Friday, December 31, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Hate the New Year's Eve Wedding

Twas in another lifetime, one in toil and blood when blackness was a virtue and the road was filled with mud. I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail. I was poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail. And so I bid goodnight to 2010 in what might be the worst way possible… a wedding that will also serve as a New Year’s Eve party. It is a combination of two of my least favorite things in one monster package.

I am always leery of New Year’s Eve as the expectation level is set impossibly high. You are told by society that unless you have the best night you have ever had ever, you have somehow failed. There is a reason your functional alcoholic friends dismissively call this “Amateur Night”. People are out there chasing the dragon. My New Year’s Eve celebrations can be categorized like this:

1984-1990: Get impossibly drunk on a dizzying array of alcohols at a house party of an ex-roommate or co-worker. Ouzo, cans of Milwaukee’s Best, flaming shots of 151 proof rum, and maybe Jell-O shots. Wake up in the morning with a skull crushing hangover and attempt to eat your way out of the pain with delivery pizza. Attempt to make up with your girlfriend after piecing together your admittedly horrific behavior.

1991-2004: Host a party where your closest friends wreck your house by spilling red wine on light carpet, barf on your couch, and knock candles over starting small fires. Stay up until 5am attempting to clean up after the last guest leaves. Say to yourself, “Fuck this. I am NOT doing this next year” while mopping up something brown and squishy in the guest bathroom.

2004-2009: Look for viable alternatives at good restaurants that rip you off with “packages”. These packages usually consist of the same food as the menu but with less choices, an extra paper party hat, and cheap glass of sparking wine thrown in for an additional $125 per couple. Maybe head over to the neighbor’s New Year’s Eve gala that will feature the ever popular veggie tray with dip, meatballs in Crockpot, and cans of Bud Light on the porch. Watch the exhumed body of Dick Clark attempt to countdown to one on the oversized TV in the “man cave”. Always have the sneaking suspicion, like everyone else, that somewhere there is a really fun party you weren’t invited to… The kind of party normally only seen in James Bond and teen exploitation films.

Now I stare down the belly of the beast with a wedding on top of it. I even like the couple getting married. I’ll probably even like some of the guests. It’s the wedding itself I despise. I am already cringing thinking about the DJ saying things like “At this time, we’d like to get the parents of the bride on the dance floor” and “Let’s get this party started!” while Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” emits from the overdriven speakers. I am having a hard enough time trying to keep it together in everyday situations, much less one where overfed middle aged women are clanging their silverware against their water glasses while smiling like mental patients to get the new couple to kiss each other.

I don’t want to listen to my table coo over how cute the little flower girl is in that special dress. I don’t want to stand in line to get a 10 oz glass of domestic draft beer. I don’t want to hear how the other people at my table know the bride/groom. I don’t want to shake the hands of the bridal party and struggle to find something to say to these complete strangers I will never see again. I don’t want to eat that little salad drenched in Italian dressing. And most of all, I don’t want to be standing in that room when the clock strikes twelve, ushering in the New Year with an overexcited wedding DJ in a bad fitting tux.

Maybe I need to focus less on the undeniable negatives. Maybe I need to really embrace the wedding culture and the New Year’s Eve idea. Maybe this year I really try and turn this thing around. Look at this thing as an opportunity. Maybe I need to not fear what is so evident. What others see so clearly. I should stop pretending. Stop ignoring all the signs. Follow my heart. Maybe I need to crank through ten shots of Goldschlager and be out on the dance floor all by myself, dress shirt open, and doing the robot. Maybe in just a diaper and a paper hat blowing a horn while the DJ blasts “Push It” by Salt N Pepa.

It’s a new year. What the hell.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Mall Santa

I have become consumed with the idea of becoming a Mall Santa. This is not something I forsee doing in the near future, but rather after I have worn out my welcome in all other potential employment ventures. The key is always to plan out where you want to go, like a career roadmap. My plan is crystal clear. First there will be my "horrible tragedy" as an air traffic controller. The soundbite on CNN will be "What madman or complete incompetent would route three DC-10s into the exact same airspace over a major Amercian city? The devastation is, in a word, unimaginable." Flaming buildings, crying citizens, chaos, guys in safety hats pointing in all directions... It won't be good. You will then see the same clip of me over and over shielding my face as I walk into Federal Hearings about air safety. Eventually I will manage to wriggle out of all blame, and instead blame "The System" which allowed me to have such responsibility. Clearly I wasn't the man for the task.

