Classic Stereotypes

Some of this seems like material a standup comedian might have covered at some point, and if so I apologize. I’m not trying to steal anyone’s observations here. But it recently occurred to me that there are certain patterns one runs into repeatedly out there in the retail universe, too many to dismiss as mere coincidence:

1. Express Checkout Line Cashier: is always slower than an IV drip of molasses. In fact, she would appear to be the slowest cashier on the floor – a real head scratcher, unless maybe the store manager figures to balance things out by putting faster cashiers on the longer lines. Actually, I suppose you couldn’t have the slowest cashiers on the normal lines, because that would be an ever bigger disaster. So this one sort of makes sense, except it completely defeats the purpose.

2. Guitar Store Employee: I won’t remark here on this demographic’s basic personality template (i.e. unrelenting smugness), but would like to take this opportunity to note their incredible telepathy. As in, how they always know what you really want, but – befitting their pomposity – will always do the complete opposite. If you’re just browsing, somehow you have 8 employees hovering over your every move; when you genuinely need something, however, you can’t find anyone.

3. Electronics Store Salesman: Completely incapable of muttering the phrase “I don’t know.” To do so sends them into serious convulsions. Instead, attempting to avoid this, they will recommend some weird and unnecessary piece of equipment with utter conviction, which you will take home and only then discover is of no use to you whatsoever. This subset would almost make sense, if such a stance were taken with sales commissions in mind. But their mental foibles extend to 99 cent fuses and $2.49 cords just as much as higher end items, plus you are going to turn right around and come back to speak with a more knowledgeable employee anyway, as you return the junk they sold you, which only makes them look all the more idiotic.

4. TV Weathermen: Always complete fruitcakes. Why? What is the connection? I must be missing something here.

In Praise Of Old New Years

We create our own holidays. In a country obsessed with cramming a holiday into seemingly every date on the calendar, this is as true here as it is anywhere else on the globe. Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough, we had to have Sweetheart’s Day to liven up our mid October doldrums; starved for drinking ceremonies, the Fourth of July, some Saint named Patrick, and really pretty much every other major event with the possible exception of Halloween weren’t excuses enough to get sloshed,  we had to cannibalize Mexico for a Cinco de Mayo that means nothing to most of us. Yet I’m amazed that amid this flurry of brand new concoctions, some real, some postmodern winks of an eye – Festivus, anyone? – and the moldering heap of your Flag Days and your Guy Fawkes that we never really rallied around much, you are left with the truly significant players in this holiday arms race for possession of our hearts and our memories…and yet even so, their importance in our lives does not always stack up the way we think.

Maybe the pecking order is different for everyone, and I would never suggest that any of the following are trivial. But for whatever reason, differentiating one Christmas from the next, or one Thanksgiving, or for that matter most of my birthdays, is a thoroughly impossible task for me. They just all seem to mostly run together into one gigantic blur. For some reason, however, aided surely a great degree by the DNA coding of which two teams are playing, I can remember exactly what I was doing for nearly each of the past thirty Super Bowls – no small feat, considering I am only 36. This is also true, too, for at least the last fifteen New Year’s Eves, occasions I can recall in precise and at times mindboggling detail, except I have no theories to explain just why this should be.

Some were wild and some were not; some were held in the same location with pretty much the same people as the previous year’s, and still I could differentiate them. I never would have listed New Year’s among even the top half dozen of the most important dates of the year for me, until this thought hit me just a day or two ago that, considering the evidence at hand, it indisputably is. Considering this, my initial thought was to detail them all in chronological order, or possibly a countdown or up to the all time #1. Who knows, at some point maybe I will. But for now energy only permits me to recount one of them, a vintage offering from 2008. It was just my second New Year’s after moving to North Carolina by way of Ohio, and while a far cry from some of the craziest, it always sticks out in mind as possibly the most bizarre. I know it comes up the most in our collective conversations, which again is saying something: I couldn’t tell you what Christmas was like that year, and neither could anyone else.

It starts out innocuously enough, or should I say as innocuous as such an occasion can. Early on, I remember sitting on a futon in the garage watching my brother and some of his friends play pool – we had the door wide open for some reason, letting in the bracing cold – while inside, his girlfriend’s parents, who were like the local Sonny and Cher – were roping all takers into the karaoke machine they had rigged up in our living room. When I had first moved in, I became the fifth roommate, initially a madhouse yet slowly whittling down from there; a few months after this particular party, my brother would tell his girlfriend that certain friends of hers were no longer welcome at our house, but for now all these outlandish characters are still coming around. Plus, unlike the previous year, I had actually bothered to invite a select handful of people from work and was sweating who would show up, in particular this chick I had recently become completely infatuated with.

Sonny and Cher split after an argument concerning what he may or may not have been partaking of, and whether it was wise considering his “heart condition.” We thus went from hearing literally eighteen different renditions I think of that one Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow duet for some reason, to having no music at all outside of the old VHS tapes of rock concerts we’re broadcasting in the garage . Fortunately, I just happened to keep my drum set fully assembled in our living room back then (don’t ask), which would come into play later. For now, however, we take their departure as our cue to move some furniture and set up the poker table as well. Right around this time my parents show up, and a couple of their friends, and then Victor, Robert, and Justin from work.

