01.16.2012

I have been lax in my postings. I’ve been working on a new website, MountVernonCreates.com, to feature the many ways people here express their creativity. I hope it goes well beyond the visual and performing arts (although those alone could fill a website). Their are some very cool people around this area doing some creative things in food (Lincoln Cafe…ahem, which made the finals of last year’s national Cochon 555 competition), growing (the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups) gardening (of course, Mt. Vernon has a club!), and so on.

It’s got a calendar, events listing, pretty spiffy! If you have any interest at all, please take a look. The response from the MV creative community has been incredible!

PS: In progress is a piece on enactors…you know, the guys who dress up in Civil War uniforms and play war on the weekends. It started out laden with my typical snark but as I learned more about the hobby, I discovered it is a world-wide phenomenon.  I was amazed. There are enactors who do ancient Greece, the Arthurian era, the British Empire in India, Napoleonic Wars, you name it. Suffice to say it goes well beyond the American Civil War. Soon. I promise!

01.16.2012

I have been lax in my postings. I’ve been working on a new website, MountVernonCreates.com, to feature the many ways express their creativity. I hope it goes well beyond the visual and performing arts. There are some very cool people around this area doing some creative things in food (Lincoln Cafe…ahem, which made the finals of last year’s national Cochon 555 competition), growing (the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups) gardening (of course, Mt. Vernon has a club!), and so on.

If you have any interest at all, please take a look. The response from the MV creative community has been incredible!

PS: In progress is piece on enactors…like the guys who dress up in Civil War uniforms and play war on the weekends. It started out laden with my typical snark but as I learned more about the hobby, I discovered it is a world-wide phenomenon the more I became amazed. There are enactors who do ancient Greece, the Arthurian era, the British Empire in India, Napoleonic Wars, you name it. Suffice to say it goes well beyond the American Civil War. Soon. I promise!

Free at last!

The Iowa Caucuses (Cauci?) are over and everyone in our Hawkeye State is sleeping it off. Every four years, we are subjected to criticism that Iowa is too old, too white, too Christian, too homogenous, too Clem-Kaddidlehopperish to deserve the honor of being first in the nation in selecting presidential candidates.

Typical Iowan at caucus

You want to be first ? You got it. About this time, the only people who would fight you for it are the Iowa television stations that have been minting money for several months now. The rest of us have been on the receiving end of the attack ads. They were everywhere: local news, Wheel of Fortune, the Khardashians, Iron Chef, Sports Center, even the test pattern. Once you’ve had the opportunity to sit through a 30-minute Newt Gingrich infomercial, the Seventh Level of Hell doesn’t look all that bad.

The media makes a big deal out of the fact that Iowans go out on a frigid January night to caucus. Trust me, it ain’t all that altruistic; it’s the only way we’ve found to get away from the political ads.

The kingmaker who couldn’t pull the trigger

Representative Steve King (R-Far Right Fringe) has missed the bus. He coulda been a contender instead of a bum, which is what he is. Yep, the Man Who Would Be a Kingmaker snoozed through his opportunity to have an impact on the Iowa caucuses. He dithered. He fiddled while Rome burned. He pulled the old Rip Van Winkle.

Rep. Steve King: Fast asleep when his ship came in.

His refusal to endorse a candidate means if he tries to take credit for the most excellent showing of Big Rick Santorum (not to be confused with Little Rick Perry), he must also take blame for the total campaign collapse of his friend and fellow-wingnut, Michele Bachmann. In other word, he didn’t move the needle even a little bit. We can only hope he follows Bachmann into well-deserved oblivion. Iowa will be a focal point during the general election but King will be a non-player as the GOP tacks toward the center. His role leading up to the presidential election will be to dutifully round up and deliver the evangelical votes for the Romney campaign.

Our Lord and Savior one of few endorsements not on Santorum’s list

According to a Wikipedia entry no doubt maintained by the Rick Santorum campaign (with a little assistance from the Holy Ghost), Santorum received endorsements from several major Iowa conservative leaders in the fall of 2011. Prominent social conservatives Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, both leaders of the Family Leader social conservative advocacy organization, praised Santorum’s conservative record on social issues. Sioux City conservative talk radio host Sam Clovis cited Santorum’s beliefs in “a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong national defense and unflagging devotion to life and traditional marriage.”[22]

Other endorsements include Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Cornerstone Church pastor and evangelical leader Cary Gordon, and bestselling thriller novelist Brad Thor.

