Archive for November, 2010

Get the Christ Out of My Holiday Tree…and Other Politically Correct Blasphemies

26 Nov

It is during the busiest shopping time of the season at Bath & Body Works when I risk it all by handing back the change to a customer and quietly wish her a Merry Christmas.  I’m assuming it’s safe to do so.  Decked out in a red and white reindeer sweater and matching knit cap, I’ve carefully profiled this woman as an obvious supporter of Christmas.  There is even a Rudolph pendant on the fabric of her sweater with a flashing nose pointing to her very breast.  No way does this woman believe in Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all.  The woman smiles sweetly and makes the mistake of thanking me for respecting Jesus’s birthday before she turns and is on her way and I face the perky wrath of the store manager for not having used the generic corporate approved Happy Holidays.  “Next time I’ll write you up, Paula,” my manager threatens in her sharply cut bob and bright white Keds tennis shoes.

I was an undergraduate, putting myself through school on grants, student loans and part-time shifts schlepping flowery and fruity scented shower gels and body lotions.  Banning Christ made no sense then in a brightly lit store in a mall and it certainly makes none now as a professor in a classroom whose students vary from Catholics to Muslims to agnostics.  Where I teach at the state university religious tolerance shockingly enough still prevails.  One English professor teaches a course on the Bible as literature.  Hard core Christian activists are allowed to shout self-righteously so long as they do it out of doors and don’t incite a physical altercation.  Over the years as a hybrid of Greek Orthodox and the Lutheran faith, I’ve learned about Allah, the Pope and the Big Bang Theory.  Some atheist students are surprised to learn they have a faith because believing in nothing, I point out, is still a belief in something.

But in other institutions the freedom to speak or write about religion is not always the case.  A professor I know from a well-respected college refuses to allow the Bible as a legitimate text in his courses because the authors, he claims, are technically unknown.  Really.  Then I suppose that must also exclude great Christian philosophers and thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas who rely on this book in their own writings.  The professor bristles at my offhanded accusation of censorship.  Not all professors, he says, get a chance to read up on everyone.  He’s also one of those bah humbug types who pitches a fit at a golden menorah painted on the front window of the local bank or a Christmas nativity scene played out in the town square because he doesn’t want another person’s religious celebratory practices imposed on him, period.  What he doesn’t see is the ignorance he practices daily is far more divisive and damaging than any religious one.

Why should a mistaken affiliation whether it be in regards to religion or ethnicity be so offensive anyway?  As a warm-blooded, dark haired Greek I’m constantly asked here in Southern California by many people of Hispanic origin if I habla Espanol.  And even once I was taken out of line at a Nashville airport and interrogated by a slow sounding (in more ways than one), TSA agent.  Naturally he thought I was a Middle Eastern terrorist because I had played around dyeing my hair a deeper shade of near black and I had unintentionally packed in my carry-on a contraband snow globe with a tiny banjo in it from the Grande Ole Opry.  The agent kept requesting that he see my passport even though I swore over and over again with my driver’s license in hand that I was a California native.  Did I sue over my lowly mistreatment?  No.  I  was highly insulted by his questions, by his grits and gravy breath, but then I did this strange thing some Americans have trouble doing.  I simply got over it.

As a consequence of all of this hypersensitivity and political correctness, children in elementary schools are no longer allowed to celebrate any holidays.  There is Harvest Time instead of Halloween.  Scary rubber masks, costume contests and, well, fun are ditched in the process.  Christmas Break is now a Winter one; therefore, no jolly old guy in a red suit and hat, lugging a sack full of presents will be showing up on the last day of class like he did in mine when I was in kindergarten.  Last year there was a controversy over the White House calling that big, tall thing with green needles and tangle of lights they had standing in one of their great rooms as a holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. For his part, the left wing’s nemesis Bill O’Reilly defends Christmas on his program and even offers bumper stickers to that effect on his show’s site.  And while I oftentimes don’t agree with him on a range of other topics, I commend him on his efforts and I wish him and everyone else who reads this a very Merry Christmas.


A Mother’s Love and Her Poisonous Pumpkin Pie

14 Nov

As a kid my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner used to be the Marie Callender’s pumpkin pie afterward, until that is, my mother decided to make me one from scratch.  It was tradition, one of many my father and I had during the holidays, to make the trip down to Marie Callender’s restaurant and bakery and withstand a brutal line that wrapped around the entire building.  Finally reaching the front was half the fun for my father and me.  He would mock the other customers who would complain about the wait, complain about the prices.  He’d make faces at me and, if any ever caught wind they were the brunt of his joke, they’d smile uneasily and look the other way as if they hadn’t seen.  My father was a big Greek.  Most everybody would laugh with him in his presence.  Hours later we’d return weary yet victorious with two splendid brown boxes – inside one was a tall banana cream pie for him and in the other, a perfect colored pumpkin pie for me and the rest of the family.

