The Damage Trump Does

Shortly after the 2016 election, I wrote “So, Trump.” In it, I expressed the cautious hope that Trump would “pivot away from his more extreme positions, and perform reasonably,” and ended up concluding “it will come down to his willingness to be bound by the rule of law. If he recognizes that, while it won’t be great, we’ll be OK”.

Since then, I’ve been heartsick about what he has done to this country.

The American Constitution has been rightly celebrated for creating a government of checks and balances, and the way it balances the rights of individuals with the needs of the community to have law and order. It is set up to prevent too much power from accumulating in any one institution, and allows one branch of government to check another.

But just as important as the letter of the law in the Constitution, is the culture of respect for the law that has grown up around it. America was incredibly lucky in the Founding Fathers we had; they believed in the rule of law, and were respectful of it. Washington stepped down voluntarily after two terms; when John Adams was defeated, he made as many lame duck appointments as he could, but he also accepted the verdict of the election, and came home to Braintree. And when Jefferson became President, there were no purges of Federalists; the streets did not run with blood.

Over time time, this respect for the law became institutional and cultural. Sure, there have always been fights and arguments and disagreements, but they have been, for the most part, within the rule of law, because we’ve all internalized those values.

Character matters.  It matters especially with public servants. We expect them to have internalized the values our legal system was designed to promote. It is very hard to write rules to cover every contingency; oftentimes, it’s not hard to find a way to follow the letter of the law while flouting its spirit. Character matters with public servants because we have to be able to trust them to do what’s right, to respect our principles, and to put our interests ahead of their own, and we have to be able to trust them to do it, because it’s right, not because they’re afraid of getting caught.

About 10 – 15 years ago, a large company wanted to put a large complex in our neighborhood. The neighborhood organized, and it ended up in front of the local Zoning Board. I was so impressed by the Board. They were fair to both sides, they listened, they asked intelligent questions. It was clear that they were after what was best for the Town. They were what I expect from every public servant.

Trump is morally bankrupt. It’s rich that he and his mouthpieces bray about “Fake News” when he has no respect for the truth. I don’t think he would know what the truth is if it came up and bit him. He even lies stupidly, about silly things that don’t matter and are easily checked. He can’t help himself. He has – needlessly – squandered the trust in the office that the office requires.

He doesn’t think, he just reacts. He is constantly undermining subordinates, and tossing bombs foolishly on Twitter. He constantly needs to have his ego stroked.

He has made it very clearly that he regards racism and misogyny to be acceptable behavior, which has emboldened the racists and misogynists to come scuttling out of the woodwork.

Even before the 2016 election, it was clear that, at the very best, he had little respect for women, and at worse, was an abuser.

He has filled the government with the corrupt or the incompetent, or the corrupt and incompetent in the case of the EPA head.

Frankly, I believe he has sold us out to the Russians for the sake of his own business interests, and is following Putin’s instructions that will (and I don’t know if he is bright enough to realize it) wind up damaging our government, our nation, and our allies. I don’t know it, but I believe it.  I am hoping the FBI can either prove or disprove it.

But whether he is Putin’s Little Puppet or not, the damage he has done to our political culture is incalculable. He is dissipating the culture of respect for the law that has kept this nation going since its founding, and that’s the damage I worry about the most. He is constantly demonstrating that you can get away with flouting our values, that you can get away with disregarding inconvenient laws. You can get away with demonizing the free press, despite the fact that a free press is one of our core values. We cannot afford this erosion of respect for the law, because when the law is not respected, it cannot protect us any longer.

So far, he has kept — or been kept — within at least the letter of the law (mostly), but he has brought us a lot closer to the point where we are vulnerable to the kind of government takeovers we used to think could only happen in undeveloped countries. It doesn’t take much. Just a leader who feels above the law, and a force that will follow. It’s clear that Trump leans toward totalitarianism; whether he feels he could follow through, I don’t know, but whether he knows it or not, he is paving the way for some even more unscrupulous person.

I started this essay a few months ago; I set it aside because I couldn’t express what I was feeling. The mid term elections give me a little hope; it’s clear that respect for the law and our values is alive within many citizens, and they have made their disapproval known.