Just sayin’.

Toasted!

Michele Bachmann

Within hours of finishing last among a weak field, Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from neighboring Minnesota, announced she was “suspending” her campaign. In today’s political lexicon, “suspending” means “running away with your tail between your legs like a whipped dog.” But hey, it’s not like we didn’t get a chance to get to know Michele. Remember when she was the “frontrunner” because she “won” the Straw Poll? This tells us two things: 1) the Straw Poll is not a serious thing; 2) the national media are desperate.

I will miss her. She filled a lunacy gap in the Clown Car and did her best to make even Donald Trump look presidential. Her candidacy offered a glimpse into the Pit of Doom where the 1630s Puritans meet 21st century Revolutionary War re-enactors. In Bachmann’s world, the line between reality and delusion is never clear and is often crossed. God bless us all.

We won't have the governor of Texas to kick around anymore

It was a long slog, America, but we Iowans did what we’ve been called to do: we winnowed. We did the dirty work so you don’t have to. We’re down to one. The media, hungry for anything to expand beyond and dilute their preternatural fixation with kidnapped blondes and psychotic mothers who kill their kids, will figure out some way to gum the results of the Iowa caucus like a toothless hag working on a slice of white bread. It’s all a sham. Ladies and gentlemen of the universe, Iowa presents your GOP nominee, Mitt Romney!

We’ve learned a lot about the candidates in the past 18 months (like dentist-chair time, the time leading up to the caucuses drags out so that minutes seem like…well, hours). We learned that Texans have elected the closest approximation to Bozo the Clown that doesn’t come with orange hair and gigantic shoes. We learned that Michele Bachmann’s husband’s name is Marcus and that he casts out demons. We learned that Ron Paul is even crankier than he was in 2008. We learned Herman Cain is ALL man and that 9-9-9 upside down in 666.

666: Number of the Beast and 9-9-9 upside down

We also learned that green trumps white. White, as in 91% white (and vastly whiter for self-identified Republicans). Green as in the color of money. Rick Santorum, who right now is thinking he is coming out of the Iowa caucuses riding on the shoulders of Uncle Moe Mentum, has in reality just become the next target of Restore Our Future, Romney’s Super PAC. Restore Our Future, carved up Newt Gingrich like roast beef on a Sunday brunch sideboard. And it only cost a few million dollars.

Santorum, who as one wag said, ran a fantastic gubernatorial campaign in Iowa, ain’t got game. If you’ve been paying attention over the past, oh, forever, money = game. Santorum has no money and no organization. What he does have is the evangelical, anti-gay, anti-21st century base who could have coalesced around Rick Perry or Bachmann. When Santorum (who brings new meaning to the word “froth”) takes away your votes you have some serious wound licking to do.

We can now call him “Big Rick” as opposed to Perry’s “Little Rick.” But Big Rick has problems beyond money and organization. For one thing, he’s a single-issue candidate. Oh sure, he’s cobbled together some economic talking points and he’s cut and pasted something that looks like a foreign policy, but Santorum’s only issue is his stance against gay people. And folks, he’s on the wrong side of public opinion on the gay thing. It’s been obvious for a long time that the American public is vastly more tolerant of gays than the GOP will admit. Bashing gays seems more and more akin to dog fighting all the time: it’s patently offensive. But it’s a hot-button issue with the evangelicals who took over the Iowa Republican Party back in the days of Ronald Reagan.

Besides, it’s the economy stupid and Santorum, who was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania back when earmarks were the unapologetic oil in the legislative machine, can’t really run on an economic reform platform beyond making sure there aren’t any illegal immigrants to compete with Americans for those $5 an hour hotel maid and fruit-picker jobs.

