Recalling my favorite holidays, part one

Bonus: Memories of my favorite Holidays, part one.

Bonus feature during my Christmas Countdown, here are my favorite holiday memories growing up, part one.

I was originally going to make this about Christmas, but then realized that I really don’t have enough Christmas memories to make up a full article for the simple reason that for most of my adult life, I haven’t really celebrated it. I don’t see the point in decorating, and I certainly don’t see the point in everyone going into a consumer frenzy over each other. I do enjoy using Christmas Eve as the opportunity to get together with old friends, though.

That consumer frenzy part is what I most remember from my childhood Christmases, really, and being an only child from a somewhat well-off middle class family, there was many a Christmas morning that I’d be buried in presents, a few of which were exactly what I had asked for in my letter to Santa, but a lot of which always felt like “Mom saw it at the toy store and threw it in the cart” because she had a some kind of “gift quota” to hit with me.

Some of those presents were awesome, and I don’t remember getting clothing ever, even not as I approached adulthood. But the ultimate lesson there is that they were just stuff, a lot of it probably meant to keep me busy and out of the way (q.v. “only child”) while Mom tried to do housework, and all of it has long since vanished into the past.

I can’t think of a single childhood Christmas present that I still have, but that’s okay. The point is that watching this holiday buried under the weight of materialism really put me off traditional celebrations of Christmas.

Want to make me happy for the day and beyond? Here’s a hint. Don’t give me stuff. Give me your time and company and conversation because those are more valuable and lasting than any material thing.

With that said, here are my favorite holiday celebrations so far.

The Spelling Christmases

These happened for the years that I worked at Spelling Television on several shows. They would always take place at some amazing venue, and would include the entire cast, crew, everyone SOs and family, and a lot of invited celebrity guests.

Okay, they always included a lavish dinner and extravagant gift, but I can only remember two of this. One was a mountain bike with Melrose Place branding on it and the other was a 7th Heaven lunchbox.

The back tire on that bike went flat almost immediately and I didn’t have a lot of incentive to get it fixed, so I left it behind when I moved. As for the lunch box, I still have it, sealed in the original plastic. I think there’s a thermos inside, too.

But the great part about it was getting to hang out not only with my immediate co-workers, but to spend time with the crew from up at the studio that only some of us occasionally got to spend a couple of hours every six weeks with in a strictly working capacity. This included the cast as well, and for the most part they treated us as peers and made us feel like real people. The only ones who seemed aloof were execs from the production company and studio, but this may be because they never interacted with the crew directly.

Well, except for me. I was on the phone arguing a writer’s case with Standards and Practices (the network censors) all the damn time. That was part of my job.

The Cesar Christmases

I had the most of these of any company Christmas party — 10, in fact — but three of them stand out; The first one, the one at exactly the half-way point, and the last.

The first was an elaborate party and feast that we had in our offices and spent all day setting up for. I had only been there for five months at the time, only about two of those after having been promoted from temp to full-time staff. So it was a great opportunity to really get to bond with my coworkers, and a lot of those people are still friends to this day.

Not long before, when I was working for Warner Bros. and making really good money, I’d bought a video cam that used DV tape — that is, digital video — because I could finally afford it. This was in the days when cell phone cameras were still potato quality, but not long before smart phones came along and even the earliest cameras out-performed anything this one could do.

But I spent the day of set-up and night of the party shooting endless footage, including interviewing my co-workers, just getting artsy random shots, and so on. I cut it together into a pretty extensive video and posted it to YouTube.

Unfortunately, at some point that video got deleted due to copyright issues. Meanwhile, the edited copy I had on my hard drive had gone out of sync anyway and the original editing files that basically told the software which shots to take from what files and put where were gone, so there was no easy way to reconstruct it.

On top of that, with my next computer change, the camera was no longer modern enough to be compatible, so I couldn’t even load footage from it. I’m sure that I can get a DV cassette to USB adaptor and load everything onto my computer again.

One video from the year after that with a lot of the same people lives on though, and comes from an office trip to the L.A. County Fair — an experience I’m glad I had once for free and will never repeat. Here it is in all of its 240p glory: Deep Fried Everything.

