A Time for Thanks

It's the advent of the holiday season. Actually, it's the ad event of the season. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. I think Hallmark has come out with a line of cards for this new holiday.

"Happy Biggest Shopping Day Of The Year (Traditionally)!"

You ate your fill of turkey, cranberries, yams and pie
You ate so much stuffing you thought that you would die!
Today you have to get off your duff
The kids have wish lists already,
they can never have stuff enough.
So as you dash from store to store
Remember their Christmas credo:
Give me More, More, More!

Personally, you won't find me taking part in any of this foolishness (traditionally). I'm a big last minute shopper. I mean "Last Minute." I'll go to the gas station on Christmas Eve and get everyone's gifts.
"Let's see...I have the ice scraper for Cousin Mel, the pine tree air freshener in pine scent for Aunt Gladys, the pine tree air freshener in vanilla scent for Cousin Theresa, the deluxe oil fill spout for my brother, the can of Gumout for Uncle Bill, the triple pack of pine tree air fresheners for Aunt Sarah with the cats..." It can be done.

Kee-ripes, man! I nearly got a hernia bringing in the newspaper Thanksgiving morning. It was more than twice as big as normal with all the extra flyers for all the stores trying to attract Christmas shoppers for the big event the day after Thanksgiving, and all the extra sections with all the tips and hints for not going totally insane during the holiday season. Timely tips such as "lock up all your high-powered, semi-automatic weapons and give the key to your pastor." Another good one is "avoid situations which may make you want to wrestle the key to your gun locker from the pastor." And, of course: "avoid high towers where you may have stashed extra weapons and ammunition."

There's the special holiday food sections with timely recipes and tips to avoid packing on the extra pounds during the holidays. Tips such as "lock all your holiday baked goods in the freezer and give the key to your pastor." And "avoid situations which may make you want to wrestle the key to your freezer from the pastor." And, of course: "avoid high towers where you may have stashed extra Christmas goodies and high-powered weapons and ammunition."

We've forgotten that this is a time to give thanks, not for getting psyched up and planning strategy for the shopping bltiz the day after Thanksgiving. A time to be glad for what we have, not a time for dwelling on what we don't have and how we can get some of it. This should be a happy time, not an ordeal to be suffered through. It was never that way before.

Once upon a time, back-to-school was the last couple of weeks of August, Halloween was the last week of October, Thanksgiving was the third or fourth week of November, and Christmas was the last part of December. Now you can start your Christmas shopping at the same time you're doing your back-to-school shopping. I just ignore the new conventions and traditions and stick with the old tried-and-true. Unfortunately, I fear I will have to conform. Pretty soon you won't be able to buy any Christmas gifts in December, because they are a seasonal item, and the season for purchasing them is June, July and August. if you think I'm kidding, just try to buy a bathing suit in the summer!

I have come up with some things I am thankful for. Maybe you can take these for your personal list, or add them to your list.

I'm actually thankful for a lot more, but I heard Walmart is having a special on bathing suits and sunscreen, so I'm off to brave the throngs seeking happiness through Visa and MasterCard at this blessed time of year. When will these people learn to trust their local gas station for all their holiday shopping?


©Copyright 1996 Mike Zimmerli


Into the Breach

I tried to warn her, but she wouldn't listen. I told her it was too dangerous. No one could go into that room and come away unscathed. I told her there were things too terrible to comprehend in there, and that this sort of thing was better left to trained professionals who have become calloused to the type of atrocities contained within those four walls. I tried to reason with her, to talk her out of it, but my words fell on deaf ears. I begged her to tie a stout rope around her waist in case things got too rough and we needed to haul her out, and, reluctantly, she agreed. Giving my hand a quick squeeze, and my lips a brief, soft brush with hers, she turned away. A look of determination was fixed upon her face as she edged closer to the threshold of that room where mortals normally dare not go. Then, a couple steps more, and she was gone. I wondered if I would ever see her again, or if this was to be our final parting. My wife, Mary, had bravely gone into our daughter's bedroom, vowing not to emerge until it had been thoroughly cleaned. Our daughter is a pig.

That girl is a pee-eye-gee pig. No parent likes to admit their child is a slob, but our daughter, Becca, is a bona fide pig. We have even toyed with giving her the nickname TOD, which stands for Trail Of Destruction, which is what she leaves in her wake. But if you call her that, she simply rolls her eleven-year-old eyes back in her head and stomps off.

