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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

As I grow older--and, I fear, none wiser--the temptation to grow far too introspective near year's end takes hold, especially around Christmas, a holiday fraught with the peril of traditions handed down from generations of family upon family and heavy with the burdens of so many added tasks and stressors. It's easy to become overwhelmed and isolated. Things look impossible, or at least incredibly difficult.

This feeling is not new, I found out. Writer Julia Peterkin put it aptly in A Plantation Christmas:

I hear that in many places something has happened to Christmas; that it is changing from a time of merriment and carefree gaiety to a holiday which is filled with tedium; that many people dread the day and the obligation to give Christmas presents is a nightmare to weary, bored souls; that the children of enlightened parents no longer believe in Santa Claus; that all in all, the effort to be happy and have pleasure makes many honest hearts grow dark with despair instead of beaming with good will and cheerfulness.

That was in 1934.

As we rush headlong into 2008, plugged into life digitally and otherwise, I hope we try to give ourselves a break. I hope we find some peace. I hope we try.

And I hope the effort isn't so very hard after all.

Merry Christmas from The Dept. of Nance.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Lights Are On, But Nobody's Home


Although I've been teaching for 26 years, I still often forget that many teenagers are just not that tuned in to anything that doesn't directly concern them. I mean them directly, such as their cell phones, their Ipods, their driver's licenses, their curfews, or their social lives. So, I still get an enormous shock every now and again when they express their unmitigated ignorance of the world around them, especially politics.

(Naturally, I realize that I am a political junkie. Politics is, for me, like crack. I am addicted; I need it to live. Politics informs everything I do. It's sad, really. I'm trying to quit.)

But I digress.

A few days ago, I was giving my students their daily quiz on their reading assignment for The Scarlet Letter. I assign three chapters a night; they come in the next day and I ask them a half-dozen questions aloud, which they write the answers to. It's a quickie way to assess whether or not they read the chapters and also a nice way to force them to read. (Honors kids do anything for points.) Anyway, one of the questions was: What does Hester Prynne say was the result of her one meeting with the Black Man? (In the context of the book, which is set in 17th century Puritan New England, said "Black Man" is, of course, in their parlance, the devil.)

Jokingly, I said, "And don't go writing down a Vote for Obama button!" Several students in the class chuckled and, heads bent over their papers, wrote their answers.

One girl looked at me, bewildered. "Huh?" she said. "Who's that?"

I stared at her. "Really? You have no idea who Barack Obama is?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Why?"

"Do you watch the news or get a newspaper at home?" I asked her.

"We get the paper," she said.

A couple other students in the class said, "I don't know who he is, either."

"How can you not know who he is?" I said. "His picture is everywhere. He's been in the news, on tv, on magazines, everyplace! I am absolutely shocked! Don't any of you ever watch the news at all? Please tell me that you know something besides entertainment garbage!" They all just looked at me. I turned back to the original student who was still sitting there, absolutely devoid of any sort of interest in anything at all except a piece of her hair. I said, "Okay. Never mind. You at least know what country we live in. What country do we live in?"

She stared at me, mouth open. A full three seconds went by. The class waited patiently. Several students had the decency to look shocked. Finally, her mouth formed the answer.

"North America. Right? RIGHT!?"

Remember, I teach Honors.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Three Views Of A Marriage Or Canonizing Rick


**Scene Opens**
Interior of Nance's new car. Rick is in the driver's seat, Nance in the passenger's. Time is recent past.

Nance: Rick! Did you have the brake on when you put the car into 'Drive'?
Rick: Um, I think so.
Nance: Well, you have to. You have to have the brake depressed to start the car. And to put it into 'Drive.'
Rick: Then I probably did.
Nance: (audible sigh) You know, you have to drive this differently. It's a hybrid.
Rick: I. Know.
(Some time elapses as they drive. Soon, Rick accelerates to pass someone on the highway.)
Nance: Rick! You can't just jam on the gas like that and go hurtling into traffic! This is a hybrid!You have to accelerate smoothly. It's part of the way the engine works to use fuel efficiently. This isn't your old Ford Ranger you know, where you just punch on the gas pedal like you're killing a cockroach.
Rick: Oh my God, Nance! Do you want to drive?
Nance: No. I just want you to drive my car properly, that's all. Apparently, that's a bit much to ask.
**End Scene**

**Scene Opens**
Interior, night. Rick and Nance are in bed. Time is a couple nights ago. Rick suddenly gets up and gets out of bed.

