Saturday, December 24, 2011

Late Hanukah Party

Normally, I like celebrating Hanukah, because it usually comes a little earlier than Christmas. In a rare instance of synchronicity, we wound up celebrating the festival of lights rather late this year. Unlike Christian holidays, Jewish holidays operate on a lunar calendar. The earliest date was on November November 28, 1994, and the last time that Hanukah came close to Christmas was on December 24, 1997. I hoped to share the 8th candle burning on New Year's with our relatives for our New Year's party, since it was such a rare event, but things got too chaotic and unwieldy for my taste, and I forgot to take the chance to share the event with my French family members who I don't associate with much since I have trouble understanding them and vice-versa. (I never bothered to learn the language)

Our gift-giving had declined somewhat compared to previous early years of celebration where we would have a completely different gift for every day that we lit the candles. Afterwards, I would participate in the dreidel song, which I would spin around with great enthusiasm until I fell down from sheer dizzyness. (Pretty much anybody on the autistic spectrum enjoys the spinning motion, and the fact there were three stanzas of this silly song, I I could whirl around to my heart's content) Nowadays, we're lucky enough if we manage to remember to light the candles consequentively, since we're so often preoccupied with other stuff on our minds. This year, our gifts have been a package of Chocolate Hanukah gelt in the form of Canadian currency that's been rationed to two coins a day whenever we bother. The actual giving of the major gifts would come once everyone was gathered together under one roof, which happened to be last Friday.

In a surprise coincidence, my sister arrived on the same day that we got a sudden outburst of snow, around a month that had been relatively snow-free since our brief snowfall back in November. At the time, I thought for sure that the snow would multiply in increments like it did 'round this time of year. However, due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, it looked less likely that it would be a 'white Christmas' by the end of the year. As I mentioned to my sister in a previous get-together where the weather was a torrental downpour, causing flash puddles (like flash floods, only smaller) everywhere, I quoted a familiar passage that only she would've understood; "I mean, say it was snowing so hard we couldn't make a fire". (If you don't know where that came from, I pity you and your canned ravioli)

When I was little, I used to believe that if I pressed the pages of my Chickadee magazine against my bedroom window to a certain page overnight, it would snow the next morning. This was my superstitious method in making sure that there would be a snow day, and hopefully, school would be cancelled and I'd be able to romp around and play in the excess white stuff. Now that I'm older and more boring, I look forward to days when I no longer have to play dress-up in order to brave the elements and double-glare of snow blindness.

When my sister Chantal who I nickname Chant, (because she talks so much) finally arrived, we started talking about various things around the kitchen table, such as how using typewriters wasn't a requirement for getting a job. It was generally only expected for secretaries to use them. The other end of the spectrum for using typewriters was to spiff up term notes to impress the teacher with your well-written assignment. And they HAD to be well-written, since any attempts at correcting any mistakes with white-out meant that you'd have to roll the page up, apply the fluid, wait for it to dry then realign the page back into its proper place and hope it wouldn't look too off-kilter for the next letter. As a result, making the slightest error could result in extreme frustration, since it often meant having to redo the whole page over again, especially if your teacher expected good page design. Spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammar were a writer's worst nightmares, and must've been a relief just to finish a composition, since the pressure would finally be over with... until the next essay. No wonder people preferred to write instead, though even that was no guarantee. I know of a well-written essay with precise grammar and spelling that was flunked simply because it was written in three different pen colours.

Not to mention that because of how typewriter keys were designed. If they were pressed too lightly, the letter wouldn't appear on the page, or be skipped entirely. This might've been the real purpose behind those 'hunt and peck' typists who have no knowledge of the Qwerty code. They want to push the keys hard enough so they'll appear on the page, even if the carbon paper is low on ink. I also suspect this might've been the inspiration behind the writer's challenge at creating an entire novel without using single letters so they wouldn't have to spring for a new typewriter. So what if the sentences were unnaturally clunky without ever once introducing someone or something with an 'A'? Once the royalty payments came through, then they could afford a newer model.

