Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to Make New Years Resolutions

I'm tired of failing.

From now on my primary New Years Resolution is to find activities (or to stop activities) that I actually have a very good chance of doing (or not doing). And there is one major criterion I used in choosing my goals:

I've whittled my vices down to my three or four favorites and I'm not even going to touch those. The world and I will just have to learn to deal with those together.

I suggest we confront my precious remaining character flaws the way politicians confront the politically perilous problems related to entitlement programs like Social Security or Medicare:

“Yes, they undoubtedly need to be fixed, but meanwhile look over there, doesn't that gay marriage just make your blood boil?”

That is to say we should ignore them.

With that provision, here are some of the things I'm going to do my best to accomplish in 2011:

I resolve to use more obscenities.
It seems that while I wasn't paying attention the world became a much rougher and coarser place. Some people say it started over 30 years ago when HBO brought George Carlin's “Seven Words You Can't Say on Television” to … that's right … television. Others believe it's a more modern Internet phenomenon. Either way, I've noticed that no one seems to pay attention to my anger any more. The “I am SO mad at you” face that had served me so well for decades has lost its mojo. My theory is that tossing in a few canine-related slurs, attacks on motherhood and F-bombs just might be enough to get my fits of temper the attention they deserve. I'll let you know how that goes.

I resolve to patronize more all-you-can-eat buffets.
My informal study has found that nearly 90 percent of waiters and waitresses hate their job. Not only is the self-serve buffet the perfect way to eliminate an unpopular task (in much the same way that the automobile eliminated the job of horse-droppings-collector), but given recent reports that terrorists may be targeting these gardens of gluttony, frequenting them is really the best way the average citizen can fight the forces that would see America fall.

Now, let me be very clear on one seemingly related point -- bartenders are a vital part of our society and we need as many of them as we can possibly get.

I resolve not to learn to play a musical instrument.
They're really hard, but more importantly the neighbors shouldn't have to go through all those horrible noises as I learn, only to be charged exorbitant prices to hear me play once I master the instrument.

I resolve to get no more than four haircuts this year and zero manicures.
In all honesty I'm doing that now, but these end-of-year articles require a certain amount of padding.

I resolve to wait until the last minute whenever possible.
People who wait get such a bad rap. “Procrastination” is treated as if it were the eighth deadly sin in just about every culture in the world. What few of us seem to realize is that very often jobs that you put off doing wind up not being necessary to do at all. For example, I once put off asking a girl I liked out on a date, and by the time I got all my ducks in order she was married with two children. See what I mean? Basically, people who jump on their every assignment immediately, end up doing a lot of work that isn't needed. And isn't that the textbook definition of “inefficiency”?

I resolve to watch an entire soccer game.
I know what you're thinking. “Jack, you said that these resolutions would be easily achievable. Why are you forsaking us now?” That's a valid question, and it's why I saved this one for last. The fact of the matter is that although I firmly believe in the overriding principle of painless resolutions, self improvement that comes too easily tends to be devalued over time. I've found that the utter anguish experienced in just the two-to-three hours it takes to watch one of these let's-pretend-we-have-no-arms “games” provides just the right amount of difficulty to validate this entire list.

Well, those are the issues I aim to tackle this year. I'm sure yours will be different, but in compiling your own New Years Resolutions just keep your eye on the main theme:

Real change comes when change is real easy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Favorite Santa

When I was about 6 years old, my 4-year-old brother and I were stunned, shocked, flabbergasted, dumbfounded and I might even go as far as to say our breath was literally taken away. What could cause these reactions in two so young?

Santa Claus came to visit us at home on Christmas Eve.

I can still remember very clearly watching him walk through our front door on Reedland Street in Southwest Philadelphia. And, thankfully, just in case that memory starts to fade we have home movies of the whole event – Danny and I agog in our pajamas (I think Danny even had a nightcap on, in the style of Ebeneezer Scrooge.)

He explained that he wanted to come by to congratulate us personally on being such good boys all year, but couldn't stay long because he was about to go out on his rounds. We totally understood. He had small gifts for mom and dad and a whole bunch of aunts and uncles who just happened to be visiting when Santa did. It was truly thrilling to see him, and even more so when he came through with everything we'd hoped for on Christmas day.

Now, that's definitely a hard act to follow, but oddly enough, he's not my favorite Santa.

That honor goes to my good friend Wayne.

He and I went to school together and we both worked at Gino's in Collingdale when we were 16. Now, I think that Wayne was born looking 15 and just aged normally from there. And that's really at the heart of how he got chosen to play Santa at Gino's – he fit the suit.

We were making around $1.25 per hour under some sort of 1970s federal program called “sub-minimum wage.” Work at Gino's could be fairly strenuous, whether sweating over the hot grill or (especially) cleaning the Kentucky Fried Chicken pots. So when Wayne was offered three times sub-minimum to sit in a chair and pretend to like children, well – he agreed faster than you can say “Ho, ho, ho.” (Which it turned out he was really great at saying. One of the best I've heard til this day.)

His first few days were uneventful. He was a little self-conscious to start, but he found his rhythm pretty quickly. Aside from getting peed on twice, Wayne considered this the best job he'd ever had. (We should note for the record that his low-pay/hard work regular Gino's gig was the only other job he'd ever had.)

Then one foggy Christmas Eve …

I got a phone call from Wayne. He sounded kind of funny. He said he needed a ride from Gino's, or more accurately from the bar a few doors down from Gino's. Uh-oh.

Here's his story, and I'll leave it to you to decide on its plausibility:

He's leaving Gino's around 5 p.m., as innocent as the day he was born. Just as he's about to get into his car (to go to church in his original version, a detail he later dropped) a gentleman about to enter the tavern yelled to him, “Hey, Santa, come on in and let me buy you a beer!”

Of course, no one ever expects Santa to be 16. And no 16-year-old could ever resist sneaking into the adult world in such a perfect disguise. What was he to do other than have a beer?

Maybe it's out of guilt for being there, but it seems that buying Santa a beer (and shots) is a very popular idea among Christmas Eve bar patrons. The drinks were lined up before him like liquid frankincense and myrrh.

Wayne had the good sense to call for a ride and I had a great Santa story to tell over and over.

He went on to buy his own suit (or permanently borrow Gino's, I never found out which), and play Santa for many years to come. Once he was even helicoptered into the King of Prussia Mall.

One day he was running late and forgot his white gloves, which sort of led to him forgetting to remove one other thing. This resulted in my second favorite Wayne as Santa story.

No one near the main entrance of the MacDade Mall knew quite what to say when one observant little boy looked at the ring on Santa's right hand and shouted out, “Look, mom, Santa Claus went to Monsignor Bonner High School just like daddy!”

After that, Wayne pinned the white gloves to the Santa suit sleeves.