The Bee's Pajamas

Photography, politics and random other stuff from an aging Aspie brain

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A Year of Losses and Gains, Part 2: The Home Game

One thing I came close to losing in this year of loss was my home.

I’ve lived in my adorable second-floor apartment on the beautiful Hudson River since October 2008. I call it my Haven on the Hudson.

On the afternoon of June 10, as I was facilitating a webinar for work and preparing to attend a Black Lives march in the village, my landlord informed me that they were selling the property and the other tenants and I had to be out by August 1.

Naturally, I was heartbroken. I have lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere, and I love it here. Who wouldn’t love a backyard that looks like this?

A Mad Scramble to find new housing ensued. I had a fallback position — an apartment in two friends’ farmhouse — but I really wanted to find another place on the water, any water.

Another friend began searching diligently on my behalf for suitable rentals, but informed me that everything she found was either next to railroad tracks or a swamp.

Me: I said I wanted waterfront! Swamp is good!

I started looking into buying. I have been a homeowner before, when I took a new job that was a grueling commute from the house I owned. I moved to an apartment closer to work and rented out the house for several years, but eventually had to give it up. The idea this time around was to buy a two- or three-family house that I could live in and have rental income to cover the mortgage and other expenses. I had my eye on a duplex on the Battenkill, but …

Although I’d been a non-homeowner long enough to qualify for first-time homebuyer programs, my credit score was a bit low to qualify. I was advised to pay down my credit card balances to raise my score, and I have been doing that.

THEN … 10 days into the Mad Scramble, I received a For My Eyes Only text from the landlord telling me I could stay. The sale fell through, but they did not want to tell the other tenants this. They wanted them gone, because Issues.

Naturally I said yes, but several weeks of awkwardness ensued. See, the occupants of one of the other apartments are longtime friends of mine. While I love them dearly, I can understand why Landlord would not. They are, shall we say, not the best housekeepers in the world. I hesitate to call them hoarders because that isn’t really their jam. They just have a lot of stuff and bring more into their home all the time. “Accumulators” is more accurate.

Because I’d been sworn to secrecy, I had to continue the ruse that I would be moving into my friends’ farmhouse. Not only with my downstairs neighbor friends, but with all my other friends and neighbors. Only my significant other knew the truth, and that’s only because I blurted out the contents of Landlord’s text in front of him before I got to the part about “Do not share this with ANYONE.”

This story has a happy ending. I told my (now former) neighbor friends the truth once they were settled in their new home, and we are still friends. And I’m still here! My landlords still want to sell, but those plans are on the back burner for now. If it comes up again, they plan to actively pursue finding a buyer who will let me stay. If that doesn’t happen, my credit score is improving, so I will be in a position to become a homeowner again in the (hopefully) distant future.

Meanwhile, in almost losing my Haven on the Hudson, I have gained a new appreciation for the privilege of living here. I plan to spend a lot more time in my beautiful backyard when the warm weather returns.

Who knows? I might even be able to have friends over again one of these days.

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A year of losses … and gains, Part 1

Oh, 2020. So not sorry to see you go. 2021 is off to a rocky start, but I have hope.

Looking back on the Year From Hell, I realize that I lost a lot, but I gained more. I suffered some gut-wrenching twists in the plot of my life, but all of them had happy endings, for which I am grateful beyond words.

I was going to include all these stories in a single post, but I realized that such a post would make “War and Peace” look like a short story. So I’m going to break up my 2020 tales into separate posts, starting with …

Department of Motor Vehicles

In late February/early March, I lost my battle with the Old Car Demons. Since 2004 I had been driving “vintage” vehicles for which I paid cash. 1993 Plymouth. 1994 Saturn. 2002 Saturn. 2006 Saturn. 2009 Nissan. Let me state for the record that I loved my Saturns — those babies were bulletproof — but the first two succumbed to old age, and the third was T-boned beyond repair in October 2019. Being old, however, they regularly needed work at unpredictable and expensive intervals.

When the catalytic converter went south — twice! — on the 2009 Nissan I bought to replace the 2006 Saturn, I took the plunge and looked into financing a newer vehicle. In March, I drove off the lot in a 2018 Ford Focus with less than 50,000 miles on it. Her name is Magic.