Watching the ISS

I have an app on my phone called ISS Finder; it lets you know when the International Space Station will pass visibly overhead, and rates each pass depending on how visible the station will be, and how long it will be visible for.

It gave me an alert this evening just before 5:30 that there would be a pass. Looking at the app showed that it would be a good pass, going directly overhead, running from southwest to northeast, so I went out front to take a look.

It was a good pass. The station appears as a slowly moving star.  It was relatively bright when it came up over the southwestern horizon, and was quite high and bright as it passed overhead, then gradually faded out halfway to the northeastern horizon, as it passed into the earth’s shadow.

The app has a map showing where the station is. I’m not sure exactly how up to date or precise it is, but the station appeared to be overhead just after the map showed it passing us. Assuming the map is accurate, what amazed me is how far away the station was when it came into view. Not only was it around 240 miles up, but it was over the mid-Atlantic states when it came into view, and stayed visible until it was somewhere over Nova Scotia.

M*A*S*H Main Titles

One thing I left out of the last post was a little game I play with myself — how quickly can I figure out “Which season an episode is from?” Although a lot of the footage from M*A*S*H’s main title was shot for the pilot, changes in cast required periodic alterations.


Unlike the rest of the series, the pilot does not begin with the main title; instead, it begins with a montage of off-duty scenes of hijinks, which ends when Radar hears some incoming choppers. The main title then begins, a more extended version of what was used for the rest of the series. There are “funny” scenes of people leaving their tents, and the process of getting wounded off the helicopters is shown in more detail.

Seasons 1 – 3

The series uses the same main title for the first three years. Jamie Farr and William Christopher are not listed. You can spot this version as soon as Alan Alda’s credit appears — cast member names are in a much smaller font than the title “M*A*S*H”.

Season 4

The cast changes in Season 4 required revisions to the main title. Mike Farrell replaces Wayne Rogers in second spot, and Harry Morgan replaces McLean Stevenson. Jamie Farr was added to the main title in this season.

You can tell this is a post-original cast episode as soon as Alan Alda’s credit appears; cast member names are now only slightly smaller than “M*A*S*H”.

The two things that make this season unique are the shot of BJ, and the absence of William Christopher’s credit. In this season, they use a straight on shot of Mike Farrell running straight toward the camera.

Season 5

In this season, they replace the running shot of BJ with one of him by the side of the helicopter, saying “He’s OK”. This shot would be used for both seasons 5 and 6.

In this season, William Christopher gains his name in the title; in addition, Executive Producer Gene Reynolds gets a credit — the only year a non-cast member’s name would be shown.

Season 6

This season replaces Larry Linville’s credit with David Ogden Stiers.

Season 7

Season 7 is the year BJ grew his mustache, so they replaced his season 5 shot with a new one of him with the mustache, kind of popping up into the frame.

This season is the last one with Radar, so this the last year the main title begins with a shot over his shoulders looking out toward the mountains toward the incoming choppers; this version is the only one with this shot and BJ’s mustache.

Season 8 and Beyond

With Gary Burghoff gone, the main title now starts with a newer, aerial shot of helicopters flying over the mountains. There are a few season 8 episodes with inserted shots of Radar on R & R, plus his farewell episodes; these have an additional credit added, “with Gary Burghoff as Radar”.

I’m not sure if visually, the main title changed beyond that for seasons 9, 10 and 11; I have noticed that different seasons do seem to have slightly different arrangements of the theme. It would not surprise me if there were minor differences in some of the shots as well.

Musings on M*A*S*H

It may come as a surprise to people who know how much of a Trekkie I am, but my all time favorite TV show is not one of the incarnations of Star Trek, but M*A*S*H. I first started watching it sometime during the second or third season of its original run, and then continuously through to the end. Nowadays, it’s the one show I make time for, now on MeTV.

