Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Evolution of (my hatred for) Jaromir Jagr

I have a confession to make. An admission that might confuse my hockey buddies.  Words so contrary  to anything I previously believed.   Words that I may one day regret,  forcing me to say, "Forgive me Dale Hunter, for I have sinned."  Words 19-year-old me could never have envisioned saying: I no longer despise Jaromir Jagr. In fact, I respect him. 

Twenty-plus years ago, I hated Jaromir Jagr with a white hot fury that should be reserved for people that have actually wronged me.  I hated him in the silly way that crazed sports fans hate people they have never met.  Playing Robin to Mario Lemieux's Batman, Jagr and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins regularly systematically dismantled my beloved Washington Capitals throughout the 1990's.  Mario with his loathsome cocky smirk and Mario Jr (an anagram of Jaromir, trivia buffs!) with his girlish mullet flowing freely down the ice. Two pricks in a pod.  Those two responsible for so much of the Capitals hapless April mythology. Those two responsible for so many broken television remotes, flung in disgust at another Penguin goal or Penguin victory. 

It was easy to hate Jagr.  He was sooooo good.  (Seriously, YouTube his highlights.  They are amazing.)  Often at the expense of my team.  Hatred could not diminish the appreciation for Jagr's game, though.  He was the total package.  Big enough to protect the puck in traffic.  Powerful strides to rush end to end, blowing by defenders.  And those hands, bestowed by the hockey gods, enabling him to deke defensemen and goalies as well as any player ever.  Statistically, and to the eye test, Jagr is one of the greatest goal scorers to ever skate.  And my buddies and I cursed him for it every step of the way.  We cursed him because we could only dream of our team having a player so great.

Then, suddenly, in the Summer of 2001, Jagr landed in Washington via a blockbuster trade.  Fans did not know how to react.  It is difficult to turn off the kind of loathing that I reserved for Jaromir Jagr.  As my friend Rob eloquently put it, "Look out, the Devil's come to church."  I remember writing an email to my hockey pals about the trade, but I can't remember my advice.  I'm guessing it was something about rooting for the uniform not the player.  I probably talked about giving  the benefit of the doubt.   Yeah, probably something stupid like that.  Fans didn't want Jagr in Washington.  The irony, of course, is that Jagr did not want to be in Washington, either. 

Whether fair or not, Jagr was often tagged with descriptors like mercurial, brooding, and selfish. I would describe his two-plus years in Washington as underwhelming, wasted, and can-we-just-get-this-over-with.  Jagr's play was not awful in Washington, yet he was not nearly the player he was in Pittsburgh.  Was he unhappy? Was he better suited to be Robin than THE guy that a franchise pinned its hopes on? Were his skills diminishing as he reached age 30?  Don't know, don't care.  I simply know that the player who posted 121 points in his final season in Pittsburgh barely matched that total in his two full seasons as a Capital.  By the middle of the 03-04 season Jagr was dealt to the Rangers in the beginning of the fire sale that led to the dark times.  The forgettable pre-Ovechkin era.  The failed Jagr experiment, including the fact that Caps owner Ted Leonsis had to continue to pay a large portion of Jagr's salary while with the rival Rangers, rekindled the hatred. 

Now, fast forward a decade.  After a stint in the KHL and multiple stops with multiple teams, Jaromir Jagr is enjoying a career renaissance.  The once "mercurial" superstar is seen as one of the game's elder statesman.  He is a solid, if unspectacular player regarded as a leader and mentor.  I don't think he was ever regarded as either while in D.C.  He seems to have grown up.

Witnessing this change in Jaromir Jagr, albeit from afar, has changed my attitude towards him. He is the last active player remaining from his 1990 draft class.  He will soon be 44 years of age.  The level of commitment and preparation required to be NHL- fit at 44 is admirable.  That he has become a veteran mentor to his young Florida Panther teammates is equally commendable.  Had it not been for the NHL's bungling of the John Scott situation, Jagr likely would have stolen the show at last weekend's all-star festivities.  As it was, all of his teammates wanted to skate on a line with him.  He smiled more in one tv interview than he seemingly did in his entire stay in Washington.  Good for him and good for the league.

As for my change of heart about Jagr, have I softened with age?  I hope so; that seems the mature thing to do.  Just like I try not to get angry at the nitwit who can not properly navigate a four-way stop, there is no need for me to hate Jaromir Jagr.  Hate is a seed better left unsown.  I can not root for Jagr; his Panthers could be a formidable playoff roadblock for the Caps.  I will always be unhappy about the damage  Jaromir inflicted on the Caps from outside and from within.  I will, however, appreciate his immense talents and be happy to have watched one of the best to ever play.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Adam Levine is Destroying My Family.

