The Price Of Love

Heart

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate Valentine’s Day.

Really.

The modern holiday as it’s celebrated is nothing but a way to separate you from your hard earned money.

There is nothing religious about the day, as it was initially celebrated. People don’t look to the saints who were honored in the past, nor is there a rush to attend any masses in their honor.

No, these days we honor Saint Hallmark and Saint Godiva and Saint FTD as we meaninglessly toss more consumer goods at one another in the name of ‘love’.

According to the History Channel, American’s started exchanging Valentine’s greetings as far back as the 1700s. The first mass produced cards were from a woman named Ester A. Howland, who used lace, ribbons and colorful pictures in 1840. So, yes, the tradition of exchanging cards dates back more than 250 years. That’s fine.

What I take issue with is that it stopped being a day to let loved ones know they are in your thoughts and your heart in a simple way with a heartfelt message. Rather, it has become a day where we feel obliged to give our loved ones over-priced flowers, candies, stuffed animals, jewelry, fancy dinners and expensive electronics.

Does that seem right to you?

Why do we let ourselves get manipulated by the same businesses that tell us Christmas isn’t really here until you’ve spent more than you can afford to shower your family with things they don’t need?

And really – it’s men who end up getting the short end of the stick on this one. Let’s just look at what the average man is expected to do for the average girlfriend or wife:

A quick check on the internet shows that a dozen long stem roses start at $30 (tax and delivery not included!) – and that’s supposed to be a deal. Flowers, check. A card is going to run you another $5. Card, check.

Now the question is do you spring for a box of chocolates? ($12) A teddy bear with a heart sewn on its chest? ($15) Some balloons? ($10) Check, check and check.

But that’s all just the lead up to the expensive ‘romantic’ dinner that he’s expected to shell out for when prices are jacked up for the evening. Yes, it’s so romantic to go to a crowded restaurant to get rushed through dinner so they can turn the table for the next poor schmo who’s buying a dinner he can’t afford because he’s been pressured into thinking he’s not a good partner unless he does so.

At dinner there’s supposed to be the big reveal of the actual gift. Perhaps it will be some costume jewelry, or if he’s feeling really pressured some actual high end stuff. Maybe it’s a new e-tablet or an iPhone. God knows car dealerships think this is a day where people are buying each other new rides. (Does anyone actually do this?)

The point is that a guy can easily fork over $250 and not be doing anything high-end. Again – does this seem right to you? The thing is, there’s absolutely no reason anyone should be doing this.

Let’s face it – Valentine’s day has become a competition. It’s not about love or affection. It’s about who has the biggest flower arrangement at work. That’s a shame, too,  because it sucks the fun out of giving or receiving tokens of affection if you have to do it.

I’ve heard people defend the ‘holiday’ and the waste of money by saying it’s nice to have a day that’s special and romantic. Agreed. But, why does it have to be February 14th? I mean, there are 364 other days you could pick to celebrate your romance. All right – 360, because most people are already busy on Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and make their anniversary a special occasion. Why not have a romantic evening because you want to, and not because you feel obliged to because it’s half way through February?

My husband and I take the time to wish each other a happy Valentine’s Day with a kiss and a hand written note. We refuse to be manipulated into spending money on gifts for each other on a day that has no meaning to our relationship. In fact, I have told my husband that I would be disappointed if he spent $30 on a dozen roses that will go for half the price a week later, and be dead by then.

I’m great with not getting flowers on February 14th, because I know that I will get them on an odd Tuesday in March or a Thursday in July. My husband will surprise me with flowers for no particular reason at all, which is far more pleasing than getting them because he felt he had to. We’ll celebrate our relationship with a romantic dinner on the spur of the moment, whether it’s a picnic in the park or a candle-lit restaurant. We don’t let retailers define when we celebrate our love.

The point is this: Why do people salivate in a Pavlovian manner at the ringing of the fabricated holiday bell? Why don’t you make your own traditions? Let the herd get manipulated into spending money, but don’t be one of them. Find a way to make your own time special, and in doing so truly celebrate the one you love.

