Sunday, December 31, 2006

Merry Jewsmas?

This time of year, articles pop up bemoaning the growing lack of religion in Christmas. "Keep Christ in Christmas" is the rallying cry of many Christians who hate how commercial Christmas has become. Even Charlie Brown thinks commercialism has gone too far (but he's always complaining, isn't he?). But it's that lack of Christ in Christmas which is drawing a ton of notice less for its effect on Christians, but for its effect on a growing number of Jews.

I've posted in the past about Jews celebrating Christmas or celebrating what has become the holiday season as opposed to any religious holiday. Last week, the Sunday New York Times (12/24/06) posted two different columns about this; one woman remembers her family trying to absorb the trappings of the Christmas holiday and another about a woman being so enamored with the materialism that she can't wait to incorporate it. (You may need a New York Times Internet subscription to access these articles)

Articles like these always angered me, not so much for the way Jews are assimilating themselves so easily, but for the way Jews have rationalized how okay it is. Growing up in a secular society I've accepted how strong the Christmas trappings can be, especially when Channukah moves around. Just recently, Hanukkah came and went before Christmas shopping was even done. So as a kid, it was always tough being around all of my non-Jewish friends who expected me to get 8 presents when the final days were pretty lame. And they all got their major loot all at one time. But for me, I liked the difference. I was always very jealous but I had something that set me apart from everyone else (besides my big nose and my funny hair). I continued that feeling into college, where the closest thing I could find resembling a Chanukah decoration was some dusty wrapping paper. But as pretty as the lights around campus were, I didn't join in. I wasn't protesting. I was just celebrating my holiday the way I was supposed to celebrate it.

It's true that Christmas loses more and more of it's religious significance every year. There are many reasons for this but one of them is not stores saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." That little chestnut from last year was one of the more ridiculous things I had ever heard. The so-called "war on Christmas" Bill O'Reilly and his minions decried was nothing more than an attempt to recognize that while Christianity is a strong majority in the United States, there are other cultures with other traditions. So rather than ignore this fact, it was very nice to hear something that encompassed everything instead of just one thing. I was never offended by hearing "merry Christmas" and I got the intent of the message, I never saw anything wrong with the message that included everyone.

The reality is that there is no Christmas anymore; not to millions of Americans, anyway. The New York Times articles deal with Jewish families embracing all the trappings of the holiday season, despite the fact that the lights are Christmas lights and the trees are Christmas trees. Their argument is that they symbolize the holiday season more than Christmas alone. And while that rationalization used to infuriate me as an excuse from the lazy, I suddenly understand where they're coming from. I still don't agree with them but I get it. What does Channukkah offer the observant Jew? Some candles, some lights if you have an electric menorah. But music? Nothing really great and mostly in Hebrew. Nothing that will ever be included on a radio station's playlist. Christmas has become so mainstream as to lose its religious significance while Hannukah remains the same old thing.

Jews want to assimilate into American society. That's fine. But does that have to mean celebrating the majority's holidays as well? When will these Jewish families who have Christmas trees and make gingerbread houses start coloring Easter eggs, hiding them at the Passover seder instead of the afikoman? Can't we enjoy the lights and the traditions of our neighbors without having to copy them?

Is being a Jew really that bad?

Here's what I suggest: since most people seem to look upon this time of the year as the "holiday season", then let's start a new holiday. It'll last for 6 weeks, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. It'll encompass all of the major holidays like Christmas and Channukah. It'll include Kwaanza and Festivus. Maybe we'll extend it into January to include Three Kings Day. I mean the Muslims have Ramadan, which last for a month (?). There's a 10-day period of reflection between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The concept of a large block of time to celebrate something isn't foreign. So let's get Hallmark involved in printing up some cards and let's get ready to celebrate Seasons of Joy (or whatever) 2007. Everyone can still celebrate their own religious holiday but marketers get to sell different colored lights and different decorations. As long as we're out there picking and choosing bits of everyone's holiday but still saying we're just enjoying the fun of the season, let's call the season something else.

Maybe then everyone will stop complaining.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Back To Normal?

Today is Christmas Day, 2006 or, as my people call it: Monday the 25th. And now that the sun has set on another Christmas (on the east coast, anyway), I wonder how long it will be before human behavior returns to normal. The holiday season is always wonderful for one major thing: people are nicer to each other. But it's usually disingenuous and shrouded in the umbrella of "hey, it's Christmas" but still, it's nice while it lasts.

