Christmas 2020

A Barry Manilow Christmas song came on the radio in the car not long ago. “Seems strange,” someone commented to me, “for a Jew to be recording Christmas records.” It actually didn’t seem strange to me at all. Surely a large percentage of his fans would be Christmas-celebrating Christians, so why not try to please them? Besides, Jesus was a Jew anyway. Mostly though it got me thinking on the special day and its different meanings. It’s because of the multiplicity of meanings that it so important to us.

Obviously, to some, the day is a purely religious day, one picked to mark the birth of Jesus in that manger some 2000-odd years ago. There’s enough historical data and non-religious referencing of him to know he surely existed; if you’re devoutly Christian, you further believe he was God walking among us and hastened the transition between the angry Old Testament God and the more tolerant and loving New Testament one. Which of course is reason enough for a pretty big celebration and giving of thanks. Even some other religions like the Bahais acknowledge Jesus’ life and his role as a blessed and significant messenger of God. So there’s that.

Then there’s the modern, secular Christmas too, a day of a whole different species. The Christmas that lights up small kids’ faces with thoughts of Santa Claus coming to town. For adults, sure there is a downside to it all – the hustle and bustle, the new year’s credit card bills – but it’s a pretty special day of being with family, other loved ones. Of giving and getting gifts and smiles and laughs. And there’s the food…

For me, both are valid and both are reasons to celebrate and enjoy, Christian, Jew, aetheist or other persuasion. I’ve not much liked the shopping or the crowded malls historically, but I’ve always loved other aspects of it. The nighttime Christmas lights, the movies and specials, the getting together with family and friends (which some years ended up getting short shrift while I was working overtime and being too wrapped up in the …well, wrapping of the day.) My mom and I used to watch the old Alistair Sim A Christmas Carol annually for years, very often on Christmas Eve. The season still doesn’t seem complete without seeing the Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph, fond memories of my ’70s childhood that still persevere to this day. More recently, since having family of my own, Elf and A Christmas Story have been added to that list of must-sees. Those happy traditions mean more to me than most of the boxes I might open from underneath the tree, though I do quite like that too, as well as seeing the smiles of those opening the ones I placed there.

This year though, as so many have pointed out, will be a bit different. We’re still seeing the beloved shows and movies and hearing the festive songs. We’re still going to have a nice meal – ham or turkey hasn’t been decided yet – but there’ll be no big gathering of my sweetie’s extended family. We’ve been ordering a bit more online and going into stores a lot less. The pile underneath said tree may look modest this year compared to many. But that’s OK with me. I hate the reason for it – the pandemic obviously (which I must admit, back in March, I never really thought we’d still need to be talking about in December, let alone taking precautions against) – but I don’t mind the changes. As my mother-in-law said in her aged wisdom, “this isn’t the year to celebrate.”

She’s right, if that means not celebrating like most years. But I think perhaps the scaled back Christmas itself might be something worth celebrating, if we really look at it. It’s a day to really enjoy those still around us in our household and perhaps consider the importance of those who aren’t here to us; maybe appreciate them more when things go back to normal and we can once more enjoy their company. Maybe we can celebrate that having a little more time to relax at home and less time in crowds, pushing and shoving is a good tradeoff for one or two less boxes to rip open on the 25th (which in too many cases are stashed away in the closet by the 27th). A time to celebrate, those of us lucky enough to be feeling fit, enjoy our health and lives, and sad as it may be, to remember those who’ve left us this year , from Covid or any other unfortunate demise, and celebrate the time we had together.

So, yep, 2020’s been a trying year. But I raise a glass to it and its lessons, and raise a glass to all you dear readers hoping you’ll have a happy Christmas, no matter what that might mean to you.

Trebek Trekked Back In Book

Category : “The Answer Is…”

$100 – “Alex Trebek Biography” . A : What is The Answer is… A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sad death of Alex Trebek. So, being a fan of the show he put on the map, Jeopardy, and since he was Canadian like me, with only one degree of separation from me (we had a mutual acquaintance), I figured I’d get his recently-released autobiography and read it.

