, attempting to take in the biggest haul possible by jumping ahead of their
competitors. But this idea of neighbors hanging lights outside the house for Halloween is just plain unnerving.
Sometimes the décor appears as crowds of illuminated orange globes on strings, lining windows and framing doors. Sometimes, the wicked
smile of a compressed foam jack o’ lantern lit by a bulb will be placed in front of a window like the malevolent evil twin of the family nativity set. And since when has it become acceptable to have a jack o’
lantern that operates on electricity instead of wax candles?
What happens to the ritual of inventing a face on a pumpkin and having to reinvent it when the knife slips during the carving? What
happens to that pungent and delightful sweet-potato smell of a charred pumpkin lid when the candle flame inside rises too high and blackens it? And then what happens to the flicker of life that the carved pumpkin
takes on when the flame hits the wick?
When my girls were small and we lived in a second-floor brick walkup on Long Avenue near Portage Park, I would finish the pumpkin
carving, turn all the lights off in the apartment, emit a series of low moans from the kitchen like a mournful, heartbroken ghost, and carry the lit jack o’ lantern aloft through the apartment, swooping it
perilously close to my small, horrified gathering. I was careful to keep the candle lit inside, carrying the pumpkin carefully with a kind of smooth rush. Occasionally, I would bellow out some hearty, maniacal
cackles until Linda would tell me to stop, thereby breaking the spell.
But, oh, that light inside!
That was the pumpkin’s soul burning in there, tormented and touched by hellfire. What good is a pumpkin that plugs in?
And yet, electricity appears to have subsumed Halloween as surely as it has Christmas. Ever since Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
was enlisted by Santa Claus to help out because of his incandescent proboscis, holidays took too readily to the kilowatt.
Halloween needs to be dark and brooding, filled with cobwebs, dripping red wax, and the faint smell of mildew in a dank cellar.
Neighborhoods should not become miniature versions of the Vegas strip, even though Elvis costumes still move briskly off the store shelves this time of year.
I have to admit, though.
Seeing that colorful strand of lights was pretty scary.
I was scared I was losing my mind.
©Mark Andel 2001
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