Monthly Archives: December 2011

the delicate dance of equinox and solstice

12/22/11

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checking out the get-up before gettin’ down to business

I know what you’re all thinking: “why do they celebrate St. Lucy’s Day – and the ‘return of light’ – on December 13 instead of today like they were supposed to?” Well, because the calendar used until 1582 was off by 11 minutes every year, that’s why.

Eleven minutes is no big deal (unless you’re at the dentist), but give it some time, and it really adds up. Starting when the First Council of Nicaea hammered out rules for Easter in 325 AD, and ending with Pope Gregory XIII about 1,257 years later, the calendar had drifted 10 days out of whack. If they’d kept going, December would have ended up in the summer and mere anarchy would have been loosed upon the world.

So they refined their measurements, made new rules for leap years, and decided to pull off a one-time eradication of 10 days. In other words, in the year 1582, it was Thursday, October 4… and the next day it was Friday, October 15. Lucy had a similar reaction to mine when I told her this: how upset were the kids who missed their birthdays?

But here’s the kicker – many countries took centuries to switch over to the new calendar. And even if they did, they didn’t move the holidays that were tied to an event, the way St. Lucy’s Day was supposed to be tied to the winter solstice.

So here at the Blake-Wms household, we’ve decided to take the winter solstice back for the Lucys of the world, and celebrate it on the longest night of the year. Besides, the origin myth predates Christianity, with the Lussinatta (or “Lucy Night”), a dangerous and magical evening when the tricksy woman-spirit Lussi would come down the chimney to punish bad children. Ah, parenting before 1950… why explain the importance of certain behaviors to your kids, when it so much easier just to scare the shit out of them?

Anyway, you may be noticing these traditions blending together: Christmas, the winter solstice celebrations, St. Lucy, the return of light and longer days, someone going down chimneys who happens to know if you’ve been bad or good… you get the feeling it’s all about finding a way to get through the worst with as much good cheer, hope and family as possible.

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For us, the St. Lucy Day tradition is wonderful. By “us”, I mean Tessa and me, because getting woken up with warm saffron buns and coffee, even once a year, is way better than it should be. It’s all so yummy as to seem illegal. Lord knows how many years Lucy will want to don the crown, but for now, there’s no better reminder of the blessings we occasionally can’t see for the darkness.

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Lots of light and love from us to all y’all!

there’s a certain slant of light

12/21/11

I’m in Erratic-Postin’™ mode this week and next, but there’s always room for this poem, introduced to me by Jamie Block at some point around 1989.

“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,

In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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here at the farm, sunsets can get serious

simply having

12/19/11

Over at Jezebel, they’ve been offering a “March Madness”-style bracket pitting the worst Christmas songs in the canon against each other. I have to say a few of my least-favorites were unfortunately voted off early: “Santa Baby”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” should have lasted longer by dint of their pure putrescence.

On the other hand, I sorta always liked McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (find the mash-up of this song and “Jenny on the Block” here if you want pure brilliance) and I don’t know why they gotta be mean to ol’ Frosty. But the rest are pretty spot on… whaddya think?

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UPDATE…

[The previous link to “Christmas on the Block” didn’t work, so I changed it to my own link above… all credit goes to Mark Vidler at Go Home Productions for the original, and if you like it, you can always donate to the artist via Paypal for a job insanely well done. -ed.]

up on the housetop, opossum paws

12/15/11

I shall keep this brief. I hate Christmas in Los Angeles. I am content to be called a precious little East Coast prep-school twat if it means not being here in December. For me, California can’t win; if it’s warm, that deadens everything awesome about Christmas, and if it’s cold, you wonder what the fuck you’re doing in California if it’s not warm.

The neighborhoods try to compensate for their lack of snow – and their utter lack of magic – by stuffing every animatronic Rudolph and Santy Claus they can find into their lawns, and festooning their gutters with rainbow sparkle lights. I give them points for trying, but as I have said for years, I’m a dick, and it only makes me long for the fjords.

