Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nothing to say, and I intend to say it.

Today was That Day Before We Travel.

Y'know the one, right? When you realize you've done nothing to get prepared for the trip and start getting all wound up. I won't name names but some of us here at Chez Joke tend to confuse movement with progress and start flapping around, generating much motion...none of it forward.

To compound the thing, TFBIM's car arrived in the middle of the day. We had been expecting it early in January, but no. For some bizarre reason they dropped it off early, left us with a fat stack of manuals translated with, um, latitude from the original Italian and that kind of brought things to a screech for a couple of hours, as we sat around testing all the seats, reveling in the neat embossed logo in the leather surface and wondering "what does THIS button do?"

Then we went on illegal joyrides (because we haven't gotten the license plate yet) and generally showed it off.

Fortunately, TFBIM is the kind of girl who prefers driving stick. Let's be honest, a manual transmission has eleventy zillion advantages over an automatic:

1- The car goes faster
2- The car has better fuel economy
3- The car can be push started in 10 seconds, instead of waiting for the towtruck to arrive in ___ hours
4- Criminals are generally too bloody ignorant to know how to shift their own damned gears...and those who are not too bloody ignorant are going to get stymied by the bizarro reverse gear lockout.
5- NOBODY in the USA wants to borrow your car, because the percentage of drivers who know how to drive a manual is somewhere between 20%-25%.

So the inlaws showed up and got an illegal joyride. FiL went off on a rant about how it's far more dangerous to drive a sedan than a minivan--don't ask--and then he pointed out umpteen other unseen dangers around the house.

The car IS cool, besides the overachieving engine. There is alumin(i)um scattered about the structure so it weighs surprisingly little for a car the size of a BMW 5-series. Combine this with an overpowered engine which faily begs you to rev the ever-lovin' whee out of it and you have a family sedan that, er, gets out of its own way. It's plush enough, but a Lexus driver would feel deprivation. This car is for drivers, not passengers-in-chief. Being Italian, there are very intelligently designed ashtrays everywhere. Lights, also. The socket-y, swivel-y jetliner kind of lights, and buttons out the wazoo for good measure.

Of course, none of this changed the fact we needed to do all kinds of things for our trip to Poppyville...instead of watching the DVD manual. But the notion of being able to go on the autobahn at 140+ mph in such comfort that your toddlers and your wife can sleep soundly makes for very riveting viewing. That and finding out what all the damned buttons do, and why they work.

After a while, we broke off from the thrill that was the Guided Tour of All Your ETCETERINI X-99's Safety Features and began to pack. I just finished, and now, as a reward, I get to watch the scene where the test driver shows all the car's jacking points and changes a deflated tire.

-J.

P.S. Tomorrow is a travel day. Expect minimal--if any--bloggery.

Posted by Joke at 11:13 PM 8 comments

The Post Mortem Continues, now with new LookingForwardTM !

Last night we had your friends Y & N ovah for dinnah. For the longest time they lived across the state, a solid 2 hour drive away. We love them to bits and because we do, we'd make the schlep every month or so.

Then, two years ago they moved just 20 minutes north of us. We now see them, maybe, twice a year. Maybe. But they had managed to come for TFBIM's surprise bash and I wrote Y. a nice email saying thanks for attending, because TFBIM really misses her* terribly. Anyway, they came ovah and we set about, as the song** says, stone-cold munchin'.

Since you're all curious here's the menu:

Prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks
Tuscan bean dip (with thyme, EVOO, hint o' lemon, and garlic) on "sheet bread"
Insalata Caprese
Cappellini with sun-dried tomato pesto
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Tiramisu
Gorgonzola w. honey & walnuts
Cappuccino & Espresso

It was all good and I was surprised how much was NOT left behind.

Today we have to pack for Poppyville. (YAY!)

Then the thought hit me. I have only a couple of weeks or so until TFBIM and tax season and I start becoming a SAHD*** until, basically, May. I had been so wrapped up in all the work stuff and then Christmas and then the trip to Poppyville that I hadn't spared it a thought. I still think it's funny that it's me, The Dad, who goes to all the "room mother" things and all that. As far as I can tell there's only another one of those at NOS's school, and he's a kept man if appearances are anything to go by.

Besides the SAHD realization, Christmas has been amazingly stress-free. Normally I don't stress so much (I mean, there's "reflected stress" but it's only natural when people are hollering at you in an adrenalin-fueled panic.) but even so, this year people have mostly left me alone and/or behaved themselves, which is priceless. Even the gifts weren't notably awful.

It helps to have have a division of labor for Christmas and a rote response to one's assigned tasks. F'rinstance, in my case there are four things that MUST be done:

1- Send out cards. Not sending cards is not an option. Cards must go out. Hence the maimerge thing. (Those who get the printed versions are people who generally wouldn't know to get offended by them and if they did, the matter wouldn't weigh heavily upon my conscience.)

2- Shopping for Christmas gifts throughout the year. This is key. I bought Poppy's gift in April. We'll be glad to be rid of it, too.

3- Bring down the heavy Christmas Stuff boxes.

4- Shop for food. Cook.

This year I didn't get to bake those yummy cookies, or go shopping for stocking stuffers. Which I would have liked to have done, but, hey, life happens.

So it all feels weird, waiting for the comedown that usually hits after a hectic-ish few days. Only these few days weren't hectic, so the comedown shan't arrive.

But now, darlings, I must leave you. I have to pack .

Kisses,

-J.

* I remember how hard TFBIM sobbed when Y. was diagnosed with MS.
** The song being Young MC's "Bust A Move."
*** "Pretend widower" is closer to the mark.

Posted by Joke at 8:13 AM 3 comments

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's finally here! It's here! It's Boxing Day!

(It's also St. Stephen's Day, but let's set that aside for now.)

First, a Joke Family Boxing Day Tradition: The Post-Mortem and Appraisal of Gifts.

