Friday, December 21, 2007

Santa’s Pre-Flight Checklist

Unless you still think the best route to Cameroon is US 95 South, do not consult MapQuest again.

For the love of God, place the new puppies on TOP of the sled gift pile this year

Keep pre-flight partying to a minimum, especially any grand ideas to mix Jagermeister and egg nog. “Jag Nog”—what the hell was that?

Bring note informing little Jimmy Tilbert of Dayton, Ohio for the third year in a row that there does not exist a two-player party game called “Hammer Fight.”

Bring own snack food. Raiding kitchens in America because you’re starving is bad enough. Raiding kitchens in Uzbekhastan is just plain heartless.

This year don’t forget that several million children also live in trailers…and Wyoming.

Avoid having to rent Ryder truck at last minute by making certain reindeer are actually connected to sled before take-off.

Fulfill promise to brother-in-law and bring along CD recording of his band “Illinoise” to listen to on trip.

Switch from Sprint to another cell phone provider before Christmas Eve. Not being able to get a signal in Krakow is understandable. Not being to get a signal in midtown Manhattan is inexcusable.

Give elves their usual Christmas bonus—a $25 gift certificate to the Outback Steakhouse.

Save time, travel and headaches by organizing gifts in bag according to country, not child’s height.

No matter how bad it gets out there that night, just keep telling yourself, “Hey, at least I’m no longer working in marketing.”

Instead of packing several hundred different suits so as to adhere to each region’s traditional depiction of St. Nick, introduce universal “Gap Santa” outfit.

Try for once not to give rich kids everything they never needed and poor kids a “sampling” of crayons swiped from pediatricians’ waiting rooms.

If any child sees you, quickly apply “sleeper hold.”

Standard Responses to Christmas Gifts

“I gave you this very sweater last Christmas, only without the stains.”

“Actually, I’m allergic to cats. And avocados. How you managed to combine the two in one present is beyond me.”

“Does the Stop & Shop have a return policy?”

“It’s not that I think cash is a bad gift. I just wish you had given it to me in a currency I recognized.”

“Is it supposed to scream like that?”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Diary of Frosty the Snowman

December 1: Got bored so I gave myself breasts. Now terribly concerned about toll loneliness is taking on sanity.

December 2: Accidentally wet myself while passing portable space heater section at Wal-Mart. Thrown out by elderly store greeter.

December 3: In attempt to blend in better I replaced current snow head with severed head found under train trestle. Reaction was poor to say the least.

December 4: Tripped on sidewalk, shattering all the bottles of beer I keep cold in my ass.

December 5: Out of desperation tried to build a snow companion, but due to unseasonable warm weather had to use spare auto parts instead. Somehow I knew the moment I placed that magic hat on top of her she would start killing people.

December 6: Became alarmed when I found a lump on my chest. Turns out a kitten had burrowed inside me one night and froze to death.

December 7: Apparently it’s inappropriate to march small children down the streets of town and then across state lines.

December 8: Squirrels striped me naked and took out my eyes. Never should have used walnuts instead of coal for buttons and facial features.

December 9: Why can’t I make any friends? I’m jolly. I’m giving. I can spin my own head on the tip of my finger while doing Satan’s voice from “The Exorcist.” And yet ever night I drink alone.

December. 10: Note to self—genitalia should be suggested, not crudely fashioned out of an icicle and two snowballs.

December 11: Spent afternoon writhing in agony after Sanitation Department dumped salt on me.

December 12: Why do I even buy toilet paper? What possible good use can I get out of it?

December 13: There is nothing worse than being alone during the holidays—except being at the mercy of rain, the sun and any kid looking for material to build themselves a snow fort.

December 14: Got Christmas card from Santa. No personal message. Just his stamped signature and a hastily scrawled note reading “To Frothy.”

December 15: Struck several hundred times by snowballs thrown by nasty teenagers. Now weigh 740 pounds.

December 16: Tried to join a church group to be with more people but—depending on the sect—I’m either the fourth or fifth sign of the Apocalypse.

December 17: School board ruled I can no longer hang around elementary playground without pants. Made my own button-fly jeans with extra lumps of coal but somehow that only accentuated the problem.

December 18: Went to dog park in attempt to meet other singles. Left six hours later alone and with two yellow feet.

December 19: Fell face first into a gravel driveway. Now I have 600 teeth and a shirt that takes four hours to unbutton.

December 20: Just heard from Rudolph that Hermey the Dentist got married. Talk about denial.

