Figgy Pudding…? Holiday Hooligans and an Odd Demand

Figgy pudding? I ask you “What?” in a couple of ways. And quite rhetorically, mind you.

I’m not only going to ask what it is, I’m also asking what it isn’t.

It obviously isn’t pudding made with figs. If that were the case, it would be called fig pudding.

Figgy indicates that it is fig-like without actually containing figs. But fig-like in what way? Is it of a fig-esque consistency and/or color? Is it any sort of pudding you like with a false fig flavoring added? Or is it a British form of pudding that isn’t a sweet at all and figgy means something in British English that doesn’t even reference the fruit?

All of these questions are rhetorical, as I mentioned. I don’t care to know the answer. Either way it goes, I’m determined not to like figgy pudding. If I want a dessert pudding, I’ll go with banana or butterscotch. If I want a savory pudding my go-to is the Yorkshire variety.

Now we come to the Holiday Hooligans. I have been blessed in that never in my life time have I been accosted by roving Carolers. I’m sure they mean well. Well, I used to give them the benefit of the doubt until I thought deeply on the subject.

Before I get into that, though, let me tell you how I felt about Carolers before I learned that, whether they know it or not, they are in reality hooligans.

I don’t know how to handle Carolers. I don’t know the etiquette. I have thought about it a lot because I am a person for whom the big setbacks in life are inspiring, but the minor irritants are sources of extreme worry and anxiety. What is expected of me if Carolers tromp into my lawn and, with warm and happy hearts, serenade me with songs of the season? Do I part the blinds and peer out at them? Do I stand just inside my screen door and listen? Do I step out onto the lawn? Do I join them or applaud when they’re done? Do I have to indicate somehow that I’ve been sufficiently caroled and they can move on? Do I tip them? Or do I just sit in my house and wonder when they’ll leave? Thankfully, I’ve never had to find out.

Now, the hooligan thing. I don’t believe present day Carolers, if they exist somewhere, intentionally threaten anyone. But they do give a clue in a common carol as to how to indicate that they’ve done their job. They just do it in such a threatening manner. “Bring us figgy pudding!” They demand. “We shan’t leave until we get some!” They threaten. “Fa la la la la!” They harass.

There are two problems here, should I ever find myself caroled. First, I don’t know what figgy pudding is and, based on the terrible implications of its name, I refuse to find out. If they are true to their word, I’ll have permanent living yard art should Carolers ever ply their craft upon my lawn. Second, what if they don’t sing this song? I’ll have no clue how to let them know the time has come to depart.

I suppose both eventualities present the same conundrum, but at least if I ever find myself being shaken down for figgy pudding I can call upon some neighbor to produce some and satisfy the good-hearted hooligans who threaten and harass in a spirit of good cheer.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…be sure that you keep homeowners such as myself in mind should you ever go caroling. Some of us simply don’t know how to handle such things.

A don’t…think me a Scrooge-esque individual. I don’t yell “Bah!” in the faces of purveyors of humbug. I don’t have the money to be a miser. I don’t have it in my heart to hate anyone for attempting to spread cheer. I simply dislike the method of satiating Carolers. Also, I’d say that at best I’m merely semi-social. I’m very awkward socially. I’ve no idea how to react. I’m sure if I ever was caroled I’d offend the Carolers with my clumsy attempts to go through the motions of appearing appreciative.

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A Lump of Coal for Christmas?: A Possible Explanation

In honor of the fast-approaching holiday, I’d like to explore a bit of yule-tide trivia. It isn’t smarmy, but it could become so, I suppose, should I lose my nerve and wax sentimental. I’ll try not to do that.

The aforementioned holiday is Christmas and the trivia is coal in the stocking. I’ve done no research on this whatsoever, so we’re bobbing on the crests of waves of conjecture and hear-say here. My ideas might be completely historically inaccurate. Don’t expect to learn anything from this.

