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.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..#5

Do you remember 1983?? I do…sort of. I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. Ronald Reagan was in office and proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, more commonly referred to as Star Wars. The U.S. Invaded Grenada, an island that very few had ever heard of and probably 95% of the population still cannot locate on a map. Everyone wanted their MTV, a channel that at that time still aired music videos. Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday. Return of the Jedi ruled the box office, or one could buy a $3 ticket to see films like All the Right Moves, Flashdance, The Big Chill, Mr. Mom, Terms of Endearment, Valley Girl, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Right Stuff, Scarface, Eddie & the Cruisers, Jaws 3-D, Octopussy, The Outsiders, Risky Business, Trading Places, and War Games. DeLorean stopped making cars two years before a DeLorean was used as a time machine in Back to the Future. McDonald’s started selling something called Chicken McNuggets. Chrysler introduced us to the minivan. Legendary college football coach Bear Bryant died. Sally Ride…well…rode the space shuttle Challenger, becoming the first woman in space. Challenger would carry the first African-American astronaut into space just a few months later. Underdogs NC State, lead by coach Jim Valvano, shocked Hakeem Olajuwon and his Houston Cougars to win the NCAA basketball championship with a last second shot. Michael Jackson’s album Thriller spent over 9 months at the top of the charts and Madonna released her self titled debut. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also had a self titled debut album. The Japanese started selling some sort of video game system named Nintendo. Poison and Run DMC began their careers while ABBA and Sly & the Family Stone ended theirs. The Price is Right began having contestants play a game called Plinko. CMT, The Disney Channel, & The Nashville Network launched. Every child in America wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. We said goodbye to Archie Bunker, MASH, Taxi, CHiPs, Laverne & Shirley, Square Pegs, and Little House on the Prairie while saying hello to Webster, The A-Team, and Mama’s Family.

 

And quietly, right before Thanksgiving, a little movie called A Christmas Story came to your local cinema. Most folks didn’t pay much attention at the time, and by Christmas it had ended its brief run. 27 years later it is among our most beloved holiday classics and one of my all time favorite films.

 

There are certain benchmarks that measure the passage of time, touchstones that commemorate life’s events and happenings. Auld Lang Syne and the big ball drop signify a New Year. The Jerry Lewis Telethon envelopes Labor Day. The kickoff of football season means summer is over and autumn has arrived while baseball ushers in springtime. And for me, the first time I catch A Christmas Story on television (usually on Turner Classic Movies on Thanksgiving or the day after) means the Christmas season is in full swing, while the final showing of the annual 24 hour marathon that ends at 8pm on Christmas Day is the unofficial end of our most glorious holiday.

 

I cannot imagine that there are many people that have never seen this most nostalgic of Christmas classics. It is the story of a 9 year old boy’s dogged determination to overcome the persistent objection “You’ll shoot your eye out!!” and receive the only gift he truly desires…a Red Ryder BB gun. Along the way we see typical snippets of boyhood Americana…the school bully, overbearing but lovable Moms and gruff, foul mouthed, well intentioned Dads, interactions with neighborhood chums, teachers who are much more aware of their students’ shenanigans than the kids realize, inadvertent use of foul language resulting in a child’s mouth being washed with soap, and a visit to a mall Santa who isn’t exactly jolly. The story is set somewhere around the late 1930’s/early 1940’s and of course was thrust upon the public in the 1980’s, another case where a sense of timelessness and wistful nostalgia crosses the time-space continuum and adds to one’s eternal enjoyment of the experience. Based on stories written by humorist Jean Shepherd about his childhood in pre-WWII Indiana, A Christmas Story has well developed characters and a rapier sharp script that is funny yet poignant and maybe even a little subversive. I have read Shepherd’s works, or atleast the one’s germane to this movie, and he is a very good writer. However, I think we have a rare example of the movie being better than the book.

 

It will forever be amusing to me that A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark, whose other notable films include Porky’s (and Porky’s 2), Rhinestone, and the original Black Christmas. Clark’s sensibilities would not seem to lend themselves well to the family/holiday comedy genre, but somehow it works perfectly. If one pays close enough attention there is an edginess…just the slightest hint of twisted, dark humor…present. But overall A Christmas Story is a movie to be enjoyed by, if I may steal a line from Nat King Cole and Mel Torme, “kids from 1 to 92”. The cast is absolutely perfect, with my personal gold star going to Darren McGavin as The Old Man, aka Mr. Parker, the father who is never given a name. McGavin did some other notable stuff in his career…the sci-fi cult classic TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker, supporting roles in Airport ’77, The Natural, & Billy Madison, and a host of guest starring roles on various television shows from the 1960’s through the 1990’s…but his legacy will forever be tied to our current subject du jour. The Old Man is an odd combination of tough talking disciplinarian and clueless buffoon. In other words, he embodies a typical Dad. Sure the kids and their escapades are cute, and Ralphie’s schemes to somehow land that BB gun are the centerpiece of the movie. However, I submit that the sublime pleasure that is A Christmas Story is just as much about The Old Man’s potty mouth, his disdain for the redneck neighbors and their dogs, the ongoing battle with an old broken down furnace, and of course the overwhelming pride he feels after winning a trivia contest and being awarded with a hideous pop art lamp in which only he can see the beauty. The Old Man isn’t quite a slapstick fool in the vein of Clark Griswold, but one can see shades of Griswold-iness in he and his family. I recall reading somewhere that Jack Nicholson was the first choice to play The Old Man, but that he would have been too expensive. Just another one of those happy accidents in cinema where creatively working with a low budget ended up being so much better than just throwing money at the issue.

