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20 Dec

Several people have been congratulating me on the recent upset victory by the Navy Midshipmen over the Black Knights of West Point.  While I accept the praise graciously, I do recognize that much of the credit goes to the players.  Anyway, in celebration of the victory I have been sporting my Navy wool jacket as a testament to the team and to my alma mater in general.

While wearing said jacket at McDonald’s on a Sunday morning, a man slightly younger than me yet again congratulated me on the victory.  He was wearing an Army sweatshirt and jeans with a ballcap, but seemed friendly, and we joked good naturedly as vets do.  We talked a little bit about our service and our experiences, and we both had good things to say about the VA.  In the course of the discussion, former President Trump came up, and while we weren’t on the same page on the former president, we found common ground on the fact that the VA was better during and after Trump’s presidency.  We shook hands after a genuine exchange of holiday greetings, and went our separate ways, mutual respect in abundance.

I ate my breakfast and was headed back outside; I was due in church to make a joyful noise for God (I’m a drummer for the Praise Band).  Someone followed me outside.  It was another vet who noticed my jacket, but this exchange was very different.

I first noticed that this person carried himself much differently.  He had a hat on backwards, a shirt with ONLY the top button done (so that it frequently opened and I could see his stomach).  His pants were very low so that I could see his boxer shorts when his shirt opened, and that was often because of the whole button issue.  He said he had served in the Air Force, and was wondering “what the hell was going on,” because “people are sh**ing on those that defended the country,” and “treating us like crap.”  I was trying to be friendly, but this vet gave off a much different vibe than my new Army buddy.  He was aggressively trying to convince me that vets were being persecuted, and that the people in charge of this country were forgetting that they answered to the people.  He then started to complain about how things were getting stolen and the cops were more interested in traffic stops than arresting thieves, and started relaying a problem he had at Lowe’s trying to buy things that weren’t there because they “were all stolen.” 

At this point my senses were on full alert.  I remained friendly, but something was seriously off here.  First, I wouldn’t go to bed looking like this guy did leaving the house.  Second, I don’t think I ever met a vet who wasn’t at least appreciative of police officers; most are very pro-LEO.  Third, this guy struck me as the guy who believes the moon landings were faked, the government is trying to microchip us with vaccines, and the election was stolen.  I quickly excused myself and entered my truck, occasionally looking over my shoulder.

As I headed off to church, I was amazed at the difference between my two vet encounters. They served to illustrate to me that just like the rest of society, the veteran population is made up of everyone from the amazing to the whack jobs, and everyone in between.  Most vets I know are solid, balanced people.  Some are whiners.  Some are just flat out looney.  Genuinely felt bad for the second person, because somewhere along the way, either in his service or after, something really bad appears to have happened.

Anyway, moving on, it’s the holiday season, and usually one of my favorite times of the year.  Still away from my extended family on this island in California, but overall things are good, and we are preparing for two weeks off and a general, relaxing sort of time.  We have been watching Christmas movies and eating Christmas cookies and the like, and I wanted to take this time to wish all of my followers a Merry Christmas, or a happy holiday season if you pursue some other religious path during this time of year.

As usual, I tend to post some of my holiday writings this time of year, so here are two excerpts from my award-winning book (wow, that doesn’t really get old) GOD DOES HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.

First, a story about making a gingerbread house with my girlfriend at the time…


              Last Christmas my lovely and wonderful girlfriend decided that it would be nice if she and I spent some quality time “bonding.”  I agreed, and immediately suggested covering our bodies with chocolate sauce and sticking ourselves to each other.  She politely corrected me.  “No, you cretin.  Let’s do something creative and wonderful and incredibly time consuming.  Let’s build a gingerbread house.”

              For those of you not familiar with the idea, the basic premise as explained to me by the love of my life is that you spend approximately two lunar months (and about $31.48) constructing this masterpiece of culinery architecture, and then you give it away.  This made no sense to me, and I said as much.  She rewarded my honesty by threatening to drop the mixer down my shorts.  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

              We proceeded to begin construction.  Step one was to mix the gingerbread dough.  This was done with maximum mess and maximum violence.  First, I got smacked for tasting the dough a few (twelve) times.  Then, when I tried to sneak out to go do something more exciting (and safer), like rearranging my sock drawer, she got a little confused about what (whom) to use the rolling pin on.