I used to play with an old electric typewriter by trying to copy the exact words from this little extra doodle in a FBoFW book. The first few lines were relatively easy enough, but I kept messing things up in trying to duplicate the Asdfkj kind of random button-mashing done here. The 'j's hidden in the row of iiiis was really tricky to get past. Eventually, I just gave up because I always kept messing up in the row of EEEEEs, because there was an 'F' slipped somewhere in there.

The conversation then veered into how we learned to use the computer keyboard. I learned how to type thanks to a very basic computer program that started with typing out words with the four letters on my left hand, (A, S, D and F) in various combinations, then moved on to my right hand (J, K, L and ;) then expanded from there. To get an idea of how old the program was, the screen was black and green. Our first home computer wasn't that old, but it had an on/off switch at the back, Printmaster page designs, WordPerfect programs and an impressive 2000 MB of RAM. The only problem was that in order to use the files properly, you had to type certain commands using a combination of F-number keys, shift tabs and letters. You needed an instruction manual just to be able to save a shopping list there. Oh yes, this computer didn't have a mouse either.

I was reminded of a story about how the alphabet was first introduced in computer language. Originally, if you wanted to type a word, you had to do it in binary code. That meant that for every sentence, you had to do it with a series of ones and zeroes, which is only slightly less annoying than doing it in morse code. Fortunately, a woman found the whole procedure too ridiculous to contemplate and too lazy to type out the numbers herself devised a program that would remove the numbers from the equation entirely, and have the computer do the work itself. It's thanks to lethargic people like these that we're able to enjoy writing as a part-time activity as opposed to the diligent slog it was back in the days of good penmanship.

Then for some reason, we started talking about floppy discs that were found while cleaning up. my parents were worried about the content within them, because none of the more recent computers were compatible with them, and they didn't want to throw them out in case they held any incriminating information. At first, I thought they were talking about the flat square black discs with holes in them. I was later corrected that they were the more recent square ones that looked transparent, and had miniature circular CDs inside them. I had to leave the room once they started opening them up, because it was too emotionally uncomfortable for me. In fact, I often equate computer repair to brain surgery, and have the same reaction as normal people do in the presence of exploratory operations. Unlike the human body which has specific tasks designed for your innards and every organ serves a single function, the computer is nothing but a whole memory, and the thought of interfering with even a single microchip feels like prodding at a piece of the old grey matter itself. That's potential information that may never be gotten back, and it always fills me with queasiness. If my sister hadn't bothered to check the spare computer in the basement to see if it held a floppy drive, the euthanasiasm might've been carried out. (The fact it was being done with scissors didn't make it any easier)

Shopping for the family is always extremely difficult, since we have a tendency not to wait for others to give us stuff we want. My Dad is always the hardest one to shop for, since he purchases everything he needs beforehand, and has very few wants of his own, save for anything involving Tennis stuff. I preorder most of the comics that interest me, so the only books that're left are items on the backlog that sound interesting, and the hope that they haven't been sold out yet. I was fortunate enough to find several online sites selling the remaining volumes of the Suikoden III Manga to fill the holes in my collection. I casually - but not quite casually - mentioned the details of these links to my Mother in the unsubtle hint that she might order them for me, since she's normally reluctant about ordering anything for me without permission.

When she finally decided to get around to ordering the items, she wanted to take advantage of Amazon's discount shipping rate by finding as many as many discount books to add to the limit rate. If she ordered over a certain amount, the shipping for all the books would be FREE!
It was extremely difficult for me to find several books that I'd personally want to keep for my personal collection, since I still had a stack of personal books lying on a shelf that I hadn't gotten around to reading yet. Unfortunately, the various books I wanted all came from different locations outside of Canada, so she actually wound up losing more money, and had to cancel some of the extra books we'd ordered. (I didn't want most of them anyways)

While my presents were taken care of, my Mother was wracking her brain on what possible gift she could possibly give my sister for a present. I casually tossed out the suggestion that maybe she would like to have the Complete Calvin & Hobbes collection, since Chant often lamented that she didn't have her own books to read after she moved away from mine, and into a small apartment with her fiance (now husband). However, I felt that this would be too elaborate a gift, given the hefty $150 price range. For that kind of money, I could also afford a Far Side collection, which had several comics that were never collected. But even the allure of maybe 100 'new' Far Side comics couldn't stunt the blow to my wallet.

