Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide for the "Frugal" Man

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. However, he's in line behind the banks and car manufacturers for a government bailout. If Santa had been allowed to drill for oil on his property, you might be seeing something decent under your tree. But noooo - we were too worried about saving the permafrost to let him drill.

So you're on your own this year. The elves are getting reindeer steaks, and since he finally got satellite tv, the big guy is staying home, emailing gift cards to everyone instead of venturing out in the freezing freeze. If you're lucky, by the time you get your gift card, the store will still be open for business.

If you haven't bought gifts yet, you are most likely male. Let's face it - most women buy gifts all year 'round, stuffing them into a 'gift closet' for use later. That closet quickly becomes an archeological time capsule, the lower layers filled with ungiven gifts. Dig deep enough and you'll find some interesting things, like maybe a Partridge Family lunchbox, or rainbow toe socks. Or Hoffa.

As a result, women are ready to gift spontaneously any day of the year. Christmas could be magically moved to August and we would be ready, armed with curling ribbon and raffia. Guys - well, not so much.

The great thing about being a guy is that as far as gift-giving goes, no one really expects anything of you, except perhaps shock-value entertainment in the form of how insipid your gift is. The most we women can expect to receive is fodder for future complaints.

"Ralph gave me another set of soup bowls. Amazing!"

"You think that's bad? I got a cookbook. Written by his mother's parole officer."

Rejoice, men, in these low expectations. There's no need to raise the bar, especially this year. But what should you buy? Those stinkin' soup bowls really cut into your beer budget.

Thank goodness for me, right? As a woman, I know how to make a big deal out of nothing. As a woman, I'm adept at handing out unwanted advice. And as a woman, I have the right to tell you to sit down, shut up, and listen.

"Hey," you might say, "My buddies and I don't exchange gifts. That's a girlie thing." I hear ya. That's why when you give them these gifts, do it at a bar. They won't have anything for you, so they'll be forced to pick up your tab for the night. Now I have your attention, don't I? I thought so.

The following is a list of inexpensive gifts designed to look like you put some thought into it. Feel free to wait until the last minute to get them. Like you'd do it any other way:

1.Build a Nuclear Fallout Shelter Out of Government CheeseYou can make this book for free by going to any fallout shelter website, preferably a hysterical one, copying the 'how-to' information, and replacing the word 'prefabricated' with 'gouda.' Print on your home computer and voila - instant cheapo gift. Your friends will be so impressed that you cared enough to keep them alive, at least a little longer than everyone else. Armageddon one of these for everyone on my list!

2. Photo frame belt buckle($14.98 Nothing says 'Ho, ho, ho!' quite like wearing a photo of a loved one, or somebody's loved one, close to your um, heart. Why not be a real friend and preload the buckle with a nice, tasteful photo off the Internet? Make sure you label your giftbox carefully - you don't want this going to your mother by mistake. Unless she's in prison and can trade it for something decent.

3. Regift candles, soap, and other unwanted oddities - What is it with women and candles? There must be an unwritten rule about giving someone a chunk of wax. Something like, "You already have everything, you skank, so I'm giving you this bizarre symbol of excess." Or maybe, "Figuring out what you would really like is too much of an effort. Here's a freakin' candle." I have 800 pounds of wax in my closet. When the last power outage rolled through, I was so excited that I could finally use some of these scented, multi-colored mahoozits, even though it was noon. Anyway, do your gal a favor - dig deep into that gift closet, grab some of those unwanted blobs, throw some paper around them, and get them the hell out of there. Trust me, she'll thank you eventually. Special note - this type of gift is best given to an aunt or your mother, someone likely to buy you a Home Depot gift card in return. Give this to one of your drinkin' buddies, and things could get weird.

4. Nosepicking for Pleasure ($7.95 - You know you're gonna read book this before you give it to anyone - how could you resist? Just make sure not to leave any 'bookmarks,' if you know what I mean, because that's snot cool. When you hand this gem to your buddy, tell him he's more than welcome to regift it. Not that he wouldn't anyway, because it's just so darn awesome manly (in a third grade sort of way), all his buddies will want to check it out.