So it’s Mitt. In retrospect, the whole thing seems like a bad Clive Cussler novel. There’s a beginning, a lot of incoherent plot twists and then a predictable ending. As I’ve said all along, Romney is the only near-sane person in the crowd. Sane, perhaps, but ruthless. By using his PAC to do his dirty work, the Mitten has done his best to keep his cardigan clean. It will only get worse as we enter the general election cycle. These days, politicians don’t seem to give a rat’s ass what the landscape looks like after they’ve achieved their near-term goals. Win now and worry about the mess later.

Newt Gingrich's inner troll is about to be unleashed

This is not to say there won’t be some entertainment ahead. Newt Gingrich, who seemingly tried to keep his inner troll under wraps here in Iowa, has signaled that he’s pulling out the long knives to seek vengeance on Mitt for all the attack ads funded by Restore Our Future that sank his campaign. Newt Gingrich crying foul is like Genghis Khan complaining someone broke a gentleman’s agreement.

Let’s hope Newt’s anger burns hot enough to keep things interesting at least through Memorial Day. I am not getting my hopes up. Newt’s money is going to dry up and I don’t think he’s the type to self fund a campaign of retribution.

The other interesting plot line will be how the Tea Party, which was so full of itself just one year ago, reconciles itself to Romney. He is as old-school as they come, essentially a centrist Democrat pandering to the wingnuts. If the Tea Partiers don’t rise up to fight him, they’ll be consigned to the vacuum cleaner bag of history. If nothing else, that will make the right wing of America a lot less interesting. It will also be the death knell of the subculture of retailers selling tric0rn hats and colonial waistcoats.

We just got back from Colorado where we celebrated a late Christmas with our daughter, her boyfriend (I dunno what else to call him…I bet the French have a couple of words), and the grandsons who are six and nine. While I could bore you for a good while by telling you stuff, it’s best if you go do your own stuff. OK, just one story: The boys and I were on our way to a movie (The Chipmunks. I’ve never seen so many no-star reviews.)  I was telling them I’m looking forward to seeing them more when I retire. “When is that, Bepa?” asked the older one. I rough-counted and said, “You’ll be 15 and your brother will be 13.” To which the younger shouted, “Yay! We’ll have phone!”

We continue our series, The Really True History of America.*

While stock car racing’s roots run all the way back to the days of the chariot, in America its history goes back at least to the colonial era. As early as 1760, Earl “Jimmy George” Washington, a cousin of our nation’s first president, was careering through downtown Fairfax, VA in a carriage covered with decals for Boar’s Head Ale Lite, Ye Foxe and Hounde Tavern, Lobsterback Uniforms and Boots, NAPA Buggy Parts, the Colonial Action Army, and Sam’s General Store Clubs.

Colonial racing fan. "Show us thy bosoms!"

Because of his aggressive driving style and pugnacious attitude, he was known as “Ye Olde Intimidator” and developed a devoted fan following. Those fans were known for their penchant for drunk and unruly behavior. They would often stand on street corners, yelling “show us thy bosoms” at members of the fairer sex. The less reputable ladies would comply. Each year, Fairfax hosts a National Stock Buggy Racing Re-enactment. You can see a video clip here.

Andrew Jackson. He once beat a driver to death with a silver-headed cane.

The sport faced an existential crisis when Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was elected president. Until that time, federal support for wheeled racing had risen and fallen. During the presidencies of southerners, it spiked and when a northerner took office, it plummeted. The thinking going in was that Jackson would be good for racing. Um, not so. As it turned out, Jackson was a big fan of horseracing and he felt that wheeled racing was starting to pose a threat. Jackson revealed his prejudices when he beat a driver to death with a silver-headed cane at a track near Chattanooga, crying “you monstrous cad, you monstrous cad,” as he delivered the rain of fatal blows.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War/War Between the States, Wayside Chester Garner, a young Iowa bicycle mechanic and tinkerer, invented the first stock car. It was powered by a steam engine, a steering tiller and four wooden wheels. Garner was afraid of the car to drive it. He turned instead to his friend Dale Kenny Petty. Petty was a natural. With incredible vision and magnificent reflexes, he immediately took to the vehicle and was soon playing it like a cello. For two summers leading up to the War, Garner, Petty and their entourage made a comfortable living challenging (and beating) buggies, wagons, carts, phaetons, and even galloping horses pulling nothing at all. Petty and Garner had a falling out over Petty’s demand for more pay and no yellow M&Ms in his dressing room. The Civil War/War Between the States intervened. Neither survived the War. Garner died while being mugged by a gang he had sought out to pay a member $100 to enlist for him in the Union Army. Petty was killed when the heel of his boot caught in a crack in the sidewalk, pitching him directly into the path of an onrushing bicycle with the big giant front wheel. Petty died instantly and the wheel was ruined. It was was repaired by Garner and was the last known bicycle component he ever touched. He climbed aboard the train heading off to his army company and never returned.

