Monday, December 31, 2012

Highly Resolved

(To the tune of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan)

We must leave now, we get out of this year at last.
It will be good to know that it's now in the past.
Yonder stands one orphaned by a gun.
Another, a young man who lost his son.
LaPierre, you should be ashamed of yourself.
And it's all over now, 2012.

Election time has come and now it came and went.
And crazy right-wing cads could not beat incumbent.
Obama played a dirty rotten trick:
Appealed to women, used arithmetic.
Gaffed-up Mitt got stuck upon the shelf.
And it's all over now, 2012.

We said goodbye to guidos on the Jersey Shore.
But Snooki and her kid will stick around some more.
Castle and Kate Beckett sealed the deal.
Sofia V knows how to make men squeal.
It's not really always sunny in Philadelph.
And it's all over now, 2012.

Giants stood tall in football and in World Series.
But most New York teams have been stuck in miseries.
LeBron's career no longer incomplete.
Won Gold Medal and title with the Heat.
The year was rough, if I say so myself.
And it's all over now, 2012.


For this last post of the calendar year, let's check my New Year's Resolutions for 2012, and see how I did:

* Do a better job at my new job, unless I can find a better one.

Well, I still have the job, and I got a Christmas bonus. So, again, I must be doing something right. On a scale of 0 to 10, 8.

* Remember that Ashley and Rachel are 4, soon to be 5, and that they won't understand everything I say, but they will hear things I say, and that I should temper my words accordingly. So as to avoid awkward questions. I mentioned the word "war" to them earlier this year, and Rachel asked, "What's war?" I told her the truth: It's when 2 countries have a fight with each other. She seemed to accept that definition.

So far, so good. This past year, they didn't repeat anything I shouldn't have said.  9.

* Get to a few more Yankee games -- home and away. (Again.)

Not even close. I went to just one. True, it was a Yankees vs. Red Sox game. But we lost. I did see a second game at Yankee Stadium -- but it was the "World Football Challenge" match between Real Madrid and AC Milan. I did, however, "complete the circuit," getting to all 3 ballparks that are "local" to New Jersey: Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and Citizens Bank Park. (Only the Phillies won.) At best, a 4.

* Come up with the money to make a trip to Europe, or at least to Britain.

Yeah, right. While I saw plenty of Red Bulls games, including their exhibition game against Arsenal's arch-rivals Tottenham (I won't call any game against that lot a "friendly," the closest I got to Europe was the aforementioned Madrid-Milan match. On a scale of 0 to 10, that's a 1.

* Help President Obama get re-elected, and get the House of Representatives back, and keep the Senate, so that his 2nd term will have more caffeine and less Tea.

Obama re-elected, check. Senate stayed Democratic, check. House back to Democrats, no. That's an 8.

* Treat people better. Even when a lot of them piss me off. (Admittedly, this could be either the easiest to pull off, or the hardest.)

Hard to say. In real life, nobody had much of an objection to my treatment to them, except for one New Jersey Transit bus driver who turned me away, because, while I had the money for a ticket, I didn't have a ticket (or the time to use the ticket machine at the stop in question). And he deserved it. Other than that, I think I did all right in real life. Online, that's another story. So I can't make this any higher than a 7.

Total: 37, out of a possible 60.  That's not good.


So here are my New Year's Resolutions for 2013:

* Don't let online provocateurs get under my skin so much. This will be hard, but worth it if I can do it.

* Get to a few more ballgames.

* Do a better job of paying attention to one of the nieces -- so that she's not as jealous of what happens with the other. One of them is very clingy. And at their age, that's becoming awkward. The feeling, so far, is harmless. The appearance could be a problem. Fortunately, she doesn't do it in public.

* Lose some weight. I may not be way overweight, but I am definitely out of shape, and as a result I tire easily -- and I never needed any "help" in that department.

You'll notice I have dropped the "Get to a live Arsenal match" resolution. Unless I can get a job that pays a LOT more, it's not going to happen in 2013.

And then, of course, there are the things I would like to see, but over which I have no control: Titles for my favorite teams, the resumption of the NHL, better bus service from NJ Transit. I would love to be able to make those things happen.

Happy New Year, and don't celebrate too hard. I want you alive to read my blog in 2013 and beyond.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year-End Awards 2012

The following is taken from the 4 major North American sports -- baseball, football, basketball and hockey -- plus boxing and the Olympic Games.

It does not count any other sports, including soccer (which is, nonetheless, an occasional topic on this blog). If you're looking for Lance Armstrong or any golfer, you're not going to find him here.

It goes from January 1 to December 31 (well, December 29, but what are the odds of anything huge happening in what's left of the 29th, or on the 30th or the 31st?), and is not limited to the seasons that began in 2012.

The envelope, please:

Best Clutch Athlete of the Year: Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants.  Keep in mind, that, while the Giants seem unlikely to get into the Playoffs for the season whose regular season is about to close, at the beginning of this calendar year, he led the Giants to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, an achievement which looks even better now that the Falcons have the best record in the NFL this season.

Then he hung 37 points on the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field in January (the Pack had never allowed more than 27 in a home postseason game before), including 17 in the 4th quarter. Then he led an overtime drive that brought the Giants victory in overtime over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick. And then, for the 2nd time in 5 years, led a game-winning drive over a favored New England Patriots team to win the Super Bowl.

Worst Clutch Athlete of the Year: Robinson Cano, 2nd baseman, New York Yankees. In the regular season, his OPS was .929, good enough to get him 4th in the American League's Most Valuable Player voting. In the postseason, he reached base in only 4 out of 41 plate appearances -- a single, 2 doubles and a walk. That's an OPS of .244. In fact, Robbie's career postseason OPS is .686, hardly enough. In other words, Alex Rodriguez is not alone in postseason failures for the Yankees.

Best Coach (including baseball managers): Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers. Last season, he got the Niners into the NFC Championship Game. This year, he has them one win against a pathetic Arizona Cardinal squad away from another NFC West title. And he has done this in spite of a quarterback controversy. I wonder if Rex Ryan has noticed.

Worst Coach: Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox. Sure, he got a pig in a poke. But it's hard to imagine a manager taking a situation that bad and making it worse. He did.

In 1961, singer Robert Velline, under the name Bobby Vee, hit Number 1 with the Gerry Goffin-Carole King "Take Good Care of My Baby." In 2012, Bobby V proved he couldn't take good care of crybabies.

Best Coaching Decision: Tom Coughlin, New York Giants. His decision: Sticking to the plan that beat the Patriots 5 years earlier.

Worst Coaching Decision: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals. His decision: Letting the Nats' management's decision to put Stephen Strasburg on the shelf stick. Washington hadn't had a team in MLB's postseason in 79 years -- since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was new, since Kong was King, since well before the foundation of the NBA and before most American sports fans cared about the NFL and the NHL.

The Nats lost the National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3 games to 2. In the 3 games the Nats lost, they allowed 12, 8 and 9 runs. Davey and the Nats' brass could have limited Strasburg to relief duty. I wonder what they would, now, give to have Strasburg pitch just one inning. Specifically, the top of the 9th of Game 5, in which Drew Storen allowed a double, 2 walks and 2 singles, to turn the game from 7-5 Nats to 9-7 Cards.

The Nats were 1 out away from winning the series. But they chose not to risk Strasburg, not even for one inning, and thus did they throw away what would have been the 1st postseason series won by a Washington team since 1924. Since Calvin Coolidge was elected President!

Best Executive (not owner): John Elway, executive vice president of football operations, Denver Broncos. He brought in Peyton Manning, and made the Broncos AFC West Champions, and dumped off Tim Tebow on the hapless Gang Green.  he Broncos now look as good as they have since Elway himself was last taking snaps for the Broncos.

Worst Executive: Mike Tannenbaum, general manager, New York Jets. Now, I don't know if Mark Sanchez would have had a better season if Tim Tebow wasn't hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles. But Tebow should never have been brought to the Jets, and that decision destabilized the team terribly.

Best Transaction (includes trades, waiver pickups, free agent signings and "addition by subtraction"): The Detroit Tigers trading 2 guys you don't need to know about and a draft pick to the Miami Marlins for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. That trade made the Tigers American League Pennant winners.

Worst Transaction: A collective award to the Miami Marlins, owner Jeffrey Loria and his stepson/lackey David Samson. They had a new ballpark, a big new acquisition in Jose Reyes, and with the New York Mets in disarray and the Philadelphia Phillies going through an injury crisis, there was a fantastic chance for the Marlins to finish first in the National League Eastern Division for the 1st time. (They have won 2 World Series, but got in as a Wild Card team both times.)

Instead, the Marlins took all the money and ran their best players out of town -- including, last month, to the Toronto Blue Jays, Reyes. Loria & Samson are not the sole reason, or even the biggest reason, that the Montreal Expos no longer exist, but they have now broken up the Marlins twice. At least, the first time, they waited until they'd won the World Series.

Best Rookie: Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Washington Redskins. No rookie quarterback has led a team to an NFL Championship, ever, with one exception 75 years ago: Slingin' Sammy Baugh of the 1937... Washington Redskins. Griffin is playing like a seasoned veteran, with poise and sense. Maybe he won't lead the 'Skins to this season's title, but if he doesn't finish his career with a ring, I will be shocked. (UPDATE: He didn't, and I'm shocked.)

Worst Rookie: Austin Rivers, guard, New Orleans Hornets. He forewent his last 3 years of eligibility at Duke University to enter the NBA Draft, thus forfeiting at least part of a pretty good education he could have gotten from Mike Krzyzewski, and also forfeiting as many as 3 decent shots at the Final Four and the National Championship. Just because a man has the right to do something doesn't mean he should do it.

Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets, he's shooting 35 percent. Per game, he's got 7.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds (that's offensive and defensive combined). I don't want to pile on a kid who's only 20, and who could still turn out okay -- he's certainly got the genes for it, being the son of Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach and previously a pretty good player -- but I've seen 2 websites that have called him the worst rookie in NBA history. NBA history goes back 66 years, nearly 2/3rds of a century.

