Archive for the ‘Holiday Spirit’ Category

What a great holiday season, right? After all, the economy’s growing, unemployment is down, and gas prices have dropped to lows that we haven’t seen in decades. This gives people more disposable income to spend, save, or do with it whatever they wish. Looks like a pretty good Christmas season, eh?

Not quite so fast. Christmas can be one of the most depressing times of the year for a great many people. That’s right, holiday depression is a real problem. I was reminded of this recently when a faculty member at the college where I worked passed away. He was a psychologist and one of his areas of research and expertise was holiday depression. He wrote about it extensively, and I just wish that I had some of his documentation as I sit before this keyboard.

The holidays are tough on many people because it will be the first time they try to celebrate without a loved one who has died during this year. A friend of mine lost his Dad just yesterday. How the heck can he have a Merry Christmas when he and his Dad were so close? It’s tough because, like many holidays, Christmas generally has a number of family traditions attached to it. My late wife and I had some very special ways of celebrating Christmas, both before the kids came along and after our family was increased by one, two, and then the third. Around this time of year I recall those things. It brings a tinge of sadness but what the heck; the kids are now parents themselves. As a consequence, my holiday depression is something that doesn’t linger to the degree that I’m certain it does with others. How am I so certain? Well, that particular faculty member was a friend of mine. We would talk for hours around the holidays about the effects of the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember him saying that in extreme cases, suicide seems to be the only way out, and that it was important to be aware of how other members of one’s family were reacting to the get-togethers and good times.

Most of us have extra time around the holidays. It gives us time to reflect on what the past year has brought to us. In many cases, it’s brought joy, but also some disappointment. When we begin to focus more on the negative side of the year, it can cause a deepening depression which leads to greater anxiety. Toss in shorter days with more hours of darkness, and you have the perfect recipe for some folks to say, “The holidays suck.”

I really don’t want to get on a pulpit here, but Ben Stein put it very nicely in a You-Tube clip that I saw recently. He said, “I don’t mind when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, and I’m a Jew. My family has been Jewish for centuries; all except my wife who’s a Presbyterian. The thing we should remember is that the celebration is of the birth of Jesus. Whatever your belief, that’s what the Christians are celebrating, and that’s something for which we can all be happy.” Are the words exactly as Stein put them? Probably not, but I’m not going back to find the You-Tube video. If you’re depressed, check it out and see exactly what he said; it will give you something to do and take your mind off your own troubles.

All I want you to do is to understand that not everyone thinks the holidays are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, that’s not entirely true because the young kids get time off from school and wonder what the guy in the red suit is going to drop under the Christmas tree. College kids are on winter break, many heading for warmer climes to do…whatever it is college kids do when they get a break and can make it to where it’s warm and relaxing. Parents, of course, are going nuts looking for the latest ‘in’ toy for the youngest or wondering if what that electronic gadget they bought for the older is “half-fast” as the ad on television would have us believe. It’s a time of stress, and between darker days, uncertainty over this, that, or the other thing, it’s not unusual to see the holiday blues on bold display.

It may not be what my late friend, Professor Charles Rotman, would have counseled, but my recommendation is to find a showing of White Christmas and watch it with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies in your lap. It may not be the perfect cure for holiday depression, but perhaps it will help you to count your blessings…believe it or not, most of us do have things for which we should be very thankful. Me, I’m thankful that I have a wonderful partner who takes care of me; I’m thankful that I can get up each morning, put my feet on the floor and go to the gym if that’s my desire. I’ve survived three heart attacks, a pulmonary embolism, any number of bouts with skin cancer, operations on knees, back, shoulders, hands, and feet, and although I’m heading down the far side of the mountain, I’m happy as the proverbial…no, no, no, let’s make that happy as a clam at high tide.

I didn’t do it justice, Charles, but thanks for allowing me to discuss one of your favorite topics…and thanks for being my friend.

Merry Christmas everybody.


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J’evah notice that around this time of year, there is always some sum—bitch who gets pissed off about Christmas. I saw a house recently where the roof was being reshingled. They’d removed the old shingles and had covered the wood with a rubberized blanket. In beautiful block print lettering on this undercoat, the manufacturer, the builder, or someone had written “Put Christ Back in Christmas.”  It’s a beautiful sentiment; doesn’t mean a goddamned thing to those people who are hip-checking your ass out of the way so they can grab the last of the toy du jour; nor does it really mean a friggin’ thing to those who drive through the mall parking lot like they’re on the track at Daytona, to find the nearest exit so they can go home and wrap the gifts they’ve just bought with the money they don’t have to give to people who will only bitch about the gift being the wrong size, shape, color, or model and who, without considering the intent with which it was given, will only bitch about having to exchange it and the lines in which they’ll have to stand..whew!.