$200 – “North American Countries”. A: What are the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico. While Mexico doesn’t play much into the story, Trebek is a Canadian who found fame and fortune in the U.S., married an American (“someone who was going to complete me as a human being”) and eventually became an American citizen. The book contains a lot of interesting stories about his childhood and youth in Canada, from his parents – a beer-drinking, cursing father who taught himself English and became a respected cook and his church-going, teatotaller mom who coincidentally had family in the States, which began his love affair with the U.S. – his rather disreputable youth and iffy relationship with school and its authority figures, to a photo of him in a denim jacket and jeans …a “Canadian tuxedo” as he proudly calls it. And about his life in the more populous country to the South, and all the steps along the way to becoming the best-known and respected game show host on TV.

$300 – “Jeopardy” – A: What is the TV show Alex Trebek hosted for over three decades. Given that it was what made him famous, and conversely, a show he made famous and a ratings hit, it’s appropriate he spends a good chunk of the book talking about it. And also, the best-forgotten game shows he had to take part in along the way to get him the spot, which initially was low-paid and low-prestige by comparison. The saving grace of that was that creator Merv Griffin paid little attention to it, allowing Alex and a few writers to basically shape it as they saw fit. We get Trebek’s reflections on his favorite players, not something that happened overnight as he also tells us he really didn’t talk to them much outside of what we saw on the program. He wanted to avoid getting too close to them both to avoid allegations of favoritism, and to emotionally distance himself anyway so as not to be upset when they inevitably lost. However, he did gain a soft spot for contestants like all-time champ Ken Jennings (who is slated to replace Alex when the show resumes next year), Eddie Timanus, a blind contestant, and Cindy Stowell, a multi-game winner who always seemed awkward on camera and a tiny bit “off”… and died before her shows aired. Turns out she was suffering from terminal cancer and very ill while filming, but she kept going… something of a guide for Alex himself a few years later on.

$400 – “Content” – A : What was Alex in 2020. When he wrote the book, he already knew he had cancer and little chance to survive. He speaks poignantly about the ill effects of the cancer as well as the harrowing treatments and how he knew in the end, he was unlikely to prevail. Yet, we also see that at 80, he was fine with it. He felt he’d lived a good, long and blessed life, loved some fine people and been loved in returned. He was remarkably at peace with the idea of this being his last year on Earth, although the pandemic frustrated him. When your days are numbered down to triple digits at best, you want to do all that you can when you feel up to it… and simple joys like going to the movies with his wife and kids had been taken away by Covid.

$500 – “Honestly Fun” – A: What was Alex Trebek. He surprises in the book, largely with his candor. He sometimes swears, he has a fast and sometimes PG sort of sense of humor and he made mistakes along the way, as we all do. He doesn’t shy away from any of those in the book, nor from his political convictions. He says he’s voted for Democrats and Republicans at different times and isn’t partisan, but he also left little doubt whatsoever about his feelings of the White House at the time of his death “If you start off by saying ‘Here’s the way we’re gonna solve it’…and worse if that certainty has no basis in fact and is being pushed by someone who just doesn’t have the mental capacity to adjust, you’re in deep trouble. And that’s what we’re seeing today.”

All that plus his thoughts on sleeping nude, his favorite celebrity fan, comedy parodies of himself and of course, the moustache. The Answer Is… that Trebek’s book is worth reading.

Everydave Life Hero Of The Year 2020 : Dr. A. Fauci

Why wait for Time magazine? While they are collecting suggestions for their “Person of the Year”, here at Everydave Life, we’re ready to announce our winner. Ta-da! We’re happy to announce our First Annual Everydave Life Hero of the Year for 2020 is…

Dr. Anthony Fauci.

When we look back at 2020, two things will probably long be seared into our memories : the pandemic and Donald Trump/the presidential election. Fauci was a beacon of hope in both news stories.

In case you’ve been lucky enough to have hibernated through most of this year, Fauci is one of the country’s leading doctors who suddenly vaulted into the public eye this spring as a member of Trump’s Coronavirus advisory team. He grew up the son of a couple of pharmacy-owners in New York, loving sports and medicine. As we saw at a Washington baseball game this year, we’re all lucky he chose medicine, becoming a doctor in 1966.

