Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yes, I know I hate the what??

When I was a kid, our school district was broken down into small neighborhood elementary schools. I went to one in my neighborhood that had kindergarten through 3rd grade. It was a great way to go to school as a child – we all walked together in big groups, sometimes we walked home for lunch (how on earth did we have the time for that?) often bringing friend along.

It was a brand new school building. Actually, my kindergarten year it was still the “old” school – the building where many of our parents went to high school – big and ornate, with stairs that ran all along the hallways so the rooms were elevated. That summer they built the new sleek, modern school, with new desks and fold-up cafeteria tables, so it could more easily convert to a gymnasium.

I was happy there – we had recess and long lunches and art classes more than just once a week. And the teachers were great. There was my kindergarten teacher, who was also the principal. She was a kind older lady, who still understood young children. Even the next year – when my friend Tammy and I got caught carving Gina and Tammy love Donny Osmond in a door with a pop-top (remember those?) – and we ended up in her office, she knew that we really didn’t get it and treated us gently, just wanting us to understand why it was wrong, instead of worrying about punishment.

There was my beloved first grade teacher, who rarely had to raise her voice at anyone – she was so sweet, you just wanted to please her. I remember the last day of school, when I forgot to bring her gift and I cried and cried, so my mom took me to her house that afternoon to drop it off. She invited us I and gave us tea and cookies. If I hadn’t already loved her unconditionally, I would have then.

There was my second grade teacher, who…will, OK, my second grade teacher was kind of a douche – I still remember my friend Marsha and I getting in trouble for something we didn’t do and she simply wouldn’t listen.

But my third grade teacher? Oh my god did she ever make up for any ill will I picked up the year before. I credit her for my love of books. She read to us every day – long chapter books that left you crazy with anticipation for the next day’s installment. And if she saw that you took to reading, she did everything she could to encourage you – like she did for me. She took us on imaginary trips to far off places – we’d get out airline wings on and fly. Then we’d listen to the music and eat the foods and learn so much more than if we had just learned it from a lesson plan.

Plus, we had a great support staff at the school – the gentle nurse, who was forever getting my long eyelashes out of my eyes, the office ladies who knew you by name, and the librarian who made sure we had the greatest books available to us.

But the first person I think of when I think about that school is our custodian, Gus. Gus was the friendliest, sweetest, most caring person. He was always smiling, and always had time for you. When a kid had a problem, or was feeling down about something, they’d go to Gus before they’d go to anyone else. He was as likely as the nurse to put a band-aid on, and quicker than a teacher to break up any hallway squabbles. He knew everyone’s name and their parents’ names and their grandparents’ names too.

His “office” was the supply closet. Any time the classroom needed something, we kids would climb all over each other to raise our hand the highest - everyone wanted to be picked to be the one to go visit Gus. Because you knew that you would be getting more than some colored paper or crayons – you’d get a cheery hello, a compliment on what you were wearing or your latest artwork hanging in the hall. You’d have a real conversation with a grown-up who treated you like you mattered – like you had something important to say. And sometimes, you’d even get a candy to take home and eat later. Gus was everyone’s best friend.

It was a few years before we all found out that Gus was famous. We already adored him as much as humanly possible, but knowing this thrilled us. Our Gus was an even bigger hero in our eyes.

His name was Gus Br1ckner, and he was a swimmer. Not just any swimmer, though – he was best known for long, LONG distance swimming and very cold water swims. He was the original Human Polar Bear. He started the tradition of jumping into the city’s icy rivers on New Year’s Day in 1949 (though he didn’t limit his own activities to just one day a year). He would bring old filmstrips in for us to watch of him swimming in the icy rivers and rolling around in the snow. He held Guinness World Records for cold swims (6 minutes 22 seconds in -18 degree water) and total lifetime distance swim (38,512 miles – the last of these miles were recorded at age 75). He attempted to swim the English Channel 2 times – each time making it mere yards from shore (after swimming 34 miles and 15 hours) before having health issues that required he be pulled out. He wanted to try again in 1960, but it was called off by the authorities because of the conditions.