Right now I happen to be reading Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, Killing Jesus, so that really puts me in the holiday spirit. It appears that the Romans knew more ways to torture and kill Jews that anyone before them…and they worked at it. They didn’t even crucify you until they’d beaten your back and upper legs down to the bone; then they made you carry the cross piece to a pole in the ground where they promptly tied you to this cross piece, drove nails into your wrists; hoisted you up – how, I have no idea – broke your ankles and tied your legs to the pole and left you there to die. Ha, and you thought the Grinch was a rotten bastard! I’m beginning to think Jesus should have kept his mouth shut and sold one of the Apostles down the river!

In addition to learning what Jesus was in for at a time when we’re supposed to be celebrating his birth even though we know he wasn’t born in the twelfth month, it seems that the second week in December, at least for me, is designated as visit the doctors’ week. Every single year this seems to happen: Monday it was the ophthalmologist…who told me that my eyes were aging – “and that ain’t the only part,” I wanted to say. What the hell does that mean, your eyes are aging? Of course they are. There was a time when I wore trifocals. Then this very same doctor removed cataracts, put in some new lenses and gave me back my 20/20. Now he has the audacity to tell me my eyes are aging…and at Christmas time…screw you, you son-of-a-bitch; go ahead, make my day. Tuesday was an appointment with a gastroenterologist. This is a follow-up to my recent colonoscopy – if you need further clarification, I invite you to see Billy Connolly’s description on YouTube. This doctor’s news was better; my colon evidently is not aging, but it is becoming a bit wrinkled. “Don’t let it get any more wrinkled,” he informed me. Now what the hell can I do to get my colon unwrinkled? If anyone can answer that, I’ll trade colons with them. He did give me the good news that he doesn’t want to see me again for five years. Holy Jesus, by then my colon ought to look like a Hungarian Komonder or a friggin’ Puli. Wednesday was pulmonary day, the day I see Dino. This is a doctor of whom I think the world. He treats patients as people. He doesn’t see me as another patient with emphysema and C.O.P.D. He sees me as Dick, the late Joan’s husband; the guy who loves to cook and read. When Dino is teaching young doctors, he reminds them, “Never forget that behind that patient with the lung disease, or the cancer, or the this or that, is a person who still has the same needs and desires that you have. The patient is a person! Treat them like one.” So what does he have to say? “I’m putting you on a new medication to allow you to breathe better. You want a one-month supply or a three-month supply?” With winter coming on, I figure a three-month supply is not a bad idea. Then I get a call from the pharmacy.  It-is-impossible-to-imitate-the-Walmart-voice, but listen to this…”This is your Walmart pharmacy. A person in your household has….one…prescription ready to be picked up. The total cost will be three hundred forty-seven dollars and four cents.”

“X-fucking-scuse me? Are you shitting me?” I say as I close my phone. “This is the season of giving, not of taking. You couldn’t even give me the goddamned four cent discount…where the hell does the four cents come from?” Juli was just staring at me. Finally, without breaking into a grin, she asks, “Walmart?” All I can do is glare until we both begin laughing out loud at my tirade against a recorded voice. I just love these miracle drugs…and the doctors who think nothing of prescribing them.

Today is Thursday. We went to Walmart to buy a few things and to pick up my prescription. Linda, one of the pharmacy assistants, just looked at me as I approached the counter. The pharmacist behind the counter stopped what she was doing and peeked out from behind her computer screen.

Linda: “Hi, er, hi, Dick…ah…um…are you sure you want to pick up the three-months worth of this?”

Pharmacist – from behind her computer screen, with exceedingly large smirk: “You can get the one-month supply if you want.”

Linda: “You..ah…um…you know this is over three hundred dollars, right?”

Me : “Three hundred, forty-seven dollars…and four cents…that about right?”

Linda: “Yeah?”

