Sunday, November 30, 2008

Calories and Tears

I’m holding back tears as I watch a TV documentary. I’ll tell you the subject matter in a moment.

Even my closest friends would be surprised to learn how emotional I really am. In most public settings, including work and family gatherings, I have a fairly steady, even temperament. I show emotion but not in an extreme way. My laugh isn’t hearty and I rarely cry in public.

But I experience holiday depression. From Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day, that bundle of pent up emotion that a surprisingly large number of people deal with lives just below the surface of my exterior personality. It doesn’t take much to open the window and let it out.

I’m revealing this part of me in this somewhat public setting just in case you have similar feelings during the holiday season and need a little validation to prove you’re not alone or crazy.

I got through Thanksgiving week in a great mood this year. My sister and some of my cousins emailed greetings and a few old photographs to each other. These are the cousins who I spent nearly every Thanksgiving of my youth with. The photos and messages felt good. No tears, many smiles.

But this afternoon is another story. It is three days after Thanksgiving, cloudy, rainy and cold, much colder than it ever was in late November in my southern youth. I’m eating the last of the holiday leftovers, thinking about how my original plan to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in New Orleans didn’t work out, and watching the beginning of a documentary on television. It is a whimsical but fact-based look at the history of donuts.

Yes, donuts are making me cry.

The lead example this documentary uses to explain the world’s fascination with fried dough is the beignet, the only food item served at Café du Monde in New Orleans. I have probably been to that that famous outdoor café more than a hundred times in my life and often during significant, emotional moments. My earliest memory of eating beignets there was after a grandmother’s funeral. Dad took us there after at least three funerals during my youth. I spilled the powdered sugar beignet topping on a tuxedo after at least two proms in high school. In the years since leaving New Orleans, I have shared their café au lait and beignets with at least two girlfriends and a wife. I’ve dropped in solo. The strong coffee and calorie-laden beignets are major part of my life and viewing those sights and sounds have opened the emotion window.

This kind of reaction is a normal component of holiday depression. As adults we often try to recreate family rituals from our youth and the disparity between that attempt and current reality often leads to sadness rather than joy. There is nothing wrong with it and it is perfectly normal. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to cope with, however, but it is a good first step. Making your own rituals and traditions is another positive step toward reducing the sadness. Letting it just happen rather than kicking yourself in the butt is another good technique.

I used to feel sad for the whole six or seven weeks of the fall/winter holidays. My favorite two words were “bah humbug.” Scrooge had some serious holiday depression going on. Changing his current behavior and attitude after connecting with his happier childhood helped him feel better. A story like that could help me and you. A tasty beignet from Café du Monde would help too.

Fortunately my holiday depression doesn’t last long any more. This one afternoon incident might be it for this year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It’s Crazy

A stampede of people trampled him to death just inside of the entrance.

Does that sentence refer to a political demonstration gone bad? Restaurant patrons as they flee a burning hotel? A prison riot?


That sentence describes what happened this morning at a Wal-Mart in Long Island, New York as the doors opened at 5:00 A.M. for the beginning of the post-Thanksgiving Day sale. The investigation is not yet complete, but early indications are that a crowd of shoppers rushed the entrance, broke the glass doors, destroyed the metal door frame and crushed a young store employee.

That is just f-ing crazy!

I do understand why hordes of people would arrive for a 5:00 A.M. store opening to get bargains like a 50-inch plasma TV for $798 or popular DVDs for $9 each. Holiday shopping on “Black Friday” is a ritual that has been going on for decades; the prices are great and it’s nice to finish Christmas gift buying in one day, a month ahead of the big day.

But what bargain price justifies the kind of pushing and shoving that damages property and endangers lives? Did the first ten people through the doors take advantage of the $69 sale price on those 10.2 megapixel digital cameras?

Picture from a different store

The young employee who was crushed died at a local hospital an hour after the incident. He was a 34-year-old maintenance worker from a temp agency. A 28-year old woman who is 8 months pregnant was also injured, but she and the baby are doing fine. Early reports indicate that five other shoppers were also injured.

The day after Thanksgiving Day is called Black Friday because that day is typically when retailers reach profitability for the year … the day they ‘go into the black.’ For family and friends of the dead Wal-Mart worker, that term will forever mean something else.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Honey, Have You Seen My Hammer?

My Dad was quite the handy man and his workshop contained enough tools to supply a Home Depot. Those tools were his. Mom never touched them, nor did she have much interest in them. He had a specific plan for storing his tools and he always knew where each one was.