I think a big part is Alan Alda’s Hawkeye, which is interesting, because he’s not very much like the Hawkeye of the book. I recently re-read the original novel, and it’s interesting to see how the characters diverged. In the book and movie, Hawkeye is brown-haired, married, has glasses, and is a general surgeon. The novel shows Hawkeye explicitly planning the strategy that is an implicitly shown in the series:

“This Blake must have a problem or he wouldn’t be sending for help. Maybe we’re that help.”
“Right,” the Duke said.
“So my idea,” Hawkeye said, “is that we work like hell when there’s work and try to outclass the other talent.”
“Right,” the Duke said.
“This,” Hawkeye said, “will give us enough leverage to write our own tickets the rest of the way.”

(In the novel, the character of Duke Forrest was a third surgeon, slightly more important to the story than Trapper John. In the movie, he was played by Tom Skerritt).

The Hawkeye of the book and movie has no trouble voicing the kind of racial slurs that the Hawkeye of the series found unacceptable. All three version show him as a prankster and schemer, but the book never shows the kind of bedside compassion the series Hawkeye has. The series Hawkeye is more principled — sometimes too much so — than the novel’s Hawkeye. The book’s Hawkeye lacks the Groucho-esque wordplay that I love about the series Hawkeye.

Once of the things I find interesting is that physically, Wayne Rogers is more like the novel’s Hawkeye, and Alda is more like the novel’s Trapper John. Some traits were switched between the characters — in the novel, Trapper is the thoracic specialist, and becomes Chief Surgeon; in the series, it’s Hawkeye.

One of the reasons Wayne Rogers gave for leaving the series is that he had been told that the two surgeons were going to be equals, but that Trapper was given less to do as time went on. It’s interesting to speculate on what would have happened had the roles been reversed, but I suspect in the end, Alda still would have wound up as star as the show. Actors have much more influence in television production; aside from gathering a following which gives them clout, they also inspire writers. If an actor comes up with an interesting bit of business, or does something particularly well, the writers will see that in the dailies and start writing to it. I think Alan Alda’s portrayal would have had that kind of effect whether he was playing Hawkeye or Trapper.

Cast Changes

M*A*S*H is unusual in that it survived several major cast changes. I remember being very upset that Henry Blake and Trapper John left, but at this point, I greatly prefer Colonel Potter and BJ to their predecessors. Colonel Potter is a lot more believable as a commanding officer than the series’ Henry Blake, and in fact, bears some resemblance to the Henry Blake of the novel, being a regular Army man whose first priority is the operation of his unit, and is willing to tolerate a lot of nonsense in exchange for surgical excellence. Trapper as a character wasn’t really different enough from Hawkeye, and this hampered him in some ways; it was harder to bring something different to the table. Mike Farrell’s BJ Hunnicutt, on the other hand, brought a different set of values to the show; it was easier to play the contrast between him and Hawkeye. He was a family man, where Hawkeye was not, he was less outraged by the war than Hawkeye, and at least in his earlier seasons, more likely to be amused by what he saw.

I’m still less pleased with the change from Frank Burns to Charles Emerson Winchester. I still feel the show lost a lot when Larry Linville left. Charles is an interesting character, but he lacks the inspired lunacy of Frank Burns. Linville left because the character had become narrow and strident, so they replaced him with a character with more headroom to grow.

Finally, the show lost a lot when Gary Burghoff left.  It actually lost two characters, because Klinger the company clerk was not the same as Klinger the Section 8 candidate. I understand why it made sense from a production standpoint, but I would have preferred that they had gone in a different direction. I think it would have been interesting to have seen an all new character — possibly a patient coming through who happened to reveal a talent for clerical work, or to have promoted one of the recurring cast. It would have been interesting to see Igor as company clerk.

One of the things I’ve realized is that with each cast change, the kinds of stories the show could tell changed. When Henry Blake died, you could no longer tell stories about Frank and Hot Lips getting upset and going to the brass; Colonel Potter would have never stood for it. On the other hand, the writers gained a straight talking fatherly figure the staff could bond with. When Trapper left, Hawkeye lost his wingman and to a certain extent, a fellow carouser, but the writers gained the ability to tell stories about trying to be faithful about a loved one at home, and dealing with guilt when one fails. When Frank Burns left, they lost the crazed Wile E. Coyote foil, but gained the ability to tell stories about a much more sophisticated nemesis.