She IS a very good stomper, by the way. She seems to have majored in stomping, with a strong minor in whining. She may have even had a double-major in stomping and whining, with a minor in sarcasm. But her forte is definitely stomping. She's not bad at door slamming, her snort of ridicule is a veritable nasal blast, and her hands have jammed down on her hips so many times she has permanent divots, but for pure perfection, that girl is a stomper. And a pig.

She seems to think the whole house is her personal trash can. She drops things wherever she happens to be. Her grandmother, after a week-long visit with us this fall, told me "Becca just doesn't look behind her." I had looked to her for advice, or, at the very least, some support and empathy. I knew she had raised at least one daughter (NOT my wife) who had kept a less than perfectly ordered bedroom.

"Less than perfect?" she had said. "We didn't see her carpet for two years! One time we got out the garden rake to drag things out from under her bed. We found Jimmy Hoffa!"

Okay, maybe she didn't say they found Jimmy Hoffa, but she did concede that one of their two youngest girls had been a bit slovenly in the room upkeep department. But she turned out alright, once she got out on her own and there was no Mom to pick up after her, and she came up against roommates who were her slobbish equals. One day, a light came on for her, and she suddenly began to keep things picked up better. Not perfect, but better.

There was a plaque in my mother's house when I was growing up which read: Our house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy. Not an apology, just a simple affirmation. However, I knew MY daughter's room couldn't pass an inspection by a blind health department official, and if dirty was synonymous with happy, she must have been the happiest person in the world. But now, my wife could take no more.

Becca was away for the weekend on a church youth retreat. Grabbing an extra large garbage bag my wife said through clenched teeth, "I'm going in." My son and I looked at each other and were sore afraid.

Five hours later, my wife emerged from Becca's room, and announced, "It is finished."

During her ordeal, she had filled two garbage bags, found sixteen pencils, eighteen cassette tapes, nineteen pens, thirty-five socks, two dirty bowls and several spoons. She found a book the library had called about six months previous, and over a hundred Q-tips which had been used as paintbrushes. Two giant bottles of glue were discovered, two unused rolls of masking tape, a used transparent tape dispenser, and a used roll of electrical tape. She located my fishing light which clips to the bill of a hat, and a spool of fishing line. Other items retrieved or finally discarded included untold numbers of Halloween candy wrappers, five pair of scissors, two unopened bags of fruit snacks and a can of pop in her nightstand, a cookie on her dresser, several wrappers from individual cheese slices and a couple of wrappers which once contained snack crackers.

My wife told me she heard a strange, mechanical-sounding whimper as she was bringing the vacuum cleaner to Becca's room, and while she was vacuuming the carpet the vacuum cleaner kept trying to make a break for the door. Who can blame it for trying to escape?

When Becca came home the next afternoon, she screeched at the sight of all that cleanliness and order where disarray and filth had once coexisted with her. To her credit, she did not accuse us of violating her privacy. Personally, I think she was glad she had not been forced to do it herself. She did say she was never leaving again, though.

Through it all, my son kept a silent vigil outside his sister's room, watching his mother wade through the piles of trash which had threatened to escape the confines of Becca's room and fill the entire house. He watched quietly, holding onto that rope tied to his mother's waist, and prayed. Prayed that she wouldn't finish and move on to HIS room.


©1996 Mike Zimmerli

The Case of the Missing Christmas Letter

It had been a slow week. Who am I kidding? It had been a slow year. My name's Walker, but my friends call me Walk. Walk Softly, Private Investigator. I carry a big stick. I use it to poke around for stuff. Sometimes I find stuff people are looking for, sometimes I find people other people are looking for. Sometimes I just get a glob of gum stuck on the end. And, sometimes, people find me.

That's how I came to be sitting here in my dingy, dusty office on Christmas eve, trying to fit square pegs in round holes. That soon lost its fascination, though, so I put my toys away and decided to get started on my new case: tracking down a missing family Christmas letter. When offered the case by the children's grandparents, who celebrated their fiftieth anniversary this year, questions blazed to life in my brain. After extinguishing my hat, I wrote the questions down on paper so I could examine them without setting off the smoke detector: "Why would a missing family write a Christmas letter? And if they DID write a Christmas letter, couldn't you just check the return address? Maybe my client had just misplaced their address and was too embarrassed to admit it. And maybe, just maybe, my client had been DROPPED from their list, and just assumed they were missing." Then it hit me: the family wasn't missing; only their Christmas letter was missing. Now things began to fall into place, which was good, because I couldn't afford a cleaning service anymore and things were starting to pile up.