5. "I Love You" Toast Stamper ($4.50 -

This is for your sweetie. After all, it's the thought that counts, right? She'll have a blast stamping your toast in the morning. That way she can say "I love you" without waking you up. Do not use it as a branding iron. It will melt. Do not ask me how I know that, or I will bury you in my gift closet.

With any luck, your friends will be buying you drinks, and your wife/girlfriend will ask you to never buy anything for her ever. Which is really the goal, right? If you don't like to do something, do it badly, and you won't be asked to do it again. Just like the makers of government cheese.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Needs More Salt

When I was a kid, we celebrated the traditional family Thanksgiving - tons of food (lots of it home grown), an all day cooking marathon, a cool fall nip in the air, and football. Not all the best plays were in the football games:
  • My mom would try to intercept my grandmother, who was intent on salting the daylights out of every dish. Nana would fake right, get a key block from a child-distraction (usually my little sister), then loft the saltshaker over the potatoes, turkey or whatever receiver was open at the time.
  • My brother, Tom, made an end run around kitchen duties by discovering a sudden, latent interest in football. He would tiptoe into the living room, bury himself in the couch, and stare quietly at the television, hoping that his stillness would camouflage him. He would blend, forgotten, into the furniture, hoping to avoid being hauled into the culinary chaos. I would not be surprised to discover that he was still there.

  • My younger sister would play ‘assistant coach' in the kitchen, messing up anything she touched, to the point Mom would shoo her off to play before she spilled any more hot gravy on the dogs or poured more cat food in the string beans. At the time I thought my sister was clueless. But now I’ve worked with adults who have perfected similar levels of incompetency. If you act like a child, continually botching projects, no one will expect you to do anything. I call it planned adolescence.

  • My youngest brother guarded the temperamental oven with a fire extinguisher, in case it 'overheated,' a traditional Celtic term meaning house fire. I always wondered if its affinity to go up in flames was somehow related to excessive salt.

    My dad spent much of the day in the back forest cutting firewood. He would come in for a break to watch football a bit, then head back out. After a few minutes listening to our kitchen shenanigans, he quickly opted for the soothing sound of the chainsaw.

    Our kitchen was long, like a bowling alley. Just clearing the table involved lots of hiking back and forth. On Thanksgiving Day, when everyone was in there, including the pets, navigation was impossible. We were constantly tripping over a dog or a grandmother or both. My mom held her ground and her sanity with a bottomless glass of Gallo wine. I huddled in a corner and peeled potatoes, taking notes on a childhood that was sure to someday make me a famous writer. If I survived.

    Even the livestock knew something special was going on. We often fed leftovers to the horses, so through the miracle of conditioned response, whenever they caught sight of my brother with the fire extinguisher, they knew Mom was cooking and that leftovers were inevitable. Ever hear a horse whinny all day for potatoes and gravy? It’s not a pretty sound. They’d get so excited that the cows figured out something was up, and would start in as well-

    Midnight the cow: Moo! Moooooo!

    Cindy the cow: What’s up? Why all the mooing?

    Midnight the cow: Well, the horses are making a racket. Something about a saltshaker run amok up there in the house. Figured I’d join in.

    Cindy the cow: Gotcha…Moo! Mooo! …what’s a saltshaker?

    Sadly, there was so much noise inside the house, with my mother defending the cranberries from Nana the Crazed Saltress of Doom, and my sister shrieking that her Chatty Cathy dolly wanted to help salt things, too, that the din from our cheerleading cows was lost in the commotion.

    Perhaps this was why holiday tunes were invented – to blast them loudly so the neighbors couldn’t hear the real chaos going on inside the house. Perhaps that is why we lived so far out in the country, so neighbors weren’t within earshot.

    In any event, it was Thanksgiving, so eventually, after hours and hours of preparation, pandemonium, and excessive spicing, we all sat down in the dining room together, said Grace, and ate. For about fifteen minutes. By then we had run out of salt.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Video!

