This is where 'everything else' goes.

Fresh and New

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 7:24 pm December 26, 2008

I don’t remember how old I was, but probably not any older than ten. I had received a “snorkel parka” for Christmas… and while clothes are generally not at the top of the list of things that a ten-year-old kid wants for Christmas, this parka was very cool, and I loved it.

The parka was navy blue, and had an orange liner. It had a hood with a drawstring, and a fur ruff. When you put the hood up and tied the string, the hood and ruff made a short tube in front of your face – hence the name, “snorkel parka”.

We always exchanged gifts on Christmas eve, and on Christmas day, it was dress-up, go to church, come home for Christmas dinner, but not too much playing with the new toys. The first day where us kids had the day to plan as we liked was December 26.

This particular December 26th was a typical winter day in Washington, DC – It was cold and the wind was howling at about 30 miles per hour. It was perfect “Snorkel Parka” weather. I loved cold weather, and I loved the idea of bundling up and going outside, for no other reason than to brave the elements. The only thing that might have made it more perfect would have been to have some snow.

I bundled myself up. I put on long “thermal” underwear. I put on two pairs of socks. I had some hiking boots that offered a bit of insulation. I had a nice warm sweater, and then bundled myself up with my parka and a ski cap, and some gloves. I pulled the hood over my head and tied the strings. It was as if I had put on a space suit. I was wrapped in a 98.6 degree cocoon.

My mother was not so keen on me going out in such weather. I don’t remember specifically, but I am sure that there were warnings on the news about going out in the “bitter cold”. It might also have been that she didn’t want me going in and out and letting the cold air in the house.

I stepped outside. The front door and storm door shut behind me. I was left with the sound of the wind howling through the branches of the crabapple tree in the front yard, though it was muffled as I heard it through the ski cap and insulated hood that covered my ears. November’s leaves blew here and there across the brown grass. I could feel the cold on my face, but it seemed tempered by my attempts at insulating myself from the elements.

I stepped down the concrete steps of my parent’s front porch, and surveyed the frozen landscape. It certainly wasn’t still, but it was also not filled with life. There was movement, but it was the sterile, lifeless motions of a blustery winter day. If there were birds around, they were certainly perched safely in some evergreen tree, avoiding the winds and cold.

And then I noticed it. The sun was shining. It seemed brighter and cleaner than I had ever seen before. Of course, the sky was cloudless and blue, but that wasn’t what left the impression on me. It was the brilliant, heatless white of the sun. The day seemed brighter. It seemed fresh and new.

I don’t think that a ten year old can really appreciate all of the implications of this perception, but I am sure I was aware of them, and they seem crystal clear to me today – This day was different than the days that came before. Left behind were the obligations and expectations of Christmas. For a ten year old kid, the obligations had to do with participating in the Family stuff and going to church. Not that these things were terrible, but my brothers and I would have been much happier with a football and a couple of friends. And that was another thing… being a family day, you were left without your friends – they were off doing family things with their families. So here it was, December 26th, and we could return to ‘normal time’. And it wasn’t just that the sun was shining, but that the sun was shining, and everything was starting new. Our lives as kids had been restored to its best possible state – a week off from school, days to do with as we liked, new toys and Christmas gifts to play with.

I was walking into work this morning, and I caught a whiff of that experience again. There was new snow on the ground, most people had the day off. The weight of obligation and commitment that burdens the Scrooges of this world – myself included – had been lifted from my shoulders.

Perhaps others feel this way too, and it was this feeling of newness that caused them to choose this time of year to move from one calendar year to the next. Thinking back about previous December 26ths, I think I always feel this way in some form. It isn’t always as vivid as that winter day back in Washington, DC when I was ten, but it is a real and visceral feeling. And of course, the feelings are much more complex when you’re an adult – it isn’t just about pursuing an afternoon football game with friends, but about bills and going to work and new projects and paying the rent. But now, those things that we consider ‘End of the Year’ things are behind us, and what lies ahead are ‘Beginning of the Year’ things.