Of course, some people use this shroud to excuse their boorish behavior. If I was in a movie theater and asked someone to stop talking, I'd be met with "relax, it's Christmas." So while you can enjoy the extra friendliness this time of year, you're not allowed to show any emotion other than wide-eyed love of your fellow man.

This can be nauseating to some but rest assured that the behavior does not last. People being who they are, they will soon revert to their selfish, angry ways as soon as it is socially acceptable. Is that now? Is it until after the new year? Maybe I sound like a grinch but let's be honest: how long did the warm glow of brotherhood last after 9/11? How long did all of those American flags stay up? How long did everyone actually care for New York City residents? It's just the way people are. And it's a shame.

Will I revert to my old ways? Some would say that I never got nicer. Screw you. Okay, just kidding. This season was harder than previous ones. So let me offer up some resolutions and apologies. The resolutions are a few days early and the apologies are a couple of months late (I missed my Yom Kippur window) but the intent is there. Let's just try to be nicer and see what happens.

1) I've been really good at controlling my road rage and this will continue. There are a lot of stupid, annoying drivers out there but every once in awhile, you might find one who has a reason. You never know when that'll happen.

2) I'm going to stop being so judgemental. It's fun to sit on a bench and people-watch and make up stories about them. But I tend to get mean-spirited and that should stop. Again, everyone has their own mishugas to deal with. The jackass walking too slowly in front of me may be having a bad morning.

3) I'm going to deal with my wife's driving. She's a good driver. Better than me in many regards. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut and stop stepping on the imaginary brake in front of me; or the imaginary gas pedal when she goes to stop at a yellow light.

4) I'm going to keep my opinions to myself. Too often, I open my mouth about something I disagree with but it's not to offer up a contrtadicting opinion in the spirit of derbate. It's to make the other person realize that my opinion is the right opinion. I'm too much of an idiot to have everyone agree with me.

5) I'm sorry to the people who may have been on the wrong side of my bad moods. My moods aren't your problem.

6) I'm sorry for not returning your calls. I'm better at returning e-mails.

7) I want to be a better friend, father, husband, coworker, person. I'll try.

8) Looking back at #4, doing that would prevent me from this blog. So I'll keep my opinions in check. How's that?

9) I'm going to ignore the looks I get from others. Sometimes they're real, sometimes it's just paranoia. But I see rolled eyes and hear exasperated sighs in my direction from time to time and I've decided to ignore them. I'm trying to live my life. I don't have time to customize it to suit others.

So in the spirit of the holidays, I hope you all have a happy new year. And come mid-January, when the glow has worn off, I still want you to have a happy 2007.

But I can't vouch for February.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

There Is A God!

There's a lot of injustice in the world. But in our litigious society where people get money for slipping on ice, spilling coffee or just falling down, the tides seem to be turning. Perhaps we're seeing a trend personal responsibility is more important than placing blame.

When the movie "Borat: Cultural Leanings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" came out, millions of people were amused. This style of movie or reporting is nothing new. People are just amused when stupid people are ambushed and revealed to be the morons they really are. But not the two fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina who sued everyone connected with the film because they looked like a couple of racist rednecks. And they don't want their scenes to appear in the DVD release of the film.

Well you know what the court said? I'm just paraphrasing here but the other day, the court said, "too fucking bad." Thank God.

We all wish we could take back things we've said. We've all hidden behind the "I was drunk at the time" shield. But in this age of You Tube and My Space, where the smallest of infractions can immediately be broadcast to millions of people, we need to be careful.

If you haven't seen the film, these three fraternity brothers (only 2 of them chose to sue) get drunk and talk about reinstituting slavery and disrespecting women and stuff like that. According to their lawyer, the scene cost one of the frat boys a job at a large corporation and the other one lost a choice internship. They've also been subjected to humiliation and ridicule. So why agree to appear on camera? They signed releases, right? Yes they did, but they thought that they were appearing in a foreign documentary that would not be screened in the United States.

Okay, I get it now. It was okay to say what they said because no one in the US would be seeing it. But since it was seen by millions in the US, the drunks must sue! In an increasingly smaller world, it is not beyond reason that this "foreign documentary" could be seen by any potential employer. Maybe a relative of an employer saw this thing on foreign TV and called his cousin to check it out. What I'm saying is that these boys are only suing because they got duped and they looked stupid at the same time. It was fine when it was foreign. Now that bad things have happened as a result, they want to blame others for the misfortune. Too fucking bad. You're a couple of redneck hicks whose beliefs don't jibe with many people anymore.