It will be tough to get a job right out of the gate after that, so I see a stint as a roofer or landscaper. I will grow a beard, and begin smoking lots of pot. I will drive an old Chevy Blazer with a pissing Calvin sticker in the back window. I will spend massive amounts of time in Home Depot looking for things. I will listen to plenty of classic rock, and appear to be distant and faraway as I eat my chicken wings on Friday after payday. I will be wearing brown work boots, stained jeans, and a Dickies jacket anytime you see me. I will grow a strange new respect for the song stylings of Tim McGraw. This will eventually make me snap out of this, like a dream, and return to my home where I will shave my beard. That is when I will buy new clothes and begin my new career as a "consultant".

The plan will be to buy a series of black suits, bluetooth, and comfortable action sport crosstraining dress hiking shoes. I will routinely use phrases like "paradigm shift" and "game changer" and "picking low hanging fruit". I will wear a giant watch. I will refer to my lifestyle as "work hard/play hard". I will golf. I will give lengthy meetings at white collar businesses where I will appear to say much, but actually say nothing. Eventually, I will fall out of favor as a consultant when my terminolgy like "synergistic opportunities" grows rank and stale like an old baby diaper. There will then be a period of soul searching followed by attempts to "pick myself up by my boot straps". This will end in failure.

I will then attempt to become a fireman, but I will fail the physical exam in a public humiliation. Ditto that for police officer. I will then make the next logical move and become a security guard at the mall, where I will be routinely teased by high school kids. I will seek solace at the Food Court, where I will befriend the gals at Auntie Anne's pretzels. Due to my "special relationships" there, I will enjoy complimentary pretzels and gain a nice doughy 25 pounds around my midsection. I will be a swell guy, but be unfulfilled in my work. I will hand in my resignation to the Mall manager, and he will ask me not to leave, but I will tell him "I need to find new challenges" or something like that. He will then mention, in an offhand manner, that he hates to see me go and maybe I would consider something on a more part time basis. That will be the moment in which I finally become the Mall Santa I always thought I could be....

In what should be a moment of great triumph, I will ascend to the mighty throne of Santa. Yes, this throne may just be a chair placed on a small plywood stage, but it will symbolize much more. At last, I have made it to the top, for there is no boss in Santa's world. Santa calls the shots. He calls the plays. Santa is the Big Cheese. College kids dressed in elf suits will quake in fear when I bark out orders.

I will offer the children sage advice. Brush your teeth. Listen to your parents. Stay in school. Stay off the junk. That sort of thing. Perhaps I will even offer consumer advice. For example, if a child asks for an iPad I may inquire if perhaps the Mac Book Pro might be a better fit for his/her needs. Why ask for a pony, if an actual full sized horse might be a better fit? Oh, you want a Barbie? What about the Barbie Beach House? Barbie has to live somewhere, doesn't she? Children will look forward to their annual visits with Santa much like pilgrims hunger for an audience with the Dalai Lama. I will be wise, all knowing, and rule with an iron fist. Think "more cuddly Stalin"... It will be in the form of Santa that I will fulfill my purpose in this life.

It's hard not to love the holidays. Why not try to make the spirit of the holidays last as long as you can? It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come. The Dalai Lama said that. Or maybe it was Bob Barker. I don't remember. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nurse the Hate: The Christmas Miracle

I woke up this morning absolutely filled with a sense of joy. The first Christmas Miracle has apparently arrived. Yes Virginia, it appears that Cliff Lee will not be signing with the Yankees, and will instead be signing with the Philadelphia Phillies (or Yankees Part 3, as opposed to the Red Sox, or Yankees Part 2). My hatred of Yankee Fan is very well documented. To review, the reason why we hate Yankee Fan is A) public obnoxious behavior B) a sense of entitlement C) belief that their team's success equates to their own success and finally D) the use of the pronoun "we" to describe the Yankees.

All year long Yankee Fan has confidently breezed along, waiting until the inevitable year end shopping trip where Yankee GM Brian Cashman would pick up the best available players to put in the Yankee pin stripes. I work with a wiener Yankee fan, who commented about Cliff Lee during the Yankees playoff loss saying, "He'll be really good for us next year." This is such a great microcosm of Yankee Fan, isn't it? You've got the sense of entitlement in "Why would Lee not sign to be a Yankee?". The fabulous use of "us" in the mention of the Yankees, as if this wiener I work with was a Yankee team employee and not some dopey media grunt. And of course, the dismissal of this season's ALCS playoff loss as being irrelevant, but rather just a tool to identify the next Yankee star.