Coal in the stocking is not a new idea. I’ve heard it proclaimed since I was young that a bad boy gets a stocking full of coal. And I didn’t only hear this from my parents or others in their age range. I heard it from my grandparents and even from older folks at stores and restaurants when it’s cold outside and garland hangs from every indoor precipice and some youngster isn’t being quite obedient. “Better straighten up there, young person. Wouldn’t want Santa to stuff sooty rocks into you goodie sock, would you?” The preceding is not an exact quote and should in no way be construed as something I’ve actually heard someone say. But I’ve heard a lot of things said along those lines.

I’m assuming that, for the older folks, it isn’t (or wasn’t) a new idea either. I don’t think the idea came into being around the time I was born. I believe it to be older than 34 years. Here’s why I say that. My grandpa was a coal miner for some time. He had issues with black lung. He never talked about it but, through the family grape vine, I heard he didn’t much care for coal mining. Understandable. But, for someone who sacrifices his health and happiness to dig the stuff out from under mountains, is it really something to joke about? Now, if grandpa said “Be good or Santa will chain you up to a bunch of other naughty kids and drive you down into the dark to mine coal.”, that would’ve shown some sort of fearful respect for the idea. Instead he’d say what everyone else says. Be good or get a stocking full of coal. This makes me think that it’s also something he heard as a child, before he knew the horrors of coal mining,  and it meant no more to him than saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away or some other such folk wisdom. He’s heard it, he says it, it’s a habit, he doesn’t consider what it means. To him, it was just what you say to a cranky or disobedient grand kid. The idea is older than Grandpa.

The preceding paragraph is hear-say and conjecture. No solid evidence exists, that I know of, to support my thesis.

I’m just guessing here, but I think that coal used to be a highly sought after gift. In the Dickensian era, and other such similar eras, when coal was perhaps harder to come by and even harder to procure unless you were affluent, a lump of coal in a stocking could’ve meant a great deal to a child. “Coal! Coal! Mother, Father, observe it! We shan’t this cold Christmas day die of exposure within our own dear domicile! Oh, Mother, Father, what a good boy I must’ve been! Come now, let us set it ablaze that this blue hue might fade from our extremities and our cheeks might lose this waxy quality and assume again a rosy glow! Merry Christmas!” Once again, not a direct quote.

Another guess, here: when coal based heating was phased out and replaced with gas or oil or whatever it was that came after coal, people, excepting perhaps the blacksmiths and goldsmiths and various other smiths who forge metals, didn’t want coal anymore. And no one wants a stocking full of gas or oil. That idea seems cruel, even for the naughty children. “Here, son! You’ve been less than exemplary this year. Have a sock full of dangerous combustibles! ‘Tis no less than you deserve. Just don’t go near the fire with that, or we’ll all come to know the Christ whose mass we now celebrate much sooner than we’d hoped.”

So I guess, once coal was no longer sought after, folks could get it easier and more cheaply so they continued to put it into stockings, now as a punishment rather than a reward. I think the logic went something like this: Coal is cheap now. I’ve been getting coal for my kids every year from Soot-eye Steven. I’m not so creative as to be able to deduce a better gift and Steven’s business isn’t doing so hot (Saints forgive me the pun) right now. I’ll keep getting them coal, but tell them it’s because they didn’t finish their figgy pudding. We all must keep up with appearances and eat that stuff. Elsewise how will future generations know that we were true Dickensian Londoners? Perhaps when they receive a filthy rock we’ve no longer a purpose for they’ll get the idea.

Then somehow the idea stuck.

Maybe.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy Christmas for what it is. A hodge-podge of strange traditions that, while making little sense, brings loved ones together.

A don’t…fill stockings with electricity. It is a prevalent source of heating these days, but now they have programs to help those who can’t afford a warm home.