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I Pledge Allegiance to Hypocrisy

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“Do you have the courage to spread this around unashamed?

‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I grew up reciting this every morning in school, with my hand on my heart. They no longer do that for fear of offending someone. Let’s see how many Americans will repost without fear of offending someone.’” – Stupid post on FB

Screw. You.

How’s that for not being afraid of offending someone?

Seriously – Screw You.

Tell me where you can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. Please, feel free to enumerate the number of different school districts that aren’t saying the pledge. I’m waiting.

Most of those with their knickers in a twist don’t realize that the Pledge wasn’t adopted by congress until 1942, and that in 1943 the Supreme Court ruled that no child can be compelled to recite it. Say it again with me: More than 70 years ago the Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal to compel a student to recite the pledge.

According to Pew Research, in the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision, West Virginia v. Barnette, Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

But, in case you’re still worried that there’s a problem with the Pledge not being recited, 45 states require schools to have the Pledge recited daily. Only Vermont, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Iowa and Wyoming don’t have an absolute requirement to say the Pledge. Which of course doesn’t mean they’re prohibited from saying it, they’re just not required to take time from classes to do it.

Usually I ask people who post this if their kids are being prohibited from saying the pledge. To date not one person has answered me. Not one person has said that it’s affecting their children. It’s just a good way for them to get wound up and tell themselves that things were ever so much better during our youth. You know, the halcyon days of civil unrest and rampant sexism. Yes, the good old days when women and people of color knew their place.

Yes, no one has ever answered or offered up the name of a school or district that doesn’t allow the pledge, It’s a boogieman for people who post this stuff on their wall. They don’t know where this is happening, but they sure are upset about it.

There’s another thing about the Pledge most people refuse to acknowledge, and that’s the whole ‘under God’ thing. It was not added to the Pledge until 1954 at the height of the cold war. It was a way to show we weren’t Godless communists like the Ruskies. It was an act of bluster and a show of religion which is still being fought over by parents who don’t want God in their Pledge. I happen to agree with them that it violates the separation of church and state. Funny, but the very people who worry that it’s not being said enough are the very people who have no problem with God getting into everything. Mostly because they’re sure it’s their God that’s being represented. Not Yahweh or Buddha or Allah. You know, the real god.

The tempest in a teapot that is the worry over the Pledge not being said is similar to people who get bent out of shape about Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. It’s not really a problem. They know it. They KNOW it. But they need to have something to feel persecuted about. They need to feel like they’re a victim or a martyr. It feeds their narrative that the country has veered away from what they perceive to be its Godful track. Which of course brings us back to the question: Whose God and what denomination are you comfortable breaking the First Amendment with?

Just in case anyone’s forgotten this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” It’s the first clause of the first sentence of the first amendment. How much clearer could the Founding Fathers have been? Why is it those God-botherers who insist I practice their religion don’t read the explicit instructions we were given?

There’s one other thing I’d like to know about people who have whipped themselves into a froth about their perception that children are not saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day: Are you saying it every day? If so, why not? I mean, it’s really important, isn’t it? If it’s the way all school children should start their day, shouldn’t you as an adult be doing the same thing? Shouldn’t you lead by example? It seems the country has managed to chug along without having the adult population stand up with their hand over their heart and recite the almighty Pledge.

Because if you’re not doing it, you’re exactly what I suspected: A hypocrite.

Let Others Enjoy Your light

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“There’s a fine line between super cute and super tacky Christmas decorations”

Do you remember when having your house decorated like Clark Griswold’s in Christmas Vacation was something to be laughed at and avoided? Now it’s a badge of honor and something to strive for. You have inflatables, roof top decorations, synchronized lights, lights set to music, crèches and who knows what else Costco will think of next. I can’t believe the things people put up these days. It’s crazy.

Wait. Check that. I can believe it, and before I adjust the onion on my belt I need to remember my childhood. Because, you know, super cute and super tacky are all in the eye of the beholder.

