Tuesday, December 27, 2005

J'ai trente-huit ans!

This has got to have been the most unspectacular birthday I remember ever having. It was pleasant, mind you... but wierd. For one thing, I've never in my life had to work on my birthday, so that was something new; there I was slaving away at the elevator company, entering data and whatnot, writing this special-to-me date on mysterious reports and breakdowns. I usually go shopping on my birthday, too... but unfortunately I am a wee bit broke (though I did buy some underwear today, it was an emergency, I'm on my last pair and I won't have time to do laundry until the weekend), and work kept me occupied, so no outlet-mall orgy for poor little me.

But still, it's been a nice day. I got some nice e-cards, and a couple of cute prezzies; yesterday Caroline and I went down to Santana Row for the Aveda Store Birthday Aromatherapy Treatment, which entails sniffing a lot of essential oils with your eyes closed until you find the one you respond to most positively, of which they then give you a little complementary bottle as a gift. I was so thrilled with the freebie that I bought a $20 candle and an $8 lip balm, which used up the Visa gift card my aunt gave me for my birthday on Christmas. Then Caroline took me to lunch at Maggiano's Little Italy, where we gorged ourselves on her gift cards from her Visa Rewards Program. And today after work I went out to Corte Madera and was treated to dinner and some (window-only, unfortunately) shopping with my friend and former coworker JB. When I got home, I got another gift card from my uncle who'd come by to cart some crap out of the garage (tomorrow is Big Garbage Day), and a really cute lamp from my sister, who'd come by while I was out, and a phone call from Daddy who's out of town on vacation this week. So all in all, a rather nice birthday.

Even-numbered years don't do much for me, though. I can't remember any of them with very much clarity... it's always the odd-numbered years that stick in my mind. Seven, thirteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-seven, thirty-five. So here's looking forward to a nice dull year, which I need after the various professional and medical tumults of this last year.

So thanks for stopping by and helping me celebrate my yawny little birthday! I'm off to bed now, I have to get up at six these days in order to be to work at 7:30, and I should have been asleep an hour ago (and my Tylenol PM is starting to kick in). Nighty-night!


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Wake Me When It's Over

I am so not prepared for tomorrow. In fact, I have to report that I am fucking exhausted, working my ass off all week, and there is still a pile of chores to do before everyone shows up here at four tomorrow... cleaning, decorating, wrapping, cooking, cleaning up after the cooking, table-setting, cooking some more, and cleaning up after the cooking again.

Here is a perfect visual representation of exactly how I feel about Christmas right now:

Just kill me now, OK?

You'd think that after having a week and a half without work, I would be all rested up and ready to rumble... but no. In fact, my ten days off were more exhausting than you can imagine. Over last week, I did get a lot of sleep, but we were preparing for both Christmas and our weekend trip up to Placerville for Grandmother's niece's 50th wedding anniversary (I'll give you a second to work that out on a piece of scratch paper).

This trip has been the centerpiece of Grandmother's brain for months, she's been planning around and looking forward to it since we first heard about it in July, and so it ended up being rather labor-intensive... we had to shop for it, you see. Not only did Grandmother want something to wear to the party, but she wanted Daddy to wear something nice too, and so we had to buy him something nice. It was a lot of effort on my part to talk her out of buying him a suit that he would only wear once; after much effort, I finally got her settled on a dark sweater with a shirt and tie.

Then came the trip itself, and it was so tiring I'm still tired from it. The drive wasn't too bad, except that it rained a good deal; but once we arrived, Grandmother was so excited to be around her family again that I had a hell of a time trying to keep up with her... and by "keeping up" I mean that I had to schlepp her around at a much higher rate of speed, and moving in various different directions, changing plans at a moment's notice, and somehow more irritating than I thought possible (and regular readers know exactly how irritating it is possible for Grandmother to be).

And then we were running around all over Placerville, first up and down ill-lit country lanes in dense fog to cousin Kevin's house, where we were meeting for pie and coffee; then the next day in pouring rain even further out in the countryside to cousin Dub's house for fudge and cider, a hayride in a horse-drawn wagon, caroling, and general visiting (we didn't go on the hayride, though). Then in absolutely pissing rain to the Lion's Club in Placerville for the party itself, which was nice but went on and on and on and on and...