I Believe in Bigfoot, But Does He Believe in Me? A Question That Doesn’t Really Need to be Answered

As may or may not be evident by the photo accompanying this post, I believe in Bigfoot. I won’t say that I believe completely in his existence; instead, I believe in the idea of Bigfoot and his plausibility as a living creature.

But is the reverse true for Bigfoot, if he exists? Does Bigfoot believe in me? As far as I’m aware, Bigfoot has never seen me. I’ve certainly never seen him. If he believes in the few representatives of Humankind he may have seen, he at least believes in me by proxy and this brings me some sort of comfort.

I like to think, though, that there are fringe Bigfoots (Bigfeet? Thank you Tolkien for your Proudfoots/Proudfeet exploration. It intrigues us still today.) out there that, being more adventurous than their contemporaries, have sought out the strange sounds blasting through the woods and laid eyes upon a Human or group of humans. Perhaps these “outsider” Sasquatches lope home and grunt excitedly to their families and peers about the small, hairless, bi-pedal Sasquatchoid creatures they have seen.

Perhaps Bigfoot, too, knows the sting of being thought crazy by the majority of his society.

Maybe there are even Bigfoot Human watching groups. Perhaps it is called something like the H.uman B.eing R.esearch O.rganization or the Bigfoot grunting/howling equivalent of that. Perhaps they try to imitate the sounds of shotgun blasts or are hard at work producing the fluorescent orange colors they’ve seen during deer season. Maybe there’s some enterprising young Bigfoot developing scents he associates with people. I don’t know what they would be. Something unique that we probably can’t smell since woodsmen and hunters generally avoid scented aftershaves and colognes and such while searching for creatures to eat or study. Perhaps to Bigfoot we smell as bad as I’ve heard Bigfoot smells to people. Skunk Ape indeed. How crude and completely uncalled for.

And what if, just what if, the responses people claim to hear when they are call blasting into the night aren’t actual Bigfoot responses at all. What if these recordings people play to attract Bigfoot are something else altogether and Bigfoot, hearing these strange sounds and sometimes then seeing people, thinks these are the noises people make and is simply regurgitating what he hears in an attempt to attract us?

What if somewhere there is a Bigfoot attempting to imitate human speech and some Bigfoot researcher or frightened camper will one day hear from back in the tree line a tentative and gravelly “Hello?”

Just some food for thought. Bigfoot, whether real, imagined, hoaxed or misidentified, is a veritable buffet of such mental edibles.

And maybe he even believes in, or doubts the existence of, us.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…try to see both sides of all arguments. Some arguments, however, have two different sides from two or more distinct sub-groups. These 4 or more dimensional arguments are worth looking into from every angle.

A don’t…get caught up in the Bigfoots/Bigfeet plurality conundrum. It just isn’t really worth it. After all, rather than aruging semantics, you could be busy looking for a group of Big…well, you get where I’m going, I’m sure.

Rude Dolph the Red-Nosed Drunken Mall Santa; A Holiday Classic Realistically Reimagined

Rude Dolph the red nosed drunken mall Santa;

Had some very noxious breath.

Most kids who sat on his lap;

Begged him (please) for their own death.

All of the other mall Santas;

Thought that he had sullied their names,

So every time they saw him;

They brushed their fingers at him in shame.

Then one busy Christmas Eve;

The mall manager came to say,

“Rude Dolph with your breath so rank;

Won’t you eat these mints I got at the bank?”

Then how the children flocked to him;

And they shouted out with glee (yippee),

“Rude Dolph the red nosed drunken mall Santa;

Now you only smell like pee!”

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…accept my apologies.

A don’t…forget to brush your teeth, especially if your mouth is going to be close to people and you’re required to speak to them.

Tome Travel

I’ve heard on multiple occasions from multiple sources that reading can be like time travel. I never thought that it was. I suppose it’s the closest we can get, but our own timeline advances as we read about previous times or exotic and maybe even fantastical locales. I suppose, even if we did actually travel in time, our own timeline would continue to advance even thought we could, in theory, return to the exact moment we left, I assume we’d return older than when we left.

