Tuesday, December 23, 2008

That Blows

It was embarrassing to fire up my snowblower this morning; total snow accumulation would hardly bury a penny. Little came out the chute; it looked more like wispy steam. But still, it felt faster than pushing a shovel all over, and I love power tools.

To justify myself, I buzzed my neighbor's sidewalk too. Brian has a real job and actually goes to work. I thought about doing his driveway too but decided circling his house unexpectedly might give his lovely wife the creeps.

My total invested time was about twenty seconds. Shortly after, little Sam, their son, appeared at my door with full plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. He looked as perplexed as I. Their total invested time: one hour. My breezy little gesture became a windfall. I considered whether if I washed her car she'd paint my house.

Americans are the only culture in the world who consider a gift to be a social burden. If someone sends you a Christmas card, dangit! Now you have to send them one in return. We have to defend ourselves against gifts, neutralize them, lest we be embroidered with a big red D for Deadbeat. If not yourself, you know someone who buys and wraps an extra gift or two, just in case some weirdo shows up at the last minute with a present. "Why, I was just about to bring this over," you lie. "You saved me a trip!" It's a Strategic Gift Defense System.

I previously wrote about gifting salami. It's perfect for this application: it keeps forever since it's not really food, and yet it has the air of, "Hey, I just whipped this up!" If someone gives you one of those Hillshire Farms gift boxes, with salami and warm greasy cheese and some random jelly thing and those unmarked, cellophane-wrapped hard candies made anonymously in China, all snuggled in a fake grass nest as if a chicken just laid it, you can just toss it on top of the fridge indefinitely and pass it on when needed. It's the aikido gift.

Some people just duck their friends, as if gift-giving was akin to being served a warrant. If they can't find you to give a gift, you don't have to give one back. Plus, it gives you an excuse to stay inside and watch TV all day.

Outside of the U.S. it's rude to give a tit-for-tat gift. (Yeah, your spam filter is going to flag that.) Indeed, the biggest honor a gift can get in many countries is to be passed along to someone else. The farther it goes, the better the gift. If I gave you a Wii and you immediately handed it to someone else, I'd say, "Hey, give it back then!" Ironically, the one gift we do pass on and on is that salami.

So maybe I'll keep blowing my neighbor's snow just to see how long before she throws open the window and yells, "Knock it off, Jackass!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Say It With Meat

At Christmas we often show our love with a salami. I don't know how Hillshire Farms survives the rest of the year, but during the Christmas season business booms as neatly packaged grassy nests of unrefrigerated salami and warm wet cheeses are exchanged, often multiple times.

How salami came to be a customary gift at Christmas has been forgotten, but I suppose it has something to do with the end of the year and having to get rid of all those leftover pig parts that have been piling up since we made 4th of July hot dogs. I've never heard of anyone giving his sweetheart a big Valentine's salami, even though that symbolism makes some sense.
On Halloween we offer chocolates to the walking dead. Despite countless educational horror films which plainly demonstrate that monsters seek flesh, brains, and blood (basically, salami) we continue to try to placate neighborhood zombies with a Reese's Peanut-Butter Cup.

But while chocolate may not be ideal for a holiday of fending off monsters, it might work splendidly for Sunday Communion.
The celebration of Communion varies greatly. At my church they baked fresh bread and passed it around. It symbolized the body of Christ, which in this case was still warm. You tore off a chunk as it went by, and chased it with a sip of wine. I visited a church down the street and was startled when the pastor laid a thin wafer on my tongue that was as pleasing as parchment. He said, "Peace be with you," and I was supposed to respond, "And also with you," but it came out "ack-ack-ack." I couldn't stop myself from imagining it was the peeled sunburn of Christ. The pastor instructed me to keep my tongue sticking out for a moment, which was fine with me.

Why can't they use Nilla wafers? Or little cheddar-flavored crackers shaped like Our Savior. Jeez-Its? Better yet, offer little chocolate Jesuses—I'd be happy to stand in line for that, or chocolates shaped like crosses or fish—any of the popular logos. God is good. Communion chocolate would be a natural pairing with wine, and as I said, we're already handing out bite-size Snickers to the other risen dead.

At Easter, many celebrate the fertility season by biting the head off a chocolate rabbit. Then they move on to the better parts of a pig.

For Passover we eat bitter herbs, just to remind ourselves how bad food can get, not counting Manischewitz. The Jewish find this symbolic reminder meaningful, while Gentiles get stuck with a salami.

To the Jewish, food must be kosher; to Muslims it must be halal, which is to say that it must be acceptable to God. In neither case will God accept a salami.

During Ramadan, the power of food is symbolized by its absence, which is to say you don't get any. One of the benefits of a thirty-day fast is that, when you end it, even garbanzo beans taste great.

Thanksgiving is the only holiday where food makes any symbolic sense. We celebrate being big, fat, rich Americans by eating big, fat and rich food. As our Halloween zombies would quip, that's a no-brainer.

