Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa the Stalker and other Holiday Mishaps

I was one of those little kids that hated to sit on Santa's lap.  I put up with it - but that was just to insure that I got what I wanted.  My mother even insisted that she proof read my Christmas list before I sat on his lap to make sure there were no typos.  She would even let me know if there was something on the list that Santa might have a hard time getting it into the house.   Down the chimney was not an option since we lived in Miami and fire places were rarely needed when most of the December morning temperatures were in the 60's and you could play outside in your shorts by noontime.  

Standing in line to meet Santa always seemed to me what it would be like after you die and you're waiting at the pearly gates for Saint Peter to peruse his naughty and nice list to decide if you made the cut into heaven.  To me, Santa was omnipotent and in a sense more real than God - I mean his branding was the white beard, red suit, reindeer and a bag full of toys - that was a form of omnipotence that any kid could grasp.   I knew that God was out there but short of the Sistine chapel and Michaelanglo's vision, you didn't have a consistent view of what God looked like and he sure wasn't known for giving toys out on a specific night.   Santa could "see you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." If that is not Godlike, I don't know what is.  

So I would stand there and see kid after go cheerfully and sit on Santa's lap.  Sure there was the occasional crybaby - but for the most part kids were excited to be there.   I always had to share my Santa time with my youngest sister, Sharon who I nicknamed Dee-Dee. I stood there year after year trembling wondering if any of my past misdeeds would haunt me like the time my mother gave me money for the ice cream man and I lost half if it and told Dee-Dee it was her half that got lost.   I used to scratch and bite up until the age of three but after that, according to my siblings, I grew out of it and was a pretty sweet kid.   Dee-Dee never seemed to be phased by Santa, maybe it was because she was more fearless than me or maybe she honestly never thought she did anything wrong - being the youngest she could get away with more than the rest of us.   Each time a child finished his appointment with Santa meant Dee-Dee and I got closer to the all knowing one.   The "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" lyrics continued to haunt me as we were just feet away.   Was he stalking me - always watching through some sort of digital camera from the year 2011 that only he would have access to in 1969?  Did he see me shove clothes into my toy chest because I didn't want to put them away?  Did he see me not make my bed for the fourth day in a row?  Or did he (gasp) see me pour my milk down the drain because it got warm during dinner and now my mother expected me to drink it.   How many points did you get counted off for each of those transgressions before you officially crossed over into the naughty list?   How could anyone be expected to be perfect - the strain would be too much. 

Finally, it was time to face the Santa.  My sister and I were put on his lap and he looked to me as the oldest and asked my name.  I always wondered how someone who would stalk you year after year could forget  your name, but I went with it and told him.  "Well, Kelley, have you been good this year?"   My blue eyes got bigger, my face got flushed and even my white gold hair seemed to turn red, I stammered without saying a word.  Finally, my mother spoke up, "They have both been very good girls this year."   A good word from the mother must have some pull in spite of the hours of video he probably had to the contrary.   "What would you like for Christmas?" the jolly old elf asked.   We both answered in unison "A Mrs. Beasley doll!"   For those that don't know the show Family Affair, Mrs. Beasley was Buffy's favorite doll and every girl her age wanted one.   Santa spent the rest of the time talking to Dee-Dee who also rattled off a few more things that every younger sibling had to have.  I was happy just getting out what I wanted and feeling like I had a pretty good shot of getting it.    Sure enough, on Christmas morning, we both got Mrs. Beasley dolls which prompted many a tea party with the other dolls and stuffies.   It was one of the most perfect Christmases I can remember.   

The next year, I felt a little more confident and a little edgier.   I asked for a Flip Wilson doll.    Again, for those that didn't grow up in the 1970's, Flip Wilson was a comedian who also did a character in drag named Geraldine.   That was back in the days when the whole family could watch sketch comedy shows that came on before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights.   They had made a doll of Flip Wilson in a groovy suit on one side and Geraldine on the other.   I remember asking Santa for that and getting a bit of judgement from Kris Kringle.    "You're parents let you watch that show?" he asked quizzically.  "Yes," I replied -  again surprised that after stalking me all these years, he didn't know my favorite TV shows.   The great thing about my sister and I both getting the Flip Wilson doll was that we could turn one to look like Flip Wilson and the other could be Geraldine.  They generally had some funny things to say like "The Devil made me do it" and "I'm going to sick Killer on you!" at the tea parties.  Mrs. Beasley actually got most of their jokes.  Who says a white doll with glasses and polka dots is not hip and urban? 

