Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just don't shoot yer eye out....

Sometimes, as the year winds down and the twilight settles over the Hall, Mrs. Hall will sit by the fire and have a glass of port and reminisce. Occasionally, the children will contrive to keep the glass full long enough that she will entertain them with a story or two. On one such evening, the children, sitting cozily around the fire and having refilled the cup more than once, ventured to ask, “Did you get what you wanted for Christmas this year?” This was her candid reply:

"Well, of course, nothing makes me happier than seeing you children for the holidays, but if I had my druthers, these would have been the Christmas presents I wanted (but didn’t get) this year:

"The Batphone- because who hasn’t had days where you just wanted to pick up the phone and talk to Adam West?"

WGN Warmwear- Global warming you can really believe in! (Sorry, but I’m a hopeless sap when it comes to Tom Skilling. Somebody just buy me the flippin’ blanket already)"

"Modern Dining Room furniture: Eero Saarinen- anything by this guy will do, but I really like these chairs."

"Water Orb -I can’t see where I have to explain why I want this- as anyone can see it is the very definition of FUN!"

"Hubley Atomic Disintegrator
"Because I never got over my folks getting rid of my twin pearl handled six shooters."

"I want my old Commodore 64 and it’s bootlegged games, but I want my Twitter, too. I still have it boxed up in my loft; it’s a pain to think how much time it would take me to bring it up to speed. Still, it’s nice to know, when I’m ready- it can be done (Breadbox 64 makes this possible)"

"Thats looking backwards in technology; here is looking to the future for some toys:
Pip-Berry 3000
"It seems to me that having your Pipboy on your Blackberry would be somewhat easier than having it on your wrist. Maybe it’s an accessory thing, but I just think it would blend in more easily with my evening wear."

"Strangeco Mars 1 Invisible Plan Vinyl Toys
"I should have gotten these when I had the chance- now I can’t find them anywhere"

"I used to work at Water Tower Place, right next to the John Hancock Building. I miss being back in the city, but with these, I can build my own little city for myself:"

"And finally, the gift I have been talking about for several years now, yet inexplicably no one has put it under the tree for me…. (this should properly be said all in one breath without pausing, a la Ralphy in “A Christmas Story”):

Monday, December 28, 2009

There's no place like Holmes for the holidays

Having picked up Master Chris from the airport Tuesday evening, the family was assembled around the dining room table once again for Christmas eve. It was the complete consensus of the group that the sauerkraut soup was a triumph and the fish superb. Even the prunes went quickly, and it was no time before the little band was cracking walnuts and picking through the cookie trays for dessert. "Can't we open just a few of the presents tonight?" they cried, so the wrapped surprizes from siblings were drawn out of the pile under the tree and opened. The dinner had come so late, though (mostly because Mistress Colleen had to work until 7:30) that there was only time for a quick look or two, and then it was off to the Basilica for midnight Mass. It wasn't until sometime around 1:45, that the big black car, filled with sleepy heads, slid back into the hanger again. With the youngsters shuttled off to bed, Mrs. Hall arranged the rest of the bootle around the tree. Mr. H. watched approvingly, then taking Mrs. H.'s hand, noted the time at 2:30 am as they went to bed.

Seasonal Shenanigans

Sometime around 5:00, Wookie started barking like crazy. Wondering why the hall light was on, Mrs. H. staggered downstairs to find Ian tearing through his stocking gleefully. "It's officially Christmas, you know," he said. Apparently he had wondered into Colleen's room a bit earlier to get her up, and ended up waking Wookie instead, who took it upon herself to reset the Homeland Security Level to Black Watch Plaid. Mr. Hall was not amused, but Mrs. H. stayed downstairs to revel with Colleen and Ian just long enough to take a few pictures, finish a cuppa joe and head back up.
So it was, with some surprize when she came back down around 8:30, that she discovered a couple of new packages under the tree! She checked the pictures that she had taken; there was no record there of the mysterious boxes. It turned out Mr. H. had renigged on their previous agreement, and slipped out to do some shopping for Mrs. H. unawares. She chided him, but only for a moment, for it was off to the kitchen to make waffles for everyone with her brand new waffle iron! Mistess Katie, who was in town for the week, came over, and they exchanged gifts, and Mimosas, as well. Non-stop grazing is heavily encouraged at the Hall during the holidays; meals seemed to expand endlessly, without distinct divisions, sliding from one into another, forming a sort of giant "Breaklunteasupsnak".
Warm temps brought an afternoon rain, but it wasn't enough to dampen the spirits of the group, nor even melt the snow from the previous week. They dashed off to the mall for the opening of the new movie, "Sherlock Holmes", yet an other incarnation of one of the Hall's favorite literary characters. As far as Mrs. H. could see, the biggest mystery around was how all the kids, stuffed plum full of candy, cookies and waffles, could polish off a ginormous bucket of popcorn at the movies and still come home and eat. All in all, a most satisfying holiday at the Hall.