I made out so-so, pretty much dead-on average. A couple of "hey, cool!" gifts and several "huh? what?" beauties, and one heartbreak gift. The latter was a beautiful sterling belt buckle that doesn't fit my belts! (Waaaaah.)

NOS scored like a muhfuh:
Electric scooter (waiting for assembly--Santa doesn't assemble, y'see--and battery charging was torture for the lad),
Blue Man Group keyboard (it wouldn't be Christmas if some ostensibly well-meaning person didn't give us some migraine-inducing toy)
National Geographic (It's official!) metal detector
Robopet/Robosaurus/RoboGuy. Oy.
GameBoy games.

NTS also managed to get his own bad self a Leapster with seemingly every damned cartridge, and a guitar, and a bunch of DVDs and three or four educational toys which I am trying to block out, because were I him, I'd use them in Very Inappropriate Ways in retaliation.

TFBIM got a sterling frame that, er, framed the paperwork of her soon-to-arrive Etceterini. And some pearls.

In other Christmas news, nobody got into a fistfight. However, my niece decided to take her brother's Nerf gun and shoot (no, it wasn't an accident) her mother point-blank in the eye. So, my BiL and crew had to spend Christmas Day in the Emergency Room*. As you may recall from previous discussions, the niece in question is due for a severe disciplining, maybe as severe as a scolding.

After this, we repaired to my sister's house for what is nothing more than a continuation of Christmas Eve dinner with the Unusual Suspects in attendance. Fortunately for me, NTS was good and ready to bail out way early and so, I sacrificed. This meant I spent the evening chilling with NTS instead of witnessing the Festival of Arts and Letters. So THAT was supah-dupah good.

I hope you guys made out well, as well.

-J.

P.S. I'll be doing your meme soon, bb.
P.P.S. Only TWO more days until we loiter with Poppy et Cie.

* Seems it's only a moderately scratched cornea, so relax.

Posted by Joke at 8:23 AM 7 comments

Monday, December 25, 2006

"It's a Christmas miracle!"

Christmas Eve dinner was

[drumroll]

NOT PARTICULARLY UNPLEASANT.

My aunt, who prompts my mom to soaring heights of stress, behaved herself.
Cousin S, who invariably gets into arguments way over her head, kept a civil tongue in her head.
Cousin M, who is Queen* of Dysfunction, just sat there and made small talk.
My parents, absent the stimulus, just chit-chatted.
My FiL, who normally is absolutely certain any children within 50ft. (17m) of him are certain to find something fatally dangerous unless he intervenes at great personal effort, just sat down and talked with the grownups.
My MiL, who normally chimes in with outrageous non-sequiturs, didn't.
Uncle E, went off to puff on ciggies half the night.

The roast pork (a hunka Kurobuta which utterly rocked everyone's world, and only $4/lb!!) was a hit. No fistfights** broke out over whose turn it was to say Grace. My normally New Age flakily heretical cousin and her husband went to Midnight Mass with us.

There were a few skids here and there, but overall, it was quite tolerable.

Now, let's see what Santa's done to for me.

-J.

P.S. Biggest, most miraculous thing? NTS is still asleep. On Christmas morning. At 8:15 a.m.

* No, really. You guys have NOTHING that can compare with her. Don't even try.
** This was years ago. More on that later.

Posted by Joke at 8:16 AM 8 comments

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

WARNING: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SENTIMENT

2006 was a bit of a tough year. Which is a rather egocentric thing to say. We're all in good health, we're all together and we've not had to undergo the tribulations and tragedies that have befallen other people. We had no hurricanes or other natural disasters.

I have a beautiful wife who, for inadequately explained reasons, loves me. I have two (usually) glorious sons. I have a pleasant house in a (practically) tropical spot. In many ways I have been blessed well beyond my deserving. I know I have been. Perhaps you've felt this way your own bad self. It's good for me to be reminded of this with a bit of frequency.

Still, I won't exactly be distraught to see 2006 scoot out the door. I lost some dear people, some through death and some turned out not to be the people I had thought and they shimmered out of my life as quietly as they entered it. Some friendships hit some unseen sell-by date and just sublimated away.

But!

I have been blessed with some brilliant new pals (particularly, but not limited to, the New Kids from Australia) in addition to the Usual Suspects. I take very little seriously, but friendships are one of those things I actually approach with seriousness. Thank you all.

To all of you who have stuck around here, especially during the touch-and-go moments of the Big Autumnal Project: Thanks. I am dumbstruck--no mean feat, that--with gratitude. You are all in my prayers and, retrograde Papist that I am, y'know there will be candle-lighting for all of you.

Of course, being the retrograde Papist I am, you know I couldn't let this post go by without a mention of Whose Birthday it is. As per Douay-Rheims (Protestant kids, feel free to substitute the KJV):

And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.

Let's keep in mind and in our prayers all those whose Christmas won't be merry and bright. People who are alienated from family and friends, people who are struggling with anxiety or depression, suffering from emotional or material deprivation, bearing the pains and scars of abuse and neglect. Let's not forget our individual moral obligation to those who need our help and concern. Let's not also forget all the blessings we have received, and let's not forget that chief among these are the love of family and the comfort of friends.

To know you are liked and loved? That's gold, baby.

I wish you all the very Merriest of Christmases, spent basking in the warmth of loved ones and reflecting on the good in your life. Enjoy this honest but saccharine post, you shan't see its like for another year.

-J.

P.S. May Santa Claus/Father Christmas deal kindly with you, too.

Posted by Joke at 7:42 AM 6 comments

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Imperturbability, thy name is Joke.

It's (pretty much) Christmas.

You know what I'm doing?

Drinking a generous tumblerful of Bloody Mary. It's the wrong time of the day, the wrong season of the year, the wrong everything for such a beverage. Ask me if I care.

No, I don't...but thanks for asking.

As of 5pm yesterday I ceased to exist for the year to anyone not in my immediate circle. Need me desperately before 1/7/07? Doesn't look so hot for you, pal.

