Faster Than The Speed of Sound

Well, apparently the essay I recorded for WBEZ’s “848” program was broadcast this morning. That’s such a fast turnaround that they didn’t have a chance to email me about it. I only recorded it yesterday, and my phlegm-hampered delivery left the producer with a complicated editing job. Or so I thought. But I already received two emails about it, so apparently it happened. “Yay,” he said, flatfootedly.

When the link is posted on BEZ’s website, I’ll put it here.

Monkey Day Scrooge

Feh.“Personally, I never celebrate National Monkey Day. It’s so overly commercial now. It used to be a time to get together and pick lice off family and friends, but now….it’s like if you don’t spend your life savings on new poop for all the nieces and nephews, you’re some kind of mandrill. And the stores, with their politically correct “happy holidays” really get my goat. As if I’d be offended by the word “monkey”! Why do we celebrate this anyway? Monkeys are the reason for the season. If you’re not a simian, don’t celebrate National Monkey Day. It’s our holiday, dammit! Ours! *screech screech* (throws poop)

“Ahem. Yes, I plan to celebrate it on my own, in my own quiet way. And that’s not because I have no friends. I have plenty. You just don’t know them. ”

(Photo copyright by Jill Greenberg, whose portraits of monkeys and apes are represented by the Paul Kopeikin Gallery of Los Angeles.)

A Phlegmish Carol

This morning my chest feels like squirrels have been nesting in it all fall. Friends had a little caroling party yesterday afternoon, and I thought it would be churlish of me to not join in with my favorites, despite the chest cold I’ve been incubating for a week. So I gave it a go, sang maybe three songs in my best attempt at a bass, chatted for the rest of the time and hoped the spiced Glugg would soothe my throat. Hey, it’s an old-fashioned recipe, right, and ipso factotum should be good for whatever ails you.

Then I drove a gaggle of kids downtown to church for the Lessons and Carols concert. Tensions were a little high in the car, as the kids did NOT appreciate being pulled out of a leisurely Sunday afternoon of play and cookies to put on a demanding performance. Not only would they have to sing two songs from the choir loft–one of which was in GERMAN! they pointed out to me–but it was also the debut of handchimes with this group. Handchime rehearsals had not been going well, and many threats had already been issued to only strike them during the proper songs. Yeah, and the choir director thinks you can sweep the tide back with a broom.

I had two concerns: Why no one quite appreciated my comments about “Willie and the Hand Chimes”, and whether I could get the Hawaiian carol “Mele Kalikimaka” out of my head. I’d been playing it as a kitschy half-joke all afternoon, and like a careless researcher handling infectious diseases, I became a victim too. And again, at the rather uptight, high-church place where we worship, no one appreciated when I sang that catchy little number. Check it out here, play it 17 times, and see for yourself.

Despite all that, it was a glorious evening. Maybe the current chest pain is a result of me swelling with pride as the Children’s Choir sang Bach’s “Wie Schon Leuchtet der Morgenstern.” When they finished, the adult choir on the main floor of the sanctuary smiled very satisfied smiles. A high compliment, which none of the kids could see.

I hope you can find time this season to take in a concert as beautiful as the one we heard last night. Make the time. Skip shopping for Great Aunt Tillie. Skip the Bears game. Well, maybe not the Bears game, but definitely the shopping. Peace. Cough. Peace.

Only 7 Shopping Days til Monkey Day

Here’s a gift item that is both functional and authentically monkey-oriented. The Brass Monkey Freeze Indicator.

Our Brass Monkey Freeze Indicator is more than an attractive desk ornament and paperweight. When exposed overnight to below freezing temperatures, an amazing phenomenon occurs. Part of his anatomy falls off!

Anyone who woke up in Chicago this morning will want one of these. Order here.

Gripe Water

A guy asked for this yesterday at the counter of the Euro-style apothecary in my neighborhood. Have you ever heard of it? It’s a homeopathic remedy for baby colic. But I just like the sound of the name. “Gripe Water.” It sounds like a euphemism for liquor, but then again, to me, most things do.

“ACCENT!” is the Reason for the Seasoning

(Remember when they ran ads for this “flavor enhancer”, sprinkling MSG over everything from salads to steaks? Do they still make this stuff anymore? My entertaining has never been the same without it.)

This topic of how to hail people during Saturnalia is getting staler every year, but there was a whole page of Letters to the Editor in the Trib last week about “putting the Christ back in Christmas.” I still have this argument with friends of mine who object to being told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, so I guess it’s not settled in anyone’s mind yet.

For an engaging examination of who can really claim this time of year as their own, check out Eric Zorn’s column today.