The halfway party with Cesar was after I’d worked there for five years. It was held in the parking lot at our second office space — after Cesar’s company had split form the Dog Whisperer production company — which meant that it was enclosed within four walls but open to the sky.

That year, I decided to write a couple of Dog Whisperer-themed Christmas Carol parodies, so asked my boss, the CEO, for a budget, which he gave me. I repurposed the lyrics to two songs, hired six actors to come to the party and sing them, and they did.

It was one of those times when taking a chance changed my life for the better.

Cesar was blown away and asked our CEO, “Who did this?” he pointed me out, and by our next work day, I was suddenly removed from the world of product manager and promoted to Head Writer (or ghost writer or content creator or whatever), which is what I did for the rest of my time there.

The last party was very bittersweet, because it happened about three months after I’d been laid off and changed to freelance — and this after a lot of other people had been laid off or quit in anticipation. The company was dying. It was obvious that this was our last gasp.

I hadn’t even been invited, but had gone by the office the afternoon of the party, more to hang out with my friends working there than anything else. The CEO asked me if I was going and I told him that I hadn’t been invited, to which he replied, “Of course you’re invited,” so I went.

It was at a very fancy Korean BBQ in, of course, Koreatown, and was the last chance to hang out with the gang. Of course, of the current gang, only two of them had been at the original Christmas party and had taken the entire ride with me.

Oddly enough, one of them, who had been the old company’s first employee, was responsible for getting me my current job about a year ago — and he had gotten the position that allowed him to hire me from… the former CEO, so it’s kind of like a small remnant of that whole time remains.

Halloween in WeHo

Then we come to what are known as the Gay High Holy Days — Halloween week, which is an even bigger deal in West Hollywood (and other gayborhoods) than even Pride week.

Again, I lived in WeHo for seven years, and I was a half-block walk north of Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Boys’ Town, which is the East End of the city. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about parking and could just stroll down the street and into the thick of it with no problems.

Of course, Halloween, like Pride, started to become really commercialized, especially after corporations discovered the shocking truth: “Gays and lesbians have money!” That, and the early 90s were also when straight people started to turn out in droves.

They did this for two reasons. One was to be supportive allies. The other was that it was safer than the straight celebrations in Hollywood.

But here’s a bit of advice to so-called allies: If you’re going to invade gay spaces en masse while bringing your opposite-sex partners/spouses and showing PDAs or, worse, bringing your kids to events that are supposed to be queer-safe spaces, then you’re not being an ally.

So, please — no more fag-groping bachelorette parties at gay bars, no more Nuna baby strollers rolling your infant crotch fruit past the S&M tent at Pride.

The Halloweens I experienced before this, though? Fantastic. And, actually, the last one I did pre-COVID was also pretty awesome, because I was able to take public transit from home into WeHo, then meet up with a friend who lives in the city and venture out with a group to stroll the streets.

We didn’t go into any clubs or bars because we didn’t feel like paying an arm and a leg for the cover and then another limb per drink, but that was okay. It was enough to wander the streets. Oh, and taunting the hell out of the Westboro Baptist Church morons face-to-face was worth the price of admission.

All that, and I got to crash in WeHo and take the bus and subway home in the morning. Maybe, someday, after this damn virus, I can do it again.

To be continued…

Turkey Day Musings: Why so much effort, again?

Do you go out of your way to get everything perfect for Turkey Day, as either host or guest? You’re not alone.

For American Thanksgiving today, I am sharing dinner and game night with a group of good friends with whom I’ve done this ritual for years. Sometimes, especially pre-plague, it’s been at a fancy restaurant that you might know if you’ve seen the movie Swingers.

But other times, it’s been even better because it’s been a home-cooked meal at my friend Che’Rae’s place, whether it was her humble two-bedroom apartment in the Cahuenga Pass or her current rental McMansion in the West Valley in which that entire apartment could fit in two-thirds of the living room.

And… you’d think that doing the Turkey Day thing with the same group of people, whether family or friends, would lend itself to a casual affair, but I’m just not wired like that.

First step this year was to get a very specific shopping list for things to bring and then go buy it all, something I was very happy to do. But the rest of the steps were entirely self-imposed, and I think I know where that need comes from.