I have stuck in gift bags wrapped all my giftage and all I have to do is show up to my parents' house and hide in the kitchen to minimize contact with the Unusual Suspects. I bail out early in favor of Midnight Mass, stick gifts under the tree and eat the cookies NOS and I will have baked for Santa. (Reindeer eat Purina Reindeer Chow, not available in local stores.) That's it.

The Bloody Mary is delicious and mood-ameliorating. Part of the serenity is the fact that I'm always looking out for gifts throughout the year. We have what we call "the gift closet" where we stash away Christmas, Chanukah, Anniversary and Birthday gifts as we find them all year long. This year this was a life saver. Add the automatic card mailmerge thing, and I'm on @#$&ing velvet, people.

However, as my mind drifts to thoughts of the Unusual Suspects...my thirst for another Bloody Mary revs up again.

You missed me, admit it.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 5:30 PM 7 comments

The Joke Is Back, after a fashion.

There is an old joke that runs something like this:

A man goes to the rabbi and complains, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one very small, one-room farmhouse. It's hectic, it's noisy, it's so very stuffy. What can I do?"

The rabbi answers, "Take one of your goats into the room with you." The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week."

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. "We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi. "The goat is filthy, the stench is unbearable and he is chewing up everything. What now?"

The rabbi answers, "Take another one of your goats into the room with you." The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week."

A week later the man comes back looking even more distraught than before. "Now we really cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi. "The two goats are disgusting, the smell is blinding, and are destroying everything. What now?"

The rabbi answers, "Take yet another one of your goats into the room with you." The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week."


A week later the man comes back looking utterly despondent.

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goats out. And come back in a week."

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful! The peace, the quiet! The clean smell! We enjoy every minute of it now that there's only the nine of us."


The point being that after a nerve-wracking coupla months, Christmas ought/will be a breeze.

Poppy and I were having speech on this very subject one sunny afternoon. Well, it was sunny ovah heah; dunno about ovah theah, but I digress. The point is that it's not that life is any more stressful now than it was 200 years ago, it's just that the opportunities to deal with that stress are not what they were then. After all, is blowing a Very Big Project really any more stressful than having all your children die of bubonic plague? But back then, you had to milk the cows, plow the back 40, pump water, chop wood, feed the chickens, tend to the other critters, shoe the horses, birth the calves, bale and tote the bales of hay, stack sacks upon sacks of feed and deal with hostile populations. When you do all that every day you tend not to notice so much the aggravators of everyday life.

Anyway, since I don't have to milk the cows, plow the back 40, pump water, chop wood, feed the chickens, tend to the other critters, shoe the horses, birth the calves, bale and tote the bales of hay or stack sacks upon sacks of feed, I have to find other ways to cope, especially since I must deal with hostile populations, in particular my extended family.

The big deal, Iberically speaking, is Christmas Eve. It has been, traditionally, the Worst Night of the year. We all pile into my parents' house and "celebrate" the coming Nativity. But all this festivity realllllllllllllllly frazzles my mom, who gets on her worse behavior, short-tempered and intransigent. This, in turn, brings out the worst in my dad, who becomes mulish and sarcastic. Then they bicker all evening long, reliving bickerings of Christmas Eves Past with gems such as: "This is just like that time in 1979 when you..." No, that last bit is not an exaggeration.

Then the real sideshow denizens arrive, to rub sore spots raw. Everyone wanders into the kitchen--where I loiter hoping to minimize contact with the remainder of the gene pool--and starts dictating how all manner of things are to be cooked. For reasons WELL afield of this post telling the interlopers to bugger off, aided by helpful charts and graphs, is completely out of the question. So I just sit there and take it like a rat. (After all, Christmas Eve takes place during Advent and Advent is a penitential season)

After coming thisclose to blowing a major deal and losing most, if not all of my client base, I can afford to be relaxed and phlegmatic. Sure, these people* (save for two of my cousins) all drive me mental, but they really don't affect me and I only have to see them once a year. In light of what a nightmare things could have been, I can just ignore them.

This Yuletide bonhomie extends to the shopping I need to do, since I haven't done any, since I have been up to HERE with the assorted work-related things. I will look for what I want, and if it's sold out, it's no big. I'll just backorder it and life will continue. If the crowds are too thick, I'll go elsewhere. If there's no parking, I'll walk a bit more. Rather than seeking to forgive myself for X, I remind myself there is nothing to forgive.

Oh, and I bought TFBIM a car for Christmas. The minivan will stay, but only as a backup, utility vehicle. Hauling around 5000 lb (2400kg) of empty space was getting to be a mite painful at the pump. So I went and ordered her an Italian 4-door (Quattroporte in Italian...I love her, but she is a bit of a weird one, huh?) with all the bells and whistles AND it's stick. Photos upon arrival.

I just read the email confirming that we MIGHT take delivery before we go off to Poppytown. But am I fretting? Nuh-uh. I'll just wrap up the paperwork from the order and put it in TFBIM's stocking by the chimney.

So there. Mushy Christmas post to follow tomorrow.

Kisses,

-J.

* I do not wish any of them ill, by any means. I just want to be free of their society.

Posted by Joke at 3:10 AM 2 comments

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Get comfy, the ride's a long one.

It seems the Big Autumn Project has wound up pretty much on schedule with the winding up of Autumn.

Since there is enough tension, suspense and stress in the world, I'll skip ahead to the end and let you know the result: It's a'ight. Not the huge Scrooge McDuck torrent of coins and currency that I envisioned when I nodded assent to this way back in July, but not the professional cataclysm I feared back in September. It's just OK. Which is fine. I'm cool with not having mine arse, in the career sense, handed to me. There should be a very handsome payoff a couple of years from now, and I'll derive a few bucks over the next few months, which is nice.

That said, let me tell you the whole story, abbreviated-style.

Sometime last summer a client schedules a meeting with me. At this meeting is a guy new to my client's organization. This client has been, up to now, making a very comfortable living selling parcels of land in parts of FL as the begin to boom with our growing population of Snowbird Tax Refugees. But empty parcels are growing ever scarcer and he hired this new guy to help him diversify into affordable condo conversions (not the mega-luxe stuff that's taking a beating). Anyway, this client and his new condo guy show me a project they are working on.

