Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Follies or BAH HUMBUG

Ransom soaking up the sun in the house

Okay. I admit it. I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Call me Scrooge Jones. Over the years I've tried to blame it on the weather, the shortened days, melancholy over being away from home and a host of other things. I just don't like the holidays. Period.

I know now it isn't the weather because we are currently in the most perfect weather anyone could ask for in Vero Beach, Florida. It is sunny nearly every day and has been hovering in the mid to upper seventies for a month. We have a lovely home here and our activities include daily walks on the beach with the dogs, swimming in the pool, sunning in the courtyard, sleeping, cooking, reading, bike really is a wonderful, restful spot. So it isn't the weather. Or the location.

When I lived in Oregon my sister Linda and I used to celebrate the winter solstice with a day at the art museum and dinner out or some similar activity. It was a celebration of surviving the dark days (in Oregon with the rain they are usually dark all day) and the fact that from December 21st to June 21st they got longer...a celebration of hope in a way...hope that we get through the dark days without having to talk each other down from the ledge. Okay, not quite that bad but bad. Since I've moved from Oregon and am now spending the holidays in Florida that hasn't been as much of an issue. In fact it is pretty much a non-issue. I do prefer the longer days of late spring and summer but getting daily sunshine seems to have alleviated the bad case of the drearies that I used to suffer from when I was geographically farther north. So it isn't the short days.

Breezy in Simpsonville before Thanksgiving

Being away from home on Christmas isn't it either although I do miss my family but I miss them all year long not just at Christmas. I've been home a couple of times in the last eight years at Christmas and it didn't seem to stop my out of sorts mood, my inclination to let my inner hermit take over my life and my constant clock watching in anticipation of when it will be over and we can get back to some sort of a normal life. So it isn't being away from home either.

The reasons I don't like Christmas have more to do with the greed, gluttony and some of the more bizarre traditions like cutting down a perfectly healthy tree, dragging it into your house, covering it with a bunch of stuff that you store for a year and use for two weeks, and installing lights on it thus turning it into a top of the line fire hazard (for those of you with children I do totally understand your delight in this ritual so please don't take this is my neurosis talking). And I despise the mall. I despise it in February, June and November. I totally detest it in December. The Internet has helped with mall-haunting issues but the bigger problem with shopping is what to get everyone. We all buy for pretty much the same people, pretty much all of our lives. At my age that is a long time. I'm finding as I get older that I want for a lot less and I assume that others are the same way so you have to become very inspired to buy gifts that are meaningful or at the very least useful and do not require dusting. Our family and friends mostly get food from us. Not meaningful and usually too high calorie to be useful. And very uninspired. So on top of everything else I suffer from a guilt trip for not finding inspiring gifts or for sending the same things year after year.

Show down between Ransom and the mini horse

On the food thing: I try every year to stay away from sweets and not over eat. Every year I swear that I'm not going to over eat. Every year I fail. The Christmas season is designed to highlight my weaknesses not my strengths. We always get yummy cookies (my biggest weakness in life) and candy and wonderful high calorie foods that are guaranteed to add that extra layer of goo around my waist, on my hips and thighs, and to those funny things that we get under our arms when we arrive at the time of life called "middle age"...what ARE those flaps for anyway? I gleefully (my only glee in December) indulge myself in sweets to counter the feelings of depression about the holiday. Christmas dinner is an excuse to gorge ("It's Christmas!" I say trying to find some way, ANY way to feel festive and in the spirit) and I eat until I can't either continue sitting or stand up. Laying down is the only alternative. By New Years when I get on the scale (tomorrow is dooms day) I'll cuss myself and the stupid holiday again because I (me and me alone) added five pounds of useless fat to my body in attempt to enjoy a holiday that I don't like. How stupid can I be???

During the holidays people are supposed to be happier, more forgiving, more generous. NOT TRUE. I'm beginning to suspect that there are a lot more people out there like me who rate Christmas below Root Canal on their list of favorite things in life.

