Time for a Black-out

When I stopped by the garage the other day, I happened to see a DeLorean with the following article in the front seat:

Nov. 30, 2019


(AP) – Rioters burned a dozen Walmart stores to the ground nationwide in the worst “Black Friday” violence yet recorded.

In Los Angeles, holiday shoppers had been standing in line since 3 a.m. Tuesday in hopes of grabbing a “doorbuster” holographic disc player, discounted by 80 percent. When there turned out to only be three on the shelf, authorities said, “They simply snapped.”

‘We would have broken this up faster, but hey, I wanted one of those things myself,” said LAPD Commander Norm DePlume. “What a rip-off.”

Now, I won’t swear this wasn’t another practical joke by Doc Brown. (I still owe him for the “Rox Beat Sox” World Series headline a few years back.) But I’ve got to say, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

When I was a kid, I had never heard of Black Friday. I don’t think any of my friends had. Sure, we knew a lot of shopping started after Thanksgiving – heck, we were among the major causes of it. And we knew that sometimes things got crazy, like the Great Cabbage Patch Kid Wars of 1983.

But those were the weird years. Most times, it was a more normal kind of nuts, a few weeks of too many shoppers with too much caffeine and too few parking spaces. Charles Schulz and Stan Freberg would note how Christmas had gotten too commercial (and they were probably right), but the simpler joys of the season could still be made out over the sounds of “Santa Baby” on the mall intercom.

Now, I think even Linus would run in horror.

I’m not sure how we fight it. A media blackout on the phrase and the pseudo-event? A law requiring the CEOs of Walmart, Target and other chains to be part of crowd security? A liberal use of pepper spray on anyone camped outside a closed store? (I’m sure the NYPD could demonstrate.)

I don’t know. But something needs to happen.

It’s not sane.

It’s not safe.

And it’s vandalizing the anticipation that belongs to this season.

When you’re a kid, the month before Christmas is about waiting. Waiting for the first lights to go up. Waiting for the first package to arrive in the mail. Waiting for a Dec. 25 that seems like it will never come.

In a way, that’s a faint echo of the religious tradition of the holiday. For a Christian, this period is Advent, the time of waiting and mystery before the Nativity. It’s when the hymns begin “Oh, Come, Oh, Come …” reflecting a time when no one knew yet what would come.

Whether secular or spiritual, it’s a time apart. Something special.

Too special to have its hinges ripped off by a holiday mob, drunk on discounts.

Still, the best part about Black Friday is it does end. Eventually. There’s still a chance for the season to reassert itself, still a chance to recapture the joy and wonder and even peace that belongs to this time of year.

There’s still time. Use it well.

Which reminds me. Do you think Doc Brown would let me borrow the car this year? It really would help beat the holiday rush …

Yeah. Me, either.


Mighty Blessings, Nearly Missed

Eleven months ago, my nephew Gil was witnessing his first Christmas dinner. My niece, Ivy, had given her first babbling holiday hello via Skype.

And Heather and I? We were about to announce our own addition to the family.

“We’re going to become guardians for Missy in the new year.”

That brought surprise from some, knowing smiles from others. And underneath it all, a steady theme: that’s wonderful … but are you sure?

Yes. Yes, we were.

And this November, it easily tops the “thankful” list.

It’s a funny thing, that list. It’s the centerpiece of every Thanksgiving, the chance to realize what we have and be properly grateful for it. We all know the litany: family, friends, food, health, employment and so on.

Yet … and I almost feel like a traitor saying this … a lot of years in a lot of places, it almost comes off as bragging. It becomes the mirror image to the Christmas list: “Here’s what I’ve got. Isn’t it great? And tomorrow, I’m going to ask for even more.”

True thankfulness has a touch of humility. A recognition that this didn’t have to be, that these wonderful things could have passed us by. Maybe even a recognition of obligation, to treasure these blessings and use them well.

It’s a feeling I understand very well with Missy.

Regular readers know who I’m talking about. For the rest: Missy is my wife’s physically and mentally disabled aunt, a 38-year-old with a much younger view on the world. I’ve written before about reading to her, dancing with her, bowling with her, watching her on the softball diamond. She’s become a part of my life in a way I could have never imagined.

And it’s a way I so nearly missed.

Because when Heather first brought up the idea, I was terrified.

Not of Missy herself – except for the occasional tantrum, she’s about as violent as a butterfly in a mountain valley. But of what she represented. This was a huge commitment, one that raised every imaginable “what if” in my mind.

What if I lost my job?

What if Heather’s own health problems worsened?

What if this proved to be much, much more than we could handle?

Two little words. And they can be so paralyzing.