Party like it's 2009 part two

Mr. Hall surveyed the bedspread. Lain out upon it were two riding style jackets. “The plain red one. Wear that one tonight.” Having voiced his opinion on evening wear, Mr. Hall went off to pass judgment on his shoes. Mrs. Hall dutifully put away the lavish red plaid jacket and finished dressing. One of her favorite get-togethers, the Onondaga Oswego Funeral Directors Association (OOFDA) Christmas party was Saturday night and she wanted to strike the right note. Sponsored this year by Sunnycrest Vault Company, the invitation usually brought out all the slackers who had missed the year’s previous events. And Coleman’s restaurant did a nice job of it, too, featuring hors d’oeuvre, slicing stations and dainty desserts, all intended to encourage lively mingling. The restaurant was aglow with twinkling decorations, and even the window on the leprechaun’s door was shined up. Shown at left: Sam schmoozing with Bob Atkinson from Sunnycrest, and in the booth with that famous gadabout and Marcellus bon vivant, Hugh Norris.

The only hands with whom Mr. Hall will entrust the big black car work at John’s Auto Care in Solvay. He has taxied her into their garage bays several times over the past few years, and she has always emerged purring like a kitten. So it was with hearty cheer that they greeted the invitation to John’s customer appreciation Christmas party this year. It used to be held inside the two auto bays on the right, with the buffalo wings set next to the wing nuts and the Southern Comfort near the Castrol. But, as festive a scene as that was, they felt the party could be better served at Smorol’s tavern, so that’s where the Halls ended up last Wednesday after work. The atmosphere was casual and friendly, made more so by the wonderful homemade cookies and happy youngsters running about. A terrific end to a short work week!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's time to party like it's 2009

Mrs. Hall slid into her black patent leather pumps while Mr. Hall rummaged through his closet. Emerging with something green and red and wrinkled, he held it up to her scrutiny. "Do you think it's appropriately hideous?" he inquired, but the look of horror on her face revealed that no reply was necessary. "Perfect," he said. "I'm ready." There must be an unwritten rule amongst the legions of haberdashers, Mrs. H. mused, that requires them to make Christmas ties of such unmistakably ghastly material, that no one will ever be tempted to wear them any other time of the year.

Fridays in December are always a little more festive and last Friday, the Halls began their festivities a trifle early. Closing up shop shortly after 4:00, they toddled on down to Oakwood Crematory, just south of the Syracuse University campus, for their annual cocktail party. It's quite a varied group, from funeral directors and vault salesmen, to secretaries and sextants. Kelly's restaurant usually caters the event, and folks mill in and out, in a leisurely fashion, remarking on the sogginess of the surrounding terrain and how the whims of the current economy favor or disfavor their businesses. Mr. Hall surveyed the room, looking for his colleagues, and spying no business suits nor many grey heads, concluded that for the first time, he knew fewer than half the guests in the room. He sighed deeply, and touched Mrs. H's elbow. "Finish your shrimp and let's head on over to Daniel's early tonight. I feel like Methuselah in here."

It was a quiet trip the whole way back, and dropping his homburg in the big black car, Mr. Hall said,"There's a Manhattan with my name on it waiting for me." But as soon as they slid into the bar, it became evident there was more than that. Steven Iltsch (prominent funeral director and Past Potentate of Tigris Shrine) and his lovely wife Pam, and that popular bon vivant Hugh Norris and his charming spouse Joyce, cheered him on and welcomed him with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!" Mrs. H. had arranged for some of his friends to meet him this Friday to celebrate his birthday and to toast him on to a new year. Several glasses of wine and a few dinner courses (including of course, a birthday cake, bearing the legend "Happy Birthday Mr. Hall", that Colleen had picked up and stashed at Daniel's) later, the merry band rolled out fat and sleepy. Mr. H. deposited his present, a boxed set of season three of "The Man Show" next to his homburg, sighed contentedly, took Mrs. H's hand and drove home.

