Sunday, December 25, 2011

Honoring the Real Santa

He's round with rosy cheeks and John Lennon glasses. A full white beard rests on his chest and the slippers on his feet cover a toe he injured somewhere along the way.  Perhaps he stubbed it getting up for a cup of hot chocolate after falling asleep reading in front of a fire.

I don't believe in a lot, but I do believe in the spirit of Santa.  I knew the real Santa.  He looked nothing like the jolly elf you see in ads, shopping malls and movies.  Santa was crusty.  Kinda beat up.  Instead of rosy cheeks, his skin was weathered and pocked from years working on a farm and in the coal fields. His smile was off-kilter, perhaps the effects of a stroke.  He didn't smell the best.  Kinda smelled like old flesh.  He had one bad eye, and that one kinda oozed as time went on, but the good one twinkled from a goodness within.  

His name was Henry Krantz.  He's one of those jewels you rarely hear about because he and his kind are tucked away in nowhere. Henry was probably as poor as they come.   Instead of a fancy red suit, he dressed in worn overalls.  He lived in a simple house in the country and had a falling-down barn with an old horse in residence that was more beat up than Henry. Henry loved that horse, but Henry had a soft spot for those less fortunate.

Every week, Henry made the rounds of local businesses asking for donations and he'd collect a dollar or two, then he'd invest in a little sugary cheer.  He'd pop into the hospital and nursing home and pass out candy.  "I walk into a room and say 'you look like hell!'" he told me once.  "People are there because they are sick, they don't want someone telling them they look good.  Tell them they look as bad as they feel."  Henry may have been the only visitor people had all week.  

But, Henry's real calling was for the kids.  All year long, Henry collected toys - old broken toys that we lucky kids had no further use for.  Toy cars with broken doors,  fire engines missing wheels, plush dogs missing ears and stuffing, and dolls who's heads had fallen off and were missing eyes.

And, after collecting these hundreds of toys, Henry sat in his workshop and made them new.   He painted, fixed, stuffed.  He inserted eyes and reattached limbs.  He found a woman with a sewing machine who made sure that no doll went naked.

Then, every year on Christmas Eve, Henry donned a cheap red suit, boots and smelly white beard and made the drive to "The State Training Center", the area residence of so many mentally handicapped individuals.  Many of them were forgotten during the holidays, and Henry made sure those kids knew that they were special in the heart of Santa. 

Henry was the real deal……..  But the guy in the red suit?  He sits on my mantle this time of year.  A reminder of Henry and the real Santas of the world.  One of my Mother's best friends, Charlene Westling, knew the pain of having a child severely affected with Downs Syndrome.  Charlene was an angel.  She became a doll maker, and for her special Santa doll she used the face of her father who was also a farmer, or some such thing.Though tall and lanky, there is no mistaking that her Santa has the face of her Dad, and probably embodies his spirit as well.  There's real goodness in the man's face.

Charlene's Santa reminds me that, while I personally could do without this time of year, the true spirit of the season, the spirit of Henry Krantz, is something worth honoring.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Hate This Time of Year

The frog that looks like my Mom
It starts in July.  The advertisements for things you can't live without.  Oh, PLEEEEASE!  By October the annoying carols are beating your ears senseless.  It is like listening to the opening and closing of a rusty door for hours.  When water-boarding doesn't work, terrorists probably resort to the constant onslaught of Christmas Carols to force prisoners to rat out their mothers.

If other people want to spend days putting up tinsel that will only murder their vacuums,  or killing trees to park in their living rooms so they can watch them slowly wither and die, that is fine. It just isn't for me.  We stopped allowing my Mom to put up a tree when we were in junior high.  She had to decorate a small live one.  My poor Mom.

But, then, I've never seen much of anything in the way that the mainstream human population sees things.  I used to irritate my family, pushing them to volunteer to cook at a shelter on Christmas Day rather than the usual big family meal with presents and such.  THAT suggestion wasn't entertained past the immediate response of "NO!"

And, I hate to admit it, but when my Mom died, the first things to go were the 8' Christmas wreath (which now hangs outside an area church that appreciates it), the plastic holiday 'greens' and the red table cloth.  Long ago, she used to put a red light bulb in the street light in front of our house, though.  She probably stopped it when someone mentioned that people traveling through town thought we ran a brothel.  I'd consider returning to that tradition, just for fun…….