Best Comeback: Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos. From not playing at all in 2011 to playing in 2012 as if he'd never missed a game from a Hall of Fame career. I was thinking that, due to his injury being to his neck, it would be better for him to retire rather than risk worsening the injury. Looks like I was wrong -- and I hope I stay wrong.

Worst Comeback: Bobby Valentine. His comeback made that of Davey Johnson, the only other man to manage the Mets to a Pennant in the last 39 years, look like genius.

Biggest Collapse: Texas Rangers. As bad as the Yankees going from 10 games up to tied was, they still won the Division; as bad as their postseason debacle was, it was still in the postseason. After back-to-back Pennants, the Rangers led the AL Western Division by 5 games with 9 to play. And they had a "Borg losing streak": They lost 7 of 9, including losing the last 3 to the team that was chasing them, the Oakland Athletics, failed to win the Division, and then lost the Wild-Card play-in game to the Baltimore Orioles.

Turncoat of the Year: Barry Zito, pitcher, San Francisco Giants. He pitched very well for the Oakland Athletics, but they didn't win a Pennant while he was there.  He went to the cross-bay Giants for big money. He was awful, and although he got a ring when they won the 2010 World Series, he was really just along for the ride.

That was not the case in 2012: The Giants would have won the NL Western Division without him, but not the World Series.

Dishonorable Mention: Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, who seem to have betrayed their father George's commitment to winning, because the cost is always worth it and comes back. (Since I've excluded soccer, I can't give this to Robin van Persie.)

Most Original Thinker: Josh Gorges, defenseman, Montreal Canadiens. You may not have heard of him, but you should. An alternate captain for Les Habitantes, he went on Twitter to ask hockey fans to join him at an ice rink in the Montreal suburb of Verdun this past Wednesday afternoon -- being a part of the British Commonwealth, Canada celebrates the day after Christmas as a holiday, Boxing Day.

Dozens of people came out, and that greatest of all hockey cities, starved for their sport, got a taste of what they were looking for. For them, Josh Gorges was Santa Claus. Or, since it was a Commonwealth country, I should say "Father Christmas." Or, since it's a majority-Francophone city, "Père Noël."

Most Stagnant Thinker: Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League. You would think that the only Commissioner ever to cancel an entire season, thus bringing universal scorn upon him, would have learned to never, ever do that again. Alas...

Best Sports Theater: Daniel Craig, in character as James Bond, and Queen Elizabeth II making their way from Buckingham Palace to the London Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.

No, that wasn't actually one of the world's most famous actors and an 86-year-old head of state paratrooping out of a helicopter... but Craig just might be the toughest 007 ever. And the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, was in the British Army in World War II, serving in a motor pool. I'll bet she's still handy with a toolbox.  She could, quite literally, fix your wagon and clean your clock.

I have to hand it to her: At an age that "Ol' Perfesser" Casey Stengel didn't live to be, and at which "The Grand Old Man of Baseball" Connie Mack was hopelessly senile, and at which Queen Victoria (whose record of 64 years on the English throne she could surpass in 4 years) was dead for 5 years, Elizabeth not only still does her job, she seems to still love her job.

Worst Sports Theater: The New York Yankees' postseason. It is still difficult to believe that the Yanks actually won a postseason series. The Yankees, as a team, were their usual Bronx Bomber selves in the regular season, with an OPS of .790. That dropped to .611 in the AL Division Series and .488 in the AL Championship Series.

If the old song is wrong, and in Heaven there is beer, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle have got to be downing some brews and discussing what the hell happened.

Most Bang for the Buck: The Oakland Athletics. At $55,372,500 dollars, they were only $128,000 ahead of the San Diego Padres for lowest payroll in MLB. This was after a salary dump. Lots of people, myself included, thought they were headed for a historically bad season, which I would define as the kind of season an expansion team might have, 107 or more losses, without actually being an expansion team. This, I thought, might be the nail in the coffin for the A's staying in the Bay Area long-term.

Instead, the A's won 94 games and the AL West, and pushed the Tigers to the 5-game limit in their AL Division Series. Had they won that series, I have no doubt that they, too, would have beaten the Yankees in the ALCS. Alas, they still haven't won a Pennant since 1990, meaning general manager Billy Beane is still looking for his first flag. "Moneyball" worked again, but it still hasn't done what every baseball team should be trying to do: Get into the World Series, and maybe win it.

Least Bang for the Buck: The Philadelphia Eagles. True, the Red Sox got 93 losses for their $173 million. But after what happened the preceding fall, they were expected to be dysfunctional. The Eagles? Hell, they're always dysfunctional, but I don't think anyone expected the kind of talent they supposedly had to put up a 4-12 season. (They're 4-11 going into the final game, away to the Giants, and I'm guessing that, even though the Giants need a lot of help in addition to winning this game to make the Playoffs, it will be ugly for the Broad Street Birds.)

Best Sports Writing: Bill Madden, for his New York Daily News column last week showing why the Yankees should still be the favorites for the AL East title in 2013. He's right: The Red Sox are still a mess, the Orioles have already downgraded, the Blue Jays are unlikely to go from 89 losses to 89 or more wins even with their new acquisitions, and the Tampa Bay Rays are still letting key players go to cut costs.

Meanwhile, the Yankees still have the Division's best attack, its best defense, its best starting rotation, and, if Mariano Rivera is anything like he was at the start of the 2012 season before he got hurt, its best bullpen.

Worst Sports Writing: Joe Posnanski, currently of Sports On Earth. He's probably still distraught that his hagiography of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had its ending rewritten without his consent. He still managed to write a book that made Ratface look like a hero. Which he most certainly was not.

Most Overreported Story: The fuss over the Jets' quarterback situation. I know, it's the biggest position in the biggest sport, and in the biggest city/metro area, but, come the heck on. If the Jets were imploding, going from a Playoff contender to a team on the verge of not making it, it would be different. But this is way too much hype for a 6-9 team.

Most Underreported Story: The San Francisco Giants. They're not even the most-reported team named Giants that won a World Championship in the calendar year. With all the talk about the 49ers' quarterback situation, and the Golden State Warriors getting a deal for a new arena a short walk from the Giants' AT&T Park, the Giants were, for most of the year, not even the most-talked-about team in the Bay Area. Or even, with the situation with the A's, their payroll slash, their bad ballpark situation, their possible need to move, and their amazing comeback, the most-talked-about baseball team in the Bay Area.

And what about all the talk about basketball legend Magic Johnson buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, and all the money he's spent on them, and all the talking he's done about them? That may pay off next year, or the year after, but this year, the Dodgers were the most-talked-about team in the NL West, maybe the whole NL, in the regular season. And you know what? The Dodgers didn't make the Playoffs. The Giants did, and won the whole thing. For the 2nd time in 3 years.

That's not a dynasty, but it's something the Yankees last achieved in 2000, and it's something not achieved by any other team, including the Red Sox in their recently-ended period of glory, since the Blue Jays won back-to-back titles in 1992-93. And not in the NL since the back-to-back titles of the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.

The Giants deserve our praise. At the least, to borrow the words of their greatest-ever player, Willie Mays, they deserve a "Say Hey!"

Bummest Rap: That Alex Rodriguez is the reason the Yankees have (except for 2009) failed in the postseason since 2004. True, he's blown it in many at-bats, but he's had lots of help, from guys whose regular seasons suggested that they should have done far better. And in the games that he didn't play in this October, nobody else picked up much slack.

Fairest Rap: That Davey Johnson and Dusty Baker are great regular-season managers but lousy postseason managers. Between them, in 35 seasons as managers, they have reached the Playoffs 12 times, but won only 2 Pennants. Their won-lost records in postseason games? Davey, 25-26; Dusty, 19-26. (In both cases, that doesn't count the canceled 1994 Playoffs that both were on course to reach, Davey with the Reds and Dusty with the Giants; but it does count the Giants' loss to the Chicago Cubs in the 1998 play-in game required when those teams tied for the NL Wild Card.)

If the Mets hadn't pulled out that 1986 NLCS Game 6 in Houston, or if John McNamara hadn't screwed the pooch in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6 of the World Series, they'd be 35 combined seasons as managers with no rings. As I've said before, the 1986 Mets won it all in spite of Davey, not because of him, and the Nats aren't going to win it all with him. Dusty? The Reds are a good team, but they're not going to win it with him.

Most Shocking Moment, On-Field: Juan Manuel Marquez, and his knockout of Manny Pacquiao. It's been said that all great boxing champions must one day hit the canvas, and the Pacman is 34, hardly young in boxing. But I don't think anybody, even Marquez, expected the demolition that Marquez laid on him.

Most Shocking Moment: Off-Field: Jovan Belcher, linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs, killing his girlfriend, the mother of his baby daughter; then driving to the Chiefs' practice facility adjoining Arrowhead Stadium, thanking head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli for what they'd done for them, and then killing himself in front of them. As the Chiefs and their fans have found out, there are worse things than finishing a season 2-14.

My Favorite Moment: Adam Henrique's overtime goal to beat the New York Rangers and send the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the 5th time -- all in the 18 years since the Rangers last got that far. That the Devils were so weak in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings (and somehow still stretched it to a Game 6) does nothing to diminish the fact that we beat The Scum!

My Least Favorite Moment: The only reference to college sports in these awards, aside from the Posnanski book about Paterno. It's the Rutgers football team's huge choke against the University of Louisville, at home, with sole possession of the Big East Conference title in their grasp.

And, just last night, they blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead against former Big East opponent Virginia Tech in the Whatever The Hell Sponsor's Name Is On This Game Bowl in Orlando. Oy vey.

Most Defining Moment in Sports in 2012: The Mets letting R.A. Dickey go. All he did was give them their 1st 20-win season for a pitcher in 22 years, their 1st Cy Young Award in 27 years, and belief from their fans every 5th game all season long.

