Thursday, December 31, 2015

Predictable end-of-year blog?

I refuse to write a "summing up of the year" item, or a "predictions for the year to come" item. It's not because I'm superior to writers who are doing that. It's just that 2015 had too much suckitude for summation, and because I'm a terrible predictor. Besides, I have little reason to anticipate 2016 being filled with wonderful things.

Startin' already.
I admit I'm in a bad place, as they say. Newark, actually. No, Newark is not a bad place. Well, parts of the place are a bad place. That's not what I mean. I'm in a bad place that makes me lose control of my own jokes. And my dreams have gone off, like a salmon in the sun.

Tuesday I dreamed I was working an office job that I knew nothing about. That afternoon I had to find time to film the final of a cooking competition show, and I didn't know what I was going to cook, but I saw the other two competitors telling the producers what they expected to make so they would have the equipment and ingredients available. That night, I knew, I was making a debut on Broadway, and I had absolutely no idea what any of my lines were, or even what the play was about.

The last one is a classic nightmare, but I've only had one like it a couple of times in my life. Here I was compounding it with not knowing what my job was and not knowing what I was supposed to do on national TV. All three of these things---good job, part on Broadway, TV spot---are things people would aspire to, and all of them only led me toward disaster because I was unprepared.

Last night's theater of the stupid subconscious was even more bizarre. Based on my dreams, I'll just say this:

1) David Wright is a nice guy but a scary driver;

2) It's impossible to do cartographical verification when you A) don't know what you're doing and B) are being driven around by a lunatic third baseman;

3) If Suicide Squad and The Hateful Eight are as weird and unsettling as in my dreams, they are destined for tiny cult status; and

4) It's hardly fair that a fellow who works so hard at corporate HQ has to go vacuum a store for its grand reopening.

I don't even want to talk about the dog in the dishwasher.

Clearly, the toys in the attic are in the midst of a full Toy Story revolt, and so if I had to make one prediction for me for 2016, it would probably be counseling, or some strong form of medication. Well, let's get through New Year's Eve and see how things look on the other side.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bat tree.

"Welcome to the Bat Phone. Your call is important to us. For English, press one. Para español, presione dos."


"Please listen carefully, as our options have changed. For the escape of a supervillain, press one. For a random crime spree, press two. For a new, undocumented supervillain, press three. For a crowd disturbance, press four. For organized criminals that need hurting, press five. For miscellaneous punching, press six. For all other options, press seven. To hear these options again, press zero."


"For insane clowns, press one. For costumed thieves, press two. For metahumans, press three. For monsters, press four. For mad scientists, press five. For assassins, press six. For serial killers, press seven. For general wackos, press eight. To return to the main menu---"


"For Riddler, press one. For Puzzler, press two. For Catwoman, press three. For Magpie, press four. For---"


"If there has been a crime, press one. If there is a riddle threatening a crime, press two. If there has been no activity yet by this suspect, press three."


"Thank you for alerting Batman. Batman knows there are other superheroes you could call, and appreciates your trust in his crimefighting. Please hold the line and a costumed representative will be with you shortly."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

That's showbiz.

Coming off his boffo performance for the Newborn King in Bethlehem, the Little Drummer Boy took the show on the road, banging his drum in various midwiferies and nurseries---but failed to meet with the same success.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What I got for Christmas.

Bat pants! Na na na na na na na na na na na na
Bat pants! Na na na na na na na na na na na na
Bat pants! Na na na na na na na na na na na na
Bat pants! Na na na na na na na na na na na na
Bat pants! Bat pants! Bat pants! 

Na na na na na na na na na
Bat paaaaaaannnntss!!!!!

Our old friend Mr. Philbin dropped me a line to ask whether, as I lurched between complaints and whining on one hand and soggy sentimentalism on the other, I had actually received anything for Christmas. I assured him that I was a very good boy this year, and to prove it, I showed him, and now you, my new Bat pants. 

My wife gave me these lounging pants, with the instruction that I may not wear them outside unless it's very dark. 

I don't think that's enough, actually. I ought not to wear them outside at all. The Bat-Signal design is pretty bright. What if it actually summons Batman? He'd punch me in the nose for a false alarm. 

Didn't work. She said I had to take the dog out anyway.

I love the Bat pants, and I got several other nifty presents as well. None of the others were pants-like, although some were clothing. Tasteful clothing. Not Underoos. They make them for adults now, you know.

Although if Underoos are meant to be worn on the inside, would that make them more appropriate than my Bat pants, which are worn on the outside?

I'd hate to be rushed to the hospital wearing Underoos, though.

Anyway, I loved almost all my presents, including my Bat pants, and I thank the givers very much.

Worst present I opened? Exploding dye pack. Not funny, guys. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

But is it Christmas?

As we draw to a close on Christmas weekend---unless you're staying over with Uncle Lou until New Year's, in which case, good luck---I hope you've been able to get through the holiday without any ugly squabbles with friends and families.

I speak not of those disagreements caused by matters of faith, denomination, sect, politics, or the like. I am speaking of pop culture, and whether ______ is actually a Christmas ______.

We've become familiar with the question of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, because it takes place at Christmas and because killing evil guys makes it a feel-good movie. Certainly the survival of hero John McClane in this film is some kind of Christmas miracle.

Now we're also fighting over whether "My Favorite Things" is a Christmas song. It has no mention of Christmas. It does mention some winter stuff (sleigh bells, snowflakes), but is that enough?

Just because TV stations have long shown The Sound of Music around Christmastime does not automatically give it a pass. Auntie Mame was shown on Turner Classic on Christmas Eve this year, and only one short section of this movie takes place at Christmas. (The song "We Need a Little Christmas" comes from the later musical version, not the Roz Russell film.) Lots of movies have some Christmas scenes but otherwise have no mention of the holiday. Do they count?