So here we are... The Yankees don't get Lee. They also don't get Carl Crawford, who goes to the equally obnoxious Red Sox, as the Yankees had Carl's potential payday offered out to Lee. Instead the Yanks paid $74 million dollars too much for Derek Jeter to turn gray and hit .258 over the next 5 years. Wow, did they bungle this one! Brian Cashman must have the easiest job in all of professional sports. He has to put a good team on the field with at least twice the resources of his competition. If the team wins, the Network TV cameras pan to him in the World Series and talk about the genius he exhibited in piecing this squad together like a jigsaw puzzle. If they lose, they show the long faces of the players in the dugout, and the commentators lament on how such a high priced dream team could have possibly lost. The fault always goes back to the manager first, or perhaps a player scapegoat like Alex Rodriguez.

I would have loved to have listened in on that call when the Yankees found out they weren't getting Lee. I will guarantee you they have a Yankees jersey with Lee's number primed and ready to go for what they thought would be their triumphant press conference. That will be hastily shoved into a bottom drawer of Cashman's desk, and never mentioned again. Now we can only hope that they spray that Cliff Lee money around and sign somebody like Bronson Arroyo for$78 million. By the way, can you imagine being one of those second tier free agents this morning? Your agent must be doing cartwheels knowing that Cashman is going to throw money around like a drunken sailor to help pacify angry Yankee Fan. If there is any justice, we'll get the triumphant return of Carl Pavano and his Tom Selleck mustache, or maybe Brad Penny for $67 million.

It's a good morning. God Bless Us! Each and every one!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Christmas Party Small Talk

We are in the midst of holiday small talk season, so hopefully you have your game on. The key is to ask plenty of timely questions in subject matters that couldn't concern you less. You have to keep these things moving, and let people answer questions they feel comfortable with answering. Despite my vow to avoid all seasonal gatherings of any kind, I know I will get lassoed into at least one event that will have a snack table of mini meatballs, cheese cubes (swiss/cheddar/pepper cheese), veggies and dip (no one touches the cauliflower), and the ubiquitous chicken wing. I will have confidence at this gathering as I swig my overrated Great Lakes Christmas Ale, because in my back pocket I will have these surefire conversation starters...

Ready for the holidays? This is a great opener. It allows the other person to talk about whatever private hell they are going through involving one of the Big 3 of the holidays. 1) Shopping woes 2) Setting up the tree/lights 3) Relatives. While the person you are talking to drones on, you can tune them out and carefully consider the Bears v Patriots line this weekend. I sometimes nod my head knowingly every once in a while to give the appearance I am especially interested at various points in the story. Generally I am not listening at all.

Get much snow out your way? People love to talk about the weather, and I am all for it. If I have to choose over commenting on someone's photos of their dopey kids or the two inches of snow that fell on Wednesday, I am going weather every single time. I particularly like to get into comparing how long a commuting drive took in this weather. "It took my seven and a half hours to get home in what is usually a four minute drive. I saw frozen corpses stacked up like firewood by the side of the road. I may live to be a hundred, but I'll tell you this... I will never forget some of the things I saw driving home that night." Despite the fact that everyone's "drive home story" is almost exactly the same (short drive took long time/weather bad), everyone usually hangs on every word like it is a just discovered Hemingway novel. This is a great transitional statement after you have thoroughly mined the "Ready for the holidays?" topic.

So, do you go to your family's house for Christmas? Despite the obvious answer to this question (it's either "yes", or "no, we go to..."), this one is gold. People love to tell you about how various Aunts and Uncles you have never met, and never will meet, will be coming from towns you have never heard of to have some turkey/ham, and unwrap an electric back scratcher at their home. While you continue to assess if the Bears are actually a top quality football team and can hope to hang with New England, your conversationalist will say something like, "Now normally we go to my Mom's, but this year we're having the whole family over at our place. Now, I'm not sure if Jenny and the boys will make it from Wakeman, but it definitely looks like my cousin Jim and his wife Melissa are going to drive in from Harborcreek. My Mom isn't going to host this year, what with her rickets and all." This will continue for usually 5 minutes or so. Once again, I don't care. Usually the person telling you the information loses interest about halfway through as well. It does help to fill the uncomfortable silences though.

Do you have your shopping done? Yet another old holiday favorite that is an absolute winner. I don't know if anyone honestly cares about the actual answer to this, yet we all feel compelled to ask it. I ask you, how does this answer impact you in any way? "What? You don't have your shopping done? Hold on.. hold on... I am going to call my personal shopper Tiffany and get this knocked out for you. Your wife is a size 4, right? I'm thinking an Emanuel Ungaro dress with a Prada bag and shoe combo. I'll put it on my Amex and ship it on over to your office. Gift wrapped, right?"

