Saturday, December 10, 2011

How about "I'm feeling a little arjvmydgs?" (Life With Unicorns)

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SUPERXmas! Days 12 and 13: The Year Without A Bad Santa Claus, and My Office Holiday Party.

SUPERXmas! rolls on, undeterred by the fact that on Day 12 of SUPERXmas!, a glorious holiday tradition was derailed by my kids.

Every year, I like to watch a few certain movies that for me capture the holiday spirit perfectly. Those movies are: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Bad Santa.

Those are my two favorite holiday movies of all time, because (a) they are really very funny and (b) they're really very funny. That, and, "Bad Santa" avoids the holiday-movie trap of "making things worse and then restoring them to their previous state of affairs and calling that a happy ending," which is something I've talked about before: most holiday movies, if you get right down to it, have this set up:

A. A person exists.

B. Something bad happens that makes the person not have as good of a life as he once did.

C. The person fixes the bad thing, putting him back to his previous, existing state, but now he appreciates what he has and is happy, so Merry Christmas!
This is not a good thing. The message of these movies is "You should be happy with what you have," which would be a great message to send except that it's a horrible message to send. You should not be happy with what you have. You should be trying to improve yourself and make you and the world around you a better place.

But the Powers That Be (Zinc manufacturers and Christopher Walken) keep feeding us Christmas movies that tell us "Don't bother, just, you know, keep treading water" and we keep on buying it.

So I Fight The Power by watching Bad Santa, which does not play into that at all: In Bad Santa, the Bad Santa is at rock bottom. He's a drunk, a criminal, he's going to get evicted, he's played by Billy Bob Thornton... it doesn't get much worse than that, but through the Miracle of Christmas, Bad Santa learns to be slightly less bad Santa, along the way going through a heartwarming story of self-improvement that includes receiving a bloody wooden hand-carved pickle (proving my point about homemade gifts), getting shot, and also making out with Lauren Graham.

Why more Christmas movies don't feature someone making out with Lauren Graham is beyond me.

Anyway, Thursday night was Day 12 and I was going to watch Bad Santa but when I went looking for it, I found that it was missing! It had been taken, most likely by one of the older kids -- I'm betting on The Boy -- who took all our old DVDs and are now using them, in The Boy's case, as the undercoating in his apartment, protecting the carpeting from the pile of dirty clothes and pizza boxes that form the overcoating of The Boy's apartment.

I imagine, that is. I haven't been in The Boy's apartment. Having seen his bedroom, a room he was forced to occasionally take a stab at cleaning, I don't want to see a room in which all cleaning decision are made solely in The Boy's discretion.

So, Thursday night, I was unable to watch Bad Santa, and I rather sullenly fell asleep watching a recording of the animated classic The Year Without A Santa Claus, and, yes, I did that to be ironic.

Then, last night was my Office Christmas Party, which I am not ordinarily inclined to attend, but which I decided I absolutely had to attend this year because this year I got made a partner, and so I am technically throwing the party and it would be bad form not to attend my own party, but also I got word from one of my paralegals that people think I'm a germophobe, and that that is why I never attend office get-togethers.

Technically, I am something of a germophobe, as I've noted on here before, but that's not the reason I don't attend office get-togethers. I have a variety of reasons for not attending office get-togethers. For example, once, one of the lawyers had a pool party and I didn't attend for the very sound reason that nobody in my office needs to see me without a shirt on, and, frankly, I do not need/want to see them without their shirts on. It's an office, not a Swingers' Club, and in addition, very few people are improved by the absence of clothing.

Another reason I don't attend office get-togethers is that people are always bringing their homemade stuff to them, and other people's homemade stuff is gross. No matter what it is you think you've made, when you make your homemade stuff, to other people it looks a compost pile.


You could make your special potatoes. Or your taco dip. Or your candied fudge. Or a pinata. And you will think it looks marvelous, and you will put it in that one bowl you got when you were first married and carry it proudly to the office and put it on the conference room table, noting that your wonderful creation is far far better than the junk everyone else brought... but yours, too, looks gross, and a little gray, and is kind of melty, and should it be smelling like that? And what's that juice on top? I thought those were brownies?

That's what you see when you look at my stuff, and that's what I see when I look at your stuff, and we're all right: nobody's home-cooked stuff looks right, the way nobody's house smells quite right when you walk into it, probably because they're making all that gross junk that they bring to the office.

So I don't like the office get togethers but it's one thing to think everything people do is gross, while it's another thing entirely to let them know you're thinking it, so I have to make an effort to go to the various get-togethers, and the Office Christmas Party is no different.

It does not help that the Office Party is at a restaurant, where the food is professionally cooked, because the people who choose the food to be cooked are not me, they are the people who like gross things, and so when I turn up at the Office Party expecting maybe that I will at least get something good to eat out of it, I'm always confronted, right off the bat, with a dead fish.

The Dead Fish has been an Office Christmas Party centerpiece for the 11 years I have worked at this office. Every single Christmas, I have had to look at a dead fish sitting in the middle of a table of what I'm told is food but I don't believe it, and it's not just any old dead fish, it's a dead fish that people are scooping the guts out of and putting on crackers.

How is that even a thing we thought up to do, as a society? "Let's kill this fish," someone once said, "But make it even more disgusting to eat by not scaling it or cutting off the obviously-fishy parts like the fins and tail and head, but instead, let's just lay it on a table and have people slowly disembowel it with a Triscuit."

And everyone else said "Okay!"

The Dead Fish is considered, I'm told, a very high-end gourmet treat, which is the way you sell everything to the Gullible Rich: "You should do this," you tell them, "because it's an acquired taste and those stupid poor people will never fall for it." That's why the Gullble Rich, and those who would be like them, eat the Dead Fish and eat fish eggs straight from the fish and eat foie gras, which is swollen goose liver created by deliberately force-feeding a restrained goose.

Mmmm! And horrifying!

Once, when we were having a housewarming party, one of the partners in my firm who was planning on attending, asked what we were serving.