And when he wanted a contract that would, essentially, be the last of his career and have properly rewarded his services, what did they do? They collaborated with the media to publicly question his character, and they traded him to a team in Canada. (Toronto may be the 2nd-largest city in North America -- the 3rd-largest if you count Mexico City -- but in baseball publicity terms, they might as well have been sending him down to Triple-A.) It's like they were saying, "Thanks for everything you did, sucker, now here's your hat, what's your hurry?"

Sports Personality of the Year: LeBron James, forward, Miami Heat. He got the ring, he got the Gold Medal, he got the historical validation, he got the monkey off his back, and he got the publicity that comes with all of it. Like him or not, he was the year's biggest story.

Sports Person of the Year: Bruce Bochy, manager, San Francisco Giants. As I said a few days ago, he has been both a World Series-winning manager and a charitable person, figuratively and literally, and hardly anybody notices.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oscar Madison, 1922-2012

Within a few days of my imagined lunch with Oscar Madison, the actor who played him, Jack Klugman, passed away on Christmas Eve.

Jack Klugman was the last surviving actor from the 1957 film Twelve Angry Men. He appeared on 4 episodes of The Twilight Zone. He won an Emmy Award for a guest role on The Defenders, starred on The Odd Couple for 5 years, and starred on Quincy, M.E. for 7 years. He lost a vocal chord to throat cancer... and lived another 23 years, and was acting for another 20.

He was married to Brett Somers, who played Oscar's ex-wife Blanche, but they split up during The Odd Couple's run. They had 2 sons, David and Adam. It was only after she died that he married his longtime girlfriend, Peggy Crosby, who survives him.

If Oscar was a real person...

(Some of these details are a match for Klugman's details -- for instance, I used Klugman's actual birthdate and birthplace, and made his real first name Oscar's middle name. Some are based on the show -- including the fact that ex-wife Blanche's last name was Brett's, Somers. None of it is based on the original play and movie, which had a number of differences, including Felix's job, the spelling of his last name -- Ungar instead of Unger -- and what happened to them after, as both the movie and the TV show had "reunion movies" that were very different. It's also worth noting that the show had 3 different stories as to how Oscar and Felix, played by Tony Randall, met.)


Oscar Jacob Madison was born on April 27, 1922, in Philadelphia. He grew up lower middle class in The Bronx, New York, and was a fan of baseball's New York Giants. Although he barely got through Theodore Roosevelt High School, he read newspapers voraciously.

He got a job as a copyboy at the New York Herald in 1940, hoping to become a sportswriter with the paper. World War II led to his being drafted, and it was in the U.S. Army that he met Felix Unger, who would thereafter be his best friend, though that friendship would often be strained.

After the war, Oscar went to New York University on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1949, and was hired by the Herald. He remained with the Herald until the paper folded in 1981, and moved to the Daily News, and remained there until his death.

In 1951, Oscar discovered the signaling system set up at the Polo Grounds that seemed to give the Giants an unfair edge and led them to the National League Pennant. Although he was a great fan of the club, he felt it was his journalistic duty to report it, but his boss killed the story, for fear of inciting fans of the archrival Brooklyn Dodgers. Oscar saw the point, but swore he would never compromise his integrity again.

In 1959, he doggedly pursued a story of game-fixing in local high school basketball. This led to him getting his own column. He soon became one of the most-read sports columnists in New York City, and became nationally known through his appearances on New York-based TV shows like What's My Line (first as a guest, then as an occasional panelist) and Password.

In 1944, while he was in the Army, he married Blanche Somers. The couple had no children. They split up on New Year's Eve 1965, after some drunken escapades at their Park Avenue apartment. Contrary to the oft-told version of the story, she walked out on him, rather than that "Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return."

For the next four years, Oscar lived alone, eating whatever he wanted, throwing his clothes, food, and other trash all over the apartment. A compulsive gambler, he tended to lose. His gambling debts interfered with his ability to pay his alimony, and both interfered with his ability to pay his rent. He was in danger of losing his apartment.

Then, on November 13, 1969, his old friend Felix was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife, Gloria. Deep down, he knew she was right. But, he also knew that, one day, he would return to her.

(Note: No, he didn't know. Throughout the show, it was clear he wanted to return, but his confidence in that was shattered.)

With nowhere else to go, he appeared at Oscar's home. Oscar took a despondent Felix in, and Felix, with his steady income as a commercial photographer -- portraits a specialty -- began paying half the rent, cleaning up after Oscar, and cooking him some sensible meals.

But Felix's neatness, and his health difficulties (real and imagined), got on Oscar's nerves every bit as much as Oscar's sloppiness, and the other unpleasant aspects of his lifestyle, got on Felix's. It was odd enough in the early 1970s -- even in liberal New York, called "Fun City" by the Mayor at the time, John Lindsay -- that two divorced, middle-aged men would share an apartment; it seems that they could not do so without driving each other crazy.

For a time, the two men dated a pair of sisters who lived in the same building, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon. Sometime thereafter, Oscar picked up a long-term girlfriend, a doctor named Nancy Cunningham. Felix also began a long-term relationship, with a woman named Miriam Welby, who also lived in their building.

The roommates enjoyed playing poker, and had a regular game at their apartment. But that was about all they had in common. Oscar's tastes were decidedly lowbrow, as he enjoyed sports and silly humor; while Felix was highbrow, preferring classical music, especially opera, and "legitimate theater."

Oscar was comfortable wearing anything, often walking around the apartment in a sweatsuit, or a bathrobe, and often wearing a New York Mets cap, once the Giants and Dodgers left in 1957 and the Mets arrived in 1962 -- as no self-respecting Giants or Dodgers fan would ever have switched to the Yankees. Felix was a clothes horse, and somehow managed to look elegant even when wearing short sleeves, and managing to make the wildly-colored jackets and shirts of the early 1970s look great.

On two occasions, they appeared together on game shows: On Password in 1972, in which Felix's odd playing cost them the game; and on Let's Make a Deal in 1973, in which they showed up on costume as a horse, with Felix as the head and Oscar, perhaps appropriately, as the other end. Password host Allen Ludden was a big fan of Oscar's, and Let's Make a Deal host Monty Hall was friends with both men.

Oscar also had a memorably bad trial as a substitute broadcaster on a 1974 preseason broadcast of ABC's Monday Night Football, with the New York Jets, whom he usually covered, visiting Cincinnati to play the Bengals. He tried to banter with Howard Cosell, with whom he'd occasionally feuded, and ended up getting shredded by his fellow bigmouthed New Yorker.

On July 4, 1975, in a ceremony in the apartment, Felix and Gloria remarried, and Felix moved back in with her. From that time onward, Oscar lived alone -- with the exception of a two-week period in 1993, when, shortly after recovering from surgery for throat cancer, Felix moved back in. He did so partly because he thought Oscar, who had lost a vocal chord to the cigars that he loved, needed help; and partly because, as Felix's daughter Edna was about to get married, Felix was driving everyone crazy with the preparations, and Gloria kicked him out again. Once Edna was married and Oscar was back on his feet, Gloria took Felix back.

Oscar never lost his touch. Even past his 90th birthday, he still managed to crank out a newspaper column once a week, using a manual typewriter. He never switched to a computer. "What do I need a word processor for?" he once yelled. "I can process my own words!" (To which Felix added, "I'll say.")

Felix died in 2004 after heart surgery. He was 84, and was probably as shocked as anyone that Oscar was still alive at age 82. Oscar died last week, his lifestyle finally catching up with him at 90.

Toward the end, since Oscar had no children, and his only sibling, a brother, had died years earlier, Dr. Cunningham returned to his side as his caretaker.

In the minutes before his death, Oscar began rambling incoherently. Nancy wrote down his last words, but they didn't seem to make any sense:

"He wants me to use a coaster... Rings, rings, rings... "

"He doesn't like pits, pits, pits, in his juice, juice, juice... "

"Felix, Felix, Felix... "

"The honking... the honking... "

Although he had no living relatives, Oscar Madison will be missed by his millions of readers. He was one of a kind.

No matter what Walter Matthau (were he still alive), Demond Wilson or Rita Moreno might say.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tales of Christmas Past

This will probably be my last post until at least the morning of December 26.  So I thought I'd reprint this one.  Some of the following actually happened, some is taken from TV shows and movies.

December 25, in the 753rd year since the founding of Rome – or so Dionysius Exiguus, working in AD 525, would have us believe – Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem, in what is now the West Bank, Palestinian Territories.

Based on historical and astronomical evidence, and even passages in the Gospels themselves, this date is almost certainly incorrect. Besides, Jesus appears to be one of the last people who would be concerned about people noticing his birthday. He’d rather we were good to each other.

Both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its companion series Xena: Warrior Princess had Christmas episodes, despite taking place centuries before the birth of Christ.  Hercules' episode, "A Star to Guide Them," was an allegory about the Nativity story and King Herod's order of "The Slaughter of the Innocents." Xena's series was frequently much darker than Hercules', but "A Solstice Carol," full of references to things that would become associated with Christmas in the 19th and 20th Centuries A.D., was really, really campy.  Both were set around the time of the Winter Solstice, which usually falls on December 22 -- possibly the reason the early Church set Christmas on December 25, given the difference between the Julian Calendar then in effect and the Gregorian Calendar being used now.

Christmas AD 800: Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charles Le Magne, Charlemagne and Carolus Magnus) is crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.  Not that there was much about him that was holy.

Christmas 1000: The Kingdom of Hungary is founded by King Stephen I.

Christmas 1065: Westminster Abbey is consecrated in London. But the King of England, Edward the Confessor, who ordered and funded its building, is too ill to attend, and dies early the next year. Which leads to…

Christmas 1066: William, Duke of Normandy, a.k.a. William the Bastard and William the Conqueror, is crowned King William I of England at Westminster Abbey.

As the saying goes, never go into battle with a man called “the Bastard” or “the Conqueror,” because, chances are, he earned those nicknames.

