Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Dubs Family Christmas

Christmas this year was quite the treat. I won't say much about Christmas eve, as I have described our family's rituals in detail already. It was quite enjoyable (roast beast, gifts, fire, etc.). Christmas day, however, was one of the more surreal holiday experiences of my life.

In St. Louis, my father has no relatives. My mother, on the other hand, has enough relatives to populate a small nation, and every holiday these relatives all converge upon some hapless sucker's home to celebrate the holiday with feasting and drinking. (Emphasis on the drinking. These people are of Polish-Irish descent, and they know how to have a good time.) Some highlights of this year's event include:

-Mistiming the turkeys on the grill, so that dinner was two hours late.
-Setting said turkeys on fire, unbeknownst to any of the partygoers, except...
-My father putting said turkey-fireballs out with his beer.
-The giant $10 jug of Carlo-Rossi.
-Filling the drinking chalice (giant glass bowl) with said Carlo-Rossi and passing it around the table, forcing people to chug whilst the others sang the Mexican Hat Dance song.
-Forcing my cousin's new boyfriend to chug twice, as he was "the new guy."
-Draining the chalice twice on my own to defend the honor of my scion of the family line.
-Celebrating another cousin's 16th birthday party with 22 candles on the cake.
-Sending other cousins out to buy a bottle of Bailey's, only to have them return instead with a bottle of Jagermeister.
-Watching the tivo'd porn in between plays of the football game with my cousin standing guard over the stairs to make sure his young children did not stumble in.
-The slightly uncomfortable period where my brother explained the plot of the porn to me, while his girlfriend helped fill in details (they apparently had seen it before).
-The very surreal experience of eating mashed potatoes, stuffing, and ham (as noted, the turkey was late).

All in all, one of our more enjoyable Christmases. We left at the appropriate time (before the music started to blast for two hours), and I managed not to get drunk, opting instead for "kinda sick" due, no doubt, to the aforementioned chugging of Carlo-Rossi.

Saturday I return to Madison, and not a moment too soon. I adore my parents and enjoy spending time with them, but my God, I need to leave this house before I murder them in their sleep. I believe my mother has brought up no less than 30 times the fact that some day I'll be able to have these fun family experiences with my own children, and I have been told by at least four of my relatives that I need to "find some nice girl and settle down somewhere."

To rectify this tension and questioning of my life choices, I've decided to have wacky Madison fun on New Year's Eve. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm open to suggestions. Whatever it is, it has to top last year's sword brandy (which won't be hard, except in terms of sheer absurdity). So Madison folk, I take it upon you to come up with hilarity and debauchery to ring in 2007. Keep me posted.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Note to Self: Never Live Like That Again

Ok, so the last few weeks have been rather hellish.

Two weeks back, I could see everything was coming to a head. I had a 15 page research paper due that I had barely worked on at all (on the research level, not even starting the writing), and I had 52 papers to grade. I had planned to write the paper by Tuesday the 12th, then take the rest of the week to grade the papers.

Instead, I discovered that I could find episodes of Scrubs available online. So, in the time between Friday the 8th and Tuesday the 12th, I managed to watch all five seasons of the show. It was pretty sad, actually. Since each episode is only 22 minutes long, I would justify to myself that I could afford to watch one more. Then, as time ran on, I would say that I would get more work done if I only got to the end of a season. Well, it kinda worked. Once I had watched every episode of every season, I did feel like I could get more work done.

Unfortunately, by that time it was Wednesday evening, and I was just getting home from a Writing Center shift. So, in the hours between 11:00pm Wednesday and 1:30pm Thursday, I managed to write a 15 page paper, complete with research. The requirements consisted of 3 giant cans of Monster energy drink, a bag of pretzel rods, a half of a leftover pizza, and a cast-iron stomach that helped me fight the urge to constantly regurgitate the junk I was putting into it. Sorry, stomach. I promise to make amends with sweet purifying alcohol over break.

Following that, I had about 30 papers left to grade by the next day (Friday). Which I did, finishing the last one between discussion sections that afternoon. Again, Monster energy drinks, pretzel rods, and lack of sleep. My mood that Friday afternoon was best described as "jittery," or more accurately described as "bat-shit insane." But then came the office holiday party and sweet sweet alcohol, and even sweeter sleep.

