Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Leap for Joy and Happy Birthday!

Every four years, we have a February 29th.

Along with the Presidential Elections and the Summer Olympics, it’s a quadrennial occurrence.

It’s called Leap Day, because it only happens in a Leap Year. (I happen to think that’s a very unoriginal and uninspiring name for such a rare occurrence. By the end of this column, I’ll probably be able to suggest a neater, tidier name.)

The mathematical formula, in case you’re interested, is this: Presidential Elections, Summer Olympics, and Leap Years all occur in year numbers which are evenly divisible by four (4). For example, years like 2000, 2004, and 2008. Also, 1996, 1992, 1988, and 1984. And 1980. Also, 1932, 1880, and 1776. But not the year 1440, because the Gregorian Calendar had not yet been invented. For that matter, neither had Presidential Elections.

My most significant observation regarding Leap Day (or Least Day, as I’m leaning toward naming it) is that those persons who happened to have been born on that date only have real birthdays every four years. And that’s a shame.

Birthdays are great. Birthdays are every individual’s one special day of the year where they get to feel special and celebrate themselves, if only in their minds. Your very own personalized special day, every year… unless you were born on Cheap Day, as I’m now toying with calling it.

Statistically speaking, only one in every 1461 people should expect to be born on Sleep Day, which is my latest thought on a fitting name for the occasion. (In reality, I doubt if any of them expected to be born, period. Usually, the whole thing is a big surprise to the newborn. But I ramble.)

Here’s the point: these people, born on this yet-to-be adequately named day which occurs only once every four years, constitute perhaps our smallest, most discriminated-against minority. It’s time to take a stand for them!

How would you feel if you were the only kid in your third grade class who never had their birthday celebrated? How would you feel if, at some tender young age, Mom and Dad had to take you aside and feed you some malarkey about “borrowing” someone else’s birthday? How would you feel if you were turning 50, but had only ever had twelve real birthdays in your life?

There is an entire opera, Pirates of Penzance, written around this premise – a youngster apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday, who when preparing to strike out on his own, learns that his masters intend to exercise a loophole and keep him until he’s, like, 84, all because he was born on Bleep Day.

There’s just no justice.

Here’s my plan to help balance the scales. I think, these Feb. 29th babies should be allowed to celebrate an entire week on those rare occasions when it does roll around.

And, of course, the rest of us should celebrate along with them! How does a week off at the end of February every four years sound?

This year, I’d like to lead the way in wishing Happy Birthday to this smallest of minorities.

Enjoy the day, or the week, or the entire month if you want to. Celebrate. Have a party. Invite the whole gang, and have a blast. (No adult beverages, however, until your 21st birthday!)

Happy Birthday, and Happy Leap Day… or, as I think I’ll start referring to it, “February 29th!”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

1968... as I recall it.

Raise your hands if YOU remember 1968.

If you raised your hand, you’re showing you age. It means you’re probably a baby boomer like me, or even maybe a little older.

I remember 1968. Sort of. I was in my early teens, so I was at an age when I wasn’t really absorbing anything much.

We’ll hear a lot about 1968 this year, as it marks the 40th anniversary of a number of events that shaped history. Probably the most vividly recalled dates were the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy. That was also the year LBJ announced he would not run for president, and Tricky Dick Nixon announced he would. After a Democratic Convention marred by violent clashes between protesters and the Chicago police, Hubert Humphrey faced Nixon and American Independent candidate George Wallace. The year opened with the Tet offensive of the Vietnam War, and closed with three American astronauts orbiting the Moon for the first time ever. There were hippies and yippies and protests and sit-ins and even the first bra-burnings. The times, they were a-changing.

These are the things I sort of remember from the news of the year. But the things I most recall from 40 years ago weren’t in the newspapers.

I was in the eighth grade. That was the year the eighth grade at Lexington moved into a brand new building at the high school. We were above junior high school, but not quite in high school. We were in the twilight zone. By the time the year was over, I would actually BE in high school. It was a year of transition. The times, they were a-changing.

It was the last year I would be riding my trusty bicycle. To a twelve or thirteen or fourteen year boy, your bicycle is your most trusted companion… not unlike Silver to the Lone Ranger. But, I was counting down the days until I could get my learner’s permit, and then my restricted license… and then I would be able to DRIVE until sundown every day. Yes, the times were definitely a-changing.

A few years earlier, The Beatles had exploded onto the scene, and ushered in a new era of music and pop culture, what with their long hair and all. But all of a sudden – I must have slept through a few years – because in 1968 the Fab Four from Liverpool were off in the Far East meditating with Maharishi Yogi, and their music completely changed. They went from “She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah!” – which I understood -- to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Revolution 9”, which I didn’t have a clue about. And their famous mop-tops had turned really long and shaggy. All of which I blamed on this Yogi fellow, who I didn’t know. (I did, however, know two other Yogi’s… Berra of the Yankees, and Bear of Jellystone Park!)