Basically a brother-sister act inherit this apartment complex and they are getting socked with the Death Tax based on the market value of the property. The gummint only wants cash, pretty please, so Donnie & Marie have to drop the apartment complex, and quick. In real estate, quick usually means "at a ridiculous price." (Mind you, even at a ridiculously low price they are still making a TON of money, so weep not.)

But there's a catch, the complex can't be converted to condos until the mortgage is paid off and the mortgage can't be paid off before 2009 without a hefty penalty. So the usual condo developer crowd is studiously avoiding the project. This further drives down the price. Better yet is the fact the mortgage is assumable and is at a piddly 5.5%! The rents pay the mortgage and taxes and all that and there's still $$ left over. Cool.

The hook is that my client wants to get me and my other clients to invest. If I say this is a good idea, my client will send a contract to the seller. I say yes. (In hindsight, I should have fled the room as if my hair were afire.)

So I mention this to my clients and they all get excited and a few of them pony up coin. One of the ones who has verbally indicated he's in goes and visits the place and (thinks I) noticing these are working-class apartments and not the Trump Really Classy Gold Plated Tower bails out. This leaves our plans about 25% short with a month until closing. I begin to sweat.

Now I have to scramble to make up the shortfall because if I don't my other clients who put up the deposit money will lose it if we default. We're talking a LOT of money they'd be out. And I'd lose my three biggest clients, too. So I have to hustle because we're in a hole and time is running out. This is where my guardian angel (played by Chris Eigemann) shows up.

The attorney my client hired proves to be a godsend. Forever on vacation, pugnaciously refusing to join teleconferences or return calls, he drives the lender mental. The lender is another unalloyed blessing. This bank wants all kinds of ridiculous documentation and, in what must be my Patron Saint in action, inexplicably fails to give us all their requirements at once. Instead, they prefer to have us turn in a document, turn it in again after they are horrified there are TWO commas in sub-paragraph iv of paragraph b in subsection III of section G, wait another week and complain we haven't returned something they have omitted to send/request. This kind of ineptitude was gold, baby. This bought me almost 3 months to find the additional investors.

Eventually we get the investors we need, sorta. But the vexation didn't end there, no. We then had to gather all the monies into one bank account, so that at closing we could wire out to the escrow agent. Only there were confusions with some transfers and one HUGE check bounced. Then, yesterday, another series of checks, which were supposed to be converted into a single cashier's check by 2pm EST come Hell or high water was held up pending approval by the branch manager was I perspired freely into my finery. The eleventy gazillion dollars wasn't the problem. No-o-o-o-o-o-o. The problem was they were unsure if to charge us SINGLE or TRIPLE fees for the cashier's check. Really. A deal worth 3 cubic acres of money might've gone down in flames over $15 vs. $45.

But we got it in (at $15, too) just in time and the bounced check was fixed. So I was breathing by this point. Then I get a call to go into the attorney's office. Either the inept bank forgot to send me something to sign, or the inept lawyer forgot to tell me to sign what the inept bank sent or--most likely--both. So I go to sign and, while I'm at it, figure out what the wire transfer amount is. This is at 4pm.

By 4:30pm we start noticing small things in the closing statement and we begin to tweak and adjust. Then comes the great spanner in the works. We are missing the certified statement of renters, their status and the status of their security deposits. While this might only impact us a few buck up or down, we can't do JACK until we have that exact number. We call the seller's attorney and the real estate broker...and we still can't get a soul to give us this. By 7pm I was good and fed up, and I walked out and headed home. The inept lawyer said he'd fax me the final amount as soon as he got it. It's only because I knew he'd never get it in time that I didn't call him an inept, lying doofus. If he had gotten it he'd have managed somehow* to not get it to me. So I went home.

By 1pm I figured I had let them sweat enough and I could be bothered to make a wire transfer (I was also giving it time to make sure all our $$ were in). Eventually, Our Condo Guy texts me the final number and off I go to the bank. Partly because I was having lunch with my Argentine client, and partly because I was nowhere near the bank, I arrived around 2:45ish. The rep guy tells me to sit because wire transfers this size must be approved by the manager. Who, oops, just left for lunch.

There are perks to being a bank manager; the only person who can do X or Y. Arriving around 4pm is high on that list. FINALLY at 4:15 our wire goes out and the matter becomes Someone Else's Problem now.

All I have to worry about is adrenalin hangover.

-J.

My clien

Posted by Joke at 10:49 PM 5 comments

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Philistine Twist

The lovely and gracious LC, seconded by the equally lovely and comparably gracious BabBab, have issued posts on Christmas books.

I am, of course, not wired that way. In fact, I can't recall ever reading any Christmas books beyond the How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the one by the guy who went on to create the Rolie Polie Olie cartoons. Which shows exactly how well the latter has been seared into my brain.

What HAS been seared into my brain is TV programming and films.

So, here are the TV programs and films that, to me, fairly holler "Christmas!"

It's A Wonderful Life. For a while there, there was a kind of IAWL overload. It played on seventeen different networks on a seemingly hourly basis every day for a decade. So it got old and hackneyed and I got sick of it. But on further viewing it is a wildly engaging film, without a flaw. Warm, funny, engaging and touching as can be. Jimmy Stewart gives the performance of a generation. (I remember watching an interview once with Bridget Fonda--on whom I had a very public crush--where she couldn't discuss that performance without sobbing herself.)

A Christmas Story. I've never worn the bunny suit, but otherwise the whole thing resonates with me.

Blackadder's Christmas. "Go out Baldrick, and bring me a turkey so large you'd think its mother had been rogered by an omnibus."

A Beavis & Butt-Head Christmas. Their spoof on IAWL is priceless.

A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Christmas TV program to end all Christmas TV programs. When Linus steps into the spotlight, he nails what Christmas is really all about.

