Thursday, December 22, 2005


In the political correctness of the season, I'd like to wish everyone a merry giftmas. It doesn't matter what holiday you choose to celebrate this time of year, one thing we all have in common is a well-developed appreciation for the time-honored ritual of giving. And no one's more thankful for that than Alan Greenspan, because a happy holiday season means a very happy economy. Hark the herald cash registers sing!

Over time, for better or for worse, the evangelical Christian underpinnings upon which America's version of the winter-time holiday Christmas was originally built were abandoned in favor of a week to celebrate secular consumerism. I'm not bitter about it, just a little melancholy. It is what it is, and certainly not what it once was.

Everywhere you turn, the customary greeting “Merry Christmas” has been replaced with “Happy Holidays!” Bethlehem has has been replaced by Best Buy, the birthplace of holy savings. And the three wise men may as well be named Bed, Bath, and Beyond. How did we get here?

Perhaps where we are is a function of WHO we are. America is a capitalist society that has thrived on a healthy exchange of goods and services for 230 years. So it’s really no Christmas miracle that commercialism has taken over. What had once been an occasion for family and friends to gather in celebration of the birth of a Messiah is now an excuse to shower lavish gifts on one another in a glorious exchange of consumer goods and services. And the more you spend on someone, the more you love them. At least that’s what the folks who sell the really high-end stuff would have you believe. Although, for the record, some of us still believe it's the thought that counts.

Choosing the right gift has always been an issue for me. Just ask my sister who got a Clapper from me a couple years back. I did not receive a standing ovation from the gift committee after that impulse purchase. I’ve since made up for it with some spa treatments and a little blue box. These days I start my Giftmas shopping a little earlier in the year to be on the safe side. Like April. I’m no longer a last-minute mall pinball, bouncing from sale sign to sale sign on December 24th, praying for inspiration.

Last year I bought my grandfather a cordless beard trimmer with a built-in vacuum that sucks up all of your clippings as you shave. It was one of those generic, can’t-miss gifts they sell at virtually every department store – but one I picked out specifically for him because I knew if he actually used it, it would make his life easier. I’d actually put a little thought into the gift and that made me feel better about giving it to him. Better than had I spent twice as much money on a Hickory Farms gift box showing off more meat than Elton John’s bachelor party. Who wants that? Besides Sir Elton, of course.

So much of what I see on television, hear on the radio, and read in the newspaper, however, doesn’t encourage this kind of thoughtfulness. Instead, I’m inundated with commercial messages that encourage conceptual laziness. Ads promise “easy” shopping experiences, easy return policies, easy one-click online shopping, and easy shipping. The thought behind the gift is a secondary consideration because gift-giving apparently should be “easy” first.

I’ll tell you what’s easy. Spending a lot of money FAST is easy. And in the absence of consideration, it’s also easy to buy a bunch of crap for which your friends and family will have little or no use.

Think Clapper.

Our “makes a perfect gift” culture has moved away from thoughtfully selecting meaningful holiday gifts to exchanging token articles of ambiguous value. I no longer feel like it’s the thought that counts, but rather that it’s the amount of money I spend. How did financial outlay come to represent my feelings toward a person?

Just a couple of days ago I was looking at the small mountain of gifts I’d bought for people this year, and although I was certain it was more than I’d ever spent, it just didn’t seem like enough. And the reason it didn’t seem like enough was because I found I kept putting dollar amounts on everything. I found myself comparing how much money I spent on my dad versus my mom versus my sister. I felt I needed everything to be even or I would be judged as a poor gift-giver. I didn’t want that label. That was my grandfather.

My grandfather was, by almost all accounts, an uncommonly fun guy. He had a smile and a joke for everybody in the room and always seemed to be in high spirits. Consequently, and not unlike yours truly, he was a pretty easy guy to like. He was magnetic. He had charisma. People enjoyed being around him because he could really light up a room. But, man, let me tell you, he was the worst gift-giver since the Trojan Horse came rolling into town.