Wandering down the beach

Case in point: Right after we got here, not long after Thanksgiving, I went to the grocery store. Before I tell you my tale I have to explain that here in Vero Beach you will find a lot of retired people...very OLD retired people. And there are a lot of wealthy OLD retired people here...grumpy, wealthy OLD retired people. And they are grumpy, wealthy, OLD, retired, and horrendous drivers. And they all drive either Mercedes sedans, Cadillac sedans, or Ford Mustangs. I suspect that Ford is behind the other two American car companies in the race to bankruptcy because of all of the grumpy, wealthy, OLD retired people in Vero Beach who are living out their NASCAR dreams on the highways around here in shiny new, hopped up Ford Mustangs. It would be funny if it wasn't so scary to look up and see a Mustang careening down the road toward you appearing driverless due to the fact that the person who is piloting the car is so old that he/she has shrunk to the point where they can no longer see over the steering wheel of the car. The ones who drive the big sedans aren't quite as scary because they rarely drive over 30 miles per hour. That only bothers me when I get stuck behind them on the Intercoastal highway A1A...which is ALL OF THE TIME. I use A1A (no choice) to get from home to town and back to home.

Okay, back to my shopping stories. Grocery shopping isn't a favorite thing to do unless I know I'm not going to encounter a herd of folks shopping at the same time. Then I kind of enjoy it. The traffic problems inside of the grocery store closely resemble the traffic problems on the streets and in the parking lots of Vero Beach so the entire experience is usually a hair raising one. My instructions to John when I leave the house for groceries are that if I'm not back in two hours to call the local police department because I've probably been locked up for road rage...or shopping cart rage. You think I'm kidding. I'm not proud to tell you that I lost my patience in one of the local Publix stores one day and ran over a woman's foot with my cart. On purpose. It wasn't one of my finer moments but she was one of those shoppers who gets in front of you and stops in the middle of the aisle so you can't get around her on either side and walks away from her cart leaving the rest of us stacked up in the aisle behind her hollering "EXCUSE ME" while she ignores you and gawks at everything. Well after four or five pile ups and the woman behind me actually running into me with her cart, I lost it and floor boarded my cart around the gawker in front of me and well...her foot was sticking out and I...AIMED AT IT AND RAN OVER IT. She said "ouch!" I looked over my shoulder and saw her wandering back to her cart, glaring at me but she wasn't limping so I pushed on. I had a small concern that I may be arrested for assault before I finished shopping but she apparently was too busy gawking to report me. I have not returned to that particular Publix store since then.

So after we got here I had to go and stock up on things. It was just after Thanksgiving so I planned my trip and drove to the Publix on 12th and US 1. It is a nice store and not normally as crowded as the one at Miracle Mile a few miles away. I parked, did my shopping and when the bagger offered to take my groceries to the car I looked behind me in the line to see a bunch of older people so I said, "Thanks anyway but I can get it. Help those people behind me." I'm not totally heartless. I pushed my cart to my car and as I was putting the groceries in the trunk a car horn blared in the parking lot scaring me out of seven years of life. My heart was pounding and I was instantly mad.

I have to explain to the people who haven't spent time in Florida that it is populated like California...totally without natives. They all left because the eastern, hypertensive, type A personalities that make gobs of money in their working years all moved here to retire. I have to assume that their only outlet for their hypertensive behavior after retirement is honking at people on the road. When I learned to drive (a whole other blog post) I was told that a horn was used as a warning tool (if you knew my mother and her teaching techniques you would understand why I only use my horn if there is a tsunami, tornado or impending apocalypse and I have to get home). If someone is attempting to run you off of the road, back into you or is exhibiting other dangerous behavior that is an appropriate time for most people to honk. I was told (in no uncertain terms) that you don't honk unless you absolutely have to. Most of the people in the Northwest adhered to that rule of thumb as well so when you heard a car horn it snapped you to attention. Not so in Florida. In Florida they honk because they are grumpy old people who think they own the damn road or are pissed off because they can't manage other people's lives anymore. Or they took seriously, "Honk if you're..." Well never mind.