I just LOVE justice, don't you?

Monday, December 18, 2006

There's Been A Horrible Accid....Oh, It's Just Santa Claus

Maybe it's a regional thing or a cultural thing but I've never experienced holidays quite the way I've experienced them since I moved to New Jersey. They really take their holidays seriously around here. Perhaps things have changed out on Long Island as time has passed. I don't know. I do know that decorating doesn't begin and end with Christmas around here. But since it is the Christmas season (okay, holiday season), let's focus on that.

If you were in the vicinity of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, on Saturday the 16th and you needed emergency assistance, your call to 911 may have gone something like this:

Operator: Season greetings and thank you for calling 911. All operators are busy assisting other customers. Please hold and your call will be accepted by the next available operator.
You: (ex
asperated sigh followed by 2 choruses of "Silent Night.")
Operator: Th
ank you for holding, this is Liz. How may I...
You: I've
been in an accident! I need help!
Operator: Okay, no need to interrupt me. It is the holiday season, you know.
You: I'm bleeding! I need an ambulance!
Operator: Ooh, I'm sorry. All of our ambulances are out at the moment.

You: They're out?
Operator: Yup! Fire trucks, too! They're at Shop Rite. Santa's in town!
You: So?
Operator: So? We have to tell everyone! So we've dispatched all of our emergency vehicles to the parking lot of a shopping center so people and meet and greet Saint Nick.
You: What am I supposed to do?
Operator: I'm not the one who decided to have an accident on the day Santa came to Shop Rite.

And so on.

These crappy pictures don't do justice to the scene I witnessed last Saturday night (they looked so good on my camera phone). There were enough flashing lights and emergency vehicles to make one think that a major catastrophe had just occurred. But no such luck. No, it was just the town's way of bringing Santa Claus to town.
Maybe this happens near you as well. Fire trucks slowly drive through neighborhoods, sirens blaring. You run to the window to see if someone's been hurt or if some misfortune has befallen one of your neighbors. But what you see is some guy dressed as Santa Claus waving to the houses.

I suppose one benefit of living in the suburbs is the lack of multiple emergencies. So it must be okay to use a fire truck to chauffeur Santa around town. I've got to assume that there's at least one piece of emergency equipment in the garage for, you, just in case. But Lincoln Park is a small small that they use the high school from a neighboring town. There had to be 3 fire trucks and 4 ambulances blocking the Shop Rite parking lot. Hey, it doesn't bother me. I'm being neither a Grinch nor a Scrooge about it. But it just seems a bit excessive, doesn't it?

If you or someone you know was badly burned and in need of emergency assistance on Saturday evening, let me know. I'm not going to do anything about it. I'm just curious.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Holiday Tradition

It's 10:12 pm, Saturday, December 16th. I'm watching NBC's stranglehold on "It's A Wonderful Life." Mr. Potter just told George that he's worth more dead that alive and I've decided to repost my August commentary on this Capra classic. It's as true tonight as it was 4 months ago.

Click on the title above to read, or reread, my true feelings of George Bailey.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's In A Name?

It's time once again for homes and offices and parking lots and landscapes of ever shape and size to be adorned with Christmas lights. Where I stand on this usually depends on my mood when you ask. Those of you who know my moods know that my opinion could change daily.

Overall, I really don't care about lights. I don't care until someone else tries to make an issue out of them. And because that issue is usually pretty stupid, I get angry and the stupidity of people and how easily it is to hide behind the curtain of "it's Christmas, be nice."

As I said, I really don't care about lights. I live in a secular society that is predominantly Christian so I've come to accept years ago that I will be surrounded by Christmas lights. Most of the time, they're actually quite nice. Then some time when I was in high school, the issue of lights and trees on government property became a big thing. Jews were demanding equal time and I suddenly had an opinion. But I only had that opinion if the request for a menorah (actually, a Hanukkiah to be precise) was denied. I couldn't see the reason for putting up Christmas trees and wreaths and garlands and stuff but not plugging in a little menorah. And then came the big rationalization:

"It's not a Christmas tree, it's a holiday tree."