Basically, step two and three involved me knocking myself out to get my hair cut and buy a new outfit for the feast. The haircut got complicated because I went to my usual place at a time when their website said they were open — except that they apparently closed early.

Fuck.

So I had to race back west and hope to hell that another location was still open and, luckily, it was. I hadn’t made an appointment, so they told me that I’d have to wait half an hour, to which I replied, “I totally understand that, no problem.”

I think that actually got me better service, as opposed to the a-hole who waltzed in when I was paying up, fifteen minutes before closing time, only to be told that there were no more appointments. He actually tried to haggle the  stylist who’d met him at the counter into giving him the existing appointment if the person booked didn’t show up.

Yeah, that didn’t go over well. I did notice, though, that as I walked to my car and got in he was also stomping to his, and didn’t get his haircut. The joke of the evening: He really didn’t looked like he needed one.

I, on the other hand, well… my last haircut was in that single week in the beginning of July 2021 when we thought we were all going to finally be sprung only to find out, “Nope. Oops. False alarm. Go back home.”

So that was pushing five months of growth, meaning that I had once again created my “Mad Professor Coif.” If they’d been looking for a Doc Brown actor for a Back to the Future Hallowe’en Themed bit at Universal, I would have been perfect — just dye it white and slick it up.

But, since I haven’t really gone anywhere or done much in over 20 months, I felt compelled to buy a new outfit for the fest at well, so this involved a trip to Ross Dress for Less, a really affordable and amazing outlet store that’s about half a block from me, and in which you can get designer brands dirt cheap.

So… dress shirt, dress pants, socks, and an eight-pack of razors that look like they don’t suck, and done, and all for about fifty bucks.

Ironically, last time I’d done this was right after that last haircut, which happened in that moment when it looked like lockdown was over, but also the day before a really good friend’s Engagement Party — which also involved a round of new outfit shopping at Ross.

But, to be honest, it’s just dinner with friends, and I distinctly remember one year in which we feasted at the Dresden and one invited couple showed up in shorts and hoodies. And, um… really? Except that the rest of us really tried not to judge them for that, and we still all had fun.

In my case, this need to go overboard to present my best self for these special occasions probably comes from two places. One is that my dad taught me to be polite. Hell, over polite. And that is my public persona.

If you’re a server or checker or bagger or anyone else who has a public-facing job, then I am going to be nice as hell to you, period. And I’m going over-tip as well if you’re stuck in a shitty job that pays less than minimum because you’re failed business-owner of a boss couldn’t manage a business plan that paid an affordable wage.

If you have to tell me “No” about something, I’m not going to go all Karen on your ass. Rather, I’m going to tell you that I understand, and if I have to wait, I will, and if I can’t get it now, I’ll come back later — but in any case, supply chain, stock issues, or whatever, are not your fault — it’s your shitty bosses.

Incidentally, my mom, who was my dad’s second wife, was a waitress in a diner where he regularly had breakfast, and I can guarantee you that he managed to woo her, marry her, and splat the sperm that became me into her on a July 4th weekend precisely because he followed all those rules above.

But… when it comes to the going all-out special thing for the family or friends at holidays, this was another Dad implant, sort of, but indirectly.

See, when I was a kid, we only ever did Thanksgiving Dinner in two places. One was in my family home, and in that case, the only guests would be my dad’s brother and his wife, who would deign to drive the grueling four miles from Encino to Woodland Hills.

Side note: When I was a kid, we went to visit Uncle Dick and Aunt Georgia a their place so rarely that I thought that it must be a million miles away. Nope. It was only about a mile farther than the mall I’d regularly ridden my bike to alone since I was about nine years old.

But I never realized that, so when my dad and his brother plus their wives got together for family dinner, it sure as hell seemed pretty special.

On the other hand, there were those dinners that happened at my paternal grandmother’s place, which was a three to three-and-a-half-hour drive north, and which generally involved the entire weekend — set off on Wednesday after school, feast on Thursday, hang out on their amazing rural property Friday, be forced to go do some antiquing bullshit with the adults on Saturday, then get up to random mischief on Sunday before the trek home started mid-afternoon.

