Tuesday, December 20, 2011

White Elephant Parties and A New Gold Standard

I recently attended a so-called "White Elephant" holiday party. You know the kind - where everyone brings a wrapped gag gift and you draw a gift at random. These types of parties, to my mind, present an open challenge. Who among the party goers can do something really clever? Sure, you'll always get the old favorites...bright red thong panties with provocative messages emblazoned on the fanny (old and tired, unless you show up wearing them), fart machines, various and sundry sex toys (generally of the larger variety to add to the "wow" factor, and undeniably finding their way to the bedside drawer), voodoo dolls in the shape of controversial political figures, the "Leg Lamp" from A Christmas Story, the occasional Osama bin Laden dart board. All solid efforts, to be sure. But the real contest is to find something truly different and witty. Something that leaves people breathless from laughing, and amazed at your ingenuity and devilish humor. At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, the real task is juxtaposition - if you can combine items around a theme and add a hint of Christmas, you've likely got a winner. I admit to a few favorites among my (and others') past submissions. These include, in no particular order:

- A box containing a 12-inch Bowie knife, a camo Santa hat and a tin of Skoal Long Cut (this was a hit, although there was one minor injury that resulted when the recipient, post several bottles of wine, became a bit too animated with the Bowie knife);

- A manual containing 365 sexual positions (one for each day), a tin of Spotted Dick, a six-pack of malt liquor, and candy stripe panties.

- A can of Mountain Dew and a single serving bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, in a large Neiman Marcus box and wrapped in fancy silver paper.

But this year, if I do say so myself, I set a new high-water mark for White Elephant gifts. I ordered a funny little sculpture, about a foot high, found of all places in the "SkyMall" catalog. (The one that every person who's ever set foot on a plane has read in final 20 minutes of any flight, after we've been forced to power down all other reasonable time killers).

Now, the statue is pretty entertaining in its own right, but I wanted to give it that extra something; that "pop" that would have people talking about this party on Monday. So I drafted and enclosed with the Squirrel Thinker an inspirational poem to provide the lucky recipient with a context in which to consider this particular gift. And so I submit for your edification:

An Inspirational Poem to Accompany "The Squirrel Thinker"

As I sat one day engrossed in deep thought,

The meaning of life, answers to questions I sought.

Could I be making more money? Always hole out in two putts?

I knew it was time to sit on my nuts.

The house is a wreck and the kids are a mess;

A wife to support, a boss to impress.

Went to a party and danced like a klutz.

Only one thing to do – sit on my nuts.

It’s Christmas again and you’ve bought not a present,

The noise, lines and crowds at the mall are unpleasant.

When you dream of kicking fake Santa’s butts,

Take a deep breath, and sit on your nuts.

And now friend I pass this wisdom to you –

A squirrel with a message; a new world view.

When the going gets tough, when like becomes tricky,

Sit on your nuts (but watch out for your dicky).

Happy Holidays.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Wow! Mom Could Write!

So, among my Mom's things, I found a couple of things she wrote. A poem called 'The Whistle' and a children's story called 'Toddy and Her Sisters' which is an awesome story, told from my daughter Ellie's perspective, about my Mom (Toddy) and her two sisters, Jan and Stephanie (or 'Lou', as she is affectionately known by the family. So here they are, preserved for posterity.

The Whistle

So here I sit, to write an epistle,
and propose a totally new kind of whistle.
A tweet to call back all the stuff that is gone,
Credit card, car keys, porcelain swan.
The old rubber duck, the one tennis sock,
The one rusty key that fits the old clock.
All the things that we had, now that are lost -
A 'boy wish I had that back' type riposte.
The sneaker lace aglet, and an earring back,
Serengeti shades, and much bric-a-brac.
A whistle perhaps only young cats can hear,
that causes our old, mislaid stuff to appear.

But what if the good old lost things aren't enough,
And we also get back all the bad and crude stuff?
The nasty note that I once threw away.
The rusty sixty Chevrolet.
The homely, scrawny guy that I dumped,
The crossword puzzle that had me stumped.
The things that I never wanted to see,
The speeding ticket and guilty plea.
The go-go boots and the poodle skirt,
A water gun that never would squirt.
The tunic that made me look like Moses,
The vase that came with the too late roses.

