Wednesday, December 17, 2014

real christmas stories

true lies


Santa came to our house on the eve of Christmas Eve each year, the night before December 24th, a whole day earlier than for everyone else I knew. My mom explained to us that there were way too many people in the world for Santa to visit on one night, so he had a special Christmas Eve list and we were on it. We also opened our presents ahead of tradition on Christmas Eve night, right after dinner, not the next morning like everyone else. But we didn't ask for an explanation for that difference, not after waiting an entire day, from dawn to dusk, with unopened Christmas presents in the house.

Yes, later when we were older we learned that mom had practical reasons for breaking with tradition. She wanted to avoid squirmy children at church on Christmas morning. She had learned that, whether presents were opened right before or immediately after church, they danced too much in the eight wee little heads she needed to keep calm through Christmas morning mass.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

silver linings


This week, I've had a couple different people attempt to sell a "silver lining" to me or someone else that they've hurt—to convince us of a positive outcome to the negative situation they themselves created for us.

We all know what that is about: they feel bad for what they've done and rather than say, "I know this doesn't make things right, but I'm sorry," they try to convince the other person that somehow he or she will or has already come out on the other side better for it:

"Maybe that was never meant to be. Something better will come along."

"You never would have discovered [A] about yourself, if you hadn't gone through [B]."

"You look like a sexy pirate with that eye patch."

It reminded me of when I was a young Jesuit seminarian and our superiors were assigning us to our first teaching gigs.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

how susceptible to facebook quizzes are you?


74%: I got Fois Gras!

Or some such nonsense.

Sure they're fun and seem to reveal the depth of how seasoned a Kansas City Royals fan or what beloved Saved by the Bell character you are.

But did you know that the online quizzes you see regularly on Facebook and other social media are actually marketing tools designed to gather consumer information?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

sidewalks of new york

a field guide for taming the wild pedestrian

When I arrived in New York 25 years ago, there was a shared sense on the street that if you didn't follow the rules you could get hurt.

Figuring out the correct side of the sidewalk and how to navigate taxis, bike messengers, and loose mental patients was part of survival in this tough City. It was also part of being a good fellow New Yorker. You felt proud of yourself as you accomplished the ways of the City. Similar to stepping confidently onto a "people mover" at the airport, you learned what "regular coffee" really meant at a street cart, how to fold your Times so as not to annoy fellow subway passengers, how brief a question needed to be for a New Yorker to answer it, and that you always stayed to the right and moved attentively on the sidewalk.

True New Yorkers knew these things. New New Yorkers wanted to learn them quickly. Visitors wanted to know so as not to draw attention to themselves. We were all in it together. And if you hadn't figured that out yet, you quickly did, or risked being run off the curb.

But today, there is an epidemic of untamed pedestrians roving the sidewalks as if none of this was ever necessary. Whether they were raised without socialization, came to NYC fooled by the promise of a Lego or Disney store on every corner, or simply are disconnected from the real world by their digital devices, too many pedestrians have become stubborn obstacles on a maddening course, unaware of the danger they put themselves in, or the disruption they are to the City's flow.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

f*ck


Last week a friend posted a Gawker video of consummate New York actress Elaine Stritch saying "fuck" while on the Today show to promote Shoot Me, the new documentary about her life.

I actually don't understand why hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford were so surprised, except to fain chagrin for anyone in the home audience who was offended by it. But I suspect most people would have been more surprised if Stritch had not said "fuck." She has built a long career on being herself—a crusty New York broad who speaks her mind with unapologetic gusto and humor—and everyone knows it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

gray's papaya lights go out on 8th street


Eater.com has spent the past few days celebrating the life and death of Gray's Papaya at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, with photos of its bright orange lettering being removed from its awning and reminiscent post from followers about drunken munchies and Gray's goofy signage.

I, myself, best remember Gray's Papaya, and the Famous Ray's Pizza of Greenwich Village a few blocks up Sixth Avenue (which also recently closed for the second and final time), on my late-night walks home from Bob's NYU dorm during our first year in New York, when he lived in graduate student housing on Third Avenue and I lived in the Jesuit Community on 17th Street.

Friday, December 6, 2013

madela's peace and 1960s christmas

Jim and Jane Henson’s handmade
Christmas card from 1960.
Nelson Mandela’s death reminds me of all the great men and women who put their lives on the line for peace and justice, especial those of my childhood.

As a kid in Catholic grade school in the 1960s I was very aware of what the "reason for the season" really was. It was something more powerful than Santas kneeling before a manger, a fish on a bumper sticker, or a fight in a mall parking lot over being wished the wrong happiness.

We were taught that the message of the first Christmas was the longed-for good news of the coming of peace and justice to those who needed it most: the poor, the war-torn, the oppressed, and to ourselves when we recognize our humble role in the story. The great messengers of my childhood were not just from MY church or MY country, but from all over OUR world, and these men and women literally risked their lives for it.

I remember how, in grade school art classes at this time of year, we made faux-batik Christmas cards, by covering a bright rainbow of crayon colors with a thick layer of solid black crayon, and then carving words and patterns through the black down in to reveal the colors. The waxy messages were mostly of peace, as we listened to the words of JFK, MLK, RFK, Gandhi, John XXIII, Dorothy Day, and the Berrigans. We learned that Peace, with a capital “P” was not a silent night or a snowy nativity scene, but something radical, that stood in the face of the predominant culture, that often told us, even Christians, something we might not want to hear, but sounded more like “glad tidings of great joy” than any other words being preached.

May Nelson Mandela rest in the peace he championed, and may we all continue his work to bring it to the world.