Checking in on the War on Christmas

War on ChristmasEvery year I give my father a bottle of Riesling for Christmas partly because it is the only thing I know he likes, but mostly so I can write on his card, “Tis the Rieslin’ for the Season,” a joke that never gets new. But the gift is also a reminder that, as I present it to him, we will be entering the uneasy truce that is the 11 months between Christmas Day and the next Black Friday when the War on Christmas officially begins anew.

This year the hostilities resumed a little early with the release of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas: Put Christ Back in Christmas [note: article originally written in 2011, updated 2014, publishing now for the first time on my website]. On the movie poster Cameron, wielding an oversized candy cane and a luminous snow globe containing the holy family, bursts through a Christmas tree as presents, a Santa hat, and hundred-dollar bills scatter and the cross emerges from under the tree. The movie is superfluous. They should have just produced the poster, which distills the rancor over “the holidays” to peppermint vodka-like clarity. The visuals are obvious and in just the seven words of the title “Christ” appears three times. There’s a shot across the (Xmas) bough for you.  With this poster in mind I make my annual trek to what I like to call the Army-Navy Store of the War on Christmas: Hallmark. Continue Reading

In the Age of Parenting Fathers

Fathers’ Day is the ultimate afterthought. Mothers’ Day was originally celebrated in 1908 in the United States. Like the small-engine tools that so many fathers will receive and/or use today, Fathers’ Day took a few yanks—and generations—to get going. President Coolidge primed the pump in 1924. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith gave a tug in 1957. LBJ proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day in ’66 but tricky Dick was the one who finally made it law in 1972. I was born in 1974 so Father’s Day has been around for my entire life. But not my brother’s.

Also worth noting: they picked the month after Mother’s Day to honor fathers, which is to say the month after school gets out. Among the last activities in which young students will participate as the school year winds down is to make Mother’s Day cards and presents. Sorry dads, no laminated poems and artwork for you. Like I said: afterthought. Continue Reading

Gin Chronicles Part 3: Gin and Tonic

Have you ever considered how precarious the adjective adult is? Add the words film, movie, or superstore and you better not be talking at work. But adult beverage is safe—unless you are drinking it at work—and I want to sing the praises of the low-cal gin and tonic to you. Making a G&T is pretty easy but the most important thing, as with all fine cooking, is to start with only the freshest ingredients, which in this case means limes. None of that lime juice in a jug. Also you should use the best vodka you can afford. Should that vodka come from a 2-liter plastic bottle you might want to double the fresh limes or just go ahead and drink the vodka from the bottle.

Begin with a low-ball glass with three or four ice cubes. We use Tervis Tumblers® with the logo of our beloved Seminoles, but it could just as well be a pelican, Auburn’s Autobot logo (c’mon, that’s what it looks like), or even a gator head without affecting the taste too much. The important thing is the size of the glass. You don’t want a tall one because this is a diet beverage and too much of that no-cal tonic water and all you taste is quinine and saccharine.   In writing, saccharine is a synonym for something overly sweet, but on the tongue saccharine is a zombie bearing only a passing resemblance to sugar. You don’t want too much saccharine any more than you want a zombie cloying his way into your stomach. [There is a really funny joke in there—not a typo—for the wordsmith in your life, in case you missed it.] Continue Reading

The Gin Chronicles Vol. 2: Gin and Terrier

I’m soaked with sweat and gin and the dog is guilty as hell. One ear up, one ear down, Boudreaux Bontemp [bon-tom] is indifferent to the mess he has created, offering a short glance at us to see what all the commotion is about then racing another lap on the loop comprising the living room, the sunroom, and the pair of doors straddling the fireplace that open the two spaces to one another.

Boudreaux Bontemp Continue Reading

The Gin Chronicles Vol. 1: Mule Day

The ginger beer had traveled like a garden gnome, moving from shelf to shelf in the refrigerator by the natural process of shuffling leftover lasagna, bagged salads, bad mushrooms, and that jalapeño jelly that would have been perfect with the cheese and crackers the other night if only I could have found it. Seven moves is the limit, however; after that the peripatetic pilsner has to go.