Another holiday photo ritual was capturing the five of us in various poses for the holidays.   My mother would try to color coordinate and pose us somewhere in the house to present a perfect group of children.    The outfits needed to look just right and hair in place - an image of perfection that just wasn't us.   We were a group of very diverse people even as kids.  It's always fascinated me that the same group of people could have the same parents and the same upbringing and be so totally different.   In the beginning for the holiday photos,  it was probably a chore to get Dee-Dee and I as toddlers to sit still for the photos.   But as the years passed and the older siblings got into their teen years, tempers were bound to flare during the quest for the perfect family photo.  Finally, the night of the guitar holiday photo, it all came to a head.     My brothers Bill and Steve mouthed off to my teenage sister Kathy who finally had enough and seconds after this photo was taken, took a guitar and hit both my brothers over the head.   They didn't need medical care, and all three got a stern look from Mom and sent to their rooms.    She still managed to get a good shot and sent out copies of the photo with the holiday cards but that was the last year of the Christmas family photo.  The pursuit of perfection ended with near concussions.  I'm pretty sure this is not what the baby Jesus had envisioned.  

I'd like to say that I've learned that you don't have to be perfect to still make the nice list.   But when you're a kid and you ask Santa for something and it magically appears under the Christmas tree just as you had imagined it - you get a sense of euphoria and belief in the impossible that is very enticing.   That sort of  high comes just once a year and you want to make sure it happens again so that it can sustain you for the next 12 months.   It's Christmas, the lights are up, people are happy and life is perfect as you move to that one day when all is right with the world.   But as you grow older, you realize it's not as simple as it was when you were six.  So in your adulthood, you try to recreate that for yourself and your children or the nieces and nephews.   You want them to have that same buzz and to feel that anything is possible.    It's that drive towards the perfect Christmas that can make you lose your compass of what the season is all about.    I'll be the first one to admit that I'm guilty of that.    Each year my husband Max asks me not to go crazy for the holidays and my initial response is "Crazy is the only way I know how to do Christmas!"  I've come to the conclusion that I'm a Christmas crack addict.  I got that first high during the Mrs. Beasley Christmas and have been in search of the same fix ever since.    It was great when I was a kid, but now that I'm a seasoned addict, I need more from Christmas than I'm getting.  It means that I keep needing a bigger and bigger December 25th crack rock but the reality is that I'm not six years old anymore and chasing that feeling just leading me down another alley of disappointment just like a real addict.

So this year, I'm scaling back.   I'm not blowing my budget.   I'm not buying a ton of gifts and I'm not making a ton of gifts (I've done as many as six quilts for gifts which sounds good unless you enjoy being at your sewing machine until 3:00 in the morning on December 24th just to get it all done and sobbing uncontrollably when you have to rip out a seam and start over).  It's smaller and more meaningful and I'm beginning to look forward to the holiday and letting it build slowly.   It's not going to be perfect  - it's not going to be grandiose and I'm not going crazy.    I'm not going to martyr myself in the name of Christmas.    I'm going to have it all done so that I can enjoy a glass of wine on Christmas Eve in front of the fire place, tackle my husband and kiss him hard without a speck of mistletoe in sight - and if he asks what brought all this on -  I'll tell him in my best Geraldine voice "The Devil made me do it!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ann Coulter and Me

Up until a few years ago I had no idea who Ann Coulter was.   Being a liberal, she simply was not on my radar.  But after being either told by total strangers how much I looked like her or being asked if I was her - I decided to do some research.   After watching a fair amount of clips on YouTube, I realized that this was a woman who shrieks like a fishwife while dismissing liberals as lower than pond scum.   She openly admits that her good looks and short black dresses give her the ability to say things that men just can't say - sexist and racist comments that sometimes go unchallenged by her fellow conservatives because she's easy on the eyes.   She has no shame in who her targets are, for instance calling the 911 widows harpies who are happy their husbands are dead so they can rival in the notoriety and spend the insurance money.   She calls other women ugly and then claims that criticizing a woman for how she looks is the worst form of sexism.   She even got confused during an interview in which she was angry at the Canadian government for not sending in troops to Iraq and mentioned how they used to support the United States during the Vietnam War with their army.   When the commentator corrected her and said that was not the case and that young men from the US went to Canada to avoid the draft, she was dismissive as if it was impossible for her to even consider being wrong.  Saying the most shocking things you can think of has worked for the last 20 years, but with this week marking Ann Coulter's 50th birthday, the days of the hot outrageous blond in high heels are starting to tick away faster then her biological clock.  

