100 Favorite Movies…..#4

There are people who know me well who might be a little surprised by the selection that ranks #4 on The List. Rest assured, however, that there is a method to my madness.

 

You may…or may not…be pleased to know that today’s entry is the final Christmas film we’ll be covering. By my count there are fifteen holiday treats to be found amongst our lot of 100. I am including the Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles and the original Die Hard and Lethal Weapon flicks, which may be considered Christmas movies only in the Manoverse but afterall I do make the rules. At any rate, today’s subject is the cream of the crop, the top of the heap, the gold standard. It comes in fourth on the overall countdown because of its genre. You see, these Christmas classics that I love so very much have one limitation. I really only feel compelled to watch them within a two month time frame spanning from mid-November at the earliest to not long after the New Year. On rare occasions I get into a Christmas in July kind of mood and pop one of my faves into the ol’ DVD player on a random warm weather day, but not often. I feel like if I start viewing them any old time of year that it steals away some of the magic of the Christmas season, and I just cannot let that occur. But as the old expression says, absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the proper season does come around I never get tired of watching these fantastic works of art. I enjoy them over and over for weeks. As a matter of fact, the #4 movie on The List gained cultural significance and infiltrated the hearts & minds of millions…including me…mainly due to repeat viewings. Lots of them.

 

I will refrain from boring my dear readers with a bunch of legalese and film industry insider gibberish that I honestly don’t completely understand myself. Suffice to say that due to a lapsed copyright our topic du jour entered what is called public domain in the mid-1970’s, meaning no one entity owned the sole right to broadcast the film. Therefore pretty much everybody did. Television was a different animal back then. CBS, NBC, & ABC were the only three networks, and cable was very much in its infancy. Local stations had time to fill at various points of the day, especially on weekends and late at night after the local news. The Tonight Show was on NBC until 12:30am during the week, but as I recall that was pretty much it. Anyone who is older than me and can add their recollections to that particular era please do. Even into the 1980’s most stations did not have shows on past 1:30. 24 hour television began during the 80’s but didn’t really become the norm until the 1990’s. Anyway, local stations needed programming and though I do not recall what they did for most of the year back then (I was a wee small child in the late 1970’s) I can say how the situation was handled from Thanksgiving to the New Year – It’s A Wonderful Life was shown…ad nauseum.

 

iawl1I do not recall exactly when I first saw It’s A Wonderful Life, though I think it was some time in my mid-teen years. I am a night owl, so if it was a weekend or there was no school the next day it was not unusual for me to be up late. My recollection is that I had heard of IAWL (as us Lifers refer to it) and figured I’d check it out. Afterall, there was no Internet, no round-the-clock news, and even when it did actually air videos there was only so much MTV one could endure. I immediately loved the movie. Loved it. I connected with the story, related to the character of George Bailey, and really liked Jimmy Stewart. I became a big Stewart fan and have since seen many of his movies, but this one is still my very favorite.

 

jsFor those who are unfamiliar (although I cannot imagine that to be a very large group), It’s A Wonderful Life is a 1946 Frank Capra directed film based on a short story. That story, capraThe Greatest Gift, was written by author/editor/historian Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1943. Unfortunately for Stern he was unable to get the story published and decided to just send it to friends as a Christmas present. One of those presents fell into the right hands and the powers-that-be in Hollywood thought it’d make a great movie. If only such Hollywood suits made similarly good decisions nowadays. But I digress. Frank Capra had already made a name for himself by directing such films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (#63 on this list), but found himself at a sort of crossroads in 1946. He had spent several years doing PR films for the War Department of the U.S. Government and there was some question as to whether he still had “it”. Movie star Jimmy Stewart was in the same boat. He was an Academy Award winning actor (1940’s The Philadelphia Story) with a successful track record (You Can’t Take It With You, Destry Rides Again, The Shop Around the Corner, the aforementioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with Capra), but had been out of the loop since 1941 after deciding to enlist in the Army Air Corps and flying several combat missions during World War II. When The Greatest Gift came into Frank Capra’s possession he immediately thought Jimmy Stewart would make the perfect George Bailey, and thank God for that.