Scrooged! Bill Murray's version of A Christmas Carol is infinitely better than the original.

A Muppet Christmas Carol. Jim Henson's version of A Christmas Carol is infinitely better than the original.

Mickey's Christmas Carol. Disney's version of A Christmas Carol is infinitely better than the original. (Bill Murray's version is the best of these three, though. It helps that I have a crush on Karen Allen.)

The Toy That Saved Christmas. The notion that all the children in Dinkletown have been brainwashed into begging their parents for a toy named Buzz Saw Louie is priceless.

The Star Of Christmas. Parody of a would-be and Gilbert & Sullivan duo who want to be a big hit in the world of West End theatricals (an improvement over their current gig as jingle-writers for "Durling's Dental Wax") who steal a relic from a church to goose ticket sales for their play "The Princess And The Plumber." The "plumber" has such brilliant lines as "Your pipes are corroded, your water won't drain./Your toilet's exploded you're flushing in vain."

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:15 PM 6 comments

Physician, heal thyself.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

There are people--God bless 'em--who lead stressful lives. Not just the guys who parachute behind enemy lines with only three bullets and toothpick and some rubber bands, but people whose daily routine leads them into situations where they have to accomplish several damned-near-impossible tasks at once, usually entailing going in very opposite directions.

Those people are somewhat inured to stress. This is not to say they find it any less stressful than others, just that they are familiar with the territory and have developed some coping skills.

Me? I generally don't do stress. I am unfazed by kids' school things, or friends calling upon me at the last moment in a near-panic, or having to do something long, boring and protracted at the last minute. I am never stressed by what (key word coming up here) I am supposed to do. But every rare once in a while stress lands on me (totally unbidden, mind) when people who were supposed to do X might or mightn't, and time is running out and here I am. So I must remind myself of my mantra:

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.

Stress is not an aerobic exercise.


Blah.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:33 AM 3 comments

Monday, December 18, 2006

So's you have a rough idea.

A week ago yesterday, a platoon representing one of my clients flew up from Argentina. This client is an exhibitor at an annual trade show and must bring a massive booth infrastructure along. This client is one of my original clients and while the work I do for him is awfully schleppy by the current standards of my career, I do it because he gave me "my big break" and all that.

This meant I had to spend Monday and Tuesday at Customs and Home Depot and Office Depot and Crate & Barrel and so forth. I also had to rent a truck and drive it to the convention center in central FL(at 72mph top speed)...then unload the booth, assemble the booth (2500lb), "work the show" (12 hours of standing for 3 days in a row), break the booth down at 7pm, reload it in the truck, grab a quick drive through dinner and arrive at home at 3am.

All while surrounded by pottymouth semi-misogynists who smoke as much as BabBab would if it wouldn't kill her. Today, I finally wrapped up the whole truck thing by dropping off said truck. Now I have to sweat out the Big Autumn Project.

So there.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:22 PM 4 comments

Sunday, December 17, 2006

This will give you some idea.

I slept NINE HOURS yesterday.

That's, like, 26 hours in human terms.

I woke up tired, if that makes any sense.

Details on attending a trade show with Argentines to follow.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:39 PM 1 comments

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Brief update!

I am fine.

I am BURIED in the Medium Winter Project and out of town to boot, with limited connectivity. Back Sunday.

Kisses,

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:53 AM 4 comments

Friday, December 08, 2006

A closer look at Christmas

First, congratulations. You're reading my 700th post. I started this bloggery nonsense just about this time two years ago, and just look at me now...with more lurkers than I can shake a stick at.

Anyway, I wanted to further disabuse those who are under the assumption I exhibit excruciatingly elegant taste in all matters. As I've mentioned before, I like to flash a rather tongue-in-cheek lowermiddlebrow sort of aesthetic every once in a while. In the case of Christmas tree decorations, there is ample evidence. From 5' (1.75m) the tree looks impossibly majestic, as if it'd been plucked from a glossy magazine. The color scheme of the glass ornaments goes perfectly with the colors of the room where it stands, the ornaments reflect the light back in warm-yet-light tones, the ribbon has a texture reminiscent of the tree topper, etc. But then you get close, and you see crazy stuff.

Look.

Notice the eskimo kid sliding down a glacier, Santa chugging Kosher-for-Passover Coke and two squirrels by a wishing well. (The latter a representation of one of the more apocryphal prophecies concerning the Nativity.)

Another wishing well, Mickey Mouse dressed as Santa, Mickey Mouse with fishing gear ("I'll make you fishers of men"?), a snowperson.
Lots of eskimo action.


Santa having yet another Coke.
A surfeit of eskimos.


Santa having a 3rd Coke as Snoopy types.

This is just a representative sample to shot that, indeed, stone hearts do bleed.

-J.


Posted by Joke at 7:37 PM 14 comments

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You don't have to enjoy it, you just have to do it.

Like many people out there, we're not so very keen on the drudgery that accompanies the Christmas season. We don't look forward to hauling out the boxes of ornaments, the ribbons and the thchotchkes. Not for us the testing of itty bitty lights, nor of determining which side of the tree looks empty. Especially after an arduous Thanksgiving and a Friday After that's more akin to a Bataan Death March with Credit Cards than a shopping spree.

But we do it anyway. A long time ago, one of my Jesuit teachers responded to my whining and moaning about something or other with the following nugget o' wisdom: "You are completely free from the responsibility of enjoying it. That done, all you have left is to perform the task in question." So we do. After a while it becomes a useful emotional tool to have, to "press on regardless."

This is more sorely tested the day after Epiphany, when it all must come down. But I digress.

Part of this process is the sending out of Christmas/Chanukah cards. As much as doing them is a PITA, it unhinges me more to not do them. This year in particular, with TFBIM's party like a bone in my calendar's throat, it has been extra-vexing. But they must be done, and so they will. Just when I think the task of sending out 80something cards, I am reminded that other than hand scribbling/signing the insides of a dozen or so of them, it's all one happy mail merge function. In fact, the hardest thing is to seal and stamp the envelopes, and I have kids who can do THAT. Even sorting the recipients into A-, B-, C- and D-Listers is a breeze.