Before long he’d worked his way up to the position of the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, around the time Ronald Reagan appointed him as a medical advisor to the White House, something he’s been with every president since, Democrat or Republican. The previous Republican president, George W. Bush, thought so much of him he gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Fauci is, in the words of the New York Times, “one of the world’s leading experts on diseases.” He was important in pioneering the understanding of, and treatment of AIDS in the ’80s, and the fight against Ebola in Africa more recently. Little wonder he was an obvious choice to stand beside the president and try to inform the public this year when we were faced with the worst pandemic in our lifetimes.

Fauci was an inspiration during the dark days when Corona was beginning to conjure up images of something other than beer in our minds. He relayed information on what we all needed to do in order to stay safe and curtail the raging disease. He did so with a brilliant sense of calm, good humoredness mixed with deadly seriousness. A mix of the two things we needed to get through one of the darkest times in the recent history of Western society. Grace under pressure, something we assuredly did not see from the president or many of the other elected officials. He was on the mark far more often than not – he was an early advocate of wearing masks in public and social distancing for example – and would speak up and tactfully correct Donald Trump or others who gave blatantly false advice or information, such as suggesting the ingestion of household cleaners to cure Covid 19. For this, many extremists came to despise him.

If there was any doubt in my mind about Fauci being the type of individual we needed in charge this year, that was erased this fall when former-Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon (a man out on bond while awaiting trial on federal charges for fraud) called for his beheading, saying his head (and that of the FBI director’s) should be stuck on a “pike” as an example of what happened to anyone who disagreed with the president. We presume he meant “spike”, since a large fish would be very odd with a doctor’s head on it. Many would have fired back or called the police on the provocateur. Fauci merely looked a little perplexed and said it was “really kind of unusual” and that having “a public figure calling for your beheading …that’s not the kind of thing you think about when you’re going through medical school.” Grace under pressure.

Fauci will turn 80 this month but has agreed to be Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor when he takes office in January. For that we congratulate both Biden and Fauci.

Anthony Fauci. A voice of experience, a voice of calm in the chaos. A voice who reminded us that it’s usually best to listen to science, not mock it. The Everydave Hero of the Year for 2020.

Cabooses To Cabovers – Missin’ The 70s!

I needed a new heel for my shoe, so I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt which was the style at the time…” – Grandpa Simpson.

…and we liked it! Getting another year older makes one think back, and when I think back I think of random things that were better when I was a kid. Like tying onions on one’s belt. And I’m not talking about obvious things, like pop hit radio or being able to call a girl a girl without risking a long lecture about gender fluidity, I’m talking about the inobvious things that have faded away with time. Three examples…

Cabovers. When I was a little kid, I loved big trucks. And most tractor-trailers were headed up by a type of diesel truck that was called a “cabover”. They were called that because the cab sat over the engine. Big, square, flat-fronted trucks. Peterbilt, Kenworth, GM, International, you name it. These rigs moved everything everywhere. When I was about five, my dad and I went to a car show and they had a Chevy one on display… a Titan 90, I think it was called (much like the one illustrated above). I got to go up – way up – and sit in the cab. Cool, what! 10-4 good buddy, what could be cooler than driving around the country in one of these, I thought, looking down – way down – on the crowd below. Well, turns out many things could be, but the design still looks cool. But makes one turn around and stare these days on rare occasions you see one. Kind of like a Hummer with a Biden sticker on it.

As much as little guys like me thought they looked cool, and you got a good look at the road ahead with one, they lost their other advantages soon after my hop up into one. First, riding right over the engine apparently made for a real rough ride, even with the driver’s seat on shock absorbers. And, to access the engine… well, that was a bit of a chore. You had to flip the entire cab up at a 90-degree angle to get at it. This doubtlessly took some effort to do and wasn’t good for the cup of coffee you might have beside the seat in that cab. And, in a crash, there was no buffer between driver and wreck. The type of truck you see today has it all over the cabover design, with the long hood hosting the engine and keeping the driver a good ten feet away from danger. The real reason the trucks changed though was not so much safety or comfort as government red tape.