 

Our greatest gift, of course, is life. So it is not surprising that the primary idea of It’s A Wonderful Life centers around suicide. We meet George Bailey as a precocious yet loyal young boy who dreams of escaping his small town of Bedford Falls to go out into the world…to explore, to achieve, to taste success. We also meet Henry F. Potter, a cranky, wealthy, wheelchair-bound curmudgeon…”the richest and meanest man in the county”. Mr. Potter owns almost everything in Bedford Falls and nearly everyone is scared and intimidated by him, including George’s father Peter, who owns about the only remaining entity Potter does not…The Bailey Brothers Building & Loan. Peter Bailey is a kind soul who is a bit too soft-hearted and generous, which doesn’t sit well with Potter, who does occupy a spot on the board of directors of the building & loan. Eventually Mr. Potter drives Peter to his grave. Are you inspired yet?? Is your Christmas spirit glowing with mirth?? Probably not, but stay with me.

 

As George grows into adulthood several chances to leave Bedford Falls and achieve his dream come and go. His father dies just as he is about to leave for college (at the age of 22 because he had to stay home a few extra years to save the money), and the only way to save the family business is to stick around. George allows his younger brother Harry to go to college instead. Upon Harry’s graduation a few years later George is again supposed to escape but doesn’t because Harry has gotten hitched and his father-in-law has made a better offer. Eventually an already frustrated George marries girl-next-door Mary Hatch, who we know from earlier in the story has loved George since childhood. Time passes and George finds himself in the situation a lot of folks do…middle aged, married with children, in a job he hates, smothered by small town life and always wondering what else is out there beyond the confines of his prosaic existence. His Uncle Billy, a loveable drunkard who probably shouldn’t be trusted with any type of responsibilities but has helped run the business from the beginning, loses $8000, which one can assume in the 1940’s was a huge sum of money. The audience knows that the dough has inadvertently landed in the evil, grubby hands of Mr. Potter, but Uncle Billy doesn’t remember that and George has no idea. This causes George to become despondent and yes…suicidal. Fortunately for George Bailey God has sent him a guardian angel in the form of Clarence Oddbody AS2 (Angel 2nd Class), a kindly clockmaker who apparently isn’t too swift and hasn’t earned his wings up in Heaven yet. Clarence gives George the opportunity to see what life in Bedford Falls and the lives of various friends & family would be like if he’d never been born, and it is horrific. Uncle Billy went crazy and ended up in the looney bin. Harry drowned as a child. Bedford Falls has bars and dance halls. And Mary…well…she works at the library!! George decides he wants to live again and all’s well that ends well, especially when old pal Sam Wainwright (who invested in plastics and got rich) bails George out with a generous gift. No one ever remembers or realizes that Mr. Potter has the original $8k. This was lampooned in a fantastic Saturday Night Live skit that I encourage everyone to search for on YouTube or Hulu. Anyway, IAWL ends with the whole town gathered singing Auld Lang Syne and George realizing…yes, you guessed it…that he really does have a wonderful life.

 

iawl-clarenceNow that doesn’t sound like a heartwarming holiday film, and in fact Capra never really thought of it as such. Both he and Stewart loved the concept and afterward considered IAWL one of their favorite projects, but it was not considered by anyone at the time of production to be a Christmas movie. As a matter of fact, IAWL was (and still is to some degree) difficult to pigeonhole. If I am not mistaken theatrical trailers (remember, this was before TV) marketed it as what we would call a romantic comedy. That isn’t completely inaccurate, as there is a love story and some amusing moments, but the overall dark tone of the story isn’t exactly funny. I suppose in modern lingo IAWL would be thought of as a dramedy. One thing I have realized as I have gone through this writing process the past year+ is my affinity for such crossovers. I like my drama with a little humor, my comedy with some pathos, and my action injected with intelligence and realism.

 

There are undeniable parallels between IAWL and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both feature an affluent, bitter old sourpuss. Both have a diligent, hardscrabble working man just trying to survive and support his family. Both feature spirits who take their charge on a journey through time so that they may realize the error of their ways. But whereas A Christmas Carol is about redemption…a worthy concept for sure…IAWL is about being happy with what you’ve got and seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. And maybe that is atleast a more pragmatic goal for most of us.

