Glorious [Bang!] 4th

We Celebrate Our Independence by Playing at Terrorism

As I write these words, the air is full of explosions. Dogs and cats are whimpering as they hide under beds, tortured by their pet-loving owners who celebrate our independence with backyard barbecues and playing at being terrorists. I’m not sure that many Americans are giving any attention to the Declaration of Independence from King George III.

Ultimately we got our independence, but mainly because of help from France. You can read all you want about American history and not find a word about George Washington ever winning a battle. France helped us at a horrible cost to the French monarchy: their assistance bankrupted the treasury and was a major contributor to the French Revolution, which began shortly after we won our independence. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette paid for helping us by being publicly beheaded in Paris’s Place de Grève.

Ingrates that we are, we tend to downplay the French role in winning our freedom. When the British under Cornwallis were tied up at Yorktown, it was because Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, Marquis of Grasse-Tilly was backing up the Continental Army led by Washington and Lafayette.

Don’t think I’m feasting on escargots, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, and Pouilly-Fuissé because of this. I’m not celebrating at all, especially as it sounds like my street is being bombed.

Return to Normal? Fat Chance!

A New Calendar Does Not a New Reality Make

We always tend to make too much of holidays like New Years. Let’s face it: All it means is a new template overlaid on the same old time period. Although I will probably still be awake at midnight, it is only because I am usually still awake at midnight. I don’t really care about somebody dropping the ball on Times Square, and I certainly will not watch any Year in Review shows or other New Years specials.

When I was a little kid, I marveled that in the year 2000, I would be 55 years old. That seemed so old to me back then. Now that I am twenty years past that milestone, or should I say millstone, I am not so quick to generalize about the passing of time. That what time does. It passes.

As William Butler Yeats wrote in his play The Countess Cathleen:

The years like great black oxen tread the world,
 And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
 And I am broken by their passing feet.

Despite everything, I wish all of you well. May the New Year bring you peace, health, and prosperity. And if it doesn’t, just soldier on.

Reinventing Thanksgiving

This Is Not What My Thanksgiving Will Look Like

In a way, the coronavirus seems to wreak the most damage on people who are intent on going on with their lives the way they were before. The big danger points come around the major holidays, when people risk everything for the appearance of normalcy.

But what if, like me, you don’t really give a hang about the holidays? No, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness: I just don’t like the idea of holiday-induced stress. Whenever I think of Christmas and Thanksgiving, in particular, I think of a custom among certain Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest of “an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.”

Plus I don’t really like turkey. For the most part it is a dry bird that has to be well-greased before imbibing. For my Thanksgiving, Martine and I will have a more simple feast (though, in her heart of hearts, I know Martine would prefer the turkey): A good beef stew accompanied by a bottle of Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger, a pleasant Hungarian red wine.

Knowing how much I prefer to avoid poultry, Martine can understand that it wouldn’t help to have me cook something I don’t like—and I do all the cooking in the household.

We will probably do something similar for Christmas. Why not? We are not afraid of offending the Yuletide Police.

Happy Halloween!

In this truly ghastly year of 2020, I sincerely wish all of you a happy—and safe—Halloween. It happens to be one of the more meaningful holidays on my own calendar. Unlike Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, or even Christmas. I mean all of us are on a journey, and the holiday commemorates the destination of that journey, for all of us, even for “billionaires” like Trump.

It’s followed on November 1 by All Saints Day and on November 2 All Souls Day, known in Mexico as the Dia de los Muertos.

Mexican Folk Art with Skeleton

Although no kids have come Trick or Treating at my place for over thirty years, I’ve always liked Halloween. (Kids don’t like to climb stairs, even though I’m only on the second floor.)

The Best Laid Plans…

Chace Park Seen from the Air

In my post of July 3 entitled “Plotting a Holiday Picnic,” I wrote about my plans for a 4th of July weekend picnic for two (Martine and me). It’s sometimes laughable how circumstances can change. I decided to choose today, Sunday, July 5, for the picnic—because I suspected that there would be too many people with too many fireworks on Saturday.

Martine wanted to go to Chace Park in the Marina because, regardless how hot the weather was near us, it always had a comfortable sea breeze. Originally, I thought of getting a picnic lunch at Chick-Fil-A, but I forgot that the restaurant is closed on Sundays. So we headed to Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica, but saw a humongous line waiting to get in. Ditto for Trader Joe’s in Marina Del Rey. So on Martine’s suggestion, we got our lunches in the deli and produce sections of a nearby Ralph’s Supermarket.

The only real negative about going to Chace Park was that parking cost ten dollars on this holiday weekend. No matter, I paid the fee and resolved to make myself comfortable with the peninsula’s sea breezes. There were no seals in evidence today, but we were able to eat our lunch and take a walk around the peninsula.

There were a lot of young males who flouted the social distancing rule, but we managed to keep our distance from them as they attempted their abortive “herd immunity” practices. I kept thinking back to my days working with U.S. Census data. In the United States, there are 21 males born to every 20 females; but, by around the age of 18, the number of females exceeds the number of males. Why? Because young American males find their way to an early grave through sheer stupidity.


Happy New Year [Insert Year]

The Calendar Is Nothing But an Overlay

In general, I am not big on public holidays. And New Years Day is probably my least favorite. In the past, I have tended to answer the usual enthusiastic “Happy New Year” with the off-putting, “Only a fool celebrates the passing of time.” I am no longer invited to New Years parties, but then none of my friends hold them any more.

Here I am, three weeks away from visiting an ancient society which depended heavily on the calendar (the Maya), while I tend to pooh-pooh the whole idea. I do not read any retrospective articles on the year that was or watch any TV programs that fill the same function; and I most certainly do not stay up past midnight to usher the new year in. I rather think the new year can usher itself in: It knows where the door is. I will not drink any cocktails, and I will probably be abed by 10 pm.