December 21: Had annual physical. Medical results came back same as always—I simply shouldn’t be.

December 22: Elderly woman mistook me for Pillsbury Doughboy. Thought she was going to tickle my tummy but instead started tearing off huge chunks of snow from my torso and shoving them into her mouth. Her grandson later explained that she thought I was made of delicious crescent roll dough.

December 23: Accidentally rolled down tall snow-covered hill. Wound up taking out three stores and 42 last-minute shoppers.

December 24: Spent Christmas Eve alone, watching “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” getting hammered on spiked egg nog and carving Nicolette Sheridan’s name over and over again into my chest.

December 25: Went blank when a strong gust of wind blew off my top hat. Came to 12 hours later in a Denny’s wearing an enchanted yarmulke and married to a Cambodian illegal immigrant named Kwen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Look Who I'm Suing This Week!

Ted Forth, Retail Slave, makes a cameo in the great webcomic Shortpacked!

O Christmas Tree, My Parents' Christmas Tree

Two weeks ago I went over to my parent's house (and my childhood home) to help them set up their Christmas tree. Although it wasn't the same color-coded tree kit I grew up with (the Marciuliano folk often chose their evergreens from an artificial forest), the ornaments were the very ones I hung as a child, a teen, a college student and a visiting sporadically-employed adult.

The sheer familarity resulted in a bittersweet process, not only because the decorations recalled a time when the entire family was around to put the tree together (then gather in front of the RCA hearth and warming glow of a Rankin-Bass special) but also each ornament captured a particular Christmas or rite of passage that seems sadly to grow dimmer and dimmer until you hold the very material of those memories right in your hands.

So with your kind permission I would like to review a small sampling of these very ornaments, each their own holiday madeline cookie evoking a stream of self (indulgent) consciousness. Let's start with clearly the most prized and esteemed festive bibelot of them all...
Yes, your eyes do not lie. That is indeed an exquisite egg carton compartment, delicately turned on its base and brought to perfection with a mere wash of vermilion, a dab of glitter and a pipe cleaner curved so faultlessly yet so effortlessly that one cannot help but wonder if this was brought to life not by a skilled artisan but by the very Son of God himself! Or you may think it's the handiwork of a kindergarten student circa 1972, devised as a time-killer project by one Mrs. Sharf (who all the students quickly dubbed Mrs. Shark and despite in my mind having the menacing mien and temperment of a Margaret Hamilton was probably no more than 30 and simply slowly going insane spending the majority of her waking hours tending to 20 kids whose biggest accomplishment was almost getting their snowpants off before peeing). Either the way, the fact that my parents have managed to keep this ornament in perfect condition (not to mention keep it all) is touching and telling to say the least.

The next holiday bauble may seem at first glance to be simply one of many cartoon-related decorations that nowadays festoon store shelves...
But back in the late 70's and early 80's my brother, my mom and I were quite the Ziggy fans (I was quite the fan of most comics back then, devouring every strip in the New York Daily News Sunday supplement from Little Orphan Annie to Peanuts to Dick Tracy to such now-forgotten selections as Dondi, Motley's Crew and Herman). When my mom saw the above ornament in our local supermarket, she not only knew it was the ideal addition to our tree but the start of a family tradition (rightfully believing that the year "1982" indicated this ornament was the first of an annual release. My mom bought two variations, one for Marcello and one for me, and promised to buy two new ones every year from then on out. Alas, although my mom looked high and low come 1983, there was no "second in the series" to be found, bringing to a quiet yet swift end what was hoped to be an ongoing, multigenrational family collection.

Now on the whole Marciulianos like to make more often than buy, and both my parents created numerous decorations for our tree, from the rather ornate...

To the comfortingly homespun:

But around 1973, they decided to start mixing it up...with mixed results. It began innocently enough during a trip to my cousins' house in Cherry Hil when my family stopped at a small arts & craft store and picked up a collection of wooden, paint-by-numbers Christmas ornaments for a fun-filled, squeaky clean family project. Unfortunately, even though we all managed to say within the lines, the end result of our efforts was a psychotropic phantasmagoria that looked less likely to adorn a Christmas tree and more fitting perched on the shoulder of a piper at the gates of dawn...

Or starring as a "living credenza" character in Yellow Submarine

This was followed in the mid-to-late 1970's by what would soon be dubbed my mom's "Bob Mackie" or "A Cher Christmas" phase, featuring cloth ornaments with more sequins than a Taiwanese drag queen and often in the shapes of such holiday standards as "Stonewall Bar American Indian"...