Yes, I have car payments now, and larger insurance payments, since a financed car needs comp and collision insurance, but at least I know how much it’s costing me each month, rather than having a $500 repair bill this month, a $600 bill the next … you get the idea.

Certain loved ones feared the worst when I went for the financing option. Since I am a gold medalist in the Bad With Money Olympics, they were convinced I would be unable to make the payments. But because the monthly payment is a fixed amount and is automatically taken from my checking account, their fears were ungrounded. I am in far better shape making fixed payments and not having expensive repairs than I was driving clunkers with unpredictable repair bills.

Shout-out to Fogg’s Automotive. I highly recommend them to anyone who has less-than-perfect credit. They are not one of those predatory lenders that charge outrageous interest rates, repossess your vehicle if you are a day late with your payment, and make most of their money reselling those repos. They work with real banks and sell real cars for real people, and they stand behind their “Fogg’s for Life” program (free oil changes, inspections and engine repairs covered for life).

A side benefit of buying a newer car: My rating as an Uber driver has gone up! I started with Uber when I had the 2002 Saturn and got downrated a lot for the age and condition of my cars. I don’t know how much of the improvement is due to the fact that Magic is newer, and how much is due to COVID (fewer Uber drivers on the road, so riders are more grateful to get an Uber), but I’ll take it.

Next: The Home Game.

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R.I.P., Mary Ann

Of all the COVID-19 celebrity deaths this year, the loss of Dawn Wells, best known as Mary Ann on the classic sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” has hit me the hardest. I wasn’t quite 6 when I first saw the show, and there she was — a young brunette I could actually identify with.

After the show went off the air, the obsession took a back seat for a few years. Then when I was 10, my parents and I moved to a place that came with cable TV. In those days there was no HBO or TBS, but I finally had access to the local indie UHF stations whose stock in trade was reruns. I could watch “Gilligan” every day. Bliss! By seventh grade I was dressing in gingham and wearing my hair in pigtails at every opportunity. I wanted to BE Mary Ann. My greatest disappointment was that I didn’t live on a farm.

Many autistic kids have obsessions — trains, dinosaurs, math. This as-yet undiagnosed autistic kid’s obsession was “Gilligan’s Island,” and it was all because of Mary Ann.

By now I was out of the “boys are icky” stage, and I became hugely invested in Mary Ann and the Professor (R.I.P., Russell Johnson) becoming a couple. These days that’s called “shipping” — wanting certain characters to be in a relationSHIP.

In 1970 I had a calendar on the wall and would mark every day with M, G, or MG, depending on whether that day’s episode had the Professor showing affection to Mary Ann, Ginger or both. I still remember adding up the days at year’s end and writing excitedly in my diary that “1970 was an M year!”

Of course, they never did become a couple, but that’s what fan fiction is for. I wrote a lot of it. Thank goodness there was no Internet back then, so nobody but me read that horrible stuff. Full disclosure: I did write some Professor/Mary Ann fanfic as an adult, which is online, and no, I’m not going to tell you where.

My parents thought I was nuts, but for my 12th birthday — or maybe it was 13th? — my mom made a cake frosted with a gingham check pattern. Around the bottom she placed cutouts from some graduation wrapping paper — silhouettes of a guy in a mortarboard, to represent the Professor.

Decades later, I became a “House” fan and an ardent “shipper” of House and Cameron. I’m convinced that I was drawn to that ship because of the OG “middle-aged genius/sweet young thing” dynamic of the Professor and Mary Ann.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about Ms. Wells. Unlike many actors who found themselves typecast — *cough*TinaLouise*cough* — she embraced the Mary Ann persona. She had a great reverence for the character’s status as a role model for girls like me, and did not take that role lightly. In 2014, she co-authored a book, “What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life.” Previously, she published “Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook,” in case you’re looking for a coconut cream pie recipe.

Dawn was 82 when she died, but for so many of us she will forever be that sweet, pigtailed castaway. R.I.P., Mary Ann. If there is an afterlife, I hope you are reunited with Gilligan, the Skipper, too, the millionaire, his wife and — of course — the Professor.