Therefore, I secretly harbor a lack of sympathy for (mostly TFBIM's friends, but some of mine, too) who, having
1- The hardware (computer, printer, cards, stamps and moistening device),
2- Software (word processing program, appropriate fonts, list of names and addresses),
3- No major impediments (such as elderly parents for whom to care, a gravely-ill child, an indictment, impending labor and birth)
4- The basic knowledge required to run a mailmerge,

somehow manage to flub this very elementary task. I sneer inwardly at them, because I am unrepentantly shallow that way. But I pretend to be understanding.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure the cards and decorations for 2006:

First, the New! For! 2006! D-List! Cards! I got them in the clearance bin of an outlet store. It'd be only a slight exaggeration to say I paid more in sales tax for them than I did in the cards' cost. But the exaggeration would be very, very slight.

Then, of course, we have the C-List cards. $1.97 for 20.

B-List. Shag cards. I liked them so much I even paid retail at the fancy-pants stationery store, but then again, it's not like there's a whole battalion of B-Listers, either.

Then, of course, come the A-List cards, from Crane's. Some may wonder at the rather, um, broad spectrum spanning the styles of the A- & B-List cards. I just happen to like 'em both. Crane cards aren't cheap, but since the number of A-Listers is SO SMALL, I just buy the multiple design box of 24 ($Ouch) and that lasts about 3 years.

Now here's the oldest tree we have. When TFBIM and I were in that we're-going-to-get-engaged-but-haven't-yet phase we went shopping for cards and stuff together one day and if we pooled our purchases we'd get this mini-tree for free, along with X miniature ornaments from our local Hallmark. So we dubbed this our "dating tree" and we still put some gifts for each other under it. Because we're saccharine that way.

This is followed by the tree the boys decorate themselves. As we accumulate lowermiddlebrow ornaments (and irony-free, to boot) we need a place to handle the overflow AND we need to give the boys something to do to get them out of our hair. Hence the tree below:

The Main Tree is this one, strung with a suntan-inducing 1500 lights. From afar it looks like something you'd see in the pages of Martha Stewart's or Victoria Magazine, but closer inspection reveals ornaments of mice sledding on Hershey bars, or Coca-Cola Santas, or Snoopy, and the like. Dig the variation on the train 'neath the tree.

Finally, here is the (Gas) Fireplace area with the garland and the stockings. You may make out, at the bottom right corner, the creche NOS and my FiL built a couple of years ago. Every year we add a couple of new cast members.

Here's a close-up.

Bah! Humblog!

-J.


Posted by Joke at 10:53 AM 17 comments

Partygiver's Manifesto.

The lovely and gracious BabBab, hath posted a most lovely rant on the matter of parties and hospitality.

I am fortunate that I've not been invited anywhere that requires my bringing comestibles. Hell, for that I coulda stayed home and eaten the same thing at considerably less effort and expense. Nobody is so interesting as to make me wish to pack up my dinnah and consume it in his (or her) presence.

So she's right, even if this sort of barbarism has yet to be inflicted upon my person. I shall add this to my FAQs on being a proper host/guest, along with the whole R.s.v.p. thing, and that whole thank-you note thing. Some days you wonder, not about barbarians being at the gate, but having tunneled under it, and posing as normal human beings.

But one thing caught my eye, being both a legendary foodie AND a raving cheapskate of no little reknown:

"I don’t want to hear cries of 'But I’m poor.' I am willing to wager that I could feed
twenty-five people party food (not counting drinks) for twenty-five bucks; if you
can’t afford (for example) a dollar a person, then don’t throw the party."

Which led me to think of how I'd throw a party for a buck a head if'n I had to. I shall ponder this. I have no doubt it can be done. Assuming a dearth of dipsomaniacs, I'm sure beverages could be gotten quite frugally as well. The trick is to do a dinner party and have multiple courses that can all be made ahead and all go with 1-2 wines. What it does require is something sadly lacking in people these days: Capacity for effort and a certain longanimity. Basically, you can't be a whiner and do this. You must have the capacity to put up with inconvenience, recalcitrance, mishaps and noncooperation. If you can sorta plow/plough your way through the whining impulse, you're @#$&ing golden.

It also requires you to think on your feet. All those chicken scraps from the bone-in chicken thighs you used to make a Chinois-like chicken salad can be used to make chicken rillettes and the scraps from THAT go to make stock for the soup. I mean, anyone with a modicum of cooking skills and a large enough wallet can do that "Voilá! Dinner party!" thing, but it's a real test of character to pull it off on a shoestring.

The funny thing is that the cheapskate way is probably the healthiest way to go as well. You make potstickers and dipping sauce from scratch (oh, quit complaining) with fresh veggies, get a relatively cheap cut of beef or pork and cut it into thin strips which you skewer and grill or broil and baste with a bit of the same dipping sauce, the Chinois-like chicken salad, some miso or hot-and-sour or eggdrop soup, and some variant on tropical fruit sorbet with coconut sprinkles and a ginger syrup and you're DONE. For, I bet, WAY less than US$1/head. Throw in a pleasant pilsner (Think something in a Red Stripe or Samuel Adams Black Lager vein) beer and/or crisp white wine such as 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling Columbia Valley that weighs in at a piddly US$8.

Put things in attractive plates, platters and trays (no need for fancy stuff, or even for things to match if you mismatch in a creative way). One of my fave ways to do things cheap-but-nice is to go to a hardware/lumber/home improvement place and get assorted quarry tiles (unglazed or glazed, depending on the wetness of the food) or planks of untreated wood to which you have affixed attractive and cheap drawer pulls as handles. These serve as excellent serving platforms.

Assuming your guests aren't outright sponges, you MIGHT get out for US$2/person for your snazz-o-rama PanAsian festival. You could do similar things with a Spain, Italy, Mediterranean, New Orleans or other vein.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:03 AM 1 comments

Sunday, December 03, 2006

She loots...she scores !