I have no particular feelings about 2019. It had its good points, and it had its bad points. Trump is still in charge of the White House and he hasn’t yet canceled the Bill of Rights. (Maybe this coming year….)

Politics has no magic for me. On one hand, elections involve people who make promises, but really want to exercise power and/or accumulate wealth. And even if my candidate wins, I will likely be disenchanted after a few months—because I forgot this simple fact.

If all this sounds deeply cynical, remember that I am a cynical person. I have seen some three quarters of a century pass by my eyes. There has been love, there has been despair, there has been failure, there has been modest success, there has been hope, there have been disasters. I came close to cashing in my chips in 1966, but I am curiously in fairly good health at the present moment—even if I can’t count on it to last.

So I will still wish you all a Happy New Year, but know that years are all ineluctably mixed. I think Spock had the best greeting: Live long and prosper.


Looking Back at Christmas

The Grier Musser Museum in Los Angeles

The Pico-Union District of Los Angeles is a tough neighborhood with heavy concentrations of Central American immigrants. Yet there on Bonnie Brae Street lies the Grier Musser Museum with its huge collection of antiques and seasonally related memorabilia. During the key holidays of Halloween and Christmas, there are fascinating exhibits of decorations, music boxes, pop-up books, greeting cards, postcards, and other popular culture highlighting the present and past.

Although Martine and I have visited only during those periods, there are also special exhibits for Valentines Day, Chinese New Years, and Independence Day.

Susan Tejada with Christmas Elf

On Saturday, we spent several hours viewing the Christmas exhibits and chatting with Susan and Rey Tejada, the owners (and inhabitants) of the museum. Christmas is now safely in the past, but it was nice to see the constantly growing exhibits that Susan has collected. They represent what we all want the holidays to be like, far from the mayhem in the parking lots and department stores in mega-malls which it has become. Visiting the Grier Musser Museum gives you a picture of what we all want Christmas to be like. It’s actually a nice feeling.


Auld Lang Whatever

Time to Change Your Calendar

Time to Change Your Calendar

In the accounting profession, we are apt to view New Years Day with a jaundiced eye. It is the beginning of the 100-day Bataan death march that is tax season. For a while, we will have weekends. Then, at some point in February, we begin to work Saturdays. In March, Sundays are also added. That is in a high-rise building with no weekend air-conditioning, unless we pay for it. To add insult to injury, the two national holidays during this period—Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day—are just two more workdays. (The company makes up the time lost later.)

Every year, our clients tend to be later and later in supplying us the information we need to file the returns, and gradually increasing pressure is applied between February 1 and April 15, until the last week is a nightmare of running around, making last-minute changes, and printing numerous copies of multiple hundred page returns.

Not a pleasant prospect.

So, auld lang whatever. Put up a new calendar, start paring away at your social life (such as it is), be sure to get some exercise, and read some good books.


Don’t Let Retailers Set Your Agenda

Don’t Let Retailers Set Your Agenda

We are currently on that Snakes & Ladders descent from Halloween through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years to Super Bowl Sunday. That’s a goodly chunk of the year being anxious as to whether one has satisfied all one’s loved ones. Because we watch television so many wasted hours each day, we are very conscious of what all the brick-and-mortar retailers want us to do. They endlessly supply us with suggestions as to what to buy for whom. And if the TV isn’t bad enough, there are also the radio, newspapers, e-mail, and FaceBook to remind us.

Because I am in the accounting profession (for the time being), I see this time of year primarily as the run-up to tax season. It means printing and sending out tax organizers, frequent installation of new versions of the tax software, constant re-indexing of the tax database, printing Form 1096 and 1099 for our clients (as needed), and dozens of other tasks. The worst part is the entry and processing of the actual tax returns, which builds up in a slow crescendo to the frantic last weeks before the April 15 deadline. In accounting, one doesn’t look at the Holidays so much as one looks past them.

Enough Already!

Enough Already!

As a result, I don’t go in for holiday decorations. I skip Halloween altogether—there’s never any Trick-or-Treaters who come to our door any more. We get together with our friends for Thanksgiving. We go to a couple of Christmas events, usually a concert of holiday music, and then we visit friends and family. On New Year’s, we stay in to avoid the drunk and drugged motorists. And Super Bowl Sunday? A great time to visit an otherwise crowded museum. Instead of joining the throngs at a shopping center on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), I am thinking of suggesting Martine that we go instead to the Getty Villa to enjoy the serenity of ancient Greek and Roman art.

In fact, serenity is the key. If you don’t feel this serenity during the holiday season, I think you are probably doing something wrong. There’s little that we can do in the way of material goods to show our love. The batteries will run down, the gizmos will fail to work—but the love behind them still runs strong. At least, it should!

Yesterday, I saw my best friends and learned a lesson. Last year, I bought their youngest son a subscription to The New York Review of Books, which wound up being enjoyed primarily by the father. When I asked the son what should I get him, he told me not to worry about it. I don’t have any children of my own, so the children of my friends are particularly important to me. I won’t worry about it, but I will find something nice for him.


What Day Is It Today?

This Is a Trick Question ... So Beware!

This Is a Trick Question … So Beware!

If your answer was “Presidents’ Day,” you are only partially correct. Unofficially, that’s what the holiday is called, but according to the National Archives, it’s Washington’s Birthday. There is even an explanatory footnote:

This holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday.” Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is Federal policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

If your answer was, “Monday, February 18,” you are an unspeakable literalist. But you are also correct.

Of course, my answer is, “Another damned working day in tax season.” For people in the accounting profession, there are no holidays between New Years and the end of tax season.