What’s the Big Deal? Confessions of a Colorblind Spectrum Kid

I was born in a large Northeastern (racially diverse) city in the late 1950s and moved to a smaller (predominantly white) one when I was 10. My father was a real-life Archie Bunker, whose casual comments about other ethnicities and nationalities were, like those of his TV counterpart, easy to laugh off. He wasn’t hateful, just ignorant. Heck, he had a Black Friend … who, in one of life’s little ironies, was named Archie.

colour-wheel-1740381_640I didn’t get my views on race from him. I got them from my mother, who bent over backwards in the other direction. She taught me that it’s “not nice” to comment on, acknowledge or even notice the color of other people’s skin. In other words, colorblind is the nice way to be.

Friends, my Aspie brain took that and ran with it. I wasn’t just colorblind; I was everything-blind. If it was on the list of characteristics society was “not supposed to” discriminate on the basis of (despite the fact that society did, and still does), I believed it was not nice to comment on, acknowledge or notice it. In those days that was a short list – race, creed and national origin. Nondiscrimination based on gender, marital status, disability and sexual orientation hadn’t been invented yet.

How blind was I? To this day I remember watching an episode of “Green Acres” (for you youngsters, that was a cornball fish-out-of-water sitcom from the 1960s, about a city couple who move to a farm in the country) in which Eddie Albert’s character tells his wife, played by Eva Gabor, to “keep your cute little Hungarian nose out of this.”

Setting aside the sexism of that line, something I didn’t know existed at the time, my 8- or 9-year-old jaw dropped at the H word. How dare he comment on her nationality? That’s not nice!

The famous “brown eyes, blue eyes” lesson, which I did not participate in but read about, fed my colorblindness. In this exercise, a teacher divided her elementary-school students by their eye color, declared the blue-eyed students fair game for discrimination and mistreatment, then turned the tables to subject the brown-eyed kids to the same thing. The takeaway was supposed to be, “This is how it feels to be discriminated against based on something you can’t control.” My takeaway, however, was:

It’s just color. What’s the big deal?

Eye color, skin color, it’s all just color. Treating someone differently based on color is stupid.

Of course I knew about slavery, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. The rioting that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination happened in my backyard. But I clung to my belief that racism was the work of ignorant people (like my dad) or evil ones (like George Wallace), and once the evil ones were punished and the ignorant educated, there would be no more racism.

The books I read were just starting to embrace diversity. School textbooks and Girl Scout handbooks had illustrations of kids with different skin tones doing stuff together. The message was that we are all the same; some of us just have different color skin. What’s the big deal?

My colorblindness followed me all the way to college. I was That White Kid who decided the black kids must be racist because they all sat together in the dining hall. Because my definition of racism was treating someone differently because of their race. If the Black students didn’t want to hang with us because we were white, that’s racism, right?

Oh, bless your heart, 18-year-old me. You have so much to learn.

And I did, and it has taken decades. And I’m still learning.

What I have learned so far:

  • Racism and prejudice are not the same thing. The latter is personal; the former is institutional. White Americans are not taught the difference. This is why the average white person gets their back up when they hear the R word. “I’m not racist! Racists are Bad People! I’m a Good Person! I don’t look down on Black people/use the N word. I have Black friends/Black relatives/a Black spouse! How can I be racist?” What you mean is that you are not prejudiced. But if you are a white person in America, you are part of a racist system. This country was stolen from Native Americans and built by enslaved Black folk. Your status as a white person makes you complicit in the racism that built this land. This is hard for us white folks to swallow, but it’s true.
  • Colorblindness is a crock. This is another hard one for us white folks. We are supposed to be “all the same” – and we are, when it comes to our value as human beings. But to ignore the fact that people of color have a very different experience of the world from that of white folks is its own form of racism. As much as my younger self wanted to believe “It’s just color; what’s the big deal?” that is not the case for PoC. For white folks, “not noticing color” is polite. For PoC it’s potentially suicidal.
  • It’s 20-effing-20 and people of color are being killed by cops for merely being suspected of criminal behavior. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. George Floyd was reported for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Philando Castile committed no crime at all, and he TOLD THE COPS he had a gun and was shot because they decided he must be reaching for it, which he wasn’t. Imagine a white person in any of those scenarios. They would not be dead.
  • It’s 20-effing-20 and people of color are having the cops called on them for merely existing. Birdwatching in Central Park. Having a picnic. Sleeping in the lounge of a college WHERE THEY WERE AN ENROLLED STUDENT.