So what are you doing for New Year's? This is a great wrap up question. Now that everything else is covered, it's time to fish and see if someone else has a better New Year's Eve planned than you do. Everyone likes to keep their New Year's uncommitted until the biter end, as everyone is worried that they might miss The Greatest Party Ever. Like yourself, they will probably wind up in a small house party eating the cheese cubes and chicken wings, and watching the almost life-like corpse of Dick Clark attempt to count down from ten. The other fate may even be worse, making out with some stranger at midnight at a half full dance club, and ending up in their filthy apartment. Early in the morning you will slink out, leaving used condoms on the floor, and wondering why you ever thought this unattractive person with bad breath was worth exchanging body fluids with in the first place. This night will be your badge of shame for years to come, and may make you swear off alcohol and drugs for 6-8 weeks.

It is unfortunate that Christmas turns out to be the way it is as an adult. In childhood Christmas is a Magical Season of Miracles. Now Christmas is talking to strangers that bore you while you eat food you don't like. You used to get fired up over that new toy train. Now all you have to look forward to is an ill fitting sweater that is left to gather dust in your closet. The key is to set your expectations low, and go into these social events prepared. So when I see you, please let me know if you are Ready For the Holidays. I care. I really do.

Oh, and by the way, take New England -3 and St Louis +8.5 on Sunday. Not that I wasn't listening to you...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Hate Christmas Shopping

It must have been about ten years ago, right about this time of year. I had procrastinated in doing my Xmas shopping, like any other year. I was in a real jam, with a weekend full of gigs taking me all over the frozen tundra of the Midwest. The prospects of finding my special lady friend the perfect holiday gift at an Indiana Fireworks Warehouse (even the "World's Largest") or a Cracker Barrel Gift Shop off the Turnpike seemed dim at best. I would be forced to go to The Mall.

The timing of this particular shopping trip could not have been worse. We were closing in on Christmas at a rate causing normal citizens to shop like pirates, slashing and pillaging their way through the discount sweater tables and destroyed leather glove displays. It had reached a point where it was almost a frenzy, eyes darting around retail establishments looking for an answer to their particular shopping dilemma. "OK.. OK... Now I remember her Brother-In-Law mentioning a deer hunting trip at that cookout on the 4th. Maybe he would like that camouflage tie over there. No... No... Don't panic man! The answer is here... Somewhere... Maybe that battery operated singing fish. That's funny. Yeah, people like that, don't they?"

Making matters even worse, I was entering The Mall directly after leaving the dentist and a particularly horrific crown replacement procedure that left me like a dead on replica of Dick Clark circa 2009. I swear that at one point a drill had gone through my lower jaw and spun directly into my Adam's Apple, but the poker face of the dentist and assistant did not give it away to the point where I can make this statement with absolute certainty. But you get the idea. I was a wreck. When I spoke the shop clerks thought I was either a stroke victim or functionally retarded. Neither of these categories are especially helpful to be on a holiday shopping blitzkrieg by the way.

Let me throw in a couple other conditions that were nagging me as well. I had a head cold that left the front of my skull like it was filled with a soggy mucous filled sponge. There were not enough Kleenex available at any time to deal with the constant drainage leaving every orifice. There was so much coming out of me, that mere nostrils couldn't handle the flow. It was so bad I seem to recall I had to occasionally swipe at my ears to stop the incessant flow of fluid. Mothers pulled their children to their bosom when I walked past. Adding to my misery was an ingrown whisker on my left cheek that a casual observer might have referred to as a "boil", but let's be correct here. It was a whisker something like the ones that grew out of "Brendal Fly" when Jeff Goldblum was The Fly in that 1980s remake. It was about as thick as the bristles of hair that protrude out of a pot bellied pig. It was a good look for me all around. I looked pretty hot.

It was when I reached for a sweater on a rack at the Banana Republic that my hand met another shopper reaching for the same sweater. "Oh, I'm sorry.", I said sounding like The Elephant Man. I looked up and saw that the hand belonged to my old college girlfriend. She looked at me with a mixture of recognition, shock, and perhaps pity. I immediately started to stammer and explain my sorry state. It sounded kind of like this: "Oh... I'm sowwy... (sniffle) I just got back fwom da dentist, and I ah... I know I sound a wittle weird wight now bwut..."

She, on the other hand, had taken up distance running. Her well muscled lean thighs showed through her perfectly fitting designer jeans, hands crossed to reveal a monsterous diamond engagement ring that if not for her (no doubt) rigorous schedule at the gym would have been impossible to lift. Her lusterous hair flowed down her smart leather jacket, and her green eyes sized me up quickly.