All in all, that week I got about 12 hours of sleep between Tuesday and Friday, with no stretch longer than three hours. I also didn't eat an actual meal for about three days in there. All because I had to watch Scrubs. Blessedly, the addiction is passed, as I am caught up and the actual show is on opposite both Grey's Anatomy and Supernatural, so I can't even tape it. C'est la vie.

So the next week passed relatively benignly. I took my journalism final (done in 22 minutes), administered and graded my own students' finals, and discovered that I can also find episodes of Battlestar Galactica online, which I have now begun to watch in earnest. It's quite awesome, and I highly recommend it.

I now am home, having driven through fog and thunderstorm (seriously, a thunderstorm in Illinois on the first day of winter. What the hell?). I discovered moments ago that I passed both of my courses with flying colors, and thus I am forever finished with taking classes. EVER. NO MORE CLASSES. If I weren't so exhausted, I'd probably do a little dance. Next semester I can actually start work on my dissertation proposal, and live the sweet life that I've only dreamed about. (If it isn't in fact sweet, don't tell me. Let me have my dream a while longer.) And since I won't likely blog anymore before Christmas, some holiday shout-outs:

Madison People: You guys rock, and you kept me sane this semester, despite my clear hatred and contempt for the things I was doing. Those of you who will be there for New Year's Eve, we must do something completely insane. And actual insane, not grad school insane. Board games and wine do not count as insane.

Specifically amongst the Madison peeps (though mention here is not a slight against you):
T.: Thanks for the CDs. Made the drive so enjoyable, though I did nearly wreck my car I was laughing so hard at "6 to 8 Black Men." (For the rest of you, this is not racist. It involves mockery of the Dutch yuletide mythology.)
Officemates: Ours is the best office ever, even if you two are so smugly further in your dissertation process than I am (yes, I'm looking at you Red Headed Stepchild).
Puncher: Sorry no dumplings before I left. But you'll be there for New Year's, right?
Captain Americanist: I'm sad I'm no longer your TA. My new instructor might actually hold me accountable for things. And he damn sure won't let me intimidate the newbies like you did.
Hillbilly and CryptoJew: Sorry I won't be there to hear the fourth lesson of Advent with you. Though I looked ahead, and I believe that it's actually "Screw this patience thing. You have to go to mass again later tonight. Cause Jesus, he's a'coming."
TGD (I dislike your old nickname and need a new one): We must begin our drinking early next year, if I am to be in prime condition in April when I visit my:

New York Friends: That's right, I'm coming out there in early April, and staying a little under a week. We must get drunk and do crazy things. I won't rest until Quantum has actually either assaulted a celebrity or been arrested for rigging an election. Or both.

McJew: Stop the pretentious song posts. I hadn't heard of one of those damn songs. And if you think you've got it bad as a teacher, well, you do. Cause Michigan sucks. (I find alcohol and Scrubs viewings will help dull the pain of grading.)

Nittany Lion: I'm not certain, but I believe my friend Quantum left me a voicemail saying he got Joe Paterno so drunk he may die. You may want to check. And come back to Madison soon. I can't seem to win at poker while you're gone.

Sergio: Loved the Scrubs-related Charlie Brown Christmas link. Call me if you're home for the holiday.

Other Northwestern Friends: Do you know how I can get NU to stop asking me for money? I can't support them and my coke habit, now can I? Go Cats!

Random other folk who read this blog: Who are you? Why are you spying on me? Are you the people I see out in the shrubs every alternate Tuesday at 7:45pm? (Except for L.A. Girl. You're cool, even if you don't like Heroes. If you get a chance, punch Brett Ratner in the balls for me.)

The person from the UK who is viewing my blog for some reason: Happy Boxing Day.

I began this month's posts admitting what a sucker I am for Christmas and all it means, in an un-ironic way. So Merry Christmas to you all, even if I forgot to mention you here by name. I wish you nothing but the best for the holiday season, and I hope the new year finds you happy and prosperous, or at least content with your poverty (i.e. an academic or a drunk).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Quickie at the Office

Even bad cookies are good with lots of icing.

So I've got a stomach full of Monster energy drinks and bad cookies with icing. Working on 2 hours sleep. I have 11 pages of a 15 page paper, and I plan to finish before my 2:30 class. Then I have to grade 32 5-6 page essays by Friday at noon.

Will update more later.