"I don't know," I said, and he suggested The Dead Fish, to which I responded "It'll probably be Doritos."

There were no Doritos at my Office Party last night, and there was no Sweetie, either. Sweetie had come down with the flu, probably not on purpose, but she was unable to attend the Office Party this year, leaving me in a bind because I could not get Sweetie to tell me not to go.

Throughout the day yesterday, I would say things like "If you don't want me to go, just say so." Or "Maybe I shouldn't go, if you don't want me to." Or "I probably ought to leave for the party now, unless you don't want me to go." And each time, Sweetie would wave her hand weakly and tell me "No, you have to go," but then she also warned me not to have too much fun without her, as though there were a chance that was going to happen.

Here's the thing about an Office Party: It's a party with people you work with.

Here's what I know about the people I work with: I work with them.

The people I work with -- who now work for me, that is -- are very nice people, for the most part. They're good workers. They're intelligent. They have families. But they are not my friends.

They are people I work with, and I know relatively little about them, if anything. Yesterday, in a meeting, we had this exchange:

Partner 1: Here are the receivables, and look, "Kim" is the highest one.

Me: Who is Kim?

Partner 2: She's the new lady we hired.

Me: *blank look*

Partner 2: She sits up front.

Me: Marcia sits up front.

Partner 2: Kim sits next to her.

Me: *blank look*, then: I thought that was Jen.

Partner 1: Jen is downstairs.

Me: I thought we had two Jens.

From which you can see that I'm supereasy to work for, and also that I don't really know or want to know much about you. That may sound mean, or cruel, but it's not. I'm not judging you, personally. You might well be fascinating. But I just want to do my job, have you do your job, and live my life. I have my friend, and that's fine with me. I'm not a very social person.

So I tend to learn 1 or 2 things about people at work: this guy likes golf. That woman had troubles with her cable TV once. That guy likes Libertarian politics. And that is enough for me to survive with people in the office, because when I see them in the breakroom or have to make small talk while we wait for a meeting to start, I can use one of my guaranteed-useful three Conversational Topics:

1. How was your weekend?
2. What are you going to do this weekend?
3. [Tuesdays and Wednesdays only]: How is that Libertarian politics/cable Tv/golf thing going?

That's not to say that I don't have friends at the office. I had Some Guy At Work, once, as a friend, but then he went to work someplace else, probably because I'm a terrible friend at the office in that I either pay no attention to you because I'm working or I interrupt your work because I have nothing better to do, which, let's face it, describes every office friendship everywhere. I'm suprised there aren't more office shootings.

All of which means that when I get to the Office Christmas Party, I have nothing to talk about with all the people there, and, to make it worse, there are the spouses, and I know nothing about them and have nothing to say and I am not a particularly good conversationalist, so the conversations tend to drag a little because they go like this:

Me: So, you are, again?

Woman: Mary. I've met you, like, 37 times before.

Me: That's right. Nice to see you again, Mary! What are your plans for the weekend?

Mary: Well, mostly attending this party.

Me: Nice.

[Long, awkward pause while I try not to make eye contact.]

[Longer pause]

Me: I'm going to get some dead fish.
The only thing worse for me than that conversation is the conversation that implies I have had a previous conversation or am somehow otherwise privy to information that seems critical to this conversation, but which I am in the dark about. That happens to me all the time, but especially at the office party.

Coworker: So remember about the Chisholm thing? That sure blew up.

Me: *tries to remember if there was a news report about an explosion. Can't. Tries to think if I have ever heard the name Chisholm before. Pretty sure I haven't. Realizes that a response is expected.* Yeah, that was pretty bad.

Coworker: You're funny! But Jonathan didn't think so.

Me: *about to say who is Jonathan, and why is this funny, but not sure where that would lead*: What are your plans for the weekend?

And that's how I wander through the Christmas party, trying to find someone to talk to who won't inflict actual conversation on me, and then roaming up to the table of "food" where, last night, they had several items that were described to me by one person as "probably a pate," and I won't eat any food that can't be definitely named, and where the other options were (A) Breakfast sausage in sauerkraut and (B) Meatballs in pasty-looking sauce, and (C) fondue, which would be great because I'm in favor of any food that you cook right in front of you, but you couldn't take the fondue to the table, you had to fork your little bread pieces in and then put them on your plate, which is impossible without two forks, and then you've got to take your couple of bread pieces over to a table and sit down, and you only get two or three pieces because you don't want to take a massive pile of cheese-laden bread to your table, or spend all night standing there fondueing your bread before sitting down, so it was unsatisfactory, to say the least.

In the meantime, I didn't recognize about 75% of the party, because we've hired a lot of people since last year and I barely recognize them when they're not in their offices, and there were all these new spouses to meet, too, like Greg, who was waiting for the fondue after me.

"We haven't met," I said, trying to be social and hoping he wasn't actually someone I had met before.

"I'm Greg," he said. I introduced myself and said "So, what do you do, Greg?"

And he said something about repairing something or other on trucks, leaving me at a complete loss for what to say.

"That sounds... interesting," I said, even though it didn't, but what else do you say? That sounds "tedious, hard, and not like anything I'd even be capable of?" (It did sound like all those things.)

"Yeah, well, I don't think I can do it anymore," Greg said.

Because of me? I wondered. Shouldn't have told him it was interesting.

So I said "Why's that?" and Greg said it's hard to do (so I was right!) and that it's taking a toll on his body and he's going to study electronics, instead.

"That sounds interesting," I said, because, again, what else is there? I couldn't think of anything to say about electronics other than...

... and thanks for helping me out here, brain...

...other than the fact that the moment he said "electronics" all my brain could think of was those old handheld Mattel Football games that I played in 7th grade, so as Greg was telling me how he'd decided on an exciting new career in electronics, my brain, determined to make this as hard for me as possible, was trying desperately to remember whether the version of the game I had allowed you to pass or not.


I had planned on staying an hour, following my rule that you cannot go someplace and stay less than the total time of the round trip to get there. That's a legitimate social rule: Wherever you go, if you stay less than the to-and-from trip, you're being rude. And the minimum stay for any visit is one hour, so don't try to get around it that way.