I have many of those tools myself now, his wish before he died, and I’d like to think those tools and others I acquired myself over the years are mine. I also have a plan for tool storage, but my wife is fairly handy with tools herself and she uses “my” tools all the time. Her plan differs from my plan and I often have to ask for the whereabouts of “my” tools.

So I was quite amused to learn that astronauts lost a bag of tools last week … in space! The bag floated away and is now orbiting the Earth on a path just ahead of the space station the astronauts were working on. In fact, if you look in the right place at the right time, you can see the tool bag’s trek across the night sky.

The contents of the orbiting tool bag? A couple of grease guns, a scraper tool and some large trash bags. The cost? $100,000. For a grease gun and trash bags?! Don’t they know there’s a sale at Home Depot?

By the way, the astronaut who accidentally let go of the bag of tools is somebody’s wife. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper is the lead space walker on this mission and her job is to clean and lubricate a jammed solar panel on the space station. Her husband is a NASA engineer in charge of the equipment used for her training. That means he is in charge of the tools. I guess their tool storage plans aren’t exactly in sync either.

Click for more:

The bag streaks by in the night sky.

The story on

Track the bag.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Forty Five Years Ago

For those of who remember that day, it’s hard to believe it was forty-five years ago today. A young, vibrant, inspiring President who promised change (sound familiar) was gunned down in Dallas (hope that never happens to a President again).

Even though I was very young, I remember that Friday like it was yesterday. Today it took a Google search to find any media stories noting this sad anniversary. From my perspective as a fifty-something I can't believe it doesn’t get major coverage, especially on an anniversary ending in five (a number that usually garners memorial almost as much as zero-year anniversaries).

Maybe it is time to forget about John F. Kennedy’s assassination or to just relegate it to the history books and the Jeopardy home edition. If you’re at the leading edge of the baby boom, you were 17 years old that day and remember it well. If you’re a young Boomer, you were a baby and not even old enough to know there was something unusual about your parents crying in front of the television all weekend.

If you are Gen X or younger, the whole thing is something your parents talked about, sort of like my parents talked about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. You know it is important, but it doesn’t really mean anything to you.

For me, November 22nd is right up there with September 11th as a significant day to remember.


If you’re interested, here are some of today’s stories, memories or commentary:

- Dallas television station report

- Boston Herald column

- Newseum

Here’s an excerpt from the Newseum story which shows how different news coverage was in 1963:

Journalists didn’t have laptops, digital cameras or cell phones four decades ago. But using typewriters, film and land-line telephones, they reported every breaking development — from Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead, to Love Field, where Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president, to the Texas Theatre, where suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was captured.

Television networks carried nonstop, commercial-free coverage for nearly four days. Two days after the assassination, TV viewers who were tuned to NBC, the only network that carried live coverage of Oswald’s jail transfer, witnessed the first live murder on television when nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot the accused assassin at point-blank range. The following day, more than 93 percent of U.S. TV households watched Kennedy’s funeral.

- The Zapruder film of the actual assassination

And if you’re a TV news geek, watch these two videos. They are part of a series of videos showing uncut CBS television coverage that day as the story was developing. You’ll hear numerous references to “our CBS news correspondent Dan Rather” who was at the hospital but without live TV cameras.

- CBS News coverage segment part 6

- CBS News coverage segment part 7 (the famous scene where Walter Cronkite holds back tears as he reads the ‘official’ announcement of Kennedy’s death is near the end of this clip)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran’s Day

November 11th is an important day for anyone who has ever served in the military as well as for families of those veterans. We salute all who have worn the uniform, everyone from heroes on the battlefield to the soldiers who provided the most routine of services back home; those who are alive today and those who gave all for their country.

One veteran who holds a special place in my heart is my Dad. Although his enlistment in the Navy near the end of World War II was somewhat reluctant, he proudly served his country. He never saw combat but he certainly saw danger. The ship on which he was a radar tech nearly capsized in a typhoon in the Pacific, and the base where he was stationed in China was surrounded by people who weren’t always convinced that the war had really ended.

November 11th is also significant to my family because Dad died on this date a few years ago.

I don’t talk about this much, but I am also a veteran.

I was in the Army near the end of the Viet Nam war, but my service was totally unremarkable. Most of my time was spent safely in Louisiana and Texas, where I typed letters, moved furniture and swept floors. One enduring memory was the sad look on the faces of soldiers returning from that war; not the sadness of what they had endured but rather the ridicule they faced when they got home from fighting that unpopular war.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of our current unpopular war, the men and women in uniform deserve respect for their service and fortunately, they usually get it. Those soldiers will be veterans one day and November 11th is their day. And ours.