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine is destroying my family.  A bold statement, to be sure, but consider the evidence.  My wife is infatuated with him and he is poisoning my daughter's brain with his dangerous, insipid lyrics.  This doughy, fortyish father may be no match for you, Levine, but make no mistake, you are my new nemesis.

I am not bothered that my wife has celebrity crushes; most all of us have them (Call me, Mary Louise Parker.) Yet Adam Levine is a puzzler.  His voice is annoying; his high-pitched whine an assault on the ears.  He's boastful. Moves like Jagger? You should be so lucky.  And isn't he so cool with his stubbly beard and carefully curated bedhead?  He kinda looks dirty, if you ask me.  Are we even sure he wears deodorant?  Of course, when I mention him looking dirty, my wife looks away and mumbles something about, "yeah, the right kind of dirty."  Even walking through the mall Adam taunts me, his giant four-foot-tall head staring seductively at me from the Proactiv advertisement.  Whatever.  Perhaps I am just jealous, with my voice like an out of tune foghorn and my moves like William "The Refrigerator" Perry.  Do I think if Adam rolled up in his douchewagon that Amanda would really hop in and ride off into the sunset? No, but let's keep him on the West Coast just in case.

The more problematic reason to loath Mr. Maroon 5 is that my seven-year-old daughter knows all the lyrics to his tawdry songs.  I like songs with no ambiguity in the lyrics. If Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love" or Madonna's "Like a Virgin" come on the radio, I know to flip the channel.  But with my lyrical impairment, I sometimes don't pay enough attention or recognize the trouble until I hear my daughter singing along. 

Saturday, on a family road trip, Grace was singing along to Maroon 5's "Sugar".  I was daydreaming, watching the scenery fly by at 70 MPH, until I hear Levine (and my seven-year-old) singing, "I want that red velvet. I want that sugar sweet. Don't let nobody touch it, unless that somebody's me."  Whoa, Doctor!  I looked, wide-eyed, at my wife and mouthed, "Vagina.  He's talking about a vagina.  He ain't talking about a  cupcake, he's talking about a VAGINA!"  Now, I understand Grace doesn't understand the subtext.  I also understand that most songs contain sexual innuendo.  After all, most male rock stars probably got into music to get laid.  That doesn't mean I want Grace singing along to poetic euphemisms for "down there."  Most importantly, I know my radio has an off switch.  I considered turning it off and never turning it back on lest Grace be subjected to someone crooning about a "honey pot" or "love spot."  Instead I switched over to another station, one playing AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long", which is just a quaint song about dancing, right?  Right?

I know this is just the beginning of an uphill battle.  As Grace gets older, it will grow harder to filter content.  Amanda will continue to swoon at Maroon 5's silly songs.  Be warned Sexy Rock Star Boy: I will never stop trying to protect this house.  STAY AWAY FROM MY FAMILY, ADAM LEVINE!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Follow the Nose! Ever Forward! 'Merica!

Alright, America, I'll do it.  As Republican Primary turmoil inches toward back-room panic, a brokered nominating convention seems increasingly possible.  Therefore, I stand ready  to step in and save  the Republican Party from itself.  With this awful roster of candidates, we can just fast forward to Cleveland in the Summer. (Incidentally, have you ever heard a more romantic phrase?)  We can have a few rounds of meaningless delegate votes for funsies before we get down to business. And that business is the business of moving America Ever Forward!  Nominate me and I will heal this party and sweep to victory in November.

That is some fancy talk, but what are your qualifications?

Here are but a few:
*I have been a Tea Partier for years. (My daughter throws delightful shindigs for me and her imaginary friends.)
*The only time I flip-flop is when on the beach.
*I have never had , and solemnly swear to never have, an abortion.
*I have lots of experience negotiating with the Chinese (food delivery guy).
*I have a firm grasp of the way government works after years of studying George Lucas' documentaries on the Imperial Senate and watching The West Wing in its entirety. (Twice!)
*I have more energy than Jeb, I am less smarmy than Ted "the next George Washington" Cruz, and I will never be accused of wearing a hair helmet. (In fact, look at my photo.  When was the last time you saw a candidate with a bad beard and rumpled red pants? I am the change you need America.)

Okay, so you seem at least as qualified as the current front-runner.  But what do you bring to the table?

