The Gift of the Man-Guy

As I prepared to go to bed on Christmas night, I surveyed the room where Santa Claus had vomited the previous evening. Strewn about the floor lay books, a play stethoscope, various musical instruments, and several plasticy hunks of play food, one which looks like raspberry corn-on-the-cob. The day was as great as could be expected. My older child was ecstatic as he discovered one thing after another that Santa had mistakenly brought to him, a boy who willfully placed his name on the official naughty list. My infant son received an assortment of chew toys and onesies and all of the butternut squash that the North Pole elves could process. I received some nice clothes, stereo speakers, expensive electronic gadgets, and some great board games. Just before I went up the stairs for my few moments of slumber, I remembered that there was one more person in our family that it would seem Santa forgot; the one person that I wanted to enjoy this holiday as a truly special time-- my dear, sweet, and annoyingly impossible-to-shop-for wife.

I wasn’t always so bitter about a gift-giving occasion for Miranda. In what has come to be known as “The Days When You Used To Do So Many Things For Me”, gift giving was an art form that I was sure I had perfected. Before we started dating, I gave Miranda a little ceramic sunflower that had a round picture frame where the flower’s head would be. I cut out words like “Funny” and “Hope” and “Sunshine” so that she could put new words in the frame every day. I also cut out pictures of myself as well as Brad Pitt, so she could apparently portray the opposite ends of the “Men Who Are Good Looking Without Shirts and Who Can Pull Off a Goatee” spectrum. I think she put it up in her bedroom and, though I am sure she didn’t change the word in the frame daily, I think that she looked at it and thought of me. My plans were beginning to come to fruition.

Contrary to my wife’s beliefs, we started dating soon after this. I took her out to nice and exotic restaurants. On the night we first kissed, we went to a Peruvian restaurant, I cut the chicken off of the bone for her, and then we made our way to the symphony. When it finished, we held hands underneath an umbrella as we rushed back to our car with only the sounds of falling raindrops and our panting laughter trailing us. I wore a suit and I stood out in the rain in front of her house not caring that I was getting soaked. I was, after all, a master of this date thing and as smooth as Cassanova on prescription pain meds.

Later dates included ice-blocking in the park, bowling, visiting museums, going to plays, and other activities which involved heavy doses of cultural stimulation. Flowers, trinkets, little notes, and jewelry came as milestones in-between the momentous dates. Before I left for college one semester, I bought a ridiculously expensive gold necklace. I bought it from Fortier’s, not K-Mart as I was accustomed. It meant a lot to me to devote that significant a portion of my paycheck(s) to the girl I could see myself marrying one day. I gave it to her, she acted grateful, and for the next 6 ½ years, it would remain in its case. Despite my constant reminders of the food and important textbooks I had to sacrifice at school, or how beautiful she would look wearing it, or that I could have made a necklace out of Fruit Loops and we could have left that in a case forever, in its case it remained. A small hiccup, I thought. I continued on with my courtship only slightly fazed.

The coup-de-grâce came as I gave her the ultimate gift, a wedding ring. What will stand to this day as the greatest and suavest achievement of my life, I proposed to my wife under the Eiffel Tower in Paris on a beautifully clear September evening. It was a scene that would make Kate Hudson fall in love with Matthew McConaughey all over again. Today, I love looking at the ring, as it is hidden amongst the Q-Tips in the bathroom or the spare keys in the kitchen junk drawer, and thinking about that special time. “It is because I don’t want it to get dirty,” she often claims. I always agree with her with a nod that signifies understanding as I twist my own ring up over the flesh that has grown around it in the 5 years that it has remained securely on my finger.

In the years that would follow our impending engagement, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Days, and Christmases passed and with them, wrapping paper was torn off of presents that signified only good intentions. I thought that my wife would really love the lotion and body spray gift pack. The gift certificate to the theatre would be a great opportunity to go out together. The motorized neck massager could help with her migraines. If not, then the professional spa massages would. All of these and countless other gifts were left unused. Of course, it is difficult to get a massage while pregnant, the Shiatsu massager felt weird, there is never enough time to go see a play, “Pearberry” just isn’t her scent, and a pure gold necklace doesn’t match anything that she usually wears.