When I joined the swim team in high school, I was a diver, but being in a small district meant a small team and my coach didn’t like to see empty lanes. So I sometimes was called on to swim backstroke or in the freestyle relay. I took to the backstroke pretty well, but freestyle – Oh My God, I thought I would die. And while I was barely struggling along hating every minute of it (while Gus’ son was serving as an official) I would think of Gus – and how he swam way longer when he was way older. When we’d have to show up for practice at 5:30 in the morning in the freezing Pennsylvania winter, I’d think of Gus rolling around in the snow in those old movies. And I’d make it. He never knew how he inspired me.

When I heard he died back in the winter of 1991, I cried for the sweet, caring, kind man I used to know – even though I hadn’t seen him in many, many years. And I thought that someday I’d like to be a Polar Bear just like Gus was. Last year, I was a relatively new reader of Uncle Crappy’s blog, and when I saw his post on his New Year’s Day plunge, of course, I thought of Gus. I found myself wishing I had known Uncle Crappy better or sooner, because maybe I could have gone (actually, I wished I had known him sooner because he’s awesome). Well, kids – I know him longer and better this time around. And I have met some of the others planning to go. So by god, I’m doing it. On New Year’s Day, I am jumping in the icy cold Mon. And just before you hear my girly scream upon hitting the cold water, you’ll most likely hear me yell, “This is for you, Gus!”

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I am the BOSS! And don't you forget it!

The girl came home from school yesterday with some interesting artwork. These are keepers. Click to see them in their full glory.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The one where I just fucking deal

So I decided to delete the last post. I'm not comfortable being that much of a whiny baby, especially when I know how blessed I am. Plus - I'm not wild about saying anything even remotely negative about Awesome Company, because a) "dooced" and b) they truly are awesome. I am so lucky to have a job that I love, doing work that I feel is meaningful. I work with a group of brilliant, hilarious people. I work for a group of brilliant, hilarious, generous people, and I don't want it to seem like this one struggle that I am having reflects on the company or my experience with them as a whole, because it certainly does not. Regardless of what happens, I will manage to work things out. Thanks for the support and advice, though - I do appreciate it.

Anyway, since I want to wipe the negativity off my front page but I don't have anything else written yet, I am going to re-run something fun - last year's take on Christmas music:

Things I've learned from listening to the All Christmas Music All the Time channel:

- When it comes to the standards, the originals are almost always the best. No on can rock around the Christmas Tree like Brenda Lee, Gene Autry is the only one I want to hear sing Rudolph, and no matter what an asshole he purportedly was, Bing Crosby simply IS White Christmas.

-Pretty much all Christmas music gets me weepy, but Old Toy Trains really does it. Because it makes me think about when the boy was little and he's not anymore, and...waaaaaahhh.

- Occasionally, though, the remakes are better. Willie Nelson made Pretty Paper.

- There are so many, many ways to fuck up Silent Night.

- To wit: Christine Aguilera has a set of pipes, but someone needs to explain to her that "peace" does not have 17 syllables.

- I don't like my Christmas songs to be fucked with very much. Jazz them up, rock them out, whatever, but don't fuck with the basic song in ways that make them un-sing-along-able. And Christmas songs are made for singing along.

- Medleys suck. While we're on the topic of singing along, it sucks when you're just about to rock out the second verse of O Come All Ye Faithful, and suddenly you're in the Little Town of Bethlehem and thinking, "Did I just black out?"

- Hard Candy Christmas is seriously underrated.

- So is Fum, Fum Fum.

- With a few exceptions, the awesomeness of the 80s did not carry over into Christmas Music.

- Even at Christmas, the entire concept of John Tesh makes me want to vomit.

- Suzy snowflake is what second graders sing in music class. It does not belong on the radio. Ever.

- Merry Christmas from the Family sounds more like my family every year.

- No matter how much eggnog* I drink, I still think Bruce Springsteen sucks. Santa Claus is coming to town sounds like something your chain-smoking drunk uncle forgot the words to. (*OK, rum and coke. But in a festive holiday glass.)

- Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy makes me nervous when the girl is listening. Because I'm crazy and I don't have enough ridiculous shit to worry about.

- Synthesizers + Christmas music = Baby Jesus Crying

- Please - no more barking damned dogs (though when I was a kid, they had a version of it with laughing and it was infectious).

- Vince Guaraldi? Genius. So pretty and nostalgic.

- And on the Peanuts topic, Snoopy's Christmas is pretty cool, too.

