Monday, May 31, 2010

One Man's "Late" is Another Man's "Early"

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. As such, it’s a time for us to ask ourselves some serious and probing questions: Will the bubbling crude in the Gulf ever be stopped? Are we about to enter a double-dip recession? At what point on the American calendar is it too late to take down my Christmas lights?

When I was growing up my father made it abundantly clear to me that nothing spelled “L-O-S-E-R” quite like the homeowner who could not get around to taking down his Christmas lights by Groundhog Day. We would snicker at those in the general vicinity of our neighborhood who had seemed to have lost their stepladder on New Year’s Day. We gawked with dismay at those who would drive in and out of their driveways each spring morning, apparently oblivious that Santa’s sleigh and reindeer were still on the roof above them, laughing at their unprecedented display of sloth.

So now, here on May 31, I stand sufficiently humbled. I’ve become the loser of my childhood, as my Christmas lights remain firmly attached to my house instead of tangled in the attic as in previous years. But I’m even in worse shape than anybody I can remember from my youth. I remember no neighbor or other human homeowner (circa 1970’s or any other non-leisure suit bearing epoch), who couldn’t take care of this light-taking-down business by Memorial Day. My Christmas lights now stare down at me each day, a mocking monument to my inability to even master one of the seven habits of highly effective numbskulls.

I find solace in the fact that even though tomorrow is June 1, the season we know as summer technically doesn’t begin for another three weeks, when one of the most important solstices of the summer—the MLB June Amateur Draft—takes place. This critical solstice, while important, should not be confused with the lesser-known “Summer Equinox,” which does not exist. Great Astronomers and weathermen since Galileo Galilei have recognized that the equinoxes are celebrated only in March (Vernal—after Vern Gosdin) and September (Autumnal—after “Fall”) when we have nothing better to do than note that the days and nights are equal in length at the equator (right…as if we’re ever actually going to be there).

But the point is that I have three weeks until it’s really summer. That’s a lot of time to evaluate my options. But by then the U.S. Open will have concluded and we’ll be thinking about buying fireworks so if you can’t call it summer by then, well then, you must be in New Zealand.

But what really should be the deadline for taking one’s Christmas lights down? Is there a point on the Roman or any other lesser calendar at which a guy should just yield to his loserness and decide he’s simply going to parlay his sloth and inability to launch into getting a jump on next year’s decorating? According to my calculations, the mid-point between January 1 (the theoretical appropriate time to take down the lights) and November 15 (perhaps the earliest anyone would put up their lights) is a none other than June 14—Flag Day. Yes, Flag Day. I am now declaring June 14 the “Official Point of No Return for Christmas Light Takedowns.”

I think Flag Day makes sense for a variety of reasons. While you’re walking outside to put your US Flag in its holder, why not spend a little extra time and drag out the ladders and take your lights down? You’re already in a decorating mood. The neighbors will hear your clanging ladders but not look over because they assume you’re just putting up flags. By the time they again look at your house they will not have noticed that you have removed all empirical evidence of your loserness. They may even forget you even forgot to take them down in the first place. Also, the last summer thought your neighbors will have of you will be of that nice Patriot who zealously celebrated Flag Day.

But what, you may ask, happens if Flag Day comes and goes and your Holiday Display is still firmly attached to your sagging gutters? You may wonder how I personally will handle this situation when I wake up on the morning of June 15. I fully intend to handle this situation by acting like it was my plan all along. I will simply acknowledge that I have a 5-6 month head start on all other 2010 Holiday Decorators.

Think of the benefits of leaving your Christmas lights up throughout the remainder of the summer. First, you avoid endangering your life by climbing on ladders, roofs, and hornets nests. Instead, you use your time much more wisely by enjoying various summer activities such as smoking baby back ribs, watching your sons cut grass, or sipping Arnold Palmers poolside. Second, consider an Independence Day lightshow on July 4th. You can invite your friends over and have a “countdown” ala New Year’s Eve then flip “the big switch” and illuminate the night sky. If you want to save money on fireworks, simply have one of your children stay inside and vigorously flip the light switch on and off for 35-40 minutes, thus simulating a patriotic fireworks display.