Me: (sotto voce so only Linda can hear) “Ring the fucking thing up, Linda!” Linda cracks up to the point where it appears she may lose bladder control. In as soft a voice as I had used, she replies…”fucking’ A!” and proceeds to abuse my debit card for the entire amount…chuckling! I’m certain she told the pharmacist of our exchange but frankly, I don’t give a damn. Ring your bell just as much as you want Mr. Salvation Army man with your big red kettle and your “Ho-ho-ho;” You won’t get as much this year as you did last…sorry about that…blame my freakin’ doctor.

Tomorrow is Friday. I have no doctors’ appointments. I have neither plans to visit Walmart nor any other store. My car is fully gassed, and I am going, very early, to the gym. I will then come home, change back into my pajamas, hide my wallet under my pillow, and sleep the day, arising only to take my pills and my new – three hundred forty seven dollar and four cents – prescription.

Merry Christmas?


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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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Are you as sick and tired as I am of the local – and sometimes national – television ads promoting sales around holidays. We have Presidents’ Day sales in January so you’ll buy a new car in February. Macy’s, it would appear, has a one-day sale every week as do furniture stores, Home Depot, Loews, and every other goddamned store you can think of…yes, I’m aware I ended a sentence with a preposition; get over it!

We have before Thanksgiving sales and after Thanksgiving sales. The same is true for Christmas, Halloween, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, Columbus Day, and any other day you care to mention. It’s sad to say but it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re getting close to the point where we are going to have Oklahoma City Bombing day sales and eventually, 9/11 sale day. As sick as that may sound to you; as horrible as you may think it to be, it will eventually happen. Last year, a golf course in the South was offering a round of golf for nine dollars and eleven cents…it’s not difficult for you to know on which day that was being offered…sick sons-of-bitches.

Marketers market, advertisers come up with new and different ways to promote the client’s product, and retailers have one goal…to make more money than their competitors. I happen to live in the Greater Boston area, and I’ve already seen a few subtle promotions for Marathon Bombing Day. These are not things to be celebrated by retailers; these are not days to be celebrated at all. Time should be spent on these days remembering those who died, both the innocents and those who saved our freedom. “Wait a minute,” you’re thinking, “Oklahoma City, World Trade Center, Boston Marathon; what does that have to do with saving our freedom?” Oh, did I forget to say that I’m opposed to the big Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and a few others that have become opportunities for giant sales and celebration as opposed to reflection and gratitude.

It appears to me that there are some holidays which should be above the concept of ‘selling’ and celebration. I remember a better time, when stores were all closed on Memorial Day, on July 4th, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It isn’t as true today. Walmart appears to be open 24/7/365 [except on Leap Year when it’s 366]. One could argue that there are people who are all alone on these holidays and who would like nothing better than to wander through stores while others are celebrating, and I can empathize with them. However, I also have compassion for the people who are required to work on some of these holidays; therefore it’s a tossup.

I don’t understand this. Yom Kippur is the Holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of repentance and yet some joy. It’s a day of charity, and it’s only a single 26-hour period of time. Is that too much for the rest of the world? No, I’m not Jewish; I am a Christian. Personally, I don’t believe that of which I’m speaking has any religious connotation; it’s just that at least the Jews have a day of repentance, reflection, and celebration all wrapped up in a single day. Why can’t we take a day such as Memorial Day; close every place that sells, and celebrate the fact that one hell of a lot of military personnel are beneath the earth on this day, and we are going to take this one day, a single 24-hour period to do nothing but remember their sacrifice for us.

Holidays just don’t seem to have the impact on many of us anymore. There is generally some point on Memorial and Veterans Days that I will, for no apparent reason, tear up and remember a couple of people who paid the price for my freedom. I hope there are some others like me, but I don’t know. This is not one of those things you just “get over.” Call me a sentimental old fool if you wish, but I’m honored to have known those people, and I may not remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I sure can remember the people who didn’t return.

Lest you believe this to be some maudlin guilt trip, I do have some suggestions for the marketers and advertisers to replace the more serious holidays. We’ve already missed it for this year but can you imagine what the dealers could do with October 2nd which is actually “Name Your Car” day? Wow, what an opportunity. Buy it and name it. Dealers could cover their walls with car names…”here comes Harry with his roaring “Ratmobile,” yippee, Skippy! Certainly, grocery stores should be able to find some way in which to push October 9th, “Moldy Cheese” day. Hell, we’ve got all sorts of opportunities there. And what would you wear to an important business meeting on October 17th? Would you cop out and wear a conservative business suit to consummate that billion dollar deal with the Japanese representatives who have taken over your company or would you stay true to your celebratory principles and observe “National Wear Something Gaudy Day? I’m pretty sure I have the answer on that one. October is also Applejack, Awareness, Cookie, and Eat Country Ham Month. On a more serious note, it’s also Breast Cancer, Lupus, and Diabetes Month…I am diabetic; I have several friends with Lupus; and, Breast Cancer was a part of what killed my wife. Yeah, those are a bit more serious.