Abyssinia Henry

As good as M*A*S*H is, it has a number of episodes that are simply not great, especially in the later seasons. There is one episode that makes me angry, though, and that’s “Abyssinia, Henry”, where Henry Blake is killed off. The writers have taken a lot of credit over the years for the way they did it, and I totally disagree.

For those who haven’t seen it, at the beginning of the episode, Radar comes into the OR and tells Henry he has all his points, he’s being discharged. The rest of the episode is about the camp saying goodbye to Henry. Hawkeye and Trapper take him over to Rosies for one last night, and give him an over the top civilian suit. Next morning, wearing the suit, he says goodbye the camp, then heads for the helipad where the camp sees him off.

Dissolve to OR, where a shaken Radar comes in, and announces that Henry’s plane was shot down over the sea of Japan, and that there were no survivors.

What bothers me is that the last scene was literally tacked on at the end — it was hidden from the actors in order to get a stronger reaction, and was added to make a point about the war.

I don’t have a problem with writers writing to make a point. I have a big problem with the way they handled this. Essentially, they had a happy goodbye story, and then they tacked on one scene that really has no relationship to the rest of the episode. There was no foreshadowing, it didn’t flow from the rest of the story, they didn’t even put Henry in a particularly risky position.

You want to kill off a regular to make a point? Fine. Let’s do it right. Let’s foreshadow it some. Let’s put him in jeopardy first. Let’s use this thing we’re going to do possibly open up some avenues for other characters. Let’s see him die, and not in vain. Let’s see the other characters starting to come to grips with it. Maybe for some reason, he and Frank have to visit an aid station or attend a conference or something. Let’s say Frank does something stupid, but not serious, and suddenly things go all wrong. Frank tries to make it right, and fails. And is uncomfortably aware that he failed, at least at some level. And he gets Henry back to camp, but he’s too far gone, and Hawkeye and Trapper are unable to save him, and they all have to live with that.

The writers could have still made their point this way. But the ending would have flowed organically from the rest of the story.

The Seasons of M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H went through several phases, most of which tended to correspond with the seasons. In the first season, M*A*S*H was to a certain extent, an Army hijinks show. It was not doing well in the ratings, and the network wanted it to be more of a comedy. There was more of a focus on capers. The show also had a number of subsidiary characters that were phased out by the end of the season. On the flip side, we had a sense that the camp was bigger than just the Swamp men; we saw other doctors, and a dentist, and other staff members.

By seasons two and three, the show was hitting its stride. It was still slightly surrealistic, but the stories were starting to become a little more character driven, and there was less emphasis on caper stories.

Season Four saw the introduction of Colonel Potter and BJ Hunnicutt. It was the last season where Frank and Hot Lips were together, and the last season written by Larry Gelbart.

For me, Season Five is the best season of the series. There is a certain jauntiness in the performances, more of a sense that the characters enjoy playing off each other. Colonel Potter is plain-spoken, but hasn’t yet developed the annoying verbal tics that he had after Season Eight. You can see the affection between Potter, Hawkeye, and BJ, and the growing respect between the Colonel and Margaret. Hot Lips and Frank have broken up, and Margaret is becoming more of a free agent. Frank is there, and still funny.

Seasons Six and Seven see the series becoming more serious. Without Larry Linville, it’s just not as funny as it used to be. Radar’s absences are starting to become noticeable.

The series really started going downhill beginning with season eight. I’m not sure whether it was the writing team in place for the last three seasons, or simply a matter of running dry, but it was really starting to show its age after Radar left. Potter developed a set of really annoying speech patterns. Some of the performances started to get broader and louder. And the stories got preachier, and less interesting. I’m generally happy to see most of the earlier episodes again; by the time the later episodes come around, I get choosier. There are still some good ones, but there are also a lot that I’ll skip.

M*A*S*H‘s Point of View

M*A*S*H was always a series that had a point of view, that war was evil and wasteful, that the Army was silly when it wasn’t brutal. This is correct in many ways; Isaac Asimov once wrote that “War is the last refuge of the incompetent”.

