the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

a guide to getting along with in-laws over the holidays

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized on January 1, 2013 at 9:37 am


One of the many disappointing things about getting older is that you can’t just be an ass and blame other people for your shortcomings.  BOO, old age. BOO!!  Case in point: I’m in Florida for the holidays with my wife’s family.  I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t keen on coming.  I don’t really love traveling over the holidays; I’ve had run-ins with my brother-in-law in the past (though I will say he’s been a real great guy on this visit); and really, Flo. freaks my shit out.

Still, it’s the awkwardness I feel around some of my in-laws that freaks me out most.  When we all sit down for a meal, it feels as if I’m on a bad date–a bad date in which I have to sit across from like a dozen people who don’t want to be there with me.  This is where my progress shines through.  Are you blinded yet?

The other night I was at dinner with the clan.  My father-in-law always likes to go out to some restaurant with everyone at least once.  Odd thing is that almost always, he sits and stares off into space when we get there.  He works hard, to be fair.  And he always works.  He’s also not the only one who seems distant.  My sister-in-law’s boys can sometimes have meltdowns, which only add to the strange feeling because as a whole, I think the family feels some shame for the boys’ behavior, and many of us kind of drift off as the boys are being reprimanded.

Anyway, no one is really talking, or maybe they are.  I am bored out of my mind.  This year, I have The Boy as a shield, and as a friendly face to focus on, SO I’m getting by.  But it hits me.  Part of the reason I feel awkward around my in-laws is that I am always wishing it were different.  Basically, you have a room full of strangers who only come together because of their spouses.  There’s little chance that I would hang out with many of these individuals and the same is true on their end.  And this is where the age thing comes in.  In the past, I would sit back and assume the problem was elsewhere, i.e., with my in-laws.  Occasionally, I would shift the blame to myself.  I know I’m no saint.  But what I think I realized this time out was that I am wrong to assume it’s a matter of blame because the truth is no one is to blame.

It’s no one’s fault.  It’s just what it is.  And I do better when I accept it as such, because if I’m honest, I think that’s where my awkwardness comes in–it’s a masked disappointment that I just can’t seem to find a way in with these people who are so close to the woman I married.  Maybe that’s sad.  Maybe it isn’t.  What do you guys think?  Do you get along with your in-laws?

I hope so.

I also hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  See you in 2013.


Bed & Breakfasts: Why I Avoid Them and Why I Might Be Dumb For Doing It…

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Happy New Year, all! I hope that the last few days have been restful and festive.

I’m writing this first post for the year just having come back from vacation in Mendocino, CA,  or as the locals there seem to say, “The Mendo.” We only went up for a day and a night. My wife and I finally had a couple days off that coincided, so we decided to take a mini-vacation, and as part of our plan, Chela and I looked for some place decent and inexpensive. When possible, we also like to avoid the major chains. We’re not anti-corporate, but especially when traveling to small towns and because we are watching our budget, we like locally owned places–places that are cute and homey and personal–or at least more personal than a Motel 6. The problem is we also try to avoid Bed & Breakfasts, places that specialize in homey and personalized cuteness.

There’s no denying the charm of a B&B. The comfort of going to someone’s house and breaking bread with other guests who you are thrown in together with by luck, good or bad, it’s human. It’s ancient. It’s community. I agree with all of that, at least I do in principle. In reality, I don’t want anything to do with these places.  If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, then you know my feelings on forced community–see my post on holiday work parties if you’re interested….

For those of you who are not interested but still reading this post, the basic idea is that I like to make my own friends and I don’t like to be forced to congregate with people just because I work with them or, with respect to B&B’s, just because I share their taste for cute and personal. Like a lot of topics I over think about, I have a complicated relationship to the B&B and to what I think it represents. For one thing, I tend to think that a lot of people who go to B&B’s are looking for “authenticity”–the same kind of money-bought authenticity that one gets from a farmer’s market. If you want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, if you want maple syrup that reminds you of a time when real men were chopping trees down with their own hands and feasting on man-sized pancakes, you can have these things if you’re able to pay for them. Likewise, if you want someone who’s actually vested in a place to welcome you to that place in only a way that one with a connection to it would, you can share in that human touch, but only if you have the funds.