              My escape thwarted, and my lack of enthusiasm resolved, (the threat of blunt trauma does wonders for my motivation), we continued upon our endeavor.  We rolled the dough into sheets, which would have been of uniform thickness, except that they weren’t, and applied the provided templates.  These were supposed to provide us with four similar walls, two identical pieces of for the roof, and pieces for the steeple.  They instead provided us with seventeen pieces that were similar only in that they were all made of gingerbread.  It was less and less likely that our gingerbread creation would ever resemble the majestic steepled creation on the box.  In fact, it was less and less likely that our gingerbread creation would ever resemble anything that would be even close to habitable, even by gingerbread people standards.  After I pointed this out, it was, however, more and more likely that I would be sleeping on the couch until July.

              According to the directions, we were supposed to assemble the pieces of our little cottage with “small spoonfuls of confectioner’s sugar.”  Yeah, right.  No real man would use “small spoonfuls” of anything during a construction job (ok, so it’s made of gingerbread, it’s still a house) so I began to load up the caulking gun.  My wonderful, loving girlfriend began loading up her father’s Winchester.  I’m a better shot, but I was slightly outgunned, so in the end, we went with the spoonfuls of sugar.  As I suspected, the sugar was totally inadequate.  It was two steps to the left of useless for joining anything, so I suggested crazy glue.  The princess suggested Bellvue. 

              Eventually, we succeeded in creating something resembling a structure that looked somewhat like a church if you looked at the right way (with your eyes closed).  At this point, I was no longer confused on WHY we would want to give this thing away.

              After we finally got it to stand on its own (IMPORTANT NOTE: cardboard and gingerbread are the same color), it was time to decorate it with candy.  This turned out to be pretty easy, as I kept two very important tenets in mind:

1) the more you sample, the less you actually have to waste on the house.

2) symmetry is unimportant to gingerbread people

              The last step was to create a gingerbread congregation to celebrate in our gingerbread church.  After much deliberation, we made a very professional community consisting of gingerbread lawyers, gingerbread doctors, gingerbread fighter pilots, and even a gingerbread President of the United States.  My girlfriend was very proud of our creation, and asked my opinion on a name.  I politely suggested “First Church of the Amazons,” as by some accident (yeah, right) ALL the members of the congregation (except the gingerbread janitor) were women.  She politely suggested I look into having a relationship by myself. 

              Finally finished, she asked where we should put it until it was time to give it away to the “lucky” recipients.  I suggested anywhere that it could not be reasonably associated with us.

              In the end, she was so pleased with our masterpiece, she ended up keeping it.  She did, however, give me away.


Hope you enjoyed that.  To wrap up, I offer probably one of my most famous writings (if this is familiar to you, it’s probably because you read it when I posted it last year).


              My father was the sixth child of seven,  and as such, never went to the bathroom until his older sisters went to college.  That of course has nothing to do with the fact that his father was a retail food merchant, and was very busy around Christmas time.  Because of that, Christmas in his house was always pretty hectic, and there wasn’t always time for decorating or tree trimming or anything like that.  My father vowed that when he had a family, he was going to make up for lost time.  Christmas was going to be the high point of the year, every year, for the rest of his life, and his family was going to have a jolly holiday, dammit, even if it killed us.  And a couple times, decorating our house almost did.

              Things didn’t start off out of control.  My family’s Christmas decorations had a rather humble beginning, actually.  That first year, Dad put a wreath and Mom put up a tree, and things were pretty much low key that season.  Then I was born, and as I grew, so did Dad’s commitment to having the house visible from orbiting spacecraft.

I remember helping my parents decorate the house when I was first growing up.  Dad, with my “help” (I was in charge of drinking the hot chocolate), would put up about seven hundred colored lights around our front door and windows.  As this was the seventies, and things like energy conservation, electrical safety, and good taste hadn’t been invented yet, these were not the cute soft little twinkle lights so popular today.  No sir, these were the gaudy, power guzzling two inch long behemoths of yesteryear.  They came about six to a strand, and when we plugged them in, the rest of the lights in the neighborhood would dim.  After about an hour these things put out enough heat to melt the polar icecaps.  We also wrapped the front door in tin foil, and put a large wreath up on the side of the house, so that everyone knew that we knew it was Christmas.

The inside of the house was Mom’s domain (she did, however, allow Dad to come in from time to time), and for about three weeks prior to Christmas, Mom would unpack decorations and put up little candles and bows and Santas and a whole bunch of other things.  Mom did allow Dad and I (again, I mostly drank hot chocolate) to decorate the trees.  Yes, I said trees.  As long as I can remember, my family has always put up two trees.  The one in the living room was fake, but we always said either “artificial” or “living impaired” so as not to hurt its feelings.  It was decorated in a very formal manner, just green and gold.  No red anywhere in sight, and Mom strictly enforced that.  I tried to hang a red ball on it once, and got spanked with a giant candy cane.  Now that’s the true meaning of Christmas.  Green and gold, no questions, no exceptions.  Santa was watching.

