Xmas Oddities

From the December 21, 1976 episode of Laverne & Shirley, “Christmas at the Booby Hatch” or “Oh Hear the Angels’ Voices.”

Featuring Michael McKean (Lenny) and David L. Lander (Squiggy). I don’t think I saw it 40 years ago — I only watched the show intermittently — but nothing every really goes away on the Internet.

Next, “Ríu Ríu Chíu,” as sung by the Monkees on their show on Christmas Day 1967.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t see that when originally shown either. But it was an inspired choice for the Prefab Four.

Finally, something not about Christmas: “Sailing to Philadelphia” (2000), sung by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor. It’s about Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason.

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Just how many songs are there about the Mason-Dixon Line? One, anyway. I happened across it not long ago. A delightful discovery.

Tannenbaum ’16

We acquired a Christmas tree last Thursday afternoon, but not at the usual place, a roadside business that’s a nursery during the warm months. It sells Christmas trees and firewood this time of year, but when we went, only a handful of forlorn trees were on the property, and no proprietors seemed to be around. If we were less honest, we probably could have nicked a tree, but then again the leftovers were just that. Maybe they’d sold their better stock before the recent snows and blasts of cold air.

So we did the modern thing, and Lilly looked for Christmas tree lots on Google Maps. The nearest one was about a half mile away. Just a dude from Michigan in a trailer parked on a strip center lot with a modest selection of trees — no pretense of supporting a charity — though better than the abandoned lot. Got us a tree about a foot shorter than usual, but with a nice shape, and for only $35.

Before long, the tree was in the living room, but we didn’t get around decorating it until Saturday. Looks about the same as every year. I put on the lights.
Christmas Tree 2016

The girls put on most of the rest of the ornaments.

Lilly and Ann Dec 2016We had some extra strings of lights, bought last year on the cheap after Christmas I think, so we strung some on the plants in the foyer.

Christmas lights 2016

That isn’t the same as every year. First time.

Christmas Card Photo Shoot ’98

Eighteen years ago, I got a notion to send out personalized Christmas cards, the kind using a picture of your own that’s printed by a professional service. I’m sure I didn’t do it online, since I had no Internet connection at my house until 2000. I must have taken the negative to a photo shop, but I don’t remember the details.

Of course Lilly, then not quite a year old, was going to be the star of the card. There were a lot of existing pictures of her — first children tend to be the subject of a lot of pictures — but nothing I really wanted to use. I wanted something with a holiday theme. So I took her to the front yard, along with the gold-colored plastic star that we topped the Christmas tree with (still do), for a photo shoot.

I didn’t get anything I liked for the card that way, either. They tended to be fuzzy. But not completely without charm. They’ve been tucked away these years while she grew into a college student.
img335A few days later, without planning to, I took the picture we did use, a longstanding favorite image of toddler Lilly.

The Full Griswold

Someone’s already thought of the Full Griswold. Maybe I’d heard of it before, but I don’t know where. I thought of it this evening driving along, noting the proliferation of Christmas lights in this part of the suburbs. Some displays, of course, are more elaborate than others, but I haven’t seen any Full Griswolds just yet.

Once the concept of the Full Griswold comes to mind, one’s mind naturally turns to gradations of it. That’s what I think about, anyway. The Half Griswold, the Quarter Griswold, that sort of thing. I believe fractional Griswolds would have more charms than decimal Griswolds, such as 0.5 Griswolds or 0.1 Griswolds or the like. Too metric for such a nebulous concept.

Then again, the millihelen’s a metric sort of nebulous measurement, so what do I know?

I’d say that I’ve seen a fair number of Eighth Griswolds and a few Quarters and maybe something approaching a Half this year. But the season’s early. My own house decoration would be somewhere in the hundredths of Griswolds.

The odd thing is, I’ve never actually seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation all the way through, not when it was new (1989) and not since then. I’ve seen bits and pieces over the years. Probably because Chevy Chase is best taken in small doses (which can be quite funny).

Christmas Lights, Mañana

A foot of snow isn’t expected tomorrow — as we got on December 1, 2006 — but we are experiencing sliding temps. Feels about like winter now.

Also, the Christmas-industrial complex has revved into high gear, as usual. I was going to do my little (very little) part by stringing lights on one of the bushes in the front yard, though not lighting them for a week or more. On Monday, it rained all today, so I didn’t do it. Yesterday was relatively warm, but I forgot to do it. Today, I thought about it, but temps just above freezing put me off.

Tomorrow? Well, maybe. Depends on whether I feel like doing it tomorrow, or whether I feel like doing it mañana.

Thursday Bits

Two days in a row now I’ve been able to eat a mid-day meal on our deck. It wasn’t been quite balmy, except compared to the usual November temps, but even so it’s been nice out there. I expect that to come to a quick halt soon, and never come back till April. Or May.

bowelsThough it was only a few weeks ago when I did so, I don’t remember why I scanned this box front. Maybe to remind me how glad I am that the procedure is over. Nothing amiss down there, fortunately. Man, the taste was awful.