My Aunt and Uncle were usually there, and it varied on which of my cousins would show up. Way too often, it was just the ones who were actually my first cousins, but because of age differences between my father’s first and second wives, my half-siblings and cousins were old enough to be my parents.

I had nothing in common with them, so there was that. But if my second cousins, who were actually my age, showed up, or if my evil half-sister brought her kids, my nephews, who were also all the same age, then it was off to the races and total good times.

But, again, in my mind this made the whole trip to grandma’s a very special event.

Okay, for both the familial thing with Aunt and Uncle, and with Grandma and the cool second cousins and niblings, I really didn’t feel any compulsion to run out and get a new outfit, although I think that my mother always did — as in buy new clothes for me.

I didn’t always like them because, c’mon — mom picked this shit. Really? But it did teach me to associate family feasts with fresh laundry.

And I guess I still do that to this day — although with actually doing laundry having been so difficult over the last 20 months, well… honestly, it might just work out cheaper to buy new… everything… every four weeks or so.

Happy Turkey Day! And may you have had a chance to at least grab a new shirt or pants cheap yesterday and put some gloss on your style!

Bonus Post: Happy turkey day!

While Thanksgiving may only be an American holiday, I’d like to point out why I’m thankful for all of my international fans.

Or, to put it in Spanish, ¡Feliz día del pavo!

My fans in the U.S. all know that today, Thursday, November 26 2021, is Thanksgiving. Outside of the U.S., not so much. So what is Thanksgiving, exactly?

As we were taught in schools for ages, it was the day that the Pilgrims invited the Indians (the word used at the time) to have a big feast of celebration. The white people were the heroes who allowed the not-white people to come to the table.

But let’s put a little reality twist on that, shall we? Thanksgiving wasn’t even made a holiday until 80 years ago in 1941, when FDR signed legislation making it the fourth Thursday in November. Ironically, this came exactly thirteen days before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the U.S. firmly into World War II.

As for the actual happenings of that original Thanksgiving… um, not so much. The Pilgrims didn’t invite anyone to the table but themselves, and they feasted on crops stolen from the natives. But the joke was really on them, because ultimately they arrived here with absolutely zero idea how to survive in their new home, especially through the winter.

A better name for the holiday should be “Colonial Invaders give thanks to the natives who, despite having their lands and property stolen, still taught those invaders how to survive.”

Fortunately, I think that a lot of parts of America have gotten away from this whole “Pilgrims and natives have dinner and everyone is happy” BS, and we’ve just focused on the holiday as a harvest festival — but the “harvest” part of it really has no meaning in areas that are not heavily involved in farming.

Modern American Thanksgiving is all about this: Stuffing our faces at get-togethers with family or friends (the better version of family), and then hunkering down for our choice of binge-watching TV, game night, or way too much (American) football on TV.

The day after, called Black Friday, is all about running out and spending way too much money on crap that we don’t really need in the deluded belief that it’s all really been marked down to bargain basement prices when it actually hasn’t.

To me, Thanksgiving is all about getting together with good friends for that big dinner, followed by good conversation and game night, and it provides the perfect opportunity for each of us to be thankful for the friends in our lives — the family we have chosen.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my many friends and followers here, including those from the U.S. but, more importantly, the surprising number of fans I have internationally. I don’t know why you’re here — enlighten me in the comments, please, and don’t be shy — but I can’t help but think that in at least a few popular places I’m doing a service by teaching people English and American culture.

Meanwhile, in others, it’s just yet another reminder that the internet has no borders — something to which the Earth itself should aspire. So even if you’re in a place where this isn’t officially a holiday, harvest or otherwise, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow begins my semi-annual vacation during which I leave you with my pre-programmed and curated collection of video countdowns to Christmas Day and then on to New Year’s, but trust me, I’ll still be here, and there might still be bonus videos or surprises.

So hang on, keep coming back, and enjoy the rest of the holiday season!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving however you celebrate it, although the following explains why you should not do it in person. Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the beginning of a special treat — my annual Christmas Countdown featuring a different one of my favorite holiday-themed music videos every day.