When I was a kid there was man in the neighborhood who did his house and the neighbor’s houses up in an absolutely extravagant manner. Every year his displays were different. They were intricate affairs that drew thousands of people in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He put Clark Griswold to shame.

The theme was always Santa’s Workshop and every year it became more and more elaborate, with robotic elves and eventually a real Santa Claus. Let me set the scene: Southern California, a successful middle-class contractor with access to tools and labor who delighted in making children happy.

I was told he would begin planning in the spring and start construction in the summer. He would frame out entire rooms in the front yard of his house and the neighbor’s, and it would be house quality construction. It would get finished out and decorated in the months before Thanksgiving.

As the years went by he expanded it to cover the front of 6 houses. It was a whole panorama scene you could walk through. There would be animatronic elves building toys in Santa’s workshop or dancing at a party or ice skating, animatronic reindeer moving their heads in the stable, and a Santa who you could wait in line and see. I remember that they would find out your name and surreptitiously get it to Santa before you got into his lap so that you would just know that it was the real Santa because he knew your name even before you could tell him. Santa would give you a candy cane when you were done visiting.

There was even a giant pine tree that was strung with standard sized colored light bulbs and a big star on top that you could see all the way from the freeway, 1/2 a mile away. They used to get a cherry picker to hang the lights because it was so high.

The level of craftsmanship and the quality of the work and thought put into everything was amazing. Dozens of people volunteered their time and the man behind it made sure that every year was better than the last. The fronts of half a dozen houses would disappear for a couple of months a year so that the local neighborhood and visitors could experience a Christmas wonderland. It was his gift to us.

We embraced his gift, and people flocked to it. Without fail the newspapers and local television stations would do an annual story about it. On the weekend it was packed with people and cars driving by to get a look. Probably a thousand people would visit it every weekend.

I visited it every year until I graduated high school and it was always something I looked forward to. I would invite a bunch of friends over to my house and we walk the mile over there caroling the whole way and back. When I was in college I heard he stopped doing it because of ill health. I’ve always thought that other people missed out by not seeing his work and gift of love year after year.

Now here’s the rub: I bet you at least half of his neighbors hated his guts for turning their neighborhood into a spectacle choked with traffic and people walking on their lawns for several weeks a year. I’m not sure how I’d feel about that being down the street from me. I’d like to think I’d be game and help out the cause.

The point is, by sheer numbers a whole bunch of people in the neighborhood had to hate the sight of it, or even the thought of it. To some it was super cute, and to others super tacky. But, to him it was a thing of beauty.

But, I’ll tell you what: He decorated for Christmas in a way most people don’t. He went at it full tilt and made a commitment most people would never make. He went big and proud and loud and did what he wanted to do. His work and vision spoke for themselves and were compelling enough for people to come from all over the city of Los Angeles just to look at it.

So, when I hear someone wonder where the line is between cute and tacky with Christmas decorations I’d prefer to think of it all as going big. It may not be to anyone else’s taste but, if you want to, go big and enjoy what you have.

Be merry and bright. Let others enjoy your light.

Merry Christmas

Elf on the Shelf: Santa’s Stalky Spy

Elf on the Shelf

“I have a SERIOUS problem: I can’t find Twinkletoes!! OMFG. Total panic”

Sucks to be you.

I have no problem admitting that I think Elf on the Shelf is creepy and I’m glad I never had to deal with it as a parent.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Elf on the Shelf – A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book about elves who are Santa’s spies. The book comes with a stuffed doll called a scout elf that ostensibly watches your child and flies back to Santa in the North Pole every night to report about their behavior. Every morning between Thanksgiving and Christmas finds the elf in a new position in the house. Like its cousin Flat Stanley the more original or outrageous the position the better.

The doll itself comes in male and female, light skinned and blue eyed, and dark skinned an brown eyed so you can take your ethnic pick of who you’d like to be tattling to Santa about your child’s every misstep. The Elf gets its magic from being adopted by a family and being named, an elf might lose its magic if it is touched by the children.

