Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Christmas Shoes

On the way to work this morning, the people on the talk show I listen to were lamenting the awfulness of “The Christmas Shoes” (the song, in this case). This always happens: The radio people take my side on an issue, but then they defend it with such dreadful reasoning that I panic that someone will think, “Huh, none of these arguments make any sense. Therefore, it must be an excellent song.” Because it’s not: the song blows. They just couldn’t articulate why it blows.

Case in point: A caller who, agreeing with the team, argued that she hates it “because every time I hear it, it makes me cry.”

INCORRECT. Only acceptable if you are crying tears of laughter.

They were onto it, a little bit, sometimes: They wrestled with “it was written to make you sad” as a reason it sucks. Yes, the word you are looking for is “cloying.” I might also venture “manipulative” and “cynical,” but I’m pretty grumpy sometimes.

(And even though their argument that “It’s not even a real story” misses the point entirely, bonus points to the contributing texter who offered them, “Why are you standing in line when your mother is dying? GO BE WITH HER.”)

But my complicated relationship with The Christmas Shoes actually centers on the movie. Which was based on the book. Which was based on the song. Which sucks.

The only reason I bothered watching at all was shadenfreude directed at Rob Lowe. Lowe had just quit  The West Wing, reportedly over dissatisfaction with his screen time and general issues with writer Aaron Sorkin. (Years later, I’m not even sure how much of that is true, but it worked well for these purposes.) I was, of course, annoyed that he would deign to be so petty toward my beloved show, so when Lowe’s very next project turned out to be this Hallmark H.O.F. P.O.S., I was delighted.

This recap goes into it, really, better than I can. (And, amusingly, also references “the smugness” of Aaron Sorkin’s writing, so…what’re ya gonna do?) (Edited 12/22 to add: This Patton Oswalt routine is even better. Just listen; don’t watch the cartoon.)

The Christmas Shoes is a story scrubbed and bleached and stripped of all nuance and launched off of a cliff of maudlin extremes—whose mangled corpse is then paraded in front of you like the filmmakers found a unicorn. It’s a smug parable espousing things we already know:  “It’s not about presents, people! Look! Christmas is about love!” Even an ounce of nuance would be redeeming, but no: Everything Rob Lowe does is obnoxious and heartless; everything the family does is good and pure. Because if they’re not perfect and martyrs, how will people be able to love them?

Anyone who didn’t have at least this much empathy at birth has already seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Stoppard’s The Real Thing, when the main character is describing a wannabe playwright who believes he’s made profound philosophical discoveries (which are actually instead widely known concepts): “…announcing every stale revelation of the newly enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific—war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft…It’s all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press barons…you can’t fool Brodie—patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism…pages and pages of it. It’s like being run over very slowly by a traveling freak show of favourite simpletons.”

Don’t forget to love us! And floss!

The Christmas Shoes feels like it was made by people who are publicly patting themselves on the back for their pure and generous spirit—as though having sympathy for a dying woman’s family at Christmastime is a triumph of humanitarianism. As though giving $20 to a kid is an act of sainthood. It’s a tee-ball homerun on a shortened field; it’s not the kind of thing that should get soaring, self-satisfied music and a background chorus of cherubic children. (Or, as I like to shout in that part of the song, “SING IT, CANCER KIDS!”)

I’m sorry. Not to stomp (…repeatedly) on what was probably, at some point, a well-intentioned story of love. And I’m sure it’s valuable for the kiddos developing a sense of grown-up consideration for other people. But for most of us, there’s really nowhere to go with this but sarcasm; this movie eats up every ounce of earnestness available.

Which, if you’re a drunk, sharp-tongued, bitter old lady like me, makes it pretty fun to watch.


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Winning (Except for the Losing)

I don’t generally have a problem with going to a bar by myself–so long as I already know the spot well enough. Then, it’s like the bar itself is a friend, and that gives me all the confidence I need to meander in and plop down for a while.

Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar at all with the bars in my new neck of the woods, and when it comes time to watch a blacked-out Bucs game, the choices are a tad limited. The one down the road might carry the game, though not likely, and it’s got a six-seat bar. So I turn to the next island over.

The best option is a fantastic idea–what was a ground-floor parking garage in the center of a cool little island shopping district was converted to an open-air, multi-TV, giant-bar restaurant just over a year ago. The problem is A) any place carrying a blacked-out Bucs game has the potential to be overrun, and being by yourself and not finding a place at the bar is awkward; and B) given the central location in a touristy spot, it has a good potential for being a massive douchecanoe marina.

But, what the heck, I ventured forth.

Found a spot at the bar, albeit on the opposite end of the room from the Bucs game TV, but it was still a decent view.

I really never know in these situations how long I can feel comfortable before getting fidgety; usually midway through the second drink at an unfamiliar spot I want to escape. So I ordered a Bud Light bottle and held my breath. Bartender told me buckets of five bottles were on special.

“I’m going to pretend I’m not going to drink five beers myself,” I told him.

Then, after some nervous moments wondering what degenerate might claim the empty seat near me, a 60something guy asked if it was taken, and settled in. Awesome: He was by himself, also watching the game, and he showed virtually no interest in talking to me.

Only every once in a while did he make a chummy comment about something happening with the game, but other than that, he totally left me alone. I managed to find an occasional signal in what is kind of a black hole for internet, too. Hell, I figured. Maybe this isn’t so bad.

I was on my third beer come halftime, and I had a decision to make: Bail now, because I needed food, or ask for a menu and commit to another chunk of time. Hell, it was a good game.

Bonus: Their coconut shrimp are .awesome.–big shrimp and breaded in coconut as well as sliced almonds. Brilliant.

Enter the fourth quarter, I order my fifth beer. “Not gonna drink a bucket, huh?” the bartender joked. I laughed and said they would’ve been warm by now. He said he’d give me the discount anyway. Good man.

Well, the game was worth the watch through to the end–Bucs down only a point, with the ball and 13 seconds left to play. Neighbor and I had a few more frequent exchanges regarding the Bucs’ secondary and Josh Freeman’s last-minute comeback ability. He was knowledgeable enough to give me an opportunity to show my knowledge, too–nary an expression of surprise from him that a girl might know the ins and outs of the Tampa 2. And even though the Bucs weren’t able to pull off the win, I was happy I stayed to watch the whole thing.

In fact, the worst part of the afternoon was 15 minutes after I returned from the bathroom, when I realized my fly was gaping. Eh, whatever.

I got the check, gave the bartender a good tip, and told my neighbor to have a good one. Never even got his name. It was the perfect bit of socializing for someone as antisocial as me. Not an out-and-out win, but hey, they covered the spread.

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Sorry, bit negligent in posting this week, so here’s some of my favorite sports-related youtube hits.

First, No. 1 in SportsCenter’s Top 10 earlier this week:

Beast Mode:

(And, though I’ve said it before, here’s the Facebook soapbox comment I made about this one.) In case I haven’t speechified at you yet, I am a big believer in sports, no matter what. There’s a reason we have tryouts. There’s no reason the smallest, least-athletic, least-interested boy should be allowed to try out, when other people are excluded for outdated reasons. If that means only one girl makes the league, or none at all, then so be it. But don’t draw lines in sports that have nothing to do with athleticism.

This is SportsCenter:

Quite possibly the best television advertising campaign EVER–and still going strong. I love virtually ALL of these commercials, but this is, at least, just one of the classics. (Just so I don’t have to make a decision, here’s a whole mess of awesome.)

Also a Good Campaign:

These are pretty good commercials, too, but this one is the best.

And Finally, My Favorite:

My (admittedly small) kingdom for anyone who can get me a high-res version of this video. Makes me cry Every. Damn. Time.