Christmas 1183: Not the best of Christmases for King Henry II, his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, the princes Richard, Geoffrey and John. The film is The Lion In Winter, and they are played by the following: Henry by Peter O'Toole, Eleanor by Katherine Hepburn, the future King Richard I (the Lionhearted) by Anthony Hopkins in his first major film role, Geoffrey by John Castle (not to be confused with Godfather actor John Cazale), and the future Magna Carta signer King John by Nigel Terry (who would be a much better King, Arthur, in Excalibur).

On an episode of The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) confirms that this is his favorite movie of all time.  Though, uncharacteristically, the New Hampshire professor turned head of state gets Henry's quote wrong: "I've snapped and plotted all my life.  There's no other way to be alive, King, and 50 all at once."

Christmas 1635: Samuel de Champlain, the explorer known as “the Father of New France,” dies at the city he founded, Quebec.

Christmas 1642: Isaac Newton is born in Wolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, in the north of England.  And, from what I've heard of his personality, Sir Isaac could be considered, as they say in English "football," a Dirty Northern Bastard.  In other words, if you messed with him, clearly (Don't say it, Mike!) you didn't understand (Don't say it!) the gravity of the situation.  (He said it... )

Christmas 1776: George Washington leads the Continental Army across the Delaware River, attacks the Hessians on the New Jersey side, and wins the Battle of Trenton, thus keeping the Patriot cause alive in the War of the American Revolution.

Christmas 1818: “Silent Night” is first performed, at (appropriately enough) the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. Father Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics (in German: “Stille Nacht”), and Franz Gruber composed the melody.

Christmas 1821: Clara Barton is born in Oxford, Massachusetts, outside Worcester. She goes on to found the American Red Cross.

Christmas 1822: Clement Clarke Moore, a theologian in New York, is asked by his children if there are any books about Santa Claus. He decides to find out, but discovers that no bookstore in town has any such book. So he writes his own version of the story, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which establishes so much of the Santa Claus legend that we know today. The story is published the following year. Moore was born in 1779 and lived until 1863.

Christmas 1826: The Eggnog Riot, a.k.a. the Grog Mutiny, takes place at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Among the cadets who took part, but was not punished, was Jefferson Davis. Twenty were court-martialed.

No. I am not making that up. There was an Eggnog Riot at West Point.

Christmas 1843: In London, moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge has a change of heart. Instead of treating it with a cry of “Bah, humbug!” he accepts Christmas the way those around him do, with the words of his employee Bob Crachit’s small, handicapped son Tim: “God bless us, every one!” The story is A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Christmas 1856: James Francis Galvin is born in St. Louis. The Hall of Fame pitcher was nicknamed “Pud” because he “reduced hitters to pudding.” No word on whether it was figgy pudding.  He won 365 games -- topped by only 4 pitchers ever -- for the Buffalo Bisons (who went out of business in 1885) and the Pittsburgh team that would be renamed the Pirates before he retired, in a career that lasted from 1875 to 1892, curiously stopped right before the distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound was extended from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches, thus making it harder on pitchers.  He was poor and couldn't afford to take care of himself, and died in 1902.  he was only 45 years old.

Christmas 1867: Wayne Newton makes his second appearance as young singer Andy Walker on Bonanza, in an episode titled “A Christmas Story.” Jack Oakie plays his uncle and manager, who tries to con Hoss Cartwright (Dan Blocker) out of the money he's trying to raise for an orphanage in Virginia City, Nevada.  But Andy is on to his uncle, and there’s a Dickensian twist to the ensuing Christmas party at the Ponderosa Ranch.

Bonanza episodes took place 99 years in the past -- established since a gravestone in a 1967 episode showed a date of death of 1868.  It's odd that, in the supposedly progressive 1960s, the 3 most progressive TV shows were Bonanza, which took place nearly a century in the past; Star Trek, which took place 3 centuries in the future; and The Twilight Zone, which, as Rod Serling's narration suggested, took place in "another dimension." As Trek creator Gene Roddenberry remarked, it was easier to get an allegory about a problem with current American life on television if it wasn't depicting current American life -- or even life on Earth at all.

None of the 5 Star Trek TV series yet produced ever had a Christmas episode, although there was a Christmas scene in a fantasy sequence in the film Star Trek: Generations.

Christmas 1870: Chaja “Helena” Rubinstein is born in Krakow, Poland. She becomes a cosmetics tycoon.

Christmas 1875: “Young Tom Morris,” early golf legend and the son of an early golf legend known as Old Tom Morris, dies in his native St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. He is only 24.  He had recently played a match in terrible weather, and probably caught pneumonia.  Although it would be a Scotsman, Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, it would be decades before it could have saved Young Tom, who had also recently lost his wife and child in childbirth.

Christmas 1876: Muhammad Ali Jinnah is born in Karachi, British India. He becomes the founder of the nation of Pakistan.

Christmas 1878: Louis Chevrolet is born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. A pioneer of auto racing, he founded the car company that bears his name.  Which may also make his company the source of Eartha Kitt’s Christmas 1953 request: “Santa baby, a ’54 convertible, too, light blue.”

Christmas 1884: Evelyn Nesbit is born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. She became a popular Broadway actress after getting on the “casting couch” of architect, and friend of theater producers, Stanford White.  After marrying playboy Harry Thaw, a fellow Pittsburgher, she saw Thaw murder White, resulting in “the Trial of the Century,” making her the most familiar woman in America thanks to the era’s “yellow journalism.”

Her life was a disaster after that. Before her death in 1967, she said of the only man she truly loved, “Stanny White died. My fate was worse: I lived.”

Christmas 1887: Conrad Nicholson Hilton is born in Socorro County, New Mexico Territory -- it wouldn't become a State until 1912. Sadly, the hotel icon is now best known for his socialite great-granddaughters, Paris and Nicky.

Also on this day, 125 years ago, Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whiskey is first produced.  Merry Christmas, indeed.  Of course, this may also bring us back to the subject of the Hilton sisters.

Christmas 1890: Robert LeRoy Ripley is born in Santa Rosa, California. Yes, he was born on a Christmas Day – believe it or not!

Christmas 1899: Humphrey DeForest Bogart is born in Manhattan. Listen, sweetheart, if you don’t have a Merry Christmas, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

Christmas 1902: Barton MacLane is born in Columbia, South Carolina. Like Bogey, he developed a reputation for playing tough guys.

Christmas 1905: Della Young has just $1.87 – about $34 in today’s money – not enough to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim. She goes to a woman who buys hair, has her long hair cut, and receives $20, enough money to buy a platinum fob chain to go with the watch that Jim owns and loves. As it turns out, Jim sold the watch, and used the money to buy hair-care products for Della, which, now, she can't use until her hair grows back to a respectable length.

This story was “The Gift of the Magi,” by William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry, and is included in his 1906 collection of stories, The Four Million, named for what was then the population of New York City.  It has been copied many times, as you'll see below.  Supposedly, Porter wrote it at Healy's, which is now Pete's Tavern and claims origination as the Portman Hotel in 1829.  It's at 129 East 18th Street at Irving Place, in Manhattan's Gramercy Park.

Christmas 1907: Cabell Calloway III is born in Rochester, New York. “Minnie the Moocher” is not exactly a Christmas carol, but on December 25, Cab Calloway might’ve sung it, “Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho-ho-ho!”

Christmas 1908: Denis Charles Pratt was born in Sutton, Surrey, England, outside London. He was better known as the author Quentin Crisp.

Christmas 1913: Tony Martin is born in San Francisco. A singer and actor, and one of the few surviving entertainers of the 1930s, he starred on the Burns & Allen radio show, and married Alice Faye and Cyd Charisse. He and Charisse were married from 1948 until she died in 2008. He died this past July, at age 98.

Christmas 1914: Upon hearing German soldiers sing Christmas carols in their trench on the Western Front of what was then called The Great War (later World War I), the British soldiers start to do so in theirs. Soon, the men on both sides come out of their trenches, and stop treating each other as enemies for a few hours, exchanging food, drinks, and trinkets.  It becomes known as the Christmas Truce.

Legend has it that there was even a soccer game. Sorry, forgot to “speak English” there: A football match. The Germans supposedly beat the English, 3-2. The first time, but not the last, that Englishmen would be defeated by Germans at their national game; but, as Sir Alf Ramsey pointed out before the 1966 World Cup Final, twice, the English (well, the British, and their allies) would beat the Germans at their national game (war), and on their soil no less.

Military historian Andrew Robertshaw says such a truce would have been unthinkable a year later: "This was before the poisoned gas, before aerial bombardment. By the end of 1915, both sides were far too bitter for this to happen again."

Christmas 1924: Submitted for your approval: Rodman Edward Serling is born in Syracuse, New York, and grows up in Binghamton. Rod Serling died in 1975, at age 50, from smoking-induced heart attacks.  But he hopes you have a Merry Christmas. He sends you this greeting… from The Twilight Zone.  (His opinion of the “Twilight Saga” books and films is unrecorded.)

Christmas 1926: Emperor Yoshihito of Japan dies of a heart attack, brought on by pneumonia.  He was only 47.  He is succeeded by his son, Emperor Hirohito.

Christmas 1927: Jacob Nelson Fox is born in St. Thomas, Pennsylvania.  Nellie Fox, a diminutive but crafty Hall of Fame 2nd baseman, had his Number 2 retired by the Chicago White Sox, whom he led to an American League Pennant in 1959, resulting in his being named the AL's Most Valuable Player. Yankee pitching legend Whitey Ford called him the toughest out he ever faced, and author, radio show host and White Sox fan Jean Shepherd called him his favorite player of all time.

Christmas 1930: Eliot Ness (played by Robert Stack) discovers that an old friend and informant of his, Hap Levinson (who does not appear onscreen) has been shot and killed after playing Santa Claus at a Chicago orphanage.  Hap turns out not to be the first victim in a series of killings.  Ness finds out what's going on and who's to blame.  This was an episode of The Untouchables.  Oddly, it did not air anywhere near Christmas, but rather on September 25, 1962.

