Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Festivus and Northern Lights

One of my favorite shows is Seinfeld. I used to watch it the dutifully dedicated way most people now watch Buffy or Friends. I grew up with people LIKE the people on Seinfeld... I knew someone like George. I knew someone like Kramer. So the characters resonated with me.

One of my favorite episodes has always been the Festivus episode where George's mentally deranged dad, Frank, starts his own holiday on December 23 as an irate response to a bad shopping experience when George was a child.

There are certain mandatory aspects of Festivus. There is the Airing of Grievances, where you sit at a table and let people know how badly they disappointed you in the last year. After dinner, there are the "Feats of Strength" where Frank (or the head of the household where the Festivus is taking place) picks someone to physically fight with. There is no Christmas tree or Hannukah bush, there is a metal pole. It is a very bizarre episode, rife with the dysfunctionality of the Costanza family, and painful at times to watch.

Ben and Jerry's even made an Ice Cream for Festivus. How cool is that?

You can visit their website, learn more, and find out where in your area you can buy Festivus Ice Cream, and decide if it disappoints you so you can invite Ben and Jerry to NEXT year's Festivus dinner so you can Air Your Grievances" against them.

You can also send Festivus Cards to those who disappoint you. There's a lot out there about Festivus.

When I worked at the college, one of my co-workers is Jewish so we would steer clear of the commercialized Christian/pagan "Christmas" aspects of the holiday season for his comfort and because it was a State School and we wanted to play politically correct (plus, he loves to complain about stuff like that so steering clear didn't give him the opportunity as often). We decided that it'd be fun to do a Secret Santa, but calling it a Secret Santa was politically incorrect and prime for Brian complaints.

So, we called it Secret Kramer. Named, of course, for Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld, as most of us did indeed enjoy the show.

For a couple of weeks before our Holiday Party gifts would be bestowed upon "Victims" by their own Secret Kramer. And hilarity ensued. The students got involved too. We did it the traditional way, where you pick a person's name and then you have to give that person a gift every or every other day, and the 'revealing' of the Secret Kramer was the day of the holiday party.

Some of the co-workers were particularly mean spirited and naughty. Well, not mean spirited really... "evil sense of humor-embodied" would be better to classify them. One Kramer "Victim" got all kinds of insane gifts. I remember being given a gift by the Kramer for a "victim" and told to put it in the Ladies Bathroom in my office area. The victim was male, and he had to go in and retrieve it.

It was his own license plate, removed from his car, wrapped beautifully with ribbons and bows.

It was drop dead funny. I honestly don't think I've ever laughed harder than at the two "Festivus" Secret Kramer periods of my life. Oh man I'm laughing now just remembering Jarodious' reaction to having to go INTO the women's can to get his gift AND opening it to find his own license plate.

The whole thing was too funny. I was there to Secret Kramer in 1998 and 1999. We didn't do it in 1997, my first holiday season there. Brian hadn't joined our staff and certain relationships hadn't been forged yet to make it so. But those two "Festivus" holiday years will be long remembered by me.

Pictured here is my buddy Phat Dan-nay (the one who just got married, the one who owns the dogs...) with one of his fabulous gifts that first of the Festivus years -- a Mac II that someone pulled out of the surplus closet and put a bow on, just for him. Priceless. Thing is, he looks thrilled to have it! (photo courtesy Brian).

Work was incredibly busy yesterday.

We have a new thing we're rolling out program-wise and all the communication to the employees will be smack dab on our intranet. Seeing as I'm the intranet goddess, I spent most of my day having paragraphs sent my way to put on a site, tables, forms, and other items to organize, storyboard, and layout. A lot of hurry up and wait, and hurry up and do it.

We want to announce the program to the employees before Friday. I stayed until about 6:30 ironing some bumps and links out, my boss took home a draft of the content, and I am sure today will bring a wave of edits, and then off to have my buddy in marketing proofread/content check the stuff, then FTP-o-Rama, and viola. New area of the portal done.

I like to run stuff by my girl there in marketing ("mad props" out to CB, she rules, I like saying "mad props." It makes me laugh) because she looks at the content we're given and says "this is departmental lingo. HR lingo may not translate to the common UNIX administrator. Can we re-word this sentence so it makes sense in English?" Coming from her people take it more seriously.

There is a lot of HR/Finance Speak that gets thrown my way, and I bristle when I get it. Usually I flag it, but as of late I've been letting CB or someone else do the language/content edit. My suggestions usually are received strangly, as if it is the program itself that is being challenged.

For instance, we had a sentence come through in a policy update that said "Company will not pay the gross-up for the employee." I have NO idea what gross-up is, although I had visions of someone being paid to vomit. So I mentioned it to someone in HR operations and they acted as if this is common knowledge... I told her I honestly doubted that 60% of the population considered it common knowledge. So she explained it to me (it has something to do with pre-tax reimbursement or something. The definition went straight through my cranium, in one ear...) and I told her I felt that needed changed.

She said she'd rework it.