Every year, he went garage-“sale”ing for holiday gifts. And he wasn’t shy about it, either. He’d tell you exactly where he found your gift and boast of the great deal he got on it. Most of his gifts were indescribable – you’d unwrap something and actually wonder aloud what it was. Then he’d laugh with a youthful exuberance and try to talk you into believing it was the greatest gift you’d ever received.

“You like that?! Isn’t that the shit? Man, I saw that and thought of you right away!”

It was hard to be disappointed when he was so excited. A few of the more memorable gifts I received from him included second-hand clothes, a hollow glass head, and a plaster bust he insisted had been specially rendered to look like me. I actually believed him until my sister unwrapped the same plaster head.

Oddly enough, I never judged him on his penchant for finding useless Christmas gifts. I didn’t look upon him with disfavor when unwrapping something I knew would live in the trunk of my car. And I didn’t appreciate him any less for the amount of money he didn’t spend on my present. Because the spirit behind his awful gifts was genuine: he was all about having a good time. (I do feel obligated to note that his eccentric gifts were typically accompanied by a generous amount of cash, which had a way of sofening the blow of unwrapping a used painter's cap)

My grandpa passed away earlier this year, so there won’t be any obnoxious gifts to laugh about this year – but I’ll never forget his holiday spirit. Because the more I shop and the more money I spend on the people I love, the more I’m convinced he had it right. It wasn’t about the financial outlay – it was about the thought. Yes, it was the THOUGHT that counted.

I think over the years that popular phrase has taken on a new meaning. When people say “It’s the thought that counts,” they usually mean that a gift should be appreciated because it is a gift. So even if it is something you don’t like or won’t use, you should appreciate that someone took the time and spent the money on showing they appreciate you. But for me, that phrase means something entirely different. “The thought” that counts is that you actually THOUGHT about the person when you bought the gift. You picked out something that you knew, thought, or at least hoped they would like.

Advertisers will say and do anything to replace thought with convenience. I'm in advertising -- I know. It's my job to talk people into buying things they don't need with money they oftentimes don't have. And there's no easier time to do that than the holidays. Guilt is a powerful motivator.

The last Christmas gift I ever got for my grandfather was that cordless beard trimmer with a built-in vacuum. I’d drawn his name in the family grab-bag and had to spend $50 on a gift. I remember I really struggled to find something before finally settling on a $29 beard trimmer. I picked it out because he was always making a mess in his bathroom and presumed, as a result, he probably wasn’t trimming his beard as often as he wanted. Yet after buying his gift, instead of feeling good about my decision, I only felt guilty that I hadn’t spent the entire $50.

He later told me it was the best gift he’d received that year. All he talked about was how much he loved that thing. The last time I saw him he was still talking about how great that gift was. I felt like I’d made his entire year with that $29 beard trimmer from Kohl’s. And I began to realize that it wasn’t about the money I’d spent at all. It was the thought that made his gift sepcial. Not the thought OF a gift, but the thought that went INTO it.

So here I am again, fretting over the amount of money I’ve spent on the people who mean the most to me, wondering if I’ll be judged on the quality of my gifts, wholly missing the point that the money doesn’t matter. It’s the idea that counts.

It saddens me to see how the WORD Christmas is slowly being erased from our cultural consciousness - I just pray we don't lose the spirit, too.

Merry Christmas everybody! Go ahead and say it. It feels good.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I love this site. maps out your favorite artists, movies, and directors so that when you enter one, a visual constellation of related artists, movies, or directors shows up. It’s a great way to identify some new talent based on the talent you already know you love.

Click on the new bubbles that come up to get all new constellations and explore the entertainment universe!

And once you've had a chance to fart around there, you've GOT to go here. It's called the Music Genome Project and beyond showing you all of the music related to your favorites, it PLAYS them for you in an interruption-free radio format all day long. Skip the ones you don't like, save your favorites for later. It's Fab-OOO!


The trial of Saddam Insane continues in Iraq and today he accused the angry Americans of roughing him up while in custody. According to Saddam, he has been beaten “everywhere on my body” and tortured by American jailers while detained. Yeah, right. He also said he didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction.