Perhaps I was scarred by my post-parents’-divorce Christmases held in various Marriot Inns and Extended Stay America joints around West Covina, CA because of my mom’s job. We did our best with little plastic trees and cassettes of Xmas Favorites, but it always felt like masturbating with sandpaper.

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note purple trees in background

My wife and daughter, who are better humans than me, never go this depressive route and choose to make the best of LA while we’re here. On Sunday, we went to the W Hotel, where they have a “skating rink” made out of Glice™, which is basically a synthetic oil laid onto particleboard. You can’t really go, you can’t really stop, and god forbid you fall down, which requires a trip to the drycleaners. You can achieve the same effect by stepping behind the register at the Krispy-Kreme in Raleigh.

Thank the heavens above we board a plane tomorrow for New York, where we shall be until the New Year dawns upon us all. The weather will be shitty, the ice needles will blast into my eyeballs, the traffic will be ghastly, and the nights will be unbearable, and I for one, will savor every minute of it.

these were the best you could do

12/14/11

Man, I don’t know how you Republicans are able to get up in the morning. Has there ever been a more sorry collection of carnival assclowns jockeying for position on the GOP Dum-Dum train? They’re like the Washington Generals, except the Generals occasionally made a layup.

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The Wash. Generals logo: creepy, minstrel-ish and depicting a foul all at once

If I were a sensitive, old-school, rational Republican – and I know some of you are out there – I would rend my garments in disgust over the all-star team of numbskulls culled from the Island of Misfit Pols. The entire crop positively reeks of sexual dysfunction – the only candidates who aren’t marauding philanderers are either repressed Mormons or married to a self-loathing closet case.

You’ve got Newt Gingrich, who actually had to make a pact not to cheat on his third wife and is so unhinged as to be actually scary. Mitt Romney is made of wobbly, beige Jell-o and has the ideological consistency of a pre-schooler on a gummi worm bender. Herman Cain was a disgrace to Hermans and canes everywhere, Michele Bachman is 15 cats away from being a batshit crazy 15-cat lady, and Rick Perry is either kidding, or ought to be locked in a basement.

These should be characters on a zany BBC sitcom from the early ’90s, and instead, they are your nominees for the President of the United States. I would argue two things: first of all, this isn’t just bad luck – it’s the natural byproduct of a toxic mindset. You can’t have a political party dedicated to the current conservative agenda and expect real people to rise to the top.

Secondly, as much as it’s fun for progressives to see the shit-pizza the Republicans are currently baking, the kind of scorched-earth, race-to-the-cellar cruelty and mallrat evangelism found in these GOP debates is actually bad for our country. Just as UNC’s hatred for a good Dook team drives us to be even better, everyone in America benefits from a real conversation between two opposing ideologies, assuming one of the ideologies can put forth anything other than nihilism and lies.

Sure, the Democrats haven’t always had awesome candidates. Dukakis wasn’t our strongest bet (even though he was beating George H.W. Bush substantially before he got Willie Hortoned and tanked). Mondale wasn’t exactly inspiring, and I always had serious problems with John Kerry. But at least you could engage them in debate, and take their ideas seriously, whether you agreed with them or not.

Likewise, I can engage in debate with many of you self-avowed conservatives on this blog. Because of it, I’ve softened on some positions, hardened on others. I don’t believe any of you to be cynical, mean-spirited, unwittingly (or secretly) racist, homophobic, or – perhaps most damning – assume the absolute worst of people. Yet your candidates for President absolutely wallow in it.

Are you really going to hold your nose and vote for one of them because any of them are better than President Obama? Because that’s not good enough. These cretins are beneath you.

tickle me cabbage tamagotchi

12/13/11

As older people, especially if you’ve got kids, you’ve long since learned to squelch your “want” mechanism for Christmas. It has been so long since you got what you really wanted under the tree that you have stopped the act of wanting. It doesn’t help that the major gifts of youth – a cool bike, the absolutely must-have-it toy, the electronic game that will change everything – have largely lost their appeal to your average workin’ stiff.