Nance: Where are you going?
Rick: I have to check to see if the back door is locked.
Nance: Well, do you have to fling back the covers like that? You uncover me, too, you know.
Rick: Well, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to.
Nance: Why must you leave a chair or a bed with such vehemence?
Rick: Huh?
Nance: Seriously. Even Emily notices it. When you get out of the recliner, you leave it rocking so violently that she--
Rick: (interrupting) Good God, Nance! Emily is a cat!
Nance: (calmly) I'm aware of that. That's why she can't help but notice. (pointedly) She's usually in it when you leave it heaving like some sort of cataclysmic geologic event!
Rick: I can't believe we're having this conversation.
Nance: Well, you started it.
Rick: How?!
Nance: By exposing me to the arctic blast of you leaving the bed with such violence.
Rick: Can I do anything right?
Nance: We'll find out when you get back in. Try not to uncover me.
**End scene**

**Scene Opens**
Exterior, day. Rick and Nance are in line at the Christmas tree farm. Time is Saturday. They are waiting to have their chosen tree put on the shaking machine, which rids the tree of all dead needles and detritus before it goes into nifty baling machine that wraps tree for transport home.

Rick: This is a pretty nice tree. And we found it in record time.
Nance: I know. I'm impressed. Usually, I'm more picky.
Rick: So, all we have to do now is take it home and put it up.
Nance: I just noticed something...
Rick: (in voice of doom) Oh no. What?
Nance: After they shake all the crap out of the tree, they lay it back down and drag it right through more crap to get it to the baler.
Rick: (relieved, then...) Yeah...they do. (worried now, he glances at her)
Nance: That's just stupid. It doesn't make any sense. Does it make any sense to you?
Rick: Um. No. I guess not.
Nance: So, basically, they are just shaking crap out, then putting crap back in.
Rick: (resignedly) Yep.
Nance: (thinking) Hmmmm.
Rick: It's our turn.
Nance: It just doesn't make any sense.
Rick: You already said that.
Nance: Oh well.
Rick: (face wreathed in relief) Let's go.
**End Scene**

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas Kickoff...Complete With Crocs And A Six-Pack

Now that it's December, we here at the Dept. can officially recognize the Christmas Season. I really feel like I've given Thanksgiving its due, right down to serving leftover turkey dans la sandwiches avec la sauce d'airelle for at least one dinner when I didn't feel up to actually cooking something. (Hey! I used some lovely Hungarian bread that I had to slice, even! Gimme a break.)

But I digress.

As readers may recall, we had something of a controversy last year when I inadvertently jumped the gun on the Season, but there has been no such breach of Holiday Etiquette this year. Tradition is a powerful thing, especially at holiday time. And the people at Staten Island Mall certainly learned it the hard way this year.

Marketing manager David Albertson made up his mind to get innovative this year at the shopping mecca and decided to depict a Santa at home on Mondays through Thursdays. When stay-at-home Moms in the Staten Island, NY, area would bring their wide-eyed tots in for a Kris Kringle visit, they'd find Santa a bit more casually dressed. Rather than outfitted in his traditional red velvet suit trimmed in white fur, the everyday Santa kicked back in a green plaid lumberjack shirt, red suspenders, and red pants. To top it all off, he was wearing green-and-red striped socks and red Crocs. His red velvet coat hung nearby.

Customer Maria Borruso was shocked when she brought in her 15-month old son Nicholas in for photos and a visit. "I was completely disgusted. I didn't think it was appropriate," she said in a telephone interview.

**Editor's note: Naturally, I am assuming she is talking about the Crocs, first and foremost. Crocs are both disgusting and inappropriate, of course, not to mention impractical for the North Pole from a purely climatological standpoint. Add in the fact that there is no way in hell that Santa Claus would ever wear Crocs--a man who is such a traditionalist in every fashion sense of the word--and Ms. Borruso has every right to be shocked and disgusted. Moving on.

Ms. Borruso continued by saying that she opted not to have Nicholas's picture taken with Santa that day in his present incarnation. "My son could have been sitting in any old bald man's lap."

Albertson said that feedback regarding the At-home Santa idea was largely positive, but acknowledged receiving two complaints. "Some people like it, but some people don't," he said. Store managment, however, must have received substantially more, for they decided to put a more traditional Santa back in place seven days a week. As far as the other idea, Ms. Borruso remained firm. "It didn't fly with me," she said. When reached later and told of the switch, Borruso was thrilled.

And Albertson? "Some battles are just not worth fighting," he said.

Oh, I don't know, David. New traditions have to start someplace.
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