This will — or should — be a holiday season unlike any most of us have known during our lifetimes. I can only imagine that the holidays of 1918 and maybe even 1919 were just as disarrayed as now, and for the same reasons.

But I also wonder — what about all the holiday seasons during WW I and WW II, in particular, when all of the fathers, uncles, and other males in the extended family might not have been around to celebrate?

And yet, it is very important this year that we do what Americans used to prove themselves very good at: Sacrificing in the here and now for the long-term benefit of everyone. Rationing was one of the central features of WW II, after all, with people giving up or cutting down on certain things so that they could go to the war effort.

Of course, people back then showed the same warts we do now, and when word spread of something scheduled to be rationed, guess what happened? Yep. Same thing as happened to TP and hand sanitizer back in March. People stormed the stores and hoarded it.

So greed and selfishness are not modern inventions.

In order to make the system work, everyone — adults and children alike — got a ration book with coupons allowing them only so much of certain commodities at a time. But some of the limits were severe. For example, people were allowed three gallons of gasoline a week at a time when cars got really crappy mileage.

To be fair, though, not a lot of people owned cars at the time, so that might be like the modern equivalent of “You can only recharge your electric car to 25% once a week.”

Rationing didn’t just include commodities like fuel and food. It also covered clothing and manufactured goods, like cars, bicycles, and typewriters. Why? Simple. All of the raw materials required to make those things were also necessary to make aircraft, ships, weapons, bullets, and uniforms for the troops — and this at a time just after Japan had wrecked part of the U.S. fleet when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

One of the strangest things rationed was women’s nylons, and I’ve heard stories from my grandmothers about how, back in those days, they would actually use eyebrow pencil or something like that to draw fake seams down the back of their calves so it would look like they were wearing nylons.

So… why nylon? Simple. That’s what they made parachutes out of.

Ironically, once the war was over, all that stuff came screaming back into the economy as War Surplus, and stores selling that stuff are still around to this day.

The place where I live was built just after wartime rationing finally ended, sugar being rationed up until 1947. But one of the selling points of the place is that all of the kitchens have stainless steel countertops, and that stainless steel came right back from all of the aircraft factories in Van Nuys that no longer needed it.

Other fun fact: All of the peepholes in our front doors were made out of repurposed bomber gunsights with the hairline cross-sights removed.

The point of all this is that people had to make huge lifestyle adjustments — in the case of World War II, for over five years. And that’s just in America. People in Europe and the USSR had a lot more adjusting to do, and a lot more sacrifices to make.

So, as we come into this holiday season even as COVID-19 numbers in terms of new cases are outpacing by far the ones that sent us into lockdown way back in March, we have to remember not to do now what wrecked our brief success in the spring.

That is, once we hit Memorial Day, people in general got lazy and selfish, and started going out without taking precautions and acting like the crisis was over. And with every major holiday and event, numbers spiked and new hotspots sprang up — Independence Day, Labor Day, and every unmasked mass gathering, whether at a presidential rally or BLM protest — although the latter group were far more likely to wear masks.

What this means is that this holiday season is a time when Americans need to sacrifice again, and do what our grandparents and great-grandparents did during World War II in order to win. Give up those things that you think you really need right now, do with less, and take the time for focus on yourself, recalibrate, and recharge.

You can easily do without seeing family from another part of the state or out of state in person this year. You can do without getting together for that big dinner and whatnot. And you can easily have a family Zoomsgiving with everyone safe in their own homes, but still hanging out.

The best part: during Thanksgiving, Zoom has waived the 40-minute time-limit on meetings via unpaid accounts, so knock yourselves out — but with virtual gatherings only, please.

And the same will be true of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve. Stay safer apart. Period.

All that said, and as a preview of what’s to come here from now until Christmas, here are two Thanksgiving-themed music videos that could not be more different. Or maybe not. The first is a very traditional seeming musical tribute to the holiday until you read between the lines — because it just may be that what at first appears to be a huge feast being set out for a family gathering is really just a meal for one. (Oops. Spoilers…)

The Second is William S. Burroughs, and his ever apt, insightful, and true to this day Thanksgiving Prayer. Enjoy!

Image source, Bart Everson, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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