Guess I'd best just forget this whistle,
And put a swift end to this here epistle.

Toddy and Her Sisters

Do you have a family? I certainly do.
A Mommy, a Daddy and grandparents too.
Four aunts and some uncles, three lovely first cousins,
in-laws and outlaws and others in dozens.

But the three weirdest ones, and I swear that it's true,
Are my grandma called Toddy, Aunt Jan and Aunt Lou.
Although they are sisters, they're different as snowflakes.
Only one thing in common - they're all real fruitcakes.

Now Mommy and Daddy are really just fine.
Daddy is handsome and funny and kind.
Mommy is pretty and sweet as can be,
But Tod, Jan and Lou should all live in a tree.

Toddy is silly and wacky and wild.
Sometimes I'm the grandma. Sometimes she's the child.
She calls my Dad Beanpot and Booty and Bu,
Though just why she does it I haven't a clue.

She calls me her Chicken, her Skitchum, her Skeeter,
Princess and Kitten, Woofer and Tweeter.
Mom and Dad say she's just playing a game,
But I think she's nutso and weird all the same.

She won't call me Ellie, so what should I do?
Maybe carry a placard or get a tattoo?
Put my name on a sticker above my right eye?
If she sees it enough, then maybe she'll try!

Number two of the sisters is lazy Aunt Jan.
She lays in the sun, but's too lazy to tan.
She sleeps and she dreams then she shuffles around,
Sometimes until noon in her robe and night gown.

She carries a pillow wherever she goes,
Just in case, unexpectedly, she just has to doze.
Her horses are walkers, her cats without motion.
To quiet and peace she has total devotion.

Big soft gray fuzzies live under her bed.
Even her dog acts just like he's dead.
If she has to do dishes or shopping in town,
She sighs a great sigh and says 'let me lie down!'

Aunt Jan is so sleepy, but what can be done?
Put a mouse in her bed or bang on a drum?
Or maybe just shouting and laughing all day
Is the best thing to keep the Sandman away!

Unlike both her sister is busy Aunt Lou.
All day she has trillions of somethings to do.
She wiggles and squiggles and bounces off walls,
And talks on three phones while juggling four balls.

She runs here and there and this was and that,
She mops and she gardens and brushes the cat.
Meeting a lawyer, instructing a groom,
Washing her car and riding her broom.

Time is the one thing she always has not.
Everything that she does, she does at a trot.
Important or fleeting, gigantic or small,
She can't seem to rest 'til she's finished it all!

Though perhaps it's myself who's the weirdest of all.
'Cause I think they're funny; in fact they're a ball!
Just think when I'm tired and must take a nap,
The best place to be is in Aunt Jannie's lap.

And if I have something important to do,
I'll jump on my skateboard and catch up to Aunt Lou.
But when I feel silly and just want to clown,
I sure hope my grandmother Toddy's around.

I guess being different is really okay.
They all give out love in their own special way.
And a lot of that love will be coming to me,
Since I'm the much cherished pet of all three.

I'm impressed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Newspaper Article About Mom

As most of you know, my Mom (see "Don't Trip Over the Hose", below) passed away on February 10, at 6:45 a.m, as I held her hand. She had fought cancer for 6 years, and frankly the last year was particularly tough. The world is a lesser place without here, and she's left a hole in my heart that can never be filled. I am grateful for the memories and the privilege of having had the relationship we shared. But, net-net, it sucks. She was going to be 66 in September, and in this day, that is WAY too young. I know lots of low-quality people who live far beyond that, and the intergalactic fairness meter on the whole thing is off the dial on the low side. But anyway. I've pasted below an article that appeared in the local paper about her public service. She was apparently, in addition to being a hell of a lady, mom and friend, one hell of a public servant. I wasn't as close to this aspect of her life, living in California, but I'm certainly proud in retrospect.

Former Greene County Supervisor Jeri Allen Leaves Legacy

By neilswilliamson

By Pauline Hovey

To live with courage, dedication, passion, and integrity—what more could one ask of a public servant? When former Greene County Supervisor Jeri Allen died on February 10, she left such a legacy, as attested by those who knew her.