I first heard about Elf on the Shelf several years ago when I saw people posting pictures on Facebook of stuffed elves getting into mischief. It was mildly cute and I didn’t think much of it as I scrolled past. As the last few years have gone by more and more people started doing it, with their vignettes getting more and more elaborate, I thought about the whole phenomena. I came to the conclusion that I don’t care for Santa’s Stalky Spies.

My first problem with Elf on the Shelf is that I detest a marketing ploy being called a tradition. Seriously, when the book was released in 2005 the name was Elf on the Shelf – A Christmas Tradition. A tradition the day it was released? Wow. That’s something. Especially since it was a tradition that took a few years to catch on after first publication.

But, catch on it did, and are they ever marketing the hell out of the whole thing. Go to The Elf on the Shelf website and find the book and cheap toy doll on sale for $30. You can buy your elf various pieces of clothing like a $10 leather jacket, or a $7 football jersey. For $25 you can buy your elf a chef’s apron and get a cookie cutter thrown in. $20 will get you a new product for 2014 called Elf Pets: A Reindeer Tradition. That’s right you can buy a pet reindeer for your $30 stuffed elf.

The whole website is just pushing crap products on their entirely made-up Christmas tradition. That’s not entirely true, I admit. They’re also pushing crap on a completely different totally bullshit made up tradition: It’s called Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition. Yes, they’ve managed to whore out birthdays, too. They have a birthday Countdown Calendar and Birthday Tradition Game that sells for $40. The Countdown Calendar is an ersatz advent calendar that is supposed to have a trinket put in each pocket on every day for the four weeks leading up to the birthday girl or boy’s special day. That’s right – it’s not enough to have a birthday party and a big day to celebrate, the new tradition requires a month of tithing before you even get to the party. Don’t forget that for the big day you want to be sure to get the $25 kit to decorate a chair. See if you can put your arms around that. The new birthday tradition involves a month of gift giving and special decorations for the birthday boy or girl’s chair.

So, we’ve determined that Elf on any Shelf is nothing more than a sickening consortium designed to move product. It will come as no shock that there are videos, comic books, e-games, figurines and even a special edition 2014 Elf on the Shelf skirt. They have truly monetized their ‘tradition’.

But, that’s not what bothers me most about Elf on the damn Shelf. What bothers me about it is that it’s another way lie to your children about why they should behave. Don’t tell them that they should behave because it’s the right thing to do. Lie to them, and tell them that a small cheap toy is going to tell Santa if they’re having a bad day. Just over there, hiding in the African violets, is a nosy tattle-tale elf whose sole purpose in ‘life’ is to watch you and judge you all day long. Then, when you finally fall asleep it flies off to the North Pole to tell Santa how you measure up and whether or not you get a good score for the day. Blackmail parenting. Charming.

If you need a stuffed elf to help you get your kid to behave for one month a year you might want to rethink your parenting style. Not only that, the subtle message you’re sending a child is that if they don’t get everything they want for Christmas it’s because they just don’t measure up. If they’d been better, done more and tried harder they’d be getting everything on their list.

But beyond crass commercialism and unintentionally damaging messages is the idea that it’s normal to have someone watching your every move. You must always be on guard because you are always being watched.

But, for fun you can look at it like a conspiracy theorist does: The Elf represents our surveillance state in an insidious way: We’re only being watched for our own good, we’re told. If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear from the Elf’s report to the Big Fellow, who keeps the information far away in a place you have no access to. (Let’s not even talk about the metaphorical layer of bureaucracy the Elf represents.) Are we comfortable with a myth that desensitizes children to constant surveillance and lack of privacy? Are we also getting how this meant in jest?

Yes, of course, it’s harmless fun. I’ve no wish to get between you and your fun. Just give a thought to its larger implications about glorifying invasion of privacy and stalking in exchange for material goods.