 

As mentioned, few took notice of A Christmas Story when it hit theaters in 1983. But television gave it new life, first on HBO in the mid to late 80’s and then on the Turner family of networks in the 1990’s. Momentum built slowly but surely and was given a huge boost when a 24 hour marathon, spanning 8pm on Christmas Eve to 8pm on Christmas night, began airing annually in 1997. In the ensuing 13 years the rise from forgotten theatrical disappointment to quite possibly the most popular Christmas film of all time has been meteoric. I cannot say that I have ever watched all 24 hours of the marathon because I do have a life, but I usually catch bits & pieces throughout and probably sit down and watch the whole thing twice. I would like to believe that A Christmas Story would have been recognized by the masses for its genius without the less-than-subtle marketing blitz, but let’s face it…the American public will fall for the hard sell and can be goaded into bandwagon jumping. I suppose scoffers will always believe this to be a movie that the public had to be convinced to like, and that may be true on some subliminal level. But I think it is safe to assume that we have all been sold lemons of far lesser quality (look at the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for example) than A Christmas Story, a film that deserves its place in the pantheon of traditional holiday entertainment, and has earned its high spot on this particular list as well.

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..21-23

Since we only covered two films in the previous installment, we’ll finish out that grouping’s other three entrants now. And since I did a lengthy preamble last time I will spare my dear readers that type of verbosity this go round.

 

 


23 A Christmas Carol

When I first did this series at the original Manofesto on MySpace I left out A Christmas Carol. My reasoning was that there were so many different versions, many of them very good in their own way, that I just could not pick one. That is still the case, but this time I am not letting that fact stop me from recognizing the story and putting it in its rightful place in The Top 100. There have been dozens of adaptations of A Christmas Carol on the big screen and on television, and countless others that aren’t really versions of the story but borrow certain elements.


For anyone who has been living in a vacuum their entire life, A Christmas Carol is an 1843 novella by Charles Dickens in which bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, & Future on, of course, Christmas Eve. He is shown the error of his ways and wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man. Along the way we meet Scrooge’s poor but cheerful nephew Fred and Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s underpaid and mistreated clerk, who is barely able to support his large family, which includes young son Tiny Tim, who has been stricken with a disease that is never specified and will die without proper (and expensive) medical care.


I highly recommend reading the book, but we are here to talk about movies. So with that being said, I have a few favorite versions of the tale. Reginald Owen starred as Scrooge in a 1938 MGM release which one can usually catch a few times during the holiday season on Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics. It is a scaled back, family friendly movie that leaves out some of the darker details of Dickens, but still gets the point across. More grim is the 1951 movie starring Alistair Sim. This one doesn’t leave out as much but it adds some things, detailing some peripheral issues in which Dickens was not as specific. It too is a favorite of the classic movie channels at Christmas time. In 1999 TNT did an excellent made-for-TV adaptation with Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Scrooge. I was attracted to it initially because I am a Trekkie so I dig Stewart, but it is a really good version, especially for being a television movie instead of on the big screen. It is more faithful to the book than any other take on the story that I have seen. Last year Robert Zemeckis and Jim Carrey teamed up for the newest A Christmas Carol using the same unique performance capture technology used in The Polar Express (which we will discuss at a later date). I saw it in the theater and was impressed, though it is the darkest vision of the story I have seen yet. They were very faithful to the book but went a tad crazy with special effects, making it a bit of an assault on the senses. Time will tell where it rates in the pantheon. Several movies have been made that are not meant to be faithful to the book…they are “modernized” updates. Among the best of those are 1988’s Scrooged in which Bill Murray plays a cynical TV producer, Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, both lighthearted animated fare starring some of our favorite cartoon characters, and A Carol Christmas, with Tori Spelling as a Scrooge-esque talk show host, a Hallmark Channel offering I mention only because it stars a uniquely kitschy combination of Spelling, William Shatner, and Gary Coleman.


Modern audiences may not fully grasp the significant role A Christmas Carol played in reviving Christmas. English Puritanism had nearly killed the holiday in the 18th century, but Dickens and his little novella helped spearhead a renewed Christmas spirit. Some may criticize his seemingly secular vision of what is meant to be a celebration of the birth of Christ just as many complain about the modern issues of commercialization, and those are valid criticisms…Dickens does not mention Jesus or delve into the religious aspects of Christmas at all. But A Christmas Carol is about Christian principles like friendship, love, and generosity, and I don’t think The Lord would have any objections.