I might be overstating the case just a might when I say that part of this need for authenticity smacks of a John paying for sex–a certain type of John, at least. When you get right down to it, isn’t all of this quest for authenticity also a quest for connection–human connection? Artisanal bread tastes great, but there’s also the fact that it makes you feel connected to a bread maker. And the same is true of the B&B. Every B&B is as particular as its owners are. The place might be good or bad, but it sure as hell is different from the next B&B down the road. (I realize that there are probably some corporations who own B&B’s, but I’m choosing to forget that possibility for the sake of simplicity and because I am already over thinking.)

Reading over what I’ve written so far, I probably seem pretty negative on the B&B experience and even a little judgmental on those who stay there. And yet, even as I say this, I am forced to admit that part of my discomfort with B&B’s is, in addition to the points I make above, due to shyness and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of fear on my part. Fear of what? Well, if you want to get right down to it, maybe it’s a fear of connection. I was listening to an NPR show yesterday on my way back, and the host was talking about irony. According to the guest, a philosopher out of the U of Chicago, the epitome of irony is when someone wants something that he rejects whenever he gets a chance at it. Well, I am the epitome of that epitome. I live in a big city (San Francisco is kind of a big city) and I have lived in big cities for most of my adult life after leaving school. I like them because they are impersonal and because I feel free to be whoever I want to be. And yet, I have also felt lonely. Especially since moving to SF, I can’t say I’ve met a lot of people I can call friends. My wife says the same thing. We tell ourselves it’s because we’re older, as if being older means you can’t make new lasting friends. Maybe that’s the case, but it doesn’t help that when we go on vacations, we avoid the chance of meeting new people. B&B’s represent something ancient. They represent something human. They are community.

And yet, and yet….I can’t help it.

Maybe I’m doomed to loneliness, but I’m ironic–the epitome of ironic to be exact. I’m Ironic Man, able to leap from potential friendships at a single bound.






Growing Old in Department Stores…

In humor, life, observations, writing on December 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

The other day I hung out with my wife while she did her Christmas shopping. My initial idea had been to hang out at Starbucks and write while she faced the angry hoards, but she bribed me with a free lunch, and I am a food whore. There are many signs that I am getting old: I run slower than I used to, I sometimes ache a little in the lower back, I have to actually trim my nose hair, etc., but I realized my middle-aged status while with my wife. As she went off to look for her mom’s present, I zero’ed in on this comfy couch in the middle of the floor where I found another middleaged guy. We gave each other the man-nod, which can mean many things depending on context but in this case meant, “Ah, you too are stuck in hell until the female in your life releases you.”

That alone wouldn’t have proved my age. What did show me exactly who and what I am was the fact that as I sat there, I kept noticing the looks I was getting by the young women who frequent the store. I’d like to say they were looking at me the way a niece would her charming uncle, but I can admit that some of them were young enough to be my own kids. Either way, they were amused at the two old-ish guys sitting on the couch, waiting for their wives.

It’s a telling thing that Rites of Passage are no longer dramatic episodes in one’s life, they are gauged by visits to the mall. So I am no longer a kid waiting impatiently with his mom, or a boyfriend hanging with his girl. I am now of the couch-dwelling class. Hear me sigh!

Do You Hear What I Hear? is the WORST X-Mas Song EVER–and part of Satan’s Plan

In humor, media, observations, Uncategorized on December 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

I am a Gen X‘er–you remember us? Supposedly, we’re ironic by nature. I’m not sure if we’re responsible for the wave of snark that drowns a lot of humor nowadays–I hope not. I think we might have something to do with hipsters and skinny jeans, and if so, I apologize. Snark and hipsterism, in general, are fine for a while, but it’s all kind of like candy: it eats away at you and leaves cavities where your soul is. I say this even though I’m about to snark out about one of the worst songs ever and THE worst holiday song currently playing at your local mall–and I’m including Hark the Herald Angels Sing in this, so you know I mean business. In my defense, I would say that the stakes are high. There’s a fake earnestness about Do You Hear What I Hear? that fools a lot of people into thinking that it means well.  It doesn’t. Do You Hear What I Hear? Well, do you? If you’re not hearing awfulness, then that’s a problem–a problem I want to solve right here, right now.