Thus: If it takes you an hour to get to your in-laws, and an hour back, your visit must last two hours. And so on.

But, my plans were interrupted by an outbreak of trivia: 40 minutes into the party, I had settled in at a table and was discussing biographies of people, because one of the employees at the table likes to read biographies, and so we were watching her try to remember who had written the biography of Truman she'd read recently. (We were not discussing the biography. We were, the people at my table, sitting mutely as she tried to remember, through a series of mnemomic tricks, to remember who'd written the book). And I'd planned on sitting there twenty minutes, and then using my pre-thought excuse to leave.

At home, see, Sweetie was still sick and so Oldest Daughter and The Boy were babysitting Mr F and Mr Bunches, and I'd planned on, about 45 minutes into the party, getting a secret text from them saying that Mr Bunches and/or Mr F were upset or something and I had to go. That's the primary use for kids, after all: getting you out of things you'd rather not be doing.

But just moments before I set myself free, we were handed a card that said "Trivia" on it and told we'd be doing a Trivia Contest and we were a team, at this table, and I couldn't just abandon my team, so I looked at the card and saw there were five blanks to fill in and I thought "well, that's fine, I'll do the five questions and then I'll go," and then forty minutes later I was still there, because there were five questions per round, and there were five rounds, so I spent a considerable amount of time debating when it was that Johnny Carson began hosting The Tonight Show, in an exchange that went like this:

Coworker: I think it was 1962.

Me: I don't know.

Other coworker: I think it was 1972.

Me: Let's go with that.

Other other coworker: Well, when did Jay Leno take over, because Johnny was on for thirty years, right?

Other coworker: Jay Leno's contract just got renewed.

Coworker: I remember watching the show when I was in 8th grade. That was in the 1960s.

Me: Let's go with that, then.

Coworker: Wait, Briane, when did you graduate. It was 1978, right?

Me: It was 1987. But thanks.

Coworker: Really?

We settled on 1962. Not for when I graduated; for when Johnny began. (It was 1964).

Our team finished second in trivia, which we all agreed was not such a bad result all things considered, and which seemed a better result when we learned the winning team had to do a shot of something or other. I don't drink, but I don't like to make a big deal of not drinking, either, so I dodged a bullet there.

With that, I was free to make my way to the front of the room, where a knot of people stood, talking to people along the way, and then, near the bar, I dramatically took out my cell phone and appeared to be checking a text -- the phantom text that would free me from the party.

I checked the text (read an XKCD comic) and then looked up for someone to say "What's going on," only nobody did. Nobody was paying any attention to me.

I thought about just leaving, but that seemed unwise not because people would care but because I'd spend all Monday with people saying "So where did you go Friday?" and I'd have to tell the fake story over and over. So instead, I sought out a few people and said "I have to go. Kids. There's a problem." I left it vague, because that way I wouldn't have to remember the details on Monday, and couldn't get tripped up.

"What's the problem?" said one husband of a coworker.

"It's the kids." I said.

"Everything okay?" he said.

"Sure," I said. "I mean, no, but it's not a big deal. I just have to go. They... won't go to sleep without me there," I finally finished up, and mentally punched myself in the throat for coming up with the lamest excuse ever.

"Really?" said husband.

"Really," I said. "They're... upset. Because I'm not there. They get that way. So I'd better go. Because they're upset."

With a few more excuses and a few more hellos to people I hadn't yet said hello to, followed immediately by goodbyes, I made my way to the door and headed home, where Sweetie was fine, the boys were asleep, Oldest and The Boy actually had the house clean, and the Dead Fish was safely miles away.

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.

Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Day 9: Mr Bunches covers Katy Perry

Day 10: I'm sorry about that homemade gift I gave you.

Day 11: Here are some pictures of some things.

Friday, December 09, 2011

To fear a lie, to speak the truth (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Act

Against Lying
Isaac Watts

O 'tis a lovely thing for youth
To early walk in wisdom's way;
To fear a lie, to speak the truth,
That we may trust to all they say!

But liars we can never trust,
Even when they say what is true.
And he who does one fault at first
And lies to hide it, makes it two.

Have we not known, nor heard, nor read
How God does hate deceit and wrong?
How Ananias was struck dead,
Caught with a lie upon his tongue?

So did his wife Sapphira die,
When she came in, and grew so bold
As to confirm that wicked lie,
Which just before her husband told.

The Lord delights in them that speak
The words of truth; but every liar
Must have his portion in the lake
That burns with brimstone and with fire.


About the poem:

Ahem. *throat clearing*

"A Philippic In Favor Of Lying

On his blog the other day, author/epic critic/guy Michael Offutt wrote "Truth Has No Agenda," a plea, more or less, for people to stop lying and start telling each other the truth.

I would like to speak in favor of just not doing that.

Truth-telling is overrated, lying is underrated, and people don't know what the truth is, anyway.

I have had this debate on prior occasions with the guy I call Some Guy At Work: we were discussing whether anything is nonfiction; I had just learned that David Sedaris has been accused of embellishing his stories, and that prompted us to talk about whether something could ever be entirely nonfiction ... that is, entirely true.

My stance is: no.

When I come home from work and Sweetie says "So, what'd you do today?" if I say "nothing much," is that the truth? Not at all -- not really because in reality I did a great many things, from getting out of my car and walking to the office to writing a brief to talking with my partners to joking with the receptionist to watching a bootleg video of a Guns & Roses concert at the behest of an associate... and if Sweetie asks what I did, and I don't tell her everything I have distorted the truth.

There are those who would say "Well, you could tell her "I did a lot" or say some of the major things you did" but neither of those is the truth the way people think of the truth. As to the latter, if I omit anything I am creating the impression that I did not do that thing: If I tell Sweetie about the joking with the receptionist and the brief but leave out the conference with my partners, I have misled her into thinking I didn't meet with the partners.