We can celebrate by the day, week, or month. Some are funny; others are not. I’d really like to see us take the more serious ones more seriously and perhaps make the humorous ones something with which we can all have fun. I mean, what the hell, everyone celebrates Halloween on the 31st; how about we all get together on the 29th and celebrate “Hermit Day.” I haven’t a clue as to what we might dream up, but with a bunch of creative types pondering it, I’ll bet we could have one great time! Just think about it!

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What can I say? It’s nearly the end of another year and the world is still hanging around.  So what does one ponder now that we know – well, we sorta think we know – that the world still has a few more… hmm, minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? What-the-hell-ever to go before the rapture overtakes us.  Just as an aside, it’s you youngsters that have to “worry” and note that the word is in quotes.

Oh those crazy Mayans! I knew that had a sense of humor. It wasn’t all just war and killing one another nearly to extinction. Of course, there was that, too, but ending your calendar on 12/21/12, now that takes some one or some people with a genuine sense of humor. They actually had some ‘doomsdayers’ convinced that the whole thing was for real. It reminded me of the Orson Welles ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast in 1938. That one managed to rattle a few cages…probably more than the Mayan prediction managed to terrify.

It really never occurred to me that the end of the Maya calendar would mean the end of the world. After all, who were the Maya? History records that they were “one of the most dominant indigenous societies” centered now, we believe, in Guatemala and surrounding areas. According to the History web page, “Unlike other scattered indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Maya were centered in one geographical block covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala; Belize and parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas; and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. This concentration showed that the Maya remained relatively secure from invasion by other Mesoamerican peoples.” From what I’ve read, these were extremely skilled people who were proficient in math, pottery making, writing, and architecture. Cities that have been definitively linked to the Maya demonstrate the extent to which their architectural skills were developed. Various theories exist regarding the demise of the Maya, the strongest being that a combination of overuse of their land drought, and endless warfare certainly brought about the downfall of their civilization.

End of the world predictions are nothing new. American Christian Radio President, Harold Camping, thought we were all going to disappear on May 2a, 2011. Uh, Hal, I think maybe there was a communication problem there! Hey, look, I’m not gonna put the knock on Harold.  He might have been sipping too much of the communion wine and had a vision just before he passed out. Who can really say? Of course, he also predicted that October 21st was going to be the day. Perhaps he’d better go back to the Bible.

As far back as the year 44 BC, predictions that dealt with the end of our being were predicted, but the Bible says that no one knows when the end will come; “…not the angels in heaven nor Jesus Christ. Only the Father knows.” If the Son of God is not privy, I think it’s fair to say that mere mortals don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of predicting when and if the world will ever end. A very prominent Jewish sage, Zakkai, expected the Messiah to arrive about the time of his death in the year 80CE. I don’t know whether to call that arrogance or egotism, but since the Messiah didn’t show, I guess we can just say, “The guy died!”

According to one source, “To the citizens of London, 1666 was not a banner year. A bubonic plague outbreak killed 100,000 and the Great Fire of London struck the same year. The world seemed at an end to most Londoners. The fact that the year ended with the Beast’s number (666), didn’t help matters either. “You have to remember that neither NBC, ABC, CBS, or the BBC were doing a hell of a lot of reporting at that time. News coverage and event importance was generally relegated to about…your own town! If you think that’s bad, “Mary Bateman, who specialized in fortune telling, had a magic chicken that laid eggs with end time messages on them. One message said that Christ was coming. The uproar she created ended when she was caught forcing an egg into the hen’s oviduct by an unannounced visitor. Mary later was hanged for poisoning a wealthy client.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world and the Second Coming so many times that it would take a single essay to describe their antics. At nine predictions, they have the record for end of the world predictions.