OK.

Until I can round up the rest of the pictures (from those attendees who brought cameras) here is the post-mortem of the gifts as received, catalogued and opened. Surprisingly, a mostly dud-free array, even if a lot of the things her friends gave her were not the sort of stuff I'd've suggested.

Dig the very hip Shag invitation. (Shag postcard, matted and with the informational text printed on the mat's backing. This particular mat is kinda/sorta/maybe like an envelope with a window for the picture. Came out nice even if the picture doesn't reflect that.)

Equally hip is the Shag menu. (Same deal as the invitation, only smaller.)

See how the balloons "go" with the colors? (Why, yes, I am a bit obsessive-retentive...why?)

The remaindered goody bags. Stay tuned. There may be a contest.

Following, what you came here for...a sampling of loot scored by TFBIM:Set of bud vases, from Bridesmaid #2.


Gift cards, one for TFBIM's fave dept. store, and the other for her fave spa, both of these were from our friends.


Little travel purse thingy and some knit silk thing. Former from our friends, latter from her friend.


Candle holder thing. Her friends. (My inner Cynical Bastid senses "regift.")

Assorted casual jewelry. (All from her friends.)

Crummy photo of a very nice crystal miniature orchids-in-vase. Our friends. (Starting to sense a pattern here?)

Garnet ring & perfume bottle, both from our friends. (Although the latter was from one of the phantom no-shows, so there may be a demotion from "our" to "her" friends.)

VERY crummy picture of my gift (happy, bb?) which you may not be able to see, but is a South Seas black pearl earring/choker set.

More to ensue!

-J.

P.S. ALL phantom no-shows have been summarily dropped down TWO categories in our Christmas card list. Those already on the C-List (currently the lowest circle of my Yuletide esteem) may either:
a) see a D-List created just for them, or
b) have the most gnarled-up, bent, scuffed or otherwise least desirable C-List cards
sent them. The @#$%ers.


Posted by Joke at 5:41 PM 15 comments

Christmas explanation, Pt. 1.

First of all, I'm no Scrooge. Just getting that out of the way.

However, there are many things about Christmas that ought be addressed in a frank and forthright manner. I will take the season of Advent to, in the spirit of selfless and sacrificial service to humanity, set people straight on these matters.

Today, we will once and for all, put to rest the clearly misplaced charm of that idiotic song, "The Little Drummer Boy." While not the most loathsome ("The 12 Days of Christmas" is the clear winner there.) it is, without question, the stupidest one.

It's so stupid that, in comparison, "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" is like a doctoral dissertation set to Gregorian chant.

But why is it so bloody stupid? Let's take the song's lyrics and break them down:

"Come," they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
Clearly the tone is set: the operative word will be the rum.
A newborn King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
OK, understandable. Gotta go see.
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
Also perfectly logical. Newborn king, gotta get something nice.
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Well, I think handing them to someone might be, y'know, politer, but whatever.
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Again with the rum?

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him you leave sentences
When we come.
...incoherently.
Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
OK, noticing the baby is little...very eagle-eyed this kid is.
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
Uh-oh! Sob story to follow.
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,

"Well, that's OK, just coming by to say 'hi' is fine." I guesstimate Jesus might've thought.
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
"And lay off the rum." is something He might've added.
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?
"Oh, for the love of Me, please, don't go to any trouble on My account."

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
I think this may have been her getting sleepy after, y'know, giving birth in a STABLE.
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

The ox and lamb kept looking at the clock wondering when the racket would end.
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Let me get this straight. You come over to see--which is cool--the Baby Jesus. But, being and underage musician, you're tapped out and therefore can't scrape enough coin to get a gift and to make up for showing up empty-handed, instead you start banging on a drum next to a newborn? Are you mental? If my wife had caught you banging on a drum when our kids were newborns and she was trying to get some rest...you would have been wearing the drum like a tutu and the drumsticks might have been semi-permanently lodged somewhere inconvenient. And that's the best-case scenario.
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Clearly you're too looped on that rum to distinguish a grimace.
Me and my drum.
...can just go and get the @#$& on outa here, stat.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 5:07 PM 11 comments

The problem's not the butterflies, the problem's getting them to fly in formation.

I'll give you the short answer first. It went very well. A solid "B" (or 8/10 for the rest of the Anglosphere).

She was beyond surprised. Edging towards shock, even. Had NO @#$%ing IDEA.

OK, let me take it from the top.

This weekend is the school carnival and seeing as how these things are on my personal scale somewhere between painfully boring and mildly disgusting, I was able to beg off and attend to party matters.

I had had enough sense to take a copy of the invitation to the balloon place and so the balloons echoed colors* in the invitation. We had 6--or was it 8?--large tables in the room, and (since said room has French doors that open to the fountain courtyard) 4 tables outside. We called this the smoking section. Atop each table was a balloon weight wrapped up to look like a little gift, and strewn around that were bits of glittery confetti in the shapes of birthday cakes and also martini glasses. around these were small votive candles. The room looked great. (Pictures to follow. I know. I suck.)

The CDs (which had a lot of Esquivel-type neo-retro-ironic lounge tunes) were handed to the appropriate parties and the revels were set.

Since TFBIM believed this was a surprise party for someone else, I had to play it cool and abandon the setup crew while I came back home to get ready. The bar opened at 7pm and all guests were supposed to be there, as TFBIM and I were supposed to roll in at 7:30pm. At 7:17pm** I got a text message to the effect that only 6 (!) people were there. So I had to stall.

I took my sweet time shaving. I made sure to give last minute instructions to the boys and also to my in-laws and once I could stall no longer we left. I made sure to park as far as possible from the actual party. The building is U-shaped and since it doesn't seem U-shaped, I parked at the "wrong" end of the U, so we had a good long walk to get there. Then, a near-disaster.

As we're rounding the curve of the U, I spot one of the guests who also spotted US and beat a very hasty retreat. TFBIM damned near saw him, too. I coulda clobbered him. Then the manager stopped to ask where we were headed, and before TFBIM could ask*** I said, casually "The surprise party."