It didn’t matter that there was eight inches of new snow in my driveway this morning. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It was fresh and new.

21st Century Christmas Eve

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 7:27 pm December 25, 2008

I don’t care for the holidays. I will admit, at least a part of that is just me being contrary, but regardless, more than half of it is a philosophical aversion to the commercialism and resulting sense of obligation that comes with gift-giving. I get a bit overly sensitive about it all, and I get a little reluctant to participate in even the more pure Christmas activities, even though they’re not really about the whole gift thing.

And so it was this evening, as the family headed to a friend’s place for the annual Christmas Eve get-together. Were the decision left solely to me, we would have stayed home. But my partner likes these things, and they’re tradition for her… So I took some time this afternoon and made a lasagne, and then off we went to our friend’s place.

In addition to my lasagne, there were some awesome chicken wings, shumai and egg rolls… cheeses and sausages (moose and caribou – very tasty), some bread pudding, baclava, wine and other drinks… all in all a very nice spread.

Three generations were represented, all the way from an expectant mother, a toddler, some pre-teens and late teens, the 20, 30 and 40-somethings, and the expectant mother’s father. There was good conversation, lots of laughing, and a few gifts exchanged. Unlike past years, there was no Christmas music, no board games… just good friends and good conversation.

The highlight of the evening, however, is something that couldn’t have happened just a few years ago. Someone’s phone rang, and someone else decided they liked that ringtone. Suddenly a crowd gathered, bluetooth phones whipped out and turned on, and everyone was swapping and demonstrating their ringtones.

21st Century Christmas: Spreading joy through grey-market copyright infringement.

The Unintended Thoughts Behind Dialing With Your Behind

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 7:39 pm December 17, 2008

Does it say more about me or my waistline that I’ve been butt-dialing a lot lately?

I received a text message from a friend last night. I responded, and went to bed. This morning I got dressed, slapped my phone to the belt holster and went out to start the car. After I started the car, I came inside and was getting my breakfast together, when I received a text message:

“Good morning u done 3 butt calls this morning”

I had to respond:

“Sorry about that… At least you know that part of me is thinking about you!”

Part of the problem is the crappy design of my phone – a Motorola Q. All of the business buttons are raised and exposed to whatever I happen to bump into.

But here’s the thing… a couple months ago, my butt-dialing escapades were much more infrequent.

I’m becoming a wide-body.

Now for those of you who have met me, I will concede that I was already a bit of a wide-body… but I had made some progress and lost quite a bit of weight.

(confession follows)

I’ve been slacking lately.

(there, I said it)

I need to get back to the gym… and not just to stop my rampant butt-dialing.

But on the other hand… isn’t it nice to know that you’re number one in my phone? You’re the last number dialed? Your text message was the last one I received? And when strapped on the seatbelt this morning, and the phone pressed against the buckle, it redialed your number.

See? I was thinking of you… or at least, you were foremost in the mind of my PDA.

Hope I didn’t wake you up!

Christmas and Cell Phones

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 7:32 pm

A few years back (three phones ago) I had a phone that was quite prone to butt-dialing, and found myself accidentally calling the home phone quite a bit. I would get home and one of the kids would tell me that I had called accidentally when I was out running errands. One night, about this time of year, my partner and I were driving around town doing some Christmas shopping, and decided to play a practical joke on one of the kids. We dialed the home number and put the phone on speaker. When the kid answered, we pretended that we had butt-dialed, and staged a conversation about the different Christmas gifts we were going to get for the kids.

We pretended not to be able to hear the kid, but in fact, we could hear everything he said. He started off trying to get our attention, but finally he settled down and just listened. We would discuss different gift ideas, and he would offer commentary. Sweaters and underwear? “NO!” After a bit, he got his brother to pick up the extension. They were having a running commentary on our faux discussion. The star of the show was the room-sized chess set, with the carpet board, and blow-up pieces. This elicited comments of “Cool!”