I went though the evidence I had been given, which amounted to a bunch of photographs. They were a normal, nice looking family of four: the father, Mike, looked to be pushing forty, and it looked like forty was pushing back; the mother, Mary, was pretty and petite; the son, Adam, was taller than his parents, wearing a Confederate civil war hat and looked to be just about sixteen; the daughter, Becca, was blonde and cute, and looked to be just about twelve-years-old, but her mouth was blurry in every picture. My detective instincts told me she was a talker, which explained the blurry pictures.

The first picture was from outside their house. It was obviously winter, because the snow was almost six-feet deep on the deck of their house. Taken last winter, after a big blizzard. I knew they had survived, though, because there were other pictures.
The next picture showed Becca sitting on the living room floor blowing a trumpet. I pegged her as being in the sixth grade with new opportunities, like middle school band. I noticed she wasn't wearing a ring, so she must not be married yet. Plenty of time for that later on, when she's older.
The next one showed Adam in a Civil War uniform. He clearly has southern sympathies, since he has a complete Confederate uniform, from the kepi on his head to the shell jacket and trousers, muslin shirt, suspenders, haversack and canteen. I made a mental note: someday this kid'll be reenacting Civil War battles, or maybe even teaching about the Civil War.

The next several pictures were taken at Gettysburg, apparently a family vacation. Judging by the trees and grass, it must have been late summer, probably August. One showed Adam in his Confederate uniform, walking across the battlefield where the famous Pickett's charge had taken place, and I knew this must have been a very special vacation for him.

Then I noticed another picture, stuck to one of the Gettysburg photos. This one was from Hershey, PA, and was stuck to the Gettysburg pictures with chocolate. The family had evidently made a side-trip up to Hershey after their stay in Gettysburg. The picture was of the streetlights in Hershey, actually shaped like Hershey Kisses. I remembered reading once that the whole town smelled of chocolate. I knew Mary and Becca had pushed for that excursion.
I decided to take my search to into cyberspace. Looking up Zimmerli, I discovered a homepage at http://www.zimmac.com where I read some Ramblings about the family. The email address is mike@zimmac.com. I discovered that Mike is still in radio, but designs Web pages on the side. Mary still works for AEOA, but has started back to college. Not wanting to work too hard at it, though, she's taking courses SHE could teach. (The picture of her at the beach has nothing to do with her going back to school, or her work. I just like the picture!)

I turned off the computer and put the pictures away. The answer was far too easy: they're a busy family, what with work, and the kids school activities - band, pep band, Knowledge bowl, church youth group and the like. Christmas just crept up too fast, so they got their letter out late. Having closed the book on that case, let me simply say: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night. Now where did my square pegs go.....


©Copyright 1996 Mike Zimmerli


Habitually Yours...

I'm going to be spending big bucks at the dentist in the coming weeks and months, and it's all because I quit smoking. I broke a tooth, which would not have happened if I hadn't decided to give up my twenty-year-old habit.

Quitting smoking cold-turkey meant putting something else in my mouth, and usually it's been spearmint chewing gum. The other night, though, I went for the butter rum Life Savers. There was a roll which had been gathering dust on the dresser for quite some time, and I decided this was the perfect time to enjoy them.

Have you ever left a roll of Life Savers somewhere for "quite some time?" They start out nice and hard. My favorite fresh Life Savers are the mixed fruit flavors. Fresh, firm lime Life Savers are hard to beat. But Life Savers which are allowed to age become somewhat less firm with maturity, just like the rest of us! It is this softening which makes the butter rum LifeSaver so appealing, at least for me. They develop a chewy outer layer, like a caramel, only with a crunchy inside. Almost like a Tootsie Roll Pop in reverse. And how many licks does it take to get to the chewy center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Or, as in this case, how many seconds can you suck on a chewy butter rum LifeSaver before you bite down? One... ta-hoo, tha-ree... crunch! Ow! I broke a tooth!

