Monthly Archives: December 2004

Pie, explained

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There are things that you say to each other when you’ve been married since long before the Berlin Wall fell, things that certain situations call for. These may be quotes from movies, TV, or friends, and often I’m astonished to find that I’ve completely forgotten where the original quote came from. Sometimes we’ll watch a movie that I haven’t seen in 20 years and I’ll realize, “That’s where that line comes from!” (This was especially true of Meatballs, by the way.)

One of these things involves pie. When pie is served, we are required by our common memories to exclaim, “Just because I’m loaded doesn’t mean I can’t have pie!” The origin is fairly obscure — it came from a very short-lived attempt by PBS to create a half-hour comedy anthology, back in 1987. It was called “Trying Times,” and I don’t recall how many episodes were produced, but if it turned out to only be three, I wouldn’t be surprised. One episode was by Spalding Gray, called “Bedtime Story.” I don’t remember this at all, even though at the time I was in the full throes of Spalding Gray Fever. I thought he was brilliant, I thought what he was doing was refreshing, innovative, and, like most true innovations, so obvious it’s a wonder no one had done it before. Yet, I remember nothing about this story and couldn’t have come up with its title without IMDB.

Another was Terri Garr in “Drive, She Said,” which probably got the most notice of all the shows, and featured Terri taking driving lessons. I remember that it was hilarious, but, again, like most of us in the ’80s, I was also enamored of Terri Garr, and had been ever since I’d heard her say, “Quick! Suck it before the venom reaches my heart!”

The line about pie comes from an episode called “A Family Tree” that featured David Byrne and Rosanna Arquette. It was directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Beth Henley, who had also worked with Byrne on “True Stories,” which bears another look some 18 years later. I remember none of the particulars of this episode (was this the one with the piano moving, where the mover says, “Don’t worry, lady, I ain’t lost a piano yet!”?), except David Byrne getting up drunk in the middle of the night, coming into the kitchen and demanding pie. “Just because I’m loaded doesn’t mean I can’t have pie!”

Some things are better left unexplained, don’t ya think? The really odd thing is that we’ve passed these phrases on to our children, who in most cases have NO IDEA where they came from, so sometime, perhaps after we’re gone, they’re going to be watching a holodisc of “Sunset Boulevard” and have an amazing a-ha! moment: “So that’s where ‘I’m ready for my nap now, Mr. DeMille'” comes from!”

The Revolt O’ The Appliances

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Every Christmas, it seems, with frightening regularity, we suffer massive, multiple appliance failure. We may as well stop buying presents and just accept that our money will need to be spent replacing the devices that keep our lives going. I don’t know why it happens around Christmas — my theories involving Jesus Robots calling the appliances to join them are probably, I think, far-fetched, though the possibility of the Remote Control Destruct Chip isn’t. And I’m not talking about minor appliances like coffeemakers, of which we have none (I’m a grind-and-press guy). In past years it has involved the washer, the dryer, the microwave, the refrigerator, the VCR. Etcetera.

This year, it was the dishwasher, which is just about three years old and leaks like the one it replaced never did. (Based on my experiences with the fridge, dishwasher and stove that we bought then, I won’t be buying a certain company’s appliances again.) If I clean the seals to the molecular level, it works fine, but the only tool for cleaning the seals is the human index finger — nothing else really gets in there and does the job (we have hard water, which leaves some nasty mineral deposits). And, most disastrously, my two-year-old Harman Kardon CD changer, bought for their famous quality in sound and workmanship, completely bit the dust. It started making a most alarming grinding noise, which it has made 3 or 4 times before, but this time it wasn’t stopping. Took it all apart to see what was what, and found that the gears on the CD reader are of the cheapest plastic, and have worn away after two years of the lightest use I have ever put on any CD player. I had my first Denon for 9 years; the player that followed that lasted about 7. So now I’m thrown into the world of figuring out what CD player I want — and just try to find a mid-range CD player these days. The consumer market is all about the DVD, which is cute and everything, but neither of my DVD players has had the sound quality of a CD player. I was never an insane high-end audiophile, but I can certainly tell the difference between crappy DVD sound and a modest quality CD player. Plus, DVD players are SLOW, SLOW, SLOW. (Not slower than the Harman Kardon, mind you, which changed discs at a glacial pace and recognized just about every other one — I should have sent it back when I got it.). As someone with less interest in a home theater than I’d have in a home bowling alley or home landing strip, I’m finding this all a little daunting.