Holy fucking crap, you have got to be kidding me. This symbol of
Christmas which has been around for centuries suddenly lost it's identity? Sorry, no way. You'll never convince me that for the sake of convenience, you can just change the name of it and make everything kosher. This is done often. Remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC in order to keep the public from focusing on the word "fried"? Jeez, I do. So now I'm supposed to believe that these evergreen trees with lights all over them are actually holiday lights? It's almost insulting.

This transformation of names and symbols has grown steadily over the years and I've accepted it with a roll of the eyes or tongue firmly planted in cheek. I only get angry when, without a hint of irony, someone refers to the symbols as sign s of the season. If you take a large tree, put colored lights all over it and show it to 100 people, 100 people will say it's a Christmas tree. Let's not pretend we're all PC and everything. Most of the songs you hear this time of the year have no religious base at all. "Jingle Bells" and the like are just cheesy songs. But they're cheesy Christmas songs. Yes, they don't mention Christmas at all (as far as I know. I don't know every verse). But they've taken on the identity of a Christmas song.

Why am I angry? Hanukkah songs suck. The only decent ones are parodies like the Adam Sandler Hanukkah Song which has gone from funny take on Jews to annoying musical interlude. But I digress.

Maybe more people believe in this euphemism that I think. The proliferation of plain white lights that look like icicles are hung on many houses in order to celebrate the season. But I still don't buy it. If they were just winter lights or something, you'd have them up for the whole season, not just in December. What really gets me is Jews who have a Christmas tree because "it's pretty" or "it's not religious". Here's the thing: while it's not religious in nature, it's a symbol of a religious celebration. So make up your minds. You can't have it both ways.

Again, I accept my place in society and ask for equal time when it seems necessary. A recent event in Seattle has awakened (awoke?) my anger at the stupidity of some people. You've probably heard the one about the airport in the Northwest which took down a bunch of Christmas trees instead of putting up a menorah.

The story goes that SeaTac International Airport has always had a hallway with between 9 and 15 Christmas trees (depending on which newspaper you read). Back in October, a local rabbi. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, asked that an 8-foot menorah be placed there as well. Instead of agreeing or at least looking into it, The Port Authority of Seattle removed all the trees claiming that an agreement could not be reached in time (according to a Port spokeswoman named Rachel Garson). And the area went nuts. While the rabbi said that he never intended for the trees to be taken down (thus giving people another reason to hate Jews), the Seattle Times called it a "war on Christmas". Bill O'Reilly would be proud.

At first, I was embarrassed to be a Jew. I figured people were going to start getting angry once the request for a menorah was made. But then I learned that the request was made in October. And there were no discussions about it. But then came the icing on the latke. Terri-Ann Betancourt, a spokeswoman for SeaTac, said that a religious object like a menorah could not be displayed amongst all of the "holiday trees." So now these trees that have been in the airport every year are actually holiday trees? Or are they holiday trees because someone is making some noise about it?

Other moronic comments include one from an airport employee named Jim who said that those trees or not Christmas trees. Nor are they holiday trees. Washington is the evergreen state so it shouldn't be offensive to put lights on them. Hey Jim? First of all you mouth-breathing jackass, no one is offended by Christmas trees. They just want equal time. Secondly, are you actually claiming that this display of trees which appears around Christmastime every year is actually a celebration of Washington State?

So while skimming the Washington newspapers, I decided to check out a readers' forum to see what the public thought. And amongst the intelligent comments were several postings from people claiming this is part of some Jewish conspiracy. One poster wondered when the Jews would start oppressing Americans in the same way they oppress Palestinians. There should be an IQ test that has to be passed before idiots can use the Internet. It's too easy for stupidity to make it to the public.

Well, as of a couple of days ago, the trees have been replaced at the airport. Apologies have been made. The Port Authority promises to look into the issue for next year. No lawsuits will be filed. And several commissioners openly admitted that they overreacted to the whole thing. It looks like the Christmas, or Holiday, spirit lives on.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Anyone Seen My Testicles?

Hey how was your weekend? What did you do? Whenever I go to work on Monday, people inevitably ask that question. And I rarely have anything interesting to say. I spent sizable chunks of the summer and the fall complaining about the lack of free time I had. I would work all week and then spend each weekend doing lawn stuff. Mowing, pruning, raking, bagging. Sweating. Well, the sweating happens all the time anyway. But that's a story for another blog.

