Lone berry, front yard

It snowed hard Friday. “It’s a winter wonderland,” I said as we drove to piano class.

“I know,” she said from the back seat. “You said that already.”

And so I had. But so it was. Nothing boosts the spirits and gets you ready for the long holiday slog than fresh snow bending the boughs of the evergreens. And we have two new evergreens this year, which increases the wintry / holiday quotient of the backyard by 12 percent. No, it’s perfect: the hush that smothers cares, the glee on the dog’s face (this stuff again! Right! Okay!) and the distant tinkle of cars colliding as they slide through the intersections. It was a perfect start to the season - and as usual, it was instantly ruined when the winds came up. When I walked Jasper Dog around the block the wind had that sense of animus that makes a truly nasty gust; not content to rifle up your nose or down your ear, it stuck its hands down your coat, up your cuffs, anyplace where it might find something warm to needle.
And then it melted. Sunday was warmer, in the forties; drizzle and fog. Where I sit now – the coffee shop in the suburbs – I see only a few dirty rills of snow on the boulevard, looking like spines of some creature trying to bury itself in the bog of dead grass.

They’re playing Christmas songs at the coffee shop now; the staff informs me that the selection consists of the same four songs played over and over again, but by different artists. I wouldn’t doubt it. There are only four songs, really – religious, secular songs sung like religious songs, happy upbeat modern tunes, and modern krep in which Grandma is run over by a reindeer or the various members of the family gather to rock around the Christmas tree. How this rocking is done I am unsure, since the tree is usually in the corner; thus it would be difficult to rock around the Christmas tree. You would have to rock in a semi-circular pattern. The people on the end would either have to circle around the others, which would mean they were rocking around the persons rocking, or the entire line would have to shift back and forth, permitting the occupant of the center position no more than a few feet of rocking. It is also unclear what sort of rocking we are talking about here; most rocking doesn’t take you around anything. From the Bruce Springsteen grin-and-thrust-and-pump-hip dance to the Foghat-stoner stand-in-place-and-bob-head style, most rocking is done in place. So the whole song falls apart under analysis. Note: it is possible to rock around the clock, this being an expression of rocking performed in time, not space.

Now it’s the Johnny Mathis version of “Sleigh Ride,” which sounds less like a holiday tune than an elocution lesson; the man could certainly enunciate. Pass around the cof-fee and the pump-kin pie! He hits Pump! like someone launching off the lip of a ski jump.
This is nostalgia for some – it’s nostalgia for me, for that matter; I remember these versions from my childhood, although I never liked it – but you have to remember that it was nostalgia then, inasmuch as it refers to the “Currier and Ives” versions of the seasons that people already lamented losing. But that’s Christmas; a mass consensual illusion that the holiday existed in some perfect state, and that this state can be replicated again if we find the right combination of lights, ornaments, songs, nutmeg candles, Pottery Barn CD compilations, pine-scented infusers, kicky shoes and brie spreaders.

What I remember isn’t the gifts. (Aside from that chemistry set in 1967. Wow.) It’s the details that linked one year to the next. The same old plastic nativity scene I got at the drugstore; the same old centerpiece on the table, with its plastic fruit (you could pull off the plums, queeze them under a running tap, fill them up with water and squirt your sis.) Mom used to spray pictures on the living room mirror with cans of fake snow and stencils of candles – this being a Christmas motif, don’t ask why; it’s like having a light bulb as the sign of the Fourth of July. It wasn’t fake snow to us, of course; it was flock. As in “a can of flock.”

Of course, there’s the spiritual dimension, the details of which are often lost on young and old alike; last night I was down in the basement (and I hate to mention it here, but I may have misspoken in that interview I linked to the other day; I don’t write this or anything else down in the Battle Bridge. I work at the Christmas table, in the studio, the coffee shop, or the Strib caffinatorium. But not downstairs) passing time with a Disney Princess Best Holiday Ever DVD, and I brought up the whole God-and-His-Kid tale, and she did not buy the part about being born in a barn.

“That’s not very Goddish,” she said.