There is a lot of reading material out there for those who were – or are – my younger self in need of some education on this subject. I strongly recommend starting with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Then bringing it into the 21st century with Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.

Your recommendations and comments are welcome. Deity of your choice bless, and thank you for reading.

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Whose holiday is it, anyway?

800px-Ergersheim_NDAltbronn_46Ah, Valentine’s Day. As far as I can determine, February 14 became the lovers holiday because one of many Christian saints/martyrs named Valentine, according to legend, performed marriages for couples who had been forbidden to wed. Allegedly he also performed other loving acts such as ministering to persecuted Christians and restoring a blind girl’s sight.

Of course, the modern American celebration of Valentine’s Day has about as much to do with St. Valentine (whoever he was) as the modern American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has to do with his namesake. The latter is an excuse to wear green, party and celebrate being Irish (or declare “Everyone’s Irish today!”). The latter is an excuse to do Love Stuff.

Hey, if you want to give your sweetie flowers, and/or candy and/or a mushy card, and/or have a date night, Valentine’s Day is as good a reason as any. However, I’ve been reading some posts about whether it’s appropriate for those who are not in a romantic relationship to celebrate Valentine’s Day: not just singles but families, friends and children.

The Greek language has three words for love: “Agape” is charitable, altruistic, love of all humankind. “Eros” is romantic/sexual love.” “Philia” is affectionate, friendly love or liking. It gives us such words as bibliophile (lover of books) and oenophile (lover of wine). Also pedophilia and necrophilia, but let’s not go there.

I am fortunate to be in a romantic relationship, but I would not begrudge anyone who is not in one the right to celebrate their love of family or friends as they see fit on the 14th. Whether it’s giving a card to your parent, child, sibling or BFF to remind them that you love them, having a Galentine’s Day celebration with your girlfriends, or having a classroom party in elementary school (as long as all the kids bring cards for all the other kids!), I’m all for celebrating all kinds of love.

Not every holiday should be for everyone. I’m not a mom and I rant every Mother’s Day about not wanting to be shoehorned into being celebrated on a technicality such as “But you’re a pet mom!” or “But all women are nurturers!” I’m not Jewish and will not be hurt if you leave me out of your Passover seder or Hanukkah celebration.

Valentine’s Day is different. If you love someone, anyone, or are loved by someone, you deserve to celebrate and be celebrated.

Happy V-Day to all, and to all a good night.

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Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet, or Make Battements Grands Again

First, let the record show that I hate “exercise.” This is obvious to anyone who has seen me in person. I hate the term “working out.” Why would I want to pursue, on my own time, an activity that I’m not being paid for, and may actually be paying for, with the word “work” in it?

Sweating, to me, is an unfortunate byproduct of hot weather or an otherwise enjoyable physical activity, like sex or morris dancing. For this reason, the only exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise I could see myself getting into is swimming – and gyms with pools are not in my budget.

75429507_10219732179871381_511561120696238080_nStill, I knew my aging bod had to get moving or die. And one day about three years ago, I got a message from my inner 8-year-old: “Remember how you used to love ballet? Why not come back?”

Sure, I8YO. My obese, pushing-60-year-old self is going to put on a leotard and stumble around in a class full of prepubescent beginners? Been there, did that in my late 20s. Being the only adult in a kid class, with a teacher who was barely a kid herself, was not my jam.

Nevertheless, I8YO persisted. And I found myself Googling “adult beginner ballet Albany NY.” This led me to Albany Dance & Fitness and the wonderful Gail Tasarotti. With a few hiatuses (hiati?) because of conflicts with another new passion – community theater – I’ve been attending Gail’s classes ever since.

Do I sweat? Of course. Is it a workout? Yes, but it doesn’t feel like work – it’s art. My developpes are still sadly undeveloppe’d. I have good and bad releve days, and good and bad pirouette days. In a leotard and tights I look like the love child of Hyacinth Hippo and a Weeble. And none of that matters – not to Gail, not to my fellow students (many of whom are younger and/or thinner than I, and some who aren’t), and not to me.

There is something magical about ballet. Even while doing the most mundane plie, the clumsiest pirouette or a decidedly un-grand battement, I am participating in a centuries-old art form that is all about grace, beauty and incredible physical discipline.

I’ve been wanting to post about my ballet journey for some time, but it was this Slate essay by Michelle Herman that inspired me to do it. Please read it; she describes the experience far better than I can.