The Thursday before last, the Halls had to work late, so it was nearly 4:45 by the time the big black car headed south on Route 81 towards Endwell. Batesville Casket Company was holding their Christmas party in the Southern Tier this year, at the Traditions on the Glen resort. The Mansion At Traditions At The Glen was built in 1919 as the residence of Mr. Eliot Spalding - treasurer of the Endicott Johnson Shoe Company. In 1935, the property was sold to IBM - who first used the mansion as an employee country club. In 1938, the company converted it into a hotel for visiting executives coming into Endicott to master the growing line of data processing machines. In 2004, the mansion and its lovely grounds were purchased and restored to an 18-room inn with overnight accommodations, meeting and banquet space, and a championship 18 hole golf course. It's a little late in the year for golf, said Mr. Hall, but they'll probably have a nice dinner there. The whole resort was decorated beautifully, with bows and swags and poinsettias aplenty; certainly enough to draw the eye carefully from the hors d'oeuvre and carving stations to the casket display on the other side of the room. Wine spritzers and sales pitches were the order of the evening- Mrs. Hall was careful not to drop crumbs from her little Italian Christmas cookies into the crepe as she leaned over the merchandise to check it out. "It's just like going to the Auto Show", she exclaimed "with all the new fabrics and colors and styles!" After a quick examination of the new web hosting service Batesville offered and the announcement of a potential central registry for obituaries in tandem with, the Halls decided they had seen it all and thanking their hosts, pointed the big black car homeward. Next episode: the fun continues!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wreck the Halls

It's cold in here, thought Mr. Hall. It had been rather chilly in the East Wing the last few weeks, though not as chilly as Mrs. Hall's reaction is going to be when she finds out that she's getting her new windows as a Christmas present. Still, it had to be done, and with the added bonus of getting a tax credit slapped on, the deal was signed and ordered. Mrs. Hall looked on as the workmen carved an 8' x 8' hole in her family room wall. The temperatures had been dropping precipitously and by the second day, the returning workmen had to spend some time resurrecting their tools and siding out from under a layer of snow. But by weekend's end, the windows were sparkling and the East Wing toasty and warm once again.
The timing, as it turned out, was excellent. Mrs. Hall and the children were now able to turn their focus completely to putting up countless trees (and the accompanying penguins) about the Hall; and more importantly- get on with the cookie making!
Cookie making at the Hall should be one of the Olympic Challenges- it takes skill, stamina and cunning. As soon as Mrs. H. can be observed pulling recipes and returning with baking supplies, the attacking hoards assume their readiness positions. Then, as quickly as cookies, brownies, fudge, pudding, etc. appear, they begin to mysteriously diminish; a blur here and a handful of mint meltaways are gone; a group of kibitzers walk by and half a tray of marshmallow wreaths are missing. (Shown in picture: Mr. Avery Wheelock of Wheelock Rides, enjoys some homecooked seasonal sugar at one of the cookie exchanges attended by the Halls this year.)
Occasionally distractionary tactics are employed. Mrs. Hall leaves clementines and apples out for free range grazing- she keeps the nut dish full and readily accessible. But not even the tried and true bait and switch tactic of baking cookies in the oven at the same time as microwaving something more smelly but less desirable, such as stuffed peppers, cannot foil the onslaught of children, visitors, pets and even Mr. Hall himself from purloining the goods as quickly as they are produced. It is only by sheer luck and determination that any are actually put up and saved for the Christmas eve feast.

Karate Kid
Mistress Colleen, who acquired her yellow belt in judo when she was just nine, has qualified for her yellow in karate this month. Along with her usual studies at OCC, she has been indulging in a few extracurricular classes, and karate is one of them. Kudos to Colleen and to all the unwary and unruly shoppers out there she might encounter- watch out!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spirit of Christmas Looming Ahead