- And of course all the Grinch music. I mean, anytime one can work "three decker toadstool and sauerkraut sandwich with arsenic sauce" into a song - I'm in.

- You can't go wrong with Dominick the Donkey.

- Embarrassingly enough, I'm still a sucker for the chipmunks.

- Madonna is no Eartha Kitt. Neither are the rest of the skanks who have tried, and failed, to do Santa Baby justice.

- Who the fuck wants a hippopotamus for Christmas? What, are they on crack? Hippos kill motherfuckers! You do not want a hippo!

- Angels among us isn't really a Christmas song, but I love it anyway.

- I really HATE the songs about poor little street urchins who are starving and Jesus disguised as a homeless person and God help me, if I hear Christmas shoes one more time, I'm going to hunt down the person who wrote it and run them down with my sleigh. Then beat them with those fucking shoes. Just in case they meet Jesus tonight.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009


I was at my mom’s house this weekend and she had my very favorite ornament hanging on her tree - it is a stuffed, cartoon-ish reindeer in scarf and hat and gloves, holding a Christmas sign. It warmed the cockles of my heart to see those four letters: “NEOL”

Neol, indeed - it’s the season to disguise Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa) as some sort of general winter holiday, which never fails to piss me off. Personally, I don’t care if you believe in God or Jesus - whatever. If you want to celebrate a completely pagan-ized version of Christmas, that’s fine, too. I really, truly don’t care - you have a right to do as you please. While I do believe that you can’t have Christmas without Christ, I will support and defend your right to do/celebrate/believe what you want. Because as long as I can do what I want, too, we’re fine. And what I want to do is feel the true spirit of the season (though I will readily admit to getting caught up in the commercialized trappings of the season). And if that involves wearing my “Jesus is the Reason” pin and putting a nativity on my desk, etc, that’s what I’ll damned well do.

I get so sick of this group or that group getting upset and pissed off over Christmas decorations. OK, at city hall, I can see the point - separation of church and state and all. Of course, I am a card-carrying liberal and still have no problem with holiday decorations at school or city hall. I don’t care if they are Christian, Jewish, whatever. It’s a special time of year. As long as you cover them all - whatever. I don’t necessarily want to see a crucifix all year, but a damned Christmas tree or a menorah isn’t hurting me or anybody else. But I can accept that with all the things I believe in regarding church/state separation, come things like this. I can suck it up. I have my own tree at home to enjoy.

But I really don’t get when people get shit for having decorations for their own holiday on their own private property. I know people who don’t think anyone should have anything outside where others might see it and get offended. Please. If seeing a damned Santa offends you, you’re in big trouble, pal. Because life in general? Full of the offensive. Get over it. And to bitch about a church having a nativity (which, yes, I have heard)? Are you an idiot? Seriously? Do you know of this thing called a church? Geez. I’m “offended” by all the hanging-out ass I have to look at driving through campus. I’m “offended” by the Asshole Traffic Brigade. I’m “offended” by Jon Gosselin. And yet I have to face all that shit daily. Who can I sue?

There is a local family that is pretty well-off that over the past 20 years or so, have been very prominent in leading the marches and suits and fights to stop having Christmas decorations in the city buildings. OK, whatever - to each his own. The city offered to put up menorahs, etc, to appease all groups, but this family was having no parts of it. The Christmas stuff offended their non-Christian beliefs. Again - whatever. But there’s one part of the story you don’t know. This family also owns a chain of stores that sell outdoor summary stuff in the warm months, but come fall? A giant Santa shows up on the roof of the businesses. And they sell Christmas trees and ornaments and outdoor decorations and garland and wrapping and all the detritus of the holiday. Big, fat hypocrites, much?

The security guard in the building where I work used to decorate his desk with a tree and a Santa Claus. He isn’t allowed to anymore because someone complained. Not because it was a religious freedoms type thing. But because Santa was white. Yes, because he did not have a multi-ethnic, trans-gendered, handicapped, deaf, blind, brain-damaged, immigrant, female Santa, he offended someone and had to take it down. How fucked up is this? The man is bringing you free gifts, people!! Do you really care what color he is? He could have two heads, purple skin, antennae and a big, green ass but if he comes bearing an ipod, then COME ON IN, FAT MAN!!

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