Never mind.

This post isn’t about time travel.

I like to read. This likely isn’t a shocking revelation. I assume that most others who maintain blogs or read blogs also enjoy reading. I like every aspect of the act of reading. My tome travel begins with the discovery of the book on its shelf. When I pull it down, I commit the grievous sin of judging it by its cover. I think I do this in a very positive way, though. I’ve read many a book with a dull cover. I’ve read books with blank covers. I’ve even read books with no covers. The cover has no bearing on my deciding not to read it. Some covers have, on occasion, caused me to purchase books I have no intention of reading.  After I pass judgment on the cover I hold the book close to my face and flip the pages. As the scent of the ink and paper and perhaps the elements of the binding process become noticeable, I plunge my face into the volume, usually fairly close to the midway point, and breathe deeply. When this is done, I enjoy the weight of it in my hand as I look for other books. When I’m looking at a book in terms of its bookness only, size really matters. I especially enjoy paperbacks that are close to a thousand pages. If I’m picking a book to have for no reason other than that it’s a book and I want to have it (which I do often to the dismay of my wife, whose books are ever on the verge of being crowded out; my wallet, that could well have a perpetually lit neon “vacancy” sign sticking up out of it; and my overburdened bookshelves and the walls they’re attached to), it’ll be a monster. Then I drive home with the book on my lap or, if I’m not driving, I clasp it in both hands and stare at it.

With all that said, you may be wondering what on Earth I’m getting at. What does any of that have to do with tome travel?

Well, new books are strangers. Before I’ll surrender my mind to it and let it take me somewhere, I have to get to know it. Would you time travel with someone you barely knew? Likely not. You’d want to get acquainted a little first. Gathering all this information is necessary to insure an enjoyable excursion with an acquaintance, if not yet friend, rather than a blind foray with a stranger.

Once the book and I have shaken hands and I’ve had a chance to look over its opening pages (and run my fingers over the contours of any embossments that happen to be present on the cover) I can crack it open and go wherever its going to take me. I don’t think of it as time travel, though. It simply isn’t. No matter how involved I become with the story, I’m still in my house. I can hear the tv in the background and the kids playing. I can smell my dog as she walks by. I haven’t gone anywhere and I know it.

But last night I had a slight epiphany. As I was reading I suddenly became aware of my eyes reading the page and my brain interpreting the words and providing vague visuals as two distinct and separate phenomena. I have never been aware of the distinction before, but as I continued to read this way, I began to notice that what my brain produced for me to “view” and what was actually read by my eyes could be completely different things.  Specifically, the author described a character as an overweight male mowing the lawn in bathing trunks. I pictured him in a speedo. I didn’t even realize I’d done it until I went back and re-read the description wondering why this guy in my head had a speedo on. The author specifically said trunks. My brain showed me speedo.

Why?

No idea. I have no desire to see any man in a speedo, subconscious or otherwise.

I realize now that, yes books can be considered comparable to time travel. They can distract our minds with visions of other times and places and events. They can evoke emotions and cause distress to a degree. But no matter what the author has written or what he envisioned as he was writing, the reader’s interpretation will never be exactly in line with the author’s.

Books take us on journeys, but not necessarily the ones we are expected to take.

But reading isn’t time travel in any sense.

It’s tome travel.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…tome travel as much as you can. The author will have quite a say in where you go, but your own tome travels are unique to you. Open your eyes and enjoy the ride.

A don’t…forget to respect the fact that others want books too. Make sure to leave them at least a little space on the shelves.

Ties and Sickness and a Lump on the Couch; A Rant, a Rave and an Exploration of an Unpleasant Fact of Life

Is there any moment in life more gut-wrenching than having to “hurt” someone to help them?

I think not. Or if there is, I haven’t experienced it personally.