Christmas 1935: Alvin Neill Jackson is born in Waco, Texas. Al Jackson was not the most accomplished, but was probably the best, player on the early New York Mets, winning 43 games with them from 1962 to 1969, although he was traded before they would win the World Series that last year. This, on top of being with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959 and 1961, but stuck in the minors in the season in the middle, when they won the World Series.

More hard luck? In 1962, for the Mets, he allowed a hit in the first inning and no-hit the Houston Colt .45s (Astros) the rest of the way. Heck of a way to almost pitch a no-hitter. At least he’s still alive, unlike Nellie Fox, who died of skin cancer in 1975.

Christmas 1937: Arturo Toscanini conducts the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio for the first time, beginning a tenure that lasts 17 years.  His selections include Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Johannes Brahms.

Also on this day, O’Kelly Isley Jr. is born in Cincinnati. One of the singing Isley Brothers.

Christmas 1939: Ralphie Parker actually gets his Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right in to the stock. (This particular model does not exist in real life.) And doggone it if, but for the grace of God and his glasses, he doesn’t come near to shooting his eye out!

The film is A Christmas Story, and Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley.  Something tells me that, for Christmas 2012, there won't be too many guns, real or toy, given to kids.

Christmas 1944: Jair Ventura Filho is born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Known as Jairzinho, he starred with hometown club Botafogo and the Brazilian national soccer team, and won World Cups for his country in 1962 and 1970.

Christmas 1945: Billy Bailey, co-director of the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, of Bedford Falls, New York, with his late brother Peter’s son George, loses $8,000 meant for the firm’s accounts. Unable to come up with the money, George runs into one awful occurrence after another, and wishes he’d never been born.

An angel named Clarence Goodbody shows him what the world (or, at least, his home town) would have been like if that had been the case. George changes his mind, and finds that all the people he’d selflessly helped over the years have come to pay him back, to show him that, in the way that matters, he’s “the richest man in town.”

The film is It’s a Wonderful Life, and George is played by James Stewart, Billy by Thomas Wilson, and Clarence by Henry Travers.

On the same day, in real life, Noel Redding is born in Folkestone, Kent, England. He was the guitarist for the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Also, Rick Berman is born in Manhattan. He become the keeper of the Star Trek flame after Gene Roddenberry died, until it was foolishly given to J.J. “Jar-Jar” Abrams.

Ken Stabler is born in Foley, Alabama. “The Snake” quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.

Gary Sandy is born in Dayton, Ohio. Not far from Cincinnati, where he played radio station manager Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati – not to be confused with country singer Randy Travis.

Christmas 1946: Legendary comedian W.C. Fields dies. He might have agreed with quirky singer Jimmy Buffett, born this same day in Pascagoula, Mississippi: “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame.” Also born on this day, in Stow, Ohio, is football legend Larry Csonka. So is former baseball manager Gene Lamont, in Rockford, Illinois.

Christmas 1947: A man known only as Kris Kringle, hired to work as Santa Claus at the main Macy's store in New York's Herald Square, is committed, and his lawyer, Fred Gailey, can find only one way to get this harmless, if apparently delusional, old man out of the psych ward: By proving to a court that, just as Kris claims, he really is Santa Claus.  It works, and Fred wins the heart of Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who had hired Kris, and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood, 8 years old at the time of filming but playing 6).

Miracle On 34th Street has been remade in 1973 and 1994.  In those versions, Santa was played by Sebastian Cabot and Richard Attenborough, the lawyer by David Hartman and Dylan McDermott (by then starring as a lawyer on The Practice), Mrs. Walker by Jane Alexander and Elizabeth Perkins, and Susan by Suzanne Davidson and Mara Wilson.

For the 1973 version, the lawyer's name was changed to Bill Schafner, and Mrs. Walker's name was changed from Doris to Karen -- definitely not to be confused with the Karen Walker played by Megan Mullaly on Will & Grace! And for the 1994 version, the lawyer is named Bryan Bedford, Mrs. Walker goes back to Doris (or, rather, "Dorey"), and Macy's had refused to give permission to use the name and Gimbel's had gone out of business, so fictional store names had to be used.

Christmas 1948: Barbara Ann Mandrell is born in Houston. She, and her singing sisters Louise and Irlene, were country when country wasn’t cool. And when it was.

Christmas 1949: Mary Elizabeth Spacek is born in Quitman, Texas. “Sissy” Spacek also sang country music, playing Loretta Lynn in the film version of Lynn’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Christmas 1950: Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, a surgeon with the U.S. Army at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, Korea, has to leave a Christmas party there to attend to a wounded soldier in a foxhole.  While still wearing his Santa Claus costume.  This was on an episode of M*A*S*H.  Hawkeye is played by Alan Alda.

On the same day, in real life, four Scottish university students steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish heritage, from the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey in London.  The klutzy Jocks broke the Stone in two.  Incredibly, they managed to get the pieces back to Scotland.

Early the next year, the culprits were caught, and the Stone was returned to Westminster.  In 1996, the British government elected to keep the Stone in Scotland, until necessary to crown a new British monarch.  So far, Queen Elizabeth II (whose mother was Scottish) remains on the throne, for 60 years now, and the Stone's transport back to Westminster has not been necessary.

Also on this day, Jesus Manuel Marcano Trillo is born in Caripito, Venezuela. A child born on December 25, and named Jesus? He’s better known as Manny Trillo, the second baseman of the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Unfortunately for all of humanity, on the same day, Karl Christian Rove is born in Denver, and grows up to prove himself Christian, literally, in name only.

Christmas 1951: On another episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye pays tribute to the camp's chaplain, 1st Lieutenant (later Captain) Francis Mulcahy (played by William Christopher).  And the company clerk, Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) tells another surgeon, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) that, on Father Mulcahy's recommendation, he'd written to Charles' mother, and asked her to send something that would remind the down-in-the-dumps Boston Brahmin of happier times.  She sent his old toboggan cap, and Charles was overjoyed.  This time, Santa was played by Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell).

Christmas 1952: On yet another episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye, B.J., Major Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit), and Father Mulcahy are called away from Mulcahy’s party for the local orphans, to tend to a wounded soldier. The soldier has no chance, but when Margaret finds a picture of his family in his pocket, B.J. goes back to work, saying, “A family’s Christmas wreaths should be green, not black.”

Despite their efforts, the patient dies at 11:25 PM. Hawkeye, seeing his best friend take it as hard -- clearly thinking of his wife, Peg, and daughter, Erin, back home in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley, California -- moves the clock ahead, so that the time of death will read 12:05 AM, December 26.  Farrell also wrote and directed this episode.  Harry Morgan played the commanding officer, Colonel Sherman Potter… and, in this episode, played Santa Claus.

On yet another episode of M*A*S*H, the MASHers are celebrating Christmas with British soldiers, who tell them of the tradition of the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, which in England is celebrated with two things.  Neither of which turns out to be prizefighting, as is found out by Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr), a former corpsman who, by this point, has replaced Radar as company clerk.  One is noblemen trading places with their servants, to boost morale.  The officers and enlisted men do this as well.  Potter thinks that's a swell idea.  (The other, not mentioned on the show, is nearby "football clubs" playing each other in "derby" matches.)

So Potter becomes company clerk, and names Klinger commanding officer.  Hawkeye and B.J. become hospital orderlies.  Charles is assigned to be the cook.  Then problems arise, and Klinger is in way over his head.  And then casualties arrive, and Hawkeye says, "Just this morning, I was an orderly.  And now, I'm doing abdominal surgery."

The Korean War lasted 3 years, plus one month.  But M*A*S*H had 4 Christmas episodes. Clearly, those British soldiers had to have arrived in the half-hour remaining of Christmas 1952, between the time B.J. lost the battle to save that soldier and midnight.  It couldn't be 1950, since it would have been Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) in B.J.'s place, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) in Potter's, and Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) in Charles'.  And it couldn't be 1951, since Klinger has already replaced Radar as company clerk.

In real life, on Christmas Day 1952, Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder is born in Georgetown, Guyana. She became the actress CCH Pounder. (Like the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, she does not use periods.)

And the Number 1 song in America is the original version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," by Jimmy Boyd, then about to turn 14, much older than the character he's playing.  Once married to "Batgirl" Yvonne Craig, and not to be confused with the actor of the same name who played J. Arthur Crank and Paul the Gorilla on The Electric Company, this Jimmy boyd continued singing and doing standup comedy, often opening for the various members of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, and died in 2009.

Christmas 1954: Singer Johnny Ace shoots and kills himself backstage at a concert in Houston. He was allegedly playing Russian Roulette and had no intention of killing himself.

But the world of music breaks even, as Annie Lennox is born in Aberdeen, Scotland. With Eurythmics and on her own, she is one of the world’s most beloved living singers.

Christmas 1955: Not having enough money to buy his wife Alice a proper Christmas present, Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden pawns his bowling ball. And on Christmas Eve, he finds Alice has given him a proper bag for his bowling ball. This Honeymooners episode, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was based on “The Gift of the Magi.” Ralph was played by Jackie Gleason, Alice by Audrey Meadows.

Christmas 1958: Alannah Myles is born in Toronto. Essentially a one-hit wonder, the singer of the 1990 Number 1 hit “Black Velvet” has suffered nerve damage and can barely move now, but she still records.

Someone born this day who moved a bit better was Hanford Dixon, born in Mobile Alabama. The All-Pro cornerback for the Cleveland Browns would bark like a dog at his teammates to get them psyched up, and fans in the bleachers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium would start barking along with him. Soon, he started calling that section the Dawg Pound, and they would respond by wearing dog masks and throwing dog biscuits.