You could read on her face what she was thinking. I was a bullet she had dodged only years earlier. Thank God she had met Mr. Wonderful and didn't end up in whatever filthy trailer park I had crawled out of like some prehistoric amphibean. Now she had only to walk from this store, and call all of her old girlfriends as she walked The Mall. "Oh God! You will never believe who I saw... Greg Miller!!! No! No! He looked terrible. I almost wanted to drive him to the City Mission for a bowl of soup. I think he might have had a stroke or something. I could barely understand him. He also had these sores all over his face. He must be a heroin addict or something. I know! I know! Can you believe I dated him that long! What was I thinking? Hahahahaha!!!!!"

I don't know what your shopping plans are for this holiday season are, but take a tip. Shop online.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Who's a Little Man?

When I was a little boy my father and I took a train trip from Philadelphia to Chicago. This was well past the Golden Age of Rail Travel, but it was still not unusual to take an overnight train trip. My father's in-laws lived in Chicago, and we were to reunite with my mother there a few days after she had flown in. At the time I believed my Dad was taking me on a special Father/Son trip, but I now realize this was just a clever way to avoid spending more time than necessary under the critical eye of Merrill "Bud" MacNamee, my mother's father. Bud was a man from a different time, who was brutally critical of everyone, and even more so after the martinis started flowing around 5pm. My father, like everyone Bud came in contact with, was never right in Bud's eyes, and remained under his boot until a now infamous showdown in the early 1980s in an Erie PA dining room. This was not to happen for years, so hence the two day train trip...

The best thing about train travel is the ability to walk around the train. Hungry? Let's go take a stroll to the dining car. Of course when you are four years old, it's pretty fucking scary to walk in between the train cars. It's loud and the train sways back and forth. It seems like you can be very easily swept off the speeding train and into an Indiana field, forgotten until some traveling carnies find you and make you put up tents and clean the bearded woman's trailer at every podunk stop on their circuit. One has to keep their wits about them when walking on a train, especially when they are four.

As I recall, they sat you at a table like they do at a wedding or cruise ship. We sat at a table for four with two old, old women (who were probably all of 50). I remember them being very interested in me and commenting in that clueless way some adults do about kids. "Oh, do you think he'd like a soda? Should I ask him?" Listen Lady. I am sitting three feet away from you. Are you under the impression I can't hear you? (Bending her big scary head down inches from my face, she says in a baby talk voice) "Would you like a little sody-pop my little Princey Wincey?" Even when I was four, I didn't want to be talked to like that. That horrible sing song baby talk set me on edge. I was the most uptight four year old you ever saw.

I remember the all black waitstaff serving us in starched white uniforms, like a 1930s black and white movie. I ordered my usual. Hamburger. Plain. Fries on the side. No condiments on the plate. It would have been great if I could have ordered a hamburger "neat", but alas, I was only four. The women thought it was so cute I ordered by myself. Who's a Little Man? I'm a Little Man! I then counted down the time until the food arrived by kicking my feet in the air and wondering if I could safely make the journey back to our sleeper car without falling off the train.

When the food arrived I couldn't be any more pleased. The scale of the hamburger in my little hands was like a Bronto Burger for Fred Flintstone. There would be no chance I could finish it, but I looked forward to making a dent in it like a man. Perhaps afterwards I would retire to the bar car for a cognac and wax poetically about the burger. "Gentleman, I kid you not, this burger was the size of my head. I gave it all I could, but in the end I had left over half on my plate. And the steak fries! The size of two by fours! Though you boys may scoff, I can tell you with great confidence I managed to finish a third of the portion at least. It was quite a good showing. Jolly good!"

It was then disaster struck. The woman to my left said to my father, "Oh! He can't eat that! Let me cut it up for him!" Suddenly her hand seized my plate, and slid it in front of her. It all happened so fast. Her knife and fork sliced through the massive burger, leaving behind small burger chunklets. The horror, the horror. My big beautiful burger was ruined. I was furious.

The plate was slid back in front of me, and everyone resumed their meals. I had moved in an opposite direction, putting the brakes on for all to see. "What is it?", my father asked while leaning in close. "What's wrong?" I stared back at him. He knew Goddamn well what was wrong. "You didn't want her to cut it up?" I stared back at him. Silent. "Well... just eat it OK?" The women stared at each other, knowing they had made a faux pas as bad as ripping a monster fart at a job interview. There may have been a half hearted apology, but who remembers? It didn't matter. The damage was done. My meal was over.

So when I was standing in the parking lot last weekend during the tailgate before the Browns game, I moved in when I saw a young woman eyeing my friend's 7 year old struggling with his eggs and sausage. "Do you want some help from that?", she asked. "Hey, the kid has it. He's good." The seven year old looked over at me. I gave him a little nod, and he continued with his meal. Who was the Little Man? He was the Little Man.