Over the years, the dejection has taken its toll on me. I have practically given up on presents. I bought her a body pillow for her birthday because she had expressed a desire for one. I didn’t know that the desire was for it to lie under our bed collecting dust. I can no longer take her out to dinner for any event as one drop of milk, wheat, or soybean could turn a breast-feeding baby who cries most of the time into one who cries all of the time. The Christmas season came and, as one who is persistently dejected often does, I assured myself that this year would be different. This year, I would finally give my wife something amazing, something incredible, something that would stop making her compare the glory days of our courtship where she received tulips just because it felt like a tulipy day to the current days of drudgery where she is lucky to get a pinch on St. Patricks Day. This year would be great.

For Christmas, I got my wife a gridle to make my pancakes and bacon in the morning, neither of which she could ever eat. I got her an apron and a pot holder so as not to burn herself whilst getting dinner out of the oven for me. I got her two Wii games which she will never play but which I think are rather fun. And I got her two slipcovers for the Wii controllers which she will never use as she will never play the aforementioned games. Yes, I did it again. Good intentions mingled with my subconscious selfish desires and Miranda was, as it would seem, again the victim. I love my wife more than anything in this world, I have just lost the ability to show that love in gifts or outings or anything of even the most remote interest. If it is the thought that counts, I am still not sure where I stand. Of course, Valentines Day is approaching and, though I should have learned my lesson by now, I think that the red Snuggie and the subscription to Sports Illustrated (with the Swimsuit Edition included, of course) will finally break my streak and prove my undying, dejection-proof love.

The Santanic Verses

In preparing for the Christmas festivities, I sat in my basement, after putting one child to sleep and passing off another into the comforting arms of my wife, and began wrapping presents. I focus on the absurdity of wrapping presents for my sons to give to my wife, making a mental note of the cost of these items to take out of their allowance when they are older. I then wrap the presents that I am giving to my sons.

Now, marriage has often been considered a fusing of customs, cultures, and bank accounts. The Christmas traditions that my wife and I are used to are as different as the Hatfields and McCoys and are equally deep-rooted in personal conviction. On my side of the family, Santa would leave presents in each child’s designated spot on the furniture, making the mad rush into the living room next to orgiastic. All of the gifts were there, in open view, and it was difficult for the brain to process all of the juvenile joy that these material things would bring us. My wife’s family had Santa wrap presents, because with all of the presents from siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and pets, not enough wrapping paper was wasted. Santa always had a specific type of wrapping paper which had to be superior to the crap paper Mom and Dad were using.

To me this took all of the joy out of the experience. But, as with most things, we have to make concessions in our marriage. When I say “we” I mean “I” and when I say “concessions” I mean “a complete surrender”. So, Santa wraps gifts. I was murmuring over this idea when I realized that a present I happened to be wrapping for Zach was mistakenly wrapped in Santa’s special paper. I uttered a word that will probably put me on the naughty list and left the present there, determined that I would give the present as is, Santa paper and all.

My wife, as they tend to do, had her own ideas. She graciously re-wrapped the present for me, despite my scientific claims that our child was two and that there is no way in the world he would see the present, see the tag “From: Daddy”, see the distinctive Santa paper, and say “Wait a second. Why… hey! I’m on to you two!” My wife reminds me that little Zachary is very observant. I wonder how observant he has been as we have led him through the virtual potpourri of Santas during the Christmas season.

The first Santa that Zach experienced was by far the most Santa-esque. You know what they say, your first is always your best. This is, or course, always in reference to the first Santa Claus you meet. This Santa was kind despite the screams he induced in my son and little nephew. He was completely suited up and sported a real beard. We took the screaming children from his lap, and I swear that as I got close to him, there was a visible twinkle in his eye. Just above his oversized belt, there might have even been a shaking similar to a bowl full of jelly, though that may have been my imagination.

The next year, Santa happened to be visiting the Valley Fair Mall. For those of you not familiar with this establishment, it is the virtual Mecca for people that you don’t want your children to talk to, ever. It does not have the traditional mall stores like The Gap or Banana Republic. Instead, they offer shopping selections like The Shotglass Hut, Plastic Dragon’s Asian Craporium, Tie-One-On-Your-Arm-Until-You-Find-A-Vein, and the Banana Hammock. The Santa that visited this mall was obviously recruited from amongst its patrons. He began by chiding my sister and I for trying to calm our kids down, and then barked at our children to stop crying since Santa had such a headache. His beard was real and I believe there were also chunks of real kipper snacks in there. He refused to smile, and instead looked despondently at the camera with an expression that said “Please make this Christmas season end so that I can get back to touring with my Grateful Dead tribute band.”