(Oh, and on an episode of Scrubs I just saw, it actually was lupis. For all you House fans out there.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

God Bless Us, Everyone

How many versions of "A Christmas Carol" are out there, do you think? As I begin to tabulate part two of my Christmas blogging (thanks for the massive response on the first post), it occurs to me that two of my entries are variations on that theme (though oddly none of them are traditional tellings of that tale). Do you think the British find it amusing that the dominant American narrative of Christmastime is one that makes us all nostalgic for a Victorian-era London? Lousy snobbish Brits, I guess so. Wouldn't put it past 'em. So here, with a bit more ado, is my companion piece, on the truly great holiday movies and tv specials.

First, a bit of background. In my family, there are really two big moments of Yuletide cheer: the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. On the day after Thanksgiving, we chop down our Christmas tree and sing a rousing chorus of "Oh Christmas Tree" over it's fallen husk. Of course, we don't know the words (well, they don't. Being the authority on carols [see previous post] I know it in both English and German), so our version goes something like this:

Oh Christmas tree
Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.
Oh Christmas tree! Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree,
Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!

Then my brother and I drag the tree back to the road, while singing the monkey guard chant from The Wizard of Oz, and the tractor comes and takes it back to the parking lot.

As to Christmas Eve, we all gather together for dinner. My father, since his two children went away to college, has rediscovered a love of and talent for cooking quite excellent meals, and so every December 24th he strives to outdo himself. Last year involved a Crown Roast (or roast beast, as I called it), roasted potatoes, squash and carrots, asparagus tips in a creamy butter sauce, followed by a key lime pie (my mother's contribution which, while not exactly Christmasy, was nonetheless excellent). Following the great feast, we kick back for drinks and watch our traditional holiday fare, which consists of three parts:

1. The somewhat serious: "A Charlie Brown Christmas". This, while funny of course, still strives to have some kind of heartfelt sentiment about it, and so we appreciate it as such (of course with a healthy dose of irony alongside it, as my brother and I together are the most irreverant pair in the world). Besides, nothing is cooler than that kid who dances by putting his arms out in front of him and walking in place, like some crazy Frankenstein's monster celebrating the birth of a God who came to save everyone but him (as he is an unnatural creation). That and Snoopy doing all the farm animal noises. Love that.

2. The really funny: "A Garfield Christmas". This is ironic humor at its finest, as Garfield, Jon, and Odie go to Jon's parents' farm for Christmas, and Garfield learns to put aside his sarcasm to celebrate the holiday. Includes the wonderful opening song "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie", as well as Garfield's lines "Things, stuff, boxes, greed, avarice, I love it. Now this is what Christmas is all about!", and a fair amount of hokey songs, all of which we sing along with. Granted, we've got a few drinks in us at this point, but we think we're the funniest people on earth. It's an odd mix of ironic amusement and actual nostalgia.

3. The truly absurd: "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree". I'm fairly certain we're the only people in the world who watch this. One year, after taping Charlie Brown, my brother came running downstairs and told me to start recording again. The result: Mr. Willowby. The story follows three mice, a father, son, and daughter, on a quest to get the perfect Christmas tree. In this endeavor, they encounter humans (guest stars Leslie Nielson, Stockard Channing, and Robert Downey Jr. as Mr. Willowby), bears, and owls, each of whom wants a Christmas tree, and takes theirs, only to find out it is too tall. Each person cuts off the top and "throws it away," only to have it recovered by the next pair, until finally it is a perfect mouse-size. And all of this is narrated by Kermit the Frog.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, this sounds like the most moronic thing ever. And you're right. It is. It's absurd beyond the dreams of Beckett. There are faceless lumberjacks who bring the tree to Willowby Manor (singing "We tromp and crash through ice and snow, we're lumberjacks that's all we know. We cut and chop and saw and hack, the perfect tree we whack whack whack"). Willowby himself is quite possibly insane, saying things like ""WHERE on earth on this most Christmassy of Christmases can my arboretum arbor vitae BE?", "Oh, what a categorical impartation of absolute smartitude!", and other things that make you wonder just how high Downey was at the time. Leslie Nielson, his butler Baxter, is stuffy and stodgy, and wears at one point a wreath of candles on his head. Channing, "poor Miss Adelade," the upstairs maid, is lonely for her far off home in Sweden (home of the horrible Swedish accent that sounds vaguely Transylvanian), but finds romance with Baxter as they dance together (when she asks where he learned to dance, he replies "Madam, have you ever been to Buenos Aires?"). The bears dance. The owls sing. And the mouse father maintains steadfastly throughout that he knows exactly what he is doing (much like our own father would in times of trouble).