Okay, so I'm putting groceries in my trunk and I hear this looooonnnggg horn blast. I jumped nearly hitting my head on the trunk lid and turned to see a parking lot drama unfolding. I wish I would have had the video camera. In the row of parking spaces behind me there was a woman in a brand new black Mercedes SL500 trying to back out of her space. I would guess her to be in her 50's. She was about three spaces in from the front of the store, a prized space if you can get it. Behind her was a little OLD lady driving a Cadillac sedan. I knew it was a lady only because her Q-tip white hair was showing just over the dash board Apparently she pulled in and discovered that the woman in the black SL was leaving so she decided to back up to take the space. The problem with that was that there was a man in a nice BMW convertible (top up) behind her and she was going to back into him (a good time to use your horn). He didn't just toot his horn though, he laid on it. I saw him try to back up to get out of her way but there was someone behind him so he was stuck. She kept backing and he kept honking until she stopped short of running into him. The only way out of the jam was for the little old lady in the big old sedan to drive on and find another space. Not happening. Instead she pulled up while the poor woman in the black SL was trying to get the hell out of the space and blocked her. By this time I was leaning against my car to watch this scenario unfold. I watched as the little old lady put her car in reverse and tried to back over the guy in the BMW again! Again he laid on his horn so she didn't back into his car. Believe it or not this scenario repeated itself through one more complete cycle before the person in the car behind the BMW decided to get the hell out of Dodge. That car pulled around the entire group and finally the BMW had room to get out of the way, the little old lady in the big sedan backed out into traffic blocking the incoming and outgoing cars until the poor (by now frazzled) woman in her beautiful 500SL was able to escape from the entire scene. I finished putting my groceries in the car and drove away, grateful that I wasn't involved in the parking lot incident.

Just a few days before Christmas I decided to take the bull by the horns and go to the Miracle Mile Publix and do the shopping for the Christmas meal. It is a newer and bigger store than the 12th Street Publix. So I got in my trusty little Camry and drove into town. The first thing I encountered was a guy on a bicycle at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and 20th Street. He was riding the wrong direction (into traffic) and was hollering some nonsensical stuff at traffic (that would be me because I was first in line to drive by the kook). He nearly drove up the hood of my car. I refrained from using my horn fearing that I would scare him to death and I would not only have the guilt of not buying the right gifts and eating too much but the additional guilt of killing a kook during the holidays. I stopped as he cruised by my window shouting obcenities at no one in particular and continued on my journey to the store. Looking back I think the kook incident was a warning from the universe to go home and try another day. But I pushed on, found a space in the busy parking lot and went in to do my shopping. As I pushed around the store I noticed that a lot of people looked really out of sorts and I actually practiced my best manners through the entire experience. I made a note to myself to try to be tolerant and kind and practice my best behaviors on this shopping day. It was sort of an experiment to see if I could change the experience by changing my attitude. When I scratched the last item off of my list I headed for the checkout.
I got to the check out at the same time as a lady who had a hand basket and a just a few items. I actually got there just ahead of her but I said, "Go ahead of me please. You will be here all day if you get behind me." She looked at me with suspicion. "Are you sure?" she asked with a look that said I might pull a gun on her if she stepped in line ahead of me. "Yes, really, it's okay. Please go ahead of me." She skirted my cart with her back to the check stand and started putting her items on the conveyor belt. Then she said, "Thank you very much. I didn't want to invade your personal space." I was beginning to think this woman was an escapee from the local mental hospital until she explained herself. She said, "I was just on my way in here from the parking lot and I saw an old lady struggling with a case of water. She was trying to get it into her trunk so I stopped to help. When I reached for the water she snapped at me, 'Get out of my personal space! Did I ask you for your help?! What makes you think I can't do this on my own?!' She continued, "You know, I just wanted to be nice and help her and she started yelling at me. What's wrong with this picture? I'm being helpful and she's hollering at me for that." I commiserated with her about people while she was checking out telling her that this time of year was more dangerous than most. I wished her luck on the way out and she said, "Well if you see an old woman out there with A LOT of jewelry on steer clear of her." Next came checking my groceries out. That went well and the checker and the bagger were very nice. I decided to let the bagger help me out in case I ran into the elderly psycho woman with too much jewelry. As we were exiting the store she told me about trying to direct one woman into the "In" door so that she didn't get run over by all of the people coming out of the "Out" door. The woman got mad and started wagging her finger at her and hollering, "I DON'T CARE. Do you understand, "I DON'T CARE!" She said that if it weren't for risking her job she would have told her, "Fine. Get run over. I DON'T CARE either." So she kindly put my groceries in my car and I wished her good luck and happy holidays and got in my car. I'd been gone nearly two hours and I didn't want John to call the police so I called him to tell him that I had survived the store and was on my way home. I hung up and started the car.
I have one more gripe to register before I finish this tale of grocery shopping woe. I drive a car most of the time. Sometimes I drive the 4-Runner when we are home but mostly it is the car. So when I'm looking for a parking spot I tend to look for one that does not have trucks and SUV's on either side of it. I'm usually successful in that pursuit. But it never fails that when I come out of the store I'm surrounded by trucks and SUV's. Never fails. It didn't on this particular occasion either.
So I started my car grumbling about not being able to "%#@!!" see around these monster vehicles to get out and when I determined that the coast was clear I started to back out. I continued to do the round check (side mirror, rear view mirror, other side mirror and over my shoulder) and when I looked over my shoulder I saw a black Honda Accord backing quickly out of the space directly behind and across from me. The decision was horn or get out of the way. All of my good training (not so good) said NO HORN (I have taken no horn to an art form) so I grabbed the gear shift to put it in drive and move out of the way when I heard the crunching noise and felt my beloved little Camry groan and jump. Both of us put our cars in drive, pulled into our spaces and the woman (who wasn't old...probably my age...well not exactly young either) got out of her car and immediately started apologizing and asking if I was know the drill. I looked at my rear bumper and it was inverted on the side like a giant dimple. I groaned. I ran my hand over it. I groaned again. I looked at her car and it had a little bit of Camry paint on it and that was it. We exchanged information while she apologized ten more times. I said, "Have a merry Christmas," before we parted company. She apparently didn't think she heard me right and then she decided that she did and said in a surprised voice, "You have a happy holiday too!" and we went our separate directions.