Let’s start with the lyrics: the song is a blow by blow of the night Jesus was born. Fine. It is Christmas, and there are people who actually think of Christmas as being a Christian holiday, so the content is what it is. The syntax of the lyrics is where the trouble really begins. It’s repetitive like a child playing a game of telephone in which the message gets out about the birth of baby Jesus starting with the wind and a lamb right on up to a mighty king. The structure of the story told is not very interesting– kind of like a proto-Tracy Chapman song, but without as much detail. Thanks be to God for that one. Still, repetitive and uninspired lyrics are not unusual and not exactly harmful. The problem comes in when the lyrics are combined with the music.

The repetitive structure of one character telling another character about the birth-event pushes the listener toward the end, which means that the composer had to write music that did the same thing. This is where I start cringing. Almost any version you listen to starts with simple music that then grows and grows in volume and intensity until by the end, you’re stuck with a deafening blast of sickly-sounding choristers singing through holy smiles, which in turn, causes the lead singer to do his/her damnedest to cut through all of the horns and drums and lame singing with his/her own lamer, louder singing. It’s all so earnest–too earnest, which ironically, makes it false. There’s no sense of humor here or wonder. There’s just this heavy, imposing wanna-be sanctity about the whole thing. It’s like the difference between a good person who doesn’t go announcing his goodness and the other guy who is always talking like a saint but who in reality is cutting up a goat and sacrificing it to Satan.

Too strong? Am I overstating the case? Well think about this: when I was a kid, there was this whole movement to uncover satanic messages in records. I don’t remember exactly, but I think the argument was something like if you played the records backwards, you’d hear someone tell you to go kill a goat or some other barnyard animal in the name of the Dark Prince. Look, talk all you want about Led Zepelin’s album covers or AC/DC’s secret lyrics, that stuff was in your face, at least. You might not like it. You might not want your kid listening to a song called Highway to Hell–FINE. But you can deal with the problem. Do You Hear What I Hear? on the other hands hides behind Jesus, but it’s a false prophet, my friends. The title itself should give it away. Do You Hear What I Hear? Cause the I in that title is hearing voices and they are evil and fake and they are everywhere. Do you hear it? I know I do. I hear something that is so awfu that only Satan could’ve produced it. It’s sneaky I’ll give the Dark One, but then what do you expect? It’s Satan..

I mean on the surface, it’s all goodness and light, but that’s how the dark one gets you. I

drives me up the wallI can’t tell you how many times students tell me I “shouldn’t trip”, which for those of you not in the know, does not mean I should watch where I walk. It means I should stay calm. But fuck that!  I am not a calm man, and Do You Hear What I Hear is awful–truly so. In fact, though it’s supposed to be all good and light, I think it’s Devil Music.

Secret Santas Suck…And They Shoudn’t Be Secret, Either

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized on December 15, 2011 at 12:17 am

Look, I’m cheery. I am. I don’t like forced community put upon me by holiday parties at work, but the holidays themselves are nice, great even. I wholeheartedly accept the power of the Santa or the Dreidel or claymation Frosty the Snowmen to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside. I don’t even mind the music I have to put up with in every store I enter–unless it’s The Little Drummer Boy–THAT SONG IS UNBEARABLE!! But then there’s the Secret Santa thing, and that just makes me sad and angry. I’m ok with the idea in the abstract, but where I work, the Ladies (and yes, they are all ladies) have decided that we have to give presents and that we can’t give gift cads or money. AND that we have to keep it secret until the day of the party when we all have to watch each other open each other’s gifts. Yes, this has the makings of sadness.

I point out that my enemies in this are ladies because, rightly or wrongly, I have noticed a gender divide on the question of gifts. I usually hate these kinds of divides. I am not a subscriber to the men are from mars and women are from…where are they supposed to be from again? See, I don’t even know the title of that stupid book. But there might be a real difference between the sexes when it comes to gift-giving philosophies. First off, I’ve never met a guy who said he didn’t like money for a gift–never. And gift cards, most men agree unless they are hard-core cash lovers, are almost as good. But I have met many a woman who, like the Ladies at my job, resist the practical beauty of cold hard cash and/or gift cards. Why? I ask this simple question.