I'm glad you asked. 

*At least four years of dad jokes. (Ex.- Winning in November will be no picnic, but I will not act like a hot dog beacuse I relish the opportunity to  ketchup in the polls so I may serve our great nation.)
*Guns for everyone! Especially the most demented and mentally challenged among us. I support the right to bear arms. And bare arms. Sun's out, guns out, amiright?
*Less of that hard, thinkin' stuff like healthcare reform and how to save Social Security and more meat and potatoes issues like making the day after the Super Bowl a national holiday.
*An executive order that states only Republican presidents may issue executive orders.

Well, your platform is no more shallow than the current front-runner's. Do you have any hats that say anything about making America Great Again?  Wait a minute...aren't you registered as an Independent?

Yes, but I see this as an opportunity.  An opportunity to bring me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it. (I thank you all.)  I see this as an opportunity to right the ship, to take back a party that for too long has spit in the face of moderates with its war mongering, world policing, free spending, Palin nominating , gay bashing, wall building disrespect for the center.  I see our opportunity to beat the other guys.  Feel the Bern? It sounds like we'll all have gonorrhea by 2017.  Mrs. Clinton?  A lady President?  Ewwww.   But we are not going to beat the left with the hobgoblin lineup you guys are trotting out there now. 

So, do what's right.  No more Trumper Tantrums, no more singing the Cruz blues, no more sleepy brain surgeons.  I'm here to help, so Follow the Nose.  There's a Hail-storm moving in, make sure you're on the right side of the umbrella, America. 

Hailey '16
Ever Forward!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Of Bullies and Bomb Threats.

Being a kid today seems like a good gig.  Vaccines ward off disease, technology advances at light speed, yogurt comes in a tube that requires no spoon.  But some childhood challenges cut through all generations.  One of those is bullying.  Our family is dealing with my daughter's first experience with the subject. As a parent, it is a little daunting, as this seems like such an opportunity to get things right, to have those teachable moments, to lay a foundation for Grace to learn how to handle these situations.  Grace, a first grader, is getting picked on by another passenger on the school bus.  It seems like a minor deal, some name calling and a little hair pulling, but it bothers her enough that she brought to our attention.  Minor, though it may be, it is something I want to nip in the bud because she does not have to tolerate it.  I don't need a PSA or an after-school special to tell me bullying is real.  I was picked on as a kid (not anything too terrible) and probably passively endorsed other kids getting bullied by laughing along, or worse yet, not saying anything at all.

My first instinct, of course, is to protect Grace.  Protect her from harm, protect her from bad feelings, protect her from the anxiety that can come from worrying about harm and bad feelings.  This is tricky to navigate. For one, I want her to be tough enough to withstand some name calling.  Secondly, she is being raised by two sarcastic parents who are products of a sarcastic, insult comedy generation.  We joke with Grace, often trading barbs with her that are really quite funny.  I have worked at jobs where we said terrible things to each other.  The employees NOT getting picked on were the outsiders.  I guess what I am saying is that I need to make sure I have my bullying recognition calibrated correctly.  I don't want to overreact, nor do I want to downplay a real problem.  I want Grace to be able handle herself, but I must make sure I do not minimize what she tells us.  I  also know the best way I can help her is teach her the tools she can use to try to resolve the situation herself.  If we want to raise a resourceful, resilient kid, we can't fight her battles.

So what are the tools with which we should equip Grace?  I want to tell Grace the next time the girl pulls her hair she should pop the bully in the mouth or least give her a good facewash (I watch a lot of hockey.)  That, however, seems a little counterproductive.  After all, we are looking to defuse, not incite the situation.  In fact, I am proud of Grace for not retaliating.  We told Grace to ask the bully to stop and warn her that if she didn't then Grace would tell the bus driver.  Grace, as shy as she is in certain instances, doesn't want to rock the boat.  She also doesn't want to be a tattle-tale.  How do we instill, in our quickly -growing girl, the confidence to stand up for herself?  Obviously, if she makes no headway with the bully or the bus driver, I will step in.  Because the  only anxiety a student should feel about going to school is whether or not she studied enough for her spelling quiz.

Which is why these cowards calling in bomb threats to schools piss me off so badly.  Kids should be able to walk into school free from "real world" worries like active shooters, bombs, and terror threats.  In effect, the callers, whether they be pranksters or terrorists, are bullying an entire community of children.  At the very least, these calls are disruptive.  At worst, as highly unlikely as it seems, they are the first act of a terror plot.  Who really knows the scoop with these calls that have happened up and down the East Coast?  If the FBI does, they are not saying.  I know investigations take time.  I have faith in the investigation. What I have less faith in is the response of the school board and local officials.