“Well, that’s the point.”

“It’s not even Biblish.”

“Oh, it’s very Biblish.”

We concluded this theological disputation by tossing stuffed animals into a plastic grocery cart. Two points!

Picked up my “Looney Tunes vol. 3,” and was very excited. Finally: a chance to see if "Hillbilly Hare" was as funny as I recalled. I hadn’t seen it in ten years – used to come around once every few months in the morning Warner Brothers cartoon show in DC. (I would get up, check local Fox TV – the best morning show at the time - then move directly to Looney Tunes.) I put in the disc and was instantly horrified to see Whoopie Goldberg enter the frame, looking like a character cut from “Battlefield Earth.” She brings with her a strange set of implications: in another dimension, people think she is funny, but in private even those people do not think she is funny, but they do not dwell on the matter. Apparently to us yokels her presence is meant to indicate the presence, or at least the imminence, of hilarity. She warns us about the cartoons we are soon to behold. Warns us! It seems – odd as this may sound - they had many unexamined casual racial sterotypes back then, and these images found their way into cartoons. These jokes “hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups.” Somehow I doubt stupid barefoot idiot hillbillies are an ethnic group. But they’re mercilessly mocked – not only for their appearance or lack of intelligence, but their inability to resist the instructions of a rabbit whose square-dancing calls have the force of law.

And it gets worse: Bugs dresses up as a girl in this one – which could be seen as a shout-out to the transgendered-rabbit community, but once again he does it only to deceive and harm someone. From this we all learn the iron lesson of life: boys dressed up as girls are not dealing with the fluid nature of gender, but are attempting to make you flustered and grinny so they can either shoot you in the face or compel you to shoot yourself. (The effect of which usually clarifies the whole gender confusion, as it happens.) So don’t trust cross-dressing rabbits.

Note: "Hillbilly Hare" is better than I remember.

You know, I would never expect a cross-dresser to make that argument. But I would expect someone else to make it on their behalf.

(Hah! Great minds agree with lesser ones; Steyn hits the same note.)

But of course:
A good weekend. I stayed home all day Saturday and worked on things that did not cry for improvement, but often it’s the little things on the site that bug me the most. The “Jerry on the Job” site, for example. Great old cartoon, and the site satisfied me at the time, even though it broke a big web rule, i.e., it required horizontal scrolling. It worked for the strip, but it bothered me. What’s more, I had compressed the images so much you couldn’t read the text. (There was a reason for that: back in the waning moments of the 20th century, I had a problem with my web host – not the company itself so much as the pissy fellow assigned to my account. I went over my bandwidth allotment. I understand that this means I have to, you know, pay, but he was a total spork about it, like I was bringing the company down, and he tried to move me into a plan that cost $500 a month, or some ridiculous price. Until I figured out what I’d do, I pulled half the site and recompressed the graphics on what remained. Jerry has been blocky and unreadable ever since. Well, this weekend I found the originals, and it took four hours to scan, rotate, crop, redesign, and rework the section. It’ll be up later this week, as part of the overhaul of the Comics section.

No music, no movie playing in the corner; no radio. Silent house, silent dog. Just scanning and rotating and cropping and saving. Therapy.

Watched some movies later – mostly stuff I’d seen before. “War of the Worlds” seemed far less impressive on the smaller screen, but it depressed my wife to no end; I had the same reaction the first time I saw it, too. “Revenge of the Sith” seemed better than I recalled, more taut, albeit with dialogue so bad everyone could have spoken in an Al Jolson accent and it would have been an improvement. (Really! Try it. “Hold me, Anny! Hold me like ya did on Naboo, Anny!”) Watched “Sahara,” which was trying to set up an Indy-Jones-meets-James-Bond franchise. Suffered from sidekickitis and general implausibility, but fun nevertheless, if overlong, and overlarded with the producer’s favorite 70s songs. Penelope Cruz is certainly nice to behold, although from certain angles she resembles nothing more than a support system for a nose. But it’s a sexy nose.

Off to write some columns; see you tomorrow.