22 Jaws

More than 30 years after the release of Jaws I still have no desire to swim in an ocean. I think that speaks volumes about the impact of this particular movie. Not really a horror film but more than a thriller, Jaws was the first summer blockbuster and permanently altered the way we view movies and the way Hollywood produces and promotes them. Nowadays it is an expected cliché that all the “big” movies, mostly special effects laden action flicks or highly anticipated sequels, will come to your local cineplex sometime between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But in 1975 this was not the case. Jaws changed the rules. However, while I think it appropriate to give that aspect of the story its proper due, I am more interested in the story itself, which is awesome.


I am not really all that much into action movies, a fact that I am sure I have mentioned more than once in the course of this series. Too often the filmmakers seem to believe that if enough people get shot, a plethora of stuff explodes, and computer generated special effects make us gasp in amazement that we will overlook little things like character development, plot, and good writing. And sadly they are correct way too much of the time. But that sort of trickery doesn’t work with me. Obviously I am a writer, so that is what I tend to focus on. Jaws is the rare film that works on both levels. Based on a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws scares of the crap out of the viewer but also makes us give a damn about the folks on the screen. As faithful readers know, I tend to believe that the book is better than the movie in almost all cases. Is that the case here?? I don’t know. I have to confess that I have never read the book. I have heard that the movie is much better, that the book isn’t really all that stellar. Maybe someday I will decide for myself. In the meantime, Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw star as a police chief, a marine biologist, and a shark hunter charged with the task of hunting down a great white shark that is terrorizing a small New England tourist trap. We get to know each of these characters, and the subplot of the town’s angst concerning the safety of the masses versus the need to make a profit is an important element as well. But make no mistake…the real star of the show is the shark. Jaws was directed by Steven Spielberg before anyone knew or cared who he was, and he does a masterful job of exercising restraint, creating suspense and drama instead of just enabling the cheap blood and gore mentality. Much of this was due to a limited budget and a lot of headaches during filming, but those negatives are turned into such a positive that Jaws is and will forever will be a legendary movie. It is not a coincidence that several subpar sequels were made and that Spielberg was not involved in any of them. I would be remiss if I did not mention the haunting musical contribution of composer John Williams. Who knew that two simple notes could be made into such spectacularly memorable music?? Jaws is like a fine wine…its greatness grows on a person over the course of time and multiple viewings. Modern filmmakers should take heed of the lessons learned from this movie. Just because one has access to unlimited funds and countless technological toys does not mean that the movies they make are great. Write a good story first, then get some truly talented actors (and just because they are huge movie stars does not mean they qualify as good actors). Don’t go too crazy with all the special effects…a little goes a long way. Throw in a quality musical score and you just may have something. Spielberg’s offerings have been kind of hit or miss over the last decade. Minority Report?? War of the Worlds?? Come on Spielberg…step away from the pitcher of Tom Cruise Kool-Aid. But no matter what he does in the future he must always be given kudos for the ultimate summer blockbuster.


21 Casablanca

I did not realize it until just now, but today’s threesome really brings home the old adage “they don’t make ’em like they used to”. The best versions of A Christmas Carol were made more than 50 years ago, Jaws is the youngster at only 35 years old, and then we have 1942’s Casablanca. Some of the films in this Top 100 may fall out of fashion and not frost my cupcake 10 or 20 years from now, but I will be shocked if Casablanca ever leaves the collective consciousness of the moviegoing public.

I don’t remember when I first saw Casablanca. I am sure it was probably sometime back in junior high on a channel like American Movie Classics. I am not one to try to keep up with the joneses, but there are certain books that I feel need to be read and certain films I think need to be seen in order to become the well rounded, educated, cultured person that elevates one above toothless hillbilly, perpetual bottom feeder status. I am proudly born and bred in the great state of West Virginia and tend to be sensitive to such things. At any rate, Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick, an American misanthrope running a nightclub in the French controlled North African colony of Morocco during World War II at a time when the Nazis are steadily taking over the vast majority of Europe. Rick gains possession of “letters of transit” which would allow the bearer to escape to America. Things get complicated when Rick’s ex Ilsa pops in, with her husband, a Czech resistance leader, in tow. Ilsa’s appearance explains Rick’s cynical resentment and hardscrabble attitude. She attempts to convince Rick that she is still in love with him in order to gain possession of the letters of transit so her husband can escape to America. Rick seems to buy into it, but at the last second pulls an ol’ bait & switch, revealing himself to be more of a softy than we realize. He makes Ilsa get on a plane with her husband, and runs interference against the Nazis and the corrupt local French police captain while the couple make their escape. Casablanca is one of our most quotable films and there is not a bad performance from any of the cast. It is a nearly flawless exercise in filmmaking. There’s a little romance, a little drama, some suspense, a twist ending, and even a laugh or two. There simply aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary to properly encapsulate its greatness, and nothing I write can do it justice. Rent it at your local video store or make an effort to catch it sometime on AMC or TCM and you will understand. I hope that younger generations continue to embrace the superb quality of Casablanca and use it as an example in demanding better stories from modern Hollywood.