 

iawl2The days of catching It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times on a myriad of stations at all hours of the day & night throughout the Christmas season are long gone. Those endless repeated airings are saved for other holiday fare now. Beginning in 1995 NBC bought the exclusive rights to the film and now airs it only twice, usually sometime in early to mid-December and then again always on Christmas Eve. This is a double edged sword. For dyed-in-the-wool Lifers like myself who were used to seeing our favorite flick countless times every holiday season it has been an adjustment. But I also believe that in the eyes of many IAWL had worn out its welcome and had begun to be taken for granted and to some degree was the object of scorn & ridicule. The current scheduling makes each airing special, and for those of us who just have to see the movie more than twice there is always home video.

 

 

 

 

 


Superfluous 7 – Things I Am Thankful For

I briefly pondered the idea of doing a heartfelt, introspective, profound piece on the history and meaning of Thanksgiving and all the blessings in my life. However, at the moment I am just not feeling the inclination to dive that deep. Anyone who knows me or has read The Manofesto should know that I am not the type of person who takes things for granted. My faith journey has not always been smooth, but I feel like I have drawn closer to God in the last couple of years and continue to experience growth in that aspect of my life. At the same time, if I am being honest, there are things that still drag me down. My Dad has always said that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely, and I feel like I cross the threshold into loneliness all too often these days. I am human, so I do sometimes envy the perceived happiness and success of others. For some reason this has been a bigger issue in 2010 than I can ever remember. I try to get past it, and I understand that there is some reason, some lesson that I am supposed to be learning. At any rate, the following list may seem a bit superficial on some level, and I am approaching it from a fun & lighthearted perspective, but these are things that I truly am thankful that I have in my life. So, as I wish everyone out there in cyberspace a Happy Thanksgiving, please enjoy…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Things I Am Thankful For:

 

 

 

7 Football

And I don’t just mean the football that is played on Thanksgiving. After all, those games always include the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, and who in their right mind would consider that a blessing?? No, I am talking about the entirety of the college and NFL football seasons. I am specifically a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marshall Thundering Herd, and West Virginia Mountaineers, but I can watch just about any football game. Whereas baseball is a little too slow paced & plodding and the season far too long, and basketball only gets really interesting when the post-season draws near, football is engaging from the pre-game show until the final zero ticks off the clock and the season is the perfect length. And I find that with baseball I am not the least bit interested unless my Pittsburgh Pirates are playing while I have never really had a favorite NBA team, yet I don’t care who is playing football because I will watch no matter what. I am thankful though that the aforementioned Cowboys and Lions do not play each other on Thanksgiving because that may be a vortex of ineptitude that I could not let myself get sucked into.

 

 

 

6 Facebook

Yes, I said it…I am thankful for Facebook. Am I a bit too addicted?? Probably. Could I be spending my time more wisely?? I suppose. But Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with literally hundreds of people from my past and enables me to easily stay in touch with good friends from various far away locales. It is harmless fun, and at the very least probably a better way to be entertained than watching most of the drivel on television these days.

 

 

 

5 The Manofesto

I don’t want to be self-serving, but I suppose I will for a moment. I am not getting paid to write this blog, and I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to make money on it anyway. I suppose one would need to attract advertisers of some sort, and for that to happen there would have to be a fairly sizeable and consistent readership. Maybe one day all that will happen. However, I am not really all that concerned about it at this point in time. I began The Manofesto about a year & a half ago because I felt like I had some things to say and have always been pretty confident in my writing skills. Maybe if I had pursued that career path and been given better guidance by educators and others in my environment my circumstances would be much different today. As it stands though I enjoy writing this stuff more than anyone will ever know. I have no idea how many people come here on a regular basis (I know of one…thanks Don 🙂 ), nor do I know how many people may have read one or two things here & there. Nearly all the comments I receive are spam. Maybe I am writing all this for a smaller audience than you’ll see at a Denny’s at 3am on a Tuesday, and maybe someday that might change. But for now The Manofesto is extremely therapeutic and entertaining for me and I am so very glad for the continuing journey.