This year, the Santas have been prevalent indeed. We went to one at a different mall where the mute Santa quietly held Zachary and Baby Isaac on his lap while the methadone wore off. Santa came to a neighbor’s house while Zachary was visiting, but could not steal the attention away from the train set that my son was invested in. After several “Ho, Ho, Ho” ‘s and me begging, “Zach, turn around and look who is here to see you.” He finally did look, but with an expression of “Yeah, I’ve seen you before. You know I want a tambourine. Now let me get back to this sweet train.” He went to a Santa who shed his red coat and wore what looked like a set of penguin pajamas. This entire array of sweet and unsavory Santas, and our little boy was none the wiser.

My wife called me up at work today and began the conversation “Hi, is this Santa.” I had no idea what to do with myself in a conversation like this. I wondered if I was supposed to speak to my wife like Santa, as she continued to talk in an over-exaggerated tone on the phone to me. “Zachary has been very naughty and said he doesn’t want any presents this year! Just thought that I would let you know!” Apparently, Zach had been running around purposefully engaging in naughty behavior and willfully remitting his name from Santa’s nice list. My wife requested that I talk to him like Santa, but with my co-workers all around my cubicle, I did not quite feel like summoning up the old jolly elf. Instead, I found another worker to call back and, in the voice of St. Nick, scold my child for his disruptive behavior. The effect was immediate, and, for now, my son is pretending to be a good little boy until Santa makes with the goods tonight.

We have gone through three years of Christmas together with little Zach. He is becoming so intelligent that we fear he will outsmart us, even on something where we parents traditionally control the misrepresentation. We worry that he will figure out the truth one of these days, perhaps in finding a fresh roll of Santa’s special wrapping paper in the closet or waking up to find his parents sneaking about the house with gifts. But, for now, we are content enough to find ways to put smoke in mirrors and propagate a deception that would make David Copperfield proud. Wait, he’s Jewish. There isn’t any sneaking around involved in lighting the Menorah. Lucky Jews. They know what “Tradition” means. Just ask Tevya. I bet he would make a great Santa.

Jolly Roger and Me

One of the hottest topics in the news right now is pirates. The reason that it is considered a “hot topic” stems from the fact that everyone is talking about it and everyone loves talking about it. I mean, seriously, it is 2008 and we have news about pirates? That is so incredibly cool, right?

These pirates are actually not quite of the same tattered cloth as a Captain Jack Sparrow. They don’t necessarily have hooks or pegs or eye patches to cover their maimed appendages. They are not necessarily in the trinket finding or treasure burying business. They are, in fact, thieves from Somalia who have extended the lawlessness of their own land into the international waters surrounding them. They are brutal and murderous and they do not manage their operations from a regal wooden galleon, but generally small aluminum outboard motorboats. They do not fire big flashy cannons or wield unsharpened swords with an odd curvature, but they fire rifles and handguns and Uzis with the intent to kill simple fishermen.

They also do not invite children onto their boat to help them be a better person. My two-year-old son loves pirates. He, as I may have stated before, has an unhealthy fascination with them. Every morning, when he wakes up, he informs us that he had dreams about pirates. He reads a few books about pirates that glorify them as the fun-loving babysitters of the colonial era. Nevermind the wenches, the thievery, the murderous behavior, the lack of personal hygiene, addiction to rum and the severing of various limbs and involuntary extraction of eyeballs. The Australian kid’s show “The Wiggles” features a prominent character named Captain Feathersword who prances about, tickling children with feathers, and shouting phrases like “Yo ho, me hardies!” all with a toothy-grin somewhat lacking in the tooth department. All this, and he is still only the third most likely of the bunch to be a registered sex offender.