Make no mistake - Ann Coulter is a bully.   Luckily, my way of dealing with bullies is to laugh at them - so I decided a few years ago to use my good looks to mock everything she stands for.   From my experience, if you can make a bully look foolish or worse -- vulnerable, you rob them of their power.    I was also preparing to have my improv group do a live web show and knew that the internet could be a cold cruel place.  I figured that I would test the waters with these spoofs since she is a very polarizing figure.   She brings out strong emotions on both sides of the aisle so if I was going to parody her, I needed to get used to some push back.  I decided the first video would parody her need to get married (she's been engaged three times but never closed the deal).   James Carville (a liberal) and Mary Matalin (a conservative) have had a fairly successful marriage I had Ann reach out to the liberal media and "Matalin it" since Peter Alexander and Matt Lauer are a lot sexier than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.  I even did a fake book entitled:  Liberal Women:  Guiltless, Godless and Big Fat Skank Hos!"   The video ends with Ann's larynx dancing to the song All the Single Ladies.   The responses have been interesting - either I'm a transvestite, or I'm morbidly obese or I'm way hotter than Ann or I have a botched nose job.   If the comments are not obscene - I leave them on the YouTube page.    It was a good training ground for a full assault with other videos - if I could handle jibes about my weight, I could handle anything.   Click here to watch the video. 

The next video featured my son Daniel, as "Skippy" - Ann's "adopted" son which was a Ann's ploy to get the attention of liberal Hollywood, specifically Brad Pitt and George Clooney.   As with any premise of comedy in which you are dealing with a character that is arrogant and self serving, young Skippy always gets the upper hand and steals the show.   The reactions to that video included me being called a Nazi by a conservative and a liberal.   For the conservative, he felt I was using a child for propaganda which was a page right out of the Third Reich play book.  The liberal thought I was the real Ann Coulter and banned me from Canada.  I came to the conclusion that those people really don't understand what a Nazi is if you can confuse horrific crimes against humanity with a silly video.  Click here to watch this video. It's just a sign of the times I guess to use a word like Nazi whenever you don't agree with someone - it's very Ann Coulter like. 

I've done about five other Coulter spoofs which have included other guest stars like "Jigsaw", "Samera Morgan", and "Hillary Clinton."   The reaction is usually predictable - if you're a liberal, you love them and if you are a diehard Ann Coulter fan, you hate them.   However, not every conservative that I know (yes, gasp - I do have friends who are conservative) agrees with her and they think she's bad for their cause.  One conservative Christian writer named Dan Borchers actually asked me to do a video of Ann on her 50th birthday for the release of his new book - The Beauty of Conservatism - The Seduction of Ann Coulter and Cuckolding of Conscience.  This latest video is  another parody with Ann in her basement celebrating her birthday with her stupid cat named Stupid and a skull named Yorrick reading the unflattering portrait and freaking out.   The book is a very good read and makes valid points about how she never takes responsibility for what she says and claims victim status when she created the mess.   It makes you think about how ambition and the thirst for fame can mutate you into a swirling vat of vitriol.   If you are interested in downloading a free copy of the book you can go to

In a parallel universe, I am the nicer, kinder Ann Coulter.  The one who has worked in non-profits all her working life and has tried to help people when she can.   The one that knows what it's like to love a man through good times and bad and in sickness and in health - to have two children that you adore and who teach you that  you are not the center of the universe.  Sure I might have a bitchy sardonic comment to make here and there, but it's usually for someone who deserves it not for a widow coping with the loss of husband or a mother grieving over the loss of her son in Iraq.    No, I save my barbs for commentators who will say anything to get attention no matter how ridiculous it sounds - like how conservative blacks are so much smarter than liberal blacks or that if there was a prenatal test for a gay gene, liberals would abort homosexual fetuses because they believe in abortion.   I mean, who the hell really says that?  Besides the liberal mothers I know would love the fact that they would be the only woman their gay sons would ever love.  