An omission is as much of a lie as a commission, and if you don't think so, consider this: suppose I go into my office and send some emails, write a brief, embezzle $150,000 and then go home. And Sweetie says "So, what'd you do today?" And I say "wrote a brief, sent some emails."

So to tell the truth means, as witnesses swear to do, the whole truth because when you leave something out you shape the remainder of the story. Shading the truth is a lie.

But the truth is -- to use that word ironically-- that lies are good.

Provided they're not meant to hurt.

Lies are the WD40 of society. Lies that aren't intended to hurt are what help society function and what avoids unnecessarily hurting feelings and keep people getting along.

When someone says "How's your day" and you say "Fine" even though it's not really fine at all, you say fine not because you want to hurt that person, but because that person is not the person to lay all your troubles on. When I first found out that my mom had cancer and was going to die, I ran into a great many people that very day, including the guy who sold me the cup of coffee I bought at a gas station on the way home from the hospital.

"Hey, how's it going," this stranger said.

What would the truth-tellers have me do? Say to this person "Lousy. I just found out my mom will probably live about six months" ?

Say to him "Lousy," without elaborating?

Say to him "I'd rather not answer that question"? (That being, also, the truth.)

None of those are socially acceptable -- not in a society where people are expected to be socially nice to each other but are not all intimate friends.

So I said "Fine" because his problems are not my problems and my problems are not his; we were two strangers interacting for a brief moment and the lie: My life is fine was the same as, maybe, his: For all I know, his mom was dying, too.

Telling the truth all the time not only exposes strangers to our personal lives, but our personal lives to strangers, and I don't want that. I didn't want to tell the gas station attendant that my mom was dying. That was my life and if I don't want to share it with some stranger who happens to ask how I'm doing, then I have to lie.

Again: I could say "I'd rather not answer that question," but parse that out. What is the social benefit of that? This guy had no idea what was going on in my life; he was working and trying to be friendly, if only because friendly people tend to help make business better, and it maybe made his shift go by faster. So if I say I don't want to tell you that, I'm at best shutting down his mild overtures of civilization, and at worst am interpreted as rude.

You can say It's his fault if he thought you were being rude or took offense, but it's my fault, too, and your fault if you insist I tell the truth, because if I have to tell the truth then you put on me the burden of telling the truth but doing so in a manner that does not give offense at a time when I'm already dealing with lots of other matters, too, and it's easier to say "Fine" noncommittally than it is to say "I'd rather not tell you how things are going" in a chipper-but-noncommittal fashion.

And if I say that and then have to explain that I'm not trying to be rude, it's just that this... and we're back to having to explain my private life to a stranger who has his own private life.

Lies also help ease tensions and make interactions go smoothly among people you know well. My dad tends to take things personally, no matter how much I try to reassure him that it's nothing personal if I don't want to come visit or would rather that he not come visit. No matter how many times I say something like "We have really busy lives and would prefer to just have a quiet weekend with no visitors," my dad hears "We don't want you around."

So if my dad calls up and wants to come visit tomorrow, what would the truthtellers have me do? Mr Offutt would say "Tell him the truth and if his feelings are hurt, that's tough," I suppose, but is that the best way to go? My dad is 66 years old; he's not likely to change his attitude soon and even if he is, the adjustment may be rough and he may go through some period of time in which he actually believes that his son doesn't want to visit him before he realizes that, no, it really is nothing personal. Why should I make him believe that, even for a little while? I have the option of saying "No, this weekend isn't good, I've got some stuff to get caught up on at work." That's a lie: I don't have anything to get caught up on. But it reassures him: I like my dad, he hears, but I have to work, and he understands that work is important and doesn't worry that I don't like him.

I could, I suppose, just not take his call, but isn't that a lie? If I'm holding my phone and it rings and it's my dad and I don't answer the phone, that's a lie, as the message I'm sending is "I wasn't able to take your call," but that's not true.

And so permanent truthtelling becomes an impossible burden: I must take every call even if I'd rather not, and then I must say to the person on the phone "No, I have time to talk but I was reading some comics online and I'd rather do that than talk to you right now," and when they say "why is that?" I have to say "Well, because this week we got some bad news about one of my cases, this woman's going to lose her house, and I'm feeling a little down and just wanted to be by myself with my thoughts" and now this person ... who might be a telemarketer... is really, really involved in my life and I'm really involved in theirs.

That is a tough world to live in, isn't it?

Telling the truth is a noble ideal, until one considers what it really means. It's all well and good, as Mr Offutt points out in some examples, to say one should be upfront about one's racism -- but what about the honesty of the reaction? When confronted with open racism, Mr Offutt's friend responded:

"Thank you. Thank you for admitting that you're a racist bigot. I will find another daycare for my child. I honestly am thanking you because had you not said something, you could have harmed my child. I'm glad it never came to that."

That seems to me to be not completely honest. Did the woman really want to thank the racist for admitting to racism, and did the woman not want to tell the racist how wrong that person was for being racist?

That would be my reaction: If someone came up to me and said "I hate you because of your lazy eye"

...yes, I have a lazy eye...

... I would not say "Thanks, I'm glad to know about that."

I would want to say "What's your problem, you shallow goon? You judge people by their surface defects? You don't even know me. This is the 21st century and you are judging books by their covers in the worst possible way. Our society should not suffer you to remain in it."

And if I don't say that, then I'm not being honest and if I say anything but that, then I'm not telling the truth.

So in a world where we do not lie, no reaction may ever be held back, considered, or leavened. When my partner says something at a meeting that I find ridiculous, I must say "That is ridiculous" if he asks my opinion. I can't say "Well, maybe there's a better way to do this" because he asked my opinion and I must give it -- to do otherwise is to suggest that I shade the truth and not really tell how I am feeling. When confronted with racism at the doorstep of a daycare, the victim must confront the racist, even if her daughter is there, even if she is at a disadvantage, because doing otherwise is to lie and not own up to one's honest feelings that a racist is despicable.