 

 

 

4 Rocco

My sister & I had a dog when we were just small tikes. He was a mutt named Rags who eventually went nuts and had to be taken away by the dog catcher. However, in essence he was my father’s dog and I think Dad considered him more of a burden than a pet. As I got older we could not have a dog in the house because of my mother’s health. Then for years I lived in places that didn’t allow pets. One day a few years ago the rules in my building changed and we were allowed to have pets as long as they do not exceed a certain size, which is fine with me because I would not want a huge dog that one day may turn against me and smite me in my sleep. Neither would I want a girlie dog, the kind you see airheads like Paris Hilton carrying in their purse. At some point I fixated on pugs because they are small but tough, manly dogs. I got my chance to get one in the summer of 2008 and I named him Rocco. He & I have had our moments. I made a lot of mistakes in training him mostly because I had no clue what I was doing. But Rocco is absolutely the sweetest, most adorable puppy in the universe. He does not bite, just licks a lot. He licks everything. He loves to eat and sleep, and he loves to snuggle with his Daddy. I suppose Caesar Milan would say that I spoil Rocco and that I assign human, childlike qualities to him instead of maintaining a master/dog relationship. So be it. I don’t have a wife or girlfriend, have no children, and my friends mostly live far away. If that means I treat my dog as a substitute to fill the emptiness in other areas of my life then that is just fine by me.

 

 

 

3 Memories

My good friend The Owl posted a rather wistful, nostalgic status update on his Facebook on Thanksgiving eve. It was an ode to his mother and childhood Thanksgivings of yesteryear. I was reminded of my own mother, who we lost 10 years ago. I fondly recall the Thanksgivings of my own youth. My maternal Grandma lived not too far away but she didn’t drive, so someone always went to fetch her on the day before Thanksgiving. She and Mom would spend the evening getting food prepped, and then would get the turkey in the oven sometime in the wee hours of the late night. By the time I woke up around 7 or 8-ish (probably a bit later in my teen years) the aromas that filled our home were heavenly. I always enjoyed watching the Macy’s Parade, and still do, although now I tend to lean toward mocking the overall cheesiness and kitsch. Football games would come on in the early afternoon, and at some point my paternal grandparents, who lived about a mile up the road, would arrive. By mid-afternoon dinner was ready and it was always awesome. We never had cranberry sauce for some reason, but we had about everything else…turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn, green beans, rolls. Yum. My Mom always made pumpkin pie, and my Grandma Mano always made chocolate cream pie. After dinner we’d all sit in the living room and shoot the breeze, just enjoying each others’ company. As a child I would mostly just sit there and listen as the adults talked about a variety of things. Families have a certain…rhythm…whenever they talk amongst themselves. A stranger coming into the midst of the conversation probably wouldn’t give a rat’s petoot about the topics being tossed about to & fro, but if you’re in the inner circle you get it. Even kids, who probably don’t understand most of what is being said, have a comfort level with the group. It’s like a cold winter night that all the sudden becomes cozy once one slips under the warmth of a soft blanket. I miss that warmth & comfort, but I will always have the memories. There is a fine line that one must be careful not to cross. Living in the past can be crippling. But to embrace memories of a wondrous time that cannot ever be replicated is okay, and I am thankful that I have those memories to reflect upon.

 

 

 

2 Food

I have spoken elsewhere here at The Manofesto about my “skilled” nursing facility experience. In 2006, at the age of 33, I was a patient at one of those places for six months. During those 6 months I lost 30 pounds. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have always been overweight and it was probably a good thing for me to lose those pounds. However, I would not recommend the nursing home weight loss program. Obviously any kind of institutional food is usually not good, but honestly…I can eat hospital food. It is atleast average. But the nursing home food was…well…indescribably bad. I would not have fed that stuff to my worst enemy. Thank God my Dad brought me in food…a Wendy’s cheeseburger, leftovers from his supper, maybe a pizza sometimes…every night and my cousin Robert usually brought me something almost daily. Even then I STILL lost weight. And I wasn’t even exercising. I was literally laying in bed for months. My point is, I learned from that experience to appreciate food. I gained all that weight back and more, and I am currently in the process of trying to lose it, but this time it is my choice. I just know I would feel healthier and better about myself if I shed some pounds. But I will not deny myself completely. I will not starve. I appreciate a good meal (appropriate on Thanksgiving) and sympathize with those who are truly hungry. We live in the greatest, wealthiest nation on Earth. No one in America should ever experience hunger. I am not naïve though…I know it occurs, which is why I am thankful that I always have access to food and usually enjoy whatever I eat.

