I saved up my vacation time through the dog days of August. I saved those precious hours of free time during the false promise of spring. I conserved them for almost a year even though holding onto vacation time is like holding onto a crisp $100 bill instead of blowing it.
There are few things I enjoy more than watching films such as the classic Shake Hands With Danger, which warns construction workers not to do things such as shoving their hands into moving parts of front-end loaders. Also, don’t clean tools with gasoline just before taking a smoke break.
I saved up those hours so I could take vacation days before and after Christmas. And my payoff has been a holiday so unimaginably glorious and fun that I’m already looking ahead to next year’s. I’d like to use this space to give a shout-out to the fine folks toiling away at the Hennessy vineyards in France. Thanks, fellas. I’d also like to tip my cap to our neighbors to the north for the fine job they do in blending each bottle of Crown Royal. I hope America never has to invade your countries and take them over. I received some great presents for Christmas besides booze. My sister bought me a Nixon-and-Elvis coffee mug from the National Archives gift shop. She bought me some postcards from there and also a button celebrating America’s First Family. It’d be a great button if they kept the terrific ladies on them and lost the old man. If there’d been a postcard of the greatest president of all, the 42nd chief executive, it would have been a perfect gift. My best friend gave me a gift that I will treasure for years: a DVD box set comprising four volumes of films from the Educational Archives. It’s hours and hours of classroom and workplace instructional films spanning the 1940s to the early 1980s. There are few things I enjoy more than watching films such as the classic Shake Hands With Danger, which warns construction workers not to do things such as shoving their hands into moving parts of front-end loaders. Also, don’t clean tools with gasoline just before taking a smoke break. Another gem is a Lou Rawls-narrated Navy recruitment film from the early ’70s. Lou explains how today’s Navy is a fine choice for a young, upwardly mobile brother who wants a little extra bread in his pocket. The soundtrack, which is excellent, is performed by something called the “U.S. Navy Soul Band.” Elsewhere on the box set, you learn all about menstruation circa 1962 from the fine folks who made Modess feminine products; a primer in lunchroom manners; and some hilarious anti-drug films from the ’60s. My personal favorite was the anti-LSD film narrated by a young woman who tells the tale of her first trip. She was walking down a city street, saw a hot dog stand and stopped to get a bite. But, to her horror, when she looked down at the hot dog the vendor gave her, it had a face and mouth. It told her not to eat him, that he had seven children to support. As any of us would do in a similar situation, she threw the hot dog to the ground, stomped on it and ran away screaming. The masterpiece of the set, however, is a perplexing film produced by the American Dairy Council in 1972. Called Why Won’t Cathy Eat Breakfast?, the film follows a young girl as she wakes up and gets ready for school. Does she not have the cereal she likes? No, the film shows us. Does her mother not prepare what Cathy enjoys? That’s not it, either. In the manner of such masters as Fellini, the film ends with Cathy leaving for the bus stop, an enigmatic smile on her face and the question left unanswered. The final frame instructs us to “Stop Projector — Discuss Film.” The question has haunted me ever since I first saw the film. And yet hours of discussion have left me no closer to an answer. Otherwise, I spent my vacation enjoying the Godfather trilogy box set, a series I find particularly instructive in these times. Most of my interpersonal skills come from studying these movies since childhood. While I am more like Luca Brasi than Don Vito, I still love these films. But even after viewing them many times, many questions remain in my mind. Was Michael Corleone correct in his assessment that Tom Hagen was not a wartime consigliere? Could the death of Santino have been avoided? Why was Tessio, and not the porcine Clemenza, the one who betrayed Michael after the death of Don Vito? One thing I definitely did not do was think very much about 2004. Usually at this time of year, I’m wracking my supergenius-level brain with three-dimensional chess moves designed to elevate me to the heights of the international superstardom long overdue me. Nah. Just kidding. Usually, I’m just trying to figure out how to pay my bills before I get hauled into court, trying to help the people closest to me and trying to make it through another year. But mark my words. 2004 will be a good year for many of us. Bush will retire to Texas after an ignominious defeat, evildoers in general will suffer setbacks and the rest of us will have a few drinks and laugh about all of it. Here’s to a great new year.