Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Paean

You never know what you're going to find in the dollar store. [I love the sensation of allowing myself temporary status as world's biggest sucker on passing through the door; also, it's like getting an extra prize in the Crackerjack to live in such a depressed area, because then one has so many different dollar stores to choose from. Although you learn just how depressed your region is when the dollar stores start going out of business en masse.] Like a DVD collection of ancient Christmas cartoons, including one for which Paul Anka did the songs; it features early seventies space robots dancing as well as a flying gang of aliens called the Bells Angels. Then there is the B&W "Toyland Caper," from the dawn of cinematic time; one must be grateful for the fact that this material is being archived, even if it is shockingly violent (the cats get beat up very badly by the proto-Mickey Mice). Or maybe because of that. I don't know.

Whatever, it made a fabulous beginning to the December 7 Home Film Festival of Holiday Movies of Yesteryear, subsumed in the general heading of Pizza Picnic, a weekly observation in our household. It does not necessarily concern pizza, but it does concern dinner eaten on the bed during family movie night. Nelly has been conditioned, whenever a certain large round tray is brought out, to evince uncontrollable excitement at the memory of my stupid decision, years ago when she was just a puppy, to bring her dinner upstairs too. Although I discontinued this practice years ago, the excitable behavior (you got it: screaming) has not extinguished. Why? Of course, you moron: you replaced dinner with something else edible. That's because, in my attempt to keep her quiet so we can actually watch the goddamn movie, I have to do so with a batch of tiny treats. I am trying to keep her quiet and on the floor, so she is not seen creeping inexorably closer to our plates on the "table" in order to finally reach out with her snake of a tongue and snatch the victuals right out from under our forks. The gold stars in this scholarly lesson are leftovers, spirited home in sodden paper napkins, from restaurant meals. Fine food that would otherwise be thrown away.

This gives me an idea that I know would never fly: partner to the excellent effort carried out in cities to collect uneaten food from restaurants to feed the needy. Well, what about the half-eaten stuff off plates? That could be collected to feed needy animals. That gristle and half-consumed salmon fillet; that lima bean puree and excess hamburger--all far better nutrition than the processed, dead, chemical and byproduct laden stuff they call dog food. To those who are offended by the notion of giving "people food" to animals, I say: You blooming idiot. How the heck is a dog to understand your arbitrary categories? They know only tasty food, and yucky food. Those are the only meaningful distinctions they can comprehend. After all, "dog food" is the invention, a mere seventy years ago, of hucksters who needed a place to unload "excess" wild horses (now there's a concept) and slaughterhouse detritus.

Instead, my dog is dining on bits of a feta-and-spinach omelet, courtesy of Sweet Sue's in Phoenicia, and the remnants of my dinner partner's chicken quesadilla, from Chefs on Fire (you read that right). All while Burl Ives sings tunefully from the little box, as the immortal Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cavorts across the screen. I've seen this movie every year since the time I was six, and I will never tire of it. Now my son embarks on the same journey. I hope that, although the landscape of life is now changing permanently, constricting in ways I think we are only now beginning to imagine, a permanent shift from the bloated consumption we had come to think was the American way, a misfit elf who wanted to become a dentist, and the little reindeer who was different from the rest, will accompany us into the future. Every year, no matter what else may come.


Catherine said...

So classic and retro and immortal at the same time. Each of our children has embraced this holiday classic as their own tradition, too.

One of my vivid Christmas memories in Akron was being at Summit Mall with my baby brothers, mother and neighbor friends. We cruised around Woolworth's, were captivated by those fountains and holiday decor (weren't those aqua blue fountains, with their penny-lined wishes, transporting?), and went to that (probably awful) buffet right next to Woolworth's. Well, Carolyn, my neighbor friend got sick. Home we all went but I was glad because I didn't want to miss Rudolf! And we didn't. I'm guessing this was 1967-68. It may have even been only the first or second time I saw the show.

Have a blessed Christmas and holiday,


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

You know what? Once upon a time I wrote a poem titled "Summit Mall"--my widowed grandmother, lonely as hell (now I see it; too late, of course) used to take the bus there and wander. In the poem I have a line about those fountains: there was something about them, eh? Just like "Rudolph," and those other childhood memories we put into the velvet-lined box of our hearts to keep forever.

I hope you, and all those I love, have warm, happy, serene holidays. Spread it around to all.

Catherine said...

They were magic. I can still hear the woosh of the fountains, smell the water, see the pennies, and was dazzled by that aqua blue.

My mother, a sometimes lonely suburban wife of three children, would often take us there to stroll as children, especially in winter months when parks were bleak. I don't remember mass consumption but just taking it all in. Downtown stores were trickling away then and I have a vague memory of Christmas windows at O'Neils or Polsky's downtown (but just one).

Of course, on my last visit to Summit Mall, those fountains had long been replaced and were probably deemed hazardous. But I loved them.

Melissa, of COURSE you wrote a poem about them! We probably even passed each other in the mall a few times...

I hope you have a lovely holiday with your son, Nelly, friends and family. And thanks for your nice words about Lucy--a soul dog, yup, that was her.