The Lenten Sacrifice

I’d be willing to guess that in any poll that would ask the question “what is the most important Christian holiday??” Christmas would be the overwhelming winner. Now I love Christmas as much as the next guy…maybe more. But what is it that we appreciate about it?? Is it the fact that it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ (Yes…I know all about how Christians abducted the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and that it is unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25th, but let’s just roll with it, shall we??), or is it because we love all the secular trappings like the food, the music, the movies and TV specials, the decorations, and the gifts?? The exploration of that dispute can wait until December. For now I would like to suggest that, though the birth of Christ is certainly of supreme significance, it would not mean much of anything without His death and even more importantly, His resurrection. To that end maybe we ought to give a little more love to Easter. The candy folks have given it the old college try, but let’s face it…The Easter Bunny vs. Santa Claus is about as good of a matchup as Barney Fife vs. Mike Tyson. Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and frilly bonnets are no match for Silent Night, “You’ll shoot your eye out!!”, and twinkle lights. But maybe that secular smackdown is a good thing, because it leaves Easter more pure and properly focused. I will likely have more to say about Easter in the next several weeks, but for now let us concentrate on where it all begins…Lent.

 

For the heathens among you, Lent is the season of preparation encompassing the 40 days before Easter. This is meant to symbolize Jesus’ time in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. It is traditional to make a sacrifice during Lent…to give up something one enjoys, a genuine vice. I always joke around about what I’m giving up for Lent…walking (I am a paraplegic), sex (I am sadly a serial loner with no love life), vegetables (my eating habits are far from healthy). However, this year I am on a mission. I have decided to take the whole Lent thing seriously. This is a byproduct of the past few months, as I have been going through a spiritual awakening, realizing just how superficial most peoples’ religiosity really is, including my own. I am seeking a deeper connection with my Heavenly Father and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I suppose Lent is a good place to start. I am as much of a stumbling bumbling fool when it comes to all this as anyone, but my Dad always said this: “I want you to be the best but sometimes that won’t be possible…If you can’t be the best then be one of the best, but even that won’t always happen…So if you can’t be one of the best then atleast try your best…you can always do that”. I am trying my best.

 

To that end what I have decided to do is give up Facebook for Lent. Again for the benefit of the uninitiated, Facebook is a social networking site. In the past year on Facebook I have reconnected with literally hundreds of old acquaintances from all aspects of my past and present…grade school, high school, college, church, family, every job I’ve ever had. It really is very cool to see what people are into, where they live and what they do for a living, see photos of their families, etc. It’s a great way to stay in touch. All of those whom I considered my friends live far away from me…Dallas TX, Columbus OH, Charleston WV, and many other far flung towns across the map,  from Montana to Georgia to Florida New York to California. So I am grateful that technology allows me to maintain some form of contact. However, Facebook is also rather addicting. There are countless games, quizzes, polls, and other applications that one can mindlessly get lost in for hours. I’m not against some pointless fun on occasion, but I do feel like I waste a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on more consequential activities like prayer, studying The Bible, reading a good book, or even getting the proper amount of sleep.

 

I am just a couple days in right now and it’s tough. But I am embracing the challenge. I am looking forward to what I can accomplish during this time, and definitely looking forward to drawing closer to The Lord, which after all is kind of the whole idea. When Easter arrives I will reactivate my Facebook account…those relationships and friendly interactions are important to me and I don’t want to give them up permanently. But I am sure I will have gained a new perspective and hopefully will have opened some doors to be able to witness to the masses about my faith. We’ll see.

 

 

 

Superfluous 7 – New Year’s Resolutions You Won’t Keep

A new year…a new decade…has dawned. What better time to introduce a new feature here at The Manofesto, a little ditty I am calling The Superfluous 7. Modestly modeled after Letterman’s Top 10, I am calling my lists superfluous because I am not arrogant enough to think they are in any way necessary or important. Most of the time they’ll be flippantly fun, sometimes maybe a bit more mocking and edgy.

 

Our first topic of 2010 will be, fittingly enough, New Year’s resolutions. I am not a big fan of the resolution. It just seems like an exercise in futility. If you really want to accomplish something just do it. There’s no reason to wait for an arbitrary date on the calendar. There’s no way of knowing how many people actually keep their resolutions, but I suspect the percentage is extremely low. As I write this it is the 3rd day of the year and I’m betting the vast majority have already broken promises they made to themselves. I am not trying to be negative, I am just being honest.

 

So, without any further ado…

 

 

from the home office in Waxahachie, Texas…

 

 

The Superfluous 7 New Year’s Resolutions You Won’t Keep:

 

 

7 Stop Smoking

I’m not a smoker. Never have been, never will be. Oh sure, I’ve smoked a cigarette or two or three in my time (usually in a dark bar at 1am while under the heavy influence of adult beverages while in college), and I have nothing against the occasional cigar…..but that does not a smoker make. I put this in the 7 spot simply because I do know people that have quit successfully, and I think more often than not, out of all of these resolutions, this is the one people really WANT to keep. But I also know that quitting is a very difficult task and something that has to be done because a person is really truly ready to make a change and not just because the calendar says January 1.

