CHRISTMAS YARN

Walking in the mall one evening I came across my friend Pete, sprawled out in one of those big black massage chairs and looking completely spent. “Are you okay, Pete?” I asked.

“Christmas shopping,” he said, but there were no packages in sight so I asked him about that.

“Oh, I bought gifts for about 20 family members in a couple of hours yesterday, no problem.  I’ve been here all day hopelessly shopping for my wife’s present.  I thought it was going to be easy but, as they say, ‘the devil’s in the details.’

“I’d asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said, ‘I really need a sweater.’  She has 32 sweaters.  I counted them before I left this morning. Still, I was happy with her choice. There are probably 6,000 sweaters on racks and tables in this mall.  I thought it would be an easy task and maybe I’d buy two.

“But then she added, ‘I don’t don’t want a cardigan. I want a pullover.’ Okay, I’m down to about 3,000 picks, still no problem. “And I just  love cashmere,’ she said. I figured on  500 or so  cashmere pullovers and it was still a reasonable spec, but then she mentioned  dolman sleeves.  Did you know there are 45 types of sleeves?  I looked it up on Google.

” She was far from finished. ‘By the way I don’t like V-necks, I prefer mock turtle.’  she said and  I really began to worry when she got into colors, ruling out practically everything in the rainbow and ending with . ‘I want a  blue sweater.’

“Okay, I thought, I’ll just ask to see blue pullover cashmeres with mock turtle collars and dolman sleeves.  Every store must have a dozen or so, but then she added a footnote. ‘ It should be a certain delicate pale blue,’she said, ‘like the morning sky in the east a few minutes before sunrise. Can you picture that?’ “

“So there I was, after seven futile hours of searching,  walking into a place called  ‘The Knit-Pickers Shoppe’, a pricey botique.  and telling yet another saleslady I’d like to see pale sky blue cashmere pullovers with mock turtle collars and dolman sleeves. I was surprised to see she wasn’t fazed like all the others who’d sent me packing.

” ‘What size?’ she asked.  Rats! I had no idea, ‘Just normal,’ I blurted out. ‘Do you think she’d wear my size?’ she asked, trying to be helpful.This saleslady was generously proportioned.  I’d say quite close to a heavyweight contender. 

” ‘Oh my goodness, no. About half your size,’ I  replied and immediately bit my tongue.  I could tell she took  this personally. 

” ‘We can’t help you,’ she sniffed.   I was desperate and asked to see the manager, but she replied that she was the manager and said I should leave. I refused and there was an argument that got very loud.  Well, who would have thought that an upscale  ladieswear shop in this day and age would have a bouncer?  He tore my hoodie, my New York Mets hoodie!  By the way that’s what I’m getting my wife for Christmas, even if it doesn’t come in pale blue.”

FANCIFUL PHRASES

Idioms: Who created these strange sayings?  Are they called idioms because the authors were idiots?  I don’t think so.  Most of these colorful expressions are useful and efficient, using a minimum of words. Sitting Duck is so much more efficient than “being in a hopelessly indefensible position”.  If someone was urging me to hit the road  because I was in danger, “You’re a sitting duck!” would be a much more effective message.

It doesn’t take long for anyone fluent in English to grasp the meanings of dozens of idioms, but newcomers to our language can find these sometimes bizarre phrases confusing. I was once an ESL volunteer. My student and I were making good progress, but Nick was impatient with our pace. “Slow down, ” I told him, :You’re learning fast enough, but you’ve got ants in your pants.”

Nick looked startled. “Insects? You see insects on my trousers?” That was the day I decided to get idioms into the curriculum.  However, I stumbled again when Nick was about to graduate.  “Nick, they say you’ll have to make a short speech at the ceremony.  I hope that won’t be a kick in the pants for you.”

   “Again with the trousers!” he moaned. “A kick in the pants?  Is that part of the ceremony?  My family will be there and that would be very humiliating.” I apologized and explained that a kick in the pants means only an unexpected and unappreciated turn of events.

That’s almost almost all I have to say in this post and you might think i’m ending up in the air. but I’m running out of gas  so I think I’ll hit the hay  and catch a few Z’s.  I’ll be busy tomorrow with a lot on my plate and I don’t want to be caught asleep at the switch.  The few idioms in this piece are only a drop in the bucket. Others have animal references: Dog in the manger; Cat’s got your tongue; Sleeping Tiger’; The elephant in the room; Monkeying around and A fish out of water.

Here’s one I invented about a boring conversationalist: “He’s fluent in Spamish.”  For someone who’s reckless and accident prone, there’s “He’s always jumping to contusions.”  Experiencing a temporary mental lapse could be “Having a bug in my hard drive.

Have I missed the boat by not including your favorites ?  What are they? Can you make some up?  Go out on a limb and give it a shot.

TWO GUYS AND A TURKEY

About 30 years ago I wrote about my pal Nick and I taking over  the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner to show our wives it really isn’t that much of a big deal, even if 14 family members and guests would be sitting at the festive table.

When I volunteered for the task, I said to  my wife,”It can’t be that much of a project.  There’s just the turkey, dressing, a few vegetables and a dessert. Nick and I can handle that easily.”

“Okay, so do it, Dear, or take us out to a restaurant,” she replied. Nick said he’d received the same ultimatum.   We accepted the challenge, thinking it would be fun. Hah!

I drove to Nick’s on Thanksgiving Eve with a boxful of ingredients and a Betty Crocker cookbook, determined to turn out a feast which, if not exactly delectable, would be at least presentable and hopefully digestible.