If that seems far-fetched to you at least admit that this is a modern commercial construct masquerading as a tradition, and that the only thing its manufacturers care about is moving units. Just because you call it a tradition doesn’t make it so.

Goodwill towards Mankind and all that crap

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“The Countdown to Christmas Has Begun!”

No it hasn’t, that began in September.

Honestly, Why not just go ahead and start Christmas in July. Hell, keep the decorations up all year. Why not? It’s really what people want.

The first Christmas stuff I saw this year was over Labor Day at Costco. It was Christmas decorations in a Star Wars theme. They were sitting next to the Halloween costumes which were also out too early.

Here’s the thing: Costco wouldn’t be stocking these things if people weren’t buying them. So, who are these people? Who are the people who see a fully decorated Christmas tree in the first week of September and think, “Sure, it’s a full quarter of the year away, but I want to get ready for Christmas now.”

They’re just as bad as the people who refuse to take their decorations down. We’ve all been in a place where you can’t believe the decorations are still up at the end of January. These people are so into Christmas that they have decorations in and on their homes for nearly a third the year.

Don’t you get bored with it? If not, why bother to take them down at all? Why not just go ahead, make the commitment and just have your decorating scheme Christmas.

Or, would doing that get in the way of Halloween decorations? Which, by the way, kudos to the person who sold the idea of giant inflatable yard decorations for the average consumer. They’re unbelievably overdone and the majority are on side streets where no one will ever see it, except the people who own it. Even then, they only see it when they turn it on or off.

Why not just give in and make it the most wonderful time of the year all the year? We can sing Christmas carols all year long, send out Christmas cards a couple times a year, wear our Santa style bathing suits to the water park. It’ll be like Christmas in Florida all year long.

There’s a house near me that put up their light display a week before Thanksgiving. Same thing with the mega-church in my neighborhood. They can’t even let us have a day of Turkey and feasting without rushing into the season. So, yay for them. They win the race, I guess. How much you want to bet they’ll be the last to go down?

As a personal note I don’t start decorating the house until after my birthday, which is at the beginning of December. I don’t like celebrating a Merry Birthday. So we don’t usually get our tree until the first weekend in December. We take it down just after New Year’s Day. It’s pretty simple. Now, hey, if your thing is decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving have at it. It’s a very common tradition. But doing it before that, or keeping it up much after the first of the year is just stretching out a time of year to make it something it’s not.

People who have to make it a longer holiday than it is – and dammit it’s long enough as it is – end up having the firetrap tree. You know what I’m talking about: a standing wooden match. A tree so dry that a spark from static electricity could set it off. One that’s been sitting there so long that the needles fall of when you simply look at it, a la the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It’s a sad thing, the tree is, but not quite as sad as the willful stretching of a holiday that has come and gone

My prediction is that they will start selling Christmas trees the day after Halloween. Mark my words, it will happen. There will be demand and early sales will justify the availability. The Christmas Season will start on Dia de los Muertos and stretch out until Valentine’s day. They already have stores open on Thanksgiving, so that inviolate line has been crossed. The season can be redefined in any way a marketing person wants. Early season sales will try to draw consumers in, although the fake ginned-up shopping day that is Black Friday will remain. Even though it’s not the busiest shopping day by any means, marketers are not going to let go of that image. And as long as they can fabricate a need for people to get into fist fights for electronics there will be a Black Friday. Conversely, as long as people are selfish and hypocritical there will be shopping on Thanksgiving. Which is to say it’s here to stay.

But really, there’s one good reason why Christmas all year long won’t work: It’s because we could never be kind to each other that long. Something about the season sort of brings out people’s better natures. There’s no way in hell people could – or would – do all that brotherhood, charity and be kind to others crap more than the 4 or 5 weeks they’re already forced to do from Thanksgiving to Christmas. People like to be good, but not that often. More accurately, people like to imagine they’re good. But, actually having to do the work of being kind and thoughtful all year long is more than most ever want to do.

Goodwill towards all mankind is nice and all, but really hard to do.