"Turn the corner, go to the end of the hall, make a right, a left and it will be the door on your right hand side."

"Thank you."

And so we walked. And so we walked in.

My wife was greeted with a roar of "Surprise!" in chorus. At first she was befuddled, thinking something like "No, wait! I'm TFBJM, not Mildred Q. Fudpucker." Then it dawned on her (seeing MQF front and center and laughing maniacally) that she'd been had. And those who were facing her were delighted in her stunned and glazed look.

My sister ran up with a cold Cosmopolitan and the revels began in earnest, with the staff filtering and trickling through the crowd handing out canapés, disappearing with the spent skewer and empty highballs and double-old-fashioneds and wineglasses. By 8:30pm the "serious" food arrived (carving both the beef and the smoked salmon).

Turnout was a healthy 85% of those invited. Half of the no-shows were people who R.s.v.p.-ed with regrets. (About half the out-of-staters.) The other half of the no-shows were those who having R.s.v.p.-ed in the positive, simply failed to show up. More on this vexation later. I had had enough sense to order a cake rated for a crowd smaller by 25% than we got. This way there were only two bushels of uneaten cake. (When they tell you a cake is for 20 or 30 or whatever, the bakers assume this is ALL the food these people will eat that day.)

TFBIM was happy to see a lot of friends who, as a result of busy modern schedules (theirs and ours) we don't see nearly as often as we should. It's appalling that our friends Y&N (who live 20 min. away) see us FAR LESS than the Buxoms who live 73 states away. In a way that was my favorite part of the evening, to see TFBIM reveling in the affection of her friends. Even if half her friends are, frankly, nothing to write home about. So TFBIM mingled aerobically (she's one of those extrovert types...alas) all evening long and pretty much just had wine and Cosmopolitans and no food and was experiencing a death wish of a hangover by the time we rolled home.

The food--considering it's club food--was actually really damned good. Most of the food I chose was selected on the wide margin of error they have. A hunk o' cow is hard to ruin save by overcooking. A smoked salmon is damned only by an inept guy manning the slicing knife. The bartender (an impassive old coot) knew his stuff and was churning out Seabreezes, Cosmopolitans, Cape Codders, Foghorns, Manhattans and Whiskey Sours (from scratch!) with deftness and talent.

The cake was an unqualified sensation. It sure looked swell, with white fondant icing (I happen to hate buttercream, and Italian meringue frosting isn't everyone's cup of tea.) with some pink fondant**** "ribbons" and a bow that was shaped into a "40." The cake itself was a rum genoise, with s thinnish schmeer of dulce-de-leche (or "cajeta" for those west of the Mississippi rivah) between the layers. Rich--but not too--and silky and yummy. In fact, we let the staff help themselves during cleanup and they immediately produced takeout (or "takeaway") packages***** so that we wouldn't let this yumminess go to waste.

Lastly, people seriously dug the goodie bags. To that which you already knew to be included, I also managed to score at Macy's "Cellar" on supah-dupah clearance, plain stainless cocktail shakers for a mere $2.25 each! So I threw those in there. Our friends were pleased with the goodie bags and HER friends (as opposed to our friends) were stupefied, as they had never, ever, EVER gotten a goodie bag. Thinking these are things you only read about in the pages of People Magazine. So that was a big hit as well.

Why, then, didn't this party rate a "Perfect!" or "Smashing!" score? Well, here's why:

1- The phantom no-shows. If you're going to R.s.v.p. that you'll come, and then something happens...CALL ME. Don't just not show up and send a message with your friend that "X was too tired from her flight."

JUST
@#$%ING
CALL
ME.
People (i.e., me) go through some trouble and expense on behalf of a guest and to just blow it off, even with good reason, is unspeakably rude, inconsiderate, boorish and, honestly, the hallmark of a bone-through-the-nose/let's-go-sack-and-pillage-Rome savage. Sending me an email three hours before is...borderline. Also, being a man and unaccustomed to doing this sorta thing, I didn't know that if you have X number of people R.s.v.p.ing you lower that number by 7%-10% to accomodate the abovesaid Visigoths.

2- Some of the food I let my SiL talk me into didn't go over all that well. The cheeses and the late-addition whole smoked salmon weren't quite the home run the prime rib or the appetizers were. I should have opted for an antipasto station, which had some cheeses along with a guy slicing prosciutto, mortadella and sopresatta. My fault.

So there you have it.

Oh, and TFBIM scored****** pretty damned well. More on that later tonight when I can find the camera and the wire thingy.

-J.

* Half were a deep pink, and 1/6 each of violet, light pink and light blue.

** Residents of more-or-less-tropical areas are deservedly legendary for their appalling lack of punctuality. We're no exception.

*** She would have asked by name, as in: "We're looking for Mildred Q. Fudpucker's surprise party." And the manager might well have said "Who? All we have to night is TFBJM's surprise party." Which would have suct.


**** Food coloring tastes bitter, so I minimized it by just doing some thin strips that could be picked off by the foodies in attendance.

***** I wish they had brought those out sooner, so I could have hauled off the beef and salmon on which I spent so much @#$%ing coin.

****** In case you worry, I got her something GIGA-nice. She was, understandably, speechless.


Posted by Joke at 10:41 AM 9 comments

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"The trap has been sprung, Watson. Now we must wait."

OK.

Pretty much everything that has to be done has been done.

The room and menu and bar are all "good to go."
The little menu cards? Check.
Balloons? Little balloon weights? Check, check.
Banner, confetti, streamers? All check.
The music? Sorta check. (CDs have been burned, they have not been handed over to the sound system guy.)
What-am-I-to-wear? Check.

All I have to do is swing by the place in about 45 min. to give it a once-over and then I have to cool my heels (to say nothing of remaining cool) until about 7:30ish.

So why am I getting a bit butterflied in the tummy?

More later.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:31 PM 8 comments