Department Of Almost Feeling Guilty
Imagine the conundrum for a socially conscious political cartoonist, comedy writer and/or comedian: As a good citizen you want the electorate to make rational, informed choices; you want your fellow voters to consider the issues at stake when weighing a candidate’s qualifications for elected office and not be swayed or misled by hyperbole and fear. On the other hand,  you can’t help but savor the guilty pleasure arising from your knowledge of the inverse proportion between the level-headedness of a presidential candidate and the resulting opportunities to ply your trade.
I refer of course to the embarrassment of satirical riches – the material for monologues, jokes, cartoons, videos, memes, animated GIFs, you name it – to be found re the current primary season. Oy vey, what a dilemma. You of course want the best for your nation, but for your profession, the more Dan Quayles,  Sarah Palins, Ted Cruzs, the better.
And I will gladly suffer the WTF?!?!? barbs from people residing in the rest of the civilized world (What is wrong with your country, that such people can even be considered for president?!), as long as those people keep supplying us with gems like the following:
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Last Saturday MH and I attended NARAL-Pro Choice Oregon ‘s annual dinner buffet/auction benefit in Portland. Since we had tickets to a theatre matinee (also in Portland) the following afternoon, we decided to book a hotel room and make a night of it. The benefit was entertaining, the buffet items tasty, and it was even fun to force myself to get dressed in something other than a tie dye shirt and yoga pants. Also, the people-watching opportunities were prime – you couldn’t spit without hitting a local or state politician (and believe me, I did try). During the auction, MH and I mused about one day being able to bid on the high end items, once we stop our “bidding” on college tuition.
On the way from our hotel to the benefit we had a little time to kill, which we did by watching A Guy On A Horse  Ride Up And Down The Steps Of Pioneer Square © . Because, Portland.
After the event wound down we cruised downtown Portland, taking in the street sights and allowing ourselves to feel superior to the line of tourists outside Voodoo Donuts. Feeling in the mood for something else,  we stopped in at a Portland institution, Huber’s Cafe .
This was our first visit to Huber’s. Fortunately for us newbies, the people sitting at a nearby table ordered the café’s signature drink, a Spanish Coffee, which, the café boasts in the culinary understatement of the year, is “flamed tableside with great flair.”
The bartender approached the table with his tray of accouterments. He managed to hold three stemmed goblets between the fingers of his left hand – I was impressed, even before the swirling of liquids and the flaming began – and undulated his left arm as if….
Okay: picture a dude in a tuxedo working on mixing a multi-layered cocktail and then setting it aflame while riding a roller coaster. I don’t even like Spanish Coffee, but I am definitely going back to Huber’s to order one before I die.
The timing must be right, of course. I don’t want to order a Spanish Coffee, and then die.
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Department of Belated Holiday Pathos
This week I’ve been feeling a little bluesy.
No, not in a Bessie Smith bluesy way. More like in the reflecting upon the passage of time, How Did It Get To Be March Already, way – a way that, for some reason, made me think about how and why our post-Christmas cleanup gets easier each year. Now that our offspring are Young Adults ®, there is less gift flotsam there is for MH and I to deal with.
When K and Belle were kidlets, there were many, many, many – and did I mention many? – years where it took us up to four weeks post-Christmas to find enough room in the garbage can for all of the non-recyclable packaging materials which were indigenous to gifts that came from A Certain Side of The Family.
Read: my side. Specifically, my mother.  Mom was abetted in her trashing of the planet abundantly swathed present-bestowing by the good folks at Lillian Vernon. Are you familiar with that catalog company? If so, you have my sympathy.
My mother discovered the Lillian Vernon catalog (too) many years ago. Once she did, there was no turning back for her. The catalog became her go-to source for gifts for her grandchildren, and a more wasteful source I’ve yet to encounter. Why a four inch tin-plated Model T replica needs to be encased in enough Styrofoam insulate an entire Uzbekistan village is a mystery to me…but that, apparently, is the shipping policy at Lillian Vernon.
The excessive packaging of the gifts was one thing. The gifts themselves, ay yi yi. All made in China, of substandard construction  –– and almost all items but clothing are accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.
Most bewildering of all was how inappropriate the gifts were. Not inappropriate as in giving a life-size Uzi replica to a five year old; rather, inappropriate in that the gifts had no relation to what K and Belle actually wanted.
I’ll never forget K’s reaction the year he opened his present from Grandma M, dug through the layers of packaging and…oh, um….yeah…a set of miniature antique automobile replicas? Perhaps for some child somewhere, that would have been a welcome present. K had no interest in “antique replicas” (even those that came with certificates of authenticity). Thus K, along with his sister, got an early introduction to practicing the art of Present Face.
It was (kinda sorta) terrible to laugh at the gifts, but we did – after I gave K & Belle the usual parental reassuring (Grandma means well). Year after year, my mom gave her grandchildren stuff they neither wanted or needed. I tried to figure it out, thinking aloud to MH one Christmas, after K & Belle had opened their respective, bewildering (but authentically certified!) LV boxes: It’s as if my mom is using suggestions based on someone’s idea of gender and age; here are gifts for Boy Child, ages 9-11, and for Girl Child, Ages 5-8….