One December pastime is to take stock of the previous 11 months and see where you are and where you’ve been. If that is the case, the people screaming about how they’re dissed when someone says “Happy Holidays” must have a steel trap memory for perceived slights. Maybe they have a persecution complex. They must save up all their bile for the year looking for a respectable opportunity to release it, and somehow well wishers are a suitable target. This tone suffused all the Letters to the Editor that insisted “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” It felt less like a call for Christians to reject commercialism and more like resentment that anyone else can crash the holiday party.

Political correctness is not at the core of this argument, although sometimes it does raise its head during school pageants and the like. There was never a magical time when everyone wished each other a “Merry Christmas”, consequences be darned, and anyone who believes there was is delusional. What the past held was a segregated, non-mobile society, in which Christians and Jews rarely mingled (with the exception of places like New York, Hyde Park and maybe Washington DC), atheists kept quiet about their convictions rather than be hounded and fired from jobs, and Muslims and Buddhists lived overseas where they belonged. In that era, it was entirely possible to tell everyone you know “Merry Christmas” without offending anyone. And because you could do it, the phrases “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” had no air of capitulation, no feeling of compromise. They all meant the same thing because most of your friends and acquaintances were on the same page.

Everything was all hunky-dory in the past? Check out old newspapers for their seasonal advertising. Examine old photos, and keep an eye out during old movies. “Happy Holidays” was used just as often now as it was 50-60 years ago. It’s just that the atmosphere around it has changed.

You want to boycott stores that use the phrase “Happy Holidays,” go right ahead. As one of the commentators to Zorn’s blog post mentioned, just make sure that when you don your religious armor, you also apply your Christian standards to your shopping choices and avoid products made in brutal factories in China and Indonesia. That would be a fight worth having, one that might produce some positive results.

What Makes Chicago Happy

The pride and joy of IllinoisEarlier in the fall, I had a whole list of notes for an essay grousing about how I was going to avoid watching football this year. It was motivated in part by watching the kids practicing in the park up the street in the hot August weather and feeling miserable for them. I was also lucky enough to watch one of my baseball teams make it to the World Series (although who showed up on the field is still a mystery), so my sports fix lasted almost up until Halloween.

Among my anti-pigskin arguments were that it’s pathetic to spend much time cheering a local team of pro millionaires when they have no connection with the city, enjoy ridiculously short and painful careers, and have had their jocks sniffed by writers, fans and groupies since they were 15 years old. The owners are so beneath contempt, with their talk about “a public trust” in ownership as they leech public money for everything from traffic policing to new stadiums, that they don’t merit mention. To put it in Oprah-style talk, how much is a fan investing in this relationship, and how much could he/she possibly expect to get back?

But my main argument was, if a guy is paying attention to more than one professional sport, he is wasting his life. And I still believe that.

But oh, there is something about a winning season with the Chicago Bears. Somehow the City That Works (intermittently, haphazardly and sinfully better for some than others) seems to work better when the Bears are winning. There are flags, hats, car stickers everywhere, and somehow the regalia doesn’t reek of marketing and zombified consumerism, at least not entirely. Everyone even remotely interested in sports around here loves a winning Bears season. It’s a combination of history and civic self-perception (everyone likes to feel like a Grabowsky once in a while), or maybe just a diversion as the winter months kick in. But this place must be a football town, because the Bears are simply unavoidable these days.

This doesn’t mean that my arguments against football are invalid. I’d dissuade any boy I know from playing it, because for all the talk about teamwork, there are a hell of a lot more unsung kids playing the line or riding the bench than there are making star plays. And the dripping machismo that surrounds the games and broadcasts? I feel like a pansy just watching the car commercials. Doesn’t it look like a whole lot of overcompensation is going on? I predict an apocalyptic homosexual orgy will break out both in the stands and on the field during one of the next three Super Bowls.

But all that being said, I’m sneaking in Bears games too (to a skilled TIVO browser like myself, the game can be watched in less than an hour, and without the inane patter of the announcers), when my wife and kids will let me. I sometimes have to beg for the time in a Kramden-esque bluff—you know, “I work hard all week, and I have earned the right to watch a little football”—but that’s as macho as it gets. Yesterday, while the Bears-Vikings game was going on in 15 degree weather, I was downtown ice skating with the family by the Bean and having a stupendous time. Then we went home, made chili, bought a Christmas tree that was so frozen you could have mailed it without wrapping, and then I watched the game in the comfort of my basement. It was a perfect, frozen winter day.

And truthfully, I probably wouldn’t be having so much fun if the Bears didn’t have that fight song that’s so damn catchy. (You can hear it played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Wikipedia HERE.)