 

 

 

1 Freedom

The aforementioned “skilled” nursing facility experience encompassed only part of what I refer to as my Unfortunate Incarceration. After I was released from that godforsaken hellhole I was still not healed up, which meant that I spent the next year at home before the medical establishment FINALLY decided I needed surgery, which then took several more months by the time one factors in the hospital stay and post-op healing. All told my Unfortunate Incarceration stole away 2 years of my life. During that time I was not able to do a whole slew of things that most take for granted…grocery shopping, going to the movies, attending church, driving. My life is not exactly glamorous, which is why I self-deprecatingly refer to myself as Mr. Excitement. But I now appreciate the freedom to do those simple things. As a child much of my focus as well as that of my parents was for me to be as self sufficient and independent as possible. I think I did a pretty good job of achieving that goal through most of my adulthood, but for two years I lost that freedom. Having it back has meant the world to me and it is the thing for which I am most thankful.

Proudly Closeminded and Intolerant

Facebook is a mixed blessing, a double edged sword. On one hand it provides the type of beneficially mindless entertainment that even those who rail against such frivolity need in appropriately moderate doses and serves as an avenue to stay in touch or reconnect with friends and family. Conversely, it can, as much as one allows, lay bare attitudes and behaviors that may be otherwise unknown by the masses. I am one who probably puts a little too much out there, providing access to my beliefs and views on everything from religion & politics to sports & pop culture. I also observe what others opine and post. I know for a fact that some are outraged and flabbergasted by my sentiments, and I am oftentimes saddened and flummoxed by theirs. This can create regrettable tension. Theoretically these are your friends and you are their friend, but in reality the relationship is often tenuous. The person you went to high school with but haven’t seen for 20 years probably isn’t a true friend, especially if you weren’t even friends in school. The co-worker from that job you had for 6 months ten years ago probably isn’t really your friend either. So when you combine the flimsiness of the relationship with polarizingly passionate perspectives on issues that some may take more seriously than others it is a combustible cocktail. Fortunately the inevitably disastrous fracturing of the fragile association is fairly painless. You can choose to just not have the stuff your friend posts appear in your news feed, you can delete them, or you can ban them completely so that you won’t even see their interactions with mutual friends. I have done all three, and it is likely all three have been done to me by others.


It is never my intention to anger or offend, and I am not easily offended myself. But one of the things I have observed over the course of the past few years is a growing sense of moral relativism. Society has a progressively increasing “if it feels good do it” attitude. Anything and everything is rubber stamped as long as there is no heinous crime being committed or no one is being physically hurt. Those who espouse opinions that go against the grain of this laissez faire attitude are on the receiving end of a rather vitriolic backlash wherein they are labeled intolerant and close-minded. I have been called those things a few times myself over the years, and I used to get upset and angry, loudly proclaiming that I am indeed tolerant and open minded despite what those who disagree with my principles may think. However, I have begun to reassess this standard defense of my values. Maybe I am a little intolerant and somewhat close-minded. And I think that is just fine with me.


Tolerance is a tricky term. Being tolerant used to mean the ability or inclination to put up with things one did not agree with or like. For example, a non-smoker tolerating a friend lighting up in their presence, or a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (like myself) tolerating a Dallas Cowboys fan (such as my sister). It is an absolute necessity that makes our world more interesting. Afterall, how prosaic would life be if everyone agreed about everything?? The key is something my Dad taught me…disagreeing without being disagreeable. But over the course of the last few decades tolerance has found new life as a politically correct code word meaning “anything goes” and not only blurs the line between right & wrong but obliterates it completely. The only wrong in this politically correct universe are those that attempt to insert any type of ethical standards into the situation, especially if they invoke Christian values and the name of God in the process. Likewise, being open minded theoretically means the ability to be receptive to new or different ideas. This too has unfortunately evolved into terminology that means acceptance of all manner of obscenity and abject ideology. The PC crowd has been enormously successful in weaving these thought processes into society while demonizing God and morality.


What I have been trying to work out in my own heart and mind is this: Where is the line between being judgmental and simply standing up for one’s beliefs ??