You know the credits that whiz by on your screen at the end of a television show? The endless parade of teeny names scurrying by so quickly no human eye can read them? When was the last time you said, "Wait! we simply must Tivo this so I can slow it down enough to find out who did makeup for the second unit during the food fight scene!"

I didn't think so. And music videos, it seems, are even lower on the digital food chain than I Love Lucy reruns. You might see the name of the song, the group, the director, and record company, and that's it. If you want to know who fed the cast and crew between downpours, or who towelled off the patio for the line dancers, or who was in charge of jiggling the handle on an itinerant toilet so things flowed smoothly, you are simply out of luck.

At the time, making the video seemed like such a huge deal. And it was a big undertaking. But my main concern was handling the instant stardom it would certainly bring, and the TMZ paparazzi fallout. Would I be forced to grocery shop late at night to avoid my adoring fans like Britney does? (At the Vons on PCH in Malibu. On Tuesday nights. In case you want to help her load her Evian and Stoli into her car. Evian goes in the back. Stoli goes between the baby carseats.)

It has already started. Yesterday, as I cruised the vegetable aisle, I was getting weird stares and heard the murmurings begin:

"Isn't that the assistant director/lo-flo jiggler for the Country Girlz video?"

"Wow, she does her own grocery shopping - how counter-culture is that!"

I had to autograph 3 cucumbers and a Cup-a-Soup before I could make it out of the store.

So what's the hype all about? This:
At about the three-minute mark, I have a brief cameo. I would have been in more of the video, but that misbehaving toilet kept me pretty busy. Plus I didn't want to give my adoring fans too much the first time around. Or I'd be forced to become a recluse and have Britney do my shopping for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Your Typical Saturday BBQ

The morning of the video shoot, I was awakened at 4 am by thunder. Hasn't rained substantially in the LA area in nearly a year. I haven't thrown a party in several years. But there we were, watching puddles procreate on the patio. Ever try to barbeque in your living room? It doesn't work too well. Ever try to film a country music video in your living room? That works about as well as a barbeque. For either one, pretty soon your house is full of smoke and noise, and your dogs have disowned you.

Taping started at dawn. Tapping the keg started shortly thereafter. Taping and tapping continued until sunset. Tapping my foot from hearing the song in my brain continues. I cannot get this song out of my head! R U Down with the Country Girlz?

The early morning shots were up in the hills. With the storm, lighting was phenomenal. Everything glowed, slick and alive. Too bad Los Angeles can't be like that all the time, but to see it then was special.

Next were the truck shots. The whole band piled into Howie's truck, the cameraman in front of them filming, hanging out of the trunk of the camera car. Major mud puddle action, bumpin', splatterin', country four-wheelin'. No whining from anyone. At least, nothing we could hear over the pounding of the rain.

At times it absolutely poured. After drought conditions for years, we never saw the sun that day. Rain chased many SoCal sissies inside, so attendance was a bit lower than expected. But the group that showed up - wow. To say they were diehards is an understatement. We'd run outside to lighten the margarita machine, then we'd head back in for a while until the rain stopped. Then we'd dance. Then it would rain. Then we'd dance in the rain. Then we'd do it all over again.

Due to the shortage of line dancers, I was forced to put on daisy duke shorts and power jam in the mud with the band. Yes, I know, twist my farmer's-tanned arm. We line danced between downpours, mud sucking at our boots, smiling, laughing, giggling. Not a single complaint all day from anyone. Lots of 'thank-you's' and tons of help from everyone. Even the dogs cooperated by clearing the floor of ribeye bits and margarita spills. Urp.

Were our glasses half full or half empty? All I know is, there was rain in them. And for the record, rainwater margaritas are awesome.

Can't wait for y'all to see this.
Although I'm not sure the country music world is ready. Not sure anyone is. I sure wasn't!

Starting November 17th, we'll be posting 30-second spots on CMT advertising the video. It will then be available for download on Youtube. Some record exec will see it and throw gold coins, which will hurt when they hit us, but eventually will come in handy.

I will be writing in simple sentences until I recover from this whole ordeal. Someone get me another paper bag to breathe into.