I believe local law enforcement has student safety as their top priority.  If it pleases the court, I will stipulate that, indeed, I have no law enforcement training.  I will concede that, as Sheriff Lewis pointed out in his press release, law enforcement possesses preliminary information that I do not.  But for my money the only information necessary to decide to evacuate a school is that there has been a threat.  Do I really think these robocalls are ISIS probing for information about response times and tactics? No. But you never know.  I understand that it is incredibly disruptive,  but why not evacuate a school every time one of these calls come in?  It only takes being wrong once for an awful tragedy to occur.  Fortunately, the school system has wised up (It only took a bunch of parental complaints, right guys?) and is now informing parents as these problems occur, not well after.  So far, Grace's school has been unaffected.  I suppose if her school is threatened I will have to make the choice of whether I go get her or not.  As far as I know, she knows nothing of the threats at other schools.  She has no anxiety in regards to these threats.  Other students are not so lucky.  It is a damn shame that, whether because of bullies or worse, our children can not go to school feeling safe, secure and ready to learn.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ziggy and Me

Last week, I solicited Facebook friends for writing ideas.  I was subsequently challenged, based on the fact that I don't seriously listen to music or know much about it, to write a music review.  Another friend liked the idea and suggested I start with David Bowie's music since, upon learning of Bowie's death, I had mentioned I was not saddened or as touched as so many others.  So, this is where I begin.  Being too cheap to actually pay for music, even for this experiment, I listened to most of Slacker's David Bowie Top 33.  I'm sure by not listening chronologically or by cohesive album I am missing out thematically.  Oh well,  this is the best I've got.   Baby steps, people.

Perhaps this is where I should set some expectations.  I know little musical jargon; I don't know how to talk about music beyond the way it makes me feel.   This entire exercise is akin to sending a person who eats nothing but Spaghettios and franks  in to critique a five star French restaurant.  He may be able to say, "oooh, that tastes good," but he'll lack the ability to make distinctions in the palate, he may not be able to describe the subtleties and textures.  I also have always had trouble deciphering lyrics.   I don't mean analyzing their subtext, I mean literally picking out the words sometimes.  (Example: At least into my twenties, I thought Neil Diamond was singing about some overly casual preacher, Reverend Blue Jeans.)  My wife makes fun, but sometimes the volume of the music or the singers voice (I'm looking at you Eddy Vedder.) make it impossible for me to hear the words clearly.  So with this info as the backdrop, I put on my headphones, grab my Spaghettios-eatin' spoon and press play.

My Rather Short, Totally Uninformed Review:
I get it now.  I get why people felt a genuine sense of loss when hearing of Bowie's passing.  It is more universal than I realized, I guess.  There were several recognizable songs where I said, "Huh, so that's Davis Bowie, eh?"  There is a little something for everyone in his music.  Some of it is fun.  Fun in a way that makes we want to dance like I would never let ANYBODY see me dance.  (Me doling out moves like Jagger would be a true assault on the eyes.) 

Some of the music practically pulsates with urgency.  There is a yearning driving so much of it.  A yearning to escape, a yearning to be understood, an urgent yearning to stand up and shout, "Look at me.  This is who I am. Tough shit if you don't like it!"  I have long said weird is the new normal.  Weird should be celebrated.  I suppose we have  ground-breaking artists like David Bowie to thank for that.  He made it okay, through costume, through lyrics, and through deed, to be different.  He brought outsiders in.  I understand how relatable he must be to so many who struggled with identity, who struggled to gain acceptance.

Beyond what his performances represent, of course, there are the performances themselves.  The music seems complex, at least to my simple reptilian brain.  The change of pace, the "arrangements"(?) keep you on your toes.  And that voice.  The voice of a chameleon, ever adjusting to mood and theme.   A voice sometimes beckoning, sometimes powerful, sometimes playful, but never timid.  A voice stretching through the stars to entrance and entertain.  I get it now.  Bowie still would not be my first choice when reaching for a cd, but I understand why he might be yours.

So, how'd I do? I don't suppose I'll be hired by Rolling Stone anytime soon. Send all hate mail to the That's No Moon World Headquarters.  Maybe, if you are lucky, I'll make music reviews a regular thing.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thank You, JJ Abrams.