There were two problems. First was, we never intended to get any of these things. Second, even if we had, where were we going to get such a chess set? I’d created the idea out of whole cloth.

Then I was reminded of my youth. One Christmas my parents bought my younger brother a bicycle, and my dad assembled it and slipped it into his room on Christmas morning. My brother’s dog slept on his bed with him… and in the morning, when my brother got up, he was so groggy that he didn’t notice the bicycle, and knocked it over at 7 AM. The sound scared the dog, who ran into the kitchen and pee’d all over the floor.

The following spring, the same brother (probably ten or eleven years old at the time) asked for a lawnmower for his birthday. My parents thought that he was joking, and got him something else. On the morning of his birthday, he woke up, fully expecting a new lawnmower to be square in the middle of his room, right where the bicycle had been at Christmas.

Wails came from my brother’s room, and he walked into my parent’s bedroom with tears streaming down his face, wanting to know where his lawnmower was.

Expectation is a bitch. My dad got dressed and took my brother to Sears, where they picked out a red Craftsman “Eager 1″ lawnmower. Turns out my brother was a budding entrepreneur. All of our neighbor’s lawns looked great.

So now, the kid was expecting a room-sized chess set. I didn’t get him a room-sized chess set. I think the trauma scarred him for life.

Gosh that was fun!

In the Streets, the Children Screamed…

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 7:47 pm December 13, 2008

… But not about the day the music died.

It will start with yelling in the middle of the night. Middle-aged men cursing and throwing things. Bar owners and patrons disgusted, and choosing to go home early. People that otherwise sleep soundly will lie awake, staring at the ceiling.

For a while, things will calm down, but by sunrise the unsettled feeling will spread again. Children will cry. No amount of Lucky Charms will console them. People will be late for work, unable to gauge their morning routines. Business people will feel uninformed. Chaos will reign across America.

Two things are for sure: This day WILL come… and for most of us, it is avoidable.

I can’t wait for it to come. The sooner the better. In fact, every time I am reminded of it, I want to scream. I want the waiting to be over. One more reminder and it will be me screaming and throwing things.

The date: February 17, 2009.

That is the day that analog broadcast television ends, and all television will be digital. Conan O’Brien will be replaced with snow. No more Barney. No more Wiggles. No more Today Show. No more Regis and Kelly.

(OK, so ‘No More Barney’ is a good thing…)

Unless you get the box.

This doesn’t really affect me… at least not after February 17. I have digital cable, and yes, I have crappy analog televisions, but who cares? The cable box works the digital magic for me. But it affects me today, dammit!

What gets me about this is that about once an hour that infernal crawl comes on the screen reminding people about the conversion. It screws up the video quality of what I am watching, the audio often gets louder… it is very annoying.

I know.

I get it.

Get the damn digital box before February 17.

But here’s the thing. I am already watching cable. I don’t NEED the box.

Why are you reminding ME?

I am old enough to remember a world where there were still a few people that didn’t have televisions… they hadn’t taken that technological leap from radio – and in fact, more than a few radios still had tubes instead of transistors. My guess is, these are the same people that today do not have cable. I am not worried about them… considering the fact that most of the television-less people in 1965 were already 50 years old… so today they’re pushing 95. They already have cable. Or they have a guy that comes over and fixes things.

If you don’t have cable (or some sort of digital converter) today, and you’re reading this… Go out and get the damn box, call your television station, tell them thanks for the reminder, and they can now turn that damn crawl off.

I expect it to be gone by the time I get home from work.

Time Inflation

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 7:42 pm December 9, 2008

I was speaking with a friend over the weekend, and she was lamenting how busy she was… to rehash an old cliche’, “There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day…”

I agreed with her. I mentioned that I longed for the good old days, when the day had twenty-four hours. But now…

Wait…

The day still has twenty-four hours.

The problem is, an hour only has 22 minutes.

(the rest are commercials…)