Stock car racing maintained an even, if somewhat down-scale presence in the American psyche throughout the last half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. A major leap forward was the invention  of the internal combustion engine in Germany. By World War I, American youth had already begin “hopping up” their cars.

Stock car driver Fireball Roberts in 1933

When the Depression hit in the 1930s, a young man named Bill France headed to Florida to 1) find meaning in his life; 2) look for work; and 3) see how fast old cars could go. He ended up in Daytona Beach, which had drawn dozens of similar young people who were biding their time waiting for surfing to be invented. Before long, the sands at Daytona were littered with blown engines, dropped transmissions and abandoned human body parts. Being unable to find work, France invented the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and settled in to wait for television to come.

It wasn’t until after WWII (AKA, “the Big One”) that racing began to go mainstream. Young people, adrift in the 1950s and with a taste for liquor honed in lonely European and Pacific outposts, began learning the ropes from bootleggers in the piney woods of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Before the decade was over, stock car racing (and its poor cousin, demolition derbies) had spread to county fairs across the country.

Jimmy Carter's campaign promise: "A camshaft in every pot!"

NASCAR was officially recognized as an American institution when Jimmy Carter established the cabinet position, Secretary of Stock Car Racing. Carter nominated and the Senate unanimously confirmed Col. Beauregard P. Dayton of Florida as the first secretary. Secretary Dayton, whose great-great-great grandfather had founded the town of Daytona Beach, Florida,  served only five weeks in the position before choking to death on a biscuit at a fried chicken restaurant. His body was placed on a catafalque covered with endorsement decals and placed on train to take him home. Millions of Americans lined the tracks all along the route, paying silent tribute to the Colonel. The entourage took a detour to the Bristol, TN track where more than two thousand former drivers, mechanics and pit crew members actually took showers and put on clean clothes for a moving service.

By 1990, NASCAR had replaced thoroughbred racing as America’s Most Popular Sport Where You Watch Stuff Run Around On An Oval. Discussions were underway to open the sport for parimutuel wagering but once regulators realized the general moral turpitude of the average driver, the conversation was quickly ended. The potential revenue was replaced by convincing advertisers such as Tide detergent to spend millions to have their logos emblazoned across the hoods of the cars. Think about it. What does Tide do? It makes your clothes clean. Do stock car fans care about clean anything? I rest my case.

It’s just three days from Christmas (unless you’re Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or heathen) and you might be panicking about a gift for that Bubba-Who-Has-Everything on your list. Why not give him lessons at the Dale Jarrett School of Stock Car Racing, where he can drive more than 165 mph. It might be a way to cross him off your Christmas list permanently!

In closing, I offer these quick assessments of some prominent stock car figures:

Junior Johnson — The Grandaddy of Modern Racing. Author Tom Wolfe made Junior the subject of one of his earliest Esquire articles. Won the first Daytona 500.

Lee Petty — Richard Petty’s daddy, grandaddy of Kyle Petty. Won the second Daytona 500 and is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Richard Petty — The King. He would have been called The God but that would have been sacrilegious.

Dale Earnhardt –– The Intimidator. Died doing what he did best, which was to be a maniac. Secretly, his peers don’t miss him.

Cale Yarborough — The first driver to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Also appeared in two episodes of the TV show Dukes of Hazzard and also appeared in a movie with Burt Reynolds.

Jeff Gordon — The Mama’s Boy. A wuss. Couldn’t hold The King’s feathered hat. The first driver to earn $100 million. Pretty much hated by other drivers, mainly because he speaks understandable English. Is way overexposed in the media, having hosted Regis and Kelly about 10 times. Also has his own video game.