All in all, it's an excercise in absurdity. It makes no sense, there's no real tension, or plot for that matter. And we eat it up. We sing every song. We recite the lines along with it. And we quote it after it's done. The men of the Dubs household all go nuts, whilst our dear mater looks on askance. And I'm fairly certain my brother's girlfriend seriously considered our sanity and her relationship with my dear frere after seeing that little display.

After this comes presents and midnight mass, followed by more drinking and me generally reading by the fire whilst my parents fall asleep. I'm not one to waste a good fire, and I generally try to read something Christmasy (mayhap a bit of Dickens' old tale). So that's our Christmas Eve, used solely as an excuse to list the three main televised specials that top my list. Two others to consider are:

-"Muppet Family Christmas". The muppet gang goes to Fozzie's mother's farm, and everyone is there, including the Sesame Street Gang and the Fraggles. The Swedish chef attempts to cook Big Bird. Fozzie does vaudville with a snowman. and Miss Piggy tries to fight her way through a blizzard. It's awesome, and I suggest you see it.

-"A Claymation Christmas". If you can ever find this one, let me know. It had the California Raisins, an endless debate about what it means to "Wassail", ice skating walruses that terrorize penguins to the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High," and the best "Carol of the Bells" ever, with one clueless bell who could never remember to ring himself. They stopped showing this one years ago, but I still remember it fondly.

As to movies, I highly recommend and watch every year:

-A Muppet Christmas Carol. Perhaps my favorite rendition of the tale, featuring Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens (and Rizzo the Rat as his narrator sidekick, who gets off such great lines as "Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smartypants" in response to Dickens' omniscience in his own tale). Michael Caine is a wonderful Scrooge, the songs are fun, and the metafictional possibilities are excellent.

-Scrooged. The second retelling of "A Christmas Carol," featuring Bill Murray as an evil tv executive. Opens with a trailer for the program "The Night the Reindeer Died," where Lee Majors seeks aid fighting terrorists from Santa Claus. And it just gets better from there. No one does evil and sardonic like Murray. And I always laugh when the Ghost of Christmas Present hits him with that toaster.

-Miracle on 34th Street (the original, not the bastardized remake). Santa Claus makes a mockery of the legal system, and we celebrate him for it. The Post Office commits a federal offense, and we love it. And Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy" plays a savvy political advisor. How can you not adore this movie? It's a classic, and I defy you to say differently.

-Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and various women who dance and sing around them. You get to laugh at Bing trying to dance. And while technically it's a year-long movie, not just a Christmas one, the featured song is "White Christmas," and it opens and closes with Christmas, so we watch it at Christmas. Deal.

-Love Actually. One of my new favorite Christmas movies. It's a romantic comedy that isn't sappy or overly contrived. Just loads of fun. Bill Nighy as a crazy rock star, Hugh Grant as Prime Minister, and Alan Rickman as Alan Rickman. Oh, and Colin Firth speaking Portuguese is the single greatest moment of subtitles ever utilized in a film. This one is particularly fun because it makes explicit the link between romance and Christmastime, which most movies just hint at as they discuss the worth of man, the childlike spirit of Christmas, blah blah blah. And it's got a killer soundtrack, excellently utilized in the film (where I first discovered Norah Jones' "Turn Me On," perhaps the most sensual song ever).

-Home Alone 2. Going out on a limb here and supporting the sequal over the original. Yes, it's mostly the same jokes. But this one has Tim Curry. And it isn't quite so vulgarly stupid as the first one. At any rate, this is the one I was raised on, so I appreciate it more.

-The Bishop's Wife. Cary Grant plays an angel who teaches David Niven to appreciate life by stealing his wife. Nothing else to say about that one.

-Die Hard. Best "Ode to Joy" ever. And again, Alan Rickman.

I'm sure there are others, but this post is already too long. Also, I'm sure people are going to criticize me for not including Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story. Well, I hate the Vacation movies as a series, so I've never seen the Christmas one. And A Christmas Story is just stupid. Plus, TBS shows it 12 times on Christmas Eve, which makes me hate it even more.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God Bless Us, everyone. Except the Jews, who killed my savior. (Just kidding, love ya McJew.)