 

6 Get Organized

What does this even mean?? I live a fairly simple life, so I don’t really have all that much to keep track of and manage. As long as I remember to feed the dog, pay the cable, phone, and internet bill, and show up to work on time it’s all good. I did go through a phase where I carried around a very nice looking planner for a couple of years, but I came to realize that I rarely had anything to plan. Now I know life can be a bit more hectic for folks with a spouse, children, an important job, and lots of social activities. But it is my opinion that there are two kinds of people…those fastidious, Type A, jet setting, always-on-the-go types who need to “be organized”, and then the other 90% of the population. If you fall into the first group you are probably already organized, and if you’re a common ordinary schlub like me then why bother?? Really, you aren’t that important. Nothing in your life is that dire of an emergency…you just like to ramp up the drama to inflate your sense of importance and self worth. Calm down, chill out, and have a beverage. As long as you feed your kids and keep them in school, make sure you’re a good employee at work, and keep the car gassed up you’ll be okay.

 

5 Do More Volunteer Work

Really?? Isn’t having a job enough?? I know volunteer work sounds like a really nice thing to do…like saving the planet or feeding those poor African kids that hang out with Sally Struthers. But the reality is that most of us get up, go to work, and by the time we get home, do any kind of family stuff, and do what is necessary to keep up the house our dance card is pretty full. Most of us want to spend any free time we have curled up with a good book, mindlessly surfing through the 500 channels on our big screen TV, or chatting with friends online. I myself am a Literacy Volunteer but if I am being completely honest I am a horrible one. I got into it at a time in my life where I had some surplus time due to health issues and not being able to work. Now that I am back on the job I just don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to be super volunteer…and I’m single with no kids and a rather sparse social life. I suspect most everyone is of that mindset, and you know what…that’s okay.

 

4 Take a Class/Learn Something New/Go Back to School

This is another example where there are two kinds of people…those who enjoy learning and those who do not. A lot of people look at the 12 years of public school as a marathon that they cross the finish line of sweaty, exhausted, and borderline delirious. Once they are out they are OUT. Some of us run a little further into college, but eventually we crawl feverishly across that threshold as well, glad that it’s over. Then there are those folks that never stop. They have 8 degrees, they take classes online, they attend workshops at the YMCA…they just can’t get enough. That second group of people doesn’t make this resolution because they don’t have to. The first group will never keep the resolution because if they were that sort of person they’d be in the latter group.

 

3 Read The Bible Through In A Year

I have real issues with this one. Reading…studying…The Word of God should not be an academic, organized, oppressive exercise. If you have to have a schedule to do it and force yourself to maintain that schedule then it is likely that you aren’t going to get much out of your reading. If we would all just shut the computer and the TV off for awhile each day and be lead by The Holy Spirit we would be guided as to what and how much to study. You might chew on a single verse of Scripture for a week, or you might get through all the minor prophets in a weekend. My point is this…don’t rely on a man-made schedule to compel you to mindlessly read what will ultimately be meaningless words. Be lead by The Spirit to engage God’s Word as you would any living, breathing thing. It’s the first step to what we really need to develop anyway…a truly close relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

2 Get Out of Debt

Depending on which source one believes, somewhere around half of us, give or take a few percent, are in debt of some kind. Credit cards, student loans, medical expenses, mortgages, and car payments take a big chunk out of a lot of folks’ paychecks. And every January people say “This is the year I am gonna pay everything off!!” But inevitably something happens…the car breaks down, the roof needs replaced, the kids get sick, the company downsizes. It’s called life, and oftentimes it isn’t kind. That doesn’t mean we stop trying. Hell no…we get back on that horse and we try again. And I am certainly not advocating wallowing in debt. However, I am also not a big fan of setting yourself up for disappointment and the discouraging feelings of failure that arise when you still owe some major bucks in 365 days. Unlike the previous entrant in this list, getting out of debt does require a plan and a steadfast, almost dispassionate commitment to a firm course of action. That’s why glibly designating it as a New Year’s resolution is a doomed proposition.

 

1 Lose Weight/Eat Healthier/Exercise

No you’re not. You’re just not. Weigh yourself right now. Weigh yourself again on December 31, 2010. My guess is that you will weigh the same or more, but almost certainly not less. You like to eat. So what?? A couple of years ago I lost 30 pounds. Want to know my secret?? I was in a “skilled” nursing facility, at the age of 33, for 6 months. I don’t really support that plan. And that experience also taught me that having access to tasty food is a gift from God that we shouldn’t dismiss so thoughtlessly. I am not promoting being purposely unhealthy. Don’t let yourself become one of those people on a Richard Simmons special that hasn’t been able to leave home since The Reagan Administration and needs a crane to take the side off their house and transport them to the hospital, like the mother from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? who died and they burnt the house down because that was the easiest way to dispose of the body. But again, if you need an arbitrary date on the calendar to make an empty promise that you are all the sudden…overnight…going to change your unhealthy habits then your chances of success are slim (no pun intended). You will make those changes when you are really motivated and ready, and there is less than a 1% chance of that moment magically occurring on January 1.

