Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shopping until you drop, or go broke

I've always found the reference to "Black" Friday a little disconcerting as the beginning of the Christmas season but in this case "Black" is a good thing for businesses I guess. Our pursuit of eking out a living has lead to a complete set of days for shopping. Today is "Small business Saturday" A day when you buy all local from locally owned, independent stores. Monday is "Ciber Monday" a day when you buy on line from all over the world. I figure with the three days there we've pretty much spread our hard earned cash all over the planet. If we are indeed in need of a specific gift item and its on sale, we ought to get it. However, we all know at least one person who is simply addicted to shopping and proceeds to overspend for things they don't need. I am acquainted with a family guy that didn't sleep Thursday night because he wanted a new 46in TV. He fought and waded his way through the crowds and even got knocked down once only to find there was only one TV per store and it was sold within 30 seconds or so. This otherwise reasonably sane guy proceeded to spend his entire two week pay check for another TV more than three times the price of the original. The money he had was supposed to go for groceries and rent but he just got caught up in the moment. Friday afternoon, as he watched TV he was on the phone with his landlord making all sorts of excuses of why he didn't have the rent money. He wound up pawning his computer. Now that's what I call a problem.

A friend of mine is a psychologist and is extremely interesting to listen to. It is his opinion that each and every one of us has at least one addiction. I found that hard to believe but he went on to give a few examples of how we develop certain routines, A.K.A. addictions to help us through life. Many are obvious and frowned upon like drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Others are not viewed by us as addictions like a daily shower at a specific time, a coffee cup with the handle turned a certain way or wiping the dust off the counter on the way out the door, every day. If we look at ourselves honestly, he says, we will discover we have an addiction.
How do we get out of bed? How do we hold a fork? How do we put on our shoes? How do we read the paper? How often do you eat a certain food? Wait a minute, I said, I think you are describing simple procedure we develop over the years that work best for us. In a way, he said, but for the most part they are all addictions. I sort of think that he was playing a psychologists joke on me. I, for one do not have any addictions whatsoever. I actually need those three and a half cups of coffee to equalize my metabolic rate. If I put on my left shoe first the laces get tangled. If I don't let the engine run for exactly two minutes before my truck in gear it will blow up. I know what I'm doing. No one else understands me like I do. What was my point again here? Oh yeah, shopping! When I look at the prices offered on these special Black Friday sales it makes me wonder why I don't fight the crowds and get the deals. First, I don't need any of that stuff. And second, I still don't! I will say this though, addicted or not some of those shoppers certainly are enjoying themselves. Especially the ones who aren't spending their rent money.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Yesterday and today

The trappings of life haven't always been like this have they? We've simply gotten used to them. We've changed our perspectives and expectations to accommodate all these new fangled technological contraptions as well as life expectancy and the ease of going about our business each day. When I was very young my folks saw to it that I enjoyed the company and musings of my older uncles after Thanksgiving dinner. Many of my dreams of the future were influenced by their stories of riding horses, hunting for food, warming themselves by campfires, building houses, fighting off wolves or pumas or bears with knives and bare hands and, of course drinking home made rot gut whiskey to keep from freezing when they got stuck someplace in a car in the wintertime. There was a lot of laughter and teasing that went with those stories but the truth was that life grew easier as time went on.

The news keeps us aware of the hardships of our fellow citizens. To be sure the headlines have changed.

On the medical front, vaccines have all but obliterated chicken pox, whooping cough, mumps, small pox and the flu doesn't condor up as much fear as it did only a half century ago. Heart disease is treated with medicines, balloons, stents, transplants and pacemakers. Many diseases that used to kill can now be treated. Yet there is still no cure for the common cold. We live on average years beyond what our recent ancestors did. Elder care is big business now. Aging with dignity is the big news now.

Complaints of only being able to draw unemployment benefits for 96 weeks is all the talk. Whatever will we do? They ask. Social programs may be brought to an end after only four years and that is bringing unheard of hardship to many. There never seems to be enough food for the poor. No matter how much is provided we still read that four out of nine kids goes to bed hungry. We are asked to donate food but only if it is sugar and additive free and a major brand, not the cheap stuff.

The cars we drive only get 31 miles per gallon. The engines only last about 200,ooo miles, they rust out after only about 15 years. The speed limit is too low, the speed limit is too high. We are running out of oil to make fuel. The bus and train services need subsidies because of so few riders. The paved roads aren't quite smooth enough. Gasoline taxes are too high.

The mortgage lenders charge too much interest!
My landlords are mean and want the payment on time all the time!
Everyone but me is getting paid too much!