Wanna dance? Gotta dance? Consider joining the merry band of grownups at Albany Dance & Fitness. If ballet isn’t your thing, there are other classes available, from belly dance, jazz and hip-hop to Essentrics, Pilates and Zumba. All in an encouraging, judgment-free environment. Classes are for teens and adults only, so you won’t be towering over any 9-year-olds — a big plus!


Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

dough-308081_640Updated: I haz a blogroll! Thank you, Howard, for the advice.

I have tried unsuccessfully to add a blogroll to my home page; I can’t figure out how to make it work. If any of my fellow WordPress users can help, I will gladly give you a huge shout-out. If you are willing to come to my house and talk me through it in person, I will buy you dinner.

There are several blogs I read regularly and would like to include in said blogroll. Until I figure out how to do that, I am posting them here, and I urge you to check them out. With one exception, these are people I know personally.

I am also open to recommendations, and self-recs from friends who have blogs I don’t know about.

So go read these, bookmark them, and like the writers on Facebook to be alerted to future posts.

Chuck the Writer: Chuck Miller is a man of many talents. Not only is he a gifted writer, he is an award-winning photographer/crafter and a pop-culture geek. His Collarworld stories, about an afterlife for animals, are sweet and moving without being maudlin. He also indirectly guilted me into reviving my blog, by continuing to link to it on his page even when I went months or years without posting.

Write in the Middle: Howard Fielding and I were fraternity brothers in college (coed house). He is a veteran newspaperman whose blog consists of book reviews, humorous insights, political opinions, fictional writings, and musings on life and language.

Rocks, Trees, Skies, Seas … : Elizabeth Nestler is another Phi Tau brother and a devout Christian. I am not, but she has a way of seeing the hand of her Lord in her everyday life that I still manage to find inspiring. Worth reading no matter what your beliefs, or lack thereof.

Balkinization: My Phi Tau bestie from way back, Mark Graber, is a law professor and contributor to this constitutional law blog. It is not the sort of thing you’d read when you want a distraction, but worth your time when you have the brain cells to spare for a deep dive.

Figuring. Shit. Out. : I have yet to meet Amy Biancolli, the author of this blog, but I hope to someday. She describes herself as “a gray-haired mama and an ink-stained wretch … A survivor of suicides. A person of faith. A player at (not of) the violin. An arts writer at the Albany Times Union.  A singer of alto lines. A lover of movies and former criticA dabbler in plays. An author of books.” She writes beautifully about love and loss and music and her sister’s love of Barry Manilow and a whole lot of other things. Did I mention I want to meet her?

So there you have it. Some reading material as my gift to you this Christmas Eve. Happy content to all, and to all a good night.

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Still beers, after all these years

In 1993, I took up brewing my own beer. I was newly separated and back to living on one income, so I started homebrewing as an economy measure. For the price of a 12-pack of Budweiser, I could brew 2 1/2 cases of porter, stout, brown ale or whatever beer with actual flavor I desired. About a year later I got my significant other into it, and he ended up brewing more than I did.

Neither of us ever got elaborate with the process the way some homebrewers do. Most of my brews were made with pre-hopped, canned malt extract — the brewing equivalent of baking with Bisquick or Betty Crocker. They weren’t fancy, but they were flavorful and drinkable.

By 1998 I had been brewing only sporadically. Then came 2000, the year a close friend was celebrating his 60th birthday, and the Pokingbrook Morris Dancers — which SO and I had joined the year before — were celebrating their 25th anniversary. I decided to mark both the milestones with commemorative beers to give as gifts to the celebrants.

I enlisted SO to help me dig my brewing supplies out of the crawl space where I’d stashed them two years before. During that process, we discovered, in a case that I thought contained empty bottles, two full six-packs of amber ale that I’d made two years earlier.

Now you wouldn’t expect homebrew to have a very long shelf life; it’s made without preservatives, after all. Nevertheless, that ale was not just drinkable, but better than the day I’d bottled it. I shared it with some friends, one of whom, Bob, remarked, “You should lose all your beers for two years!”

80370181_10220045138895161_1011552918052012032_nFor birthday boy Jake, I made a honey nut brown ale that I christened “Chef Oil No. 60.” Jake loved to cook and loved beer, and used to say that the secret to a good meal was “a well-oiled chef.” For the morris dancers, I made Pokingbrook Silver Anniversary Porter.