Product recommendation: Trident Seafoods Panko Breaded Tilapia, available in the handy (if a little large) three-pound box at your neighborhood warehouse store. It’s remarkably good for frozen fish. Best frozen fish I think I’ve ever had.

Of course, you can worry-worry-worry about tilapia if you want. I understand that people do, such as Dr. Axe, who breathlessly tells us that Eating Tilapia is Worse Than Eating Bacon. Gotta tell you, Dr. Axe, bacon is better than talapia. Bacon is better than a lot of things. But I plan to keeping eating both bacon and tilapia. Living dangerously, I am.

It’s one thing to see Christmas decorations and hear music in stores now — not something you want or need, but something you expect — but what’s the excuse for Christmas lights decorating a house in mid-November? I can see stringing the things now, since it’s relatively warm, but lighting them? I saw house lights this evening not far from home. Bah, humbug.

Another Year, Another Tree

Notes on taking down the Christmas tree, which I did yesterday, because the village comes to collect dry trees in my neighborhood on early January Mondays. First, no one wants to help. Other members of the household don’t mind putting on decorations, but no one cares much for taking them off. No surprise there.

Once unadorned, the tree goes from its month-long position in the living room, around a left turn into the “foyer,” then out the front door. From there it’s a direct line to the edge of the street, where it sits with the regular trash and recyclables.

Also unsurprisingly, the tree leaves a thick path of pine needles in its wake. These are mostly vacuumed or swept up before long, but it will be days or weeks before the last visible needles disappear, and others hide for months or longer. There are probably a needle or two from ’00s trees behind some of the larger pieces of furniture several feet from where any Christmas tree ever stood or passed by on its way out.

Also, there’s always one bit of decoration — not counting the icicles — inadvertently left on the tree, which then falls off on the way outside. It doesn’t matter how thoroughly you examine the bare, dry tree. Sometimes I’ve taken a flashlight and shined it on interior branches, though I didn’t do that this year.

Doesn’t matter. There’s always something clinging to the bitter end, and so it was this year. But it was one of the uglier decorations, a plastic Santa. It could have vanished and I’d never have missed it. I found it just outside the front door.

One year I found a small wooden decoration in the snow out where the tree sat, waiting to be hauled away. I wouldn’t have missed it either. Why hang such forgettable items on the tree at all? That’s a question for another day, one in December, about the informal aesthetics of your tree.

Holiday Interlude

Another Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone. A mostly pleasant time. Here’s Christmas morning.

Christmas Day 2015The girls opened their presents and ate their chocolate, and proceeded to spend the day with electronic entertainment, and some reading as well. That’s what I did too. The dog didn’t care a whit about Christmas, as far as we could tell. Just another day of eating and smelling and barking and lying around, ignoring strictly human notions. That’s probably just as well.

On the morning of the 28th, sleet came pouring out of the sky. Unfortunately I’d made dentist appointments for the girls for in the early afternoon that day, so that meant a harrowing drive on slick roads, but we made it unscathed.

By the next morning, the streets were clear, but my driveway wasn’t. The covering had a high ice content, meaning a lot of effort to remove, even though it wasn’t particularly thick ice. Just what are we creatures of the tropics doing this close to one of the poles?

Back to the Music Box

In December 2003, I posted the following recollection of December 1996: “It’s been a good week leading up to Christmas. On Sunday the 22nd Yuriko and I went to the Music Box Theatre for the double feature sing-along. Between the movies, a Santa Claus — lean and not very old — came out to lead the audience in singing Christmas songs, some standard and some spoofs. The Music Box has an organ for occasions like this, and the organist was in fine form.

“The place was packed, and it was a spirited crowd, jingling the bells they brought and singing along with the bouncing ball (I wonder who thought that up originally?). They also hissed with gusto at Mr. Potter, the villain in you-know-what sentimental holiday movie, which was the other half of the bill with White Christmas.”

For some years I’ve been thinking about returning for the Christmas sing-along at the Music Box. This was the year. On Saturday I went with Lilly and Ann, who each brought a friend. I’m pretty sure 1996 wasn’t the last time I’d been to the Music Box, which is on Southport Ave. on the North Side of Chicago, since I went periodically when I lived in the city and occasionally after that, but I don’t remember my last visit. It’s been some years. I’m glad to report that it looks exactly like it used to, down to the small framed movie poster in the men’s room: the face of Clara Bow, advertising Love Among the Millionaires (1930).

That was probably a picture the Music Box showed in its first year, since it opened as a neighborhood movie palace in the summer of 1929. “The plaster ornamentation of the side walls, round towers, faux-marble loggia and ogee-arched organ chambers are, by Hollywood standards, reminiscent of the walls surrounding an Italian courtyard. Overall the effect is to make the patron feel that they are watching a film in an open air palazzo,” the theater’s web site fancifully asserts.