And it wasn’t just The Beatles. The other music started changing, too. So did the movies and TV shows.

TV couldn’t get any better than it was at the beginning of 1968. The Beverly Hillbillies. Green Acres. Gomer Pyle. Bonanza. Andy Griffith. Bewitched. Petticoat Junction. Lucy, Red Skelton, and Jackie Gleason. And, of course, every Sunday night… Walt Disney!

But, by the end of the year, the networks had started fixing something that wasn’t broken. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In was funny, but it was different. And, most of the time, I really didn’t understand what I was laughing at. Andy had become Mayberry RFD. Batman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. went away, both of which were tragedies in the eyes of a fourteen year old. And 60 Minutes took over Sunday nights. YUCK!

I was accustomed to going to the Drive-In to see movies like Tarzan and 007… with maybe an occasional Elvis or John Wayne flick thrown in. All of a sudden, I was confronted with The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, and Cool Hand Luke… movies which I didn’t understand.
The times, they were a-changing.

I really don’t know if the whole world was a-changing a lot in 1968, or whether it was just my world a-changing. But, forty years ago, things were suddenly very different.

Now, here it is, four decades later. And, of course, I now know change is inevitable. It’s a part of life. The world turns, and times are different.

But, somehow, to me, I’m suddenly feeling a lot like it’s 1968 again. The times, they are a-changing.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You're Swell, Be Mine

I remember when Valentine’s Day had a whole different meaning for me than it does now.

Nowadays, for attached males like myself, Feb. 14th represents just one more gift-giving opportunity to find myself in The Doghouse for making a bad decision, along with The Anniversary Gift, The Birthday Gift, and The Christmas Gift.

The worst decision for any of these Gift Giving Occasions is, of course, no decision at all, for which one may find himself in The Doghouse for quite a long period of time. I speak from experience.

I am also quite experienced in the fine art of choosing the Wrong Gift. (Space does not allow me to give you the list… you’ll have to wait for the book.)

Back in grammar school, Valentines Day was a lot less pressure for me. We traded Valentines with the other members of our class. Sometime, we even traded candy hearts with mushy messages like “You’re the One”, “Be Mine”, or “A Friend Indeed”.

I always took candy hearts for the class, or some other bargain Mom found for me at Cromer’s Peanuts… occasionally even one of their little novelty toys, which made me feel like Mr. Big of the Third Grade. I was oblivious to the fact that the trinkets only cost a few cents each when you buy them in bulk. It was a TOY – like a yo-yo, a whistle, or a plastic spider – and I gave one to each of my classmates!!! Valentine’s Day was great.

It was also at Valentine’s Day that Mom first taught my siblings and me one of the lessons that would shape us for years to come: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

During our annual ritual of addressing our Valentines to our classmates, Mom checked to make sure we had included each classmate, and found that we hadn’t. Turns out, even in the second grade, we pick favorites, and ignore those who we deem less popular.

That’s when my Mom first suggested to us that we ought to be considerate of the feelings of ALL our classmates… even those who might be less popular. Some of them, she told us, might not get ANY Valentines, which would be a shame. It was a something we had never thought of before, like most other kids of tender years.

She illustrated her point by telling of her own experience from her childhood. Coming from a rural family of meager means, there was no money to buy Valentine Cards to exchange, as the “town children” did. So she made her own Valentines by hand. Then she chose the prettiest one – the very best of all -- to give to the most popular girl in her class… only to be heartbroken when the girl immediately tore it up and threw it away.

Mom told us that story, and we got the point. From that day on, we all understood that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. We learned to always try to think about the feelings of others.

That year, the less popular classmate who had originally been left off of the Valentine Card list… well, she actually got TWO Valentines addressed to her, just to make sure she didn’t feel left out.

Every February, three important lessons come to mind as I recall the story Mom told us:

First, little things can make a big difference. A thoughtless slight by a school-child three-quarters of a century ago is still recalled generations later.

Second, parents instill values in their children. For better or worse, children learn what they live.

And third, be nice to people. We forget that sometimes, even here in the South where we actually enjoy being nice.

I don’t know if they still exchange Valentines in schools these days. I sort of doubt they do, the way things have changed. But if they do, it might be a good opportunity for you to instill some of those core values of friendship and caring into a future generation or two.

And, just in case nobody else gives YOU a Valentine Card this year…
“You’re Swell!”