So, for now, my great new Christmas CDs are being played on my computer and broadcast through the cordless phone’s interference to the stereo in something approaching FM quality, the excruciating mediocrity of which really shines through on my beautiful Acoustimass speakers.

Enough! But if you find that those Jesus Robots have anything to do with this, let me know . . . .

Excellent Christmas

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Well, it just was. Don’t know why. I was especially in the mood this year (although I wasn’t any more diligent about decorating and so on than usual . . . one string of stars in the porch windows, and we barely got the tree decorated.) But the idea of gathering among friends and family in the darkest days of the year appealed this year, and where I had expected her to become somewhat blasé about the whole thing, my 11-year-old was actually uncontrollably excited. It was as if she were running around happily chanting “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” under her breath for several days. It didn’t hurt that the space under the tree was more stuffed with presents than I’ve ever seen it, even after we’d mailed off the out-of-town stuff.

Christmas for us begins at my mother’s, where we’ve had a big Christmas Eve lasagna festival for the past 34 years or so. That’s a long time. The cast of characters has changed dramatically over that time, and I still feel melancholy over some of those no longer with us on Christmas Eve, but that’s the nature of time. All we can do is remember. How it became lasagna, I’m not sure anyone knows, but one year my mother tried to serve something else and there was a major revolt, so it’s always lasagna. The girls were good with their cousins, I got to chat with some folks, and since it was an early start we closed the place at 8 o’clock. Unfortunately, Hannah enjoyed just a few too many of Christine’s delicious espresso squares, a flourless chocolate espresso concoction that was as caffeinated as it was delicious, so there wasn’t much sleep for her on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning was wonderful — the girls waited until 7 to wake us (as ordered), and then we came down and oohed and aahed over the Santa presents, but the best presents this year were from Mom and Dad (because we thought we should get most of the credit). Of course they already knew they had season passees to Mount Snow, and that was the bulk of Christmas, but they both got new American Girl accessories they wanted, a couple of new games, and little things like that. Rebekah gave me the new Lennon Acoustic disc, which I’m sure will be wonderful — but to tell more, I’d have to get into a rant about the Revolt O’ The Appliances, which I won’t do just yet. Oddly, nobody got any new PlayStation games — none of the ones we wanted could be found, anywhere.

Then the families came over, and all the peaceful pleasantness turned into Grand Central Christmas. It was, as my mother puts it, as if Santa threw up. There is just no way with that many people, especially children, to have any semblance of order to the gift opening, so it devolves into an orgy of paper-tearing and shouted thank-you’s for about an hour. It’s a shameful consumerist orgy, but we call it our Christmas, and it’s a little bit of a rush. My mother fuels it, mostly, because the rest of us pretty much stick to one or two gifts per person, but she goes overboard. I asked for new pots and pans for Christmas — the ones we have are her leftovers from 10 years ago, and the handles are all cracking or gone — and I should have expected that she would supply us with all the pots and pans in the world. We haven’t a clue where we’re going to put them.

Once that was over, dinner — half-catered, half put together in a panic when the grill suddenly stopped working. I went out to check on the two whole chickens I was supposed to be grilling and found they had reached a summery 80 degrees. Still not sure what was wrong, but it meant I had to put them in the oven inside, which meant the stuff that was going to go in the oven had to be dealt with otherwise — big domino effect that left us eating exactly when I had said we would, but which was about an hour later than we would have had the grill worked. Tasty chicken, though. And pie. I had made two Norwegian Apple pies, and when I thought that wasn’t going to be enough, made a pumpkin as well. Then I ended up with most of three leftover pies from my mother’s the night before. So man, did we have pie. Just because I’m loaded doesn’t mean I can’t have pie! (I could explain, but I won’t.)

