What Not To Get Jim For Christmas

It’s that time of year again, the time when we battle the crowds and max out our credit cards to get gifts for those close to us. I know this can be a difficult time, and any help one can find is always appreciated.

I’m here to help. You shouldn’t have to get into a brawl at Target over a gift that might get returned. So to help you out, here now is the list of things not to get Jim Winter for Christmas this year. You’re welcome.

  • Anything Star Trek, Star Wars, or other trinkets that one might be overcharged for at Comic-Con. I did cosplay almost 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, I also used to stay up all night, go to concerts, and play music loudly at all hours.
  • Subscriptions to Playboy, Maxim, etc. I like women. I even married one. However, I do not find Barbie Dolls attractive, and the women in these magazines are so Photoshopped that some of them don’t even look human anymore.
  • Books. “What a minute. You’re a writer. Why no books?” Because I either already have the ones I want, or I will eventually get them. I have a TBR stack I am having trouble getting through at the moment.
  • Christmas sweaters, Christmas hats, Christmas underwear: Come on. Really?
  • Billy the Big Mouth Bass: Don’t. Just don’t. We’ll all be happier if you don’t. Why do they even make this anymore?
  • Those big Hickory Farms cheese and sausage boxes: My father-in-law’s got this. Thanks.

There. Now you have one less person to worry about getting the right thing. You’re welcome.

It Ain’t Like Being A Kid

Ralphie and Santa from A Christmas Story

Source: MGM

I’ll admit it. I was spoiled as a kid. Even though my dad was the only one working, we still got spoiled at Christmas time. Oh, we never got the cool, trendy toy everyone wanted, but looking back, I’m sort of glad. Every time someone got this year’s new hot toy for Christmas, you’d find it in their backyard in pieces by the spring thaw. But my parents got us a lot of swag.

My memory is long enough to remember a time when I was an only child. I am the oldest of 14 grandchildren on my mom’s side. Up until about 1972, I was the surrogate kid for all my aunts and uncles on that side of the family. So come Christmas, guess who got all the swag. And then my cousin Jennifer was born. And my oldest brother. And my cousin Keith. And Jason. (In fact, my dad’s brother also had a Jason around that time. Hmm…)

Suddenly, the presents dried up when we went up the street to my grandma’s house. On my dad’s side, I’m near the back of the back, so nothing really changed there. Still, Christmas was somewhat magical up until I graduated high school. When all four grandparents were alive and living in the wilds of suburban Cleveland and Akron, Christmas had a set rhythm. I (and later my brothers) would get my parents up much earlier than they wanted. We would proceed to trash the living room with shreds of wrapping paper. Then it would be up the street to my maternal grandmother’s for lunch, hanging out with the cousins, and more presents. (‘Cuz that part is important, yanno.) I only had one cousin we never saw there. My uncle had become a Jehovah’s Witness, which nixed Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. (Strangely, my Uncle Mike still came over on my birthday a lot.) Afterwards, we’d go to my dad’s parents for Christmas dinner and, of course, more presents. It was a wonderful day.

Over time, though, things changed. My dad’s parents moved to Marietta, on the Ohio River near West Virginia. My maternal grandfather left. Adolescence kicked in, which meant I thought I was too cool for school. My mother became more religious, which meant some strange gift ideas. (For starters, she refused to buy rock albums for me, even though they had become my new Red Rider BB gun.) My maternal grandmother died.

When I became an adult, Christmas became depressing. It was a pricey burden and a reminder that I was alone at the time. When I first got married, it was absolute torture. My former in-laws wanted to monopolize the holidays, especially when they moved to Hilton Head. Sure, it was fun playing golf on Christmas Day, but I resented having to fight every year for time to see my parents and brothers. By the time that marriage ended, my attitude toward Christmas was that Scrooge sold out at the end of A Christmas Carol.

It changed for the better when I married Nita. Suddenly, I had a stepson. And let’s be honest, it’s fun spoiling him. My first Christmas as part of the family, I bought him a computer. He’s 18 now, and we’ve spent the last four years buying him things he’ll need when he decides to move out. Not to mention getting him a few goodies.

Christmas now is like a cocoon. We get up, put on our annual Christmas jammies, and open presents. In the morning, we watch A Christmas Story. In the afternoon, we watch Nita’s favorite movie, Beauty and the Beast. It’s just the three of us.

We’re looking forward to when AJ has children of his own. We’ll have grandchildren to spoil and rile up. And when they’re full of caffeine and sugar, we can send them back home for their parents to calm down. My parents did this to Ziggins. I’m pretty sure my grandparents did this to my parents, aunts, and uncles. Someday, it will be our turn.