For that matter, why does the addition of snow automatically make something Christmassy? "Marshmallow World" and "Let It Snow" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" are easily rejected as Christmas songs when you examine them, because they're just about freezing temperatures and precipitation. But you see how quickly we can go down the snowshoe hare hole: The song "Frosty the Snowman" was always intended as a Christmas number, but the original lyrics have no mention of Christmas. Should it be shunned as just a winter song? And let's face it: Most of America doesn't even have snow by Christmas Day, including places like New York where it gets plenty snowy later in the winter. Christmas is only four days past the end of autumn, anyway. Meanwhile, in Australia, it's summer. Many, perhaps most, of our coreligionists live in places that never or hardly ever see a flake.

I was not intending to start another fight about what qualifies and what doesn't. I'd be more inclined to go by taste rather than logic in determining the appropriateness of secular seasonal numbers anyway. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"? "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)"? "Wonderful Christmastime"? "Do They Know It's Christmas"? Not Christmas songs because they should not be songs at all. And don't even get me started on the movies.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On the second day of Christmas...

Hope your Christmas was exceptionally grand! Even if you don't celebrate Christmas. What, you couldn't have a grand day anyway? Well, I hope you did. If you were kind enough to stop by here you are a sensitive and discerning person and deserve the best. Or you just got lost in Google.

Today is Boxing Day, a holiday not named for the box stores that are having Christmas clearance sales. Nor is it named for Glass Joe or the other fine Punch-Out!! fighters.

Boxing Day is, rather, named for the fights you're having with relatives who have overstayed their welcome.

Kidding! No, of course it's the day across the Commonwealth when servants would get Christmas gifts from their employers, given in boxes. Had it become traditional to hand out presents in jars, it would have been called Jarring Day. But that would be silly.

It's also St. Stephen's Day, the feast of the first martyr of the Church, the name of which immediately brings to mind "Good King Wenceslas," the song that describes the good king's miracle on this day. I used to hear "Good King Wenceslas" a lot at Christmastime; not so much anymore. Some songs fall out of favor. I don't think it's a secularization thing, really; other songs that have lost popularity over time include "Christmas Is" and "It's Christmas (All Over the World)." Someone ought to do a revival album of these tunes.

It is interesting that Christmastime is the only time we hear music from across the twentieth century, isn't it? You go in the store and you hear songs from the 20's on. The rest of the year, all modern crap and classic rawk. Whole music idioms have gone down the toilet. But not at Christmastime!

Anyway, if I'm babbling, it's the hangover. Not booze; too much delicious and heavy food, too much running around, and a change in the weather that has struck me with a sinus headache. So it's hangover-like, without my having to worry about whether I started a fight in church, hurled the figgy pudding through a window, or called Aunt Sally a heifer or her son Ethan a useless couch jockey. All was merry and bright.

And I still got a headache. Which is so unfair.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The North Poll!

Happy Christmas to all! I hope you were all good and got what you wanted from Jolly Old St. Nick.

Ho Ho etc.
Of course, many people do not get the presents they want, while some get exactly the perfect thing, even if it's something they didn't think they wanted. That said, our crack team of telephone surveyors have already been hitting the lines, speaking to Registered and Likely Celebrators of Christmas, finding out the state of America's gift receiving, Christmas 2015. We even talked to the Man on the Street,

He wasn't much help.

Here's what they found:

1) What did you want for Christmas?

iPad: 18%
iPhone: 10%
Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock: 8%
Official Red Swingline Stapler: 6%
Jingtinglers: 4%
Gardookas: 2%
Miss Universe crown: 12%
Coal: 5%
Lexus with a huge bow on it like in the commercial I saw 8,000 times: 10%
Hoverboard: 10%
Other: 3%

2) Did you get what you wanted?

Yes: 16%
No: 84%

3) Why or why not?

I was nice: 29%
I was naughty: 33%
I was falsely accused of naughtiness: 21%
I was insufficiently naughty: 17%

4) What did you get for Christmas?

Gift card: 26%
Blumbloopas: 14%
Floofloovers: 10%
Slooslunkas: 5%
Tie: 11%
Zoozittacaray set: 10%
Flatware: 7%
Socks: 12%
Misfit toy train with square wheels: 3%
The huge bow from the Lexus with nuthin' under it: 2%

5) Are you happy with your presents?

They're okay: 17%
Not really: 43%
Not at all: 40%

6) What's the worst thing you got for Christmas?

Gift card from someplace I never heard of: 25%
Inadequately priced gift card: 61%
Floofloovers: 14%

7) What will you do with your unwanted gifts?

Use, grudgingly: 30%
Put in closet, forget: 22%
Exchange: 15%
Regift: 16%
Throw out: 9%
Take out of closet when the giver comes over: 6%
Eat: 2%

8) If exchanging, what will you get?

Jingtingers: 21%
Gift card: 40%
Cheap sweater: 5%
Official Red Swingline Stapler: 20%
Twinkies: 14%

9) If regifting, who will you give it to?

Accidentally to original giver: 44%
Someone else: 56%

10) Were the kids as ungrateful as you?

Close: 14%
More: 60%
Lots more: 26%

11) What was the best thing you got for Christmas?

iPad: 22%
The box the gift came in: 38%
Jingtingers: 19%
Big fat whomping gift card: 20%
Twinkies: 1%

12) Did you get the person who gave it to you something equally great?

No: 70%
I thought I had: 15%
Probably not: 15%

13) What will you ask for next year?

Big fat whomping gift card: 38%
Newer iPad: 30%
Slooslunkas: 4%
Great Big Electro Whocardio Schnook: 5%
How about tens and twenties?: 22%
Better box for the gift to come in: 1%

14) Can you, like all the Whos down in Whoville, have a great Christmas even if you didn't get what you wanted?

Yes: 21%
Possibly: 18%
No way: 16%
I'm the mother, I do it every year: 45%

Thursday, December 24, 2015


The sky was absolutely clear, every star visible, and the air was cold, like the empty black sky could not stop all the warmth from escaping the earth. Snow caked Henry’s boots as he walked up to the house from his car. Why hadn’t Dad shoveled? Was he sick? Henry would do it after he checked on the old man.

“Henry,” said his father. “So good to see you.”

“Thanks,” said Henry. There was a mat inside the door, and he tried to stomp off the snow on his boots. “Sorry about the mess…”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” said his father. The old man, wearing the big bulky cardigan that was the only sweater he seemed to like, came over to help Henry with his coat. “Snowy, huh?”