We endear ourselves to pirates because of the adventure, the freedom, and the good-natured lawlessness that their lives entail. There have been several stories about modern day pirates which have not only served to fascinate the interests of the news-reading audience, but of those landlubbers who themselves have become victims. I recently read a story about a cruise ship that was attacked by Somali pirates. Luckily, they were able to outrun the criminals, but not after shots were fired from the small pursuing vessels and the cruise-liner’s employees began taking defense positions such as lining the decks with high-powered fire hoses and using ghetto blasters to emit high-frequency sounds out over the water. The wealthy cruisers on board were apparently so caught up in the high-adventure that they seemed to disregard the fact that those were actual bullets whizzing by their heads and that they had a very good chance of being either killed or taken for ransom.

In later interviews, they referred to the pirates as “cheeky”, a word which I can only see Mike Myers saying in some Saturday Night Live skit. One Australian traveler, who I can only assume is a big fan of the Wiggles, mentioned that despite the warning to remain in their cabins, she along with several other passengers raced to the deck to see the action. The ship eventually outran the pirates, who I can only assume stood on their boats shaking their fists in the air and cursing in some funny sounding language while bobbing in the trail left behind the cruise ship. The passengers probably talked about it for a while afterwards; at the water cooler in the office or while holding a friendly charity event to help the needy in Somalia. “Hey, did I ever tell you about the time that I outran a group of pirate hijackers?” Whenever their otherwise mundane lives seemed a bit too bogged down in boredom, they could always reflect on the time that they were nearly decapitated by a loveable band of rogues.

I have recently been heavily involved in a game called, simply enough, “Pirates!” It is a Facebook application and is intended for those who need some separation from reality after connecting with their quote/unquote friends from high school. Yes, these are the same friends who may have ridiculed them for showing up one day with their zipper down or simply punched them a few times in the groin in order to assert their superiority. My school mascot, coincidentally enough, happened to be a pirate. Having no real athletic skills of my own, I took on the role of the mascot for the entire football season my senior year. I loved coming up with unscripted celebrations and interacting with the cheerleaders who would not so much as look at me if I did not have a five foot foam head on my shoulders. I ended my mascot career after a few basketball games. There were two problems with mascotting in this sport. The first is that, unlike the pleasant fall breeze that blows through the eye holes on the football field, the stagnant reciprocated air of the stadium was choking. The second, was that I did not have a half chain-link fence and a race track which separated me from the throngs of enthusiastic supporters. I was right next to them, which gave them every opportunity in the world to rip my head off, throw their drinks at me, or punch me a few times in the groin to assert their superiority. I walked off the court cursing them under my breath, and murmuring that they wouldn’t treat me this way if I were a real pirate.

Now, with the game of Pirates, you can reconnect with these friends by storming their barges or raping their wenches, and earn valuable points at the same time. I got really into it for a while until someone named “Shiver Me Anytime” attacked me. Personally offended, I attacked back, before I realized that this person was on level 452. I had been seriously engaged in this game for a month and was level 19. The level of societal separation that it must take to reach that status is akin to a J.D. Salinger or Unibomber. Though I often find myself addictively dedicated to pointless pursuits, becoming someone who actually speaks in pirate jargon and wears wrist braces in anticipation of carpal-tunnel is not my game. The freedom, the slightly dangerous lifestyle, and the thrill of piracy, be it at home on a computer, in a darkened theater with a video camera, or on a tin boat in the Gulf of Aden, is tempting. But, alas, the pirate life is not for me. Unless I run out of things to do at work. Methinks I will exact me revenge in due time Shiver Me Anytime. Prepare to visit Davey Jones’ locker. Arrrrh.

Me, Myself, and Sigh

Last night, I came home from work and was met with a surprisingly unfamiliar sound. Silence. There were no screaming toddlers running down the stairs or screaming babies getting their diapers changed or screaming mothers who are being peed on by screaming babies. There was utter and absolute quiet. My beautiful wife took the kids to get some bulk crap from Costco and was soon returning. This meant that I had approximately 15 minutes of what I would affectionately call “me” time. On most days, “me” time is relegated to the five minutes that I have to sit on the toilet and read small sections of Entertainment Weekly. And now, the entire house, which had a faint smell of diapers still wafting through the corridors, was all mine.

“Me” time used to consist of obsessively playing a video game or watching reruns of The X-Files or sitting and enjoying the few pages of a book I could read before falling asleep. I think back on those days with a nostalgia similar to how a recently convicted felon might of his withering freedom. And there I was, standing at my back door, allowed 15 minutes of parole on “the outside”. What would I do first?