Arayo at Mom's tree
Not being a hunter, I have a personal aversion to camo clothing (I understand you can now get  wedding dresses and baby wear in camouflage - in case you want to take your 3 month old or your new bride out to kill something for that truly special occasion).  In the same category, I don't get the holiday sweaters.  They aren't awful, but I just don't see the point in owning a sweater covered with Christmas lights, packages or wildlife with big red noses.

But, today I decorated for Christmas.  I found this frog - lovely thing with big red lips, wearing a bra and a tutu.  It looked like my Mom. So I bought it .  Off I went to the park and tied it to the tree which the city put up in Mom's honor.  Right now the tree is a baby and looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, and you'd have to be walking right next to it to notice the frog, but since the frog reminded me so much of Mom, and since she DID like Christmas, it all seemed fitting.  A friend went along with me and attached an 8 or 9" gold ball to the tree as well.  THAT will get some attention.  Twiggy tree, with one extravagant big gold ball and, if you look closely, this kinda slutty looking frog.  I love it!

I considered decorating the tree at the park that was planted in my Dad's honor, but I'm trying to figure out how to string batteries and antennas together into a radio-guy kinda statement.  Maybe next year

I figure you can be a Scrooge to a point - then one needs their own quirky way to celebrate. Still, I'll be glad to see an end to this season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

How About the Over Employment Rate?

It seemed Orwellian.  Unsmiling  women, similar age, shape, demeanor.  Pushing papers about identical gray desks in a huge room full of identical gray desks.  Through the big windows that opened into this space, I felt like I was watching a scene from "1984".  

I am here to pay taxes.  I stand at the window and look at the three women nearest me who are so fascinated with their paper-moving that they have yet to look up or acknowledge my presence.  The unhappiness emitting from these woman is oppressive.

Finally, a woman stands and approaches the counter.  I hand her my papers and check, made out for the entire amount due.   Then she utters the only words of this entire transaction; "Are you paying for the entire year or half?"

Perhaps she can't read?  I bite my tongue to keep from asking "does the total on the check equal half or all the payment?"

I tell her the obvious.

She processes the payment, hands me a receipt and, without cracking a smile, turns and goes back to the safety of her gray desk, resuming the unhappy paper-pushing demeanor.

It really is like something out of a sci-fi movie.  Robot-humans doing their jobs.  Part of me is sad for them -  content to lead such an existence.  Most of me is enraged.  I just paid this woman's salary for the month and she can't smile, act engaged and say "thank you?"

In a country where the official unemployment rate is 8.6%, and I'd guess that the unofficial rate, including people who are underemployed, is more like two to three times that, THESE WOMEN HAVE JOBS?

This encounter followed a conversation with a doctor's office that went like this:

Me -  "Did you get the CD I sent with the CAT scan?" 

Overpaid Person (OP) - "No, we didn't get it."

Me - "Really? It should be there."

OP - "Well, it isn't."

Me - "I sent it a week ago and it was just going 35 miles, I can't believe it didn't make it.

OP - "No, it isn't here.  Maybe it is in the back and they didn't give it to me."

Me - "sigh….."

LATER - OP - "It is here.  It is the same."

Me -  "The same? So you found the CD, the doctor looked at it and said it hasn't change? When someone called after receiving the report I was told it was better."

OP - "No, it hasn't changed."

Me - "But, after 3 weeks of antibiotics, when I saw the CAT scan, it looked better than before, and the report said it was better."

OP - "This is what the doctors said. 'The infection is clearing,' so nothing has changed."

Me - "You are telling me it is the same and you are telling me it is better.  Which is it?"

OP - "I'll let you talk to someone in the back."

Person Earning Her Salary - "The doctor looked at the CAT scan and the infection is much better than before.  You don't need to do anything else unless you begin to have problems down the road."

Sigh……….   I hung up the phone, not relieved that the sinus infection was better, but amazed that ding-dongs are still holding down jobs.  With the current unemployment rate, this physician could probably get someone with a  PhD in communications to answer the phone for him. Someone who can charm the public, or at least give a sensible response to a question.  But, no, he's still got Ding Dong dealing with his public.

Maybe its just me, but I tend to think you should treat people with respect and that people dealing with the public should have some common sense and a slice of personality. I'm running into too many people (ouch - mostly women) who seem so miserable or inept, I think the kindest thing would be to relieve them of their current jobs and hire someone who is happy to be working with the public.

Life is short.  Too short to either work in a job that makes you miserable or to have someone working for you that is unhappy or a ding-a-ling. And, with so many people actively looking for work I'm amazed with the people actually draw a paycheck!