The Word tells us in Matthew “judge not lest ye be judged”, but I think maybe that is a passage that has been twisted into a self-serving bit of hyperbole by the tolerance police. It is a sad fact in 21st century America that a growing segment of the population openly mock God, but there is another growing portion of society who, while they profess a belief in God, want to water Him down into an easygoing, relaxed, permissive entity who doesn’t care how far off the path we veer. They treat God like a substitute teacher or a benevolent grandparent who will let us goof off, break all the rules, and still give us milk & cookies before reading a bedtime story and tucking us into bed. Even loyal churchgoers who theoretically study their Bible regularly say things like “love the sinner, hate the sin” which, to my knowledge, cannot be found anywhere in God’s Word. It is true that God is love, that He commanded us to love our enemies and our neighbors as we do ourselves, and that He is so desirous of a personal relationship that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that His blood can wash away our sin, but we shouldn’t mistake kindness for weakness. Jesus did not hesitate to call people out on their BS, so to speak. He was no pushover and ticked a lot of people off. I mean let’s face it…He was crucified!! That doesn’t happen to a lackadaisical milquetoast. We are to emulate Christ and I believe sometimes that means being a bit more of a radical revolutionary than a pushover. Should we go around picking fights?? No. But I think it means we don’t walk away from them either. It’s all in the approach.


And that is the point at which I currently find myself. I have come to realize that my approach may need some…tweaking. Maybe I do come across as judgmental and a bit harsh on occasion. I have had to diminish my exposure to various political media because, whether I strongly agree or completely disagree with the biased angle being presented I tend to get a little too fired up either way. This is when Facebook gets me in hot water because it offers an immediate forum where I can vent my frustrations before taking the proper time to ponder and cool the engines. At the same time, I do not want to sit on my hands and not express my views, especially when it comes to faith. We are to be “fishers of men” and “make disciples of all the nations…teaching to observe all things that Jesus commanded”. Jesus said “they persecuted Me they will persecute you also” and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake”. He taught that “blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”. This is a uncomfortable thing for most to grasp because we don’t enjoy rejection. We want to be liked and accepted. We want to fit in, to belong. Especially for Christians it can be difficult to embrace that we are to be a peculiar people. Who really wants to be thought of as peculiar, aka unusual, strange, or weird?? But at the end of the day I think there are times when we must stand our ground and refuse to back down. There are situations in which we need to be close-minded and intolerant.


I suppose it all goes back to what Dad taught me about disagreeing without being disagreeable. We can stand up for our principles without being hateful, even if “hate” is another word too easily thrown around by touchy feely humanists to condemn anyone who disagrees with their warped outlook on all sorts of subject matter. George Herbert, a 17th century poet and clergyman, said that “living well is the best revenge”. Similarly, maybe the best way to convey Godly principles is not to argue but to live a Godly life with Jesus Christ as our role model. Values like salvation, forgiveness, wisdom, grace, mercy, love, peace, faith, kindness, etc. shouldn’t be treated like a product others have to be convinced to buy under duress or like abstract concepts from an tedious book that are taught in a dry, uninspired lecture. They are to be practiced daily. My Mom always said that you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Conforming that notion to the present discourse it seems that a better strategy in proving God’s way is the right way…the only way…is to become the best example possible. Stay positive and show the power of God in one’s own life rather than being critical of others’ choices. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used civil disobedience or non-violent protest to make his case, and at the end of the day let’s face it…he made a heck of a case and changed the world. I cannot honestly say my protestations are always as civil as they should be and that is something The Lord and I are ironing out, but I plan on continuing to stand up for what I believe to be right, and on the occasions that I am perceived as being captious or abrasive I will need to decide if that is truly the case and what exactly must be done…or not done.

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I like grocery shopping, which as far as I know is rare for a guy. But I’m a bachelor so it isn’t like I have anyone else to do it for me. I guess I figure I may as well enjoy the task. Of course I also like eating (probably too much) so it all sort of comes together like a logical jigsaw puzzle. Anyway, a recent excursion to the store struck me as interesting and has the juices flowing. I am not sure why, as it wasn’t all that much different from any other shopping experience, but I’ll just go with it. Take this virtual trip with me, enjoy the ride, and get a little insight into how my thought process works.


My Mom always had a particular day…I believe it was Thursday…to go grocery shopping. She was much more organized that me, and I am sure there was a reason for this schedule. Conversely, I am completely random. I go either when I am nearly out of food, or maybe just out of certain staples like milk, bread, sugar, salt, etc. that make eating more difficult than necessary. Or there are occasions when I have a day off, the weather is quite lovely, I do not want to lay around The Bachelor Palace all day, and grocery shopping seems like an entertaining option. There was a time when, being a night owl, I may decide to hit one of the 24 hour stores just because I was awake super late and had a burst of energy. However, I work midnight shifts now and even though it is not unusual for me to be awake at 3am on my nights off I rarely venture out at that hour anymore.