I couldn't believe it. I had been carefully aging this roll of Life Savers for about three years, dusting them off every so often and moving them from one shelf to another and then to a drawer and back to the first shelf so my wife wouldn't suspect what I was doing. And, if I remember correctly, I acquired the Life Savers a number of years back from my son's room. He wasn't supposed to have any food, drink or candy in his room, which, of course, meant he had a veritable convenience store stashed in there, including one of those LifeSaver "books" available at Christmastime. The roll of butter rum Life Savers I had been aging was the last chapter in that sweet book (the other chapters having been "read" years before) and it had finally ripened to perfection. It was truly coincidence they reached that elusive balance of chewy and crunchy at the same time that I quit smoking.

There are those of you reading this who are repulsed at the mere thought of smoking. It's such an icky, disgusting, messy habit. Filthy, dirty, stinky, unhealthy, nasty and gross are all common adjectives used to describe this vice. What a bunch of snobs.

I didn't quit smoking because of pressure at home or at work, from the surgeon general or my mother. True, it is getting increasingly difficult to find places which are accepting of those pariah who inhale noxious fumes into their lungs. I work in a smoke-free building. We have a smoking deck on the side of the building at work, and the owner puffs outside with the rest of the smokers. Even when it's 25-degrees below zero. But none of that had any bearing on my decision. I was not horking up gobs of gunk from my lungs, and I didn't have a smoker's hack. I wasn't suffering from shortness of breath, and I have traditionally had far fewer colds and respiratory ailments than friends and co-workers who have never smoked. Neither my fingers nor my teeth were yellow, and nobody ever said I had bad breath. My boss did tell me once I was not a "good" smoker, because I didn't smoke at least a pack a day, and I didn't smoke in my house. We didn't smoke inside the house, as our son has allergies and asthma. We didn't smoke in close proximity to him (very often). Instead, we would go outside in self-exile (Outcast! Unclean!).

My wife (Gasp! She smoked, too?!?) quit smoking three days before I did, on Ash Wednesday. I probably would have quit at the same time as she did, but I couldn't let her cigarettes go to waste. Not at over two-dollars a pack!

The truth is: I smoked because I liked it. Not because it made me look cool, or to be rebellious or snub my nose at authority. I just liked smoking. I liked the way the cigarette felt in my fingers. I liked the taste of the first cigarette in the morning when I went out to get the newspaper. You just can't beat the mixture of hot coffee, a cigarette and the sun just breaking free from the eastern horizon as you float down the river with your fishing partner. Catch a fish? Have a smoke to celebrate! Finished loading the boat? Have a smoke and relive the catches or misses of the day and make plans for the next outing. And the combination of a chocolate bar and a cigarette? Mmm-mm, good! Especially a Milky Way or Snickers. It must have something to do with the caramel or nougat (in the candy bar, not the cigarette!). I liked the way the smoke would curl around my head when there was no breeze, and the smooth, velvety feel it had when I inhaled. It may not be politically correct to admit, but I liked smoking, and I enjoyed it for twenty years. And if I was still smoking, I wouldn't have broken my tooth!

When I decided to quit smoking, I simply quit. I smoked my last cigarette on Saturday, February 15, 1997, at 11:30am. I didn't make all kinds of big plans or promises, or invest more than a hundred dollars in patches or nicotine gum. I looked at them, but I couldn't see spending fifty dollars for the first stage quitting regime, and a couple of twenty-five dollar follow-up phase packs. I just plain quit.

I bought some gum, and my wife bought some hard candies. I haven't had a cigarette since that last one on Saturday. I have had urges, but I haven't been crazed. I haven't offered strangers ten-dollars for a drag off their cigarette, gone through the discarded butts in the ashtray at work or ripped out the seats in the car in hopes of finding a cigarette which had gone astray months ago. I did push-ups and sit-ups the first few days when a strong urge would hit, but as the urges fade, so has the need to do something physical to switch my attention. But, as part of my new healthy lifestyle, I am riding the exercise bike again (Still winter. Stupid groundhog!). My wife and I took advantage of a two-day warm-up this week to go for a good, long walk around the neighborhood, which we will continue to do as the weather improves. I want to lose weight, and to get in shape.

But if I was still smoking, I wouldn't have had the LifeSaver, and I wouldn't have broken a tooth, and I wouldn't be forced to go to the dentist. He's going to be able to send not only his own kids through college but his neighbors' kids, too, as well as get a "mid-life-crisis-sports-car" when I pay for all the dental work I need to have done.

The worst thing is, with this broken tooth, I can't even enjoy the rest of the Life Savers. I guess I'll have to go buy another roll and start seasoning them. They should be ready to enjoy about the same time I'm done paying off the dentist's bill.


©1997 Mike Zimmerli

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