And yet, looking at it historically, I can’t help but feel that the Korean War was justified. The UN (at the behest of the US) went to Korea to defend South Korea which had been invaded by North Korea. It was a defensive war to repulse an invasion. I can’t help but look at the two Koreas now – North Korea in periodic famine, run by a despotic dynasty, and South Korea, one of the richest economies in the world. Satellite pictures at night starkly show the difference between the two economies.  South Koreans have a large amount of personal freedom, North Koreans are under the thumb of the Dear Leader.

Missed Opportunities

M*A*SH’s point of view lead to some missed opportunities as well. Colonel Potter was portrayed as pretty realistic, but he was a career army officer. We were told why he got into the army, but we never explored why he stayed. There was always a lot of complaining about the war, but we didn’t really see any of the surgeons take more than momentary satisfaction in their work. Their work was important, and meaningful; I think that would have been emotionally sustaining, especially for people, like them, who lived through World War II, but it really wasn’t shown much.

Margaret was always shown as competent and strict and by the book, but the flip side of competent people with high standards is that they are very proud of their people, and protective of them; it would have been interesting to see an episode where for some reason, she had to protect one or more of her nurses, either from the Army or some decision of Colonel Potter’s.

We had a couple of really nice fatherly scenes with Potter and Pierce, Radar, Klinger, and Margaret, but I don’t remember ever seeing a one on one between him and BJ, which is strange, since they had a lot in common, being faithful married men who missed their wives. There were several episodes where BJ went off the rails because he missed Peg; I think Potter could have helped him.

And finally, I think Frank Burns could have been handled better. It was difficult, because Larry Linville was such a talented physical actor, but a big part of the problem was that he had no redeeming qualities at all. In the book, Frank Burns is written as technically competent, but medically thoughtless, with a penchant for blaming others for his mistakes,  and an intolerance for others who didn’t share his affluence. (He is also a captain, like the others; his character was merged with a religious major for the movie).

I think “technically competent, but medically thoughtless” would have been a lot more sustainable for the series, than the complete idiot he was written as. It would have made him a more believable character. It gives the writers a little more flexibility – if they need him to do something stupid, he does it out of carelessness, but gives him a baseline of competence so that he’s not completely unreal.

I also think it would have given the character of Frank Burns more headroom to grow if the new characters introduced in Season four were more tolerant of him than Hawkeye. There is too much history between him and Hawkeye for them ever to be more than enemies, but I think they could have written BJ as at least tolerant of him. And I can imagine a nice walking scene between him and Potter where Potter makes it completely clear that he regards the 4077th is a hospital first and an Army base second, and somehow manages to get Burns at least somewhat on board with that.

Fan Fiction

I’ve discovered a fan site ( that has some fan fiction. Some of it is really poorly written, even at a grammar level, but a few of the stories are quite good. Some are alternate episodes, some show the characters after the war. One of the rather surprising things for me is how many stories pair up Margaret and Hawkeye. I just don’t see it myself. They always had professional respect for each other, and a certain amount of physical attraction, but as Hawkeye says at the end of “Comrades in Arms”, they’re just too different personalities.

In the end, M*A*S*H the series lives on because it was so well executed, especially at the beginning. The protagonists are likable and funny, many of the stories are well written, and transcend the “Army hijinks” format of the original. It’s now been around for over four decades, but it can still make me laugh.

External Data

About a year ago, I finally overflowed the confines of this laptop. When I bought it, I looked hard at the model with a terabyte of storage, but couldn’t quite justify the extra $500 for it. When I transferred my data to it, I gained back about 50 GBs of space, probably due to logs that didn’t get transferred over, but gradually filled it up, due in large part to my slide scanning project. I’d bought a couple of external drives for my old Mac, and when I finished the slides, I moved them all off the internal SSD onto one of the external drives, reclaiming about 20 GB or so. Finally, though, I had to bite the bullet and move my iTunes library off the laptop and onto the hard drive, and finally got the computer to a point where it had a safe amount of free space. Now that I’m starting to shoot video, there is no question but that I need the extra space.

