Sunday, December 25, 2011

Solving for the X in Xmas

A high holiday potpourri

Christmas has been a little simpler in the years since I announced that I didn't want any more gifts and that I wouldn't be giving any gifts except to the youngsters. Of course, some of those youngsters now have youngsters of their own, but even adult nieces and nephews still qualify for gifts from Uncle Zee. And they're not picky, bless 'em. (As one niece commented upon receiving a gift card good at one of her favorite stores: “Oh, it's just my size! A perfect fit.” That's the spirit.

My goddaughter's eldest boy was transported with delight to discover that I had found a two-axle baler to add to his farm-toy collection. He spent most of his time at his great-grandparents' on the floor, harvesting the rug. (It was, fortunately, only “pretend.”) In case you didn't know, two-axle balers are more stable than the old-fashioned single-axle version, are less subject to jamming, and produce bales more efficiently. It doesn't take much to get the seven-year-old to deliver an extemporaneous lecture on farm management, which is how I obtained the immediately preceding information. (My brother had better make certain the family farm survives until his grandson can take the helm. That boy will be ready.) The matching toy tractor was just the icing on the cake. Uncle Zee is officially a hero.

Other, less inspired gifts were received with proportionate expressions of delight and gratitude. My goddaughter gave me a framed photograph of her family, a present which certainly gets a grateful exemption from my gift ban. My parents, who cannot help but give gifts to all and sundry (no matter what we say), presented me with a sports coat. It's an important life lesson to learn that one's parents cannot be controlled, so I offered thanks and tried it on. It fit rather snugly, so I quipped to my mother that she should break her long-standing habit of shopping for me among the “slim fit” racks. It'll work better after I drop another five or ten pounds. (Any day now, of course.)

It was a good thing my parents had warned me at Thanksgiving that the gigantic pine tree in their front yard was coming down. That spared me the disorienting experience of not spotting a lifelong landmark from miles away as I approached the family dairy farm. Dad joked that I would have been likely to drive right past the place had I not been forewarned. Either that, or I might have run off the road while trying and failing to spot the towering conical form on the horizon.

How red was my valley

Anyway, I was already sufficiently disoriented at the end of the first leg of my day-trip. The sights of California's Central Valley and the sounds of the local AM radio stations are sufficiently discombobulating to require no additional shocks to my mental stability. I'm no longer inured to it, as I was in the days when I lived down there. (In my youth one of the regional radio stations sported the call letters KLAN, mindless of the unsavory associations.) The middle stretch of Highway 99 is decorated with signs denouncing water shortages as “Congress created” (drought and increasing consumption are irrelevant) and still singling out Pelosi, Costa, and Boxer for particular blame (despite the fact that all three members of Congress ran successfully for re-election over a year ago). They're reminiscent of the older signs that said, “Adios, Babbitt, Clinton,” with a similar lack of impact. How the Central Valley votes, so votes the state—in the opposite direction.

There used to be an anti-United Nations sign in Tulare County that said, “Get US out of the UN!” I kind of miss it. It used to be right next to an “Impeach Earl Warren!” sign.

I think the Central Valley counties would secede if they could. If the rest of the state let them go, initiatives like the contentious Proposition 8 would never pass. Of course, I would probably end up having to show my papers at the border every time I headed south to visit family. (And there's a fair chance I would not be allowed in.)

The FM radio dial offered an occasional oasis of public radio stations, but those were generally offering public affairs or news programming instead of classical music. The other FM stations were devoted to oldies or country-western (or country-western oldies). The AM dial was replete with right-wing talk, more country-western, and religious programming. Surfing the AM band brought me such delights as a psychic explaining that Ron Paul would be next year's front-runner for the GOP nomination for president. I noted that she was careful enough not to say he would get the nomination, making it easier for her to explain it away when the Republican Party apparatchiks deliver it to Romney. On the other hand, she also said the 2012 presidential election campaign would be a low-energy and relatively gentlemanly matter, so clearly we can dismiss her out of hand.

Your holy host

Naturally I was disappointed to discover via one station's house ad that I was too late to hear the daily dairy report. That airs at 5:00 each morning. However, my ears pricked up when Jesus Christ came on the air, introducing himself as “your holy host” and “the reason for the season” and offering to take questions. Holy crap! It was The Jesus Christ Show, a syndicated show that bills itself as “interactive radio theater.” The show's website identifies some guy named Neil Saavedra as a self-taught lay apologist who is the “producer” for The Jesus Christ Show. He has no academic credentials and “hates when people try and sound more educated than they actually are.” (That would appear more literate if it were “try to sound more educated.”)