Let us get a closer gander at the ornament's sheer volume of "pizzazz," shall we? Note how every pore of this proud native seems to say--if not scream--that he is going to boogie-oogie-oogie until he just can't snort coke off the sternum of Bianca Jagger no more...

That happy fellow was soon joined by the perhaps-a-tad-too-fabulous Christmas Peacock...

The customary Christmas Glitter Gator...

And something that is either a shiny holiday heart with bow or a sparkling beefsteak tomato.

But no ornament holds a greater place in our family's heart than the oldest, purchased by my parents for the their very first Christmas tree as husband and wife. The very box for the ornament (still in mint condition) is the very epitome of 1963 fashion and fancy (once you discount the curiously satanic number code on top), with a description that harkens back to a a time of unbridled optimism when man dreamed of a technological utopia where architecture was sleeker, transporation was faster and kitchens were better for his housebound wife...

That is, until you take out Santa on Stork...
With wings broken, a body held by the merest of fabric tendons and a St. Nick that can perhaps best be described as "bindle-less hobo," Santa on Stork may appear to be less a relic of the golden "Jet Age" than an all-too powerful reminder to check in regularly on the elderly come the long, winter months. But despite all that (and a tendency to turn to dust upon touch or breeze), this Santa remains perched on his steed a full 44 years later, still ready and willing to careen through the Christmas Eve night air to deliver presents to all good boys and girls or merely slough off feathers, wires and perhaps a foot along the way.

Now over the many years and decades some of the above ornaments have fallen out of favor with our family and failed to make it to the tree (most notably the wooden and beaded). But this Christmas I declared that there would be no benchwarmers. Every ball, every figure, poorly-glued shredded paper thingy would get to shine in the LED light and hang with their brethren on the manufactured branch, from the tradional...

To the traditions sadly cut short...

To the solemn Santas...

And unorthodox Kringles...

The ornaments fashioned in pre-school...

In days of macrame and denim...

Or nights at Studio 54...

The questionable...

The eerie...

And the downright horrifying...

And last but certainly not least, our beloved but not-yet bereaved Jet-Age Santa on Stork, perched ever so carefully on a spray of branches and still prepared for takeoff, bum hip and all.

And so with all the ornaments hung carefully in place (and on every branch possible)...

We all sat down to celebrate with that Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, complete with the despicable Winter Warlock ("Please, call me Winter").

And though our family Christmas evergreen may never possess the glitz and grandeur of its nearby big city cousin...

Frankly, I never thought it was a bad little tree.

So to you and yours, may the Christmas bells ring loud and clear this year...

May the stars shine brightly over your home...

May the snow fall gently on your white Christmas...

May we all finally experience some peace on Earth...

And may you receive visits, gifts and joy from the Jet-Age Santa for years and years to come.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Questions Not to Ask at the Office Holiday Party

“Can someone point me to the men’s room? I’m feeling randy.”

“How many Poles does it take to run a company into a ground? Just Lech and his two dumbass sons over there.”

“Y’know, I’m looking at all the crayon drawings of food, noting the complete absence of any actual appetizers or real entrees, and I can’t help but wonder, sir—should you have promoted Lenny from the mailroom to Events Coordinator.”

“Are you a registered Republican or do you not give a damn about your future in this company?”

“Excuse me, but exactly what is this party in lieu of? I hope it’s not dental because I just got into a wicked fight over by the omelet station.”

“Are you ignoring me because I’m not in senior management or because you just saw me shove some brisket in my pocket for later?”

“Here’s a riddle—What has four legs but can’t walk? Give up? Jim and Nancy!…What? Oh, if I’m such a cruel bastard then why did I allocate the funds for their access ramp?”

“Can you hold my baby for a moment? I’m going to get another whisky sour.”

“Why aren’t the employees mingling and enjoying each other’s company? After all, this is the only time of the year we allow that to happen.”

“Guess how many licks it takes to get to the center of my…DOES THIS LOOK LIKE A GROUP DISCUSSION, BOB?!? KEEP WALKING!”

“When did our company stop being about the people and start being about the multiple class-action lawsuits?”

“Why won’t you let me celebrate my love for you?!”

“If we’re all a so-called team then why aren’t any of you wearing the official team jerseys I just made in the stairwell out of tablecloths and tortellini sauce?!”

“Now who wants to see me perform the exact same trick without the fork concealed under my napkin?”