Tons more where that came from, but fortunately I’m now distracted by dinner…

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Last Week’s Craziness: Day Three

Saturday: Oh, there’s the soreness.

Awake for sunrise, but surprisingly well rested, as Mr. Deelio marched back and forth preparing a bountiful breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, ciabatta and butter. And coffee—sweet, wonderful coffee.

Thus began a day of idyllic nothingness: bocce on the bayfront. Smoked kielbasa for lunch.

But at 4, the next great adventure had to begin—and the first part of that adventure was finding Clearwater, though I amazed myself by not needing the directions that I had written down and then lost anyway. Found the downtown Residence Inn with nary a wrong turn, and Ma was there to greet me. She’s staying up there for a few weeks as she stage manages a show, and therein lies the magic: Via her association with the theater, she scored two passes to a nonprofit theater support group’s private concert: Counting Crows. A band I’ve been listening to, pretty much nonstop, since high school freshman year. I used to make Ma mixed tapes (shut up and…shut up) featuring Counting Crows songs, and I delighted when she picked out certain favorites. (I remember she loved “I Wish I Was a Girl.”) Not even lying, my eyes got teary just driving in.

So I arrived at the hotel smoky but quickly showered, got dolled up, pregamed and headed out with Ma to meet her current coworkers at the pre-show cocktail party (passing the Church of Scientology Sea Org worldwide headquarters en route, which tickles me in ways that have surely deemed me a heretical Suppressive Person).

Free drinks! Free food! Fun people! (In the end I probably could have used a little less of one of those things, and a little more of another, but this was just the beginning.)

The concert venue was a 466-seat theater, but only 250 or so people had been invited. Seat yourself.  I ought not try to describe the feeling you get when you see in-person a celebrity you actually like—more than just, “Ooh! Famous person!” It’s kind of like…it reminds me of when I was a kid and first saw video of weeping hysterical Beatles fans. I couldn’t fathom what that emotion was. Now, as with when I spotted Joe Montana a couple years ago, I at least know what those Beatles fans felt like before their hormones cranked everything up to 11.

Plus, a venue like that is both loud and intimate—two more things that’ll give you goosebumps. Boom, right into it with “Recovering the Satellites,” and I was captured. Ensorcelled. Transfixed. Knowing all the words to the songs, and Adam Duritz’s…er…unique voice has always made for some of the only songs in existence that I can sing with abandon in my own stunted, nasal tenor.

They even played “Anna Begins,” which has always been among my favorites—and since it’s a non-single from their very first big studio album, there was no guarantee this would have been on the set list. For all the girls names he writes into his songs, this is the closest Duritz ever came to singing a song about Hannah.

This time when kindness falls like rain
It washes her away. And Anna begins to change her mind.
“These seconds when I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days,” she says.
And I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

When even my best experiences are held in check by frightened self-awareness, this one wrapped me in warm fuzzies from the get-go. Aside from the occasional impulse to snap a pic for obligatory posterity (and the regular one-armed bear hugs for Ma), there was not a neurosis to be seen. We even ran down the aisle and danced in the crowd.

It’s like, instead of ending, the night seemed to dissolve right there. This is what we like to call “The Jim Beam Effect.” Whatever came after was part of a different story, separate from the time with the music. I don’t really remember it. I think there were s’mores.


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Last Week’s Craziness: Day Two

Friday: Surprisingly not sore from Day One’s adventure, I left the cat with extra food and extra water and set off to work at 8 a.m., my car packed with tent, camp chair, pillow, comforter, and grubby clothes, plus a backpack with my fancy wedges, nice jeans, black tank, spiffy jacket and extra jewelry and makeup. Oh yes.

At lunch time, I set out on foot—to the bank, for a money order for rent (seriously, anybody seen my check book?) and $60 cash; to Mal’s Cut-Rate Liquors for a bottle of Beam; to Whole Foods, for paté and crostini; to Bookstore 1, for a birthday card; and to Artisan Cheese for freshly made pimento cheese…which, alas, was so fresh it hadn’t been made yet. Sigh. Back to the office.