Look, I understand the principle involved in this stance. It kind of sucks when you see spouses giving each other money. And maybe I get it with siblings, too. In both cases, we’re talking family members, intimates. Hopefully, you know your family well enough to know what to buy them.  But really? With people you work with, people you don’t know well, why not give cash? The guy I was assigned this year is a nice guy, a good person, but I see him once a month at staff meetings. I know he’s a new father. I know he drinks coke. That’s it. And good reader, these two facts don’t give me much to go on as far as what to buy him. Should I give the guy a case of coke and a baby bottle so that he can get his son started early? Should I buy him…Fuck, I don’t even know him well enough to make ridiculous over-the-top jokes about what I should give him.

So screw it. Screw The Ladies and their principled stance on gift-giving. Screw the Secret Santa silliness. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk to the guy and I’m going to break it down for him: he needs to tell me what to buy him OR he needs to accept a gift card from Babies R Us or Target or some other store of his choosing. And let me say this now: I’m not only doing this for myself. I do this for men everywhere who want badly to give money and/or gift cards to strangers at their workplaces. God bless us. God bless us all.

5-Minute Rant: Holiday Work Parties…

In humor, life, observations, writing on December 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

I hate holiday work parties, and I avoid them.  My wife gives me a sad look when I say this. She thinks I’m wrong not to go, but there’s something kind of awful about them. I understand if the party happens during work hours. Then, you either go or you act like some kind of social misfit and you stay at your cubicle and work while others eat cake. I am not that brave, personally, though I wish I were. If there is a social function during the work-day, I suck it up. I go. I eat cake.

I should say that I like the people I work with. It’s really not them. It’s more that work, I think, is for work, and if I’m not meeting a co-worker who I’m not close with about work-related stuff, then I want to be home with my wife during the evening.  As it is, my wife and I are becoming one of those sad San Francisco couples whose schedules collide and who don’t see each other often enough because they are trying to stay afloat in this beautiful city where the middle class is evaporating like the fog we all so love to see every morning.  How’s that for socio-economic poetry?

I feel my wife’s sad glance upon me again, and it’s not just the awful metaphors I’m coming up with, either. She wants me to be honest–completely honest.  Besides my love for her and my desire to hang out with her, there is something else. For me, there is a principle at stake, which is the real reason why my wife gives me a sad look when I duck out of holiday parties. Whenever I invoke principles, she gives me this look that says, “Really? Oh stop already. Don’t be a blow-hard.”

Well if I am a blow-hard, then let it be so. I am a man, after all. I will toot in my own sense of righteousness. I say to you, wife and readers of my blog, I am man, hear me blow, which kind of sounds odd, but you now what I mean.

So here it is. My principled stance against the holiday party: holiday parties are a form of forced community, and I reject that. Yes. There it is. It is my rebellion of one. My revolution against the powers-that-be. I have always felt this way. I have stood on this ground of social independence since I was a child. I hated camp for the same reason. I don’t like when I am forced to be social. I felt this way in high school and college whenever we were “asked” to talk about our feelings in community circles or “encouraged” to attend mixers. I stood my loner ground then and I stand on it now.

I like people, don’t get me wrong. But don’t start telling me that I HAVE to be somewhere to smile and drink unless I’m getting paid for it. Yes, that’s right. Whereas I take a principled stance against forced community, I am ok with paid community, which kind of would make me a prostitute if I did ever find a boss who would pay for such things. So maybe I’ll have to revisit that one. But for now, I am available for paid drinks and smiles.

Look, I recognize why my wife gives me the sad look. I get all worked up about what might seem like silliness. She thinks it’s not that big a deal, that I should just go and make an appearance.  What’s the point? To which I say, here’s the point: there is so much stuff that you have to do on any a given day, stuff that you don’t want to do but that you force yourself to do because that is just the way it is, because that’s part of being responsible, an adult, blah, blah, blah.  I accept that. But parties? Nah.  If I want to celebrate, then I will find my own way of doing so. Is this dumb? Is it worth me stroking out about? My wife’s sad glance says, no, but I am going to have to disagree on this one. I am man, hear me blow!

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