Nerd Alert: Now that the movie has been out for two weeks, I think it is safe to deliver my official, way too long Star Wars thoughts/review/breakdown.  It will include an asteroid belt's worth of spoilers, so don't read on if you have not seen the flick yet. 

Let's start with my expectations. I was super excited to see the movie, but tried to keep my expectations and preconceived ideas reasonable.  There is a set of fans so rabid that they would have cheered anything short of Jar Jar Binks.  Fans that would have clapped had Han and Chewie  shown up wearing clown suits while riding minature ponies; that's not me.  But I also did not expect an Academy Award winner.  Why would I, this is Star Wars?  What I hoped for was a warm glass of a galaxy far, far away.  And that is exactly what JJ Abrams delivered.  He made a movie that entertained 41-year-old me and, just as A New Hope did, would have entranced 5-year-old me.  Yes, I am reviewing through nostalgia-colored glasses, but I think that is the whole point.  Star Wars is a community, a cultural touchstone, a common bond.  It is a mix of movies, quotes, toys, and playground adventures woven into a cozy blanket in which an entie generation happily wraps itself.  So, was I delighted that there were so many nods or homages to the Original Trilogy? Damn right!  I expected nothing less; JJ Abrams is a fan just like me and my friends and millions of others who were blown away the first time we watched Darth Vader step through the smoking hatch of the Tantive IV. 

I literally had goosebumps when the  Lucasfilm logo appeared onscreen.  I got a little emotional when the crawl began.  I had a moment of prequel panic when the crawl ended.  What if like Episode I, it was all downhill after the crawl?  Fortunately, the fears were allayed almost immediately.  Where the prequels were wooden, boring and dense with political explanation , The Force Awakens was fast, fun and pleasing in a raw, visceral this-sure-feels-like-a-Star-Wars-movie way.  Is it flawless? Hardly.  There are cheesy moments and there are plot holes and there are convenient things that advance the story just like, oh I don't know, all three movies of the Original Trilogy.  If you love IV, V and VI despite their "flaws", I don't know how you could not enjoy The Force Awakens.

On to the specific highlights/questions/criticisms:

Kylo Ren:
I admit, upon first viewing, I was only lukewarm (you know, like the internal temperature of a tauntaun) to Ren as a villain.  Part of it was casting; I am not a big Adam Driver fan.  Part of it was seeing another sullen, whiny branch of the Skywalker family tree. (If you haven't already, check out the funny Emo Kylo Ren twitter feed.)  Upon subsequent viewings, I realize he is just a boy out of his depths.  Powerful, yes (freezing a blaster bolt in mid-air!), but not fully trained.  He's a poser trying, but not yet qualified, to fill Grandpa's boots.  I am guessing in Episode VIII we will see, through back story and training montage, a more fully formed villain.

Who is Rey? The internet is filled with theories ranging from the interesting to the preposterous.  My bet is the safe one that the movie seems to lead us to, that she is Luke's daughter.  This raises so many questions that eagerly await being paid off in the next two movies.  By the way, Rey was  by far my favorite new character.  A strong female protagonist that my daughter can root for? What's not to love?  Daisy Ridley did more acting with her eyes than the entire cast of the prequels did in three movies.  Now, if we could just get more of her toys on store shelves.

Han Solo:  Let me just say that the scruffy-looking nerfherder is my favorite movie character ever.  I collect his toys, I have quoted him endlessly and I have pretend flown the Millennium Falcon more times than I can count.  Of course, I was sad to see him killed off, but it worked with the story.  And if he had to die, this movie was a terrific sendoff.  Harrison Ford actually looked engaged (a real concern of mine going in) and gave a strong performance.
He was the heart of this movie, providing the perfect bridge between old and new.  Han was basically a dopey prop in Return of the Jedi.  Here he has a legit role as mentor to Finn, father(?)figure to Rey, heartbroken father to the villain, and one last run as the galaxy's coolest smuggler.  Godspeed, space pirate.

New characters:  Rey was awesome, Poe was cool, if inconsequential, and Finn was okay.  I liked how Finn was sort of the conscience of the film. However, when the movie veered towards being too jokey it was usually because of Finn.  I felt Finn was aboard solely to shepherd Rey into the larger story. I don't see where he has much to do going forward.  I hope JJ comes up with something neat for his character.

Death Star 3:  Probably the weakest part of the film.  I know the heroes need something to attack/climb on/be threatened by, but Come On!  We can't come up with a different type of peril?  That being said, it hardly ruins the movie.  The second Death Star was dumb too, yet that is not why I ding Jedi (that would be the Ewoks).  And I did love that they called it StarKiller Base.  A nice nod to George Lucas.