Then I tried to back out of the space again. Of course I was punchy as hell but I started to pull out again and nearly had the same accident with a big old beat up pick-up truck. I pulled back into the space, took a deep breath, looked carefully and tried to pull out again. A guy walked right behind me while I was backing out and I had to stomp on the brakes not to run over him. By this time I was thinking that I just didn't have the right attitude about all of this. So I changed to road-rage mode, slammed the Camry in gear and blasted out of the space. I scattered two people who were attempting to walk behind me (Question: Do you walk in the path of a moving car? I don't. It's DANGEROUS). I managed to get out of the parking lot with my injured car and then called John. I asked, "Could we go to Mexico or to a remote island for the holidays next year?" He asked why. I recounted my sad story. He reminded me that they celebrate Christmas in Mexico. That's out.

There is a happy ending to my holiday story. Jason and Jennifer, John's grown kids were on their way down from Charlotte to spend the holiday with us. Jason has the fix-it gene so when he got here he and John went out into the driveway and a few minutes later they came in and asked me to come out. When I got out there I found the Camry bumper re-inverted to nearly new condition. There is a small crack in it that can be fixed with some epoxy I'm told. They stayed with us for four days and we had a lot of fun and we enjoyed their company a lot. They were understanding of our sort of UnChristmas celebration too. We ate a nice dinner on Christmas Eve ate leftovers on Christmas and played a Cranium tournament...three nights of hilarity. We would have had fun no matter what time of the year but Christmas gave them a nice vacation so we had something to be happy about this year.

Jennifer, Jason and Breezy unwrapping presents

This is the end of my rant about the holidays (aren't you relieved?). My best estimate is that we will be on the road again by mid February. I don't think John can sit still much longer than that! I'll be blogging more regularly then...Barb! Larry told me about your displeasure that I've taken a break from posting so now you have to listen to my tales of life while we are planted here in Florida! Hee, hee, hee! We wish all of you (or y'all) the happiest and healthiest new year ever!