* We invite you to read the entire Really True History of the USA series:

 

The Winter Solstice officially occurs tomorrow morning (Dec. 22) at 5:30 am UTC, which is 11:30 pm tonight (Dec. 21) Central Time. After that, the days start getting longer. Yay.

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits. Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′. Yay.

But what does it MEAN? For the ancients, it symbolized the fine line between a partay and starvation. The wine and beer made from the previous growing season’s crops were now alcoholic enough to induce intoxication. Knowing the months ahead were going to be sketchy from a food point of view, some cultures slaughtered animals rather than feed them scarce grain. This meant a feast, followed inevitably by several months of pretty lean viddles. The Winter Solstice was so important that the ancient Celts invented engineering so they could create Stonehenge which was a giant rock calendar to indicate when the solstice had arrived.

Stonehenge

Although the Xians will holler bloody murder, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 because in ancient times, the Winter Solstice occurred on or about that date. Historians actually think Jesus of Nazareth was born in summer, probably in August.

Ancient Celtic Druid

The people most inextricably linked to the Winter Solstice are the Druids, Celtic priests who engaged in ritualistic magic and blood sacrifice. Today, many Druidic practices are frowned upon but you can create a druid character on World of Warcraft and level him up without shedding any real blood. Just watch out for the murlocs.

A murloc

On the cusp of this astronomical event, I invite you to join the ancients in celebrating the longest night/shortest day of the year. Rather than slaughtering livestock, why not send me a nice meat bundle from Omaha Steaks? In return, I will perform sacred and arcane rituals on your behalf, rituals that include mud, skins, dancing around a heelstone, shaking rattles, and a certain amount of nakedness under the moonlight. Check YouTube for the videos.

Like all politicians, Ron Paul likes to stand in front of American flags.

As many of you know, I am a confirmed OC personality. My wife calls me “Man of Action” and it’s not because of what you think. Nope, I am the guy who will drive two miles to avoid waiting at a crossing for a train that will pass in three minutes. As my mom used to say, I’ve got ants in my pants.

That’s why I’ve decided to be the first person to call the Republican results in the January 3 Iowa Caucuses (cauci?). It’ll be Ron Paul and it won’t be all that close. You can pass those songbooks down to the end of the pew now.

OK, so some of you want an explanation. Here’s why it will be Ron Paul:

1) Attending a caucus requires commitment. Ron Paul’s followers are committed. Maybe not suicide-bomber committed but still more likely to suffer pain and inconvenience than, say, Mitt Romney’s. Unlike those wussy primaries where you just flit into a voting booth, pull the lever and head out, a caucus requires a whole evening. You have to sit down with your fellow caucusees (?) and discuss WHY you support a certain person. People then have the opportunity to grill you and try to dissuade you from your choice and persuade you to convert to candidate they’re supporting. What this means is that the Michele Bachmann supporters who say they support her “because the voices told me to” are likely to come under intense psychological pressure. Likewise the Gingrich advocates who like him “because he uses big words.” Hey, sometimes the voices use big words too.

Like the Man With No Name, Ron Paul stands for something

2) Ron Paul stands for something. Iowans, especially Iowa Republicans, like things in black and white. That’s why so many of them (the Republicans) take the Old Testament literally. Ron Paul gives it to them in black and white. The fact that a great deal of what he says is demonstrable lunacy doesn’t matter. He talks straight talk. His opposition to the war in Iraq and his support for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion has seduced some left leaners into considering him as a candidate. Once people stop to realize a country such as the one Ron Paul describes would be pretty similar to the border town of San Miguel in the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western “A Fistful of Dollars” where the residents are caught between the warring factions of the Rojos and the Baxter families, libertarianism doesn’t look so good. When you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get any services…unless the Man With No Name rides into town.

The evil Rojos who make a living violating the rights of the residents of San Miguel

But what if you think about the Rojos as the Republican Party and the Baxters as the Democrats?? Does that make Ron Paul the Man With No Name? I’m going to have to get the movie and watch it again!