“What’s the difference between this party and a wake? One less asshole to deal with.”

“Who wants to say grace before we eat?”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Claymation Carol of the Bells

From Will Vinton's A Claymation Christmas Special (made possible by the huge success of the 80's supergroup, The California Raisins).

Christmas Shopping: The Final Week

How to Assemble Inexpensive, Last-Minute Holiday Gifts with Materials that Readily Can Be Found in Your Cubicle, Carefully Removed from Your Coworker’s Office or Simply Stolen Outright from the Company Supply Closet

Non-Electric Lite Brite
Requires: Several hundred colorful pushpins and caulkboard
Instructions: Spend most of Christmas Day convincing child that art doesn’t have to glow to be fun.

Toy Light Saber
Requires: Chutzpah
Instructions: Wait until office closes for night. Stand on chair of coworker furthest from your cubicle. Wrap fist carefully in towel. Punch through overhead light fixture. Remove halogen bulb.

Old Fashioned Go Kart
Requires: Duct tape, bubble wrap, coworker standing in front of own computer for good part of next year
Instructions: Take coworker’s wheeled chair. Secure lucky gift recipient safely in chair with generous application of duct tape. Fashion helmet with bubble wrap and additional duct tape. Gently push from top of hilly street. Pray for minimal traffic and no sharp turns.

Concentration Card Game
Requires: Two of every business card you received over past year
Instructions: Mumble apology when child unwraps present.

Retroactive Year-Long Subscription to Your Company’s Publication
Requires: Access to magazine archives
Instructions: Acquire all 6, 12 or 52 issues from past year. Works best with timeless publications covering home repair, cooking or fiction. Will have less success with titles that contain the words “latest investment tips,” “cutting-edge technology” or “your official Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip guide”

My Very First Coffee Shop
Requires: Cleaning out contents of pantry, absconding with coffee machine
Instructions: Present child with everything they need to play “Starbucks,” including industrial-size coffee maker, paper cups (one marked “Tips”), sugar and Equal packets, stirrers, napkins and--for those kids under ten--decaffeinated coffee.

Child-Safe Alphabet Blocks
Requires: 26 soft pink erasers, bag from Subway lunch or other take-out meal, fast-dry felt tip pen
Instructions: Write letters and numbers on all sides of erasers. Place set in lunch bag for attractive carrying case. Resist temptation to use alphabet block to correct wrong answer on Sunday crossword puzzle.

Magic Doorknob Game
Requires: Very gullible--perhaps feeble-minded--child
Instructions: Unscrew knob from executive’s office door. Give knob to child. Tell child that it is a “magic doorknob” that will permit him access to anyplace he wishes to enter. Watch as child wanders around house holding doorknob out, believing it to allow him access to such enchanting environments as the open-space living room or hallway. Prevent child from playing game in front of guests or relatives.

Gift Wastebasket (Contents Already Included)
Requires: Looking under your desk
Instructions: Wrap wastebasket in brilliant red or green cellophane paper. Tie with attractive raffia bow. Deliver immediately before food spoils.

Friday, December 14, 2007

How to Be an Office Secret Santa without Becoming a Well-Known Cheap Fuck

It’s hard enough trying to come up with holiday gift ideas for your parents. (After all, unless your folks have a particular fixation—golf, cooking, a new pet they obsess over with a level attention usually reserved for flu-stricken infants—there’s really nothing you can get them that they won’t open up, study for a second and then say, “Oh, I didn’t even know there was a market for this.”) But deciding on a Secret Santa present for a random coworker, perhaps even one you’d rather give the plague than a $5 McDonalds holiday gift certificate? That requires a degree of finesse and careful politicking rarely seen outside of SALT treaties.

Be too specific in your selection (say, telephoto snapshots of the looker in Sales Development leaving her apartment) and you may reveal a character trait your coworker is not yet willing to share in public. Be too vague (say, $10 in loose change, minus quarters for the laundry machine) and your coworker may wonder how you can know so little about a person who has not only sat next to you for eight ears but organized every single office birthday party thrown in your honor. Furthermore, fool yourself into thinking, “It’s the thought that counts” when choosing a present and the consequences are bound to be dire. That’s because we’re talking about the office, not a toy drive, and business is nothing if not about money. So while your final purchase will obviously depend on both your personal budget and your professional standing, best to spend what you can rather than what you actually desire. You’d be surprised at the yawning gap between the two options.