Someone born this day who moved even better still was Rickey Nelson Henley, born in Chicago. His mother, who had married him after singer Eric Hilliard "Ricky" Nelson, remarried and took him to her husband's hometown of Oakland, California, and the boy was renamed Rickey Henley Henderson. A Baseball Hall-of-Famer and by far the all-time leader in stolen bases, Rickey is a legend. Just ask him.

Christmas 1960: Fired after arriving for work late and sloshed, department store Santa Henry Corwin wanders into an alley and finds a bag filled with gifts. The spirit of the holiday is one of the few bright spots in Henry's life, and as he begins handing out the gifts, he realizes the bag is able to produce any gift a recipient requests. After a brief jail stint that ends with Henry changing the mind of his mean, skeptical former boss, he continues handing out gifts.

Soon, one of his giftees points out that Henry has taken nothing from the bag himself. All he wants? To continue playing Santa every year, a wish that's granted when he finds an elf with a reindeer-driven sleigh waiting to whisk him off to the North Pole. This was an episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “Night of the Meek.” Henry was played by Art Carney.

Also on this day, in Mayberry, North Carolina, department store owner and resident Scrooge Ben Weaver demands that Sheriff Andy Taylor lock up local moonshiner Jim Muggins. Muggins' family, as well as Andy's, gather to celebrate the holiday with Sam. After witnessing how Jim and Andy and their broods can turn the jailhouse stay into a warm, inviting celebration, Weaver gets himself arrested so he can be part of the fun, and he ends the holiday by getting a nip of Jim's hooch himself.

This was the only Christmas episode of The Andy Griffith Show, and was titled “The Christmas Story.” Andy was played by Andy Griffith, Deputy (and substitute Santa Claus) Barney Fife by Don Knotts, Ben by Will Wright, and Jim by Sam Edwards.

Christmas 1962, 50 years ago: The film version of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird premieres, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and, in their film debuts, 10-year-old Mary Badham (sister of film director John Badham and now an art restorer), William Windom, Alice Ghostley, and, as the mysterious Arthur "Boo" Radley, Robert Duvall.

Christmas 1966: Agents Napoleon Solo snd Illya Kuryakin have to protect Chairman Georgi Koz, a foreign leader, who looks suspiciously like Nikita Khrushchev, at the United Nations.  This episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was titled "The Jingle Bells Affair." Solo was played by Robert Vaughn, Kuryakin by David McCallum, and Koz by Akim Tamiroff, who was born in the part of the Russian Empire that is now the former "Soviet republic" of Georgia, but was of Armenian descent.

Christmas 1968: The Apollo 8 astronauts become the first people of Earth to see the far side of the Moon. Also, Helena Christensen is born in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is one of the most heralded models of the last 20 years.

Also, Jim Dowd is born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Growing up in neighboring Brick, he was the first New Jerseyan to play for the Devils, and remains the only New Jerseyan to have his name on the Stanley Cup, having scored a late winner in Game 2 of the 1995 Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.

Christmas 1969: Baby's First Christmas. Well, mine, anyway. Not that I knew it.

Christmas 1971: The longest game in NFL history was played. The Miami Dolphins beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-21, in the 2nd overtime of an AFC Divisional Playoff. It was also the Chiefs’ last game at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, before moving to Arrowhead Stadium.

Also on this day, Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong is born in London. Best known for her song "Thank You" and her guest appearance in Eminem's video "Stan," Dido also sang one of the sexiest songs I've ever heard, "Who Makes You Feel." With her husband, Rohan Gavin, she had her first child, a son named Stanley, in 2011.

Also on this day, Justin Trudeau is born in Montreal to Canada's Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and his wife Margaret. Two years later to the day, another son would be born to them, Alexandre Trudeau. Both brothers would become journalists, and Justin now serves in Parliament, as his father did before him.

Christmas 1975: Two very different Boston legends are born. Hideki Okajima is a Japanese-born pitcher for the Red Sox, who helped them win the 2007 World Series. And Rob Mariano is born in Canton, Massachusetts. "Boston Rob" continually wore a Red Sox cap while appearing on the CBS series Survivor, and ended up marrying his season's winner, Amber Brkich. Together, they went on to compete on another CBS series, The Amazing Race. They now have 2 children.

Christmas 1976: OSI Agent Steve Austin (Lee Majors), a former Air Force Colonel, test pilot and astronaut, discovers that an OSI project is being tampered with by a modern-day Scrooge.  So The Six Million Dollar Man uses his enhancements to create the episode's title, "A Bionic Christmas Carol," and gets the man to mend his ways.  Factoring in inflation, the $6 million it cost to "rebuild" Steve would be about $31 million today.

Another superhero, Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), faces down a saboteur in "The Deadly Toys."

Meanwhile, across the country, in Queens, it's Christmas dinner at the Bunkers' house on All In the Family.  Gloria and Mike (Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner) invite David, an old friend of Mike's living in Canada, but choose not to tell Archie and Edith (Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton) that the reason David went to Canada is that he's a draft dodger.  Archie had also invited a friend, Pinky Peterson (Eugene Roche), whose son had asked him whether he should accept being drafted into the Army and fight in Vietnam, or run away to Canada.  Pinky advised him to obey the law.  Pinky's son was killed, making Pinky a "Gold Star Father." When Archie finds out about David, he rants and raves, until Pinky asks if his opinion means anything.  Archie, citing Pinky's circumstances, says his opinion means more than anyone else's.  Pinky tells his son's story, and offers David the handshake that he says his son would have given.  As usual, Archie does not take defeat well.

Christmas 1977: Charlie Chaplin dies as a result of a stroke. The most renowned of all silent-film actors is truly silenced, at age 88.

Christmas, 1978: Bert doesn’t have enough money to buy a Christmas present for Ernie. So he sells his beloved paper-clip collection to Harold "Mr." Hooper, and uses the money to buy a soap dish for Ernie’s beloved Rubber Duckie. But Ernie doesn’t have enough money to buy a present for Bert, either, so he sells his Duckie to Mr. Hooper, and uses the money to buy a cigar box, perfect for storing Bert’s collection.

Then Mr. Hooper comes over and gives them presents: Bert gets his paper clips back, Ernie gets his Duckie back, and the boys tell Mr. Hooper – who’s Jewish, and has been wished a Happy Hanukkah by Bob – that they’re sorry they didn’t get him anything. He tells the boys, “I got the best Christmas present ever: I got to see that everybody got exactly what they wanted.”

The other main plotline of A Sesame Street Christmas was Oscar the Grouch's cruel question to Big Bird: How does big fat Santa Claus get down those skinny chimneys? As it turns out, it doesn't matter how: Apparently, he does it.

Bert was a puppet operated by Frank Oz, Ernie by Muppets creator Jim Henson. Mr. Hooper was played by Will Lee, and Bob by Bob McGrath.  And Carroll Spinney played both Big Bird and Oscar, although I think now he only does the voices for them.

Christmas 1982: Chicago Police Detective Neal Washington (Taurean Blacque) tries to make amends with the widow of a liquor store owner that he accidentally killed while trying to foil a robbery.  Another, Michael "Mick" Belker (Bruce Weitz), goes undercover as Santa Claus.  This episode of Hill Street Blues is titled "Santaclaustrophobia." That title is also used for a 2003 episode of The King of Queens.

Christmas 1989: Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is overthrown, in the latest chapter of the anti-Communist revolutions of Eastern Europe of that amazing year. He and his wife Elena are executed.

Also on this day, legendary Yankee manager Billy Martin is killed in a drunken-driving crash near his home in Johnson City, New York.  He was 61.

On Married... with Children, a takeoff on It's a Wonderful Life is done.  Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) gets shocked into unconsciousness while working on his Christmas lights, and is visited by a rather unlikely guardian angel, played by Sam Kinison.  He gets to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.  As it turned out, much better for Peg (Katey Sagal).  Unable to stand this, Al wants to live again.

Christmas 1990: What would become known as the World Wide Web gets its first trial run.  Also on this day, the film Home Alone takes place.  Compared to Ceausescu and Martin the year before, the Wet Bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, get off considerably easier, despite being tormented by Kevin McCallister, the child protector of the home they were invading in Shermer, Illinois. Kevin was played by Macaulay Culkin.

Christmas 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union. He had become the opposite of “a man without a country”: He was, in effect, a one-man country. The next day, the Supreme Soviet dissolved, its last act being to dissolve the Soviet Union itself after 74 years.

Christmas 1993: New York Police Detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is not the first man you would think of to play Santa Claus at a Christmas party, but he does it.  James Martinez (Nicholas Turturro) gets his shield, promoting him to Detective.  And Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) visits his mother at a nursing home.  Her Alzheimer's-affected mind has her going back and forth between seeing her son as the man he is, and also as her husband, also Detective John Kelly, a Detective who'd been killed in the line of duty years earlier.  This episode of NYPD Blue was titled "From Hare to Eternity," for a subplot in which Detective Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) discovers that a cat living in the 15th Precinct house has eaten a rabbit he'd wanted to bring home to his kids.

Christmas 1994: Tim Taylor has to tell his son Randy, who wants to spend Christmas at a ski lodge with his friends, “Christmas isn’t about being with people you like! It’s about being with your family!” The show was Home Improvement, Tim was played by Tim Allen, and Randy by Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

"Tim the Tool Man" could use some of Superman's invulnerability.  However, on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Big Blue (Dean Cain) has his hands full.  "Seasons Greedings" adapts the Superman villain Winslow P. Schott, the Toyman, for the small screen.  Instead of the Ben Franklin-ish appearance of the comic book villain, this Toyman, a man fired from his job designing toys, is played by Sherman Hemsley.  So he invents toys that spray a substances that make people greedy, and makes adults act like children -- and Kryptonians are not immune.  With help from Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher), things get straightened out, Schott sees the error of his ways, and he even gets a date -- who is played by Hemsley's former TV wife, Isabel Sanford.  Dick Van Patten (as a Santa), comedian Dom Irrera, and Dean's mother Sharon Thomas Cain also appear.

