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Thursday, December 26, 2002

Black Sabbath White Christmas

Hey, I wonder what kind of Christmas song Ozzy Osbourne would write. Not his 80s crap; I'm talking about vintage Sabbath. It would probably involve plenty of references to "hanging the damned by the chimney with care" and "fairies wearing snow boots."

Here's how our holiday shook out. Mary and I went to her parents' house Chrismas Eve. I kept asking Mary if we had to be there any particular time, and she said 4 p.m. I was tempted to make some calls to confirm this, seeing as my wife has a pretty loose concept of time, but I chose not to.

Growing up an oldest child, I have a hyperactive sense of responsiblity, and I hate being late. I long for order and discipline. In fact, one one my former coworkers once gave me a Nazi salute in response to my questions about timing on a project. Hey, I'm just following orders from Berlin.

Turns out we were the last to arrive of a party of about 12. My father-in-law broadcast his displeasure that we were THREE HOURS LATE AND EVERYONE HAD TO WAIT FOR US BEFORE EATING.

At dinner he went about the (1) the best kind dishwasher and (2) the best kind of vacuum cleaner. According to him, the answer to both is "black and whistles." He also had some kind of joke, the punch line of which involved a man going to a house with a lot of black children outside because he needed "a monkey wrench." The woman of the house said, "No, this is a day-care center."

I didn't get it. He explained that if you pronounced it a certain way, it sounds like the man was asking for a "monkey ranch."

This led to an extensive discussion about how many black people live in my birth state, Alabama, and his opinions on how blacks don't work and all want to live off welfare paid for by him.

Then we opened presents, which was nice. It's hard to be in a foul mood when (1) people give you stuff and (2) there are small children (my niece) present.

Later that evening the booze and good cheer started to wear off, and my father-in-law picked up where he left off. He left, and my wife looks up at me, face worried, and says, "They're asking about when we're going to have children, and I don't know what to say."

"You mean ours?" I responded. "Or my illegitimate ones with the hookers in Thailand from when I was in the Navy? Between the rash and the tattoos, I'll never forget that night."

My humor wasn't working. She still had a very worried look. It seems that her family made her feel deep shame at not having reproduced yet.

There were other issues they made her feel bad about: her work, her weight, her clothes, her hair and on an on.

Criticism is a kind of high-trading volume currency with them. You just keep passing it around, and it compounds with interest.

If we had one kid, they'd wonder when we're having another one. Then they'd want to know why don't have a bigger house for them. If we did actually have a big house, they'd criticize us for spoiling them.

There's no winning this game, and at age 32, my wife hasn't figured that out yet.

They don't criticize me directly. Instead, they find people like me and criciticize them. For example, their son had a friend who was polite and quiet. I'm polite and quiet. They commented on how strange it was that he would come over, eat, say "please" and "thank you," but otherwise never, ever said anything to anyone. (They're prone to exaggeration.)

I decided to adopt their tactic and fight by proxy. I commented that this quiet friend probably had trouble getting a word in edgewise, what with all the monkey ranch jokes, but he could perhaps change his demeanor and cricitize other people incessantly and loudly, thereby no longer being quiet. Surely that would be an improvement.

There was complete silence in the room. My wife made cutting motions at her throat to get me to shut up.

I got in a few other similar comments during our stay, and they were actually quite nice to me after that.

Pity you have to act like a jerk to get people to be civil.

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