“Clear, now. You all right? The path’s a mess.”

“Sure, I’m fine.”

“Just not like you—”

“I haven’t had the time.”

“I remember the doctor told you—”

“Henry,” said his father, patting him on the shoulder, “it’s all okay. I’m sorry you had to walk through all that. Come on in. You want some coffee? Beer or something?” His father gestured to the living room, just inside the door of the cabin. There, beside the old man’s favorite chair, was his own coffee mug, the #1 Grandpa mug that Henry’s kids had given him.

“Thanks, Dad. Hot coffee would be great.”

Then they were both seated and Henry was looking around. There was a small tree in the corner, covered in a blaze of multicolored lights, maybe hundreds of them, but only a couple of ornaments. Holly swags ran along the walls. A cozy fire was going nearby, stockings hung over it. Henry was tempted to make a joke about the stockings not being fireproof—his father had always been a dedicated safety-first man—but he was too amazed at the scene itself.

“Dad—did you do all this?”

“I had help.”

“But Mom—”

“Yeah, your mother always did the decorating.”

“Except the outside lights. She made you do those.”

His father grunted a laugh. “I had to,” he said. “She would have gone up the ladder herself if I didn’t. I was afraid she’d kill herself.”

“Mom loved Christmas.”

“Always did.”

Henry’s father drank some coffee. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Henry thought that seemed strange—his father didn’t smoke anymore—but of course Henry’s mother wasn’t here. Yeah, Dad must be getting away with naughty behavior, he thought.

“How’re Jane and the kids?” asked his father.

“Great. Wonderful, really. The kids are excited for Christmas. It’s hard enough when one of them has a birthday coming up, but Christmas is like all their birthdays at once.”

“They behaving? Santa’s watching.”

Henry laughed. “That works on them about seventy percent of the time.”

His father lit the cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke toward the fireplace. “Used to do better on you,” he said. “I wish I could see them, too.”

“Yeah, I do—”

Henry stopped. There was something he was trying to remember but couldn’t. Was there a problem with one of the kids? No, everyone was fine. But something was not right.

A minute passed in silence. Henry looked out the window to the star-crusted sky. He felt his father’s eyes on him.

“You remember your uncle Billy’s house?” asked his father. “The one on Maxwell.”

“Remember? Dad, how could I forget? That was the hottest summer of my life.”

His father snorted smoke with laughter. “Yeah,” he said. “I was just thinking about that.”

Billy had been Henry’s grand-uncle. When he died, the family wanted to sell his house. Henry’s father was extremely handy, and volunteered to fix it up so they could get a good price for it. They spent evenings and weekends toiling in the little house with no air conditioning, not even a ceiling fan.

“It would have gone a lot faster if I hadn’t had that summer job,” said Henry, who’d been in college at the time. “Spent all day trying not to fall asleep while entering data.”

“Pretty dull, huh?”


“I was working full-time too. We had to fit it in when we could.”

“He was a real slob, Uncle Billy, wasn’t he? That place hadn’t even been dusted in twenty years.”

“Not so bad,” said his father. “There was no sign of ants or mice.”

“That’s because he never had food in the house.”

Henry had canceled dates, watched his friends go do fun things without him. Several Saturday mornings found a hungover Henry being toted to the hot little house to move and clean and paint and hammer and do everything else a young man with a hangover would not want to do. It was a miserable three months.

“Why did we do it? That’s what I still don’t know,” said Henry. “The family didn’t give us a fee for all that work. The rest of them barely helped out. We were lucky they paid the expenses.”

His dad cocked his head and an eyebrow, a gesture of who knows? that Henry knew better than he knew anything that ever happened on his own face. “Uncle Billy was a sad case,” his father said. “I wanted his house to look nice for when we sold it. Give him a little pride. And I didn’t want to get into a fight about money with any of the relatives. Then everyone gets mad.” He puffed again and added, “And I wanted to work with you.

“With... me?”

Was a hot one, though.”

“But---I loved it,” said Henry. “That was an awful summer, Dad. I wish I could live it all over again.”

His dad smiled. “Me too.”

“There are a lot of things I wish I could live over.”

His dad sighed. “Me too.”

And that’s when it struck. “Dad—”

His father sat forward suddenly, jabbing out his cigarette in an ashtray Henry hadn't seen. “Henry, there’s something you should know.”

“I know.”

“Some of it.”

Henry looked out the window. “Enough of it.”

“No,” said his father.

Henry’s chest felt cold and heavy now, a slick stalactite of terror running down it, chilling him all over again. Hard to breathe. He wheezed in, remembering.

“You,” he said, breathing hard. “This is you.”

His father turned toward the Christmas tree.

Henry took a deep breath. It was hard, although his lungs were clear. “This is how I heard you breathe. September.”

“Look at the tree,” said his father.

“It’s the sky,” said Henry. “It’s all wrong.”

His father got up.

“It was cloudy all day,” said Henry. “Supposed to rain on Christmas if it gets warmer.”

“It’s all right,” said his dad, putting a hand on Henry’s shoulder. Instantly the heaviness in Henry’s chest eased. “There’s just one thing.”

Henry got up. His father was pointing to the tree.

“That’s a lot of lights,” said Henry.

“I didn’t decorate this place,” said his father. “It’s not my house.”

“No—no, you live in North Carolina now.”

“But I did decorate the tree.”

Henry laughed. “You never did a tree in your life.”

“I did this one.” His dad pointed to it again. “I just wanted you to know.”


“The lights,” said his father. “Each light is one time I looked at my boy Henry and knew that I loved him, loved him with everything I had in me.”

Henry straightened. It was a staggering number of lights.

“But each ornament,” said his father, “each of those were the times I actually told you.”

Henry counted them, one, two…

“This one was when you were born,” said his father, pointing. “That one, you were maybe two.”

“Dad,” he said. He turned to his father, whose eyes were shining, but full of sorrow.

“Dad, no,” said Henry. “If that tree had an ornament for every time you showed me you loved me, this house would be full of nothing but ornaments, do you hear me?”