Oh wait. He didn’t? Oh yeah – I keep forgetting that. Well, maybe Saddam DID get a good beatdown then. It's not like he didn't have one coming. I'm still thinking a fun punishment (funishment) would be to put the guy in stocks and wheel him around Iraq so his "people," the ones who voted him into office with 99.9% of the vote, can fling pre-packaged bags of camel crap at him. I bet they could raise a lot of spare cash selling those bags of crap.

The U.S., naturally, has denied Saddam’s claims of abuse, citing the 60 Minutes segment that aired this past Sunday in which it was reported that the U.S. doesn’t torture ANYONE, EVER, NEVER EVER EVER.

No, according to the report, we just kidnap people all over the world using a fleet of specially-outfitted jets and fly them to countries where torture is considered foreplay so that third-world mercenaries can do our dirty work for us. It's genius!

All I want to know is when are they going to kidnap that Dick Cheney guy. I have a feeling he knows something he's not telling us!


I love being politically incorrect.

Here’s a link I shared last year that people seemed to like. You can have it your way when you make it a Burger King Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


DSW Shoe Warehouse was recently the victim of an identity theft heist - cyber bandits made off with their credit card file, putting thousands of customers' credit and debit accounts at risk. A friend I work with discovered today that her debit card number had been stamped into a new piece of plastic that was later used to make over $2500 worth of unauthorized purchases. Fortunately, she was not held liable for the purchases...but her account was wiped out for a couple of days and the hassle has been a mountain of unwanted stress at the most inopportune time.

If you have ever used a credit or debit card at DSW Shoe Warehouse, be aware that your card number is likely a part of that stolen file and may be in the hands of a criminal. Be diligent in monitoring activty on your account and immediately report any unidentified charges.

Oh yeah - and happy fucking holidays.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Do remember the parking ticket I received over the summer? The one that was complete and utter bullshit? Yeah – THAT one. I wrote a letter to the city complaining about the ticket, and with it I submitted a handful of digital photos I’d taken with the assistance of officer Grabowski, who was on foot patrol that afternoon.

Well, I finally heard back from the folks at City Hall. Apparently, my case has been reviewed by an “officer of the court” who has made the determination that, based the evidence presented on my behalf, the violation did NOT occur and I am therefore not responsible for the fine.

Hell yeah, baby. The Miracle on Morgan St. I just beat City Hall!

Of course, earlier in the week I was hit with a $120 fine for failure to post a city sticker on my vehicle. Easy come, easy go – that’s the steady ebb and flow of life as I know it. You win lose some. What goes up must come down. What goea around comes around. Okay, I'll stop now.


This past weekend, I helped Geri’s 5-year-old man, H, bake some holiday cookies. We started by getting out the flour, sugar, eggs, and – okay, that’s not true. We started by cutting open a roll of Pillsbury ready-made cookie dough I'd bought at the store. After eating through nearly a quarter of the roll with our fingers, we decided to see how good they would taste baked in the oven.

H and I took turns slicing through the sweet log with a butter knife and placing the chilly slivers on a metal cookie sheet. Because there’s no rule that says a cookie must be round, I began rolling them up into little balls. H was intrigued by this creative approach to cookie-building and began rolling his own dough nuggets. Then I branched out and shaped one like a big Burger King onion ring. Then H decided he would make a pencil-shaped cookie. Next I made a volcano. So H made a bigger volcano. Then I made a turtle. Then H made a snake.

When we were done molding the dough into rudimentary shapes that only vaguely resembled what we claimed they were supposed to be, it was time to decorate them. Where I attend the school of “a little goes a long way,” H preferred to coat and bury his cookies under a mountain of pink and purple sugar sprinkles. Geri and I tried to discourage him from using too much decoration, but to a 5-year-old, there’s no such thing as too much decoration. When we were done sprucing up our holiday sweets, the kitchen looked like Tinkerbell had just detonated a suicide bomb.