This evening my son appeared in a Christmas program at his school. He was a little fussy as I straightened his tie. I didn’t attribute this to sickness. It seemed perfectly normal to me to fight the tie, even though he really wanted to wear one. Wanting a tie and liking a tie are two different things. Everyone wants to look nice. No one wants to wear a tie.

But, for some weird reason, in order to look nice (that is, if you are male) you must first button the top-most button of your shirt. This simple act is a crime against nature. I’m convinced that the Adam’s apple is God’s indicator that you aren’t supposed to constrict your throat area. But we do it anyway and, simply by fulfilling the prerequisite of tie-wearing, you’ve already limited your throat’s little defender’s range of motion.

Now, as the button compresses your larynx, you must flip up the collar, thus untucking your shirt. Next you voluntarily wrap a potential noose about your neck, fumble around to get the knot right and make sure it’s straight and that the thin back part isn’t longer than the presentation surface of the adornment.

Now, with all that done, you sentence yourself to a term of discomfort all in an attempt impress people you probably don’t even know for a short period of time during which they, in their own self-inflicted, self-absorbed state of discomfort, couldn’t care less how well you are dressed.

Who wants this? Of course I didn’t associate his fussing at the tie with illness. I was actually comforted by it. Oh look, I thought, I’m raising a normal boy!

He coughed a lot on the way home. He fell asleep on the way home. When we got to the house, he sat on the couch, blanket over his head, to eat his cheeseburger dinner. a few minutes later his small hand emerged from the fuzzy lump on the couch clutching a crescent shaped burger remnant. The hand placed the scrap on the coffee table and scrounged blindly for a moment until it closed around a small cellophane bag of cookies. The hand and treats disappeared back under the blanket. The lump on the couch collapsed on its side and began to crunch slowly and methodically. A few moments later a partially full bag of cookies was weakly ejected from under the blanket and the lump on the couch fell still and silent.

When we approached the lump with a thermometer, it willingly disgorged the boy’s head and he allowed us to take his temperature. 100.4. Not too concerning, but definitely worth keeping an eye on. My wife went out for Tylenol.

The lump remained still and silent as I helped my daughter with her homework and notified my boss that I shan’t be working upon the morrow.

Suddenly, the lump again disgorged a child. The child stood, walked silently toward his room, stopped before disappearing into the hall, offered a weak wave and went to bed a full half-hour before bed time. Now I was concerned.

I asked him if he was going to sleep and he said that he was. I asked him if he could stay awake until the medicine arrived. He said he couldn’t. I told him that when the medicine got here, he’d have to wake up and take it. He nodded and went to sleep.

When my wife and I went to wake him up, he began to kick (shameless book plug here, it was his trait of kicking wildly at anything and everything when upset that inspired the main character in my book “How Sir Donkey Legs Became a Knight”) and fuss and literally cry. We tried to comfort him. We tried to convince him. My wife even picked up a small gift for him and the bribe of opening a small toy wasn’t enough to crack his delirious resolve.

We finally had to force it down his throat as he kicked and cried and fussed.

We’ve found that a cupful of generic lemon-lime soda generally makes the medicine go down, so we allowed him that amenity. At this point he became once again the sweet-mannered young man he truly is. He opened his toy and was excited. He was even more excited to learn he’d be staying home from school in the morning. He went once more to bed, smiling now despite his infirmity.

Though it all ended well, those few moments of forcing medicine upon him felt to me like the equivalent of controversial water-boarding tactics. There was no way I was letting him go back to sleep without something to break his fever. The ends certainly justified the means, but it still didn’t feel quite right to force needed medicine on a sick, squirming, crying, kicking, miserable five year old boy.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…force medicine on your kids when they need it. It isn’t water-boarding, no matter how much it feels as though it is.

A don’t…water-board anyone. Or anything. The only exception being when you are in dire need of a wet board.