Allen served in Greene County government from 1996 when she joined the Planning Commission for a six-year stint, through December 2009, after completing two terms on the Board of Supervisors. But she continued her life of public service by serving on various boards until she lost her six-year battle with cancer. Along the way, she was instrumental in moving the county forward in the areas of economic development and financial stability, working hard for approval and construction of a water and sewer infrastructure project, a new elementary school in her growing Ruckersville district, and a new library/senior center, among other accomplishments.

Board Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) spoke fondly of Allen, whom he has known since 1999 and served alongside during her years as supervisor. “From a business standpoint, her single biggest accomplishment was the water and sewer infrastructure project,” Catalano said. “She had a vision to make that happen, and it was very complicated in the beginning. But her strong desire and her wisdom and understanding of business helped put that infrastructure in place.”

Allen was known for her well-informed decisions and well thought-out ideas, her understanding of the county’s current and future needs, and her ability to listen and to communicate. “She was a better communicator than any of us,” Catalano said, “and that facilitated a lot of things with the board because of how she conducted herself. Being the only woman on the board, she kept us all in check, presented a more sensitive side, and built a lot of bridges along the way to move things forward. And she was proud of that fact.”

Jim Frydl, current supervisor for the Ruckersville district, agreed that his predecessor’s greatest achievement on the board was the sewage treatment plant, “because it set up the county for potential economic growth. She singlehandedly pushed that so hard. She was like a little pit bull. Her passion and drive were as large as she was diminutive.”

Despite her small stature, Allen did not back down at the county level or the state level. She took on VDOT to pave a badly potholed gravel road leading into the county park—a park that many residents frequent and that hosts countless sporting events. “She found the [state] grant and pushed for 2 ½ years to get that road paved,” Frydl said. “You wouldn’t know that about her, but she was hard core and pushed and pushed.”

Despite the red tape involved and the length of time such VDOT projects normally take, “she got aggressive with VDOT and got that road paved,” Catalano said. “She used to tell me she was on it like a cheap suit.”

In addition to her support of the County Parks and Recreation Department, Allen was a strong supporter of the Greene County Technical Education Center (GCTEC), once donating a truck she had won from a county fundraiser to the school’s automotive program. She was also instrumental in bringing the Free Clinic to Greene County—a nonprofit dedicated to providing free health services to county residents unable to afford health insurance.

A dedicated public servant, Allen served on numerous boards while residing in the county: the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which she chaired for three years; the Rapidan Service Authority for seven years; Greene County Social Services; the Piedmont Workforce Network, a state-funded agency to facilitate job training and placement; the Greene Free Clinic; and GCTEC.

“People didn’t realize how many boards she served on,” Frydl said, “and she was active on all of them and just as passionate about every one of them. Everybody who knew Jeri knew she was somebody you could count on to work hard and improve things.”

Ray Dingledine, former superintendent of Greene County Schools, remembered Allen’s conscientious support of county schools. “Jeri was really proud of the schools,” Dingledine said. “She toured the facilities before making a decision to be sure she fully understood what she was voting on. She asked good questions about the school budget and always wanted to know the facts, and I respected that.

“The last school building project she voted for —the high school/middle school expansion project—it took two years to pass it,” he said, “and she was one of our #1 supporters. She totally supported our schools and community, and her opinion was always respected. She was willing to stand up for something even if it meant a battle.”

As a fellow supervisor, Catalano sometimes witnessed those battles. “At times we argued to the max,” he said, “but we respected and liked each other very much. She was a great confidante of mine, and she made me a much better supervisor than I would have been without her. She taught me that it’s not about being right, it’s about building consensus.”

Allen brought many years of business experience with her when she moved to Greene County in 1992, and she was president of Redding Consultants, an international business consultancy founded by her husband, until she retired in 1996. In addition to the countless hours she gave as a supervisor and offered as a volunteer, Allen donated her supervisor salary each year to organizations such as the Greene County Rescue Squad—just another demonstration of her desire to make a difference.

“Jeri wasn’t ego driven,” Frydl said. “She served to try to make things better.”