The Monitor had the privilege of talking to “Slabs” Coletti, noted trade embalmer for a prominent funeral home in upstate NY, last week- he had just finished cleaning up the prep room and took a few moments to enlighten the editors with his timely advice.
“At this time of year, it’s a safe bet that at least a third of your time will be spent examining the purchases of the other fellow shoppers in front of you, and like most of us, you end up wondering, ‘What could they possibly have been thinkin’ when they picked out that?’” Within the industry, Slabs has a reputation for being a dangerous intellectual. “I like to use that time to draw up a sort of psychological profile of those folks, based on their purchases. This not only fills the empty hours usually wasted at the cash register, it occasionally helps warn me of any potential troublemakers I might have to face in the parking lot getting out.”
While he admits it’d be tough to get a bead on him from the items Slabs usually buys (extra nylon knee-highs for ladies, inexpensive pancake makeup and bulk-load lots of hand sanitizer), he usually ends up placing most other folks into these regular categories:
Early adopters: distinguished by the fact that their pumpkins (or possibly even Memorial Day flags) are still on their porch. They are easy to spot; they’re the only ones in line in light shirts and shorts as they load up on the wreaths, garlands and playful snowman inflatables for the front yard. Everyone knows one of these types- they’re the ones who have enough forethought to take that picture when they were in Hawaii of the whole crew in Santa hats so they can have them printed up for Christmas cards in December. (Yeah, he hates them, too.)
Not to be confused with:
Lazy slobs: their pumpkins are still on their porches alright, but it’s December 20th already and the pumpkins look like some kid’s science project. They’re usually buying the Christmas tree that’s displayed closest to the checkout line.
This group is a subset of the type Slabs likes to call the

Playing Chicken with the Christmas Sales Bunch: Their decorations are a random mix of whatever’s leftover just before Christmas Eve and the dross the stores are desperate to dump. While colorful to be sure, the only unifying theme here is cheap and junky; meaning most of it will either break or get lost before next year, requiring them to repeat the cycle endlessly. Sometimes, Slabs notes, a single item alone will standout as a clue-
The Charlie Brown tree: Sure, this is Everyman- who can’t relate to this holiday classic? But if that special someone in your life wants to wallow in the feelings of alienation and inadequacy associated with this tree, then the perfect gift for them might be the collected works of Sylvia Plath.

Anything from Frontgate©: Hopeless one-upmanship “My favorite strategy here,” says Slabs, “when dealing with these people, is to imply that their purchase will do in a pinch if nothing else can be acquired, but that you wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t fresh-flown in from Vermont or Washington State.”
When asked what Slabs was planning on giving for Christmas gifts himself this year, he replied, "Fruitcakes. It's a cinch folks will always think of me when they see it; what else is more well-preserved than that?"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tis the season

There was a small commotion in the kitchen as Mr. Hall rearranged the jars in the refrigerator. “This can’t be all the cherries left; some one must have been helping themselves to a little snack…” Mrs. Hall checked the thermometer and felt the bite in the air. Wintery weather and weekday Manhattans oft times go hand in hand at the Hall. “I should be flying the Gulfstream down to Florida about now,” he grumbled. There are those poor souls who do not suffer the change in seasons happily and Mr. H. is one of them.
One of the problems is Mrs. H. is invariably so upbeat about the whole thing. “But it’s beautiful in the city right now!” she would argue as she dragged him downtown. “The tree in the Clinton Square is all aglow and the Niagara Mohawk building never looked more lovely.” Mr. Hall scowled and muttered under his breath each time he maneuvered the big black car into a tiny parking space.
Tuesday was a local wine tasting. It was in a charming old warehouse, adorned with well worn toys and board games, in the old district where Mr. Hall used to drive ambulance when he first came to Syracuse. The city is experimenting with new ways to induce people to come downtown and to that end, they were sponsoring a series of invites to local businesses. Free wine samples are always welcome, but Mr. H. remained largely unmoved.
Thursday Mr. Hall attended his first-ever Twitter mixer. Mrs. Hall is an avid fan of the web service “Twitter” and they were both anxious to match the faces with the lively correspondents they had come to know so well. (Mr. H. readily confesses he’s not yet fluent in the mysteries of Twitter, but he had to admit it was an interesting group.) Despite the usual grumblings on the way home, Mrs. Hall could recall seeing the vestiges of actual enjoyment flickering oh-so-briefly across his face, especially when she caught him devouring some cupcake samples from a local bakery.
But the real gleam of the season finally came over the weekend. With the help of Mistress Colleen and Master Ian, the trees came out of storage, the lights and the pine boughs and wreaths appeared and last of all, the mascots of Penguin Hall, Beau and Ty, were lovingly arranged in their place of honor on the front porch. The Weather Gods and the calendar at long last made peace with each other, and for the first time all season, snowflakes spun and danced like the inside of a snowglobe, all over Marcellus. Mr. Hall sat back contentedly in his chair and watched his favorite football team destroy their opponents. He sighed, sipped a fresh Manhattan (made with two cherries, just the way he likes it) and decided all was right, at least momentarily, with the world.

Tell your friends!