But one Thanksgiving morning my mother put a stop to all this when she proudly announced she’d be baking me my very own pumpkin pie.  “I’m tired of you two spending all that time and money on a store bought pie when you’d be so much better off with a home cooked one.”  To my silent and crushing disappointment, she came home with a bag full of supplies to prove it.  There was a plastic tub of Cool Whip, a package of two frozen pie crusts and a big can of pumpkin filler that resembled the wet dog food I fed our pit bull mix Brutus.  Part of me wanted to point out to my mother that it was still store bought, at least in terms of the ready made ingredients, but I knew if I did my dessert that night would be a slick bar of Ivory soap.  She’d threatened to wash my smart mouth out before.  A crack like that might make her wise up and actually follow through.

My mother was a good cook but oftentimes she was a distracted one.  Like the time years later when she demanded that I pay attention to how she was sauteing an onion when I kept pointing to the flames that had leaped from the stove to the kitchen curtains.  It took an entire box of baking soda plus a package of flour to put out the fire.  By the time we were through it looked like the ceiling had opened up and the sky had snowed down on every inch of the kitchen.  That Thanksgiving afternoon my mother baked two pumpkin pies, nearly forgot about them in the oven, then covered them tightly in foil.  My father watched football in the family room with the screen door ajar.  I roller skated with my older sister safely out of smell shot on the sidewalk of our cul-de-sac.  There was a sense the whole house was burned by my mother’s efforts.

After a real feast of roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and fresh green beans, my mother brought out one of the uncovered pies.  It was darker than a Marie Callender’s pie, not to mention the pumpkin filler had somehow grown a hard skin and bubbled up all over like gigantic blisters during baking.  There was no getting out of tasting the poor burn victim that was my mother’s home cooked pumpkin pie.  My mother served me first.  I forced down most of it because I wanted to please her.   Later that night I was sicker than I’d ever been.  Hours and hours of violent retching that made my ribs ache and my throat raw.  My mother stayed with me, crying the entire time.  As she wiped my forehead with a cold compress, she repeatedly apologized.  “Oh, Sweetie,” she talked over the noise of my gutteral hurls, “I should’ve checked the expiration date at the bottom of that damn can of pumpkin filling.”

Last year my mother and I got together for another holiday dinner.  My father had since passed but thankfully old traditions die hard.  This time my mother agreed to come with me to Marie Callender’s.  Laughing about that night she poisoned me with my favorite pumpkin pie has become our own tradition.  And while I’ll probably never be able to enjoy a pumpkin pie like I once did, my mother and I made do by cutting into a thick and creamy New York style pumpkin cheesecake instead.


The Public Outcries of Boo Hoo Boehner and Screaming Dean

06 Nov

On the mid-term election night, after Democrats were furious to see that most of the country had turned red, Ohio State Republican House Leader John Boehner appeared on live TV and cried about it.  Seemingly he was overcome with emotion, some tearful utterances about the American Dream and how he and his family lived it.  It all should have been very touching, and I suppose for some it was.  While his speech certainly sounded sincere, watching his face spontaneously contort  and his voice quaver made the man at the podium uncomfortable to watch.

Maybe it simply had to do with expectations.  Earlier in the year I’d seen him vehemently  oppose Obamacare on the night it was voted into reality with the kind of  profoundness in his voice that must’ve taken up every square foot of sound in that great chamber.  Steadfast and resolute, whether I agreed with him or not, for the duration of time he commanded the House floor, Representative John Boehner was no minority leader.

Yet tough talk when voiced at the wrong time might weaken any political figure’s future – just ask former Governor Howard Dean.  On the night he lost the Iowa election and came in third, he began addressing his crowd of supporters with a rousing speech that quickly escalated into such unpredictable heights of feeling that words could no longer express it.  And so the raw anguish over losing a campaign he assumed he would win came out in the form of an odd yippee-caye scream that has been played over and over again with much laughter and ridicule on the world wide web.

Like any sexist country with distinct gender roles, we don’t like our male political figures losing their composure, that is, unless they’re female.  When Hillary Clinton in another one of her power pant suits became noticeably worked up at a coffee shop during the presidential campaign in 2008, she suddenly appeared more vulnerable, more of a woman that other women could identify with.  True, some critics, mostly Obama backers, cried foul.  She was just playing the gender card.  Easily she won the election in the same state where she shed a few tears.  President Obama may have eventually beaten her, but he has not escaped being emasculated, no doubt by sore losers, who posted pictures online of him hanging up frilly curtains.

In a culture where so many well-dressed, fast-talking metrosexuals rule over major corporations,  when push comes to shove, we still prefer the strong, silent type plowing through the corridors of governmental power.  During his off time President Reagan cut through timber with a buzz saw on his ranch. Then he calmly delivered hard news to the American people softening the blow in a grandpa sweater, seated behind his desk in the Oval Office.  Shortly after 9/11, President Bush stood atop the rubble and vowed through a bull horn that those responsible for these hideous crimes will pay.   President Kennedy as lieutenant in the Navy commanded a patrol torpedo boat and later tried with disastrous results, yet still he tried, to secretly take out communist leader Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs.  Who is to blame for this high level of testosterone?  Maybe it can be traced back to the early 1900’s, to one of the most well-respected presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, a former boxer and hands on war hero, who set the bar when he told the country to “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”