Friday, January 3, 2014

The Holidays

“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up – they have no holidays.”  Henny Youngman

Famous for rapid-fire one-liners, comedian Henny Youngman (1906-1998) was the best nightclub performer of his time who often made fun of his wife Sadie and titled his autobiography “Take My Wife, Please.”

Over the holidays I mixed in reading, gaming, and TV watching (sports mainly) with family fun.  At one time or another a total of 15 folks stayed at the condo, including a dozen overnight guests at a time.  The Halberstadts had the grandest Game Weekend ever, lasting five days.  We received Christmas cards with photos from many friends, and I talked on the phone with college roomie Rich Baker (our fiftieth Bucknell reunion is coming up), Marianne Brush (who saw Cracker at the Chicago Hilton and then partied with the guys afterwards), brother-in-law Sonny (about the playoff-bound Eagles and high school sweetie Gaard (now a Californian again).
Geoff Paddock’s Traces article on Marvella Bayh, wife of former Senator Birch and mother of Evan, is entitled “A Shining Example.”  Beautiful and talented, she suffered serious injuries in a car accident shortly after their marriage, survived a plane crash that almost killed Ted Kennedy, and lost a battle with breast cancer at age 46.  Paddock left out that Marvella’s dad, an alcoholic, to whom she was extremely close, murdered his second wife and then committed suicide.
J. Michael Lennon’s “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” ends with the literary lion, age 84, weighing less than a hundred pounds and barely able to walk.  He envied aged Eskimos who retreated to the forest and died fighting a wild beast.  The last time he visited a longtime mistress they only talked, but on his deathbed he flirted with a 29 year-old nurse.  Earlier he told sixth wife Norris he wished he were single and in Paris.  She replied that he’d meet a young girl his first day and would no longer be single.  Author Lennon, a personal friend, puts himself in the narrative as Mailer himself was wont to do.  Mailer’s last three novels were ponderous and impossible to finish.  After Mailer told Truman Capote, “I don’t think you’ve ever understood anything I’ve written,” the author of “In Cold Blood (which Mailer admired) answered: “How can I?  I get lost they’re so long.”  Mailer’s most vicious critic, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, conceded, in her words, his “quick skewering eye; a gift for the cameo portrait; bat-quality radar for atmosphere and mood; blustering bellicose prose; and copious talent for capturing the American spirit as it descends into ‘corporation land,’ with cheap consumer blandishments and the siren call of fame.”

Christmas Eve at Hagelbergs we enjoyed their grandson Jeremy, who despite only having been in America a year or so speaks passable English and danced a jig with me after winding up a holiday music box.  Our Christmas was two days late due to others’ family obligations.  On December 26 Toni hosted a ham dinner followed by tree decorating, the March of Presents, and games of Say Anything, Ingenious, and Werewolf.  Next morning I received socks, jelly, cologne, the CD “Foreverly” featuring Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones singing songs Don and Phil’s daddy taught them, and the territory building eurogame Terra Mystica.  Parquet Courts, the neo-punk band I’ll be seeing in January at Pappy and Harriet’s, made Robert Blaszkiewicz’s “Best of 2013” list.  Nephew Bob’s daughter Addie wrote saying she can’t wait to see Uncle Jimbo in the desert.
 Toni and Jimbo
Time constraints cut short the annual poetry read, but I recited Shel Silverstein’s “Lyin’ Larry,” which begins: “Larry’s such a liar – he tells outrageous lies.  He says he’s 99 years old instead of only five.”  December 27 was Anthony’s sixteenth birthday, and among his presents was Eminem’s new Martin Mathers CD.  Dave and Angie left for a Cheap Trick concert, preceded by the famed Star Plaza buffet.  Dave reported that Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, and company rocked but looked old.  After all, Nielsen is 67 and Zander turns 60 next month.

At Halberstadt’s thirty-fourth annual Game Week-end daughter Sheridan filled in as hostess since Robin was on a cruise.  I won Wits and Wages by guessing closest to the date New Amsterdam became New York (1664), then played poorly in Amen Re and flat-out sucked in Telestrations; in one round Charles Halberstadt thought my drawing of a pick-up truck was a golf cart.  The food was sumptuous, including a roast ham and the traditional beef sandwiches; my contribution was Cole slaw, cherry tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and chips.  Werewolf was fun with 16 people, but the Ghost card, which the moderator added, was so powerful the villagers had an unfair advantage. After I left, Dave organized a Texas Hold ‘em tournament with Brady Wade and collegians Austin and Alex that lasted till 5 a.m.

Sunday I won League of Six against Phil and Tyler, Patti, and Evan Davis, who taught us last year.  Patti had found a bunch at Goodwill, brought one home, loved it, and returned to the store to find the others gone.  Dave bought one for my last birthday, but we rarely play because T. Wade doesn’t like it. Phil and I were back at the condo for the Bears’ heartbreaking defeat against Green Bay and the Eagles fortunate win in Dallas thanks to a late interception.  Phil and Alissa stayed around on Monday and we reminisced about Christmases past at Maple Place.  With all the snow we’ve had, I’m glad we’re no longer there.

New Year’s Eve our furnace went out, and it took two trips by Randy from Summers Plumbing Heating and Cooling to make it right.  Jack Gruenenfelder’s daughter Dawn needed me to meet her in Merrillville at Budget Rent-a-Car and then drive her to M and S Collision Center in Valpo.  When Jack had a fatal heart attack driving home from a concert, the car crossed the road and crashed into a tree.  Heroic measures kept him alive a few days, but Dawn thinks he suffered brain damage.  He barely regained consciousness, just enough to express discomfort and shake his head no to every question people asked him. 
Anne Balay is spending New Year’s Eve in Berlin after visiting Budapest, the Alps, Salzburg, and Dresden, where daughters Emma and Leah bought little doughnuts called Quarks.  Miss them and hope 2014 finds justice prevailing in Anne’s tenure case.

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