Heather, though, found three words of her own: She needs us. The rest will work out, she insisted. It always has. “This feels right.”

And it did. Scary, but right.

In the end, I had to trust that. To trust her. To trust our blessings and their source, that this would work … that we could make it work.

Now, I’m thankful we did.

“That’s so good of you, to take on so much.” I heard that a lot for a while. But after the first few days, I never really understood it. Because it didn’t feel like a lot. It felt so much lighter than my fears had warned, so much more wonderful than my wildest hopes had dreamed.

That’s family. Parent, child, sibling, ward.

That’s work and love and joy in one wonderful package.

That’s something I could have so easily missed.

And that makes this the truest Thanksgiving I have ever known.

Bowled Over

With the concentration of a swimmer on the high dive, Missy studies the pins on the far end of the alley.

Sets down her ball.


Slowly, slowly, the brilliant pink bowling ball wanders down the lane, angling off one bumper, then another. Finally, it reaches the far end, carefully tapping over pins as it meanders.

“Nice shot, Miss!”

Missy gets out to the bowling alley about once a week, with a group of other disabled adults. It’s never enough. Among the handful of words she speaks on a daily basis, four of them are always “I wan’ go bowling.”

Heather and I are generally glad to oblige when the day comes around. OK, more than oblige. We’re thrilled. It’s a little like watching Missy dance: caught up in something she loves,  something she can do for herself without much more than an arm to lean on as she walks up for her turn.

She’s not a bad bumper-bowler, either. In fact, her top score so far of 108 obliterates a lot of my games. Even a more normal game can be an interesting experience – her rolls lack the force that would create more strikes, but their slow wandering means they sometimes curve among the pins and pick up splits that a more forceful bowler would miss.

“Way to go! Next time, we’ll have that spare …”

Her birthday gift this year was a ball of her own, pink swirled with white. On unwrapping it, Missy held it aloft like the Holy Grail; there was even a beam of sunlight to give it a soft glow.

Behold the champion!

I don’t get to go often, because of my work hours. I enjoy it when I do. Because not only is the bowling trip good for Missy, it’s good for me, too.

Part of it any parent or guardian could understand: the shared joy of watching someone you care for do something they love. But part of it, in Missy’s case, almost reaches the level of silent instruction.

She thinks before each shot. She doesn’t hurry. She’s willing to wait, even as it seems like the ball will never get there. And after its slow crooked path achieves something – whether zero pins or 10 – she’s ready to get up and do it all again.

Not the worst model for life in an often hurried world.

Or for the guardian for a wonderful, unusual lady.

“I wan’ go bowling.”

As soon as we can, Missy. I promise.

For this sort of thing, there’s always time to spare.

Claus Célèbre

Santa Claus is coming to Suffolk County. But not easily.

Like most places in the country, New York’s Suffolk County has had a tough budget-balancing act this year. Specifically, it had a $135 million budget gap and some ugly choices to make to close it.

Which, perhaps, is why the county chose to save $660 by firing Santa Claus.

Ho-ho-hold it. Democrats and Republicans alike lined up to denounce the cutting  of David McKell, a World War II veteran and former police detective who had spent nine Christmases in the red suit.

“I mean, $600? Give me a break,” Republican county comptroller Joseph Sawicki said, according to Reuters. “There comes a point where you go overboard in terms of penny-pinching.”


In some ways, I can feel for Suffolk County. This was a battle they weren’t going to win either way. Leave it in and someone’s bound to do a “Fleecing of America” type story about how the county has money for Santa Claus but not for (fill in the blank). Cut it out and you’re the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Still, count me among the Santa-backers in this one.

No, this isn’t roads or firefighters or any of the other vital services people think of in a local budget. I’ll grant that.

But it’s six hundred bucks.

More than that, it’s one of those things that makes a community.

Every budget has them – the little pieces of color that make an area fun. It might be a festival to celebrate a town’s mining heritage. Or a fireworks show. Or a town band.

Politicians like to use the bland phrase “quality of life.” Residents usually say things like “part of why we moved here.”

They’re part of a community’s soul.

We can argue day-in and day-out about whether a local government has any business paying Santa Claus or shooting off skyrockets. But that’s part of the point. The local government is thee and me, and it will (or should) support those things we feel make a place worth living in.

If that includes a man in a beard and red coat, is that so bad?

A former Denver Post editor once reminded me of something important. Newspapers have to uncover problems and point out issues, he said, “but it’s not illegal to give people reason to hope.”

That’s true for governments,too.

Like I said, Santa is back on the job. A newly elected town supervisor put forward the money himself during his campaign. Grandstanding? Maybe. But so was making a $660 cut that couldn’t be anything but symbolic.