Christmas 1995: Dean Martin dies of emphysema at age 78.  It is unfortunate that one of the leading singers of Christmas songs -- or "Christmas" songs, as I explained in my last entry -- died on a December 25.

Christmas 1996: JonBenet Ramsey is found murdered at her home in Boulder, Colorado.  She was 6. Her killer has never been definitively identified.  Had she been born a few years later, she likely would have been a child beauty pageant opponent of Alana Thompson, a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo.

Christmas 1997: Denver Pyle, best known as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard, dies of lung cancer at the age of 77.

Meanwhile, back in New York, we find out what Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) did when he, you know, actually worked.  He worked at H&H Bagels -- which actually existed, until going out of business in 2012.  He and his fellow employees went on strike 12 years earlier, demanding an hourly rage that has now become the New York State minimum wage.  Kramer goes back to work, but soon quits.

The Seinfeld gang's, uh, friend, dentist Tim Whatley (Bryan Cranston), hosts a Hanukkah party.  Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who has an on-again-off-again relationship with him, can't believe Tim is still Jewish.  Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld) says, "It's a breeze without the parents." Jerry had previously believed (and may still have believed, at this point) that Watley had converted just so he could tell Jewish jokes and use Yiddish words with impunity.  Asked, "This offends you as a Jew?" Jerry says, "No, it offends me as a comedian!" And George Costanza (Jason Alexander) has to deal with his father Frank (Jerry Stiller) reviving, upon urgig from Kramer, his former, noncommercial December holiday.  "This is the best Festivus ever!" he yells during "The Feats of Strength."

Christmas 1998: Just Shoot Me! airs "How the Finch Stole Christmas," narrated by Kelsey Grammer, who uses his basso profundo voice to sing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Finch." But Dennis Finch (David Spade) has (roughly) the same thing happen to him that the Grinch did.  There are also references to It's a Wonderful Life and, with Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni) looking a lot lot ol' Chuck thanks to his bald head and his shirt, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Christmas 1999: White House Director of Communications Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) discovers that a homeless man, whom he'd given a winter coat, has died, and is a Korean War veteran.  Toby uses his position to get him a military funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  President Bartlet (Martin Sheen, as stated earlier) isn't happy about how it was done, but allows it.  His secretary, Delores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), attends the funeral, and tells Toby that her late husband had also served in the Korean War, and that their twin sons had been killed in Vietnam -- on Christmas Eve, 1970.  (As far as I know, their names were never mentioned on The West Wing.)

Christmas 2000: A darker episode of The West Wing, telling of how Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, after being the person most seriously hurt in the recent assassination attempt on President Bartlet.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma appears as himself, and his performance triggers the memory of the police and ambulance sirens from the attempt.  Bradley Whitford won an Emmy for playing Josh in this episode.  Near the end of it, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) tells Josh the story about the man who falls into a hole, and puts Josh at ease by saying, "As long as I got a job, you got a job."

Christmas 2001: Or, rather, 2 days before.  A Congressional hearing into whether President Bartlet committed any crimes in keeping his multiple sclerosis from the public focuses on Leo, who flashes back to the first Bartlet campaign.  Before a shocking truth can be revealed, the Republican Counsel on the committee, Cliff Calley (Mark Feuerstein), recommends that they break for Christmas.  This buys time for a solution, and both the President and Leo keep their jobs.

Christmas 2002: Now re-elected -- it was never explained on the show why Presidential elections were now taking place in even-numbered non-leap years -- Bartlet has an old problem crop up, as reporter Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield), who has a flirtatious relationship with White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), arrives in a Santa Claus suit, and tells her he knows about the assassination of a foreign defense minister (and brother of the prime minister) who ran a terrorist group that intended to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge -- except that, in West Wing World, "their 9/11" was prevented.  Meanwhile, we discover that Toby was born 2 days before Christmas 1954, and his father, Julius "Julie" Ziegler (Jerry Adler), an ex-con due to working for the Jewish organized-crime outfit Murder, Incorporated, visits, and they have to tie up loose ends.

Christmas 2005: The Jeffersonian Institute in Washington is quarantined due to an outbreak of Valley Fever. This forces Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) to focus on a murder.  Also, the Jeffersonian gang finds out that Billy Gibbons of the band ZZ Top (who plays a fictional version of himself) is the father of one of their own, Dr. Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin).  This episode of Bones is titled "The Man in the Fallout Shelter."

Christmas 2006: James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, dies of pneumonia.  He was 73.

Christmas 2008: For the first time, NCIS airs a Christmas episode.  The Gibbs Team is asked to investigate a long-ago murder, of a sailor whose death certificate had been signed by Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum).  Guest stars include Peter Coyote, Kay Lenz, and Eric Stonestreet, in the role that likely got him hired for Modern Family.

Also on this day, in real life, Eartha Kitt dies. The singer of “Santa Baby” and one of 3 women to play Catwoman on the 1960s “Batman” series apparently had used up her 9th life, but what a life it was.

Christmas 2012: Mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and New York Police Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) spend their first Christmas together as a couple, after finding out who killed a man dressed as Santa Claus, on Castle.

May your days be merry and bright. God bless us, every one. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Sleep in heavenly peace.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Problematic Christmas Songs (Updated)

Since the world did not end, and we will have Christmas, I thought I'd repeat this one.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through The Bronx
not a creature was stirring where usually sit throngs.
The Pennants, they fly from the flagpoles with care
in the hope, in the New Year, a new one will be there.
The Yankees are nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of ticker-tape run through their heads.
And I at computer, wearing my Yankee cap
will now make you aware of a worrisome trap.

Problematic Christmas Songs.

Let’s start with the biggest Christmas song of all: “Jingle Bells.” Guess what: This song has NOTHING to do with Christmas!

The lyrics make no mention of Christmas. Or Jesus, by any name: Christ, Lord, King, King of Kings, King of Israel, King of the World, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Holy Child, Teacher, Rabbi, Wonderful Counselor... none of them.

Nor do the lyrics make any mention of presents, or a gathering family, or even Santa Claus and his entourage (Mrs. Claus, reindeer, elves, whatever else he’s got). “Jingle Bells” is about winter. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas.

Then there are the songs that someone (I forget who) once described as “songs Dean Martin liked to sing to get a woman to snuggle up with him by the fireplace.” “Winter Wonderland.” “Let It Snow.” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” “Marshmallow World.”

Now, I’m not gonna rip Dino or say these aren’t nice songs. But they don’t have anything to do with Christmas, either. They're about winter, not about Christmas. And since we associate Christmas with winter, regardless of Scripture suggesting that it didn't happen during winter (not to mention that there's no snow mentioned in any of the Gospels), we associate these songs with Christmas, however erroneously.

One of the Dean Martin fireplace songs (which doesn't have anything to do with Christmas) that most certainly is not nice is "Baby, It's Cold Outside." She says she has to go, her mother will worry, she's got a reputation to protect, and he keeps telling her it's cold outside, no cabs to be had, she should stay.  "Well, maybe just half a drink more," she finally relents.  (Dean Martin with booze on hand? How out of character... ) And then, just 2 lines later, "Say, what's in this drink?" So on the 12th day of Christmas, your true love gave to you... 12 roofies roofing? That's why this is known as "The Date Rape Christmas Song," and is inappropriate on so many levels.  At the very least, it's about a guy working way too hard to seduce a girl and using Old Man Winter (if not the Christmas season itself) as an excuse.

“Sleigh Ride” is another song like that, although considerably more innocent. The most familiar version is by Johnny Mathis. Johnny has been vague about whether he’s gay, but I never believed it until a few too many listens to him sing, “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too... ” Come to think of it, the song also mentions “a winter fairyland.” Johnny’s a great singer, even at age 75, but this song does him no favors.

“Frosty the Snowman” also has nothing to do with Christmas. It wasn’t until the 1969 special, narrated by an animated Jimmy Durante (as if the great comedian wasn’t already quite animated), that Frosty (voiced by another great comedian, Jackie Vernon) got a semi-official link with Christmas.

And, as the author of the blog "Nutball Gazette" pointed out, the song begins, "Frosty the Snowman was a happy jolly soul." Was? What happened? Is he dead now? As in melted? Or is he just unhappy? Maybe he's only mad that he didn't get any royalties from the song.

In fact, “Winter Wonderland,” “Marshmallow World,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Frosty” appear on the 1963 classic A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records – better known as The Phil Spector Christmas Album. So does “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” which is also not about Christmas (the lyrics mention “red leaves,” suggesting it takes place in autumn), although it was the theme song from a 1945 Christmas-themed movie starring Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley (he’d won an Oscar in the role in the previous year’s Going My Way) and Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict, the most beautiful nun you’ll ever see.

Putting aside what Phil did later, and some of it was monstrous, the album had 13 songs, 5 of which are not Christmas-related. The highlights, in my opinion, are Veronica Bennett (Phil’s girlfriend and eventual ex-wife, now usually known as Ronnie Spector) singing “Frawsty the Snowman” in her N’Yawk accent; and Darlene Love belting out the album’s one original song, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Phil demanded an original song for the album, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote it, as they wrote (and would continue to write) so many songs he produced. Sonny Bono played percussion on the album, and if you listen closely, you can hear his eventual wife, Cher, singing backup on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

The rest of these, I’ll do in alphabetical order.

Auld Lang Syne. I’m not sure why this song got associated with New Year’s Eve, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

The Christmas Song – better known as “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire.” Mel Torme wrote it, Nat King Cole is its best-known performer. “And so, I’m offering this simple phrase, to kids from 1 to 92.” So, for everyone age 93 and up, you’re out of luck?

Deck the Halls. “Don we now our gay apparel.” Once, this meant, “Let’s all put on some festive clothing to commemorate this festive season.” Now, it means, “Sweetheart, even Lady Gaga wouldn’t be caught dead wearing THAT.” And I’m guessing “Troll the ancient Yuletide carol” means “Sing an old Christmas song.” Could be worse, I suppose: You could be calling a woman “Carol the ancient Yuletide troll!”