Hey wait a minute here. Are these really the headlines? Or are they simply reflections of change. Can you remember:
Lining up at the government food surplus building for cheese, powdered milk, rice and flour?
Driving through five foot snow drifts on un-plowed roads with chains on your tires?
Waiting in line at the bus stop hoping it won't be too full and you'll have to wait fir the next one?
Working two jobs at minimum wage or lower to pay the bills?
Making bread and neck bone soup to feed the family for a few days?
Unemployment lasting 13 to 26 weeks-Period!?
Working under the hood of an old broken down car to keep it running to get to work?
Creating wondrous meals using canned meat?
Coal being dumped through a chute into the basement to fuel the furnace?
The ice man bringing a block of ice to keep the icebox and its food cold for a week?
Walking a mile or more to go to school or go to the grocery store?
Police officers walking the beat?
Everyone going "Downtown" at Christmas time to see the decorated windows?
When you were down and out and the only place left to go for help was your church?
Being all excited about the brand new, six inch round, black and white TV the size of a refrigerator?
No electronic toys, just Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Rag and China Dolls, Etch a Sketch was all the rage, cap guns, coonskin caps, BB guns, chemistry sets?
Real Christmas trees or maybe an aluminum silver tree with a rotating light to change colors and Angel Hair thrown on to diffuse the light?
Everyone sitting in the living room on a cold winters night to stay warm around the wood fired furnace that heated the entire house?
Going outside to the outhouse at all times of the day and night in all kinds of weather?
Getting water from one faucet in the kitchen sink and having to prime the pump when it went dry.
Putting pennies on the train tracks to make huge disks from them?
Heating the frozen water pipes in the basement with rolled up burning newspapers?
Not having enough money for Christmas presents and making something out of what you had?
Being alone and broke, sleeping in the basement of a small unheated building on Thanksgiving and again on Christmas, using newspapers for covers?

I guess not much of this was particularly headline news was it? No particular reason to relive any of it either. But those things did happen to a lot of people. Those people became strong and survived and built the framework for the progress we enjoy today. A reason to be thankful I think. I lived through those things and I believe we will live through what we are faced with today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas lighting and displays

I absolutely love bright, sparkly and colorful Christmas decorations. I wait in breathless anticipation for this season to arrive. Not everyone feels that way I guess but I certainly do. When I was a little shaver and my family lived in a very small house way out in the middle of nowhere my folks packed up my brother and I, borrowed the neighbors car and drove all the way into town just to ride around looking at Christmas lights and displays. I must have smeared up the windows of that car terribly with my face pressed tightly to the glass so as to see every bit of color. One entire neighborhood, three or four streets of them, had cooperated in placing lighted, wooden figures in their front yards up and down the streets depicting all the people and animals in the Christmas story, right down to the huge Christmas star and the Magi who came a little later. As young as I was I could hear in my head the voices of the census takers, the crying of the baby and the bleating of the sheep. (or was it maybe someone had an outdoor speaker system? Didn't matter then or now.)

Some lament the commercialization of Christmas, what with all the blowup snowmen, reindeer, Grinch's and elephants, you know things like that. Not me! I love that stuff too. Anything to do with Christmas is just fine with me as long as it is in good taste and does not disrespect the real reason for the season. After all, it's "Christ" mas. Rudolf is kinda cool with his bulbous red nose always trying to save someone from disaster and guiding good old Santa's sleigh. Some yards create an entire theme based on Rudolf. Then, of course there are the computer driven lights displays featuring the Christmas rock music of the Trans Siberian Orchestra. A blatant display of electronic ingenuity but fun, intriguing, fanciful and in many ways creating a joyful noise. Can't get much better than that.

I'm an adult and have been one for yea, these many years. I walk through my neighborhood slowly so I can take in every aspect of the the Christmas spirit reflected in each yard. Some are whimsical, playful and show hardly the slightest sign of spirituality. Some are strictly faith based religious offerings. Some are a mixture of new and old, electronic, hand made, and more recently the huge, air blown, lighted within balloon type displays. Some of which even have snow blowing around inside or a train going through it. I just don't know where it will go next with the new technology. It's the way of progress and it's been going throughout recorded history. Only a century ago, candles were the mainstay and electric lights were a novelty. I wonder what people thought about that?

Thanksgiving is only a day or two away. I have a great deal to be grateful for. One of them is to have driven my little shaver kids around town as they pressed their faces to the window to catch every last bit of the color and sparkle from the Christmas displays. The look in their eyes was something I'll never forget. And then the fun we had after looking at the lights by going to the homes of friends and family and throwing toilet paper on them. Now that's what I call a real Christmas spirit.
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