Still at a loss as to what to get? Then take a look at the following Secret Santa Dos and Don’ts. They may not provide you with all the answers but they may prevent you from asking any questions like, “I wonder if my coworker likes collectible miniature representations of mid-20th century furniture as much as I do.”

Secret Santa Dos:
• Gift Certificate: The plus side to giving a gift certificate is that it ensures the recipient will be able to find themselves something nice, even if you obviously couldn’t be bothered to scan a store shelf for five lousy minutes. The downside is that—desperate application of White Out aside—there’s no hiding how much you chose to spend on your fellow employee. Sure, everybody loves Target, but not everyone goes there specifically to purchase a single candy bar. So to make sure your certificate seems more like a gift and less like a fancy coupon, try to choose a dollar amount that at least indicates you had to make a trip to the ATM before you picked it up.
• Gift Basket: A gift basket is like a more thoughtful gift certificate. That’s because instead of just pointing your coworker to some store and saying, “I trust you know where they keep the shopping carts” you can present them with a selection of hand-picked goodies that say, “If nothing else, you can use the basket when weeding.” Besides, as opposed to purchasing a single present, a gift basket greatly increases your “hit-or-miss” ratio since the recipient is bound to like at least one of the items, if for no other reason than the fact that everybody enjoys a nice sesame cracker from time to time.
• CD or DVD: Music and movies make great presents, as long as you keep in mind that you want to get your coworker something they'll actually like, not something you believe they are less of a person for having missed. This is not the time to introduce them to the spiritually instructive Christian rap of “MC JC” or a harrowing cinematic expose of humanity’s basest nature like The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. They call it a “present” for a reason—because people actually want to be there when they open their gift, not wish they had fled to the hills the moment they undid the wrapping. Plus, some CDs are called “popular music” and some DVDs called “blockbuster films” because most people genuinely like them. So avoid any recordings featuring tracks listed in Latin or any film featuring the blurb “Klaus Kinski in the most gut-wrenching performance of his career” and you’ll do just fine.

Secret Santa Don’ts:
• Flowers: Unless delivered to a hospital room or given shortly after the passing of a loved one, the gift of flowers says one thing and one thing only—“I’ve been watching you and I likes what I sees.” Sure, you can stress how you chose yellow roses over red or how you thought they could use the vase afterwards. But unless you want to give everyone else in the company the truly cherished gift of office gossip, best to invest your cash in something a tad less controversial…like, say, a photo of your naked ass.
• Clothes: No one likes getting the gift of clothes from relatives. So why on earth would they want to get a sweater from the guy in Accounting? One’s wardrobe is a very personal statement and few long to take sartorial suggestions from staff members they can’t even stand getting emails from. Besides, when given as a gift, clothes have a tendency of saying one of two things, neither particularly pleasant—“I think it’s about time you wore something decent to the office” or, far more disturbing, “I want to dress you.”
• A Donation Made in Their Name: Nothing says, “screwed on the holidays” like opening up a card only to read “A donation of $__ has been made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in your honor.” Is a dying child far more deserving of a gift this holiday season than a healthy, employed adult? Of course! Deep inside does that healthy, employed adult know this to be true? Certainly! Will that healthy, employed adult immediately demand back the Wii they gave you this year? Without a doubt! That’s because people like tangible gifts. Even a gift certificate promises sooner or later that person will be holding something between their grubby little hands. But a donation? How do you put your hands around that?!? Yes, the holidays are a time to think about others, but many people take that to mean others should be thinking about them. So make a donation to your favorite charity either anonymously or in your own name and get your coworker a gift certificate to Starbucks. After all, do you really want to go through all of January hearing the person in the next cubicle constantly mutter, “What if the kid croaked before the check cleared? Then no one made out this Christmas!”

Finally, don’t fret. Some coworkers are just happy to get a present. Others would complain if your donated kidney fits too snuggly in their body. Just buy something, wrap it and hand it over with a tight, forced smile. After all, it’ll be great practice for when you have to go through the whole procedure all over again with your family in less than two weeks.

Can You Tell the Difference?



I mean, besides the fact that one's in color and one is not.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

There Was a Sequel to "The Little Drummer Boy"?!?

As someone whose childhood Christmases were defined--if not actually directed--by stopmotion animation house Rankin-Bass, I am shocked to learn (by which I mean five freaking minutes ago) of the existence The Little Drummer Boy, Book II, in which our titular hero saves some silverbells from some Romans, who want them for taxes. Truly, truly riveting stuff.