I guess now that she's hit the big 50 - I feel some compassion for her.  In reality, you can trade on your looks for only so long.   There will always be someone younger and prettier with bigger boobs who will be ready to take over.   Sure, being attractive gets your foot in the door, but if you don't have more to say for yourself other than a tirade of hateful demagoguery eventually people will get tired of you.   So far, she's had a good run but as the years pass, she won't be as hot any more and her rhetoric will become more outrageous just to get attention.  Bill O'Reilly will eventually move onto someone younger and more appealing.   

My prayer for Ann is that this holiday season, she's visited by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.   Maybe when faced with the reality that in the next 20 years,  she might be reduced to nothing more than the mean women on the corner who yells at the kids for laughing in the street and tells them to get off her lawn, she'll be scared enough to change her ways.   Maybe she'll want to help with an Extreme Makeover for a family who is facing hard times.  Maybe she'll want to help the 911 orphans.  Maybe she'll stop smoking and help the American Lung Association - so much good to do and still so much time.   The holidays are the time to make mankind your business.   While being good and kind might not make her quite as interesting a guest on FOX, it will help her life become more fair and balanced.    Oh, and that sound of a short skirt rustling in the background of the O'Reilly Factor- that's Megan McCain.  God bless us everyone!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Toy Drive

I've done quite a few things working for non-profits but by far, the best and hardest thing I have ever done was run an annual toy drive at Children's Home Society of Florida for 500 to 600 children who had been abused, abandoned and neglected.    I was playing Santa for kids to whom a present for the holidays meant everything and it was a huge responsibility to get it right.    I liked working behind the scenes with a team of elves to help St. Nick bring hope to these kids who needed it most during that time of year.  Short of raising my own kids, it's probably the most important thing I've ever done.   

Back in the early 90s, Children's Home Society (CHS) had emergency shelters for young children, an infant center for abused, abandoned and crack babies, a daycare program for kids with HIV, group homes for teens, HIV foster care and regular foster care.   In an average month, they had between 500 to 600 kids who needed services.   I worked in the administrative offices which was on the second floor of the emergency shelter.   You'd often see the children as they were entering the shelter.  Sometimes they were very scared - sobbing and clutching the hands of their caseworker or sometimes very happy like they were checking into a hotel holding all their possessions in nothing more than garbage bags.   I would look out my window and see those children be very reserved their first few days at the shelter, but once they got a warm bed to sleep in, three meals a day and a predictable schedule, they really began to thrive and smile - seeing that always made me work harder.  

When I first took over the toy drive, it seemed like the kids in McLamore Emergency Shelter got the lion's share of the gifts - after all they were the ones that people could see and visit.   We'd have all sorts of well meaning groups bring tons of toys and sweets to the 22 shelter kids not realizing that it was the literal tip of the CHS iceberg.   There was no one person handling the donations, so the program managers that had contacts with community groups were the ones that got presents for their kids - the ones who didn't have the time or connections to ask, went without a gift for their kids for the holidays.   To me this was not a fair situation - no child in the program should wake up on Christmas morning without a present to open.  I decided to take on the entire drive to make sure that every child in the programs got something for Christmas.   So as the CHS "Santa" I would ask the program managers to get lists from each of their kids.  I would then type each Christmas list into an excel list and sort it by program, age, sex of the child, program and donor company if I had one.   That was as computerized as you could get in the early 90's and I was able to keep track of the toys coming in and what to send out. 

The first year was a learning curve.   It was hard getting the managers who had their contacts to open up and share for fear that their kids would lose out but once you explained that there were kids in the programs that barely got anything - maybe one toy from the Dollar Store that their case managers bought them versus the kids who got 10 to 20 gifts that were worth hundreds of dollars from other donors - they saw the light.  I got access to a large office space to sort the toys as they came in.  I needed to get the deadlines from the foster care programs because their items needed to be ready two weeks before Christmas so that the case workers could have plenty of time to deliver them to their clients who lived all over Miami.   We needed to tell our donors not to wrap them because we needed to see if they were appropriate.   We once had a well meaning person donate a father and son boxing set which under normal circumstances would have been fine but as a gift for an abused child, not so much.  