Top 25 Christmas Carols…Part 1

I love Christmas. Love it. I enjoy the movies, the food, the lights, the aromas, and the general overall buzz around the holiday season. Now I grant you, commercialization has become an issue, and I sometimes feel that many of us get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that it all becomes one big pressure cooker instead of the sublime delight it always should be. And in an increasingly amoral society where Christianity has become an unlikely villain the true reason for the season is not only oftentimes lost, but sometimes overtly censored. However, be that as it may, I cannot control how others’ live their lives and I won’t let them spoil my joy.


A vital component to ones’ pleasure during this time of the year is the music. Christmas carols are just splendid. Some are soft, sentimental, and full of spiritual reverence. Others are amusing and frivolous. Our modern catalog of carols run the full width and breadth of an extensive range of genres and styles, but they all have one thing in common…they are beloved by the masses. And because of their popularity and flexibility most Christmas tunes have been covered by a plethora of artists over the course of the decades. So any particular song you like has probably been performed by everyone from country superstars to crooners to rockers to full orchestras. What I am presenting here is a two part special …my Top 25 Christmas carols.


When making this list I took several factors into consideration. Some songs are just so ubiquitous that one either loves them or hates them…period. Sometimes one particular version of a song is extremely memorable and has made it a holiday staple. I’m not discriminatory when it comes to subject matter. In other words, you will see some religious songs and some fun songs. There are particular artists that I tend to gravitate toward, and certain genres I like better than others. I like jazzy, bluesy versions of songs. I like big band or orchestral arrangements. I like crooners like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Harry Connick Jr., and Michael Buble. I like people who can actually sing…so it’s unlikely that any kind of post-modern rap, alternative, or bubblegum pop will frost my cupcake. I am also very fond of simple, stripped down instrumental interpretations…lyrics can be important, but not always necessary. Most of these songs have been around for many many many years, and I’m a huge advocate of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I suppose I’m either old fashioned or a traditionalist, depending on the spin one chooses to utilize. At any rate, this is my list…one can either agree or disagree. Enjoy.

 

 

 


25 The Chipmunk Song

The Chipmunks were created in the late 1950’s and have enjoyed an on again-off again, intermittently successful career over five decades. As a child of the 1980’s I fondly recall the Saturday morning Chipmunks cartoon. But their first success is still their best…an almost too simple tune about being anxious (as most kids are) for Christmas to arrive and wanting toy planes and a hula hoop.

 

 

24 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

This is one of the oldest carols, having been written in the fifteenth century. Unabashedly and overtly delivering the message of the birth of Jesus and the gift of salvation to the world, it’s a tune supple enough to be energetically sung by a choir or congregation, or solemnly played by any manner of instrument.

 

 

23 It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Christmas

Maybe this should more accurately be categorized as a pre-Christmas song, one intended to set the mood and prepare us for the onslaught. Most 21st century parents would give anything if all their kids wanted were hopalong boots or dolls that can talk as opposed to the mega-expensive video games, computers, and various other electronic toys today’s children demand, and a lesson in economics can be gleaned when pondering a “five-and-ten” in comparison with their modern counterparts, dollar stores. I dig almost anything that hearkens back to a less complicated time, even if, in reality, those times weren’t much less complicated. Perry Como and Johnny Mathis did the two best covers of the song.

 

 

22 I’ll Be Home for Christmas / Home for The Holidays / Please Come Home for Christmas

I made this a tie for one reason. These three songs have a common thread…home. However and wherever one defines “home”, it’s where we want to be for Christmas. I’ll Be Home for Christmas was written and recorded during World War II and was extremely significant to soldiers and their families. Bing Crosby was the original artist, but I’m not married to that particular version per se…countless artists have done perfectly wonderful covers. Perry Como said it best in Home for The Holidays when he sang “no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home”. Please Come Home for Christmas has a couple things going for it in my universe. It was originally a blues carol, and its best covers have been done by two of my favorite bands, The Eagles and Bon Jovi. The Eagles version is especially popular and usually in heavy rotation on your local radio station. These are melancholy songs, but that’s okay…Christmas is often a bittersweet season.

 

 

21 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! / Meli Kalikimaka

Another tie, another reason. Both of these songs have attachments to movies. Let It Snow is played at the end of my favorite action flick, Die Hard, which I consider a Christmas movie even if no one else does. Meli Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas) is prominent in Chevy Chase’s classic Christmas Vacation. Bing Crosby does the definitive version of Mele Kalikimaka, while Let It Snow is done best by original artist Vaughn Monroe but a viable alternative is the Dean Martin cover. Let It Snow is technically a winter song and makes no references to Christmas at all, but it has become so closely associated with the holiday season that it qualifies as a Christmas carol.