Then, miraculously, everybody cleared out by 6:30, and we slumped in exhaustion in the living room and used toothpicks to keep our eyes open through the mandatory (but much enjoyed) viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

All in all, the perfect Christmas!

Merry Christmas

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There’s a pretty good chance that even if you’re on my Christmas card list, you didn’t get a Christmas card this year. Nothing personal. Or rather, everything personal, in the sense that apparently I didn’t care enough about others this year to get the damn things done and out. I couldn’t settle on a picture — none of the family photos this year were any good, and most of my great shots of the girls were individual, which kinda doesn’t speak of the spirit of family and Christmas, so at some point in November I just gave up on the idea.

It’s Christmas in July!

by carljohnson


Then the cards started rolling in from all kinds of people I’ve probably guilt-tripped into sending me cards over the past couple of years, shamed by my uncharacteristic consistency in getting my cards out to my entire list, three years in a row, for the first time since the birth of Christ. Now I had a stack of cards (arranged in a convenient stack-like display), and feared that my now-faithful annual correspondents would feel slighted, insulted, forgotten, or worse. As some of them hold dangerous knowledge that I don’t want in the hands of Page Six, I thought I’d better get with the Christmas program. Quickly printed out the picture you see here, as Christmas-y as a picture of the Ausable River in July can be, ran off a meagre sufficiency to deal with my guilt, and popped them in the mail just a few short days later, so that they’ll arrive sometime after the eggnog has all worn off. So, if you’ve gotten a card in the past, don’t give up hope . . . but I wouldn’t hound the mailman, either. Merry Christmas!

Holiday season

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Spouse has been super-sick this week, just in time for the holidays, picking up where Rebekah left off. As a result, I’ve been sleeping on the couch all week (not that I wouldn’t have been anyway, had she seen what I was up to with Lisa Bonet in the dream I just woke up from) in order to avoid picking up an extremely nasty virus. We’re hosting on Christmas and the house is nowhere near ready, and tomorrow is going to be a loss because of places we have to be, so it looks like today’s the day. Of course, deep cleaning is never just cleaning but also involves unneeded rearranging, and I got into rearranging TV and stereo stuff yesterday in such a way as would give me back an entire bookshelf, but it would require new cables and wires and so on — which I got because our doctor’s office is located right next to a Radio Shack (and a Panera Bread, so there’s a somewhat much pleasant place to wait while desperately ill spouse has her lungs poked). And at the same time my brand new (well, only two-year-old) Harmon Kardon CD changer has completely given up the ghost, which has completely pissed me off. That’s the last time I pay for “quality” in a CD player — I’ve got $75 pieces of junk that have been bounced around the basement, garage and yard that are still working, but this thing was apparently too delicate for the environs of the living room. Tried to get a very similar replacement cheap on eBay, but I got outbid, so now I’m forced to think about what CD player I want. Kill me now.

I did get to the gym last night, where I found that I’m only up three pounds, not the 20 that it felt like, as a result of this inactive season, so I hit the track and did some swimming and it felt fantastic. Ran into someone I know a little bit and asked the stupid standard question, “Ya ready for the holidays?” To which the poor guy had to say, as he’s probably had to say a million times this month, that in fact his family was Jewish. Well, I didn’t know. But he then went on to say that they had a German foreign exchange student living with them, and they were trying hard to find Christmas-y things to do with him so that he felt a little more at home. (I guess all must really be forgiven.)


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It was cold in the car and I had my hat over my ears (it’s up to 1 degree fahrenheit), but I’m pretty sure the radio just said that “natural gas, heating oil and cocaine prices are up dramatically.”