I coordinated with businesses and got them to adopt a program and gave them the wish lists which sometimes I had to modify.   The teen girls would ask for half carat diamond earrings and large TVs which was understandable but not realistic - so we'd ask for gift cards, costume jewelry and small TVs they could have in their rooms.  I always asked for books for the kids that were age appropriate and the donors got to pick those - it gave them a chance to share the joy of the Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, and Good Night Moon with another child.    The important thing was to give them a good Christmas but not one so extravagant that when they got placed in a home it would be hard for their parents, foster parents or new parents to live up to the a very grandiose CHS Christmas.    

I learned to start contacting businesses in September to get on their radar and ask if they wanted to do a general toy drive or adopt a program.  I would make sure to ask for batteries for all those toys that needed them.    I learned that kids from ages 4 to 10 got the largest number of the donations so I had to educate people that we had infants and teens in the programs and they needed things too, like gift cards for the kids 14 and up and socks, diapers, onsies and pajamas for the infants.   

By mid December my office would became Santa Central.  Toys coming in every hour on the hour.   I also had people asking me every 30 minutes where their toys were even through their deadline was a few days away.   The interruptions became so bad that I decided I needed a spokesperson who would answer the gift questions for me.   So I would find a talking Barbie, put a ribbon around her and wear her on my neck.  When some asked me for the 20th time that day when their presents would be ready, I'd ask my spokes model who usually had some words of wisdom like "I love the sun!",  "Ken and I are going shopping!" and "My job is great."   I would smile and tell them they had their answer and I would call them when their gifts were ready. 

Each year, the drive got bigger and bigger and I would end up working 10, 11 12 hours a day for a month leading up to Christmas and managed to lose seven pounds each year because I never had time to eat.   It didn't matter, getting the presents to those kids was the most important thing.   I needed to give them their faith back and let them know that people cared about them.    I was usually exhausted by Christmas Eve and wondered how Kris Kringle did it.   I only had 600 kids to help - he had billions. 

We'd usually have people bring toys unannounced on December 23rd or Christmas Eve hoping to save the day but the toys had already been distributed or were ready to be placed under the tree at the shelters for Christmas morning.  What we did with those toys was put them in the gift closet so that kids could have a present on their birthdays or we'd give the extreme overflow to charities whose toy drives were not going so well. 

Once the holidays were over, I'd clean up my office and get back into my regular schedule.   I'd wonder how Christmas morning at those homes and shelters went.   I knew that me and the CHS team had pulled off another Christmas miracle and all our kids had a wonderful day.    A week after Christmas, one of the case workers named Andrea called me and I could tell she was holding back tears.   "Are you okay?" I asked trying to figure out what was wrong.   "I just got a call from Octavos' mother -" she said quietly.   I know that Octavos was in the HIV daycare program and I really wanted to make sure that they had a good Christmas since his mother had full blown AIDS and Octavos was HIV positive.  "He didn't get his gifts?" I asked as my heart sank.   "Yes, yes,  he did get his gifts and it was wonderful.   His mom is very sick and could barely talk but she kept on saying 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.'  I thought you might want to know."   We were both quiet and you could hear us both sniffing on each end of the phone.   "I wanted you and your donors to know what a difference it made to that family."   I thanked her for sharing that, closed my office door and cried while I heard the sounds of the McLamore kids play outside with their new toys.  I learned later that it was the last Christmas that Octavos and his mother would ever spent together.  She died a few months later and Octavos died that fall.   
I guess that people who give to toy drives don't always get to see the faces of the kids they help on Christmas morning  - they are with their own families having fun or trying to prevent a meltdown either from a child or an in-law, but I can tell you from my experience that anything that you can do helps.   It doesn't even have to be for kids, it can be the elderly who are in assisted living or nursing homes, they need things too like blankets, socks or big print books.   It doesn't matter if you can give money.   Volunteers that help sort cans for food, clothing or toys drives are priceless.   Just call the charity you want to help in advance and ask what they need.   Trust me, they will be grateful that you asked first and will be more than happy to let you know.   Because my guess is that there will be a Santa's Helper on the other side of the line who hasn't had time for lunch but who believes in what they are doing so much that they don't need have a spokes Barbie to say "My job is great!"