Nick took charge of the huge turkey. He was an excellent barbecue cook, although some of his Hungarian dishes were exotic, or even strange. One concoction consisting of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, pork fat and butter was something my palate remembers fondly.  My gall bladder is still undecided. 

As I was cutting up the turnips, yams, potatoes, carrots and my left index finger, I noticed Nick was rubbing down the turkey with a crimson paste. He explained it was an ancient Transylvanian paprika recipe for pork belly that he was adapting for our 22-pound bird.

We’d started at 8 p.m. and figured we’d be done preparing by 11, but it was well past midnight when I slid two apple pies into the oven. They looked like patchwork quilts. I’d had trouble transferring the rolled out dough from the counter to the pie pans. Betty Crocker had warned that overworked dough could result in a tough crust. We were in for a couple of steel-belted pies.

Nick prepared three kinds of stuffing to satisfy the varying tastes of 14 diners. One had a cornbread base, another used the giblets and the third was a combination of commercial brands which he called “Stove Bottom”. During dinner the next day I asked my daughter to pass the stuffing platter and she replied, “I can’t, Dad. It’s too heavy.”

We were up and busy at dawn with the oven, stove and microwave going full blast.  The guests arrived at noon as we were into the finishing touches, delumping the gravy and trying to get the turkey out of the oven.  It had swelled up and was wedged in.  Fortunately the Transylvania marinade made it very slippery.

Everyone ate heartily and there were compliments to the chefs.  We didn’t say, “Shucks, it was nothing.”  because it had been backbreaking work. But we’d managed to preserve the tradition of a homecooked Thanksgiving dinner and even added a new twist. The carver didn’t have to ask “White meat or dark?”  Everyone had red.

REPORTING THE BARE FACTS

Two little boys went out to explore

the nudist camp that just opened next door.

“What’s it all about?” asked one.

“Mommy says they worship the sun.”

“Climb that tree and look over the fence.

Report what you see if it makes any sense.”

“I see lots of people, about a hundred and ten.”

“How many ladies and how many men?”

“There’s some of each, I suppose,

but I can’t tell them apart, they’re not wearing  clothes.”

OLD HAT BUT STILL POPULAR

When archaeologists in the far distant future are examining the artifacts of today’s society they’ll probably decide, after finding millions of baseball cap remnants, that we were a nation of ballplayers who, in the off seasons, built skyscraper cities, invented electronics and other marvels and went on trips to the moon  and around our solar system.

The baseball cap, according to some historians, was invented in 1849 by the New York Knickerbockers baseball team.  It had the distinctive visor and was made of straw. Succeeding designs were worn almost exclusively by ballplayers until the mid-20th century when non-athletes began to wear them instead of fedoras, derbies and berets. And whoever sees a lady wearing a pretty bonnet these days?

Suppose the caps had become widely popular from the start. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln visiting the Union Troops around 1861 without his trademark stovepipe hat? Matthew Brady photos would show him wearing a cap from a hometown team called the Springfield Yankees.

The caps were invented to keep the sun out of the players’ eyes. Sunglasses weren’t around until 1929, so the visor was a great idea, especially for flyball-chasing outfielders. Cowboy hats were probably considered, but they would have gotten in the way of batters’ swings and pitchers’ windups, and how would a catcher get his face mask straps around a Stetson?

Since the cap is now worn in all kinds of weather by non-players, the visor also blocks rain, snow, sleet and hopefully, lightning bolts. They’ve been found to be useful by various tradesmen.  For instance, lower level painters are protected from the spillovers of their upper level colleagues.

Modern caps also serve as cranial billboards to advertise the wearer’s allegiance to sports teams, exterminating companies, breweries, etc.  Some proclaim accomplishments such as  WWII service or an opinion like “I Love NY” or “I Hate Disco”.

Some cap wearers with a rebellious streak have done away with the face-protecting feature by wearing the visor in the rear or halfway around in a desperate attempt at coolness.  It’s not a new idea. The old Sherlock Holmes style deerstalker cap has both front and rear visors and retractable ear flaps with stylish back tie strings. How cool can you get?

ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM

I was invited to a cocktail party many years ago during my freewheeling youth and, after looking around the room, I realized I knew no one there except the host and he was busy schmoozing with other guests and refilling glasses, including his own.

I ended up exchanging cliches and platitudes with a fellow in a green seersucker suit who, unfortunately, turned out to be an insurance salesman. He adroitly switched from small talk to actuarial matters and started out alphabetically with accident protection  and annuities .  By the time he got to major medical and mortality tables I was looking around for the nearest exit.  That’s when I noticed the attractive girl across the room who was staring at me fixedly and not paying much attention to the host who had just handed her a glass of wine.

I looked again when Seersucker Suit had finished surety bonds and was starting on travel coverage,  Miss Pretty Girl was still staring, but now she was actually walking toward me and smiling.  This could be the start of something big, I thought.

“Excuse me,” she said, reaching up and touching my shoulder.

“That’s quite all right, what can I do for you Miss?”  I replied,  trying to sound like Robert Redford.   She smiled again. What a great  smile!

“I noticed your jacket collar is all twisted and it was driving me crazy.   Please let me straighten it out.  It’s just one of my quirks.”

As she worked with  my collar I was hoping this was just one of her opening gambits, but then she turned to Seersucker Suit and said,  “I think we should be going home now, Dear.”

It wasn’t a total loss. The next day I called and arranged a date – with Metropolitan Life.