Fan service: One of the big criticisms is that the movie is too much like A New Hope, that it  has too many Easter Eggs and too many throwbacks to the Original Trilogy.  I know one guy who was annoyed that fans cheered every time a fan favorite from the OT first appeared on screen.  That stuff was exactly why I enjoyed going opening night with a theater packed with true fans.  The reveal of the Millennium Falcon, though only ten minutes in, was my favorite part of the movie.  I thought Abrams found the right balance between old school and introducing the next story line.  Critics should remember that this film had to lay out a ton of exposition as part one of the larger three film story arc.  If VIII and IX mirror Empire and Jedi I will be disappointed.  Until then, however, I trust great things are in store come May 2017.

The bottom line is I was looking for a palatable, prequel-erasing movie and got that and more.  There was love for the originals with enough mystery built in to whet the appetite  for what is next.  Luke on the hill was a perfect ending.  I can't wait to read the next crawl as it recedes into space as John Williams' score blares in sweet Dolby surround sound.  I don't know what else JJ Abrams has in his plans, but after resurrecting Star Trek and Star Wars I will follow him anywhere.  What else from my childhood can he fix? CHiPs?  Thundercats?  Laverne and Shirley? Until he decides I am content to watch the Force awaken over and over again.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Stocking Suffers

Working in retail certainly has its ups and downs. One of the bright sides is having an unusual, flexible schedule that sometimes makes things easier, like being able to go to a less crowded beach during the week or not having to request time off for doctor's appointments or your children's school functions.  That schedule becomes more daunting during the holidays. Even though our team has been planning and working for months towards our goal of selling everything by December 24th, Christmas still snuck up on me. Working fourteen of the fifteen days preceding Christmas tends to make them blend together.  You sometimes lose track of what day it is. And that is how your kid almost gets a Gas Station Christmas.

I am exaggerating a bit, of course.  Though it took more last minute shopping than usual, we had purchased Grace's gifts by Christmas Eve.  As we were wrapping them around 10pm we realized, however, that we had nothing for her stocking.  This was a problem for two reasons. We like to fill Grace's stocking with small treats because we don't go crazy with Christmas presents.  She gets a handful of gifts from Santa and a handful of gifts from Mom and Dad - we never have the tree that looks like it has barfed up presents everywhere. Also, we always pretend the stocking is filled by Santa. An empty stocking would indicate an insufficient Santa delivery and lead to questions I don't feel like answering at 7am Christmas morning.

With even Walmart closed, the lack of proper planning led to a late night run to the only place open.  As this elf plodded slowly through the gas station hoping for a miracle, it quickly became apparent that this might be the first time Santa had filled a stocking with Slim Jims, off brand motor oil and a tin of Skoal Bandit.  Throw in a Penthouse and you might have a redneck's dream stocking, but I was shopping for a seven-year-old girl.  I settled for a toothbrush (pink, at least), lip balm, and candy, lots of candy.

After leaving the gas station dissapointed, but not surprised, I drove a different route towards home.  A route that delivered the blessing of a Walgreen's that was still open.  Against my better judgement, I went in Walgreen's, which to my surprise was open until midnight (midnight!),  and became what I despise.  Despite there being many other shoppers in the store at 11pm,  I could feel the clerk's white hot glare.  Here I was, his brother in retail, irresponsibly making his life miserable as I swept through my last minute shopping.  I could hear the things he was mentally shouting at me because I had been mentally shouting them at customers mere hours earlier.

have to be here.  Why are you here? Have you no family?  Have you no soul?  I just want to peacefully wile away this last hour until I can go home to MY family. WHYYYY ARE YOU HERE?!?

I kept my head down, picked up a few things more Christmas-y than Marlboro Reds, including some Disney pet that was actually on Grace's Santa list, and headed home.  For I had much more to do.  There was wrapping to finish, eating Santa's cookies (not such a chore, I suppose), putting away the Katie the Elf (I did better than last year), and sweeping up the reindeer food from the sidewalk.   My neighbor, catching a smoke on his porch, must have thought I was nuts to be sweeping my sidewalks at midnight, but never made eye contact or said a word.  Yes, the ever-expanding illusion of Christmas is getting harder to keep up. The man behind the curtain is getting tired.  I can't say I will be totally dissapointed when Grace discovers the truth.  I will be a little sad, but at least I can spend the wee hours of Christmas Eve at Midnight Mass not combing gas station shelves for "gifts".