The wife and I fancy ourselves connoisseurs of the grape, the tannin, and the sulfite headache. Red wine is our drink of choice when an adult beverage is called for, preferably cabs as our brutal American tongues have reduced the phonetically gorgeous cabernet sauvignon. When we feel like a cool drink, however, we normally go for a low-cal, refreshing gin and tonic (click here for our recipe, only 3 points on Weight Watchers!). A few days back as the mercury rose over 90 for the first time this year the mood felt right for a cool one. I opened the door of the fridge and noticed the ginger beer leaning precariously forward from atop a thawed chicken. I’d given Aimee a set of copper mugs as a gift not long ago. How about a Moscow Mule? I asked. Continue Reading

A Splendid Disaster

There is something to be said for indoor weddings and that something is that they happen inside.  The following is an oral history of Samuel and Aimee Scheib’s wedding, cobbled together through interviews with 23 people who attended (and one who did not), for the occasion of their 13th Anniversary.

Bridal party

L to R: Zack Benz, Joe King, Mike Stemac, Lyle Scheib, Edu Stuivenberg, Paul Scheib, Samuel Scheib, Aimee Scheib, Alyson Juliano Bullard, Marisa Barlok, Kate Morrison, Lenee Carroll, Marsha Sykes, Jessy Towry.

The summer is long in Florida, and counter-intuitively, the summer is even longer in North Florida where the coastal breezes do not go, a part of the country with names like Shadesville, Starke, and Tate’s Hell. But then there is the delight of cooler temperatures in November and some variation in the leaves that passes for foliage in the Big Bend. So it was in that glorious autumn month in 2003 that Sam proposed and Aimee accepted and they began to plan for a spring wedding, a late spring wedding around a holiday so people could travel on a Monday without missing a day of work. That day was Memorial Day 2004, the 30th of May, pretty close to end of spring. Continue Reading

Smoke for Free This Weekend

My novel Smoke in a revised, second edition, is available for free on the Kindle store Saturday and Sunday April 1-2.  This book is very different from Departure Day, a lightly humorous mystery set in a small southern town very nearly exactly like Thomasville, Ga.  Here is the first chapter.  Please download for free!

Chapter 1

Blood is a more persistent element than sweat. Indifferent to the contours of my face, I could feel the warm red stream course from the cut above my temple down to my chin and points farther south. The sweat, on the other hand, jumped, fritted, and fell in rhythm with the movements of my body, but my racing heart simply pushed blood out of the gash where it slowly submitted to gravity. I had never had the sensation of these two bodily fluids mixed together, at least not in these quantities, but they conducted themselves so differently I could tell I was bleeding even though I couldn’t see it.

My front tire went off the pavement again, this time onto a low shoulder and dragged the rest of the bike off the road. I maintained my balance but then hit a fallen tree branch and stumbled to the ground. I cursed and got back to my feet. I put the bike on the road and then realized the man with the shotgun wasn’t behind me anymore; the only danger was the canopy road itself.

Darkness, the impenetrable haze of lightlessness, was new to me. Every bedroom where I had ever slept had been dimly lit by the blue light of a nearby streetlamp. Movie theaters and airplanes had exit signs and floor lighting. Nightlights, green lights on smoke detectors, LCD screens on VCR clocks, computer power buttons, urban light pollution in city parks, cracks under doorways and the moon itself had all introduced some element of illumination to every darkened space I could remember occupying. The tunnel of trees was a perfect, black hole, vertigo’s home address.

I got back on the bike and road more slowly this time, expecting a car to come by I could wave down.   I continued slowly down the centerline, using the reflectors like road Braille. After five minutes or so the dark and the quiet were pierced by a truck approaching in front of me, so I moved to the right and slowed to a stop. I waved at the truck to stop but instead some teenagers yelled and threw an aluminum can out the window. I got back on the bike and started down the middle of the road again, picking up speed as I got accustomed to the dark and regained my equilibrium. K vsemu mozhna previknut, I remembered was my grandmother’s, and Russia’s, mantra: One can get used to anything.

It took me another thirty minutes to get out of the woods where the streetlights made the road visible. I uttered my thanks to Edison and sped up, heading straight to the police station near downtown. I need not have bothered; the police department was already headed my way, four cruisers racing with a fire truck following a half-mile behind. The last car screeched to a near-stop and U-turned on what was now a four-lane highway and accelerated to about a hundred feet in front of me, the driver slamming on his breaks. Both doors opened and the officer on the passenger side hopped out, took a knee, and trained his 9mm at my chest. I stopped.

“Freeze! Get your hands in the air!” he hollered.

A now-familiar head of stylish silver hair perched atop a thick neck and shoulders emerged steadily from the driver’s side. Detective Hightower walked around the squad car and spoke calmly in his sandpaper voice, “Easy does it, Mason. I’m sure Mr. Silovich isn’t going to give us any trouble.”

How in the hell did I get wrapped up in this, I thought to myself. Oh, yeah, Amber took that job at the asylum.

Please share with a friend!  Smoke is free for the weekend!