 

 

20 O Come All Ye Faithful/ Adeste Fideles

This isn’t a tie. It’s the same song in two different languages. Adeste Fideles was originally written…maybe…in the 13th century. No one knows for sure. It was translated into English as the more familiar O Come All Ye Faithful in the 19th century. The words of the song exhort us to celebrate the birth of Christ, to adore and behold The King. However, I have to say that the best versions of this song are audacious, grand, thunderous ensemble pieces by orchestras like The Boston Pops or the Mannheim Steamroller.

 

 

19 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

In the opening I spoke of some songs being ubiquitous during the Christmas season. This is a perfect example. With lyrics written in the 1700’s by Charles Wesley (brother of John, the founder of Methodism) and paired with music composed by Felix Mendelssohn a hundred years later, this is just one of those songs that IS Christmas. It speaks of everything Christmas should encompass: glory to The King (Jesus Christ, not Elvis), peace, mercy, joy, triumph, and righteousness. Like other songs it speaks about the birth of Christ and what that means to the world, and since that is the whole point of Christmas it’s fine with me if the message is rehashed in as many songs as possible. Off the top of my head I cannot think of one singular cover that stands out…they’re all great since it’s a pretty difficult song to mess up. It lends itself well to orchestral or instrumental versions, but choral versions with the words are probably my favorite.

 

 

18 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town / Here Comes Santa Claus

As we grow into adulthood our thoughts about Christmas begin to evolve. Those of us whose faith is extremely important understand and revere the fact that the birth of Christ is the centerpiece of the holiday. Adults who don’t consider themselves to be particularly spiritual appreciate things like home, family, and sentimental memories. But for kids Christmas is all about The Big Guy, the Jolly Old Elf, the fat man in the red suit…Santa Claus. So it makes sense that there would be a plethora of Christmas carols dedicated to Kris Kringle. The two most pervasive of these have been covered by an endless array of artists with mixed results, but they are so wonderful because they are so descriptive. They paint such a vivid picture of the mythology of Santa that anyone who doesn’t know the story can have it re-created in their mind just from these songs. Here Comes Santa Claus was written in 1946 by cowboy Gene Autry, who also sang the definitive version. About Santa, the singer sings  “he doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, he loves you just the same…Santa knows that we’re God’s children, that makes everything right…fill your hearts with Christmas cheer cause Santa Claus comes tonight”. What a great message. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town was written in 1934 and is a sort of cautionary tale for children. It warns them that Santa knows when they are sleeping and awake, knows when they’ve been bad or good, and will be making a list and checking it twice so he can divide it into two categories: naughty and nice. Call it gentle discipline or call it mind games…but it works and has scared millions of kids into being good little boys and girls. Bruce Springsteen might have the best known cover of the tune, but I think that’s simply because it’s so odd to hear such a gruff and tough rocker singing a children’s Christmas carol.

 

 

17 Away in a Manger

One of the seminal moments of the Christmas season for me is sitting in church during midnight service with nothing but the soft glow of candles in the window to light the sanctuary as the congregation softly sings. This moment usually encompasses three songs, one of which is Away in a Manger. Published in the late 1800’s, it has been credited by some to famed 16th century theologian Martin Luther, but there seems to be a lot of disagreement on the facts. At any rate, it’s a beautiful song that takes us back to the night of Jesus’ birth, the night He was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. The best covers of the song seem to be by country artists, possibly because the majority of them still seem to have some virtue remaining and are therefore capable of singing songs of faith with some sense of authenticity.

 

 

16 Joy to the World

Joy to the World is another song that have been adopted as a Christmas carol but wasn’t originally written as one. As a matter of fact, it’s actually about Christ’s Second Coming, not His first. Nevertheless, it is such an ingrained part of the holiday season that we won’t quibble over details. It’s a tune best performed in as loud and energetic a fashion as can possibly be mustered…afterall, the book of Psalms directs us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. So I tend to like boisterous choral or booming orchestral versions of the song. As a matter of fact, when it comes to Joy to the World I am not sure any singer or band could be subtle and hushed, although I am sure some have tried.

 

 

15 Carol of the Bells

I’ve seen the words, and they are quite lovely and appropriate. However, the best way to enjoy this one hands down is a strictly instrumental version. Carol of the Bells is a Ukrainian carol written early in the 20th century. I’m not sure where it ranks in general popularity since even if you do know the words (and most don’t) it’s not really something you sing as you trek thru the neighborhood on your annual church singalong…the pace is rather quick and not caroling friendly. But I like the tune a lot. It’s kind of a Christmas theme song, one of those tunes that you hear in commercials, in bumper music during talk radio shows, at the mall on the loudspeakers, etc. It’s everywhere, yet not so overdone that it grows tiresome. Plus I think I may have learned to play it in high school as part of the concert band’s holiday show.