People have formed their own religious sects just, it would appear, to predict the end of the world. Oh, yeah, and to line their own pockets.  A man by the name of Lee Jang Rim “…started a church called, “Mission For The Coming Days.”  He was jailed for two years after embezzling 4.4 million dollars 10,000 of his cult followers. He had used the money to buy bonds that matured after the end of the world! Numerology was the basis for the date. Several camera shots that left ghostly images on pictures were thought to be a supernatural confirmation of the date. The cult looked forward to the Second Coming at 9:00 am on this day. They believed that Jesus would return through Sydney Harbor! They had their prayers and songs. At the fatal hour there was a loud countdown of the final seconds – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, etc. The leaders disappeared after an hour hiding their faces from reporters. One reporter was punched. Some disappointed members committed suicide, probably because they gave all their worldly assets to Lee Jang Rim. Originally from Korea, Australia was the home base, which was abandoned and the phone disconnected for non-payment of the bill.”

In another beauty of a case, a woman by the name of Shelby Corbett, put up benches in Florida, advertising the rapture would occur in 2007. She had a web site and was actually just pushing her book. Gotta make your daily bread in some way, I suppose!

Perhaps I’m naïve but I don’t believe that the return of Jesus Christ to this earth would be such a bad thing If the Heavenly Father sent him back without a thorough briefing of the actions that have been taking place, Christ’s first reaction would probably be to cry; to cry so hard that deserts would flood and cities would be washed away. If that was not sufficient, I’m certain He would find a way to wreak havoc among those responsible for the status of the world in which we live. If you think that throwing the money lenders out of the temple was something, you’d better get out of the way because the bodies would be flying from all directions…from the drug dealers on the corners to the greed monsters on Wall Street, with a few religious zealots and warmongering dictators tossed in for good measure.  The earth’s population would go from billions to hundreds in a pretty short space of time. I would not expect to survive when the clearance sale begins…no particular reason except I can’t say that I’ve lived, in toto, the kind of life that would live up to the expectations of Jesus. If we’re all going to be honest with each other, there are very few of us who would expect to remain for the “new beginning.”

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This is a season of giving. It’s not merely a case of giving to loved ones, to family and friends but also a time when we are asked to consider those less fortunate. This is a good thing. We get to do something to help someone else and, quite frankly, we get to feel good about ourselves because we did so. Before you make a gift to any charitable organization, however, it’s a smart move to determine exactly how much of that donation is actually helping and how much is going for overhead.

There are any numbers of charity watchdog organizations that can help you make your decisions about which charity is really putting its money to work and which is merely helping to stuff the pockets of a few executives. For example, when Todd Bassett was heading the Salvation Army, his salary was $13,000 and ninety-three cents of every dollar was being spent directly to benefit those who needed it. With Israel Gaither at the helm, the salary jumped from somewhere between $79 and $243K and I have no information regarding how that changed the 93% figure, but you can bet your bottom dollar it made a shift. You might want to check out Charity Navigator, The American Institute of Philanthropy, or The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

I will not give to the American Red Cross. I figure that any organization where the CEO is making a salary of over half a million a year and has a number of other perks is not really my cup of tea. In addition, I’m not crazy about the United Way for the very same reason. My gifts are important to me. I want them to mean something, both to me and to the organization that receives my limited resources. My late wife loved the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In lieu of Christmas presents to each other, I would give to Make-A-Wish in her honor and she’d make a gift to a charity of my choice. Don’t get any big ideas here; the gifts might be anywhere from $10. to $250, but if you give enough over the years or if you have a couple of extra bucks in your pocket – oh stop laughing; it’s not a joke – why blow it when you can help someone else. Of course, the ultimate gift is the one you put in the plate on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Churches need help all the time. It’s not a ticket to heaven, but if you know your priest or minister and enjoy what he or she has to say, it’s a damned darn good cause.

When I read about charitable organizations that pay their executives exorbitant salaries and give them so many extra perks, I just wonder about the wisdom of the board of governors or trustees. Have they lost sight of the purpose of the organizations? There aren’t many people with managerial skills who are worth more than half a million dollars a year. In addition, the executive who wants that kind of money should be subject to some very serious scrutiny by those about to hire him or her. If that salary includes allowances for clothing, travel, housing, etc, then certainly it becomes a different story. However, if there are separate allowances for those costs, look out!