There are, too, the social utilities of the little white lie: When asked how I feel about a book someone wrote or a video someone made or a cookie someone baked, I could, I suppose, say "That book was awful!" or "That cookie made me retch." Remember: If the cookie did make you retch, and you are being honest, you must say so. You cannot say "It wasn't really my thing" because that is not honest: there is no such thing as a half-truth. There is the truth and there are lies.

But I am not a professional food critic and the lady who brought cookies to the office luncheon doesn't expect a professional food critiquing. If you are my friend and I show you a story I wrote and say "I thought you might like to read it, as I wrote it," and you read it and I say "what'd you think?" you can say "it was okay" even if it wasn't, because we're friends.

I'm not including, in that, people who are expected to give an honest opinion. When I send a book to a reviewer, they have an obligation to be honest and if they are not honest, they're not much of a reviewer. But that's the difference between a professional relationship and a personal relationship: when I go to my doctor and say "how do I look?" he says "You need to lose 40 pounds." When I say that to Sweetie, she says "You look better than George Clooney."

I don't want her to say anything but that. I don't believe her for a second but I'd rather she didn't adopt the cold clinical approach of my doctor.

The little white lie; the larger social lie; the omission of a crucial aspect of the truth; the selective detailing of one's day, or not: These are the not just things that are helpful to society. They are things that are critical to society, to a world where people are not afraid to give each other a friendly greeting out of concern that it will result in a torrent of emotions, to a world where people can share a bite of pie or a bit of poetry and not be savagely critiqued out of ever trying again.

What most people who object to lying are really objecting to is what I, too, object to: A lie that hurts.

Any action that is intended to hurt is a wrongful action. Lies that are not intended to hurt are not bad at all; We do not live in a world of strict liability and thus there is no sin without wrongful intent (using sin in its biblical and societal sense: one can sin against society as easily as against God.)

When my partner says something ridiculous in front of the 9 lawyers that make up our firm and asks my opinion and I say "Well, that's one way to go, I suppose," I am lying.

But I'm not intending to hurt him and in fact I'm intending to help him, by having him save face, and help me and my family by not breaking up the firm or injecting a dissonance into the partnership. When Sweetie says I am handsomer than George Clooney, she's not trying to hurt me. She's providing me a boost that I simply wouldn't get from her saying "Well, you're an ugly mug but I love you anyway, fatso." When a friend reads my poem and says "It was pretty good," I don't necessarily run out and mortgage the house to make my living as a poet -- and they're not trying to make me do that. They're just being encouraging.

Lies that hurt, like any action that hurts, though, are wrong. The racist daycare provider lying about her motivations is lying out of hurtful intent: She hates other races and her omission of that information leaves children of other races vulnerable. Jerry Sandusky's lies prevented him from getting help and helped harm children. People who falsely proclaim a faith they do not have dilute others' genuine faith and deter from the mission of the church they do not really believe in. The man who fattened his wife with doughnuts was wrecking her health and beauty to protect from his own insecurities.

Those lies are wrong because they hurt. A lie in and of itself is devoid of meaning; it is no better, and no worse, than the truth, because the truth can be used as a sword and can hurt -- the truth hurts is a common saying and we have no counterpart to that saying for lies -- and focusing on the act, rather than the intent, is the superficial and easy way out.

We should not seek to build a society where nobody lies. We should seek to build a society where nobody tries to hurt others. Tell the truth when you can, lie if you must, but above all, do no harm.

About The Hot Actor: It's Alex Pettyfer, nominated by none other than Mr Offutt.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

SUPERXmas! Day 11: Here are some pictures of some things.

Last night, for Day 11 of SUPERXmas!, we watched the Christmas episodes of Happy Endings and Modern Family.

What? Not everything has to be a big production, you know.

Anyway, today, I found this:

Making me wonder: Who needs "emergency" tree delivery?

Also, here are two pictures, for no reason other than I liked them. They're not even Christmas-y, but it's my blog and you can't stop me.

This is Mr F, just after he got out of his bath last night. He wouldn't look at the camera, because he gets mad when I dry his hair:

And this is Mr Bunches, watching the beginning of Toy Story on our TV downstairs. He wanted to stand up really close to it, and I for the life of me couldn't think of why that might be a bad thing to do, so I let him.

I mean, aren't we past the point where we think sitting too close to the TV is harmful? That's not true anymore, right?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

SUPERXmas! Day 10: Christmas is the time to say "I'm sorry about that homemade gift I gave you."

For SUPERXmas! last night, we decided to show the people who really matter in our lives just how little they really matter, via a homemade gift.

The people who really matter in our lives are the boys' teachers and other people responsible for their instruction. Sorry, family! But you kind of knew, right?

The boys, Mr Bunches and Mr F, have twenty different people responsible for their instruction, not including Sweetie, who does the work of 25 people, and not including me, who undoes the work of all 45 of those people.*

*That's the 20 actual people, plus the 25 hypothetical people that Sweetie is doing the work of. If you need a pencil to keep up with the math, say so.

Those people include their school teachers: Mr Bunches has two in his 4K classroom, while Mr F has (according to my best estimate) 4, maybe. (At parent-teacher conferences there were two, but at the meeting for his special-ed classes there were five people, of which I'm pretty sure one was the principal, so I'm guesstimating here). It includes their bus drivers -- four total, one each on the way to and from school, including the one with the weird name, it's something like "Kye," who I secretly** hate because not only does he have a weird name but he's really good-looking, which means every single day a single, young, good-looking guy drives up to our house while I'm at "work" eating Pixy Sticks, and I frankly do not need the competition.

**Not so secretly, now that I posted it on the web.
And then there are the in-home therapists who come every day, 4 hours a day, and who work with the boys at a "camp" on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, teaching the boys to talk and write and share and not roll themselves up into a tiny ball when they have to change their routines.

It doesn't take a village to raise these kids. It takes a platoon.***

*** I actually have no idea which is bigger, a village or a platoon. But you get the point.

These people are charged with turning our boys into responsible citizens. That is, to be sure, primarily my and Sweetie's job, but with Mr F and Mr Bunches, that job involves more than your usual parenting.

