Wednesday, December 26, 2001

For Auld Time's Sake

Save for that "What if They Gave an Election and No One Conceded?" affair, the year 2000 was monumentally uneventful. Unless the sheepish expression worn by the millions of people left wondering what to do with (and where to store) some 32 tons of generator batteries; 40 trillion liters of purified water; half a billion lightsticks, and enough cold, hard currency to buy Panama and a few dozen kilos-worth of Noriega's pet GNP counts as an "event." Or, rather (as was the dawn of Y2K itself) "non-event."

I imagine most everybody wishes 2001 were as uneventful, or, at the very least, that September tenth had been so inexplicably long the calendar was forced to skip to September twelfth just to keep the cosmos on track. God knows I've had similar flights of fancy.

But the grim truth is that 2001 will go down as the year that Evil nearly triumphed over Good, the year that Good - and, in retrospect, Complacency - took a ghastly beating.

Yet I would also hope that the tail end of 2001 goes down as the season that put the brakes on pandemic self-absorption; reflexive litigiousness; indifferent profiteering, and Jesse Jackson's audacious pursuit of immortality. For it was, it really was.

Which isn't to say all was Nirvana. Why should it have been? The world's never been without hubris, hostility, and horse you-know-what, though no one ever said it would be. For that matter, no one ever said life was supposed to be fair, and it's probably safe to say no one will ever promise me a rose garden. The important thing is, Evil merely 'nearly' triumphed. And from this unspeakable misery, a good-sized number of us quit behaving as if it already had.

For the first time in I don't know how long, "what can I do for you's" outnumber "but how does it apply to me's?" something like five-to-one. People are beating more and joining less, trading in their shrugs for strength of character. Money still talks, just not as loudly.

Even locally, where "special interests" and special interest groups often reign supreme, there are signs of better things to come. The most recent one came in the form of a cogent letter to the editor, written by a reader who shall rename nameless - lest my esteem for his point of view reflect badly on him.

Indeed, it's not out of the realm of possibility that a person might look upon an endorsement from me the same way he would a Trojan horse. And I know firsthand how unsettling it is to earn the wrong person's affections. About 20 years ago, an obsessively flirtatious friend of mine was going through her self-described "slumming" phase, which entailed dating a series of unsavory characters. One character, however, was particularly unsavory. Though he, like the others, was "Botticelli-faced" (again, her description), simple-minded (by anyone's description), and well acquainted with the words, "bail shall be set at..." he knew even fewer colorful adjectives than her other overgrown delinquents and used a single word - begins with an "F" - for all of his noun, verb and adverb needs. Worse, any bodily functions best kept suppressed in public were, to him, cause for celebration. Therefore, when he "gallantly" told my friend he thought I was more his type than she was, I was torn between wanting to beat him up and throw up. But I digress.

In no uncertain, albeit diplomatic, terms, this reader made mincemeat of the notion that Evil is ever warranted. When we make excuses for depravity, he concluded, we're no better than the depraved.

I couldn't agree more. It's that sort of mindset that kept us from being severely, instead of nearly, beaten last year. To him, and to everyone else who took stock of what we almost lost in 2001, I offer a hearty auld lang syne.


Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Heavy Meddle

We all have our holiday traditions; some quite tedious, some done by rote, and some so meddlesome people wish we'd just knock them off. Even doing nothing out of the ordinary - where 'ordinary' equals a lawn made of grass and 'extraordinary' equals a lawn made of UL-approved extension cords - for the holidays is a tradition...o' ye of little whoop-de-doo.

Lest this take the tone of a term paper, we won't discuss tradition's multiple spin-offs or the various wannabe traditionalists, like the highstrung homemaker who institutes a new "tradition" each year, rabidly hoping that this year's the keeper and becoming downright nasty when the NEW TRADITIONAL KRUGELCAKES get a lukewarm response.

We shall stick to Groups A, B and C; that is, Tedious, Rote, and Meddlesome. Starting with Tedious.

Iowa Dot, a second cousin once removed, fits this bill. Every December, Dot mails anyone even remotely related to her (think Abraham) a gaily-festooned envelope of mass duplicated (she's found relations in 29 countries) microfiche, each a microscopic rendition of the alleged Family Tree.

I say 'alleged' because, how many people do you know who have their own microfiche reader?

Okay, so I reviewed Dot's labors once or twice. And thanks to that Iowa goofball, I'm not allowed within 15 feet of two libraries' A/V equipment. Listen, my ancestors were dullards. There won't be a mini-series made of us, I guarantee it.

Yeah, yeah, it's a thoughtful gesture. At least it was. Now it's just plain tedious. For we all, I'm assuming all with telephones, have to reply. "Great stuff, Dot!" "Whoa, you did it again!" Her follow-up calls have, respectively, made Mom take up smoking; my brother hara-kiri; and myself, Caller ID.

If you're wondering why the Family Tree warrants an annual update, why not ask how Dot affords such yearly tedium, too? The answer is one and the same! Iowa Dot is the Black Widow of the Corn. A birth here, a death there; that's one thing. But new husbands affect entire branches.

As for Rote traditionalists, they only hurt themselves. It's sad, really.

I mean, the kids are long gone, but there the parents are, in their dens, watching "The Weakest Link" with an eight-foot blowup dreidel between them. Neither remembers inflating it, yet both are winded. Eventually, they'll fight over who has to deflate it.

I knew someone who set up this delicate crèche, every piece some Romanian or Slovenian crystal, then stand guard over it all month, cursing her duty. She'd lose about ten pounds every December, but she wasn't very happy.

Meddlesome, word has it, best describes my own tradition: making early resolutions. See, I make them early to have New Year's Eve free for myself. Why squander an in-demand baby-sitter on other people's problems?

But I don't think that's why my tradition irks people. I'm guessing it's because I don't make resolutions for myself (never believed in 'em), but for others.

Last year, for example, I gave a friend a typed list of resolutions she needed to make and - say, it just occurred to me that not hearing from her in a year isn't necessarily a bad sign. She might be working on her list this very minute. Aww, bless her heart.

Maybe that's what happened with that neighbor eons ago. The one with the chartreuse house and all the lawn gnomes. Maybe he really did get his eyes checked; saw the light, so to speak.

Golly. There could be hope for even my loftiest resolutions, the ones I threw in for kicks. Ooh, how sweet the sound of "...We at Fox News resolve to keep Geraldo away from any wars, conflicts, skirmishes - heck, donnybrooks, catfights, and hissy-fits - in 2002." Or...