What I did first was go to the bathroom as I have trained myself to use the facilities only once a day at the time that I get home. As much as I wanted to put it off for later, biology is inevitable. After that, I ran and got some tools. In a matter of fifteen minutes, I fixed a stair that had been broken for two weeks, adjusted some burnt-out Christmas lights in the front yard, wiped off the kitchen counters, picked up blankets and pillows strewn across the floor, took out the overflowing bucket full of dirty diapers, took out the kitchen trash, and ate a slice of American Cheese. I was overwhelmed with a rewarding sense of accomplishment when my wife called my phone, informing me that she was in the garage and that I would need to extract both of our children from the car.

I did so, and immediately, my youngest, Isaac, began to cry. I brought in my other son and then slowly began to extradite the infant from his car seat and ridiculous bunny suit that will keep him from getting too cold in the car. I bounced up and down with him, but to no avail. I walked laps in the family room. I found his pacifier. I changed his diaper. I sang to him the soothing sounds of Neil Diamond. I fed him turkey and red wine. I injected him with a potent horse tranquilizer. All of this, and he still cried.

Crying is bad enough on its own, believe me. My child though, having apparently been spawned by some sort of swamp monster, cries tears of mucus. The doctor says it has something to do with a sinus infection, but I am banking on the swamp monster. These mucusy secretions come out of his tear ducts instead of tears. When they harden, they crystallize and resemble an interesting application of eye-liner, David Bowie Aladdin Sane era. They also cause an overwhelming urge for whoever is holding him to pick them out, no matter what state the baby is in or will be in after the extraction.

So, while I held a crying child who sounded increasingly like a rabid ferret, I turned to a technique that is as tried as it is true—the hairdryer. I turn the dryer on high and snuggle the baby in my arms. With the soothing whirring sound, he suddenly stopped crying, closed his eyes, and nestled in for a long winter’s nap. Relieved, I began walking downstairs until the light hit his encrusted eyelids and, with an over exaggerated wince, he began crying again. We made our way to the darkened bathroom for another date with the hairdryer.

To ensure that he stayed asleep, I laid down on the bed with him resting on my arm. I flipped open the portable DVD player, which next to our two children and one of our cars is the most expensive thing that we own, and settled in to watch The X-Files movie. Two hours later, I was able to lay the child down, pop my shoulder back into socket, and get ready for bed. I shoved some Cheez-Its into my mouth which served as a great compliment to the previous course of my meal, the processed cheese slice which I consumed three hours earlier. I brushed my teeth, and collapsed into bed while my wife dutifully worked on whatever hot-gluing she had to do to fulfill her church calling. I fell asleep with the knowledge that in a few short hours, I would be awake, holding my son, praying for a continuance of sleep, watching MTV’s Next with the volume muted.

Fatherhood, to me, is a joy. I feel an immense gratification as I see my two boys smile, play, and grow. However, fatherhood is also a sacrifice. Speaking to the Indian National Army who were under oppressive British rule, Subhas Chandra Bose said, “You have voluntarily accepted a mission that is the noblest that the human mind can conceive of. For the fulfillment of such a mission no sacrifice is too great.” This mission, of course, refers to fatherhood. I easily give up video games to spend time with my family. Going to see a movie in the theater more frequently than a lunar eclipse is easy to trade for a constant stream of The Wiggles episodes on our TV at home. Surrendering my favorite clothes to irreparable spit-up stains and gross undersizing as a result of stress-related weight gain is something that I can do. The only thing that I hope for in giving this sacrifice is that I can raise two wonderful and upstanding children who will one day become fathers themselves. And only two. If I ever have to go through this again, I am going to need a lot more “me” time than 15 minutes on a Wednesday evening. It might involve a leather reclining couch in someone’s office. It might involving following Bose's lead and donning a robe and living out the rest of my life incognito as a monk in northern India. Now that would be some serious "me" time.