I slid the baking sheet into the oven and flipped the oven light on so we could watch the cookies grow. Because we’d given them such unique shapes to start with, each one baked in a new and interesting way. The balls began to melt, the pencil spread out like a ruler, the onion ring blossomed like a doughnut, the volcanoes fused together and bloomed fatter than John Madden's hands, and the snake – well, the snake began assuming the plump disposition of something decidedly adult in nature.

I looked over at Geri and pointed at the oven. She glanced in through the window and blushed. We both had a hard time pretending the creature in the oven was a harmless snake when, quite clearly, H had unwittingly crafted a monster Pillsbury dildo.

I wanted to call it something clever, like the “sugar shaft” or the “sugar nookie,” but in the presence of an impressionable 5-year-old I could only say, “Wow – would you look at that SNAKE. Quite the monster, wouldn’t you say?”

Geri could tell I was jealous. “Oh yeah, that’s a good looking snake right there.”

A few minutes later I pulled the sheet from the oven and H violently dissected the “snake” with a spatula, a gruesome act almost too painful to watch. We then devoured the pieces with milk and, I must admit, they were quite delicious. I remember thinking it a good thing that the snake didn't make it. Those aren't the kinds of cookies you leave for Santa.

MRS. Claus, on the other hand...well, I imagine she'd appreciate a little holiday dildough under the mistletoe come Christmas Eve.


Leave it up long enough and this link WILL drive you insane.


This morning it was one degree outside, which for all intents and purposes is zero. Zero is pretty cold, even if we’re talking Fahrenheit. I must say, people get a little confused when it’s this cold outside. I don’t mean to make excuses for myself, but it’s not easy giving your full attention to things when you’re battling hypothermia and frostbite with every step.

So it was a little hectic when I first stepped out of my car into the bitter chill of morning after a long, slow crawl into downtown on Interstate 90/94. I’d just found a “good” parking spot underneath the “El” tracks on Lake St., one block north of the office. I rifled through the things strewn about my passenger seat for anything I would need for work, as well as those things I didn’t want to freeze in the car over the course of the day. I unplugged my phone, found my work keys, grabbed a couple of DVD movies I had to return to Blockbuster via U.S. mail, tucked a can of soup into my armpit for lunch, squeezed into my gloves, zipped up my jacket and managed somehow to add a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks to my person before pushing the car door open into traffic.

I hurriedly stepped out, locked the door, and hustled to the corner of Lake and Peoria to drop off my DVDs in the mailbox on the corner. In doing so, I dropped my car keys. Dammit. I stooped to pick them up, then dropped my can of soup. DAMMIT. I stooped to pick the can up, pocketed my keys, and my cellphone slipped out of my coat pocket. Martha Focker. I stopped abruptly, collected myself, and slipped the phone back into my coat pocket. I glanced around quickly to see if anyone had noticed my Warren Moon impression and started hoofing it south. I was about a half a block away when I made the realization that I no longer had my Peppermint Mocha. I turned around and looked at the ground to see where I’d dropped it. Alas, it was no where to be seen.

I’m no expert in the paranormal, but in my experience, take-out coffee does not spontaneously evaporate into nothing – even in subzero windchills. It had to be somewhere, I thought. So I trotted back to the corner, looked all about on the ground, checked my person once again, then gave that mailbox a long, hard stare.

Oh no.

Oh yes.

Oh no you didn’t.

Oh yes I did.

I’d mailed off my morning coffee without proper postage. And without a return address it was sure to wind up in at the dead letter office.

And then I thought of all the letters and bills and Christmas cards in that mailbox – correspondence that would now have frozen coffee caked all over it. The folks at the post office would certainly chalk it up as an act of vandalism. But I knew better. It was an act of true mindlessness brought on by excessively cold weather. It was a brain freeze.

At that point there wasn’t a whole lot I could do except flee the scene. I inconspicuously ambled off down the street as nonchalantly as I could, taking what solace I could from the fact that at least everything would all smell like a chocolate-covered candy cane.