Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December: Christmas 2012

Good Morning.  Good Christmas morning.  It is 6:30 here in Chicago. From the two previous years I have done this, you know I really enjoy this “not a creature was stirring part” of this special day.  It is when I sit by the warm glow of my computer screen and dash off a Christmas letter to friends and family that I will not be seeing this Christmas Day.  
Ah... I just took my first sip of coffee..
It is technically Christmas Day being after midnight and all.  But as dawn has not yet broke, it is still Christmas Eve in my book.  I guess I am evoking Dickensesque definition of when Christmas Day really begins.  While I have not been visited by any ghosts, I could have been given the wonderful, plentiful, and rich foods I ate at our Christmas Eve festivities.  Allow me to borrow a little from the Charles Dickens classic to structure my letter this year.
Christmas past:  I remember the Christmases of my youth.  I grew up in a humble working class part of Detroit.  It was not unlike the neighborhood in the 1983 film A Christmas Story.  I like to think our neighborhood was a bit more upscale, but it was pretty close or directionally correct as I am wont to say.  I love that movie because I was that kid... kinda sorta.  Our school, Robert Burns Elementary in Detroit, reminded me of the school in the movie.
That movie always takes me back to that time.  It was a good time as everyone's childhood should be a good time.  It was a colder time, with more snow.   It was a time of more woolen outerwear than nylon.  It was a time of long underwear that a lot of folks wore because we didn’t keep our homes quite so warm.  It was not a 24/7 world back then.  We had a small handful of television stations and they all went off of the air at some point.  Everyone drove American cars and they were really big.  We literally could pile into those cars and off to grandmother's house we would go.  The nights were not so bright with lights as we experience year round these days in most cities and suburbs.  Somehow, this made Christmas decorations, which in general were more modest, all the more special.  The serious carols were more special, holy, and mysterious because they were not being muzaked to us non-stop from the moment Halloween ended.  The fun carols had that 1940s and 50s big band Bing Crosby, Vicki Carr, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como kind our sound.  To this day, I listen to the carols of that era on my iPod because it brings back such great memories.  I might have had that music on right now, except for the fact that I truly relish the quiet when I write this particular letter.
I loved the Americana of those Christmases.  We had but one tree, it was real, and laden with something no one uses anymore: tinsel.  I was drawn to the Currier and Ives style of a countryside and lifestyle that was espeically difficult to find in an industrial city like Detroit.  Yet, due to the collective spirit of the people and intense marketing of the season even back then, almost everyplace became a bit magical and nostalgic back then around Christmas time.  It is why I like writing to you all in the wee hours of this morning well before the world imposes itself on me.
Actually in my case, most of these memories were due to the efforts and spirit of my mother.  She created the Christmas magic in our home growing up.  Everything else I just pointed out were props and supporting characters.  Thanks Mom!
We were able to experience that Currier and Ives setting more so when we lived in Wilton, CT where we lived while I was working at Colgate.  I remember met a lady, my age, who lived in Wilton all her life.  When I asked what Wilton was like in her childhood, she said that she used to ride her horse from her house to her grandmother’s on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  That is what I am talking about.
While, I loved that New England image, our Christmases were both American and Armenian.  The food, music, and conversation was a mixture of both.  Culturally, we all had a foot in “the old country” and a foot in Detroit.  With each new generation, the weight on the foot rooted in the US became heavier and heavier.  This is only natural.
Christmas present:  Neither of our children are with us for Christmas this year.  This is the first year since 1980 without either of them around us.   In 1980, it was because neither was born.  This year, it is because they are grown, married, and have two sides of the family to visit, spend time with,  and create their holiday experiences with. We understand that especially in the light that we all live so far apart.  
Armene’ and Michael have gone to Argentina.  They are spending Christmas with his maternal aunt and their family who Armene is meeting for the first time.  We are delighted they were able to do this.  The reports we have gotten so far is that they are having a fabulous time.  Armene is amazed by how late everyone has dinner there, how late they stay up, the beauty of the Buenos Aires, and the vibrance and hospitality of their family there.  I truly wish I could have done the trip with them.  I miss the great city and the friends I have there and across the river in Uruguay as well.   As has become a tradition, I spoke with my good and dear friend Andres on Christmas Eve.  We worked together at Colgate and have kept in touch ever since.  He lives in Sao Paulo but was home in Colonia, Uruguay enjoying Christmas and New Years with his family..  