His father looked down, smiling, clutching Henry’s shoulder tightly.

“But it’s beautiful,” Henry murmured.

His father wiped his eyes on a sleeve. “Here,” he said. He took something from his pocket and handed it to Henry. “Put it up.”

It was a crystalline glass ornament, heavy, bright. The lights from the tree splintered and showered Henry’s hand around it. It already had a hook on it. Henry took it to the nearest branch—empty, like most of them—and hooked it on.

“Daddy,” Henry whispered, looking at the million lights reflected in the ornament, almost not noticing the -dy he’d attached at the end, “you know there are a billion fathers whose trees would have ornaments everywhere and not one real light? How dark, how awfully dark they would be.”

His father sniffed, and said, “Merry Christmas, Henry.”

“I dreamed you,” said Henry. “I dreamed you so I could say good-bye.”

“I wished you,” said his father. “There at the end. When I couldn’t breathe. So I could tell you one more time.”

The bedroom curtains were closed.

Henry got up. Jane was curled into a ball like a kitten, facing away, her usual sleeping position. Henry’s practiced ear listened for anyone coughing, crying, walking, talking, whatever else three kids might be up to. He also listened for any sounds from the bedroom next door, where his mother was sleeping while staying over for the holidays.

Quietly Henry rose. He parted the curtains with care. Glossy snow frosted the yard below, the street a ribbon or a river beyond. The sky was painted over with a uniform coating of clouds, but just above them was a powerful bright moon, nearly full, so strong it lit up the sky like morning. But of course it was not yet morning.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ornamental terror.

What you are about to read is 100% true. Only the names of my friends have been changed to keep them from killing me. 

When I was a kid, big glass ornaments were nearly a thing of the past. You didn't see them around much. They were going the way of the big hot bulbs. Styrofoam and plastic were more common, even if they were nowhere near as pretty. At least if the kids grabbed one of those thread-wrapped "satin ball" Styrofoam ornaments, odds were they wouldn't kill themselves with it right away. Glass? Different story. Plus, glass was more expensive to make and to ship, and you couldn't guarantee their survival from year to year like you could with plastic.

My parents had a bunch of Shiny-Brites leftover from the 60's, but the stock was dwindling. 

Christopher Radko, genius that he is, brought the age of the great glass ornament back, making gorgeous and fun ornaments in classic Shiny-Brite designs, types that reflected particular interests (firemen, bears, music, etc., etc.), fund-raising ornaments, all kinds of things. The story of Radko and his ornaments can be found here. You can find the ornaments themselves at gift shops, Bloomie's, Dillards, you name it. There used to be a store in the craft village of Sugar Loaf that sold collectibles, and seemed to exist for years on Lladró, Hummels, and Radko ornaments. 

Radko himself sold the company years ago, I have no idea how many designs are created under the Radko name annually, but they've sold millions of the things in the last thirty years. 

In these hypersensitive times, though, I am forced to put a trigger warning on my tree. Coulrophobics, avert your gaze! 

I am not personally afflicted with a fear of clowns, but I do know one grown man that I'll call Jim---a guy who likes bloody horror movies, by the way---who is stricken with a gut-wrenching terror of them. I have to hang this one toward the back of the tree in case Jim comes by. Can't take a chance that he'll catch sight of it and I'll have a Jim-shaped hole in the wall.

This is a 2007 ornament Radko produced as a fund-raiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I got it as a freebie from a magazine for which I was working at the time. I think it's pretty cute. Sure, some clowns are scary, but these clowny folks are jolly. Most people with a mild dislike of clowns would still find much to like here. 

You can't reason with a phobia, though. I have another friend (we'll call him Pete) who is scared of snakes. and I'd be hard-pressed to introduce him to the most harmless snake in the world. He just couldn't bring himself to get near it. 

If I decide that Pete and Jim are too much trouble to have as friends, though, I can get rid of both by throwing one Christmas party. That is, if I can find these: 

WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? you might say.

Clown-headed snakes for your Christmas tree, of course! 

I suspect that the Radko line doesn't feature them now, but according to a piece in the Los Angeles Times from 1992, these are for real: "His snake ornament also has a story. 'The Victorians always had a snake on their trees to remind them of the Garden of Eden, but the snakes had clown faces so as not to scare the children.'" 

Clown-headed snakes. How could this not scare the children?!?

It does me no good at all, and it would send Jim and Pete flying out of the house. 

I think we can deduce a few things: 

1) Victorians were weird. 

2) Radko may have followed the path of tradition too far. 

3) I should get some friends who are scared of things like heights or the dark, which can't be hung on Christmas trees. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Now is the winter of our discontent.

Gonna be a short one today; my Christmas spirit took a bit of a beating yesterday. It was the anniversary of the death of my oldest friend, who left a wife and kids behind. Didn't help that it was the shortest, darkest day of the year---but thank heaven the weather was only cold and not bleak. Of course, we can't ignore the fact that the first day of winter means there are 90 or so more to go.

I also finished an editing job that, while not from hell, may have been from heck. I won't go into telling details, but I will say that it was a nonfiction book, and while the author has an ear for the illustrative anecdote, he also constructs sentences with the care of a man with delirium tremens building a house of cards while wearing oven mitts.

I only had a few days to get it done, including all weekend, and as I was being paid a flat fee rather than an hourly wage, no matter how much time I put in the pay didn't change. And it was such a mess. I kept at it right up to deadline. It put me in that awful position of having to turn in a job that I knew was no good (because the original was just horrible). It injures my reputation, because no one ever blames the author. Unless I'm the author. Then I'm the one who sucks.

Editing is not digging ditches, but it ain't easy money, either.

All that was followed by a nightmare that woke me up at two in the morning and made it hard to settle back to sleep.

So I'm sorry that this is just a kvetch blog today; sometimes winter happens, even in Advent. My apologies, and I hope to be back to my usual goofy self tomorrow.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Yet-to-Come.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand. But for this, it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?" said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Scrooge pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?"

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror to know that, behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

"Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

"Lead on!" said Scrooge. "Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!"

Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied, from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him, as before—though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order in these latter visions, save that they were in the Future—into the resorts of business men, but showed him not himself. Indeed, the Spirit did not stay for anything, but went straight on, as to the end just now desired, until besought by Scrooge to tarry for a moment.

"No, Spirit! Oh no, no!"
The finger still was there.
"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he[92] fell before it: "your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?"
The kind hand trembled.
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"
"Oh, all is lost," said Scrooge with a terrible sigh. "Christmas in the future looks pretty stupid."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I'm gettin' trouble for Christmas.


Hit the wall yesterday.

Found myself in a room full of wrapping paper and boxes and packing materials and crap, Christmas music on the iPhone, and just thought:

I'm so done.

Just hang me.
That's the way it goes, when you go holiday happy. No matter how carefully you plan, things wind up taking longer than you expect, or other people cause delays, or something totally unexpected pops up, and your carefully constructed list of Ho-Ho-Holiday Things to Do winds up bursting at the seams, leaking all over the place. Next thing you know, you're in a room full of unwrapped gifts, feeling like you've been run over by Santa's snowplow.

It's all too much, people say. All this running around and doing and spending and making ourselves crazy. Some who have celebrated in the past openly revolt now. "I'm not doing it this year! NO WAY!"

And that's just fine. Believe me, I sympathize.

What gave me my second wind? It occurred to me that there was no reason why Christmas shouldn't be trouble. Really, why ought it be effortless? Is anything worthwhile effortless? Don't we pour huge amounts of effort into Mardi Gras and Carnivale, two feasts whose basic premise is "We have to eat everything before the fast begins"? Why shouldn't I be put to trouble for the real feast itself?

Of course, the danger, as will be rightly pointed out, is that Christmas can overwhelm Christ, and that we will forget, in that hackneyed phrase, "The Reason for the Season." The Puritans certainly thought that was a problem, and basically wrecked everything fun about Christmas for a hundred years. We are always in peril of letting the things we dedicate to God get in the way of our love of God.

And yet these good gifts are also from God. In Charles Williams's novel War in Heaven, an archdeacon, overwhelmed to find himself holding the actual Holy Grail, says to it,

"Neither is this Thou," he breathed; and answered, "Yet this also is Thou."

So I accept all the trouble I go to for Christmas, although I wish I were better at estimating its extent and my capacity before I launch myself on the journey of Advent. My reach exceeds my grasp. I bite off more fruitcake than I can chew.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cheese nog.

There's a rumor going around the house that the dog is either trying to invent cheese nog, or is planning to get me to invent cheese nog for him.

What is cheese nog? Cheese nog is a festive beverage for doggies that features the delicious taste of cheese.

Word is, the dog saw it in a dream.

Artist's impression
That the dog, Tralfaz, loves cheese is a matter thoroughly documented. Of all the high-value treats we have used to motivate and train him---high-priced snacks, chicken hot dogs, peanut butter, etc.---nothing has worked as well as cheese. 

I've tried to explain that cheese nog would be a very difficult beverage to design for a non-food scientist type like me. "Cheese is heavy, and will sink," I said. "It does not dissolve; it will separate and become a wet cheesy pile at the bottom of your bowl." He seemed unimpressed. Either he has boundless faith in my ability to solve puzzles of chemistry, or he doesn't see much wrong with a wet cheesy pile on the bottom of his water bowl. 

I know there are liquid cheeses of a kind, Cheez Whiz and Easy Cheese and salsa con queso and the like, but they are still too thick to really pass for nog. 

No dice.
So we're at a kind of an impasse. 

But the pressure for me to come up with a cheese beverage continues. In fact, I found this note on a scrap of paper that had been slipped into my shoe:

If only ther wuz cheezy nog
a bevrege sweet and yummi
to giv to gud lil puppi dog
to put into his tummi

I'm concerned that we've already escalated to assault cuteness. I'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Air chocolate!

In my unending quest for things I shouldn't eat, I came across this little beauty, not normally seen in our great land:

The Nestle Aero is a candy bar with an interesting history. Originally manufactured 80 years ago in the UK by Rowntree's, the Aero has bubbles in it. Aero bars are big in Canada and Japan, Australia and South Africa, but have never gotten distribution here. The one I got is a mint Aero from Canada, no doubt smuggled in by Bothans sneaking over the border.

(Not true---but Salman Rushdie, when he was an advertising writer, came up with a catchword for the Aero in Australia, calling it "Adorabubble." And that is true.)

Although Aeros were originally flat, this one has a curious bubbly shape---a little weird, almost sensual.

But as always, it's what's inside that counts:

That's the air bubbles in a wholly artificially colored minty green filling.

The filling is tasty, the chocolate rich---really, a very nice treat. I know shelf space is always at a premium, but I encourage Nestle to find a way to get the Aero to Americans at large. And let's try some of the weird foreign flavors, like Vanilla Milkshake and Green Tea (Japan), Vanilla Yoghurt (Canada), Latte (UK), and Cappuccino (South Africa).

This can be done through legal channels, I'm sure. We can't rely on Bothans to do all the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The tree is up!

We were chatting in the comments section of the Great Lileks's site about trees being variously up or not up for Christmas. I'm proud to announce that mine are done. All three of them. 

Yeah, got one big tree and two little trees. Why? Too many ornaments. I can't bear to cull them. Too much sentiment. Basically for me to throw out an ornament it has to be reduced to irreparable shards of glass. It has to be dangerous.

We were entertaining the idea of a real tree this year, a luxury we have not enjoyed since we moved into the forced-air-heat house. When we made the move we were out of the house a lot during the day, so we just assumed a real tree in these conditions would turn into a smoldering matchstick around lunchtime. Now that I'm self-employed, I have nothing to do but hang around and add water to the basin. Still, with one thing and another, we just didn't have time to go bazaar bargaining for a tree, so I dug out the old reliable artificial trees once more. 

Here's the big tree:

Okay, it's just an oil painting. Not even actual paint. Just app paint. I don't want to stun you with the magnificence of the real thing.