Our second tree was a real tree, downstairs in the basement.  In keeping with Dad’s theme of putting lights on everything within reach, this tree was covered with colored lights.  These were the indoor version of the ones outside, slightly smaller and less kilowatt consuming (still, my family’s holiday energy use contributed heavily to this country’s  race to perfect nuclear power) and produced slightly less (about two degrees) heat, but were every bit as gaudy.  In addition, we put lots of brightly colored glass balls on the tree, in order to cover the tackiness of the lights with an even greater tackiness.  Still, this was the seventies, and tacky was in, so we were happy.

Downstairs across from the tree is where we set up the manger scene.  A manger scene, for you pagans,  is a depiction of the birth scene of the baby Jesus.  A typical manger scene has the Holy Family, an angel, two shepherds, three kings, and animals commonly found in the Middle Eastern region, such as sheep (to keep an eye on the shepherds) and donkeys and oxen.  Our manger scene, which took up most of the basement, had the extended Holy Family, including aunts and uncles, four shepherds, an entire flock of sheep, six oxen, two donkeys, about a battalion of angels (not cute little cherubs, either), the three kings with their queens and concubines and bodyguards and camels, and a whitetail deer.  Yes, one whitetail deer.  Not being very smart, I never realized that whitetail deer do not normally inhabit the middle eastern regions.  Apparently, Dad’s little sister gave it to him, and made him in a moment of weakness promise to make it a part of our manger scene, and zoological propriety be damned.  Mom has often since been grateful that Dad did not have a younger brother who gave my father a model car, or else the  manger scene might contain Joseph and Mary in a ’57 Chevy (though I always thought that would look really cool).

As I got older, our decorative scheme became rote.  We went to extremes every year, but it was the same extreme, so we were comfortable, and a little bored.  Then one day, my brother was born, (I had asked Santa for a puppy) and we had to move.  My entire twelve years of life were turned upside down, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, here comes Christmas.

Our new home presented some interesting decorating challenges.  It had an entire extra section of roof to decorate, for one thing.  For another, it was a lot longer, and if we were to continue to use the seventies lights (which in the eighties were getting expensive) my parents would have to get another mortgage. Finally, there was an entire new power grid to tamper with.

Our first attempt in the new home was a valiant effort, but extremely inefficient.  In order to get all the lights to go on, we had to throw two switches, plug in six plugs, and fire up an auxiliary generator.  Everything looked great though, and with a little bit of burn salve, we healed quickly.

As the years progressed, we learned from our mistakes, and every year we made improvements in the system.  Our triumph came the Christmas of my senior year in college.  On that blessed occasion, after studying electrical diagrams for three weeks prior, and spending $312 on extension cords and those little things you screw into light sockets so you can plug said extension cords into them, we were able to get all of our holiday decorations to light up from only two switches.  We celebrated.  Then we sang.  Then we blew two fuses in our house, and one across the street.  We have several times since tried to get everything to run off  just one switch, but sadly the goal still eludes us.  One year, after a particularly bad start, we actually regressed to three.  Dad took that pretty hard, but he’s ok now.

Coming from a large Italian family (meaning that it is a family of very large Italians) no discussion of the holiday season would be complete without discussing food.  Christmas eve dinner is perhaps the most joyous meal in my family, and every year we prepare for it with the same zeal that the Allies prepared for Normandy (it’s about that noisy, too.).  Each year we alternate between our brightly decorated house and my Dad’s cousin’s house.  Their house is about the same as ours, except, according to them, more “tastefully” decorated (which is the polite way of saying they put up a hell of a lot less lights).  We invite all the relatives in the local area (who aren’t doing time) in for the feast.

AND WHAT A FEAST IT IS!  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner includes seven different kinds of fish.  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner in my family also includes six different kinds of pasta, five different types of pastries, four bottles of wine (per person), three types of scotch, two turtle doves, and a Frank Sinatra Christmas album.

As we gather around the table stuffing ourselves, the older members of the family engage in the timeless family tradition of getting hammered, coupled with the other timeless family tradition of getting really LOUD.  As they do this, Mom always picks this time to break out the video camera to record the event.  As Mom has often had a few drinks herself, her ability to hold the camera steady is somewhat disrupted.  The end result every year is a ten minute long movie of a bunch of older drunk people yelling loudly at the sober grand children during what appears to be an earthquake. 

And I wouldn’t trade any of it.

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