"Your usual parenting" involves, really, a few very simple tasks: You have to teach kids not to hit each other, you have to pretend that school is important, and you have to at some point get them to stop borrowing money from you. Judging by the progress of our three older kids (Oldest, Middle, and The Boy) Sweetie and I are batting 0.300 on those goals.

But with Mr F and Mr Bunches, you have to teach them such an alarming variety of things, things ranging from "this is why we talk" to "you shouldn't hit yourself in the head with a spatula and here's why", that we need that platoon. And the platoon-- the bus drivers, special ed teachers, therapists, other people whose jobs I'm not even sure of-- work amazingly hard. I play with the boys for a few hours each night and I am exhausted all the time. These people do it every day with not just our boys but others, too.

And they make virtually nothing. Teachers, therapists, all these people are earning more or less minimum wage despite having college degrees.

So for Christmas, we decided to do something nice for the billions of people who help raise our kids, and what we resolved was that we were going to give them some money.

But when you give money you can't just, you know, slip someone a ten as they go out the door. Nobody stands around just handing out twenties as a thank you; this isn't Congress, after all. So we needed something to put the money in, and what we decided on was: personalized coffee mugs with some candy in them and then the money tucked into it.

In my mind, this was a beautiful gift. As I'm sure all homemade gifts are, right? When you first set out to make a homemade gift, in your mind it's always beautiful. That's because, in your mind (or at least in mine) you are talented.

In real life, you do the one job you were capable of landing given the fact that you have absolutely no useful skills and once almost lit your patio on fire (accidentally).*4

*4 I am obviously referring not to you, as such, but to me.
The fact that you (I) have no useful skills doesn't deter you (me) from making homemade Christmas gifts, of course, because we are all convinced that we (I) are (am) much better at things than the evidence actually proves us to be. If you doubt that you are not as good as you think you are, try this:

Tape yourself singing, a capella, the song Common People by William Shatner. William Shatner, as you know, is both amazingly cool and a godawful bad singer. If you cannot sing as good as William Shatner, you should not sing out loud.


I did this recently: I actually put on my headphones, and played the song, and taped myself singing Common People without accompaniment, and then later I played the tape for Sweetie, and Sweetie said "what's that?" with the inflection that most people use when they discover something they previously hadn't noticed between their toes*5, and I said "It's me singing," and then added "I'm pretty good, right?"
*5 or is that just me?

And Sweetie said "Um." Which is Sweetie's way of complimenting me.

So if you think you are a good singer and then the evidence shows that you are so bad that your singing actually sterilizes small animals, as mine probably does, then what does that say about the other skills you think you have?

Or did you think you work in an office producing nothing and doing nothing functional because you chose to do that?

So here was our plan for making Homemade Mugs to Give The Teachers: We would buy a mug -- or, in this case, 20 -- but not just any old mug. We'd buy the ones I'd seen at the Dollar Store that said you could write on them with permanent marker.

And before you judge me: remember, the real point of this gift is the money. So, yeah, "Dollar Store Mug" and yeah, "permanent marker", neither of which says "classy" or "dignified" or "something someone would actually want", but ...


The point of the gift, remember, is money. The mug is just to hold the money in because when you give someone money, if you put it in something, it's a gift. If you just hand them money, it's a bribe.

And also: How much are you supposed to spend on a coffee mug, after all? It's a mug.

So Monday night, we went to the Dollar Store and got the mugs and the markers, and that took long enough that we couldn't do the rest that night, and thus last night was "Let's Decorate The Mugs" night, which was complicated right off the bat by the fact that Mr F had to poop.

I had planned that we would decorate the mugs after dinner, and so right after dinner I went upstairs and got the box of mugs and markers while Mr Bunches headed off to the computer to watch toy commercial videos, and Mr F headed off to the bathroom to poop.

When Mr F poops, though, it's not a quick thing. It's a process. He has to go into the bathroom, and then remove from the bathroom everything that might distract him from pooping, which usually means that rugs, hand towels, sometimes the soap, and certainly his pants are thrown out of the bathroom.

Then the door is closed, and we hear humming, or tapping, or sometimes lifting up the toilet seat to peer inside, and sometimes nothing, for as long as a half-hour, or whatever length of time Mr F decides it's going to take.

Because we're still working on getting him toilet trained, we don't like to interrupt the pooping, and Mr F is smart enough to know this, which means that when he realizes you're going to make him do something like decorate mugs, he might decide to go poop and stay in there a long time, periodically coming out to get a drink of water *6 and then rushing back in and sometimes coming out to look at toy commercials with Mr Bunches and then rushing back in.

*6 Pooping is thirsty work.
After about twenty minutes, I decided that the pooping was a dodge and called a halt to that, because we needed to get going on Project Mug (my code name for it) and Sweetie and I had gone as far as we could in setting things up, Sweetie dividing the mugs into three groups.

"What are the three groups?" I asked.

"They're sorted out," Sweetie told me.

"Are they sorted by who signs them?" I asked. Some mugs were for Mr Bunches' teachers only, and he was going to sign those. Some were for Mr F's only, and he was going to sign those, and the ones for the shared teachers were to be signed by both.

"No," said Sweetie, who then declined to share with me how they were sorted.

Again, in my mind, the mugs were beautiful. I'd sort of pictured that we would be writing, say, the name of the teacher/therapist on there, maybe making a little Christmas-y design, and then having the boys write their names on the mug. Like a decorative gift bag only it's a mug, not a bag. (Are you with me so far on that concept?)

So when we sat down with the boys and the markers, I had high hopes that this would be a great project. And then we realized we had to take the labels off the mugs: Each mug was labeled with a sticker that proclaimed it "READY TO DECORATE!" only the mugs weren't "READY TO DECORATE!" because the sticker that said they were took up 90% of the space on the mug.

Sweetie, who is surprisingly good at taking stickers off mugs, took about 17 of them off, and then finished removing the remainder of the stickers from the three I had done, too, while I supervised Mr Bunches, which I did by going to fetch Mr F back from the kitchen, where he kept going to play in the silverware drawer.