To give the devil his due, Saavedra correctly noted that “Xmas” was not an anti-Christian slur, since the “X” represents the Greek letter chi, an ancient shorthand symbol for Christ. Good one, Neil. On the other hand, one questions whether Jesus would have cuts from Christian rock bands for his bumper music and Jesus would certainly have known better than to sing with such a lousy voice. Ouch!

The show struck me as having been inspired by Saavedra seeing Jesus Christ as a talk-show host on South Park and thinking it was worthy of emulation (but on radio, where dressing up is not necessary). The segment I heard was very uneven, especially given its abrupt transitions. When Saavedra is speaking in third-person-pretentious, he sounds like just about any radio preacher prattling about Jesus. However, when he shifts suddenly to first-person-intimate, it utterly fails to evoke the listener's suspension of disbelief so that the imposture works. Part of the problem may be that it's difficult to imagine Jesus prompting a caller with, “Okay, let 'er rip!”

Thou shalt not tell fat jokes

I did not share any of my radio experiences with my folks. Too dangerous a topic, fraught with peril. Any discussion of broadcast media with my father is certain to elicit his favorite diatribe: too many Spanish-language programs and channels. Last Thanksgiving, for example, his opening conversational gambit was to fish a slip of paper out of his pocket to show my brother-in-law and me how many Spanish-language television stations were available via a local satellite-based provider. Dad smugly proclaimed that a client had employed him to block all such stations on his TV so that his eyes and ears would not be profaned by exposure to that Mexican-type talk. He was clearly inviting us to roll our eyes in sympathetic dismay over the proliferation of Hispanic entertainment in the Central Valley, but my brother-in-law and I were eye-rolling for other reasons.

Instead the snatches of brief Christmas conversation were dominated by family chit-chat and generally harmless holiday chatter. The brother who currently runs the family dairy farm commented that the front yard was now spacious and wide open in the absence of the old pine tree. I quipped that there was even enough room now for my wide brother. My sister-in-law had not heard my previous fat joke at my own expense, but she certainly heard the quip about her husband and did not appreciate it. Displaying an enviable talent for maintaining a cheerful expression and upbeat tone of voice while laying stripes on one's hide, she pointed out how much she disapproved of fat jokes about her husband and said, while citing his good points, “You know he's as big-hearted as all outdoors.”

You will, I know, be amazed to learn that I was intelligent enough not to seize the opportunity to pile on with, “Yeah, I'd expect an enlarged heart, too, if I were carrying that much excess weight.” (So there, dear friends. All of you who have said I would risk my life for a good punch line— Not so!) I listened meekly, then asked my sister-in-law whether their next stop was her mother's house. When she told me that was correct, I asked her to proffer my best holiday wishes to her widowed mother. My sister-in-law rewarded me with a big hug and a warm farewell, so I made my escape intact and in good odor. (Besides, my brother's mother-in-law is a nice lady and my greeting was sincere as well as conveniently timed.)

I will consider, however, that my sister-in-law has conveniently given me a New Year's resolution as a Christmas gift. I solemnly promised her that I would tell no more fat jokes within her earshot. In return, she agreed to spare my life. And I didn't even try to ingratiate myself by agreeing that my brother is twice the man I am. It's win-win.

I can hardly wait to tell Jesus!


Kathie said...

1. "[H]arvesting the rug" -- chortle!

2. In September 2009 we saw those same blame-Congress signs along the highway between Gilroy and SR 99 as well. Considering all the precipitation in winter 2010-11 (chiefly snow in the Sierra Nevada), I'd think the reservoirs are still fairly high, so there's not currently a water shortage. Although... my cousin mentioned on the phone yesterday that Northern California hasn't had much rain the past few weeks, despite this being the traditional rainy season...

3. Enough with the weight jokes already, Zee. If you don't stop, your brother and I will have to sit on you and squish you like a bug!

Kathie said...

Oops! I misremembered our September 2009 itinerary. We saw those signs alleging a “Congress created” drought farther down the Valley, along I-5 and then cutting across to SR 99 from Hanford to Tulare.

The Ridger, FCD said...

This is OUR congress? They can get together long enough to create a drought????

Zeno said...

I'm afraid you don't understand, Ridger. The Democrats started the drought while they were in the majority. See? And they use their continuing control of the Senate and the White House to prolong it. Republicans are never to blame for this. Republican congressmen in the Central Valley never tire of telling their constituents that they would solve the problem overnight if it weren't for the Democrats (or the environmentalists, or Northern California fisheries that also want water, or municipalities that drive up water demands and prices, or lack of rainfall). It has nothing to do with GOP opposition to water conservation plans and their stalwart support of subsidies to agribusiness (not to be confused with family farms—unless you're a Republican).

Kathie said...

OK then, Zeno, who's responsible for the drought (and wildfires this summer/fall) in deeply and long-time Republican-red Texas?