So what’s it like having to tether the laptop to an external drive? For my day-to-day use, it’s not an issue. I don’t need it to read Twitter or my news feeds, and I’ve kept my photo library – still in Aperture, though for how much longer I don’t know – on the laptop. When I need to use iTunes, I do need to connect the drive, but I only do that when I feel like browsing the store or backing up my devices (I moved the device backups to the external drive too).

I’m finding it’s a little more irritating where the video is concerned. I have to plug it in to transfer video from the drone’s SD card, or to edit or look at it. And this video really wants to be looked at.

The biggest pain point when dealing with the external drive is unmounting it. You have to be careful to close any open apps, and any open files before dismounting it. And since my personal Mac shares my desk with my work Mac, I’m moving it to one side on a daily basis. It’s very easy to just pull the plug on it without checking first, especially since it plugs in via Thunderbolt… just like the monitor.

It definitely makes the computer less portable. I still haven’t figured out how I’ll handle things on a trip.

Odds & Ends

A few little items:

I’ve been working from home for the past month or so. We’d been in a co-working space in Boston for the past year, and it was decided that since most of the developers are remote from the main London office, we should work remotely too. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I’m finding that I personally end up working very late. On the flip side, I did pick up two lovely 27″ Thunderbolt monitors which work just as well with my personal Mac as they do with my work Mac.

There’s been a nasty strain of what’s probably the flu going around this week, and I managed to pick it up. I was fine on Sunday, with just a little cough, Monday, I was a little achy over the course of the day, and I was pretty much out of it the rest of the week. Tuesday and Wednesday I managed to get up and get dressed, get some code reviews done, do some minor work, and then fall back into bed. I haven’t felt this crummy for so many days since grade school. No appetite, achy and feverish all over, chills, headaches, the works.  By Friday I was starting to feel a little better, but I’m still feeling a bit light-headed. It’s also run through my brother’s family, my sister’s family, the family across the street, and my friends report being sick too.

We’ve had a pretty strong nor’easter Friday and Saturday. Rain and snow Friday, heavy rain yesterday that turned back to snow. And then today, I noticed the first of my new planting of crocuses had blossomed.

New crocuses

First of the new crocuses

Spring time, and better days, are ahead.

Non-Breaking “Breaking News”

I’m getting very annoyed with the way local media is abusing the term “breaking news”. To my mind, stories must meet these criteria to be termed “Breaking News”

  1. The story must have just become known,
  2. and be of an urgent or emergency nature
  3. or supremely important

I’m a Boston Globe subscriber, and we watch the Channel 5 news. Both are bothering me with their misuses of “breaking news”.

The Globe sends out breaking news emails, and they’re pretty good about doing it in timely fashion, but I’m really starting to wonder about their news judgement. For example, Friday, I got an email from them: “Breaking News Alert: Baker promises state funding to offset any Planned Parenthood cuts”. This is not urgent, this is not an emergency, it doesn’t rise to the level of importance I would expect —and it is done via an email, which means it’s an interruption. Lately, they’ve been supplementing it with “morning”, “midday” and “afternoon” reads.

I do read the news. But it if isn’t pressing, I’d prefer to read it on my own schedule.

They also send out a morning digest of the headlines— that, I do appreciate and enjoy, because it comes on a schedule and is not an interruption. I also do appreciate the breaking new alerts that truly are breaking; for example the alert they sent out last week of a major problem on the expressway. They weren’t doing the email alerts at the time of the Marathon bombing, but it would have been entirely appropriate then.

WCVB misuses the term in another way, to promote news stories that have already been broken. This weekend’s example would be the fire in Warwick that happened overnight, but was still being described as “breaking” on the 6 PM newscast the following day. It’s especially annoying when there is nothing new to the story, and they’ve been telling the story all afternoon on their various newscasts. If there is nothing new to add, and the story is more than a couple of hours old, it is no longer “breaking”.

The term “breaking news” used to imply some sort of emergency. If news organizations continue to abuse it, like the boy who cried “Wolf”, the public will learn to ignore it.



Stupidity #1,836,753

Sometimes, I find myself doing the same stupid thing over and over again.