The benefits will endure throughout the remainder of the summer and pay big dividends long after the first autumn frost. Come Thanksgiving, you’ll be out frying turkeys instead of crawling up to your attic to untangle the lights which had mysteriously since last year wrapped themselves around that highchair your wife is saving “for the grandkids.” If that doesn’t get you going, then picture yourself this coming December parked in a lawn chair on your property line, sipping a steaming latte, as you watch your neighbor traverse his ladder and downspouts, leaning at a 45 degree angle right before he rides down his icy roof to his frozen concrete driveway below. If that’s not entertainment I don’t know what is! And YOU made it all happen by getting a jump on everyone else in the neighborhood. You bucked the trend, didn’t succumb to peer pressure, and stood your ground while others thought you were an idiot.

We may be onto something here. Don’t let those pesky neighbors or homeowners’ associations bother you. You’re making your life easier!

And while you and I may be losers in June, we’ll have the last laugh in December.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the Precipice of 50

Today marks the 49th Anniversary of my birth, which means if I remember any trigonometry at all I’m embarking on my 50th year. It’s an odd phenomenon in our culture, that we can't just be the age we are, we're always going on the next year. So no longer 16 going on 17, I'm 49 going on THE END.

So here I stand, peeking over this cliff with my fiftieth birthday staring back at me from below. It taunts me, really, with so many questions that yet remain unanswered. Things like how do we attain world peace; who is the family of man; and what, really, is the function of the gall bladder? Will I figure any of these things out before May 18, 2011?

What is there to show for these 49 years? Oh sure, there were some highlights in the early years. Dirty diapers, tetanus shots, leisure suits, and high school graduation to name a few. But these feats required little effort, little moxie. Showing up was sufficient.

Then I entered my “adult years,” went to college, and learned new and important and world-changing things like how to bounce a quarter off a table. My education there was not limited to parlor games, however. I also learned to expand my worldview and recognize that we are citizens of a larger planet, so I purposed to learn the Greek alphabet and to hate the Ruskies’ hockey team.

In college I was also introduced to fashion. I learned about the invention of a new color called argyle and the art of wearing a polo inside a button down (I actually never did this—thankfully). I learned that it really was o.k. to wear shorts that showed way too much of my legs and that wearing Topsiders did not mean I had to like Ted Turner. I even learned something about my masculinity. Yes, I could wear pink and plaid and not get beaten up.

But I had to leave college and grow up and find a job so I went to graduate school because my parents let me. There I learned that not everyone thought like I did. There I learned that some people contemplated more lofty, weighty, and meaty things than choosing between pepperoni and Italian sausage pizzas. There I learned that people thought my then-hero John Ashcroft was a “fringe idiot,” and that Marxism was not only a viable but preferable system to which you could hitch your proverbial wagon. But I survived graduate school and they did not manage to convert me to Marxism nor even dissuade me from voting for Reagan in his second term.

So after that I did the only Marxist thing I knew to do and went to work for the government. While working for the government I learned how to violate fundamental constitutional rights by annexing entire subdivisions into the city limits while the unsuspecting residents watched the Cosby Show.

My learning was not limited to city planning, however. Valuable, life-changing concepts were introduced to me. Things like “comp time” and “personal days” and “field work (on the golf course)” began to capture my full attention. Other "life skills" were acquired, like how to stretch a 15 minute coffee break into a referendum on the jelly doughnut.

Sometime during “the government years” I married my best friend and we embarked on a bit of a kamikaze 23 years that have added five children and multiple dogs and even a rodent or two to the mix. We moved from the suburbs then to the exurbs then finally to the country. If the goal was to move as far away from civilization as possible, then only Siberia remains.

But I still vow to see many questions answered before I'm actually 50. During the next year I resolve to finally and fully understand terminology such as Universal Life, Double Indemnity, and Oil Viscosity. It is my quest.

CAUTION: We will now shift into a serious gear....

Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that "the day of a man's death is better than the day of his birth." I often wonder how that can be, and can only understand it at the Cross of Christ. Somewhere below the precipice of 50, 60, 70 and beyond is a Cleft in the Rock. And it's there that everything makes sense and that all things are made new. Aged and ravaged and diseased bodies will be made whole once more. And all the groanings and longings of creation will be quieted and satisfied.

And all my questions will finally be answered. Better yet, they'll be rendered insignificant.

Photos Compliments of Michael R. Finley