Aram and Anoush are in Washington.  They had Anoush’s mother, Ida, and her husband, Steve, visiting and were set to have a lovely Georgetown Christmas.  Steve has been valiantly battling a cancer.  His will and determination combined with the wonders of modern medicine have had him blow well past the initial prognosis.  He and Aram were walking down M Street on the 22nd when Steve suddenly collapsed.  Due to what we are calling the hand of God, the perfectly qualified doctor happened to be right there, gave him immediate attention and saved his life.  Steve is in ICU and, all things considered, is doing reasonably well.  He may even be released today or tomorrow.  He is a wonderful fellow and our thoughts and prayers are with him.  They are proceeding with the Christmas plans as Steve is insisting that they do.  Perhaps, he will join them today at home or I know Ida, Anoush, and Aram will bring Christmas to him.  
Part of the magic of Christmas, even in our adult lives, is the brief suspension of reality and experiencing only the warmth and joy of family and friends.  Circumstances do not always allow for that.  
We had our typical housefull last night.  Christmas Eve is the evening we have the paternal side of Judy’s family, our family, over.  We have extended that to close Armenian friends how come around their own family schedules.  At the peak, we were thirty-three in number.  All in all, we had It is a great time and a great time to catch up.  For the second year, our parish priest Der Zareh and his family were with us.  He did the traditional Armenian blessing of the home before we sat down to dine.  The food, music, and conversation were, as in my youth, a mixture of American and Armenian.  For the fourth year in a row, Judy simply and flatout outdid herself.  I posted a few photos on facebook should anyone care to glimpse at the beautiful and bountiful buffet of both the dinner and desserts.
In general, 2012 has been a good year.  My father, Aram, had a serious surgery on my birthday.  He had an aortic valve replaced.  He came through the surgery with brilliantly which is a testimony to his lifelong dedication to health and fitness.  We are all thankful.  In November, I was glad to see him dancing to my music when I played at the St. Sarkis Bazaar.  
My niece Kara graduated from High School and is enjoying her freshman year at Hope College.  Another niece, Audrey, spent the summer in Armenia working in a hospital and then was in Madrid for her fall semester.
Our extended family grew as well.  My cousin Sandy’s children Avo and his wife Aprylle gave had Penelope in August.  Avo’s sister Ana, married to Zaven, gave birth earlier this month to Armene’.  Yes, Armene’.  Ana and our Armene’ are two peas in a pod.  Ana named her daughter after ours.  We were delighted, our Armene’ was ecstatic.  Aunt Armene’ calls baby Armene’ “mini-me.”  Baby Armene’ is sometime called Armene’ 2.0 by her parents.
I will officially state right here in this letter that I am definitely ready for grandfatherhood... . i'm just sayin'.  Normally, I leave this to this to the mothers and mothers in-laws, they hint more frequently and way less subtly than I do.
It has been a great year teaching.  I have taught extensively from June on.  It was the equivalent of two full time loads.  It was quite fulfilling especially in the number of wonderful young people I have met and got to know.  I was teaching at three different colleges mostly statistics.  I find the students very sober about this country, our collective future, and their prospects in this new normal.  Their prospects for employment and eventual retirement are very different than when I was in their shoes.  Many work part time, at more than one job, to make ends meet and pay for their educations.  I bristle when others my age berate “kids these days” for lacking work ethic and vision.  I see it very differently.  For the most part, I admire this generation for their determination and positive attitude peppered with quirky humor about it all.
Of everything I have ever done, I probably excel at teaching more than anything else.  I was named Adjunct Faculty of the Year at the College of Lake County.  It is the only work related award I have ever received and I am quite proud of it.  As much as I have enjoyed teaching six courses this past semester, I have to cut back to two.  As I am an adjunct, it simply pays too little for the 100% of the time it consumed including grading and preparation.  I need to focus, starting tomorrow, on growing my consulting business.  
Christmas Future:  I never know what the future will bring.  I am optimistic for all of us, this country,  and this planet.  At this time of the year, it is the only way to be.