Most of the leaves had fallen by Thanksgiving and it was looking like I would finally have my weekends free to stare at the TV or spend time with my kids staring at the TV. But I could no longer avoid the monument to wrinkled clothing that had been forming in my bedroom for at least 7 or 8 months. There was a laundry basket filled with clothes that needed to be ironed. My wife can't iron for shit, which is either true or just a ploy to get me to do all the ironing. Either way, this basket just sits there. I move it into a closet twice a month so the cleaning lady can vacuum around it. So last Saturday night, I started ironing. Yes, the hot evening plans in suburbia involved ironing.

I started at 7:45 pm, having moved the ironing board down into the den so I could watch some TV and avoid the temptation of lying down in my bed. By 2 am, I had completed 43 items of clothing. The basket still looked full to me but 43 items? That's around 7 items per hour. Not bad! And I had also been doing 6 loads of laundry.

By the time Sunday evening arrived, I had seen something I hadn't since early in 2006: the bottom of the laundry basket. All told, I had ironed 80 items, did 6 loads of laundry and sewed two sweaters. Yeah, I sew. And come Monday, when people filled awkward silences in the elevators pretended to care what I did over the weekend, I still had nothing cool to say. In fact, my weekend activities were more pathetic than ever. So if you're looking for me this weekend, I'll probably be on my knees waxing the floor. Or scraping applesauce off the ceiling. Yeah, that part is true. I don't want to talk about it right now.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Driving Me Crazy!!

When I moved to New Jersey 10 years ago (holy crap, has it been 10 years?), I had to get a new driver's license. I was moving from New York so I figured all I'd need is a pen to sign the papers. No, I had to take the written test. Right there and then. And I failed. Twice. Humiliating, to be sure. I mean, all the missus had to do was smile and say her name. She was still in the system.

The written test was harder that I thought it would be. Here's a sample. Yeah, there's the basics but there's stuff on there that only a 17-year old new driver should have to know. How far should I park from a hydrant? When the curb isn't yellow, I'll park. Who cares how many feet it is?

I've been hit by a bus. I fell asleep and crashed into a telephone pole. I've done property damage. I hit a fire hydrant. The night that I got my first photo license, I got hit by my friend Craig Jacobs. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm the last person who should be critiquing other drivers. But despite my shortfalls, I'm still a better driver than most of the people out there. I'm a genius driver. I must be because the people with whom I share the road can't seem to grasp the simplest of tasks.

This isn't only a New Jersey phenomenon (although we do have the stupidest drivers). I was just in a van for 25 hours driving to and from North Carolina and saw my share of morons. But maybe I should lighten up. I'm not perfect. I can see how people can screw up.

The turn signal. This is a pretty hard thing to master. It has one function: to tell people where you're going. And because you're not the only one on the road, it helps avoid accidents. You're basically saying, "excuse me 1974 Pinto, but I'm planning on coming into your lane." But extending the left pinkie out a tad and using this lever is apparently too hard for many people. Are they busy doing something else? Certainly not putting on their seat belt.

The seat belt. Yeah, this is another toughie. I don't know why I care about this one. It doesn't effect me at all. But the excuses I hear for not wearing one are pretty lame. One person I know won't wear one in case he drives into a lake. He's read about people who can't escape because the seat belt jammed. Put it on. You'll forget it's even there. And you won't end up with a face full of glass.

The cigarette butt. I had a more valid complaint when car makers stopped putting ashtrays in cars. I love zooming down the road and seeing a still-burning cigarette flying at my car. It's not a safety thing. I know my car isn't going to explode. But you have a number of other places to store your butt. Why are you flinging it out on the road? Do you fling other garbage out on the road? Yeah, you probably do. My favorite excuse was from someone who said they didn't use the ashtray because it smelled up the car. Huh.

The speed limit. I drive too fast. I admit it. And I can't be angry at someone who is obeying the speed limit. But on highways, there are special lanes for you. Move out of the way for the people who want to break some laws. Because you're not G-d, you don't get to regulate traffic by driving 65 in the fast lane. If anything, you're causing road rage. I have a friend who's philosophy is that people should leave themselves plenty of time to get where they're going so they won't have to speed. Fine. Stick to your standards from the slow part of the highway.

Have you ever been a passenger in a car with a slow driver? Maddening, right?

And don't get me started on pedestrians. Man, some of you out there walk the same way you drive. And you're fucking killing me.