A Snake Masticating a Mongoose

I hold my two-month old child in my arms as I trudge down the stairs at 4:00 in the morning. I shove some Fruit Runts into my mouth to help extinguish the morning breath caused by eating Fruit Runts before going to bed the night before. The house is pitch black, so I grope my way through the family room for the necessities. I use a pillow to prop up my left elbow. I throw the aptly titled throw blanket on the right side of the couch. I have a difficult time, but I eventually find the remote control amongst the dozens of other remote controls strewn about the room. I pause for a moment to think of how it would be nice to have a remote control that could somehow activate and signal another remote control. I settle in to my pre-dawn throne where the only kingly attention I receive is through the deep-toned, sleeping groans of my infant son.

The room is suddenly illuminated as the television, after a series of mysterious clicks, begins to play its early morning symphony of infomercials. I turn to my playlist of pre-recorded shows. I thoroughly enjoy the benefits of the DVR which has allowed me to watch an amount of television that I had previously thought humanly impossible. I now watch movies that I had never really wanted to see in the first place. I reunite with experiences from my childhood, as with recorded episodes of classic American Gladiators, Punky Brewster, and the Love Connection. I watch and progressively become disillusioned with the new season’s offerings. Christian Slater, you are now my own worst enemy as well. But, what has been the greatest discovery on the newly augmented boob tube is my absolute fascination with reality TV.

The craze began roughly eight years ago when Survivor made its debut. I was in Canada at the time that the show premiered. I read about it in the TV Guide that was on someone’s coffee table. They explained the premise of the show to me and my first thought was whether or not they could actually do that on television. What about the safety of the people participating? You can’t have them fend for themselves! Dropping people in the middle of an island to see if they can somehow survive? Didn’t I see some Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about this once? Yet, man’s fascination with watching another man in peril was unquenchable. Soon, there followed other adventure shows like The Amazing Race and Manhunt- The Deadliest Game of All. Then, we wanted to see the more personal side of people we knew nothing about. Enter shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Big Brother, Big Brother vs. The Bachelorette, and other shows with and without B in the title. America’s fascination with itself was beginning anew.

Today, my wife and I enjoy several of this new breed of reality programming. Miranda has become a fan of the show “17 and Counting” which follows a certifiably insane couple that is determined to overpopulate the world with the fruit of their womb alone. Apparently, nothing makes you feel better about waking up with two screaming children then watching someone waking up with 17. I enjoy reality in the game show variety, such as Hurl! which follows six contestants as they strive to eat the most and puke the least. I stopped watching after viewing several episodes where, to my severe disappointment, no one vomited at all. I am beginning to understand the Roman mentality in enjoying a good match of Christian Survivor. Sometimes, the lion doesn’t eat the Christian—then what the hell did I pay these 50 denarii for? It is a fascination with the grotesque, something so shocking or obscure that we don’t want to watch, yet we can’t look away. A midget looking for true love amongst several beautiful regular-sized women and one other midget? That is the stupidest premise I have ever heard and I will be recording every episode.

This experience culminated with my watching, along with my barely sleeping newborn in the ungodly hours of the morning, an entertainment hybrid that could only exist in our day. It is called The Smoking Gun Presents the World’s Dumbest Partiers. Here we have a police and home footage clip show, portraying people sustaining debilitating injuries while grossly intoxicated, with various commentary by quote/unquote celebrities that you thought had overdosed a long time ago, and brought to you by a website that makes its money defaming the names of said celebrities. If only the celebrities were pitted against each other in some duel or sent on a hot-tubbing excursion (by America’s texted votes) with the culprits in the clips, we would have had the most perfect hour of television since Walter Cronkite cried after picking out the million-dollar briefcase.

For an hour, I watched as Danny Bonaduce, Todd Bridges, and Tonya Harding, told me just how dumb the man I just watched pouring a shot of flaming absinthe into his eye was. The general consensus was that, yes, he was dumb. For me, at four in the morning, I need these distasteful figures from my childhood (though they very well might have been appearing on the show by the court order of some creative judge in Missouri) to tell me just what is not smart and what is funny. Otherwise, how would we know? It seems that we as television watchers are all slightly out of touch with, what’s the word… reality.