----- o -----

I know I will not see most of you this year.  I am not sure if this is an Armenian or American tradition, but consider this my making the rounds, knocking on your door, wishing you the best of the season, and you inviting me in to meet you and yours over a cup of Christmas cheer.  If I could do that in Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Wilton, Caracas, Mexico City, Yerevan, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Guatemala City, Panama City, or Ocala, that would be something.  Heck, it would be something if I could do that with everyone I know in Chicagoland!  
The day has dawned.  It is definitely Christmas day.  It is 8:30 am and still very quiet but night quiet and daylight quiet are two very different things.  I cannot believe I have been writing for two hours.  It is by far the longest Christmas letter I have written since I began this early morning ritual in 2010.   
          I close this letter the same way I did last two years.  The sentiment is exactly the same with only the year updated. I am delighted to reach out this very quiet moment to friends and family all over the United States and all over the world to convey our warm Christmas wishes to you and yours.  Even more so, I hope that 2013 is a year of health, happiness, and prosperity for you and yours.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Mayan Out Loud

It is the eve of the first day of winter, the winter solstice, and the birthday of our dear and beloved daughter in-law Anoush.  Happy birthday Anoush!  
 It is also the eve of the day the world is supposed to end according to the Mayan calendar. 
There has not been the intense interest and discussion on this end of the world prediction.  It seems to me that previous end of the world predictions were taken much more seriously and discussed.  Maybe I have simple been too busy.  Maybe there have been too many false scares, to many cries that the sky is falling, so we have become immune to doomsday prophecies.  I am in the same state of mind.  I am
Just a year and a half ago, many were seriously anticipating The Rapture on May 21, 2011.  That day came and went with nothing happening except for the making Harold Camping, the primary force behind the non-event, look like a fool. 
There have been some great quips, tweets, facebook posts, and graphics that people are having fun with.  Greg Nigosian was offering an "out of my Mayan sale" for some of his software products.  Greg Hosharian posted the following on facebook:  "It was nice knowing you all just in case this is our last day on earth!  Ha ha this is so silly."
Maybe I spoke too soon!
I am typing this at 10:24 in Chicago.  It is already December 21st in many other parts of the world.  Nothing has happened... yet.  The Mayan calendar never did predict the time zone in which it would all begin.  I would assume that since the Mayans were in what is Guatemala and Mexico today, the end would occur in that time zone.  So, I have a few hours left.  Maybe the end will not come at the stroke of midnight today but rather sometime before the stroke of midnight tomorrow.
I might have a scotch to sip on as I contemplate the possibilities and low probabilities.
So, what was with the Mayans.  They did not seem like good folks in the movie Apocalyto which I have watched over and over again.  Their leadership was portrayed as mean, manipulative, barbaric, and yet very good astronomers.  Of course, they did not have television or the internet to distract them.  They just had the heavens to watch.  I have been to their magnificent temples in Tikal.  I have climbed those temples.  I was impressed with the precision in which they placed them so they would line up perfectly at solstices, equinoxes, the comings and goings of comets, eclipses both solar and lunar, and who knows what else.  It is no wonder we take their calendar so seriously.
I wonder what the next end of days day will be?  May I suggest, September 3, 2077.  Why that day?  Am I a shaman?  A seer?  A reader and interpreter of the heavens?  No.  Simply, it is a random date that is most like after I am gone and thus I will not have to deal with all the buzz about the date.
My two favorite graphics of this event or non-event were posted on facebook.  I just love the weather forecast.  I also like the similarity of the Mayan circular calendar to the Oreo cookie.   Maybe there is some mystical runic connection between the two.  Probably there isn't.  Most people commented that their faith was in the Oreo over the Mayan apocalypse.  Ah, the power of brand marketing.  As the oracle said in the movie The Matrix, "have a cookie, you'll feel better."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12-12-12: Come and Gone - Now What?

One has to love these kinds of dates.  They are cool and easy to remember.  People get get married on such dates to make their anniversary dates both special and easy to remember.  Expectant women hope their children are born on such dates so that they will have way cool birthdays.