But deep within us all is still that anxious kid who looks upon the holidays with salvation, ecstasy, dread, hope and unquenchable excitement. Yes, it has been replaced by the Joy of Giving, sure, sure, but what if, by some bizarre chance, someone were to absolutely hit that same spot with a gift?

Be outright selfish for just a daydream, and answer this question: what do you really want for Christmas?

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my dad checks out early morning Xmas 1980 – incl. my fave bike ever, the 10-speed Desperado!

(non-Christmas celebrators, please play too)

i yiff for the lulz

12/11/11

To be filed in the It’s All So Awful I Can’t Turn Away dept., many of you may have seen this email from an investment banker named “Mike” to a would-be maiden (“Lauren”) after an allegedly-horrific date they had to the New York Philharmonic. The note first appeared on Reddit a few days ago, which (as internet boards go) has a typically honest clientele.

The letter is egregiously stupid-feeling-inducing, especially given his enumeration of why they should go on a second date. Nuggets abound, like “You played with your hair a lot. A woman playing with her hair is a common sign of flirtation…” and “On a per-minute basis, I’ve never had as much eye contact during a date as I did with you.” And then he talks about money, and her age, and… It’s All So Awful I Can’t Turn Away.

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scene of the crime

Needless to say, if you read the email, Mike seems to be surfing right down the middle of the Aspergian spectrum, and given my experience with the subject, that’s not a term to be thrown around loosely. There but for the grace of the Buddha went I, as they say.

My first reaction to this was “oh the horror”, putting myself in the shoes of the poor, obtuse dork who obviously had no idea how to behave, nor any translation mechanisms for the social cues that said “go the fuck away”. And if this guy was truly on that spectrum, he will probably just sit and suffer the humiliation without any real way of figuring out the rules, since they’re spoken in a language he only vaguely understands.

But then I was reminded of Rule 34 of the Internet, or more specifically, Rule 36, which states “If it exists, someone has a fetish for it. No exceptions.” Obviously, that’s meant for things like women’s shoes, nipple rings, blue cheese dressing, fireplace bellows, viola cases, toll gate coin baskets, and the Large Hadron Collider – but it also means there is someone else out there for “Mike”.

The internet itself upends the concept of celebrity and changes all games, meaning that Old Rule 16 takes over, and the immensity of the failure itself morphs it into a success. Simply put, the breadth and scope of Mike’s embarrassment ensures that his story will reach the right person for him, and perhaps legions of perfectly wonderful women will line up to be taken to the New York Philharmonic. They will twirl their hair, give him more than the requisite amount of eye contact, and maybe someone might actually live happily ever after.

ah still got it

12/8/11

Not to be obtuse, but I’m considering that I’m nearing an age where I have to take my age into consideration. I recently read a diary I wrote thirteen years ago that read: “got back from playing basketball and didn’t think ‘I played well’, but thought ‘I played well for being 31’.”

I am now a bit older than 31 – thirteen years older, as I might have mentioned – and still play basketball with (what seems to me at least) a comparable skill level with the requisite tricks, but it that just because we never notice the drop-offs until they’re glaringly obvious?

It has always seemed to me that there’s an incredible change that occurs around 30 or so, when you notice you are no longer “young”. It manifests in some of the following ways:

• you cannot drink alcohol without misery the next day

• a fashion you thought utterly dead from your past has now come back again, and you find it oddly depressing

• injuries heal after a week, not a day

• certain bands are now on the radio that you CANNOT FUCKING STAND

• where once you could sleep on the floor on an adventure, you now require certain creature comforts and medication

• you feel like “it’s about time for it to happen” although you don’t know what “it” is

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me at 31: fat, stupid and at Denny’s

You get the idea. Many of these annoyances and perspective-shifts combine to make a good solid depression (or “Saturn returning”, or pre-marriage crisis, etc.) that abates, thankfully, upon getting to the other side.

Physically, at least, it’s a pretty even keel after that disruption – you know what your post-20s body is capable of, you know where to push it, and assuming you keep your shit together, there’s not much you can do at 32 that you can’t do at 45. But then the question is this… when’s the next shift?