I got mail from someone today out of the blue, my second "stranger" email ever. Only this time it was amazingly favorable and she gave me her journal to check out. Her name is Tess, so rock on and drop by her journal too. She lives in friggin Alaska of all places. Alaska... I have visions of Northern Exposure, or, cold expanses of wilderness blanketed with snow, spiked with conifer, and kind of ... hilly. In one of her entries she goes to the airport to pickup/dropoff someone, and she says she gets to see the Northern Lights.

My sister and I have been talking about our shared want to see the Northern Lights, not the way that they are sometimes seen this far south but up in say Labrador or Newfoundland, a full blown sky-wide acid-tab rendering of them. The way Bruce Cockburn (again, with the Bruce references. Lately if it isn't BNL it's Bruce) describes them in a song he wrote in 1978 near Medicine Hat:

"Sunday night and it's half past nine
I'm leaving one more town behind.
Mirrors are showing the day's last glow
As we're spit out into the jigsaw flow.
Ahead where there should be the thickness of night
star are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light.
Sky full of rippling cliffs and chasms
That shine like signs on the road to heaven.

I've been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.
So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
and tonight I feel like i'm made of air..."
-Northern Lights, (from "Dancin' in the Dragon's Jaws)

I can see us, parked on the edge of a large field, with a tree line off about 700 feet in the distance, scratching up into the colors of the sky with their piney black edging. We're on the hood of a car, drinking something warm and fulfilling. I am not sure what season the Northern Lights are best viewed in, but for some reason I feel it is warm enough to just be out in pants and a shirt, no need to coat oneself in polartek fleece or down. And it is just she and I (or is it her and me!) enjoying this celestial display. We'll do it one day. Get in the car. Drive for hours. Hours. Go up there. Camp? Bed and Breakfast? Who knows. Logistics aren't important. All I know is one day we'll do it. This picture, lifted off some website, was taken in March 2001. it looks so lovely. Stars are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light...

When we do this, either somewhere deep in Labrador/Newfoundland or up the globe in Saskatchewan, I hope my husband won't be too jealous that I leave him behind with the kids for once. Of course, I'd go back a second time and take him. But the very first time, that has to be with Linda. Just has to be.

I've been using "rock on" a lot lately for some reason when I talk. A few months ago I had re-connected with a friend of mine from our semester at the Oregon Extension, his name is Matt, and when we were updating each other about our lives, he kept saying "Rock On!!!" when I'd tell him something. With such sincere enthusiasm. Rock on! So I sort of adopted that in the past week. It just seems so much nicer than, 'Gee, that's swell.'

Speaking of rocking on, I heard a new song on the way to work by Neil Young. It's called "Let's Roll," the famous last words heard by cellphone from Todd Reamer on flight 93 on September 11. Neil took the concept of "let's roll," and applied it to what needed to be done on the plane and what needs to be done now. I'm not sure if the song itself embodies Mr. Neil Young's personal sentiments regarding September 11 or if it is just a character sketch, but knowing Neil's writing, he writes from himself most of the time, his opinions, his feelings... so chances are this is Neil's personal opinion.

The song pretty much is an anthem against the terrorists and how we have to rail against them, before any more of "us" die. It gave me the chills. It has more of a Pink Floyd feel to it, rather than that Neil Grunge "Weeerrrwerrr weeeeeerr weeeeerrrr rre re reee" guitar sound he does. Echoey, dark, plodding, angry. Brrr. I need to find the lyrics. There is one section singing about "Let's fight Satan on the wings of a dove" or something like that. I thought it was going to be corny at first, but leave it to Neil. Whether or not you were there in Ohio when there were four dead, or on flight 93 you really get a taste for how he feels about the situation the circumstance and the politics, and what needs to be done next.

This past weekend I got to visit for 20 minutes with my friend who is in Rehab. He looks great. The program let him leave the area unsupervised, with one housemate as a travel partner, to come up by train to our area and get his guitar.

He's been longing for his guitar for months now, since he went in program, and as a reward for doing so well they let him go up. He told me the house is incredibly strict. He's not allowed to make phone calls or have visitors. They let him call me to make the meeting arrangement, and we had to be off the phone in five minutes.

Sidebar rant here -- I can't understand why the program doesn't let people in recovery be in contact with a select few people from the person's past who genuinely care and want to help and provide support. I mean, his mom sets him off sometimes, pisses him off to the point where he wants to go use. But he's told me that without me and Doug over the last couple of years he'd have died by now. His sister is also a great influence of strength and stability. Why they don't let us at least write him letters, which THEY CAN READ AND SENSOR for all I care, is beyond me. I long to see him come out the other end of this, and not being in contact with him hurts him and hurts me. Shit. But it was good to have 20 minutes. 20 great minutes.

I got the genuine feeling he's doing really well... and now that he has the guitar, the first addiction and love of his life, he'll hopefully do even better. I'm going to buy him some sheet music for some songs I want him to learn how to play, specifically "When I Fall" by BNL. He had some great stories to tell, and the guy with him (a recovering alcoholic) was a riot. I asked him if living in the house setting was like being on "The Real World," and he laughed, "Yeah, only we don't have any fun and no sex with hot college chicks."

Too bad there buddy. His program is a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. He's been there three months already, and he'll be done in March. March 30, 2002. Hopefully the day he'll walk away from the life and never ever need to walk back in.

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