I’m in a very good place. I don’t have the worries that too many younger people have. My three kids each have three kids. My children worry about their mortgages, college tuition, and other major expenses. That’s behind me; my worries concern property taxes and medical bills. As a result, perhaps I’m being a bit paranoid about giving to charity. Each year since retirement I’ve tried to donate one month’s worth of retirement income to various charities. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the goal that I’ve set for charitable giving each year. Before anyone gets my bucks, however, there are two simple questions that must be answered:

  1. What percentage of your gifts go to directly benefit the recipient and what percentage is going for organizational overhead?
  2. What is the salary of your organization’s chief executive officer and what is the salary of the chief financial officer?

Two very simple questions, and if the answer to the first one is that less than seventy-five cents of every dollar goes to the recipient, you’ve lost my money. If I don’t like the salaries of the two people mentioned, you’ve lost my money.

You may not be as fussy as I am about where my charitable contributions go. But, perhaps you should be asking yourself, “Am I really helping those who are deserving or am I just lining the pockets of another greedy son-of-a-bitch?”

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“Tis the season to be jolly…fa, la, la,, fa, la, la, la, la, la.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, particularly here in America. Yet, it appears to me that for far too many Americans, it becomes a season of terrible tragedy.

As I watched the news this morning, it occurred to me that there has not been one – not one – morning newscast this week where people were not thrust out into 20 to 30 degree weather, many in their pajamas and robes, because their apartment building was on fire. Fortunately or ‘un’ as the case may be, only one person has so far lost his life. There appears to be some direct correlation between dramatic fires and cold weather, at least here in the Northeast. There was a time when we attributed this to the use of space heaters; however, either they’re making safer space heaters or idiots have found other ways to burn down their domiciles. The one man who was killed was using a plumber’s torch and dollars to donuts he didn’t have an asbestos shield behind where he was working.

There will be more fires before Christmas 2012. In some cases they will be caused by candles left unattended; in others it will be because someone had a few too many holiday ‘spirits’ and fell asleep with a cigarette in his/her hand. Speaking of which, I heard a man complaining this morning that his apartment building fire meant he had no place to stay. There he was, casually smoking a cigarette and saying that he’d lost everything and had no insurance. I wanted to say, “Hey, asshole, with cigarettes at $70 per carton, it’s your own damned fault if you don’t have insurance! Renter’s insurance runs a little over $500 a year. Don’t bitch when you’re not trying to do anything for yourself.” I don’t want to appear holier than thou but I cannot begin to conceive of the amount of money that I’ve saved since quitting cigarettes in 1998. Okay, that was “holier than thou;” sorry.

This is also the time of year when too many people lose their collective marbles about spending. When the bills begin rolling in after January, they suddenly realize that the great deal they got on that 104” television, the one for the sixteen by twenty foot living room, is one that in hindsight they really could not afford. As a consequence, the joys of Christmas morning are suddenly replaced by the realities of beginning 2013 in way over one’s head. The marketers of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, oh joy, oh joy Sunday, and Cyber Monday have suckered us in another year. They really don’t have anything for Sunday yet, but it will probably be Joyous Jesus Sunday when you can celebrate the upcoming birth of Christ day – which isn’t when He was born anyway – by “Saintly Spending” to celebrate His birth!

We are such a friggin’ materialistic nation that it’s beginning to turn my stomach. However, and this is a very large, very bold faced underlined and italicized ‘however,’ I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a woman who loves me, a roof over my head, food on the table, a furnace that works, a couple – not many but a couple – of extra coins in my pocket and a POSBIR in the garage . Wealthy? Hell no, I’m not even comfortable, but “Ah has what ah has…and that’s all I need.” I have some very wealthy neighbors who take all sorts of trips and who have the latest toys…but I don’t want to be them; I don’t need to be them. What they do is what they want; what I do is what I want. I will say this, “My neighbors are also just as frugal in their spending as I am. We will not be conned by the marketers who would have us go in debt over our collective heads. I have driven through parts of this country where the dwelling is a broken down mobile home and in the front yard is the biggest damned television receiver you have ever seen. I suppose that to those folks television is more important than the cracked windows in the place where they live. It’s not my idea of responsible living but then, to each his own.

So, the fires will continue. At least one toddler will die because he or she played with an extension cord; Christmas trees will fall over and a family will be overcome by smoke. But look on the good side, Roland Dow and Jessica Linscott will be spending this holiday season behind bars, and won’t have the opportunity to torture and burn her child ever again. That’s really a cause for celebration

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