I can’t wait.

Stop The Insanity!

Read this carefully and memorize it: People who say there is a war on Christmas are not Christians.

Nope. Sorry.

If someone says “Happy Holidays” to you, and you fail to accept the greeting in the spirit intended, which incidentally is the spirit of Christmas, you are a very bad person. I use “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” interchangeably. If you call me out for using the wrong phrase, I will take it back in exchange for another phrase. If you’re lucky, that phrase will be “Go to Hell!” (Hey, you’re already headed there anyway.) More likely, my alternate response will be brought to you by the letters “F” and “U.”

Before someone gets all indignant and quotes scripture to me, save your breath. I’ve read six translations of the Bible cover-to-cover. (One of them the King James Version.) The subject never comes up.


Nope. Sorry.

So don’t be an asshole. If someone says “Happy Holidays,” take their suggestion. Have a merry Christmas.

When Black Friday Comes…

I’ll be sleeping in.

I honestly don’t get the orgy of consumer panic that happens the day after Thanksgiving every year. Why should I camp out in Walmart’s parking lot just to get in at 4AM to risk death by trampling for the chance to buy a $30 big screen TV?

There are two days I don’t do Christmas shopping: Today and Christmas Eve. The mall resembles US Bank Arena right before the 1979 Who concert, often with the same tragic results.

I did shop on Black Friday once. I woke up around 9 AM, booted my laptop, and went through Nita and AJ’s Christmas lists, clicking links and placing orders. No crowds. Took me about half an hour. This year, we did this process in September.

But if you insist on diving into the fray this year, here’s a little travelin’ music for you…

Happy Genocidal Land Grab Day!

Fire Turkey Today is Thanksgiving in these here United States. The tradition began in 1620 with the Puritans, a self-righteous lot who crossed the ocean, landed over 600 miles north of where they were supposed to land (Jamestown, Virginia), and promptly starved. Some local Indians taught them how to farm and held a harvest feast to celebrate the fruits of their first harvest. The Puritans gave thanks by running them off and accusing anyone who looked funny of witchcraft. (Hmm… That sounds more like Halloween than Thanksgiving.)

Thanksgiving as we know it today was first proclaimed by George Washington, who was very thankful that the country he helped found hadn’t disintegrated. Yes, even Washington had to put up with idiots who wanted to secede because they thought democracy meant “I always get my way.” Lincoln made it a permanent decree near the end of the Civil War, thankful that the Civil War was coming to an end. Franklin Roosevelt finally fixed it to the calendar: Thursday of the fourth full week in November.

In Canada, they have Thanksgiving, too. Only they do it slightly differently. Theirs is in October, which makes sense, since, like November, it’s a harvest month. They also do theirs on Monday. That also makes sense. In America, however, the fourth Thursday system has given rise to our most sacred of institutions: The federally mandated four-day weekend. W00t!

Unfortunately, it’s also given rise to Black Friday: A holiday in which retailers dupe consumers into camping out in mall parking lots and torture their employees with low-pay and outrageous hours. This is why I work in IT. I only have to go in if something blows up, and often I can fix it over teh Intrawebs.

The reason for all the madness is we are in an orgy of gratitude. We are thankful. So thankful that we gorge ourselves on the flesh of a rather stupid bird (Sorry, Ben Franklin) and pass out in the living room from a tryptophan overdose while watching bad football. The Canadian version of all this is roughly the same, except Canadians can pass out watching Monday Night Football. Hmm… Maybe FDR should have rethought that one.

So what are we thankful for?

Well, I am thankful for to be married to Nita. Valentine’s Day will be the fifth anniversary of our first date.  June, 2013 will be our fifth wedding anniversary. To say we had a whirlwind romance is an understatement. A week before our first date, I was sitting in a Chicago hotel room contemplating starting over in the Windy City as a single man. After all, Sean Chercover lives there. Marcus Sakey lives there. JA Konrath lives there. I knew all those guys. BigHugeCo has a presence there (ironically with an IT department started by the guy who hired me to work at Medishack.) But there was this cute blonde I met while doing standup, and I wanted to meet her for a drink. The only day we could meet was Valentine’s Day. Love at first sight? It does happen. Has it been easy?

Nothing worth having ever is.

Except bacon. And ice cold beer.