Which, as I would discover, was exactly what my mother did.
In year three or four of the They Sooooo Do Not Want These Things For Christmas (the year of the antique replica cars) phenomenon, I resolved to find out what was going on. I tried to be gentle during my Christmas Day phone call to my parents – I tried to tease out what made them think K would be interested in a set of Ford Model A and T cars? I could have used a verbal sledgehammer, for all of my mother’s obliviousness. 
I do all my Christmas and birthday shopping from the catalog, my mother explained. (actually, it was more like bragging than explaining). I have all the categories covered – they list them for girls and boys, of any age. When it’s time for a Christmas or birthday I go to the boxes in the garage or under my bed and pick one out!
Hmmm…yeah. Say, Mom, for next year, how about if you ask K and Belle what they’d like? Or they could send you a gift list, like you used to have me write up for my birthday and Christmas. K really likes to draw – there’s an artist’s pencil set he’s interested in, and Belle loves Legos and….
That’s okay, I already have next year’s Christmas presents picked out! Birthdays, too! I keep them all in a big stash under the bed. K’s and Belle’s birthday presents are ready to go – it’s so convenient. Oh, here’s Dad….
I was more direct with my father: “This is difficult to say…I want my kids to be grateful for any gift, but Dad, it’s like the presents are from a stranger who doesn’t know them. It’s nothing they are interested in. Why doesn’t Mom ask them what they’d like? They’d love to tell her.” He just didn’t hear me (“Well, that’s how she likes to do it.“) and changed the subject.
Later that day I sought email counsel from my older and younger sisters. It wasn’t just my family’s dilemma – they’d both dealt with the LV catalog gift gifting issue, and had tried everything from dropping hints to being directly confrontational. Their advice: Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Learn to live with it.
MH and I raised K and Belle to look at gifts as just that – gifts, not entitlements. We encouraged them to find something about which to feel grateful for any present they received; we advised them to never expect nor request presents, but to be gracious and specific when asked by someone what you’d like.
My parents never asked. 
K and Belle dutifully wrote their thank you notes to Grandpa Chet and Grandma M. After year two of getting presents they didn’t want, it became somewhat of a silly family ritual: on Christmas morning, along with our gift-opening accouterments we also set out a direct-to-Goodwill bag for the Lillian Vernon haul, and there was a special ceremonial flourish when a Certificate of Authenticity assumed its rightful place in the paper recycling bin.
Along with the droll (okay, snarky) comments and laughter which became a part of our gift-opening, there were genuine hurt feelings, for both me and my children. It sliced at my heart the first time K and Belle looked at me with sad-round eyes and said, Why don’t they ask me what I want?
It was so effin’ impersonal; it showed no interest in them as individuals. My mother took pride in being done with her present shopping months (even years) in advance…and took no interest in finding out what her grandchildren actually wanted. You can learn a lot about children by asking them what they’d like for a present – it can be a segue into finding out about their hobbies and interests and talents, about finding out who they are and what they like to do.
Instead, it was This Christmas Belle gets something from the Girl Toys Ages 6-9 bag under Grandma M’s bed. My mother even mixed up the presents one year: K got a gift that was meant for his cousin. The gift tag read, “To X, Love Grandma M” (cousin X, my younger sister’s second son, was the same age as K)!
At my suggestion and with my father’s encouragement, my parents switched to giving checks to their grandchildren a few years back, a practice my mother continued after my father died. Now, the LV catalog present years are the stuff of family lore. Then, it was Yet Another Life Lesson for my children (and their parents) in tolerance, acceptance, and loving people as they are, warts/quirks and all. Looking back, a part of me is even grateful for the experience, which provided us with one of our favorite family code phrases:
Belle: What do you know about that new cafe downtown?
Moiself: I haven’t heard much about them, only that each menu item comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Belle: Whoa, thanks for the warning.
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May all of your gifts be authentic;
May your foo-foo cocktails be flaming,
And may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
 You have other fingers. No, that never gets old (for me).
 I remember reading an interview with a joke writer who worked for a late night comedy show – it may have been The Tonight Show during Carson’s reign – who said that during the Dan Quayle years “…sometimes the monologues just write themselves.”
 This was not a mounted patrol officer. Just some random guy with his cool as a cucumber horse.
 Which, in my case, translated into onion rings, sautéed mushrooms and a glass of Pinot Gris.
 Content reassurance: my mother is alive, albeit in poor physical and mental health. We speak at least once a week; she doesn’t remember our phone conversation from the previous week (nor often what I said five minutes ago). She is a shut in, in her own home, with 24/7 care by patient and loving attendants. She has no access to the internet, doesn’t read my blog, doesn’t know I write a blog, doesn’t know what a blog is….
 I was going to write shoddily manufactured…there’s just no nice way to put it. That shit was cheaply made.
 And it was my mother’s doing. As was common to many men of his generation, my father gladly ceded the birthday and holiday gift-choosing tasks to his wife.
 MH’s usually did.