Sunday, December 18, 2005

No Room at the Chilis

Trying to go out of a nice dinner with my husband during the holiday season can be challenging. Friday night we decided to try a restaurant in the mall. Being one of those "trendy" places, it obviously attracted several other people, their shopping bags and small amounts of their household and personal possessions. Just sneaking around large groups of confused people to get our name in to the hostess was a chore.

There was no room yet, we'd have to wait and why don't we peruse this menu so ordering our relaxing meal wouldn't take so long after they kick out some diners, their shopping, their laptop computers, and their collections of thimbles from around the world.

Normally I would be the first to argue that, no matter what your definition of Christmas, the holidays or whatever, it shouldn't have anything to do with dropping at least a grand on gifts and fun seasonal activities. This time of year, my line of reasoning would have determined, wasn't supposed to be about the commercialization of anything red and green, gold and silver.

However, as I sat near the cold entry to the restaurant with the bitter wind blowing past me every time more customers arrived to add their names to the queue, I realized that this could very well have been the meaning of Christmas all along -- cheerfully taking turns and knowing the answer to "what do you mean I'm not the center of the universe?" As the story goes, with no room at the Inn, Mary and Joseph, were forced to move along and take what they could get and, like my father who ate cardboard every meal as a kid, be grateful for it. Okay, so we didn't exactly give birth to the Christ child in the parking lot of Burger King. We simply waited for a meal because everybody and their dog was out Christmas shopping.

Hundreds of years of struggle and determination to get gifts and fake snow and tinsel trees all perfectly prepared for a single day of reveling had created the environment in which a fair bit of commercialization could grip the American psyche in mid-to-late December. This, in turn, created an atmosphere of panic, indulgence to counteract the panic and significant amounts of prayer that everything would come out correctly and swiftly. All of this culminated in crowded malls and restaurants, scarcity of politeness and product -- just so we could all remember that the defining moments in life aren't platinum-plated but are, instead, whatever you make of them.

Monday, December 5, 2005


This is Layla, the dog we adopted last May. She's a big sweetie. We don't know why anyone gave her up because she's fairly well trained, doesn't chew, doesn't dig-up the lawn, and won't sit on the furniture. She doesn't attack the mailman or deliverymen and would be more likely to pursue them in search for some affection. "PLEASE pet me!" Why would anyone want to give this dog up?

Fur. The groomer believes her to be a mix of two breeds: English Shedder and Boredom Collie.

We changed our floors from carpet to hardwood last summer. So the fur coalesces into clumps and glides around, seeking refuge under the furniture where it is dutifully swept-up by my 14 year-old who declares "Dust Puppy!"

She has talent too! We thought about making her a showbiz dog but we're not sure if there's a market for dogs whose talent is to lay in the most well-trafficked spot of the house at any given time. In the mornings, when people are shuffling through our hall, there she is, in the middle of the action. In the evening, when we're preparing dinner, there she is again, ready and able to make you stub your toe on the dishwasher in an attempt to avoid stepping on her. This has got to be some sort of marketable skill. Not only does she lay there, but she does so with the most bored look on her face, a look that suggests that you must abandon your homework, housework, or computer gaming to engage her in her favorite activity of belly rubbing.

Layla's name is similar to the name of my daughter, Lolly. Layla had trouble, at first, not answering to Lolly's name. Sometimes she wouldn't even respond to her own name, but call out "Lolly?" and she'd come. However, Lolly has used this nickname (her real name is Lauren) since she was 5 days old and it's too late for us to change it.

It was obvious that Layla had been trained at some point because she could do tricks like Shake, Fetch, Roll Over, etc.. But I can see that anyone who expected her to be militantly adherent to commands would be disappointed. When given a command she often just sits there sort of passively receptive to the fact that you've just gotten her attention and given her a command. Then she'll give us the "Oh, do you mean me?" look. Eventually, she'll do her trick but she's likely to be delayed when distracted by outside stimuli like stray electrons.

Mostly, we were excited because our youngest expressed no fear toward her and that's kind of rare for Lolly. She's been a little nervous around animals for several years, since unfortunate incidents with a neighbor pets like the black lab that knocked her down when she was 4 and the cat whose bite resulted in an infection when she was 5. The biggest compliment paid to Layla was when a friend's daughter said that, like Lolly. she's usually "at least a little afraid of all dogs" but Layla was the first dog that didn't scare her at all.

Black Friday

We visited family over the Thanksgiving holiday, a.k.a. "Digestive Thursday." My parents' house was full of Turkey, Gravy, and Mashed Potatoes. There was plenty of food too. I managed to drag my husband out to shop on Black Friday, ignoring the celebration of Buy Nothing Day entirely. The lure prices slashed so greatly is just too hard to ignore.

Shopping in the town where I spent my high school years is always a frightening prospect. Being from a relatively small town, this sort of venture into the unknown folds of society can have a full range of scary results. We looked disheveled. Two days of eating and drinking and standing in line for the bathroom will do that to you. We parked the car and both sat there briefly to scare-up the courage to go inside. "Please," I voiced a small prayer aloud, "don't let us see anyone we know."

We haven't really stayed in contact with many of our acquaintances from the "old days." It's not that continuing to live in the same town where we grew up is any indicator that these people are mentally challenged. We knew plenty of nice people there but we rarely ran into them since we moved away. Most of them have since moved on themselves.

As we wandered the aisles of Shopko looking for the bargains that had disappeared into the carts of the 6am shoppers, I felt slightly relieved. It was almost like shopping happily anonymous in the big city near where we live. Everywhere I was greeted by the faces of strangers, precisely as I had hoped.

Then, as we were in the checkout line my husband began shouting out behind me. "John!" I whirled around, trying to remember which John it could be. It was John, my husband's former Big Brother from the Big Brothers and Sisters program. John was waving with a dubious look on his face. It had truly been years since we'd seen him and he didn't recognize Jason on first glance. Was it the impending baldness?

I have, in the past, vowed to myself that I would never be shocked by developments that could be blamed on the passage of time. I swore that I wouldn't gasp "I can't believe it's you, after all these years!" when greeting a friend who looked like the time between visits had taken a great toll. I was determined never to utter "Has it been THAT long?" after learning of the birth of an acquaintance's dozen children who are all roughly the age I was when I last saw their mother or father.

Poor John who was already at a disadvantage because he had managed to lose his wife and children in the mall was confronted with this stranger who seemed to know his name a little too well. When Jason had finally coaxed him over and recognition spread across his face, he still seemed confused. It's sort of that deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon that happens when men, forced to shop, find themselves alone in a store with nobody to steer them down aisles.

We discovered that the young children and infant twins were all in upper grades and that the oldest was now a college freshman. Finally, John and Jason seemed to get into the groove of bouncing life's developments back and forth like a game of ping pong. These news flashes never seem as big out of the condensed fast-forward version of our lives that we swap with others in the middle of a public place. Half of the time, I'm shocked by the real changes that my own life has seen when described in this format.

Jason introduced our 9 year-old daughter whom John had never met and described what has been going on over the past decade. It was a welcome reunion, even given our casual meets pajamas state at the time.