In between all these gatherings, I was running around with unexpected errands. For example, when my nephew and niece showed up at Dub's house with nothing to wear to the anniversary party but the jeans and sweatshirts they had on (my sister neglected to tell Matthew what the party was for), I was dispatched to TJ Maxx to buy them shirts and sweaters to dress them up a little. It wasn't difficult, in fact I found it distinctly entertaining (Matthew is on leave from the Army before being deployed to a two-year tour in Korea; I haven't seen him since last Christmas, and I wanted to spend time with him while I have the chance), it was still tiring. Anyway, though I had a good time, it was a lot of hassle, and very little sleep in between (I never sleep well in hotels).

Then when we got home, I was so tired I spent most of Monday in bed, then had to start the Christmas tree, and then finish Grandmother's Christmas shopping; and then on Wednesday I started a new temp assignment. This one is going to last for two months, covering for a returning worker who is out on disability; I'll be doing various Accounts-Payable, Purchasing, and Payroll tasks (of which I only have the faintest understanding after three days) at the administrative field office of a vast national elevator company. It's a pleasant-enough place, a big room full of cubicles, lots of people around, free coffee and sodas in the breakroom, and a really first-rate bathroom. But I have to be there at 7:30 in the morning, which is a struggle; and I've discovered that not only am I expected to dress nice every day (upper-end business casual), but we aren't allowed to wear jeans except on Friday... when we are actively encouraged to wear jeans. One of those places.

I am aware that a lot of people were out on vacation, and a lot of clients closed down, when I started this week, giving me a quiet spell for training; but they'll all be back, and the company operating in full swing, after the New Year... until then, I don't even know what the work or the environment is really going to be like. Still, it seems nice enough so far... and they gave us a paid half-day off Friday as a Christmas bonus, so I'm inclined to like them.

With my bonus free time, I took Daddy out to the mall for some Christmas shopping; this is the first time he's bought gifts since my stepmother passed away several years ago, and since he finally sold his house out in Concord, he had some spare cash with which to splurge. It was fun shopping with him, but the lines at the stores were outrageous.

I mean, it's two days before Christmas, the malls were thronged, and all of these huge department store chains had only minimal sales staff working these gigantic crowds... hardly more than they would have working on a Wednesday afternoon. I stood in line at Kohl's for over forty-five minutes, because they had only two out of six cash-registers open on each end of the store... thousands of customers, four cashiers. It was the same story in several other department and specialty stores we visited, where there were lines halfway through the store and only one or two cashiers working thousands of dollars worth of sales. I hope their stockholders choke on the profits.

Now that's done, and I need to finish decorating today. Grandmother has been trying to decorate the tree that I only managed to get set up and strung with lights on Monday; which means that all the ornaments are in the front center of the tree, and stop about four feet up. So I have to finish that, sprinkle the other holiday bibelots around the shelves, mantel, and tabletops, gather everything back up into the attic, and dust and vacuum. That should take a few hours, though Caroline is coming over today to give me a hand (thank God, I don't think I could do it alone).

And with all this going on, I don't really feel like having Christmas. I don't want it. I don't want to decorate, I don't want to sing carols, I don't want to exchange gifts, I don't want to eat turkey and pie. There is no Xmas Spirit in my bosom. I just don't care.

But whether I care or not, these tasks have to be done. It's my annual gift to my family, working like a carthorse so that their holiday traditions shine brightly and run smoothly. It's kind of nice knowing that I don't have to be in the mood to perform all these festive preparations... I just do them because it's what I do.

But I'm not doing them, sitting here writing, am I? I guess I'd better get moving. Thanks for visiting, and have a super weekend, whatever you're doing with it. I wish you love, and great accessories!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Oh, Darling...Must We?

It's that time of year again; and, as usual, I wish it weren't. There is a buck-naked six-foot Douglas fir taking up too much space and putting out too much scent and dropping too many little green needles on the carpet in my living room. The Grandmother wants to go to the mall and finish her Christmas shopping, plunging wheelchair-first into the densest and most stupefied crowds of the year, pretty much every day... even though she doesn't know what to buy for whom, or where to get it, nor does she care for anything that is available in the many stores that are so overstocked with merchandise that you have to roll entire racks of clothing around to make an ADA-compliant path. My daily seven-o'clock dose of Tom Welling's pulchritude in ABC Family's Smallville reruns has been replaced by those ghastly old Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials, or worse, those non-Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials that are even more poorly-written and lack that saving touch of camp Rankin-Bass always inserted into its stop-action animated features ("I want to be a dentist!" or "I'm Mister Heat-Meister!" per esempio).