“The Music Box Theatre opened on August 22, 1929, a time when the movie palaces in downtown Chicago each had seating capacities of around 3,000 people. The Music Box, which sat 800, was considered an elaborate little brother to those theatres. Theatre Architecture magazine noted in 1929 that the theatre ‘represents the smaller, though charming and well equipped, sound picture theatre which is rapidly taking the place of the “deluxe” palace.’

“The building was designed by Louis A. Simon, a local architect who was better known for his Depression-era WPA Post Offices and homes for the nouveau riche. The building was erected by the Southport Avenue Businessmen’s Association and operated by Lasker and Sons, who operated several smaller neighborhood houses in Chicago.”

Naturally the Music Box fell on hard times in the 1960s and ’70s, but in 1983, “management reopened the theater with a format of double feature revival and repertory films. Eventually, foreign films were reinstated, and independent and cult films were added to the roster. The Music Box Theatre now presents a yearly average of 300 films.”

Including It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas every December. I only wanted to stay for the former this year. As in ’96, the crowd was festive. An organist played and a faux Claus led the singing, which included lyrics on the screen but no bouncing ball, and no parody songs this time. Still, it was a jolly time.

I can’t say how many times I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life all the way through. Maybe four. I didn’t see it when it was ubiquitous on TV in the ’80s because that’s when I had no TV. I probably saw it first in Japan on VHS. That’s no way to see it. You want to be part of an audience that hisses at Potter, rings bells at Clarence, and cheers when George Bailey Does The Right Thing, such as finally getting together with Mary or turning down Potter’s offer of $20,000 a year — which would have the buying power of more than $243,000 now.

(And the money Uncle Billy lost is the equivalent of more than $97,000. Man, that’s carelessness.)

When Bedford Falls reveled itself to be Pottersville, it occurred to me: Wouldn’t have Bedford Falls been a more interesting place with a few of the venues on tap in Pottersville? At least a place to hear some hoppin’ jazz, as Nick’s offered?

Since I didn’t have to pay attention to the arc of the story like my daughters and their friends did (imagine seeing it for the first time), I was able to notice details I’d never noticed before. One thing that struck me is how visually rich the sets are. The building and loan, the Bailey house, and even Potter’s office all look like someone actually uses them day-to-day, sporting the kind of pictures and objects and knickknacks that people accumulate when they’ve been somewhere a long time.

So it’s time to acknowledge the set designer of It’s a Wonderful Life, one Emile Kuri (1907-2000), who also did work on Mary Poppins and Rope, and over the course of his career won two Oscars. I don’t think he gets the attention he deserves when that movie is discussed.

Another detail that jumped out at me — and I guess it would count as a function of costuming — involved Mr. Gower the druggist as an alternate universe ex-con and rummy. When he stumbled into Nick’s to panhandle a drink, his thin coat is slightly open, revealing newspapers inside, added for warmth. I’m certain it would have made no difference to the story or even the scene whether that paper was there. It was just a good touch of a thoughtful costume designer.

One Edward Stevenson (1906-1968) did the costumes for the movie. He also worked on such films as Gunga Din, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Sinbad the Sailor, and Cheaper by the Dozen, among many others, including some that just credit him for the gowns. He too won an Oscar.

Christmas at Glover Garden, 1993

Among the places we went on Christmas Day 1993 was Glover Garden in Nagasaki. Among the things you can find at Glover Garden — which is best known for the Glover House, though I don’t seem to have any images of it — is a bust of Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911). Naturally I had to pose beside it.

Glover Park 1993Glover was a Scotsman of considerable talent and ambition who went East. The Japan Times noted on the centenary of his death, in something of a rambling article: “When he arrived in Nagasaki in 1859, aged 21, Glover was at first allotted accommodation in the city’s concessions area, called Dejima, where he would soon build up a mini-empire of real estate. In 1861, he founded Glover Trading Co. (Guraba-Shokei) to deal illegally… in ships and weapons with the rebellious Satsuma and Chosu clans in Kyushu and the Tosa from Shikoku, who were all bridling in those tumultuous times against the policies of the so-called bakufu government of the shogunate.”

That is, he was one of the foreign merchants that helped overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. As you’d expect, after the Meiji Restoration, he profited mightily as a businessman in the new Japan as his helped the new rulers — his old allies — industrialize the nation.

The garden overlooks Nagasaki Harbor. This view shows how hilly the surrounding terrain is. I don’t have any idea who the man or the child are.
Glover Park 1993A closer view of Nagasaki Harbor.
Glover Park 1993Looks like a couple of liquefied natural gas tankers were in port at the time. Not something that Glover would have ever seen from that view, but he probably would have appreciated it.