Upon further reflection in the upcoming weeks, my mother thought that a DVD collection of The Big Bang Theory would be a more suitable present. Chant had seen a few snippets of the more funnier aspects of the show, and Sheldon (the smartest guy), had so many parallels with my Aspergic tendencies that were spot-on, even though their depiction of nerd culture left me with revulsion. Of course, the hard part would be for Chant and Derek to find time to actually watch the episodes in the first place. They've still got bunches of Wii games that they still haven't gotten around to finishing yet. I gave my mother the green signal for that option, since I couldn't think of anything else.

Well, when we finally got around to giving out the gifts we'd given each other, there were some unexpected outcomes.

I lent my sister the first book of Pooch Cafe, along with multiple library books I knew she'd like, secure in the knowledge that she'd easily blaze through them within the span of a week. My sister gave my mother a Kindle, which would help with her increasingly bad eyesight, and my father, a subscription to National Geographic. (Never mind that there's already hundreds of the magazines spread throughout the house with their yellow spines that's hardly been read twice) Because of my financial crunch, the only thing I could offer was cleaning up the house before company came for New Year's, including the bathroom tubs, which seemed to please my mother greatly. (This is not an exaggeration)

Then it was time for us to receive the gifts in turn. I got the Suikoden III Mangas as expected, though I was a little annoyed that one of the volumes was a hardcover book, which would interfere with the page-turning enjoyment, but I considered that a minor inconvenience compared to actually reading the rest of the story. Then my Dad gave two boxes of Maple tea for my sister. I later found out that my sister also ordered my parents a package of the very same product for my parents as well. This tied in very well with the next gift which brought shrieks of joy across the table.

To my utter amazement, my mother had followed through on my suggestion and actually ordered the massive Calvin & Hobbes collection. Apparently, Mom was still upset about not taking advantage of the Amazon shipping last time, and upon seeing it on sale, decided to purchase it just to feel good about herself. Spending more money to save money seems to be a popular holiday pastime. My sister gleefully ripped open the fragile plastic covering and tried to wrench out a single volume from between the tight cardboard covering. That was when Chant's husband dropped the bombshell - he'd already ordered the very same collection for his wife.

In a sense, this answered a nagging question in my sister's mind. She wondered what the heavy package under her arms she was carrying from the car into the apartment could possibly be. This also left us with another moral quandary. My sister had already opened the package and tainted any possibility of returning it. Not to mention that Derek (Chant's husband) was now pressed for time in finding a replacement gift, not to mention returning the C&H book before Christmas Eve. That was when a suggestion was thrown in my dirrection - what would I think about having my personal Calvin & Hobbes collection? I objected on the grounds that I still had my own books, and didn't need extra duplicates lying around. Not to mention that I'd already made a copy of Calvin's first appearance from a library book.

I also didn't like how unwieldly the volumes were, compared to the original books, not to mention the pages were too shiny, and could blind you if the lighting wasn't perfect. I hate having to tilt my reading material at a specific angle just to be able to enjoy it. I shouldn't be held hostage to my pages based on the light source - it should be the other way around!

However, once it was pointed out that I didn't have the extra poems and stories that were available in the omnibus collections, I started backing down from my original position. Frankly, I didn't put up much of a fight. As a result, you are now looking at the reluctant owner of a perfectly good Calvin & Hobbes collection. On the minus side, my sister's surprise present for Christmas is now ruined now that she knows what it is.

For anyone who wants to try using my Chickadee page for creating their very own White Christmas, print out the following image below, press it against the window overnight, and let the magic do its work. (It had a 70% chance of success when I was little, and I take no guarantee of the efficiency of the product. Satisfaction is not guaranteed)

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