Fourth of July is second only to Halloween in the weird use of sweets, as we toe up to the curb to admire a colorful parade of firetrucks and tanks while encouraging our confused children to leap into the oncoming traffic in pursuit of cheap candy thrown by strangers.

New Year's Day is perfect for symbols of new life. We should eat eggs and caviar and enjoy the arousing qualities of chocolate. Heck, a salami would be perfect here. Instead, we start our new year eating aspirin.
Perhaps it's not about logic. I bought four bags of Halloween candy last year, and only half made it out the front door, thanks to my "quality control sampling." I know this: if holiday food made sense and it was a big bowl of Halloween brains in my fridge, I wouldn't be tempted to cheat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toys Be We

Like we were seven years old, we fought over toys. At the Lash Toy Drive Benefit, generous donors showered Lash with unwrapped toys to be given to children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It is among the poorest areas of the country, just hours from my hometown.

The hardest job was keeping the adults away from the pile of twinkly toys. After all, the presents were supposed to be new. The door person fended off the touchy-feely with a toy light saber that looked real enough to back everyone off.

So what toy was the most coveted? You'd think it would be a Wii or a Guitar Hero controller at the middle of the fight. But the Epicenter of Gimme was a two-feet tall, fat, fuzzy stuffed penguin. Mickey the bartender (not me—one of the other two Mickeys who work there) fell in love with it. Perhaps it reminded him of… actually, I don't want to imagine it. Mickey wrapped his arms tight around the little dude and wouldn't let it go. Sorry if your drinks were slow in coming.

The rest of the staff scrunched up for a hug turn, tugging at his little flipper. (The penguin's, I mean.) I trust we were infusing love into the poor saggy thing (again, the bird), but it looked more like we were wringing it out.

I don't know about the other two participating venues, but this year at Mick's we avoided the unfortunate toy choices of the past: the bow-and-arrow, Little House on The Prairie figurines, the Treaty Kit with Magic Disappearing-Ink Pen, wool blankets, and the General Custer Action Figure with Replaceable Hair.

I contributed a few copies of My Little Golden Book of Property Law.

The gift that fits all sizes—cash—will be used to buy more toys. I told Lash to bring a woman with him this time when he goes shopping, so he doesn't only buy a bunch of Li'l Rustler cap guns, red cowboy hats with the chin strings on them, and those horse-head-on-a-stick toys that look like fun until you get on one.

It's not over yet. You can still drop off toys or cash donations at Mick's until Lash leaves for the Rez, and we still have the radio telethon next Sunday Dec. 15 during Rick Galusha's show on 89.7 The River. Me, Lash, a bunch of musicians and an live open microphone—what could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who's On Tap

As usual, the fight started over a girl. And a Christmas gift. She gave Lash a bottle of cologne, a brand that stank so badly his own dog wouldn't roll in it. But out of blind love he kept the bottle in his pickup, and it made his truck smell better by comparison.

The following summer, in a mix of broken-heartedness and anger, he lashed out, using the bottle of Stinko as a foul bomb, causing a neighborhood incident and an environmental catastrophe. It's a long story; you can read it all here. A feud ensued.

That was a year ago. Although my grass still bears scars and my nose still wrinkles at the memory, Lash and I have cleared the air.

Every year Lash hosts a toy drive for children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, among the poorest areas of the United States and right in our own back yard. New this year, Lash created an accompanying Christmas CD featuring artists who would be performing at the benefit. In an act of reconciliation he invited me to contribute a song. He apologized for the Stinko.

I believe in forgiveness, but I also believe in karma. Lash's dastardly act would be punished in this life or the next, so better to help him get it over with, and save Heaven itself from some future malodorama.

"I'll write a song for your CD," I agreed, "with one condition. It's going to have a solo in it."

"That's fine," he shrugged.

"A tap shoe solo."


"And you're going to perform it."

Dead air has a way of seeming interminable. "All right. . ." he squeaked thinly.

I provided the tap shoes, he provided the recording studio: Bassline, run by the incredible Tim Cich. We miked the floor. Lash took a long look at the black patent pumps, and strapped himself in.

It was suspicious from the start, how comfortable he seemed in those pumps. It was reminiscent of when he dressed as Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz—he looked a little too comfortable in a gingham dress. To everyone's amazement, Lash clacked away in a blaze, nailing the solo on the first take. I think those of you who know Lash better than I should poke around in his history—there's a telltale tutu lurking in his background. I think I've been duped.

Anyway, the CD, Christmas for Pine Ridge, is done, and it contains great original Christmas tracks from many of Omaha's finest, including Brad Hoshaw, Korey Anderson, Jeff Koterba, Lash's feet and Yours Truly. You can buy the CD at the Toy Drive this week, which starts at the Waiting Room Friday the 5th, moves to Mick's Saturday the 6th, and ends at Bar Fly Sunday the 7th.

The whole recording project was donated, so 100% of your money goes to the Pine Ridge kids, carried there in the hands of Lash Hisself.

Personally, I think the $15 cost of the CD is worth it just to hear Lash's tap dance solo. He just tickety-tacks your cares away.