I am thankful to live in America. Which is not to say I wouldn’t be happier somewhere else. But we just had a election where the most violent thing to happen was the barrage of ads that hit swing states. Most of us became familiar with our bathrooms, our refrigerators, the DVR, and the mute button. There was no military coup. The only places we see trucks full of soldiers rolling down the streets outside of a natural disaster are near military bases and in parades. Things aren’t particularly great here, but after every election, we always have a handful of idiots who get mad that their guy lost and threaten to move to Canada (They don’t want you) or to secede (Most of us in your state want to stay, and anyway, it’s illegal. Ask Lincoln.) All I have to say to those folks is, “The borders are clearly marked on any map. Don’t let the border patrol hit you in the ass on the way out.”  The fact is if the worst thing to happen to you is you have to pay taxes, you live a charmed life, particularly if you make enough money to whine about it. You can go where you want, say what you want, and believe what you want. Me, personally, I am thankful that technology allows me to turn off morons with microphones simply by avoiding the entire AM band on my car radio.

Daniel Lambert, famous fat guyI am thankful for my health. Sure, there’s a lot I have to deal with: Weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, joints that are aging faster than the rest of me. But every year I make a little more progress. I hope to close out my forties healthier than I did my thirties. I can run. I can bike. And every year, I cut a little more out of my diet that years ago I would only give up at gunpoint. Pizza no longer holds sway over me. I actually find fast food somewhat repulsive. Not giving up beer, though. That’s just crazy talk!

And if I can’t, I’ll still chase Nita around the old folks home in my walker or my wheelchair.

I am thankful for technology. Technology is how I am able to still write. Technology is how I stay in touch with old friends. Technology is how I make my living. There are those who bemoan technology driving a wedge between people. I’ve noticed those people tend to be those I don’t want to deal with in person.

Computers and the Internet opened up a whole world of opportunity for me. Because of it, I never would have become a programmer. I doubt I ever would have made any serious stabs at writing.

Besides, where else could I find pictures of cats, pilfer George Takei’s online photos for Facebook, or watch endless hours of videos MTV refuses to show these days?

And where else can I get free porn?

I am thankful. All in all, I have a good life. Not a perfect life, but perfect does not exist. I’m thankful I figured out that simple truth.

Wednesday Reviews: Failure Is Not An Option by Gene Kranz; It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll by Geoffery Giuliano

Failure Is not an Option

Gene Kranz

The space program was a magnificent achievement not just of America but all humanity. Gene Kranz tells the story of how he, a former Air Force test pilot, was tossed feet first into the early days of Mission Control in the early days of the Mercury Program. His career as a flight controller began with a “four-inch flight,” a Redstone missile barely moving on the pad before shutting down, to landing the first humans on the moon to bringing home Apollo 13 after an explosion in space. It was an amazing time, and the astronauts gave their props to their Russian counterparts, taken the names of the fallen in the space race to the moon, including three cosmonauts who died in orbit mere weeks before one lunar mission.

Kranz relays the highest of highs – Glenn’s mission as the first American to orbit the Earth, Armstrong on the moon – to the lows – the loss of the Apollo 1 astronauts on the pad during a test, the premature end to the moon program. Through it all, we are shown a dedication to one purpose not seen again until the computer and Internet startups of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll

Geoffery Giuliano

This is the second Giuliano bio I’ve done on audio. Unfortunately, it’s one of those rare books I couldn’t find an Amazon link for.

Giuliano looks at the Stones, giving their story from the beginning in 1962 to about 1989 or so, when they began touring for Steel Wheels. Unlike his bio of George Harrison, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, Giuliano is a lot more even-handed in reviewing the Stones’ history. He is most detailed about the band’s early days, and offers his own assertions on the death of founder Brian Jones. He comes right out and says Jones was murdered (though not by the Stones as some conspiracy theorists would have you believe) but stops short of naming names. Barely. He glosses over the seventies, stopping long enough for Ronnie Wood to join the band in 1976, then ends with the tumultuous late 1980’s, bringing the rift between Mick and Keith into sharp focus. His depiction pretty much echoes Keith Richards’ account of their tiff after Undercover and Mick’s abortive solo career.

Favorite Musicians: Peter Frampton

Cover of Frampton Comes AliveCan someone with only one hit album be defined as a one-hit wonder? If so, then Peter Frampton is a one-hit wonder. But what a hit.

Say Peter Frampton today, and what do you think of? “Do You Feel Like I Do?” The talking guitar? “Show Me the Way”? Frampton Comes Alive?

It’s this last that made Frampton a household name. His music received attention before this 1976 live album. He was best known as the lead guitarist for Humble Pie, fronted by The Small Faces’ founder Steve Marriott. Frampton left in the early seventies and performed under the name Frampton’s Camel, who recorded the self-titled album that yielded the studio version of “Do You Feel Like I Do?”