As you can imagine, it takes a while to put up a kabillion ornaments on three trees. And I'm not one to just chuck an ornament on a branch, either. There are criteria that must be addressed for proper ornament placement, and the list grows longer as the tree gets more crowded. Here are the questions I ask myself before I hang an ornament on a tree, in the order in which they crop up:

1. Is it (the ornament) an appropriate size for this section of the tree?

2. If not, is it still useful for filling a hole or some other purpose?

3. Is it too heavy for this section of the tree?

4. Is it fragile, and if so is it in a section where it is more likely to get knocked off the tree?

5. Is it ugly or damaged, and should therefore be further to the rear?

6. Is it a gift from someone who is likely to come over and expect to see it prominently displayed?

7. Is it one of those extra-special lovely, nostalgic, funny, touching, or otherwise extraordinary ones that need to be up front?

8. Is it too similar in type to one already hung close by (snowmen, stars, snowflakes, Nativity scene, etc.)?

9. Is it too similar in color to one already hung close by (don't want a big clump of red, for example)?

10. Does it clash with anything close by (pink/orange, etc.)?

11. Does it have to be attached to the light string?

12. Is that really a branch or just an unsupportive nub?

13. Can I squeeze one more in there?

14. Does it matter that two glass ones are clunking into each other?

15. Why did I agree to do this?

16. Will I finish before %$@# Groundhog Day?

As I say, it's a lot of work, and gone are the days when I can just heave all the decorations up in a few hours. But I do love it when it's done and everything looks wonderful.

Of course, in January I can't wait to dump it all in a box and shove it away.

I think I'm subconsciously trying to reduce the ornaments to irreparable shards of glass. No luck yet.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Give me old-fashioned plutocrats!

I watched part of the 1945 Barbara Stanwyck classic Christmas in Connecticut on TCM over the weekend. It's a comedy about Elizabeth Lane, a women's magazine editor who pretends to live a cheery domestic family life in the country, writing recipes and household tips, although she is actually single, childless, and helpless in the kitchen. As Christmas closes in, she has to maintain this fiction for her publisher, Alexander Yardley, a powerful force in the magazine game, played by the mountainous presence of the great Sidney Greenstreet.

He's the one on the left.
It's a great movie, and Greenstreet is imperial as Yardley---demanding but beneficent, patriotic but led by his appetites, round as a ham but sharp as a tack. I have worked for a lot of people in publishing, but never one like this character. I wish I had. He might fire me in a fit of pique, but he'd never weasel around or whine or stab me in the back.

It got me thinking that what we need in America are more and better plutocrats, those wealthy, hard-headed, spats-clad men of business who knew how to get things done. These are the men who made America great and rich. Here a couple more great tycoons of the classic movie era. A picture begins to emerge.

Edward Arnold, Meet John Doe (1941) -- tough, mean, lonely, even duplicitous,
but not some dope to be cowed by political correctness. 

Eugene Pallette, My Man Godfrey (1936) -- A risk-taker who nearly pays for it severely,
but at least he doesn't go around sniveling for a government bailout.

That's the kind of stout and stouthearted stuff we need nowadays. Who do we have instead? Business leaders like Apple's CEO Tim Cook:

 Media moguls who all look like Food Network general manager Bob Tuschman:

Guys who look like they spend more time on treadmills sipping water than ordering flunkies around. Is that the kind of thing that makes America tough, proud, and great? No way. This is why we're in the crapper.

For the love of Pete, Tuschman! You run Food Network! You don't have to assume Greenstreet proportions, but you might look like you enjoy a steak once in a while!

Monday, December 14, 2015


Yesterday was a big baking day around these parts, or as the dog likes to think of it, the day people spend much too much time working on food that is not particularly interesting to him. Meanwhile, I'm getting delirious from the amount of sugar floating around. In fact, I started to see visions of sugar, really the whole sugar family... the Sugar Family gathering for Christmas....

Confectioners Sugar: The super-sweet girl of the family, C.S. is a bit of a flake, something of an airhead, but everyone likes her. Doesn't always mix in, but pops up everywhere.

Raw Sugar: Raw annoyed everyone with her declaration that she was now a vegan. She's still kind to her family, though, even when combative, and at the end of the day she's one of them.

Molasses: Granny's gotten somewhat slow and bitter in her old age. Her age-old wisdom is hard to beat, even if she's not everyone's cup of tea.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup: The black sheep of the family, H.F. is the kid that causes nothing but trouble. Really gets around; he's into everything. Gets blamed for things that aren't even his fault.

Aspartame: Everything that doesn't get blamed on H.F. gets blamed on Aspartame. He used to be famous, beloved, a celebrity even, but there was that scandal and then the other thing, and while he may snap with anger and say nothing was ever proven, people just shake their heads.

Agave Nectar: Duuuude! Agave is a second cousin but always good to see... in small doses. He always tells you he's super healthy, but no one quite believes it. Plus he seems to spend a lot of time with his pals Tequila, Peyote, and Mezcal. Hmm...

Honey: Honey is always buzzing with activity, which is surprising to those who expect her to be a slowpoke or a dumb blonde. Has a lot of interests---clover, orange blossom, sage, alfalfa---but some folks see it as just dull ol' plants.

Stevia: Bubbly and energetic, Stevia always comes across great! and awesome! and excellent! Everyone feels they should like Stevia, but no one actually does.

Xylitol: Total nerd. Quite helpful, but gets little respect. That's okay. Xylitol is too focused on his work to care.

Maple Syrup: Classic country cousin, Maple is a friendly sort, a slow talker with peaceful ways. Some treat him like a bit of a sap, but he's solid at heart.

Sucralose: The aunt that's always taking up one health craze after another, Sucralose is undeniably easy on the eyes (which earns a lot of muttering about "Well, if I didn't have to raise a these kids" and "Wait till she's older" from the other ladies).

Granulated Sugar: Mom's the workhorse of the family, and is seldom appreciated these days, but if it weren't for her, life wouldn't be nearly so sweet. Frumpy? Maybe a little. But they all come home to Granulated Sugar. Hats off to you, Mama!

You gotta love her. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015


As I was saying yesterday, I've been enjoying the Christmas season this year. It hasn't stopped me from being petulant about things, like the freelance job I didn't want to do but felt obliged to, both for the money and for the goodwill with the editor. I've also been under the gun with a few other projects, and one reversal that really made me question whether I should have gone to bricklaying school instead of college. (Answer: Probably.)

