Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Symbolism in the Suburbs

As a writer, I’m obligated to seek and find symbolism in the world at large. Blame my 10th grade English teacher. Blame Hawthorne’s, “The Scarlet Letter.” Or blame me for taking the obligation to heart in the first place. But symbolism is out there for those who seek it.

This time of year (December/holidays) is ripe for finding symbolism, sort of like fishing right after they stock the lake. Symbolism lurks everywhere, no matter if you see the world through rose-tinted glasses, or if, like me, you’re torn between cynicism and sentimentality at the holidays. For instance, screaming children collapsing on the floor of Toys ‘R’ Us at the feet of their incredulous parents always has me singing, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” The parents don’t like that at all. No humor there. I don’t recommend you try that.

Yesterday, driving home in the too-early winter darkness after battling the parking and shopping at the local mall, I was feeling particularly cynical—$200 at Crate and Barrel will do that to you. I weaved my way through my neighborhood streets, passing the nauseating holiday lights and decorations in my blindingly lit suburb. I passed by “the house”—the one that every Orange County neighborhood seems to have. The one that has a dozen inflatable winter holiday characters and the Edison-draining light show.

However, this night, something must have come unplugged, because the five foot tall Frosty, Santa, Rudolph, and Mrs. Claus were all deflated and slumped over on the lawn, like the scene of some North Pole drive-by shooting.

There it was—symbolism in my own neighborhood. The very creatures dragged out from the garage rafters to herald in the holiday seemed to lack any enthusiasm for their performance, and instead had taken their final bow. Hell with the holidays. I’m out. Ka-thump.

For the first time ever, I slowed to enjoy the scene. The glowing light from the house’s eaves now looked more like a police spotlight, shining on the scene of a crime than like the holiday festivity they hoped to evoke. I laughed and laughed like a crazy person, as though I was the culprit who shot up the lawn creatures, frankly wondering why I hadn’t thought to do that very thing each year prior. It was brilliant and horrible all at once. My sentimentality and cynicism had found a comfortable symbol, right on my neighbor’s lawn.

After wiping away my evil tears, I came home to my own house, my lighted tree seen through the living room window, the roof lights still tucked away in the garage waiting for me to keep my promise to the kids. And then I felt bad. Those lawn characters were haunting me like Scrooge’s ghosts. Why had I laughed? Was it really that funny? Or was I just feeling joy at the expense of my neighbor, secretly feeling guilty over my own negligence about my own decorations. Theirs had fallen, mine hadn’t yet even been displayed.

Then I thought about my kids. My neighbor’s kids were proud of their house, and mine were still wondering if I’d come through on my promise. Even droopy lawn people were better than no people and no lights in the minds of my kids.

You see, the kids haven’t yet developed that cynicism. Their symbolism is just about what’s good and what’s beautiful, not what’s wrong with the world. And, while I admit a have a certain desire to see my own kids develop a sense of cynicism (albeit just enough to make them question what’s right and wrong), I do not wish to see them lose their hopefulness, their joy, or their sentimentality.

So, now I’m off to the garage to haul out the ladder, drag out the lights, and hang them around the eaves of my own roof. The sentimentality of the season has won out again. I noticed today that my neighbor’s North Pole crime scene has been restored—Frosty and Santa and friends now smile and stand erect for all to see. Joy to the world.

And while this little Christmas lesson has warmed my begrudgingly sentimental heart like a hot toddy in a stowed-away lunch thermos, I can’t help but wonder—how can I unplug those damn inflatables without anyone noticing?

© 2007, Herb Williams-Dalgart

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trouble with Tweedles

August was bloody hot—the wrong month to visit Disneyland. As an Orange County resident, I knew this. But you can’t keep out-of-town guests from the happiest place on Earth. That's the Disney evil at work.

About halfway through the sweltering day, my brother in-law and I made our way from Frontierland toward Tomorrowland to get a half-dozen frozen lemonades; a small treat for our crowd-weary wives and kids, whom we had just left on a bench near the Jungle Boat cruise.