The evil Baxters who accidentally shoot two-thirds of the residents of San Miguel while trying to kill the Rojos

 

3) Ron Paul has youth on his side. First, let’s point out the obvious: anyone under 30 who doesn’t have a nice trust fund is absolutely insane to be a Republican. But let me stipulate that such crazy young people do exist and Ron Paul has been successful reaching out to them. Young people are often portrayed as being passionate in support of causes and if this is so, Ron Paul will be the beneficiary. Paul is lucky that the caucuses are at night because if they were at 7 am, the youth participation would be negligible, especially in college towns.

4) The rest of the field is so repugnant. Come on, people! Can you imagine a serious person actually sitting face to face with other Republicans and arguing that Rick Santorum should be the Republican candidate? Or Bachmann? Or Newt Gingrich, whose unfavorables within his own party are off the charts (not to mention his wife)? Or Mitt Romney, who a) is a Mormon which most Republicans think is something like a B’hai or the Amish; b) has been running for president since 2007 but hasn’t seemed to have gotten around to visiting Iowa since he got his ass handed to him on a silver platter in 2008; c) is really the reincarnation of Teddy Kennedy with a few less pounds.

In summary, if you can find yourself a bookmaker, liquidate all your capital assets and put them down on Ron Paul of Texas in the Iowa Caucuses. I guarantee you’ll be richer than Romney on Jan. 4.

12.18.2011

Sometime soon, just for laughs, take an informal poll among your friends and relatives; ask them “who da man?” Good question. Who IS Da Man? If you want, we can meet back here after the holidays and compare notes.

How would YOU answer the question? Would you select a great political leader? A brilliant scientist? A star athlete” A religious figure? Perhaps a military hero? Who IS da man?

I humbly submit there is ONLY ONE “Da Man” and his name is Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, AKA, "Da Man"

Last night, we were at a brass band concert here in Mount Vernon. During the encore song of a very nice program, a door to the auditorium opened, spilling light down the aisle. When people turned to see who was coming in so late in the program, they saw Santa Claus himself entering the room, stopping to shake hands, wave and wish people Merry Christmas. After the song ended, the young female conductor turned around and when she saw Santa, she lit up. Santa had done what he does better than anyone who ever lived; he brought joy to someone.

It’s a big shock when you learn the literal truth about Santa. Sometimes you’re young (as in when an older sibling rats it out) and sometimes you’re older (my nine-year-old grandson still believes!). Sometimes you learn slowly (rumors grow more numerous, you start to figure out the story is illogical and violates common sense in any number of ways). Other times, it’s as quick as a slap across the face with a wet mitten. Boom, it’s over for me so it’s over for you, kid sister!

But after a while, if you want, you can build an alternative world for yourself where Santa and Aristotle can both exist.  Of COURSE there’s not just a single Santa. There’s too many people around the world for one individual to be able to give joyservice to them all.

Merry Old Santa by Thomas Nast (1886)

Even if you figure a big fraction of the world’s 8 billion people aren’t part of the Santa orbit (Jews, Muslims, commies, Hindus, Ba’hais, etc) there is STILL a ton of work. So many years ago, the Main Santa decided to open some recruiting posts. Given the fact that Santa is a rotund man, it was logical for M.S. to turn quickly to Iowa as prime recruiting ground. The state’s economic development office immediately offered some choice locations, conveniently TIF’d so as to sweeten the pot. It was a big success! Given the unemployment rate in the state, the fact that a good portion of the state’s workforce is idle over the winter (farmers, etc.) and given the fact that Iowans have a neutral accent (experience has shown that Santas with pronounced drawls or New Jersey accents encounter legitimacy problems in the field). Plus, Iowans are nice which is a required quality for Santa.

So those Santas you see around town are trainees, interns if you will. Hard-working rookies who are learning the Santa ropes. But why? The pay is bad; being a Santa isn’t going to help you crack the 1%. The suit is hot, the hours long, the beard itchy, the likelihood of some kid dumping a Slurpee down your pants is high. Money is not the motivator. Nor is fame. If anyone labors in anonymity, it’s the guy behind the Santa suit.

Father Christmas

The reward of being Santa comes from being plugged into the myth, to be part of that big river of belief that’s been flowing through Euro-Western society for more than a thousand years. Based mainly on St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop, Santa Claus also draws on Germanic pagan traditions such as that of Odin. By the middle ages, a character named Sinterklaas had emerged in what is now Holland. The stories about Santa’s employment of elves derive directly from the Sinterklaas story, although Sinter used mischievous helpers in blackface and colorful outfits. These assistants were called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ or Black Peter. You can look all this stuff up.

