Monday, January 05, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

Christmas break was glorious, if a bit too short. After about a week of waking up at a civilized hour, my brain started to snap back to its original shape and I started to feel human again. (Idea for the betterment of human civilization: move the start of the workday to, oh, ten-ish. You're welcome.) The kids were astonishingly well-behaved, TW made the house look fantastic, and we did lots of family time. Even the blogging break was welcome, as the idea well was running dangerously low. (And thanks to everyone for their gracious holiday emails!)

We skipped the lutefisk again this year, to everybody's secret relief. Some traditions live because they continue to answer a felt need. Some live because they're just too cute, or too easy, or too evocative of memory to discard. And some live out of sheer perversity. Lutefisk is that last kind. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine that gelatinous stuff that surrounds the slab of spam in the can, injected with a vague fish-y flavor. Better yet, don't.

As part of our “Okay, we live in the Northeast, we'll deal with it” resolution, we've become much more focused on cold-weather outdoor activities. We did several sledding outings, since there's a fairly impressive hill nearby. An etiquette tip from Dean Dad: watch your language as you hurtle to your certain doom. It occurred to me a bit late, as I careened down a tree-lined ravine without benefit of a steering mechanism, that I didn't want my last word on this earth to be “fuuuuuuuuuuck!” Luckily, our cold-weather bundling of the kids – start with a layer, add another, then another, and continue until they're pretty much immobilized – works both thermally and acoustically. I think.

TW also organized a successful ice-skating outing in a nearby hockey rink. I hadn't been to a hockey rink since probably the 1980's, when my Dad took me to some minor-league hockey games in Northern Town. The atmosphere hasn't changed at all. There's something comforting and familiar about cold concrete, echo-y acoustics, and the sight of children pointing and laughing at the Zamboni. The men's room didn't have the trough – don't ask – but otherwise, it was a dead ringer. I could almost smell the stale beer, and hear the florid, alcohol-fueled cursing of the crowd.

(As I remember it, minor-league hockey has a different feel from minor-league baseball. Minor-league baseball has a shambolic grace to it. Half the crowd isn't really there for the game, and the team owners know it, so they go out of their way to provide entertainment between half-innings. Children are everywhere, and the stands are full of families.

Minor-league hockey, in my experience, has more of a 'blood sport' feel to it. It's much more blue-collar, with fewer women and children, and a much higher profanity-per-sentence average. (Sample hockey cheer: “*&%#@*$%!”) I don't know quite how Canadian culture, which is otherwise so polite, gave rise to a sport that falls somewhere between 'bar brawl' and 'rugby, plus sticks,' but such are the mysteries of sport. To get the flavor of minor-league hockey at home, just walk into a closed, unheated garage in January, drink cheap beer from a Big Gulp cup, shout the worst obscenities you can for a couple of hours, and urinate against the wall. For extra credit, crash into something. Good times.)

We even watched some movies, which almost never happens during the year. On the highbrow side, we saw Milk, which I strongly recommend. The period detail in that movie was amazing, and Sean Penn managed to vanish into a character very different from the ones he usually plays. On the lowbrow side, we saw Hamlet 2, Step Brothers, and Get Smart. Get Smart doesn't really have much going for it, other than Anne Hathaway. Hamlet 2 was a little disappointing. I was hoping for some shockingly profane brilliance, like in the South Park movie, but most of it was a little flat. But Step Brothers was far better than it had any right to be. I was particularly taken by Kathryn Hahn, as the wife of the annoying younger brother. She combined a refined manner with a go-for-broke comic determination; imagine Laura Linney channeling Chris Farley. Not an easy mix, but she made it work. The scene in which she accosts John C. Reilly in the men's room is brilliant, bizarre, and laugh-out-loud funny. Someone give this woman a lead role!

Finally, of course, was the dreaded roadtrip. Stuffing four people, three days' worth of luggage, and an extended family's pile of Christmas presents into a small car, then hitting the road for several hours, is not for the faint of heart. It was worthwhile, though if you had asked me at about the three-hour mark on the way back, I might not have agreed. Handheld video games are what got us through, just like in pioneer times. (“I blasteth thee, vile creature!”) When the kids are distracted, all things are possible.

Here's hoping the state budget caught a bit of that Christmas spirit...