The specific day germane to this adventure was a Monday. I am typically working Sunday nights and therefore am a lazy waste of space all day Monday, but happened to have a Sunday night off. This factor, along with Monday being an uncommonly lovely & warm autumn day lead to my decision to be productive. Plus I was out of milk, which is like Lindsay Lohan being at a raging party that has emptied it’s last bottle of Jagermeister.


The first thing that happened when I arrived at the friendly neighborhood (yet nationally known) super mega store was something that occurs often and rarely fails to inexplicably bother the living daylights out of me. I get my wheelchair out of my truck, then transfer my big ol’ fat butt into my chair. I was getting something out of the back of the vehicle when a well-meaning yet unintentionally offensive stranger happened along and asked the question I have come to despise…”Sir, can I help you??” I have yet to come up with the proper response. My comeback is usually a palpably tense “No…thank you though. I got it…do it every day”. Should my response be kinder?? After all, these folks are nice and have the right idea. The world would be better if more people were as thoughtful. Or should my response be designed to expose peoples’ disingenuousness?? I have often thought of just saying a simple “Yes” and then sitting there to await their reaction, which would likely be “Okay…what do you need?? How can I help??”. My reply would then be “Well you’re the one who offered assistance. I assumed you had an idea in mind.” I just wish people understood what a dagger to my heart offers of aid are under anything but extraordinary circumstances. I have been a paraplegic all my life. I survive. I find ways to get things done. I understand my limitations and do not engage in activities that are inaccessible or more trouble than they’re worth. Offering to help with typical daily activities that are, for me, second nature, is akin to me asking a stranger if I they need assistance tying their shoes, cutting their meat, or brushing their teeth. It makes me feel pathetic, and I don’t like feeling pathetic.


Anyway…at this point I need to specify that this particular Monday was November 1st. This is important because the first thing I saw as I entered the store was a rather large Christmas tree. Really?? Are you kidding me?? Less than 24 hours earlier it was all ghosts and pumpkins and fun size candy bars, and now we’ve suddenly jumped into the Christmas season?? Look, I am a huge Christmas guy. I love everything about Christmas…the lights, the food, the movies & TV specials, the music. I especially love the REAL “reason for the season” (y’all do remember what that is, right??). But is it too much to ask that we have a little break between holidays…maybe a week?? And can we please give some love to Thanksgiving?? I long ago accepted that Thanksgiving segues immediately into the month long Christmaspalooza, and that’s okay. I also understand that Thanksgiving is difficult to market. There is a finite number of products we purchase and they are all food…turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce…so it’s not really profitable to a wide variety of retailers. Still, Thanksgiving remains one of the “big” holidays and shouldn’t be pushed aside for Santa Claus, imported toys, and artificial fiberoptic trees.


My first task was to head to the deli. I have only recently begun utilizing the deli. I was under some sort of long term delusion wherein I believed that prepackaged meats and cheeses were less expensive. That may still be the case but I think the price difference is negligible these days. Everything is outrageous. At any rate, a couple things of interest occurred in the deli. First, kudos to whomever came up with the handy thickness chart so one can easily communicate how they want an item sliced. It is such an easy, low tech solution. Simplicity at its best. Conversely, I am a bit mystified at the variety of cold cuts available. In my world ham is ham, turkey is turkey, and bologna is…well, whatever bologna is. But not so fast my friend!! There are now apparently dozens of each type. Honey, smoked, sun dried tomato, baked, Italian style…complexity personified. As I was mulling over my choices and suddenly getting that overwhelmed feeling that I used to get before an algebra quiz in junior high, I became distracted by one of the families in front of me. One member of the family was a young girl probably 8-10 years of age. This little “lady” was not only looking at the glass case that holds all the goodies, she had her face right up against it…while hacking up a lung. Thank God the glass was there. But did her mother tell her to cover her mouth?? Stop making out with the glass?? No. As mentioned, there are enough varieties available. I really don’t think we need H1N1 pastrami. Really people…have some class. Teach your children a bit of couth. My apologies to anyone who has to look that word up in the dictionary.