           But really, beyond the easy to remember and all around coolness, what is so special about these dates?   There is nothing really mythical or magical about them.  The day is special on our calendar because of the number pattern but probably just another day on the Chinese and Jewish calendars.  These special dates are set depending on when the zero was set for the calendar numbering system.  Ours BC/AD system is based on the birth of Christ even though that is celebrated on December 25th and not the first day of the year which is when it should logically be.  If that were the case, 12-12-12 would have been six days ago... or is it six days from today.  It really is relative.  Lets not even bring the whole Leap Year thing into this.

There were postings on facebook and elsewhere that made everyone stop, think, and appreciate this day perhaps a bit more.  The message was:

You just realized...12-12-12 is the last repetitive date we will ever see.

It began with the second New Years Day of this century, 01-01-01, and we have had one every year until today.  There have been twelve of these.  I remember a lot of people wanting to get married on 07-07-07.  The Beijing Olympics began on 08-08-08.  Now, there will be no more for most of us.

Wait... how about February 2, 2022.  Isn't that 2-2-22.  It is not exactly repetitive, but it certainly has that feel about it.  Eleven years one month and one day after that, some of us will see 3-3-33 and so on.  The frequency will be less but these dates will be as memorable and meaningful as any we have seen thus far this century.

I am not as partial to these repetitive dates as I am to sequential dates.  Next year, we have November 12, 2013 and the year after that December 13, 2014 which, respectively, are 11-12-13 and 12-13-14.  Consider May 5, 2015 or June 12, 2018.  They will be multiple days i.e.  5-10-15 and 6-12-18

If we expand to Pythagorean Triples, a vast majority of us will 5-12-13, 8-15-17, and 7-24-25.  Maybe we should make consecutive prime numbers special.  The next two of these are 7-11-13 and 11-13-17.

A bigger deal has been made of March 14th the past few years.  It is called Pi day because it is 3.14, the first three digits of the irrational number Pi.  March 14, 2015 will be 3.14.15 which is the first five digits of the famous number.

So, all is not lost.  There is no shortage of interesting and memorable days coming up in the next few years even if you are not a mathematician.  I am not sure anyone, but me, will be posting this on facebook.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck

     We moved to Wilton, CT in June of 1990. Aram and Armene’ began with the Wilton Public Schools in September of that year. Aram was in fifth grade and among his many activities, he joined the school choir. In those early days of commuting to New York City, I was trying to acclimate to a new job and was not often home early enough during the weekdays to attend very many school activities. I was home early enough one day, however, to attend one of his choir concerts. Perhaps I had spent the day at the Juran Center which in those days was based in Wilton.
     The concert was held in the gymnasium of the Middlebrook Middle School. The audience, parents and families, were seated in those gymnasium bleachers that telescope out from the wall. There were risers for the choir and an upright piano for the music teacher to accompany the students. The students marched out and took their places. A tall scruffy haired bearded fellow, about my age at that time, also came out carrying an electric bass guitar. He sat next to the piano and plugged into an amp that I had not noticed. I was wondering why there was a bass player but just figured it was another teacher who wanted to contribute to the musical offering.
     The teacher made some announcements and introduced the first song. I was enjoying the choir and glad I was able to be there to see my son perform and participate. I believe it was during the second selection that I noticed and was impressed with the bass player. He was not dominating but supporting and enhancing in a most creative and expressive way. When the selection ended, I turned to my wife and said, “you know that bass player is really really talented.” She responded, “He should be, that is Chris Brubeck.” 

“You mean as in Dave Brubeck?”
“Yes that is his son.”
I responded, “Wow... cool”
     “Dave is sitting over there and that tall boy standing next to Aram is Ben Brubeck, Chris’s son and Dave’s grandson.” Dave Brubeck and his wife were sitting just across the aisle. He looked like he was enjoying the concert every bit as much as I was if not more.
     I never really got to know Dave but Chris and I became acquaintances as we attended many school events in the ensuing years. I thought it was pretty cool that me, a weekend warrior of a musician, was living in the same town as such great, well known, and personable musicians.
     When I heard that Dave had passed away this morning one day before his 92nd birthday, this memory became vivid and I thought I would share it. As we Armenians say, may God illuminate his soul.