I'm just feeling funky about the whole thing. Partly, I think, because I am too broke to buy presents this year, though I know I will be receiving presents, and it feels tacky to get a present from someone to whom you have not given a present. I have agreed with my cousins and Grandmother not to shop for each other, and I have a gift for Caroline that is something I already own and which I know she covets but which I love dearly and am loath to give away. But no Christmas Shopping makes me blue... especially since I can't autogift, which has long been my favorite part of Christmas shopping ("one for Aunt Terry and one for me; one for Uncle Ralph and one for me; one for Cousin Kellie and one for me"... you get the idea).

And this inability to participate in the Reason for the Season (as I see it: shopping) is really throwing an unpleasant light on that Reason and the other Reason (you know, that ancient Nazarene they keep talking about but infrequently imitate) for the Season.

I have been hyper-aware this year of the growing tension amongst Christians about having their big holiday hijacked by all us non-believers (I can't tell you how many Christians I've heard complaining that they are enjoined to wish everyone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"), and all the tension growing in the nonbelievers who want all that nasty hateful Christianity taken out of the holiday (I recently heard about the ACLU forcing Sears into taking the word "Christmas" out of its holiday advertisements, as if the ACLU has nothing better to do under a Republican dictatorship; I've also read about several lawsuits where people want nativity scenes banned from private homes as well as public property).

The thing that started bothering me this year is: why do all these non-Christians feel compelled to celebrate what is inescapably a Christian holiday? I understand that the non-religious aspects of Christmas have long been part of American Tradition, but how did it get to be that way? Where did all this secular Santa/Xmas bullshit come from, anyway? And why do we make up holidays at the same time of the year so that non-Christians can celebrate the Season?

It seems to me that the Reason for the Season is, indeed, retail. You'll notice that it is the retailers who come up with non-specific Holiday greetings and have removed the word "Christmas" from its advertising so as not to offend non-Christians; you'll observe that all of the "culturally inclusive" alterntative holidays that are suddenly surfacing all over the place (I mean, who ever even heard of Kwanzaa before 1995?) are always presented as gift-giving holidays, and that what you are being culturally included into is the practice of buying extra retail in December; you'll find that every tinsel decoration and every sappy TV special and every radio-broadcast carol, secular or religious or hybrid, has retail corporate sponsorship behind it. The entire Reason for the Season is to keep the whole rattling gazillion-dollar machine of gift-buying and card-sending and decoration-hanging going for another year.

Now, don't get me wrong... not only am I not a Christian, but I love retail. I worship my gods weekly at the mall. I shop to live and I live to shop. I am the perfect consumer (barring the occasional handicap of penury), I am permeated by the impulse-buying mentality that retailers study and cater to... it is for me that they put those cool doodads and nifty gizmos at the ends of the aisles so I'll be sure to buy them, it is for me that eBay and Amazon exist, it is for me that expensive glossy sale-magazines are produced and inserted into Sunday newspapers. Not in any way, shape, or form am I knocking retail.

What I am knocking, what bothers me about the tensions of this Season, is that people don't seem to realize they are being manipulated. They don't seem to realize that the Christian holy day of Christmas and the secular gift-giving holiday of Christmas are not even remotely related to each other, and share only the name and the date. If there is another Robert Manners out there and his birthday is on December 27 (not that I'm dropping any hints), does that make us the same person? No! Similarly, Santa Claus has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ, nor do either of them even have anything to do with the original Saint Nicholas nor the pagan winter solstice celebrations that were grafted onto the medieval Christian calendar.