It turned out that Jake was sharing his birthday party with another friend, Mr. Bill, who was also turning 60. I didn’t have time to brew him a batch in advance, but gave him a coupon for a batch of his choice. Then there was a third friend, Ruth, who turned 50 that year, and I made her the same offer. She requested a Scotch ale.

The other brews had come off without a hitch, but that Scotch ale was flat as the proverbial pancake. Ruth’s birthday came and went, and it was still unresponsive. We both gave up on it.

Fast-forward to March 2001. I had another batch ready to bottle, and pulled out the cases of Scotch ale to pour them out so I could use the bottles. I opened the first bottle and heard … that unmistakable POP! Houston, we have Scotch ale! And it was both properly fizzy and tasty.

October-born Ruth got her birthday brew on St. Patrick’s Day. Better late than never, no?

Remember my friend Bob, who commented that I should lose all my beers for two years? Bob received a bottle of Pokingbrook Porter back in 2000 and held onto it … and held onto it … and held onto it. The photo accompanying this post was taken THIS MORNING — December 22, 2019 — right after Bob pulled it off the shelf it had been sitting on for 19 years, and right before he and I and our respective SO’s shared it for breakfast.

Yes, it was still good. After 19 years!

SO and I no longer brew. Something happened in the quarter-century since we started: the craft beer explosion. Good beer in multiple varieties is available everywhere now at reasonable prices. Even convenience stores carry the good stuff now. It became no longer worth it to either of us to invest the time in brewing and bottling in such an environment.

SO got rid of his brewing equipment but I haven’t been able to bring myself to take that step.

For one thing, I still have the makings for two cases of bitter sitting on my kitchen counter. Maybe I’ll turn that into a birthday brew for his 75th (he just turned 71). Then we’ll lose a few bottles and rediscover them in time for his 80th.

Stranger things have happened.


The Dickens, you say?

As a follow-up to my previous post regarding my mixed emotions about Christmas, there is one seasonal phenomenon I love to bits: “A Christmas Carol.”

vintage-1705150_640Charles Dickens’ tale encompasses everything that is beautiful about Christmas and is accessible to everyone who celebrates — whether as a religious or secular holiday. Being from the 1840s, it is also free of the unpleasant commercial baggage that has become attached to the holiday in the ensuing 170-something years.

This time of year I like to binge on a variety of “Christmas Carol” screen adaptations: feature films, TV specials, sitcom episodes. Here I humbly present some of my favorite and least favorite takes on the tale.

The good:

“Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”: You never forget your first, and mine was this 1962 TV special starring the comically nearsighted character voiced by Jim Backus. It wasn’t just my first; it was the first animated Christmas special, predating Charlie Brown, Rudolph, the Grinch and Frosty.

It’s not the truest adaptation of Dickens. It leaves out nephew Fred and sister Fan, and presents the Ghost of Christmas Present before Christmas Past. But with songs from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill of “Funny Girl” fame, I can forgive the liberties it takes with the source material. Razzleberry dressing all around!

It doesn’t show up on TV much these days, but you can buy it on DVD or watch it online.

“A Christmas Carol” (1951 film): Also available online, this version stars Alastair Sim, the best live-action on-screen Scrooge who ever Scrooged. Sim also voiced Scrooge in a 1971 animated adaptation that scared the pants off me when I was 13, with its frightening representations of Jacob Marley and the children Ignorance and Want.

“Mickey’s Christmas Carol”: Mickey isn’t Scrooge in this charmer from 1983. That honor goes to (who else?) Scrooge McDuck. Mickey is Bob Cratchit. It cut out a lot to fit the running time, but Disney fans will delight in the casting — not just McDuck as Scrooge and Mickey as Bob, but Goofy as Jacob Marley and Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, among others. It’s also available online, but prepare to be interrupted by lots of ads.

The bad:

“A Christmas Carol” (1938 film): Hollywood tried much too hard with this version, which stars Reginald Owen in a role originally intended for Lionel Barrymore. While other adaptations left nephew Fred out altogether, this one gives him too much to do (gotta get that young love story in there somehow), and transforms Scrooge from grouchy to giddy far too soon.