While I was occupied by the silverware drawer, Mr Bunches took the opportunity to write his name on the first of three mugs, which Sweetie pointed out to me, and to which I responded "I'm in the kitchen, which makes it hard for me to see what he's doing."

Convinced that he was done, Mr Bunches then went back to watching videos on Youtube, and I focused my efforts on Mr F, who did his best to not write on mugs by crawling under the chair, or under the table, or under both and then back out through the side over by Sweetie.

I did, though, get him to focus long enough to write his name on the mugs, which went about as well as you'd expect given that (a) Mr F can't really write his name, and (b) the mugs are curved surfaces.

I tried to help Mr F write his name, but that required that I sit him on my lap and work the hand with the pen in it - -trying to help someone write is like trying to help someone do their tie: You can't do it unless you almost literally get into their shoes -- and that was not a thing that Mr F wanted to do.

While we did that, Mr Bunches wandered around the room, playing golf. My supervision is wonderful.

With each mug that we did, too, I was told by Sweetie who I should write the message to. So we would write something like "To Miss Amy, " and say who the mug was from.

About halfway through, I finally voiced what I'd been thinking earlier: "Should we maybe do a Christmas design or something, like a star, or tree?"

"No," said Sweetie, who was busy sorting out the candy that was going to go in the little candy gift bags that would go with each mug and would hold the money, too.

We hit a hitch when we got to the bus drivers' mugs: Sweetie knows the name of only two bus drivers, one woman and the hot guy*6

*6 weird how that works.

And (she claims) she didn't know how to spell the Hot Guy's name, so she was going to wait on those mugs until she could gather that information -- but I suggested just writing "Merry Christmas from..." and the boys' names on them for those because honestly, I was regretting ever coming up with this idea in the first place. We should've gotten 20 McDonald's gift cards and called it a night, plus I could've gotten an Egg Nog Shake.

With Mr F's part done, I had to wrangle Mr Bunches back to the table to do the rest of his mugs, which was tough because he thought he was done and he was therefore sitting on the kitchen counter trying to subliminal me into doing something else.

Mr Bunches is into subliminal messages: When he wants to do something but figures I won't want to do it, he mumbles the message in a low, almost inaudible voice, hoping that I won't be able to directly make out what it is he's saying but that my subconscious will leap into action. So our conversation went like this:

Me: Mr Bunches, time to come do the rest of the mugs.

Mr Bunches: tron.

Me: What?

Mr Bunches: tron.

Me: I didn't hear you.

Mr Bunches: tron.

What he was saying was "Tron" which is a preview on a Spongebob DVD he likes to watch -- he wanted to go watch Spongebob, which I was all for at that point but having started with this stupid homemade gift idea I was going to finish it if it killed me *7 and so was he. That's parenting.

*7 The spirit of Christmas! In my family, at least, Christmas is best exemplified by the motto: We will do this even if it kills us.

He finally consented to signing his name to the rest of the mugs, and I had to finish up the naming of the mugs, which is when when I learned just how truly useless my brain has become.

My brain, which was educated at various very good educational institutions for 19+ years, and which is responsible for ensuring that I can provide for my family by helping people with complex legal problems, has been crammed so full of useless trivia, comic-book excerpts, song lyrics, half-baked thoughts about dark matter, and other nonsense over the years that it has stopped being a working organ and is now more of a second appendix. For example, this morning, I used my phone to send a text message and set it down, after which -- immediately after which -- I wandered out to the living room and began picking things up off the desk.

"What are you doing?" Sweetie asked.

"Looking for my phone," I said, before remembering that I'd just set it down on the kitchen counter.

My brain had a good laugh at that, but not as much as it did at the second-to-last mug I made. Here's what happened: The last teacher to get a mug is named "Amanda," and when someone says Amanda I immediately remember, because this is all my brain is good for anymore, the old prank phone call that goes:

"I'm looking for Amanda? Her last name is Huggenkiss."

So that the person on the other end calls out "I need Amanda Huggenkiss."

I'm sure that has never actually worked, but, nonetheless, that is the association my brain automatically goes to when someone says Amanda, and so if you are named Amanda and you are talking to me, that is all that I am thinking. Doesn't matter what you're saying, what you're doing, or where we are. In my brain, I am repeating that joke over and over and over.

So as I began writing "To Amanda, from" I thought "I should tell that joke to Sweetie, who probably has never heard it before" and I wrote:

You can see that my brain decided to take its foot off the Stupidity Accelerator with just two letters left in that name.

I feel compelled to note that Amanda's last name is not actually "Huggenki" or any variation thereon.

We had only one blank mug left -- the one for the teacher we're not sure will still be here at Christmas, and so rather than use that one right away, Sweetie went with Plan B, which for some reason was "PLAN B: RELY ON BRIANE's ARTISTIC ABILITIES" and she asked me to draw a shape or something over it.

This is what I came up with:

Christmas-y! We are not so uncivilized as to use that cup. Instead, we started with the other, optional mug and Amanda NOTHuggenki will get the same high-caliber mug that the other get, to wit:

Meanwhile, I put the Blue Amoeba Of Christmas mug into the dishwasher so that I could use it today, and this morning I learned that "Safe For Washing" means something other than "Safe For Washing" when it's printed on a Dollar Store Coffee Mug label:

Which means that the teachers are getting Single Use Coffee Mugs Of Thanks, after which they will simply have a bland, rather small, blank mug in their dishwasher that someday will remind them of ... probably nothing. I expect that next year there will be a large secondary market in somewhat-smudged manila-colored coffee mugs at yard sales.

We are also giving them twenty bucks each. So there's that.

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.

Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Day 9: Mr Bunches covers Katy Perry

Who knew parents had to master the pratfall? (Life With Unicorns)

I mentioned the other day that everything with Mr Bunches is a chase, but I should have counted my blessings. Recently, one of his teachers taught him a new game: I'm Just Walking Along:

It's a pretty simple game: You have to be "just walking along," and then trip over the ball and fall. We take turns doing it.