Budget cutting can be rough. But it shouldn’t be a lost Claus.

Getting Some Ink

Whenever you need some good old-fashioned overreaction, it’s hard to beat Barbie.

There was the infamous “math is hard” Barbie, which set off a debate about the things we teach our girls to strive for.

There’s the perennial body image argument, shaped (sorry) by a doll with an improbably narrow waist but with certain prominent advantages to compensate.

Now it seems it’s time for Mattel’s party girl to set the chattering off again. This time with a bit of ink.

That’s right. There’s now a tattooed Barbie.

Let the apocalypse commence.

“I think it is horrible and sends the wrong message to young people,” one online commenter opined.

“Why not put a cigarette and a beer bottle in her hand while you’re at it?” another asked.

“Is the New ‘Tokidoki’ Tattoo Barbie Inappropriate for Children?” U.S. News and World Report pondered in a headline.

Mind you, this is a limited edition doll, priced at $50, that’s specifically aimed at adult collectors. It’s not meant to be a children’s toy.

That said, I have to wonder. After all, tattoos are far from unheard of in the world of children’s entertainment.

There’s Popeye the Sailor Man with his prominent anchors (a point also noted by Scott Hollifield of the Winston Salem-Journal).

There’s Hefty Smurf who would wear his heart on his sleeve if he had sleeves – so he wears it on his arm instead.

Kermit the Frog had a chest tattoo in “Muppet Treasure Island.” They’ve been seen on bouncers in “Spongebob Squarepants,” or on a villain in “Kim Possible.”

In fact, as I go through the list, one oddity jumps out. With one exception – Lydia the Tattooed Lady on “The Muppet Show,” created specifically for her namesake song – all the mass media fictional characters with tattoos appear to be male.

Are we not as worried about little boys?

Is it more “appropriate” to think about a guy with a tattoo than a gal?

Or is it just a bigger deal when it appears on a doll who has no other identity beyond what she looks like and what she wears?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’m not especially worried. A hard-to-get $50 doll is about as likely to drive little girls to ink as I am to drive to the Yukon tomorrow. If this is the greatest danger our kids face, the next generation is in great shape.

Maybe, sooner or later, the worriers will get the point.

After all, it looks like Barbie already has.

Taking a Knee

OK, so Tim Tebow got thrown to the Lions. But they didn’t have to pray over their meal.

Understand, I’m not bitter – much – about the Broncos’ recent 45-10 loss to the Lions. Detroit’s on fire and we’re … well, the Broncos. It’s not pretty but it’s what happens.

I can tolerate Detroit’s stomping of Tim Tebow into the ground as part of the game. Sorry, Team Tim folks, but right now, he seems to be  a great halfback who has a long way to go as a playcaller.

I can even take a certain amount of mockery as the price of admission. We’ve both given and received any time the Raiders come to town and to a lesser degree when they haven’t. Some of it’s clever, some of it’s juvenile, all of it’s inevitable.

But when Detroit starting “Tebowing,” I think they crossed a line.

For the unfamiliar – what, about 17 of you, max? – “Tebowing” is the verb form for the prayer position our quarterback periodically takes on the field. Drop a knee before the game, after a score, whenever. It’s not what I’d do personally – probably that old Sunday School lesson about praying on street corners stuck a little hard – but he’s a grownup and if that’s how he chooses to express his faith, fine.

Detroit making fun of it on the field? Not so fine.

One opposing player assumed the position after a score, another after a sack. Both were clearly yanking the chain – even while trying to make it clear that they weren’t, you know, dissing anybody.

“It was no disrespect to Tebow,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said afterward. “I was able to get him and had a little fun with it.”

I’m not convinced. Actions speak louder. And this one seemed pretty clear.

Some things you just don’t do.

I’m not saying there should be a penalty or a fine or anything like that. I’ve always stood up for free speech, even when it’s stupid speech. But I am saying grown-up players should know better, should be able to act better.

A person’s faith, if they take it seriously, represents an open expression of their deepest heart. Mocking that expression, when it’s doing no harm to me and thee, lacks class, lacks judgment, lacks the kind of sensitivity that allows one human being to live peaceably with another.

If Tebow’s not offended, I give him points for patience and understanding. But the point is, there shouldn’t have been anything to be patient about.

Things have cooled down since (literally, with a snowstorm blowing outside as I write this). Hopefully, everyone can apologize, nod and move on without a repetition. Even a high school player would understand that much.

Sack him if you can. Stop him if you will. I won’t like it as a fan, but I know it’s what you do and what we’d do if we could.

But leave the rest on the sidelines.

When it comes to this kind of thing, there should be no kneed.