Or is there one? Everyone’s different, sure, but is your physical and emotional stamina pretty set, with only slight degradations over time? Or is there that one day at 57 when you open the car door into your shin, gravy pours out, you collapse into thousands of shards, and suddenly you’re in the YMCA kiddie pool doing Old Fartz Yoga?

I desperately want to skydive, but it’s not my age keeping me from doing it, it’s my daughter. I just can’t seem to throw myself out of a plane when she’s counting on me. Most decisions stem from the same tree: I can’t drive like I used to, I can’t create a public nuisance, I can’t fight with cops anymore. As for physical things, my spirit is willing and my flesh is still seemingly strong.

But do any of you, even the younger lurkers amongst you, find yourself unable to do something you used to take for granted?

good ol’ american know-how

12/7/11

I have been felled by yet another sinus infection (because of a deviated septum suffered at the hands of an unruly trashcan circa 1999) and was prescribed those li’l steroids by my ENT doctor. En route to the drugstore at the corner of Rose Ave. and Main Street in Venice, I dropped my iPhone while walking from the car, and kicked it into the storm drain.

I should clarify: I drop-kicked it, 1925-football style, so goddamn hard that it sailed thirty feet about knee-high to the pavement, bounced thrice, and skittered down a storm drain across the street. It happened so fast that the crowd of homeless dudes sitting in front of the drugstore didn’t even see it.

Stunned, I walked over to the sewer, looked down, and saw my phone about six feet below street level, just sitting there with a calendar alarm going off. No tool could possibly reach it, the manhole cover was held on with safety screws, and it was threatening to rain.

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my Carolina blue phone is much farther away than the picture suggests

So I did what any red-blooded American iconoclast would do: I invented the MoronPole 4002™! Yes, the MoronPole 4002™ may look like a seven-foot dowel rod with a piece of moulding screwed to it, then topped with velcro… because it is! Thank goodness I only lived 6 blocks away, because it took five backbreaking minutes to build it.

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Drop-kicking your phone into a sewer thirty feet away is no longer something that can ruin your day! Simply velcro the industrial-strength pads together, stick one side to the pole, and then use the other side’s sticky back to fetch whatever ails ya. Yes, you could use double-sided tape, but trust me… that shit’s weak, and THIS WORKS.

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$1.27 in parts, the MoronPole 4002™ was too good not to share with the world, so I’m selling it at a slight markup at fine retail outlets everywhere. “Just Pole It… And Git It Back!”©

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bergent america

12/6/11

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As it is only one week until St. Lucy’s Day, I thought it’d be only fitting to have a few words from our little patron Saint of Light herself. The following comes verbatim from our daughter concerning her views on religion:

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“I don’t know WHAT to think about God. Some people think he’s like the Father of us all. Some people think he flies. With no legs. Other people think he’s married to Mother Earth. But that’s just weird to me. Like a piece of corn marrying a carrot.”

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conducting another science experiment after gluing bananas and carrots together (foreground)

During bedtime over the weekend…

Lucy: What’s the story about Christmas again?

Tessa: Well, Mary was very pregnant and Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem on foot-

Lucy (with great authority): Right, Mary and Joseph Christ.

Tessa (stifling a laugh): Yeah, um, “Christ” isn’t actually a last name.

Later…

Lucy: Why do Joseph and Mary have boats?

Daddo: Huh?

Lucy: Yeah, you know… (sings) ” I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day, ’twas Joseph and his fair la-dee…” They have boats.

Daddo: Well, it’s… (long pause) they… um…

(Lucy has already left)

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during National Children’s Chorus performance (she’s at bottom right)

While rehearsing for chorus in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, she was so wide-eyed she couldn’t pay attention to the conductor. Afterwards…

Tessa: So, sweetie, Mr. Ceresky said you were unusually distracted in chorus today. What’s going on?

Lucy: Oh, Mommy, there were so many things to look at. The walls were covered with myths. And Jesus was on a pole. And – who’s that lady? The Bergent?

Tessa (trying to keep it together): You mean… The Virgin?

Lucy: Yeah, the Virgin. She was everywhere. The place was just so full of Jewish stuff, I couldn’t focus.

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