Maybe they said “propane.” Never mind!

Christmas music

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Know that great Waitresses Christmas song, “Christmas Wrapping”? Know that line, “Most of ’81 passed along those lines”? Oh my god did that make me feel old this morning. ‘Cause baby I was there when The Waitresses were the hottest new thing, and they were the first to make an exciting new Christmas song in ages — and now that was 23 years ago. Zoiks!

Christmas music when I was growing up in the ’60s was a depressing mix of:

  • Rat Pack Cool Crap — Dino and Frankie wheezing through old chestnuts, drink and cigarette in hand, naughty winks at women in scanty Santa outfits
  • The remnants of the “chorale” industry, whose maudlin efforts were only made the more creepy by a tendency toward bizarre pre-claymation album cover art, and which can never be forgiven for bringing us the most horrible Christmas earworm ever, “The Little Drummer Boy.” Harry Simeone has much to answer for. And listening to “chorale” records can only lead to Sandler & Young.
  • Burl F’ing Ives

That was it.

These nightmarish musical memories set me to thinking how little good new Christmas music there is. There are definitely some exceptions — Brian Setzer swinging the chestnuts, and Los Straitjackets straightening out of The Ventures’ approach are both modern Christmas classics. Rock has a hard time with Christmas anyway, and Fiona Apple singing “Frosty the Snowman” isn’t exactly what I’m thinking of. I mean new songs about Christmas. John Lennon and The Kinks are hardly new. Let’s keep it to the last 15 years — here are my favorite newish kick-ass Christmas songs:

  • Merry Christmas Emily – Cracker
  • Christmastime – Aimee Mann
  • Rudy – The Be Good Tonyas
  • Sock It To Me Santa – Marshall Crenshaw
  • The Christmas Twist – Syd Straw
  • St. Stephen’s Day Murders – Elvis Costello and The Chieftains

Your faves? Tell me!

‘Tis the season, baby!

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I really do wonder why it is our cultural imperative to cram as many life-affirming events as possible into the month of December. Perhaps it’s because it’s cold and gray, not enough snow on the ground, it’s been winter for a while and we just need something to do. And perhaps for those without children, it’s not like this at all, though even just the parade of office Christmas obligations is enough to mess the month up. (By the way, kudos to the Albany Bloggers for putting together a Secret Santa system — if I ever did Secret Santa, I’d do yours. But I don’t.)

In addition to The Nutcracker Factory, which comes to an end this weekend, this has been a busy week. Last night, the Sixth Grade Concert, a concerted effort featuring the orchestra, the chorus, and three bands. My recollection of school days, admittedly biased, is that strings were the thing, but today it appears that brass rules, and the sixth grade has so many heavy metal instruments that they’ve had to break them up by houses. Hannah was first violin, and they sounded great. But it went well and quickly, all one can ask of a school concert — though I will say that some of the teachers could stand a little refresher in public presentation. Then, this morning, the middle school Principal’s Breakfast to honor the top six students in each grade, in each house. Three times three times six, all individually named and honored, a very sweet ceremony. I was surprised by how many of the kids and parents I knew. (I want to write about all this community and connection, what it all means, but right now I haven’t the time or the head for it.) My daughters triple-dog-dared me to tell the principal that I knew her from when she taught at my high school, and so I did. I never had her for a teacher, but I told her I had been one of the “Jean Rose Crowd,” and she said that she and Jean still see each other all the time, and that she’s still teaching part-time. Mrs. Rose was the English teacher who made it all click somehow. It wasn’t that she introduced me to the wonders of literature — that I already had. It was more that she got it, too, and so many of the other teachers didn’t. If a teacher gets that what he or she is teaching is cool — that’s 80 percent of it. And yet, most of them don’t.

And today, just to grind the week down a little more, I have to fly down to DC (it’s our nation’s capital, you know), do a meeting, then hang out for many hours waiting for my flight back. Doesn’t that sound glamorous?