While the Santa you see in the store, at the mall, on the corner, may not be Main Santa, he (I’ve never seen a she-Santa) IS a continuation and culmination of centuries of tradition. And while for kids, Santa’s main job is to haul the merchandise, for many of us who have exited through the one-way door of belief, Santa still brings a smile to our faces. We smile because we remember the magic Santa brought when we were kids, when we looked for cookie-remnant evidence of his presence. We smile at the thought of a rotund man controlling an eight (or on foggy nights, nine) reindeer hitch flying through the sky. We smile because we remember the Night Before Christmas, and yes, Victoria and trying to figure out how Santa moved his throne from Sears to J.C. Penney faster than we could walk between those stores. We smile when we remember the letters we sent him c/o North Pole, so carefully written, so lovingly addressed. We remember focusing on being good just after Thanksgiving and hoping it would be enough. We smile to remember marking years by the arrival of Christmas.

1918 parade featuring Santa Claus who is about to use a ladder to climb onto the balcony

Mainly we smile because Santa is Da Man.

 

It’s Saturday night!

Saturday Night Fever! Saturday Night Live! Saturday night’s alright for fighting! Saturday night special! Saturday night massacre! Saturday night and Sunday morning. As those inimitable philosophers, the Bay City Rollers, sang:

Gonna dance with my baby till the night is thru
On Saturday Night, Saturday Night
Tell her all the little things I’m gonna do

Tonight, we’re taking my mother-in-law, who will turn 90 in exactly one week, to the Mount Vernon school auditorium to listen to the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. If I tell my mother-in-law “all the things I’m gonna do” it’s likely to be “I’m gonna put your oxygen machine under your seat and hang your coat on the back, OK?” or “I’m gonna get another cookie, do you want one?”

The local paper says the program will be in two parts. The first part will be the EIBB’s program from the recent US Open Brass Band Championships competition. After intermission, the band will play Christmas (OK, “holiday”) songs. The audience can sing along. Santa Claus is expected to show up. Afterward, there will be a cookie reception. How did my life come to this?

John Travolta as Tony Manero

Saturday night holds an exalted place in our culture. You know you’re growing up when Saturday night starts to become important, the  pinnacle of the week, when that brief respite from the alarm clock combines with the desire to socialize, to get out and boogie, to mix and mingle, to participate in the pursuit of the opposite (and in some cases, the same) sex. Friday night, you’re too tired from the work week. Sunday night, you’re thinking about the work week.

Saturday Night Special, Version 1

Time was, on a Saturday night I would dress carefully, slap on some pre-Axe fragrance and head out for some rock and roll. That was then. This is now.

My earliest memories of Saturday night are of my parents going out. Parents gone, good. We can stay up late. In high school, I was introduced to mixed gender parties. Parties, good. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to beer. Beer, good. When I reached legal drinking age, I was introduced to bars. Bars, good. Bars with rock and roll, very very good. Bars with women who like to drink and dance to rock and roll, most excellent! Bars with women who like to drink and dance and…well, you get the picture.

Saturday night was

This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…

OK, so I edited a few lines from the Shakespeare’s Richard II. I needed to get some high culture in this post. I didn’t want you to get the impression that I was a boozehound who frequented bars and stalked women. Not any more.

Saturday Night Special, Version 2

As I grew into my 30 and 40s, Saturday nights found me less and less likely to be in a bar and more and more likely to be at a dinner party. Relaxing with some friends around a table of good food and a good vintage. By the time I reached my 50s, I’d given up alcohol (having consumed my share and your share too) which made me rethink some of my core beliefs in the structure of Saturday night. I spent a few Saturday nights at AA meetings, which offer camaraderie but which don’t offer the same level of excitement of your average dinner party. Or even of your average brass band concert. But it had to be done.

Sad to say, I no longer anticipate Saturday night the way I once did. Saturday night is for the young and the young at heart but that’s all relative; In the unlikely event I make it to 90, I hope I’ll have any desire to get out at all.

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