It is now 4:15 in the morning and I finally get my son to take his pacifier and fall back asleep. I conclude my waxing philosophical by thinking that there must be some type of editorial I can write on the subject of reality television. I don’t know how I would write such an editorial. I turn off the clip show just as Tonya Harding, in a t-shirt that makes one wonder if she knew she was going to be on T.V., starts to laugh at an inebriated man not knowing his alphabet. I turn it over to watch Survivor instead. I do this not for the thrilling game of broken alliances and outwitting man and nature. I do this because, more than anything else on television, I enjoy the clips they place between the regular scenes. The scenes generally feature sniveling rats, a group of ants fatally stinging a much larger insect, or a snake masticating a mongoose. It is this that gives me comfort that, in our new form of literature, reality T.V., symbolism is as alive as ever. And as gross as it is, I can’t look away.

It's the stupid, economy.

Driving home from work yesterday, I heard the snively voice of Robert Siegel on NPR, sounding like he was trying to hold a popsicle stick under his tongue, making this statement.
“Though it may not be big news to most Americans, it’s official: The U.S. economy is in a recession.”
This was the teaser for the upcoming “The World” segment that they play before the news at the top of the hour. The top story of the news, given with dignity by Lakshmi Singh, was that the U.S. economy was in a recession. This before the apprehension of the terrorists involved in the Mumbai massacre or the civil unrest in Thailand. A commentator came on and mentioned that, yes, it is true, we have been in a recession. When Robert Siegel came back on, he lisped his way through the story again. Yes, we are, in fact, in a recession.

And what’s worse, we’ve been in one since December 2007! We have lived in a state of utter denial for over a year. We Americans are so incredibly stupid that the top story in the news is how we didn’t even know how stupid we were for an entire year. It’s like telling an amputee,
“Hey, by the way… about a year ago we had to cut off your leg above the knee. I don’t know if you remember or not, but you have only one functioning leg.”
“Oh, really? I had no idea! So that’s why I keep falling on my face when I try to walk up the stairs. For a year now I have been so confused and now it all makes sense.”

Yes, it’s official. For a year we’ve been in a recession. It takes us a year to figure these things out because we are trying to save money on economic research. We have outsourced the research to a group in India. We should have received it a few weeks earlier, but, well, you know, the terrorists and all. But, boy, at least that information came out on the Monday after Black Friday. That might have put a damper on those crazy holiday shoppers.

People know that we are in a recession, and it isn’t a big surprise. That is why people are not buying cars, and therefore single-handedly taking down America’s lie-support system in the automobile industry. That is why people are taking money out of the banks and investing them into a mutual fund of box springs and mattresses. That is why people will do anything for a good deal. Anything.

Just before 5:00 AM on November 28th, a throng of people gathered at a Long Island Wal-Mart. The door greater, Jdimytai Damour, came to unlock the doors to let the shoppers loose on their orgiastic holiday spending spree. As soon as the doors were unlocked, the customers pushed each other through the doors, bending the steel frame of the entrance. They ran as they made their way in, knocking over Jdimytai as he tried to calm everyone down. They pushed into him and then pushed him over. Hundreds, yes, hundreds of people stepped on his legs, stomach, throat, and head on their way to buy the DVD game “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader”. Knocked unconscious and struggling for air, the paramedics were called as shoppers continued to step over and on the man to get their shopping done. When the paramedics arrived, they as well were pushed to the ground as they were trying to revive the man. An hour later, he was pronounced dead. The deal on the Incredible Hulk action figure for $9.oo was pronounced a steal of a deal.

So much can be said about the tragedy and how it reflects on our American sensibilities. Other injuries occurred across the country, as they usually do. One incident was a female shopper at the next Wal-Mart over who reported being trampled by several customers, but only reported it and sought medical attention after she finished her shopping.

There is a reason that Wal-Mart is booming. There is a reason why Campbell’s soup stock has remained steadily on the rise while other companies flounder. There is a reason why what you pay for your base price of a plane ticket is merely for the privilege of being in the air as everything else is added as a surcharge. There is a reason why multi-million dollar movie productions are being cancelled and fewer movies are showing up in the theaters. There is a reason why Oprah’s favorite things no longer make her studio audience scream for joy when they each get them all. There is a reason why people are losing their jobs, why the crime rate is on the rise, why the divorce rate is up, and why more Americans are begging for food on the streets and going to bed hungry than at any other time in the past 50 years. There is a reason people don’t mind the fact that they may have killed a man if they can save money on their holiday shopping. As James Carville once drawled, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It is because we are in the middle of a recession, and I just found out yesterday.