After getting what I wanted from the deli it was time to methodically maneuver through the rest of the store. I rarely make a list. I live alone, meaning I eat what I want, when I want, how I want. This has not been a positive for my unfortunately corpulent waistline, but it makes shopping easy and enjoyable. I normally meander through each aisle and grab what looks good, and over the years I’ve learned a few things.


First, because I am in a wheelchair and God has a sense of humor what I desire is inevitably on the top shelf. And while there is no shortage of interlopers offering assistance when I do not need any, when I really could use some help suddenly I am The Omega Man.


I also have a million dollar idea that I’ll offer up to some entrepreneurial soul free of charge. Grocery stores should be marked off like roads and parking lots. There need to be lanes. Rules should prevent five (usually rotund) people from walking side-by-side and blocking an entire 10 foot area. We’re shopping here folks, not skipping down The Yellow Brick Road. There also should be time limits…maybe red & green lights. If you can’t decide between Fruity Pebbles and Frosted Mini-Wheats move on and come back later. The rest of us need our recommended daily allowance of fiber too, and the ballgame comes on in 45 minutes.


In a related matter, I sincerely believe that motorized carts should only be used by the elderly and legitimately disabled. Using a cart because you are too obese to walk is just sad.


Always buy the greenest bananas available. You’ll seem like a genius in two days.


Milk is in the rear of the store for a reason. It’s a marketing ploy designed to prevent people like me from rushing in, grabbing my favorite beverage, and leaving without being tempted by a bunch of other stuff. That’s fine. It is a rather ingenious plot.


I have recently begun to eat whole wheat bread and I like it. Of course the health benefits are likely nullified when I slather it with Miracle Whip.


Speaking of unhealthy, my heart breaks every time I peruse the plethora of candy out there and the Bar None, discontinued in the mid-1990’s, is not on the shelves. Damn you Hershey!!


I am quite sure there is a method to the organization of each aisle, and if one frequents the same store often finding things becomes easy enough. But why not arrange everything alphabetically?? Or since we’re such a technologically advanced society how about computers placed throughout the marketplace so one can do a quick search?? Think of it as Google for groceries. Yes I realize there are usually signs hanging from the ceiling telling us what we can expect if we venture down a particular row, but unlike the minimalist solution alluded to in the deli I think this calls for some razzle dazzle. Maybe this sort of thing is available in the big city already, but I live in West Virginia, where a number of people still believe Jimmy Carter is President and some continue to be confused by “the clicker” for the TV.


Checking out is always fun. First of all, why are there 25 checkouts but only 8 of them are open?? The eight that are open have lines stretching halfway back to the beer section. I know a lot of people that need a job who’d be glad to work those other 17 registers. Secondly, I always…always…get stuck behind the person who A) is purchasing hundreds of dollars of food in an apparent effort to singlehandedly cure world hunger, and/or B) has an item which the computer does not recognize thereby forcing the cashier to put on the little light and await a management type. Of course this gives me a few moments to leaf through the tabloids to see what my peeps Paris & the Kardashian gals are up to, find out if Brangelina are still married, clarify who is sleeping with who amongst the cast of Glee, and get an update on the whereabouts of the very much alive Elvis, JFK, and Michael Jackson. Does anyone actually purchase those “magazines” or just glance at them in line?? On this particular day I encountered an especially chipper young man at the register who really seemed to enjoy his job and said things like “I want to do everything I can to make this a great shopping experience for my customers”. And I am convinced he genuinely meant every word. It is likely an unfortunate indictment of my cynical nature that I found myself wondering if he may need some counseling.


Now one would think that after checking out the adventure would be over, right?? Alas, one still must get out of the parking lot without injury. What is it about grocery store parking lots that lower the average person’s IQ by 50. I have had more vehicular near misses and close calls in parking lots than superhighways. I sincerely believe that law enforcement needs to be on duty at all times to direct traffic. This would atleast justify the two or three parking spaces marked as reserved for the police. I mean honestly…I NEVER see any policemen there, so why are they needlessly commandeering much needed parking?? Why are these spaces so close to the entrance?? Don’t police have to maintain a minimal level of fitness?? Make them park in the back under normal circumstances. If a real emergency arises they can park wherever they like anyway. And while I am thinking about it, what’s the deal with “stork parking”?? Aren’t pregnant women supposed to walk as much as possible??


So that’s my story. I look forward to running out of food and having another adventure soon.