We crossed the roundabout at the end of Main Street, just before the entrance to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. There, we saw a small crowd parting to form a path at the castle drawbridge. They were making way for two round dudes emerging from Fantasyland: Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum from the Alice in Wonderland film.

These two characters (and I mean that in every sense of the term), were holding hands and skipping, their enormous plastic heads bearing sinister smiles, locked in place for eternity. I wondered which Tweedle was which and then quickly decided I didn’t care. I was hot and just wanted lemonade--and they were getting in the way.

The two spherical hulks skipped closer and closer to me and my brother-in-law, so we stopped, expecting them to cross our paths in the circle. However, as they approached the roundabout, I could see the Tweedles were on a collision course with the plaster horse hitching posts that lined the perimeter of the circle—and they weren’t slowing down. I’m sure the posts were considered a stroke of decorative genius at some park planning committee meeting at Disney corporate HQ. But now these three-foot pillars, probably intended to evoke feelings of a simpler time, were nothing but an accident waiting to happen. And, brother, it happened.

Those big heads must have afforded little visibility to the Tweedles as they skipped merrily along. The crowd, now cluing in to the impending disaster, let out a unified gasp. But it was too late to stop Tweedle—uh, let’s just say, "Dum." Tweedle-Dum ended his skipping routine, and perhaps his Disney career, crotch first on a hitching post. I think I heard a "clang"—but that may have been my cartoonish imagination at work.

Therein followed a series of moments; vignettes—each forever etched in my memory like snapshots taken at a car accident. The consequences unfurled as follows:

  1. Tweedle-Dum screamed—a no-no for the characters at the happiest place on Earth. It supposedly ruins the illusion for us parkgoers when we hear a beloved character use a human voice. Yep. I agree. Illusion officially ruined.

  2. Tweedle-Dum, in unimaginable pain, violently buckled forward with such a sudden force that he unhinged his enormous plastic head and catapulted it into the roundabout. The rubbery mound came skidding to a halt at my feet where it lay, disembodied and still smiling at me. Did I mention, illusion ruined?

  3. His pal, Tweedle-Dee, still smiling (it was a mask, right?), started patting his fellow Tweedle on the back and whispering something to him. I’m guessing it was something like, "Hey, buddy, are you okay?" or maybe, "Holy sh**!"

  4. The crowd could now see Tweedle-Dum’s all-too-human face, clearly sticking out of his oversized body. He was a white guy with a red bandanna on his head. I’d tell you his eye color, but his eyes were squeezed shut in pain. His face was contorted in a way that only a man can truly understand. Think "soccer-ball-to-the-nads" and you'll know what I mean.

  5. Tweedle-Dee realized Tweedle-Dum was missing his head and, after a double-take between his friend and his friend’s head, left his hunched over tweedle-buddy to retrieve the errant cranium still sitting at my feet. He lifted it off the ground with his giant gloved hands like my mom used to lift hot pies out of the oven with oven mitts, sized perfectly for this task. How could Disney know those giant hands would come in handy in just this way? Damn, evil is smart. Of course, in retrospect I realize I could have helped the Tweedles, but I was frozen like the lemonade I was still craving. Now that I think of it, a lemonade would’ve been the perfect libation to accompany this show!

  6. Tweedle-Dee returned to Dum and pushed the scuffed rubber head back onto his sideways friend. A black streak now scarred Tweedle-Dum’s left cheek. No getting around it now. They’d have some ‘splainin’ to do back in the dressing room underground at the Disney dungeon.

  7. After some additional back-patting and whispering, the two Tweedles stood again (Dum stood a little more slowly). They clutched hands, turned on their heels, and skipped off, back into the castle from whence they came. Of course, one Tweedle’s skip was a little less enthusiastic than when he first came out. But the guy was trying, so I think he gets bonus points, a medal, and the respect of every wincing man in the park who saw the travesty. I know I wouldn’t skip after a shot like that!