Robert always seems to emerge as the unintentional comic foil in a number of these tales. He made me promise not to circulate pictures and videos of this night around on the internet, so I’m reduced to writing a story about it. But nothing too major or shocking really happened – he just seemed to be on a mission to get as drunk as possible on as great a variety of alcohol as he could in the shortest amount of time. Victor’s laughing maniacally and filming every minute of it, while my mom feels compelled to take pictures. In an hour’s time, he is passed out on the couch. A great deal of the rest of us are stuffing our faces in the kitchen on this amazing food Brandy’s mom made before taking off so abruptly – feta stuffed mushrooms,  a variety of these pinwheel shaped sandwich thingies, et cetera – as the house slowly swells with people approaching midnight. There are kisses and toasts at the magic hour all around.

Things actually at first appear to be dying off an hour or so beyond this point. We’ve got a card game going, and though professing his skill for weeks, it’s apparent that Justin grasps the rules of poker and not much more, as he steadily loses his shirt. All along, I have my eye on the clock. Brandy’s the closing bartender at her place of employment in Mooresville tonight – it has changed names often and I can’t remember what it was called then – and as I was in fact not drinking, it had been decided that I would go pick her up.

Somehow this turns into a complete debacle. At first Dad insists that I drive his Suburban there for some reason, and then after talking me into that, he reasons that it only makes sense for him to ride along, since this is his car and all. From there we springboard into literally every walking person in the house cramming into this one vehicle, with me at the wheel, all except for my mother, who remains behind to crash in Daniel’s bed. At the bar, meanwhile, of course the plastic hats and party horns are out, and somehow Dad talks my brother and his friend Roy and me into to singing karaoke – we sound okay on Comfortably Numb, but thoroughly butcher The Weight. At least most of the patrons are blasted out of their minds and are paying us no mind.

Of course by the time it’s all said and done, we wind up closing the bar down and somehow its owner, who was this middle aged Greek dude, and his obnoxious girlfriend wind up following us back to the house in their car – she’s in her early twenties and has this loud, shrill voice, goes by a name like Ann-Marie or something which is probably made up. Once home, though, it’s like my New Year’s is just beginning, as I start drinking alongside everyone else, and it turns out the Greek guy knows some guitar, as my dad hops on the drum kit and starts rocking out. The video camera begins making its rounds again. Mom, briefly summoned awake by the commotion, said that when she opened her eyes, every cat in the house was surrounding her on the bed “like Children of the Corn or something,” and licking their chops, regarding her as if dinner – I’m not sure how many felines we had in the house at the time, but considering it reached its apex with fourteen cats and probably averaged about six or seven, we could understand her shivering terror.

At some point the instruments are set aside, the radio comes on, and another poker game is introduced. For whatever reason, too, the lights are dimmed down to ridiculous levels, making it difficult to glimpse your cards, though nobody bothers to turn them back up. Ann-Marie (or whatever her name is) complains constantly about the light, leading Dad and I to insist with a straight face that my brother is Amish and doesn’t believe in electricity. She just so happens to be either so wasted or so moronic or both to buy this, and I even go as far as rummaging around in the pantry until I find some candles. We hear her whispering to some people sitting beside her, “he is! he really is! he’s Amish!” and we are laughing our heads off at her idiocy. Unfortunately, she also has this tendency to just blare at the top of her lungs a random line of whatever song happens to be playing at this point, like the Violent Femmes’ American Music. When by sheer coincidence she and I sing the same part at one juncture, she stands up and shouts, “YES! I LOVE THIS SONG!” and gives me a hand-stinging high five.

Her middle aged boyfriend has clearly had enough. “You want to marry her? Please, by all means, marry her,” tells me, palms extended in her direction, sounding so weary that he might weep.

By now, it is nearly daylight. Perhaps predictably, Ann-Marie and the Greek start getting into a shouting match, and then she storms off into the night. When Daniel attempts to restore order, Brandy and her friend Nicole start yelling at him for some reason, then march out the front door after her – this is the last we see of them this night/morning. With the lights up, the Greek sits around commiserating to us about what a wack job she is, and then drives home alone. The rest of us crash out one by one, my dad in his truck sometime after sunrise.

Like I’ve said, it’s unclear to me why these New Year’s Eves stand out so sharply in contrast to all other holidays. Of course, it’s unlikely you would forget such a bizarre night, regardless of what day of the calendar it fell upon. But even the just concluded one of two days ago, which found me working for the first time on this night since I think 1997, a night spent doting on rich, drunk, non-tipping a-holes in the country club lounge where I sometimes work, is on one hand unexceptional, yet at the same time is forever far more vivid than the theoretically more important Christmas. And I’m just not sure why this is, except to say that the air circulating on New Year’s is filled with an electricity missing every other night of the year, and that we truly do make our own holidays. There’s just no explaining, perhaps even to ourselves, what experiences will ultimately mean the most to us, or why.