“Topper”: As a preteen I fell in love with reruns of this largely forgotten early 1950s sitcom, based on a movie that was based on a book, about a staid middle-aged banker who lived with three ghosts — a sophisticated young couple who died in an avalanche and the alcoholic St. Bernard who perished trying to rescue them.

When a friend told me about the “Christmas Carol” episode, I duly watched and was terribly disappointed. Topper just wasn’t mean enough to be a credible Scrooge, even in a fantasy sequence. And Tiny Tim was a dick. Watching Leo G. Carroll spout 1920s slang in one of the flashback segments was fun, though.

The meh:

Muppet Christmas Carol: I love the Muppets and really wanted to like this, but found the Gonzo/Ratso interstitials and the two Marleys (Statler and Waldorf) distracting, although Michael Caine nailed Scrooge. Kermit was Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy was Mrs. Cratchit. Not awful, but for Muppetational Christmas cheer I prefer the special with John Denver.

What are your favorite and least favorite “Christmas Carol” adaptations? Share in the comments.

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You can’t spell “humbug” without “hug” — assorted thoughts from a cynical agnostic Christmas fan

candlelight-1281563_640Let me start by introducing you to an excellent book, “The Myths That Stole Christmas,” by gentleman and scholar David Kyle Johnson. In this short but meaty volume, he dissects seven common beliefs about Christmas but also invites everyone to celebrate the season — including non-Christians of all stripes.

One of his theses is that winter solstice celebrations and many of their traditions predate Christianity … and despite having “Christ” in its name, Christmas should be for everyone. Whether your personal Christmas is about Jesus, about family, about giving … it’s all good. Seriously, give it a read.

On to my thoughts:

I’m all for Christmas — not the day; I have been known to spend my December 25 driving Uber or watching movies that have nothing to do with the holiday (“Fatal Attraction” ripoffs and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” reruns are perennial favorites). I get into the spirit by participating with friends in celebrations leading up to the 25th. These involve music, dance, food and togetherness.

Presents? Nah. I’ll do present stuff at work (Secret Santa, adopt-a-family, Yankee Swap at the office party),  but I excused myself from the MUST-BUY-GIFTS-FOR-EVERYONE-I-KNOW madness decades ago. I’d much rather give gifts to people on their birthdays — more on that below.

I don’t believe in Jesus as the literal Son of God, and I’ve read enough to know that He was probably not born in December. But I do believe He was a great teacher with an important message, and for that reason I consider His birthday worthy of celebrating. Who cares if He wasn’t born in December? If the Queen of England can have her birthday party in June despite being born in April, why not Jesus?

The “war on Christmas” is BS. I remember seeing “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” sentiments when I was in the first grade, and Bill O’Reilly was a freshman in high school. Back then, the generic sentiment meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” If it has evolved to encompass not just Christmas and New Year’s but also other holidays people who don’t do Christmas celebrate in December, why is that a bad thing?

Santa – -I don’t have a canine in this conflict since I don’t have children, but I’ve done a lot of reading about whether it is a good or bad thing for kids to believe in the jolly old elf. I believed until I was 10 despite having doubts and was not traumatized to be told the truth.

I have read the arguments on both sides — lying to your kids is bad, letting them experience the wonder of Christmas is good. If I had kids, I would like to think that I would let them believe at a very early age, then break it to them by age 6 or so, weaving in the St. Nicholas story, that Santa is not a real person, but an idea and a spirit that we can all be part of. Then I would invite them to become Santas themselves by giving to others in the spirit of Santa.

The music — ohhh, the music. If it were up to me, there would be a moratorium on all Christmas songs written after 1980 or so. And any songs in that date range played on the radio leading up to December 25th must be ABOUT Christmas. No generic winter songs. Lookin’ at you, “Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and you, too, “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells,” Those songs are not about Christmas. They’re about winter. Why can’t we hear them on the radio in February when we’re sick and tired of winter and need a reminder of how pretty it is?

Oh, yeah, birthdays. Today, December 11, is mine. At my age (61), I don’t have a huge emotional investment in presents, and I’m OK with not receiving gifts for my birthday or Christmas. But if you love a December baby, I urge you to acknowledge and celebrate them, with or without gifts, on their day. Combination birthday/Christmas gifts for December babies are not cool.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Cool Yule, Super Solstice, Blessed Kwanzaa and to all a good night.