 

 

14 Angels We Have Heard On High

You know this one…the one where the singer bellows out at the top of their lungs “Glo-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-ri-a in Ex-cel-sis De-o!”. When sung by a great choir it’s absolutely beautiful, but even in just a commonplace group of worshipers or carolers it is usually sung with such fervent spirit that it doesn’t matter if not everyone can actually carry a tune. The aforementioned refrain is Latin for “glory to God in the highest”, which pretty much sums up what Christmas is, or atleast should be, about. I love orchestral versions of the song as well. The music lends itself well to things like French horns, cornets, and trombones. It doesn’t seem to get as much love as a lot of other carols, but I’ll take Angels over Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer or I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus any day.

 

 

13 Holly Jolly Christmas

A friend of mind in college once told me I looked like Burl Ives. I’ve always had an…ample…midsection, and at the time I was sporting a goatee.

Anyway, Burl Ives, as some may or may or may not recall, was a folk singer/actor/entertainer from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. But he is most likely best known to most, especially anyone under the age of 35, as the voice of Sam the Snowman, narrator of the perennial Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even as an adult I cannot wait each Christmas season for that TV special. And even though Burl’s performance of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t at the top of the list (more on that song later), he did contribute two other tunes…Silver & Gold and Holly Jolly Christmas. Holly Jolly Christmas could probably best be described as…catchy. It’s just got that kind of beat. And while some carols are melancholy, many show reverence to Christ, and others are plainly meant for kids, Holly Jolly Christmas is uplifting, positive, and fun without being the least bit childish. It talks about things like “the best time of the year”, “mistletoe”, “cup of cheer”, and “friends you know”. This is the kind of song that should put you instantly in a good mood no matter what’s going on in your life.

 

 

12 The Twelve Days of Christmas

First of all…yes…it’s not by accident that The Twelve Days of Christmas just so happened to end up at number 12. I’m poetic like that. Sue me. Secondly, a little refresher for those who might not know what in the world the 12 days of Christmas actually means. After all, we live in a world where we start celebrating” Christmas almost before Halloween is over and these days almost certainly before Thanksgiving has even arrived. Of course by “celebrating” I mean retail stores and anyone else who has figured out a way to make a buck off of the birth of Jesus Christ. Anyway, originally the 12 days of Christmas were December 25-January 5, followed by Epiphany on January 6 (this is the day that the Magi, aka The Three Wise Men, arrived to visit the baby Jesus…not on Christmas as so many Christmas plays portray). Encompassed within this timeframe is Boxing Day on December 26. Contrary to what some may think, Boxing Day is not the day Canadians and Englishmen come bearing gifts to Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.  January 5 was known as Twelfth Night and was the conclusion to the holiday season. The entire 12 days was a long festival of gift giving & merriment. So basically in the Middle Ages folks in England did what we do today, only they did it in 12 days instead of 2 months and they did it later. December 25 was the actual beginning of the season for them, whereas in modern times most of us are exhausted and ready for the whole ordeal to be over by the time the actual holiday arrives. What we call New Year’s Eve/Day was when they were really into the swing of things. By January 6 we’ve already moved on with our lives and those crazy cats were just winding down. Personally I’d LOVE to see our country revert back to this old fashioned way of doing things, but that and $2 will almost buy me a cup of coffee.

As far as the song, there is a modern folktale that says it was written in code to teach Catholics about their faith at a time when Catholicism was illegal. Supposedly the True Love is God, the Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus Christ, the Two Turtle Doves are the Old & New Testaments, the Three French Hens are The Trinity, the four colly birds are the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John),  the Five Golden Rings are the Pentateuch or first five books of the Old Testament, the Six Geese-a-laying are the six days of Creation, the Seven Swans-a-swimming are the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), the Eight Maids-a-milking are the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5:3-12), the Nine Ladies Dancing are the Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:19-23), the Ten Lords-a-leaping are The Ten Commandments, the Eleven Pipers Piping are the 11 faithful Apostles, and the Twelve Drummers Drumming are The Apostles’ Creed. Whether or not this story is accurate is unknown and quite honestly to me is irrelevant. Especially in an era when anything pro-God is treated dismissively the story is treated with a complete lack of respect. Even if the song wasn’t originally written for this suggested purpose I think it’s a great way to interpret it.

 

 

11 Silver Bells

How come the only time we hear bells is around Christmas?? Bells are quite charming and should be heard more often. However, the other 11 months’ loss is the Christmas season’s gain. Silver Bells was written in 1950, and unlike a lot of other Christmas carols that emphasize rustic, old-fashioned, pastoral settings this tune recognizes the hustle and bustle that overcomes a city during the holiday season. What’s funny is that a half century later even that description sounds quaint and charming. This song holds a special place in the hearts of millions of us who grew up watching the annual Bob Hope Christmas Special, which ran on NBC for over 40 years. Three traditions were a huge part of the Hope Christmas show: the introduction of the All America College Football Team, Hope closing the show with his theme song Thanks for the Memory, and a duet featuring Hope and a much younger, very attractive starlet singing Silver Bells. I didn’t realize until I was actually writing this how much of an indelible mark those specials made on me. The last one aired over 15 years ago and Bob Hope himself has been gone for about 6 years. Thanks for the memories indeed Bob.