Consider, too, the fact that all of the so-called Christian holidays have been subverted and reinvented by retail. I mean, does anybody ever pray to Saint Valentine on Saint Valentine's Day? No, we buy billions of dollars worth of pink-and-red crap to demonstrate our "love" for each other. Do we go to church or revere our dead on All Hallow's Eve? No, we buy billions of dollars worth of costumes and candy. Do we pray to Saint Patrick on Saint Patrick's Day? No, we buy green beer and green clothing, eat corned-beef and cabbage, and otherwise stereotype and demean the Irish. And every year, these "holidays" become even more retail-oriented. I recently heard someone complaining that he couldn't find a nonsecular Halloween card to send. Halloween cards? When did we start sending cards on Halloween? I mean... really!

The secular form of Christmas is just that: secular. All the traditional hoo-ha about trees and mistletoe and exchanging gifts is pagan practice grafted artificially onto a new religion long, long ago. Modern Christmas is driven by corporate advertising and has nothing to do with anything except making you buy more stuff than even the most dedicated shopping-addict ordinarily would.

The religious form of Christmas is of course the original inspiration of the secular holiday, just as the word Holy Day is the original form of the secular word "holiday" meaning a national day off from work. But you know, words and meanings change over time... we no longer hold onto our balls when we "testify," and we no longer kill every tenth middle-manager when we "decimate" our workforce, and "gay" no longer means merry and bright.

Get over it. If you want to buy each-other presents, string icicle lights around your house, put a flammable green eyesore in your front window, and eat yourself into a tryptophan-and-insulin coma, have at it... I know we will, as I and my family always have done. If you want to celebrate the birth of Christ, go right ahead, light-up plastic crèche sets and all. Do them both at the same time, if you must. But please keep in mind that these are now, and really have always been, completely separate (though coinciding) practices.

So anyway, enough rant. I do have one positive thing to say about the Holidays this year: I've happily discovered that eggnog is the best beverage for taking my morning meds. It's so viscous and thick that I don't have to eat anything before taking my pills, as I ordinarily would if I just swallowed them with milk or juice. Eating is always such a trial for me in the morning, and so many things that I would ordinarily swallow pills with (yogurt or citrus juices) interact badly with the Prozac to give me terrible gas. I don't know what I'll do when the eggnog supply runs out. Maybe I'll have to make my own... though I have no idea where I might procure some guargum and carageenan (whatever they are).

Well, thanks for coming by. I had a lovely time chatting with you all! I'm off now to the mall with the Grandmother; I'm not working today, and so we can take advantage of the shoppers with jobs being busy in order to finish the last three people on her list. Wish me luck, and a cheery toodly-yoo-hoo to you!

Thursday, December 8, 2005

And How May I Direct Your Call?

Well, The Great Temping Adventure continues. I am now working the switchboard and mailroom of a wholesale restaurant supply company. I answer the phone and I sort the mail. But the mail only goes out once a day and comes in once a day; and the phones, while busy, only come on in waves... I'll be sitting here in perfect silence for ten or fifteen minutes, then five people call all at the same time. Irksome, but not particularly difficult. Actually, until yesterday I haven't had computer access, or I would have told you all this earlier... this has got to be the most unchallenging job I've ever had.

All I do is forward calls, page salespeople to the phone over the intercom, sometimes give directions, and frequently attempt to mollify callers who do not wish to leave voicemails and want to know why nobody ever answers their phones ("He's probably out on the floor and I'm sure he'll call back when he's free" and "She's probably meeting with a colleague and is away from her desk, I'm sure she'll call you back soon" are my stock answers). For the mail, I sort out invoices and put the single-page invoices through the folding machine, manually fold the multiple pages and stuff them into envelopes, and then run it all through the meter. Time-consuming, but not mind-consuming.

This is a pleasant change from the last assignment, where I was a little too challenged, having to make rather arcane associations and difficult decisions while juggling uncomfortably with piles and piles of numbers. It's even cooler here, so I can wear sweaters. I guess the only drawback is that I get bored sometimes. On my coffee breaks, after visiting the potty, I just wander around the aisles and look at all the cool stuff they sell here (we're open to the public, so it's almost like working in a store), wondering what it would be like to own a restaurant and have a need for any of the nifty gizmos we have in stock... and to know what a lot of these nifty gizmos actually do.

Well, anyway, I didn't have much to talk about, I just wanted to check in. I'm going to be reassigned next week; hopefully I'll have the time and access to tell you all about it. In the meantime, stay well, and have a happy day! Thank you for calling!