For many years, the U.S. and Canada had strict regulations on the maximum length of a truck they’d allow on highways. Many of those regulations were set in the growth period immediately following WWII, when 24-foot trailers were common. When the truck back suddenly grew to 40′, freight companies were strapped to get clearance to run them. Cabovers shaved a good few feet off the total length, and allowed them to use the new, more efficient longer-trailers. But by the Reagan era, many of those restrictions were relaxed or removed altogether. Witness today’s commonplace, behemoth 54′ trailers. Witness the chaos they cause trying to get around a tight corner designed in the 1940s when a 30′ long Sears delivery van was the biggest vehicle. With the lack of size limitations, there was no longer a need to sacrifice driver comfort and maintenance ease and the long hood style took over. Peterbilt last built a cabover design in 2009. Japan and much of the EU still have tight regulations on truck length mind you, so foreign markets still boast quite a few new models of the old cabover design.

If the stuff wasn’t being moved on the roads, it was on the rails. And a train had a caboose. Another thing I miss.

I always loved trains as a kid. I grew up near a very busy CP Rail line that took cars from a huge GM factory nearby to everywhere, and brought in the parts they needed, as well as moved along everything else that was on the go between Detroit and Montreal, via Toronto. I spent many an idle hour in the park near us watching trains scoot by. The caboose went by and it was the end of the train. Simple. Most across North America were painted red, but the CP painted theirs a bright yellow-orange (a few other companies used different colors too; Union Pacific had yellow ones, Burlington Northern green, for example.) There’d be people inside the caboose, and as one local columnist put it recently, it seemed like their only function was to look out and wave at kids.

They actually had other jobs too of course. As Trains magazine point out, at one time many trains had crews of upto five people. They couldn’t all fit in the locomotive cab, besides which there was an advantage to having people bringing up the rear. They could look out and watch for problems ahead in the train – potential derailing cars, hobos jumping aboard – and there’d be people to change a switch back once the train had passed. To change from one track to another, the train goes over a switch, which moves the wheels smoothly to an adjacent track. Much of the time, it needs to go back to its original position to let the next train sail on through. Having a guy (for seldom were the workers women) back there to do so saved time over having one walk all the way back from the engine up front, do it, then walk back. The cabooses often even had a bed and kitchenette, because it wasn’t uncommon for the crew to make the run from say St. Louis to Denver by themselves.

Technology and economics took over and by the ’80s, were making the caboose irrelevant. Many switches became remote-controlled. Electronics were able to detect problems with the brakes or slipping wheels better than a man looking hundreds of yards ahead could. More trains were unit trains, meaning they ran straight through with a long load, not stopping at individual industries to pick up one car here, drop off a boxcar there. That required less manpower. Unions got shorter shifts and more crew changes, reducing need for overnight accommodations. A little device called an EOT – End of Train device – became available that would take electronic readings and flash a tail light in place of a whole 40-foot long, metal caboose with staff inside. By the ’90s, cabooses were largely a thing of nostalgia films and toys… remarkably most children still seem to know what they are somehow and like them attached to their toy trains.

Toy trains perhaps played with in the living room. And that brings me to the third thing this Granpa Simpson is nagging about – mid-century modern, ’60s and ’70s furniture! Like the era, it was a mix of the old and the new; wood and velvet, metal and velour. Straight lines were fine for stereo cabinets or end tables but, I presume they figured, people weren’t rigid (except for ‘the man!’) so why should they sit on square furniture? When I was growing up, we had a great big plush yellow sofa, with rounded arms, and a rounded back. But the piece de resistance was “the lounge.” The lounge was the fave of my dad and I, a contoured, velour-covered mustard yellow soft chaise lounge with a built in pillow for one’s head. Yellow was big in furniture when I was a kid. I wish we had photos of us enjoying it; more I wish we still had it to enjoy!

This chair was the way to watch TV in comfort, not quite as lazy-seeming as lying around in bed, but all the comfort of a sunny day at poolside and then some! It was the perfect place to park one’s own “caboose” at the end of a long day carting an onion around on one’s belt!

Recent explorations by me have suggested the lounge was a product of a company called Pearsall which specialized in things of that sort. Unfortunately, recent explorations also suggest no one in the family know whatever happened to ours. Used ones still abound online… and cost an amount similar to the price of a new pickup that would be required to bring it home!