Feliz Navidad. The only problem I have with this one is that it’s incredibly repetitive. It was good of Jose Feliciano to write a Christmas song that kids whose first language was Spanish can sing, but couldn’t he have written a second verse?

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. What a terrible idea to have to think about at Christmastime! As B.J. Hunnicutt taught us on M*A*S*H, “A family’s Christmas wreaths ought to be green, not black.” On top of that, lemme tell ya somethin’: If any reindeer ever tried to run over MY Grandma, she’d have popped him one, and then you’d know how he got the red nose!

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  "Make the Yuletide gay." Yeah, another one of those.  Made even more problematic by the fact that the song was introduced by Judy Garland.  (In the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis.)

Holly Jolly Christmas. The song written by Johnny Marks and introduced by Burl Ives in the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (based on another song Marks wrote, as he also did "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree") certainly seems jolly and innocuous enough, until you get to the line, “Somebody waits for you. Kiss her once for me.” Bump that! If she’s waiting for ME, I’m kissing her for nobody but myself! Reminds me of George Carlin’s rant about the line, “Give her my best.” (Said rant is too risqué to discuss in a Christmas-themed post.)

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. I don’t know what’s worse: That the kid in the song appears to be unaware that the guy he sees in the Santa suit is actually his father, or that he appears to be not particularly troubled that his mother is kissing a man who (he thinks) is not his father. Either way, this is not a very bright kid. (Please, save the “Santa only comes once a year” joke. That, too, is too risqué.)

To make matters worse, the other night, I heard it on the radio, sung by... the Jackson 5, back when they were first big. So, THAT explains Michael Jackson... I wonder if he ever asked a child to sit on his lap.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas. “You can count on me,” the singer says. But he closes by saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” So, can she count on you, or not?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. “Take a look in the five-and-ten.” Sadly, there are now very few five-and-ten-cent (or “five-and-dime”) stores. Woolworth’s closed in 2001. So did J.J. Newberry’s, bought out by McCrory’s, and very few McCrory's are left. Now we have “dollar stores.”

Another line: “There’s a tree in the grand hotel, one in the park as well.” Well, I should hope there’s a lot more than ONE tree in the park! I know, I know, Perry Como means a Christmas tree in the park. Still...

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.  Oh no you don't.  Look at all the places that are closed on Christmas.  If you need to buy something, you'll have to get it at 7-Eleven or Wawa or someplace like that.  And you will have to get things.  You think it's easy to shop for everyone you love for one day a year? Multiply that by 365!

Last Christmas.  First of all, it's by Wham! Second of all... Do I even need a "second of all"? The lyrics certainly suggest that it's the first gay Christmas song: "A face on a lover with a fire in his heart, a man under cover but you tore me apart." There are "blue Christmas" songs -- "blue" as in sad, not "blue" as in "blue language" -- but this one, even if the "man under cover" is the narrator, not his target, is lame as heck.  And did I mention it's by Wham?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. “There’ll be scary ghost stories... ” Uh, excuse me, Andy Williams, but I think you’re getting your holidays mixed up!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. First, “All of the either reindeer used to laugh and call him names.” “Then one foggy Christmas Eve... ” Rudolph’s prominent proboscis saves Christmas. “Then how the reindeer loved him.” Lousy bunch of fur-covered front-runners. I wonder if any of them ever said, “I’m sorry.”

Lisa Swan of the blog Subway Squawkers (see the link to the right) points out that, in the 1964 TV special based on the song, it gets worse before it gets better: Even Santa himself gets on Rudolph’s case – and on that of Donner, who in the story is the lead reindeer on the sleigh and Rudolph’s father, for essentially passing on a genetic mutation (of which Donner himself appears to be only a carrier). Not one of Santa’s better pop-culture representations, but, remember, this story isn’t about Santa, it’s about Rudolph, and Sam the Snowman (voice of Burl Ives) is giving you his perception of what happened.

Santa Baby. Ah, the joy of Christmas, where everybody wants something. Usually several somethings. A '54 convertible? Cars were huge in the Fifties. A yacht? A duplex? The ring could fit, the deed to the platinum mine could be folded up, but how exactly is Santa gonna get all that expensive loot into her stocking? He’s magic, the stocking is not! Okay, she does ask Santa to "slip a sable under the tree for me." I just got carried away, thinking Santa is ONLY responsible for the stuff in the stockings.

Then again, considering the 1953 original was by Eartha Kitt, maybe it’s a long, slinky nylon stocking. As Bill Maher (on whose show Politically Incorrect she guested a few times) would say, “Easy, Catwoman!” To make matters worse, she ended up dying on a Christmas Day, in 2008.  (James Brown, who recorded an album called Funky Christmas, also died on December 25, 2 years earlier.)

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. This is probably the most oft-cited problematic Christmas song, because of the line, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.” Uh-oh, this makes Santa sound like something out of a George Orwell novel: “Big Brother is watching you.”

Silver Bells. Nothing wrong with this one, as far as I can tell. In fact, it’s my favorite secular Christmas song. But there’s one version of it that’s not... quite... right. I’m sorry, but Wilson Pickett? The Wicked Pickett should not have been recording Christmas songs! It would have been like asking Karen Carpenter to sing “In the Midnight Hour”! (Then again, she did cover “Please Mr. Postman.”)

And how neat -- and weird -- was it in December 2010, on Saturday Night Live, to hear Jeff Bridges, not known as a singer (though he and brother Beau did play pianists in The Fabulous Baker Boys), duet on this song with Cookie Monster of Sesame Street?

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime. How is it that John Lennon, who dared to “Imagine there’s no heaven... and no religion, too” – not that he was saying there was NO God or Heaven, just asking us to imagine a world where people had “nothing to kill or die for” – wrote such a fantastic Christmas song, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”? While Paul McCartney, one of the world’s greatest songwriters and one of its greatest sentimentalists, facing that most sentimental of holidays, wrote such a weak one?

The Twelve Days of Christmas. First of all, where did your true love GET all that stuff? Second of all, where are you going to put it all? I mentioned George Carlin before, but I wonder if he ever incorporated THIS song into his bit "A Place For My Stuff."

A partridge, 2 doves, 3 hens, 4 calling birds, 6 geese, 7 swans? That’s a lot of birds. Think of the mess! Five golden rings? I can see getting one, but 5? One for each finger on the hand? That doesn't make any sense, unless the singer is Elvis, Liberace, or Elton John.  Or maybe Pink, or Pauley Perrette in character as Dr. Abby Sciuto of NCIS.

Six geese a-laying? Who uses goose eggs? Maybe one of the geese is "the goose that lays the golden egg."  Eight maids a-milking? Maybe she already has 8 cows, but this is not specified in the song. Without cows, the milkmaids will have nothing to do.

Nine ladies dancing, ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, twelve drummers drumming? I hope they’re all rented, because I can’t imagine having them around every day, especially if none of them does anything else.  Maybe one of the dancing ladies is also one of the milkmaids, and one of the leaping lords is also a piper or a drummer.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Have you ever eaten figgy pudding? Have you ever even SEEN figgy pudding? Me neither. “We won’t go until we get some.” Where is a family that doesn’t have any figgy pudding gonna go to get some on Christmas Eve (or Day)? If there’s a Jewish deli open (which once saved my mother when she needed wild rice for Christmas dinner), something tells me they’re not going to have figgy pudding, either.  Is it even Kosher?

Even the songs that are about the original Christmas – the Christ Mass – don’t always make sense. Again, I’ll do these in alphabetical order.

Do You Hear What I Hear? Ignore for a moment that “Do you hear what I hear?” is from the 2nd verse, thus the title should be “Do You See What I See?” Ignore also the likelihood (based on Scripture itself) that Jesus was not born in wintertime, on December 25 or otherwise.

In the 3rd verse, the shepherd boy says, “In your palace warm, mighty king, do you know what I know? A child, a child shivers in the cold. Let us bring him silver and gold.” This is the Christmas song that gets my mother upset: She points out, if the child is shivering in the cold, forget the precious metals, bring him something more precious: Blankets. One would think that the shepherd boy, almost certainly poor, would figure that out.

And how did he get into the king’s palace, anyway? Not that I want to take the king’s side against a poor shepherd boy, but I would like to know. Maybe, like King David started out as, the boy was a crafty little shepherd who found a way around a seemingly impossible situation.

The Little Drummer Boy. “The ox and ass kept time.” Sometimes it’s sung as, “The ox and lamb,” in case you don’t want to use the word “ass” around kids, even to mean “donkey.” You know, call me a relic, call me what you will, say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill... but the drummer is the one who’s supposed to keep time! Why does the little drummer boy need the ox and ass (or lamb) to do it for him? I know, he’s just a kid, and he’s certainly not responsible for the lyric, he’s just telling the story. But this is another dumb one.

O Little Town of Bethlehem. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Oh, really? Doesn’t the Gospel have the angel saying to Joseph, “Fear not”? Maybe the fears of all the years are dispelled in Bethlehem, but the point (or part of it) was that, with the birth of this child, there was less to fear.

We Three Kings. “Star of wonder, star of night.” Great phrase, but there are no “stars of day.” Yes, there is such a thing as “the morning star,” but that’s usually the planet Venus. There are people who believe that the Star of Bethlehem could only have been a “conjunction” of at least two planets (probably Venus and either Mars or Jupiter) looking like one big, very bright star. And, at the time of the birth of Christ, it might not have been known that these planets which looked like stars weren’t actually stars. Even a king might not have known that. Ah, but the “three kings” are usually called “the three wise men.” They have often been called scientists, astronomers or astrologers. If they were those things, they would have known what the Star of Bethlehem really was.

Oh well. Regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, your partner's gender, politics or even what teams you root for... for discrimination is the biggest humbug of them all...

May your days be merry and bright. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. And God bless us, every one.