I bought Seasons 1 and 2 of the remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation. TNG is probably my favorite of the Star Trek series. I managed to wade through Season 1 but didn’t make it very far into Season 2.

When Borders was closing, I saw a complete DVD set of The World At War on sale for $30. My Dad and I used watch it together when it first came out, and I can still remember the theme music. The box set is sitting in a drawer, unopened.

I started re-watching episodes of WKRP In Cincinnati on YouTube. I didn’t care for the quality, and the bootleg versions they had were clipped top and bottom, so I bought the complete box set of all the seasons. So far, I’ve just made it to the middle of Season 1, where Mama Carlson does a performance review of the station.

A couple of weeks ago iTunes had a sale on the first season of Batman, for only $10. I loved Batman as a kid, and still sometimes catch it on MeTV. I enjoy it differently than I did then, but it’s still fun. I haven’t watched any of it yet.

And now, I find myself wanting to sign up for HBO in order to get Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen it, but it looks interesting. Lot of people are really into it. But am I really ready to binge watch 60 hours of it? The clock is ticking; the next season begins this summer.

Absent Friends

Christmas is a time to get together with friends and family, but it’s also a time to remember those who aren’t with us anymore.  My brother was showing some old videos from 19 years ago, and it was striking how many of those people aren’t with us anymore.

I miss my Dad. I miss his picking out the perfect Christmas tree, and how he’d play the piano downstairs. It’s been mostly silent since he died.

I miss Grandma. She always reminded me of Miss Marple, all white haired and fluffy, but always wanting to be part of things. Whenever she came for Christmas Eve, my uncle (from the other side of the family) would always flirt outrageously with her, and she’d lap it up.

I miss Fran, the neighbor from across the street. She had been a friend of my mother’s mother, then a friend of my mother’s, then a friend of the family. Opinionated, no-nonsense, but had a great sense of humor; we called her “Auntie” and she was, except for the DNA.

I miss Anne and Bob. Anne was the fun aunt of all my aunts, the one most likely to play with her nephews and nieces. It took a while for her husband Bob to grow on the family, but grow he did; he stuck by Anne by thick and thin.

I miss Dot. She was the widow of the uncle I never knew, and the mother of the cousin who died as a teenager. In spite of all that, she was fun to be around. She had a great sense of humor, and a funny, very plainspoken way of expressing herself. She seldom filtered herself, even when she probably should have. She was a great companion for my mother.

I miss my Aunt Sandy, my mother’s older sister. She too had a great sense of humor. She was very much a gourmet cook, with adventurous tastes, and my Dad and I used to joke about how she was going to be serving “Roast Platypus” for dinner sometime.

Then there are the friends, who are still with us, but literally absent for the evening: brother Tom, Kip and Joanna, Chrissie, and my two sisters, who I’ll be seeing next weekend.

Christmases are like a long running play; older members leave, and new members join the cast. My nephews and nieces are now young adults, as are my cousin’s kids. Over time, the play continues, but the cast evolves.

But here’s to absent friends.


The Perfect Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

We just finished putting up the Christmas tree. It’s always a lot of work, and it’s always nice to bask in the glow of the lights when it’s done. This year’s tree isn’t perfect, but it is pretty nice.

I remember growing up, my Dad always picked out the family tree, and he had a well earned reputation for picking out a Perfect Tree. Our trees were always much nicer than the Charlie Brown trees my cousins had.

So when he died, my two brothers and I all felt strongly that we had to live up to his reputation, and none of us was willing to cede responsibility for getting the tree to the others. So off we went, the Three Wise Men — or is it the Three Stooges? on a bitterly cold December day to find The Perfect Tree. It took forever, because of course, there is no such thing, and even less so 36 years ago when shaped trees were less common. It took nearly an hour for the three of us to agree on one. It was a great tree though.

Nowadays, it’s just me. I still like to get a nicely shaped tree, but it’s easier now, because trees are more likely to be nicely shaped, and I have less enthusiasm for standing around a windswept tree lot trying to find The Perfect Tree. But every time, I always think of Dad.