Some Restaurant Whose Name I Dare Not Remember; A Disaster in Mexican-American Fusion

Greetings!,

I wish to regale you with a tale. It isn’t a tale of hope. It isn’t even a pleasurable tale. It is instead a tale of a horrible mistake. A mistake made by a young man and his father. It may be pleasurable to you. Being detached from the actual experience, you may find it quite humorous. Read on that you may be enlightened as to your reaction.

Before I begin, I firstly disclaim that, although I tell a tale of woe, I do not seek to discredit anyone whatsoever. It is perhaps a benefit that I do not remember the name of the terrible Mexican restaurant my father and I visited. Nor do I remember the town that it was in, although the state was Oklahoma. Go figure. Ridiculous Turnpike tolls and horrible Mexican restaurants. The only good thing to come out of Oklahoma for me is my beautiful and amazing wife. Well, her and that one Toby Keith song.

My father and I once traveled to a town fairly foreign to us to tow home one of our family’s cars that had broken down on the cursed Turnpike. After hooking up the car to my pickup truck, we decided that we were hungry. We pulled, connected and carefully, into a small town gas station and inquired as to the availability of “good food” in the area. The attendant for some reason suggested the Mexican place. Perhaps it was the only restaurant in the tiny town. If so, I’m sure the inhabitants rue their future for it is one bereft of culinary class and diversity.

We traversed the tiny roads, happy for the low population and empty streets, until the route we had been given terminated in the Mexican “restaurant” whose praises had been sung (sang? No, it’s sung.) at the gas station. In retrospect we should’ve considered the source. I’m not saying that gas station attendants have no taste. All I’m saying is that the edibles offered by gas station attendants generally inspire diarrhea.

We entered the place and were shown to a table by some people who were by no means Mexican. This should have been our first clue. My father and I are, however, quite dumb. We sat down and perused the menu. After ordering drinks my father proclaimed a need to evacuate either his liquid or solid waste repositories. I can’t remember which, and it probably is irrelevant and disgusting to try and remember anyway. He requested that, should the waitress approach before his return, I order him the buffet.

As it turned out, I placed our order, two buffets, as he was still preoccupied with his evacuations. I approached the wanting self-serve bar and filled a plate. There wasn’t much to choose from. The buffet was perhaps three feet long. There was some ground beef that had dried out on the top, a pan with taco shells that had cracked down the middle and some wilted lettuce.

Attempting to avoid diarrhea, I loaded my plate with the only other thing on offer that day, jalapeno poppers. Or so I thought. I returned to the table and, before my father returned, I had time to bite into a popper and be disappointed and confused.

When dad got back to the table, the waitress was there refilling my drink. Dad requested the house made salsa and went to fill a plate. When he returned, he found on the table a bowl of ketchup with jalapenos sliced into it and cilantro sprinkled on top.

As he sat he said with a grin, “You must experience the bathroom!”. After having eaten a few “jalapeno poppers” I was only to quick to agree. Before making my exit, however, I lifted a “popper” in salute and watched as he also bit into one. His face creased, as mine had, in disappointment and confusion.

They were not, in fact, jalapeno poppers. They weren’t, in any respect, Mexican food at all. They were pigs in a blanket.

As dad sat regretting our choice, I visited the men’s room, another choice to be regretted. The toilet sat upon a raised rostrum not even large enough to support the entire base of the toilet. Sitting upon this was an experience I’ll not explain in detail. Who needs to read about that? Suffice it to say, it was scary. The sink, if sink it could be called, was so shallow that I couldn’t fit both hands under the stream of water at once.

After washing each hand individually, I returned to our table for the most horribly non-mundane culinary experience I’ve ever had.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…take risks when you eat out. Many times you’ll find a “diamond in the rough”.

A don’t…eat at a Mexican restaurant staffed by white people. Or, if you must, tread very carefully. They may take too many liberties and present you with unexpected and horrible Mexican-American fusion disasters.