And of course with the rest of the world going to hell, it's pretty easy to feel like life, in the personal (micro) and general (macro) sense, is just a waste of matter and energy. Not like the matter and energy had much else going on, but still.

I pray a lot; it's the best thing I do, I think, although I am not really good at it. It was recommended to me that I turn my insoluble conundrums over to God, and I am trying.

I've also heard that life is like a tapestry, that we only see the back end now, where it's all tangles and knots; but one day we shall see it from the other side, where all the patterns are known, and it all makes sense.

One morning I was in a church when it was still quite dark out, and I noticed that the windows looked like a jumble of darkness and shadows, signifying nothing.

It's when the light came through it that things began to make sense.

To resolve---in the sense of determination into colors and shapes; in the sense of discovery; in the sense of successful discernment; in the sense of determination to be.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I enjoy decorating for the holidays. Time constraints have scaled it back a little this year, but I'm hitting all the big marks---tree, porch, windows, packages, cookies. (You say cookies aren't a decoration? You decorate your way...) Every year I say I'm cutting back, I'm just doing A, B, and C this year, and before you know it I'm at L, M, N, O....

But there's lots to enjoy. For one thing, taking out new bundles of lights. I like to test them before I untie the bundles, which always looks like some kind of wired explosive so powerful that it glows in the dark.

Powerful Christmas spirit!

Explosive potential aside, the place looks fun when it's done, and jangles my nostalgia nerves very strongly.

I love to see houses decked out in Christmas lights. I understand why a lot of people don't do up their homes, of course. Why, they may not be Christian, for one thing! Or they may be old and infirm, or broke, or just sick of the whole megillah since the kids grew up. Or worse, dealing with horrible tragedy and grief that makes the merry aspects of the holiday unbearable. No one would fault anyone for skipping the froufrou under the circumstances.

For the rest of you, let's get going!

The outer boroughs of the city in my youth, and probably now, had lots of ethnic homogeneity (most still have, actually, although the ethnicity changes over time), and that yielded some great benefits---fine dining, for one, and in the average Christian neighborhoods the whole block would be lit up with Christmas lights in December. It was even better if the block was all Italian, because they would compete like crazy. Smart houses with little yards jammed with light-up plastic nativities, choirs, Santas, reindeer, carolers, elves, toys, and what-have-you jumbled up together. Going down a block like that is like being in a magical Christmas land to a little kid.

So I'm glad when I drive around and see a lot of lights out this time of year. As I've said before, if we really were firm in our faith, we Christians might never want to take them down.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas greenery.

Not the kind of greenery I would expect in December in New York:

The lawn! A little like creamed spinach, isn't it?

The grass looks greener now than it did in August. Of course, in August it generally looks like toast.

Oh, no! Green grass in December? It's global warming! We're all gonna die!

December has been very pleasant this year. We call it payback. Let me remind you what November 28, 2014, looked like in these parts:

For the record, it appeared last Thanksgiving that we were about to be thrust upon the sharp point of the ice age in which we are currently living.

We're in an ice age?

It came as a surprise to me, too, although less so last winter when I was walking the dog in January. Yes, geologists (or whoever says these things) say we are living in the lull of an ice age, what is called an interglacial period.

You know what this means? We have got to have more global warming. We can survive a couple of degrees more warmth; we can't survive mile-high glaciers. We'll all die and the mammoths will come back. So burn more trees! Burn more gasoline! It's your duty to mankind!

You! You with the solar panels! What do you think you are doing? Do you want the mammoths to win?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hanukkah... in JAIL!

Well, not really, but sort of. Just something that struck me as interesting.

One of the greatest of the uncountable contributions to American culture made by Jewish immigrants is, as we all know (or ought to), Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup.

Fox's U-bet is the only syrup used to make a classic New York egg cream. Their vanilla syrup is delicious too, and can be used for the variant vanilla egg cream. But many people are unaware that Fox's also makes raspberry, strawberry, coffee, black cherry, malt, sugar-free chocolate, dark chocolate, fair-trade chocolate, and all-natural chocolate as well, although outside the city they're hard to find. (Inside the city too, for many of these.)

What I was unaware of until looking at their site the other day is that Fox's does a bang-up business providing syrups for institutions. And not just hospitals and schools. That's right---Fox's is in crossbar hotel, the house of many doors, lockdown, box town, the slammer, the cooler... Fox's is in jail!

Selling your products to jails is a great sideline, but it's more complicated than you or I might think. Take these quotes from their Correctional Institutions page:

"Our product line includes both a color and a no-color variant. Our no-color line of syrups is a recent addition to our product line. The benefits of a no color product are that it will not stain floors, walls or institutional equipment, and eliminates an obvious hiding place for contraband."

"The Beverage Cart: This specially designed and manufactured correctional grade dispensing unit was developed and created especially by H. Fox & Co., Inc.. Together with input from our Correctional Coordinator, a member of ACFSA and an equipment design team, the cart was designed considering maximum concern for safety and security. Understanding that even the smallest part could cause major problems, no component was overlooked....This box is secured to the cart by use of 4 security screws located on the inside of the box. In addition, there are 2 security screws on top of the box that keep it closed and restrict access to the inside of the unit. The security screws require a special tool to open them and, this is not supplied to the facility. A regular screwdriver will not open these screws."

It's a little scary, what they have to think about just to get some delicious beverages to our violent prison population. Let's hope that the presence of Fox's reminds our inmates that a better world awaits them if they can get out and follow the law. Then they can drink all the delicious Fox's syrups they could want, and in full color, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Doggone Shetlie!

Our backyard has no fence, just a thin strips of trees and underbrush between us and the people on the other side. And that was always fine. Told me where to stop mowing, for one thing. For another, Tralfaz the Giant Dog knew where the boundary was. Or at least, he DID know.

The new neighbors across the copse just got a little tiny dog that we think is a Shetland Sheepdog. What they call a Sheltie. Although it should be a Shetlie. They're not from Sheltand.


