Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
A Christmas story — Tidings of comfort and joy
By JAMES GROB
The young woman furrowed her brow and rubbed her eyes. Her fingers then straightened her long black hair. Everything in the store she had looked at that was any good cost just a little too much, and everything that was within her price range just wasn’t quite good enough.
She needed a perfect Christmas gift for the perfect guy — a blue-eyed, baby-faced guy who had always been sweet to her — and she became more and more frustrated as she roamed through aisle after aisle.
She had looked at sweaters, watches, jackets, gloves, gadgets and colognes — and just about everything she liked cost more than she could ever afford on her wage as a waitress at a small cafe. She didn’t know whether to cry or scream. If he didn’t like his Christmas gift, she thought, maybe he wouldn’t like her anymore.
A white-haired older woman watched her and knew immediately that the young lady had to be searching for a present for a very important boyfriend. As the two came closer to one another in the cologne aisle, she cleared her throat and spoke cheerfully.
“Merry Christmas, dearie,” the older woman said.
The young woman looked at her. The older woman’s eyes sparkled through her spectacles, and she wore a navy-colored sweatshirt with a red-nosed reindeer pictured on the front — a gift from grandkids the previous Christmas.
Something about the way the strange old woman had said it soothed the younger woman. Maybe it was the silliness of the word “dearie,” or maybe it was just the musical tone in her voice.
The young woman smiled. “Merry Christmas to you, too,” she replied.
“Oh, dearie.” (There was that word again.) “You don’t have a thing to worry about. With a smile as pretty as that, your man will love you no matter what you give him. He won’t let you get away.”
The polite, pretty smile quickly became a sincere and beautiful one — the kind of smile that belongs on the cover of a magazine or in a feature film. The young woman simply beamed. “Thank you,” she managed to mutter in reply.
Finding the right gift was easy after that, and as she merrily waited in the checkout line she bumped shoulders with a middle-aged man. A tired fellow with a receding hairline and a growing belly, he didn’t care much for Christmas shopping and cared even less for crowded checkout lines. His patience was limited and he was beginning to dread the anticipated hassle of another Christmas Day — and the outrageous bills that were soon to follow.
“Excuse me,” he mumbled to her after they had bumped.
“No problem,” she said. Then she gave him that sincere smile. “Happy holidays.”
It had been a long time since a pretty young woman had smiled at him like that. His beaten posture changed as his heart lifted in his chest — his upper body seemed to inflate and his face softened significantly. He held his head high and smiled back at her — as he would smile at the whole world for the rest of the evening.
“Happy holidays to you, too,” he cheerfully exclaimed to her moments later as he exited the store, bags of gifts in tow. He seemed to be walking on air. “And season’s greetings and Merry Christmas to all of you,” he exclaimed to all the busy check-out clerks, his once-grumbling voice now lilting with gentle laughter.
His attitude had changed so drastically that he happily left a much-larger-than-usual amount of money in the charity bucket next to the Salvation Army Santa ringing the bell outside. Then, as he drove out of the parking lot, he came across a motorist with a flat tire. Normally he would have driven right by, but today he pulled over to help.
As he put the spare tire on for the nice, white-haired woman, he chatted away — and even complimented her on her “Rudolph sweatshirt.” He laughed as she told him stories about her grandkids. He told her he couldn’t wait to have grandkids of his own, and he was surprised to hear himself saying that — and meaning it.
He then followed her to the repair shop — the only one in town still open on Christmas Eve — and insisted on paying to have the tire repaired.
“It’s not much,” he told the woman. “Consider it a Christmas gift. Just promise to spend the money I’ll save you on your wonderful grandkids.”
She promised. He waved good-bye, shouted “Merry Christmas” and hurried home. For the first time in a long time, he couldn’t wait to see his wife — and to give her a kiss.
The typically-gruff repair shop owner witnessed the man’s generosity, and was so impressed that he decided to spread a little generosity of his own. He gave his only employee the rest of the day off, with full pay and a holiday bonus. It was just a small bonus — after all, business had been slow — but it was more than what the young man had expected, which was nothing.
The blue-eyed mechanic was so thrilled he actually gave his surprised boss a hug as he wished him “happy holidays” and skipped out the door. Although the moment was awkward, it somehow seemed appropriate, and the repair shop owner was pleasantly amazed at how easily he could positively impact the attitude of an employee.
Now the baby-faced young man would have just enough time to get to the jewelry store before it closed, and just enough money to pay off the engagement ring on which he had been making payments for the last few months.
It was a Christmas present for his girlfriend, a thoughtful young woman with long, black hair. He was going to ask for her hand in marriage tonight, on Christmas Eve. He’d always been sweet to her, and she seemed to care about him an awful lot. He hoped and prayed that she would say yes.
When your girl has a smile as pretty as that, you don’t let her get away.
Was it really 39 years ago? I learned about it from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
I didn't fully appreciate the significance of it at the time, I was just a kid.
So was he, actually.
Charles City Press, 12-5-19
I had no idea who Billie Eilish was until last week.
I just don’t listen to that kind of music, and honestly, if I did, you’d probably think there was something wrong with me.
My children are all adults, and my age currently resides on the north side of Half-a-Century Street. In the last week, I’ve learned that Billie Eilish is a 17-year-old pop music sensation, and the youngest artist ever to be nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. I can only assume that she’s quite talented.