Now, I can’t recall the faces of the other onlookers. I can only imagine they struggled with the same challenge I did—laugh or be mortified? Help, or watch the Disney machine do its thing?

I’ll never know if poor Tweedle-Dum got in trouble. I've heard that breaking the cardinal employment rules by talking or removing one’s costume in view of the parkgoers usually results in the Disney death penalty or worse—Disney is licensed for its own law enforcement, so I’m told. Rumors are, Tigger isn’t so bouncy or flouncy after a few of his own infractions out in Florida. Why’s it always Florida?

In the months since last August, I’ve been back to Disneyland (the evil allure even has it's hold on cynical old me) and I've noticed two things: Costumed characters are now accompanied by cast members of the non-costumed variety. Not sure for whose safety this arrangement has been made—ours or theirs. But, accompaniment is now par for the course. Like Britney visiting her kids. Gotta have a normal dude go with you.

And, those horse hitching posts have been removed. Gone. Kaput. Totally missing. Again, like Britney’s kids. Come to think of it, she used to be a Mouseketeer… It’s like Disney knew I’d someday draw the metaphor…Hmmm… Did I mention evil was smart?

I suspect when it was all said and done, Tweedle-Dum could have used a couple of his own frozen lemonades to ease the day, or at least cool his cahones. Is there anything a couple of frozen lemonades can’t fix? Or maybe that was Disney's evil plan all along--to emphasize the perfection of their frozen lemonades...

© 2007, Herb Williams-Dalgart

From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

'Now, I give you fair warning,' shouted the Queen, stamping on the ground as she
spoke; 'either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time!
Take your choice!'

From Bob Dylan’s Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum:

Well, they're living in a happy harmony
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee
They're one day older and a dollar short
They've got a parade permit and a police escort
They're lying low and they're makin' hay
They seem determined to go all the way
They run a brick and tile company
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee

Friday, October 26, 2007

Isn't It Ironic

Irony is at the heart of every good story. From movies, to books, to real life—people are drawn to irony.

Jerry McGuire—Tom Cruise is a sleazy agent who can’t be happy until he chooses to be honest. Irony.

Harry Potter—Harry can’t survive to fight Voldemort until Harry himself accepts his own death. Oh, irony.

Paris, Britney, Lindsay—famous, beautiful, and have it all…except sobriety and happiness. The fabulous life is nearly killing them. Yeah, baby. Irony.

It’s everywhere—school shootings perpetrated by the kids no one paid attention to. Shocking irony.

Preachers and priests accused of harming the very children they were supposed to teach and protect. Sick irony.

CEOs made famous for their business savvy going to prison for fraud. Beautiful irony.

Industries which made the U.S. leaders in the world economy are the same industries responsible for the worst global warming. Hot irony.

It’s everywhere. Life itself—our whole existence—is ironic. We’re born and then struggle, we live to find happiness, only to die in the end. Cruel and unusual irony.

So, the next time a bird poops on your car as you're leaving the car wash, or when you hear that OJ is in trouble with the law (again!), or when the dork gets the girl in the latest romantic comedy, remember—you saw it coming.

© 2007, Herb Williams-Dalgart


And lest you think life’s beautiful irony is going unnoticed, remember the fantastic Alanis Morissette. Lyrics to “Ironic” noted below with reverence and appreciation:

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Isn't it ironic... don't you think

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought... it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well isn't this nice..."
And isn't it ironic... don't you think


Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic... don't you think
A little too ironic... and yeah I really do think...


Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out

Friday, August 24, 2007

Welcome to the 21st century

Hey, true believers. Okay, a few free moments to pretend I know what I'm doing. I've updated my blogspot and my earthlink Web site. If you're brave (or just bored), check out: and let me know what you think. Drop a line at

Au revoir!

© Herb Williams-Dalgart 2008