But it was the live version that grabbed everybody’s attention. The album Frampton Comes Alive came out at just the right time. Frampton had those Robert Plant-like locks, could hold his own on guitar with the likes of Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, and had a set that was ready-made for this new thing called arena rock. Frampton Comes Alive was a monster.

Unfortunately for Frampton, his label and his management only saw the young golden rock god and thought little of the songwriting and musicianship, both of which Frampton excelled at. They rushed out two more albums without giving Frampton time to perfect any new material, focusing on his image. As a result, his career faded on the weakness of such offerings as I’m in You, a title most hair metal bands would have discarded after giggling about it for ten minutes.

Peter Frampton in 2006

Photo: Carl Lender, used under GNU FDL

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Frampton might have faded from memory, but Frampton Comes Alive did not. It’s one of those albums that hits, then just stays there. As album-oriented rock faded from American radio, classic rock took over. By 1986, the world seemed ready for a new album. The looks were there, but now Frampton’s fret work was front and center in most people’s minds. He released Premonition, which yielded a hit, “Lying.” I snapped this one up when it came out. It had a lot of the typical 1980’s studio trickery on it – lots of synthesizers, lots of reverb, but damn if it wasn’t a good album. I actually prefer the closing song, “Call of the Wild,” to “Lying,” which is still a staple of his live show.

But he wasn’t done yet. In the late 1980’s, he toured as David Bowie’s guitarist, a gig that buoyed sales of his backlist and padded his bank account nicely. Frampton now only had to work when he wanted. Which is what he did. Around the same time yours truly moved to Cincinnati, so did Frampton, who now has a home in suburban Indian Hill. (No, I’ve never met him.)

Probably the best thing that ever happened to Frampton was his hair. As you can see from the second picture, the golden locks are gone. What’s left is a guitar player. This is pretty much how he looked when I saw him in 1999 at the late, lamented Jammin’ on Main festival in Cincinnati. The band was essentially the same band that appears on Frampton Comes Alive, which dominated the set. Gone now is keyboardist Bob Mayo, who died a few years later, but Frampton has managed to keep the same band from his heyday in the 1970’s.

Favorite Bands: The Clash

How could a band I know very little about make this feature? After all, I just confessed to lewd fantasies about Deborah Harry of Blondie, extolled the effect The Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and The Who had on the “soundtrack of my life,” and took pains to bring from obscurity the lesser known guitar greats Tommy Bolin and Rory Gallagher. So why The Clash? Why a band that was part of a rock genre I never really liked all that much?

There was something about the music Joe Strummer and Mick Jones put together that lacked the pretense that clogged the British punk movement. It’s really only three songs for me, but they were powerful songs. The first was “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” That came off of 1982’s Combat Rock. There was something about Joe Strummer’s “anti-singing” (a term Keith Richards used to describe his vocal style) and the raw thrashing of the guitar with no overdubs. It was the same music The Kinks were making almost twenty years earlier, but it had a “fuck you” edge to it. I hear it today, and I hear The Beastie Boys pre-“Sabotage.”

The second song, another one off Combat Rock, was “Rock the Casbah,” yet another fuck you, this time to Iran’s clerics. “Sharia, he don’t like! Rock the Casbah! Rock the Casbah!” I tell ya, it’s gettin’ so a religious zealot can’t oppress his people without some rock musician giving him static. Next thing you know, so loud guy in a blonde fright wig will be scaring Jerry Falwell shitless screaming “We’re not gonna take it!” But “Rock the Casbah” is probably The Clash’s poppiest tune. I was 16 when it came out, and it was one of those songs we’d all yell at the top of our lungs riding the bus to school. It wasn’t typical Clash, the dark, angry, anti-Thatcher punk of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s what let Mick Jones form Big Audio Dynamite and Joe Strummer to become an elder statesman for rock.

What solidifies The Clash for me is its earliest hit, the hammering taunt to British culture and the Cold War, “London Calling.” I actually didn’t become aware of the song until the 1990’s, which is just as well. My tastes in music until then hadn’t broadened enough to appreciate this darkly humorous rage against the machine. As anti-establishment as it was, it nonetheless found itself into a James Bond movie (unfortunately, one that featured an invisible car), which shows you how ingrained it’s become into Britain and how the world views it.

The Clash were not The Sex Pistols or The Damned, sneering at people learning their instruments. Oh, they were very much the pissed-off socialist youth that hated Thatcher’s Britain and railed against the collapse of industry in the UK. The Clash just bothered to make sure you’d listen.