Sounds easy, right?

Try it twenty times in a row.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

SUPERXmas! Day 9: Mr Bunches covers Katy Perry.

Day 9 was actually part one of a two-parter: We went to get the materials to begin making gifts for the boys' teachers -- but because I got home late, and because it took forever to get the stuff, we opted to carry over the actual making of the gifts until tonight.

So OFFICIAL SUPERXmas! Day 9 was "Getting the stuff to make the gifts for the boys' teachers," and UNOFFICIAL SUPERXmas! Day 9 was "Watching last night's episode of The Closer, in which there was a murder at a Santa's Village," in which Fred Willard mentioned Santa's Oath, and so I checked to see if that's a real thing, and it is:

The Santa Claus Oath

I will seek knowledge to be well versed in the mysteries of bringing Christmas cheer and good will to all the people that I encounter in my journeys and travels.

I shall be dedicated to hearing the secret dreams of both children and adults.

I understand that the true and only gift I can give, as Santa, is myself.

I acknowledge that some of the requests I will hear will be difficult and sad. I know in these difficulties there lies an opportunity to bring a spirit of warmth, understanding and compassion.

I know the “real reason for the season” and know that I am blessed to be able to be a part of it.

I realize that I belong to a brotherhood and will be supportive, honest and show fellowship to my peers.

I promise to use “my” powers to create happiness, spread love and make fantasies come to life in the true and sincere tradition of the Santa Claus Legend.

I pledge myself to these principles as a descendant of Saint Nicholas the gift giver of Myra.

I'm not sure that the only gift Santa can give is himself, as I'm also pretty sure that Santa can give things like an iPad.

The episode also reminded me of the This American Life in which they investigated a division in the union of Santas, the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, a real thing that has a website here, and reminded me of the episode of Monk in which Monk investigated the murder of another Santa, apparently because crime TV shows all work from the same show bible.

In other SUPERXmas! Updates, here is Mr Bunches singing his new favorite song, "Let's Go All The Way," by Katy Perry, before I reminded him of the reason for the season:

And here you can see a bit of Santa's Visit from the other day, until Santa's Goon stops the video-ing:

And here is not "The Closer" episode I watched.

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.

Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Monday, December 05, 2011

SUPERXmas! Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Don't forget to say Merry Xmas! to Mateo and McHale Shaw! Details here.

Last night, our plan had been to go to the Middleton Tree Lighting. But after a day of stopping off at the office and then going swimming at the health club, we got home and the boys were relaxing, Mr F by watching Toy Story downstairs, Mr Bunches by watching his favorite toy commercials on Youtube, so when it came time, after dinner and the Packer game to head out, I said to Mr Bunches "Want to go for a ride and see a Christmas tree?"

And he said "Stay home."

So we did.

And instead of going to the tree lighting, I read a series of Christmas-related short stories, some of them old, some of them funny, which I will now provide you with links to. These stories are all free and all hosted by "East Of The Web," so enjoy!

Markheim: Before Christmas was all "A Christmas Carol" and Victorian-inspired Christmas trappings, it was, people forget, largely just another holiday, and "Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson helps show that: It's a Christmas story that has a redemptive element but no other real Christmas feel. Markheim heads to a rare-goods dealer on Christmas Eve ostensibly to seek a last-minute Christmas present for his fiance -- but things take a twist first for the eerie and sad, and then to the even weirder... read more.

A Kidnapped Santa Claus. So Santa lives at the North Pole and works with elves? Could've fooled L. Frank Baum, who wrote this fable about Santa living in a place called "Happy Valley," where the river runs through green banks and Santa's assistants are fairies and other woodland creatures including something called "knooks." (Maybe Santa moved his operation offshore to avoid local high wages?) Santa gets kidnapped by five demons who are jealous of his hold over the kids. More of a kids' story, despite the presence of demons, or, as Baum calls them, "daemons." Read more.

Quail Seed. Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail didn't come up with the idea of the little shop competing with the big boxes. In this story by Saki, a small local merchant in English comes up with an ingenious idea to get the gossipy local shoppers to go to his store rather than London. Read more.

Bertie's Christmas Eve: another Saki story, about a spoiled nephew's wrecking the family's Christmas eve. It's a quick, light story the main virtue of which is the dry British humor:

the watchers in the cow-shed were treated to a highly unauthorised rendering of "Good King Wenceslas," in which the adjective "good" appeared to be very carelessly applied.

Well, I thought it was funny. Read more.

Compliments of the Season: Everyone knows Gift of the Magi, the O. Henry story we vaguely recall from sophomore English class. But O. wrote other Christmas stories, including this one that ranges from wickedly funny to ultimately sympathetic, with a beginning that tells you what you're in for:

There are no more Christmas stories to write. Fiction is exhausted; and newspaper items, the next best, are manufactured by clever young journalists who have married early and have an engagingly pessimistic view of life. Therefore, for seasonable diversion, we are reduced to very questionable sources - facts and philosophy. We will begin with - whichever you choose to call it.

Children are pestilential little animals with which we have to cope under a bewildering variety of conditions.

From there, it goes on to tell how the discovery of a rag doll lost by one such child, combined with a repressed memory of gentlemanhood, might have just saved a man's life. Read more.

Captain Eli's Best Ear: In another world, this story is the one that takes over Christmas the way A Christmas Carol has in our universe, and everyone is celebrating Christmas sea shanty style: Here, two old ship captains live quiet but peaceful lives -- until one year, Captain Eli hatches a plan to have the best Christmas ever, and the plan goes off without a hitch until, almost asleep on Christmas Eve, Captain Eli's good ear hears a distress cry out in the bay... will their good intentions, and Captain Eli's sleeping on the wrong side, wreck what would have been a great holiday? Read more.

Wondering where the title of this post comes from? In that O. Henry story, he describes the child that drives the plot as getting all corykilverty over the loss of her rag doll. It's a word that appears to have no meaning, which means you can use it however you want!

SUPERXmas! is my effort to do something Christmas-y every day between now and Christmas. Here's my previous efforts:

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.