In a stunning show of professionalism, I flat-out announced to the bosses that I was leaving early because I was meeting friends in St. Pete. So at 3:45, I hit the Short Stop for an 18-pack of Bud Light, Artisan for the pimento cheese (finally), and set off, destination: Fort Desoto.

As if all the running around hadn’t made me harried enough, I took the wrong exit (it’s the first left exit off of 275; not the first overall), then, while trying to get back on the interstate, watched in vain as the proper exit passed by, a wall between us; turned around, got headed in the right direction, but forgot exactly how far off the interstate Fort Desoto is, through two toll booths and a long stretch of busy road. Found the park, found the camp area, drove in looking for site 201; found sites 199, 200, 202 and 203 and finally almost had a meltdown as Mrs. Deelio called: “Was that you?” “WHERE THE HELL IS SITE 201?!?!?!?” “It’s…right here.”

At this point, greeted by the Deelios and their friends—ack, new people—I was actually shaking. Beam first, then tent, then…aaaaah. Finally: relaxed.

And what a view: A wicked-nice campsite right on the water, grilled oysters and pasta for dinner, cheeky raccoons and campfire stories. I was out cold on the mat the second my head hit the pillow.

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Last Week’s Craziness: Day One

Last week featured a series of three very intense, very different, very awesome days.

Thursday: Starting at 8 a.m., I got a three-and-a-half-hour tennis lesson at IMG, which is kind of a big deal in the sports world, since everyone from Drew Brees to the U.S. women’s national soccer team trains there. Mine was just an adult class for amateurs, but the coaching was top notch—every instruction was concise and easy to incorporate, like learning a dance: point your lead hand at the ball, shorten your back swing, touch the racquet with your left hand after you hit the ball, step forward with your right foot on the follow through. I feel like I got exponentially better at a sport I wasn’t particularly good at to begin with. And we got a visit from Nick Bollettieri, who coached Andre Agassi (among many others) and founded this tennis academy way back in the day.

But: Three and a half hours. For someone who considers herself relatively fit, I can confirm that they put these grownups through the ringer, cardiovascularly speaking. Which is awesome—I hate the idea of paying a lot of money to be athletically coddled—but I actually had to call on pride and competitive spirit a few times just to keep up with the drills. Wore my ass out.

Then, after lunch, I realized exactly how much my ass had been worn out, when I wanted to quit 30 seconds into an hour-long strength and conditioning session. I instantly—and lengthily—lamented my cavalier approach to sports nutrition. Breakfast, people. Always eat breakfast. By the end of it—and I have never before in my life wanted to quit a workout so badly—I didn’t know whether to cry, puke or pass out.

This is all for a story I’m working on. The upside: It was free, and I got a day out of the office. The downside: There are photographs. That are going to be published.

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Willie, Willie

Why? Because I learned it from a blog (some 13 years ago), and you should, too.

Why? Because it spans centuries of history in a concise 30 seconds; because it’s within arm’s reach of historical discussions that come up fairly frequently in America (among those who discuss history fairly frequently). And because it’s AWESOME for Jeopardy.

Here now, the English monarchs, from William the Conqueror (1066) to today. (Sans Oliver Cromwell and Queen Jane. But they’re for another blog.)

Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three,
One, two, three Neds, Richard Two,
Harries four, five, six, then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the Bad,
Harries twain, Ned Six (the Lad),
Mary, Bessie, James, you ken,
Then Charlie, Charlie, James again,
Will and Mary, Anna Gloria,
Georges four, Will Four, Victoria,
Edward Seven next and then
Came George the Fifth in 1910;
Ned the Eighth soon abdicated,
Then George the Sixth was coronated.
After which, Elizabeth,
And that’s all, folks, until her death.

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