The fact that I’ve never listened to one of her songs shouldn’t be a surprise. I never cared too much for the Grammys when I was young, so it would be really weird if I was paying attention to the latest pop music trends and listening to the crooning of a 17-year-old pop star, now that I’m old.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized and accepted that popular contemporary musicians aren’t exactly writing songs with me in mind. I’m not their target audience anymore, not sure I ever was. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
My parents couldn’t stand most of the music I listened to when I was in high school. Regularly, they complained that it was too loud, too obnoxious, too vulgar. That was kind of the point. Imagine if my parents would’ve said things like “that’s a great song, play it again, turn it up louder!” I would’ve been horrified.
If a song was good, it was good. If that song annoyed, enraged or disgusted my parents, it was even better. If my parents actually liked it, then there was obviously something wrong with it. Put that cassette back in the case.
My musical horizons expanded exponentially once I got out of high school, and I started liking just about every kind of music available, from rock to show tunes, from metal to classical, from calypso to country to jazz to blues to much more. I still don’t listen to most of what’s on the pop charts, but overall, my taste is diverse.
In high school, Van Halen was the tastiest ear candy I knew, and that’s why I’m writing about Billie Eilish.
The young singing sensation was recently on one of the late night talk shows, and the conversation revealed that she had no idea who Van Halen was. Apparently, she’d never heard of the band. This exchange went viral on the world wide inter-webs and twitter-nets and further fueled the generational feuding between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials and GenXers and whoever else dares to have a completely uninformed knee-jerk opinion.
A blood-red flood of abusive invective washed down on Billie Eilish, and for a couple of days, she became the poster child for everything that’s wrong with everyone who’s under 30. You know, they are all ignorant and lazy and self-centered and eat laundry soap and don’t know who Van Halen is and inappropriately pierce all their body parts and won’t pull up their pants and have a closet full of meaningless participation trophies.
And the young people responded with “OK Boomer” and “get off my lawn,” and pointed out how ironic it is that the generation that thought up the idea of giving participation trophies to kids is the same generation that calls the kids “entitled” for receiving participation trophies.
We’re the ones who gave them the trophies, folks, so let’s stop yelling at them for just going along with our stupid idea — but that’s a whole other column.
This column is about Van Halen, the amazingly talented and innovative guitar band that restored hard rock to the forefront of the music scene and provided the structural template for hundreds of successful rock artists who followed them.
“We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you. Don’t you know it means the same to me?”
— Van Halen, “I’m the One,” 1978.
My parents hated them, I loved them. (We won’t factor in the Sammy Hagar debacle here — that’s a sore subject for me.)
Pay attention now, young people. The crazy, “unwoke” old guy is about to teach you something about music and culture.
Van Halen’s energy and virtuosity reinvented live concerts, turning a music show into a four-ring circus. Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex were the freak shows, as they reimagined what could be done on guitars and drums.
David Lee Roth was more than a lead singer. He was a wise-cracking ringleader, a mock-poet, a pop-philosopher, an extreme athlete, a slightly enlightened wise-cracking, toke-holding surfer dude.
Bass player Michael Anthony held it all together and provided unique high harmonies.
The lights, explosions, antics, mesmerizing guitar hooks, howling vocal growls swirling around a crunching heavy metal sound — tempered by a sugary pop-music mentality — demanded the world’s attention.
Most importantly, it was so darn fun.
Van Halen’s music led to the sale of more than 80 million albums worldwide. Most of those albums were sold in the years between 1978 and 1988 — 14-24 years before Billie Eilish was born.
Why on Earth should I expect a 17-year-old kid to be even vaguely familiar with a rock band that was at its musical and popular peak almost 20 years before she was born?
Every day, I hear from people my age, and older, who are remarkably uninformed — or criminally misinformed — about what’s going on around them, in the world, in their own communities. None of these people have the excuse of being 17 — too young to know, or too young to care.
Every member of Van Halen’s original lineup is in his 60s now. How many 60-year-old rock stars were you aware of at 17?
I hope Billie Eilish has taken a few minutes to listen to some old Van Halen tunes in the last week, and I hope she likes what she hears. Maybe they’ll even influence her musical direction in a good way. If she doesn’t like them, fair enough. To each her own. I just hope she gives them a good listen.
I plan on listening to a few of her songs at some point very soon. I won’t promise I’ll like them — as I said, typically not my thing — but I’ll hear them out.
I hope she doesn’t feel as though all of us old guys think less of her for not yet experiencing Van Halen’s music by age 17. It’s actually our fault, for not introducing Van Halen to her.
And really, I hope she doesn’t give a damn about what any of us old guys think of her at all. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. Old people aren’t supposed to matter, that’s the whole point. If she annoys, enrages or disgusts us, that makes her music that much better.
“ … Look at all these little kids, takin’ care of the music biz. Does their business take good care of me?”
— Van Halen, “I’m the One,” 1978.
Face it — if you’re really, honestly upset with Billie Eilish, it’s probably not because she doesn’t know who Van Halen is.
You’re upset because she’s 17, and you’re not.
And you’ll never be again.
Thoughts on all topics from the twisted mind of a Midwestern writer. Playwrighting, poetry, journalism, sports, hunting, fishing, rock music, movies, good food and