The Sheltie (if that's what it is) is as cute as anything you ever saw. The couple that owns the house will be out doing yardwork, and this little scamp will just poink here and there all over the lawn.

The problem is that Shelties wake up every morning with 1,000 barks in their stomachs, and if they don't get those barks out throughout the day, they will explode.

Actually, that's a myth. They only think they will explode. But they've always managed to get all the barks out, just in case.

Here's one of the varmints, courtesy of Shetlie --- uh, Sheltie International
So Sheltie's bouncing around giving off random barks at birds, squirrels, people, air molecules, whatever. Tralfaz himself, like many huge dogs, very seldom barks, and thank God, because his bark is like thunder. Sheltie's barking has worked magic on Tralfaz, who is an only dog, and LOVES other doggies. (And yes, he had his little surgery, so it's probably not the thing that would be making you wild, Mister.) It's a continual invitation to come play. So a couple of weeks ago Tralfaz barked a couple of times, then charged like a maniac across the wooded section and scared the crap out of everybody next door.

And he didn't even get to play with the little dude, who was swept into the house by his alarmed owners.

Tralfaz is the friendliest dog I've ever seen, but people who don't know him are understandably a little dismayed by the sight of a 130-pound dog crashing through the forest like an angry bear.

I apologized profusely, of course, and hauled my miscreant home, covered in shame. He received punishment; I stewed for hours on the disobedience of a dog we've worked so hard to train.

The incident has not yet been repeated. Partly because Tralfaz stays on the leash when there's any hint that Barky McBarkypants might be taking his constitutional. But Tralfaz sits in the yard and watches, hoping, just as he used to for the kid next door who got less enthusiastic about him when he got bigger than she is.

He'll never understand that people's reaction to him depends a lot on whether he's on a leash.

Oh, my poor Tralfaz! He is one that loves not wisely but too well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ho frost.

It's getting hairy out there.

Took the dog out yesterday morning and was quite impressed by the hairy-looking frost all over everything. Here's a closeup.

Aha! I said. Hoarfrost! And the dog looked at me funny. Because he probably knew that I didn't know what hoarfrost is. I just thought it looked like what I would expect hoarfrost to look like. As I've said many times, I am one of nature's great indoorsmen, and there are very few meteorological phenomena beyond the most obvious that I can identify. Or flora. Or fauna. Which one is "fauna" again?

Hoarfrost is the kind of word you expect to see in fantasy novels with battleaxe-wielding dwarves on the cover. Those dwarves are so hairy, even their frost is hairy! 

But is it hoarfrost? The Wikipedia page on frost lists six varieties of frost with many different names and subtypes (who knew?), and I can't quite tell. It's a function of the ambient temperature, humidity, wind speed, and maybe day of the week, not appearance. Although advection frost looks kind of like what I'm seeing. But it wasn't windy. Maybe it is hoarfrost.

Of course, in the Explicit Lyrics section this would be Ho Frost, which is an entirely different thing.

And in the Kids' Holiday section it's Ho-Ho-Ho Frost.

Nah, I'm going back to the Norse dwarves. Hoarfrost Ironson is the hero of my next novel, The Quest of the Saga of the Sword: Hoarfrost's Curse. It's Book I of Trilogy 1 of the FrostWorld series. No idea what will be going on, but there will be ogres. Got to have ogres.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Saint Nicholas.

Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra, in present-day Turkey. You may know him better as the Clark Kent to Santa Claus's Superman.

It's nice when his feast day falls on a Sunday.

One of my favorite Christmas books is The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas, by William J. Bennett. It's a wonderful book about Nicholas the man, Nicholas the myth, and Nicholas the super-myth that has become our modern Santa Claus.

I'm not a huge fan of Bennett's work---I was annoyed when he used Parson Weems's fatuous lie about young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree to illustrate "honesty" in The Book of Virtues. Using a fabrication to support the virtue of not fabricating things struck me as ignorant, and from a man as accomplished as he, unworthy.

That said, he did a sterling job with this short book. At first glance the goofiness connected to Santa Claus---you know, flying reindeer, weird elves, North Pole, Burgermeister Meisterburger---would seem to be an insult to a dedicated follower of Christ, who risked his life for the faith many times in a perilous age. Bennett answers it this way in the introduction: "This saintly man who lived so long ago has come to influence one of our holiest seasons and most beloved holidays. The influence that has come across so many centuries is a kind of miracle. It is evidence of God's love."

Bennett then goes on to talk about the tremendous popularity connected to Nicholas after his death, and the astounding legends attached to him, some of which are as goofy in their way as slipping down a chimney with a sack full of toys. One legend has him single-handedly destroying a temple of Artemis, turning it literally upside down and exorcising the demons that dwelt within it.* No wonder he was called Nicholas the Miracle Worker. He was so popular that, as Bennett writes, "By the end of the fifteenth century, more than 2,500 churches, chapels, monasteries, hospitals, schools, and works of art had been dedicated to Nicholas in Western Europe. England alone boasted nearly 400 Nicholas churches."

Even some of the most famous stories about the real Nicholas are generally unsubstantiated, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. At Nicaea he supposedly slapped a heretic**---although he may not have even been there. Nicholas has never been removed from the rolls of the saints, because there was a real holy man behind the legends, but he has definitely been downgraded***. But he is still the patron saint of 78 cities, as well as Russia, Germany, and Greece. It might be easier to list the professions that he is not the patron of than those he is****.

Bennett connects the dots between the real Nicholas, the legendary Nicholas, the various elves and spirits associated with Christmas in Western culture through history, the emergence of Santa Claus, and how Santa became what he is today, all in a very neat 116 pages.

Ultimately it all sings together in a story of love, hope, devotion, mission, and mercy, and what better Christmas message would you want?

May Saint Nicholas intercede on behalf of us all on this, his feast day. And happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

* Don't ask about the chopped-up students in the pickle barrel. Well, Nicholas put them together and brought them back to life, so it was okay in the end. 

** He felt bad about losing his temper, but Arius had it coming. 

*** See also Saint Christopher.

**** His patronage, by the way, includes toy makers. :)