Pushing the Calendar

Jimmy Buffett has a song on his Christmas album ’Tis The Season called, Santa Stole Thanksgiving. His lyrics clearly depict the feeling that many have that the retail world keeps pushing the seasons on us earlier and earlier.

Ooh, ooh
Santa stole Thanksgiving for Christmas
Dragged Plymouth Rock to the North Pole with his sled
Pilgrims never saw him coming
The Wampanoags they kept drumming
That Thursday in November
Gob-gobble about December

The next verse is even more telling…

Santa stole Thanksgiving for Christmas
It was such a happy holiday
No more laid-back relaxation
It’s Black Friday degradation
Seems Santa sold Thanksgiving to the mall

Back in the dark ages, when we were kids, the Christmas season didn’t start till Santa showed up at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Although many give lip service to that premise, the truth is that many in the retail world go from Labor Day right to Christmas! See for yourself! On Wednesday September 8th, at the Costco in Stafford Township, New Jersey, the Christmas Department was already set up!

For another example of how far we have come, let’s turn to the classic song We Need a Little Christmas, from the 1966 Broadway Musical Mame, with words and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Mame and her household staff sing this song at a particularly down time, starting off with this uplifting verse:

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before
My spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things
But deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry

So there are a couple of clues there that they are, in their minds, early for Christmas! Like when Mame sings, “I may be rushing things,” or that last line, “It hasn’t snowed a single flurry, But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry.” Even more indication that they are early, when later in the song, young Patrick Denison has this line:

But Auntie Mame!
It’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now

Remember, a pivotal part of the Mame story, was the stock market crash of 1929, so even in 1966, this was by no means a current story, but I don’t believe in 1966, when I was 16 years old, we had pushed holidays around the calendar for the benefit of the retail world, as much as we find today!

Look, you want a bathing suit for a vacation in August, if you go to the store in August, you are more likely to find sweaters and other fall clothes on the shelves. Want new cushions for your back yard furniture, don’t show up at Lowes or Home Depot in June, because they’ll all be gone! After all, they’ve been in the store since just after they took down their Christmas displays. Speaking of Christmas, need a new set of lights for the tree, head to the stores in October, because that’s when they stock their shelves and you’ll be lucky to find anything in December.

I know, I know…stop being an old fart and lamenting about how the world has changed, right? I’m sorry, but we love Christmas and honestly, we start listening to Christmas music in November (in the car and in our house…but only when we are alone!), but we don’t decorate the outside of the house, or put up the tree until after Thanksgiving! We are traditionalists (that’s a classier way to say old farts) and sorry, but I don’t need to have Pumpkins pushed on us on September 10th, a full 7 Weeks and two days before Halloween, as Shoprite in Somers Point is already doing!

Okay…Enjoy the Holiday…whatever the calendar says it is, because I’ve lost track!
Rant over!

Jimmy Buffett from his album ’Tis the Season with Santa Stole Thanksgiving

Angela Lansbury and the Broadway cast from Mame with We Need a Little Christmas

September 11th – Where Were You?

Anyone who was just about anywhere in the New York Metropolitan area on the morning of September 11, 2001 will always remember that day, and where they were. I know in our family that’s the case. My wife Sue was at work at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Our oldest son Billy was in his second year at Ithaca College, and his brother and sister, Krissi and Kenny, were sophomores at Mineola High School. I was at work at WABC Radio, 17 floors above Penn Station.

I remember it was a great looking, if uneventful, September morning. There was just a touch of fall in the air – it was one of those special kinds of days we get after the humidity of summer leaves. I was, as usual, on the 7:24 LIRR train from Mineola to Penn Station. As I said, a totally uneventful September morning in all respects….but that was soon to change.

Shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, word started to come into the newsroom that a plane had hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was primary day in New York, and there were reporters around the city for the various TV morning shows. Almost immediately, Dick Oliver of channel 5 went on the air from Park Row, just outside of City Hall. They weren’t the best shots, but you definitely could see the fire and damage to the tower. Everyone assumed that it was a small plane that had hit and no one could understand how someone could have missed seeing a structure as big as the World Trade Center on a beautiful, clear morning. There was speculation of a student pilot, or someone who had a heart attack – just about anything, but what had really happened, which up until that point was unthinkable to most of us.

By 9 o’clock, better pictures of the damage were available on TV, including long shots of the buildings from further uptown. Just before 9:03 AM, I was standing in studio 17E next to Chief Engineer Kevin Plumb, when we noticed a plane flying into the frame of the shot. Assuming we were looking at a small plane trying to get a better view of what was happening, one of us commented, “what the heck is that plane trying to do?” At 9:03 we were shocked when we saw that plane (which we later found out was a Boeing 767) crash into the South Tower and explode in a ball of flames. In that moment, everyone who saw that happen live, knew that life as we had known it up until that moment was over, and that there was a brand new reality.

I remember all hell breaking loose at the station as we all went into high gear. There was an incredible amount of misinformation flying around, and frankly, open fear from some. Everyone tried to act professionally, but since no one knew exactly what was going on, and since we were all working 17 floors above Penn Station and a couple of blocks west of the Empire State Building, many wondered if we might be in the target zone too. The next hour was a blur of news reports, discussion and speculation. Shortly after the first plane hit, our morning anchor George Weber took off downtown armed with a cell phone and a recorder. He phoned in a couple of reports about what he was seeing, but as the cell phone system overloaded, we stopped hearing from him. Then at 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed. Faces stared at the TV pictures, and as a group, were almost unable to fathom what we’d seen. Less than 30 minutes later the North Tower collapsed, and these twin buildings, which were so identified with the skyline of New York City, were incredibly gone, along with close to 3,000 of our fellow New Yorkers.

So many questions hit us all at once…who would do this, how did it happen, how could these two huge buildings collapse, and one that was on all our minds at WABC, where was George Weber? The news reports continued, but with all the confusion it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t. Were there more hijacked planes out there, and had other attacks taken place in Washington and elsewhere around the country? Getting a landline phone call was very hard; cell service was pretty non-existent, communications among families and friends was almost impossible. It was over an hour later when we heard from George. He’d walked for blocks from the WTC site and had waited on a line at a pay phone before he was finally able to check in with the station. Okay, we knew one of our friends and coworkers was alive…but what about everyone else.

WABC’s 2001 9/11 Montage

The day dragged on, and we watched TV as they tried to figure out what had happened, and what was happening. One of the hardest tasks of the day was getting in touch with friends and family, finding out if they were okay, and assuring them that I was fine. The first response of the city was to shut down, and a lot of us wondered how we’d get home. Being above Penn Station, we kept looking down at the crowds milling around a closed Penn Station. We also kept looking a couple of blocks to the east at the Empire State Building and realizing it was once again the tallest building in New York!

Later that day, the Long Island Rail Road started running and those of us from Long Island headed downstairs, and like every other commuter that day, got on any train as long are it was leaving New York City! As we came out of the tunnel into Queens, everyone looked to the south where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been on the way in that morning, but now were replaced by smoke. It was very quiet in the train as everyone realized that those two buildings we’d seen every day on our commute into Manhattan were gone, along with all the folks who were working in them.

The days after September 11th were very strange to say the least. The fact that there were absolutely no planes in the sky made for a very eerie quiet that was very unlike the norm. I know that for weeks after the planes started flying again, every time one flew over I would find myself stopping and looking at it. Taking the LIRR into the city in the days after September 11th was also different. There was an uneasy quiet on the trains, that I guess came from a lot of folks who would rather be somewhere else, but who had responsibilities and had to do what they were doing. I remember not seeing people that had been regulars on our trains, and wondering if they were in the towers when they came down, or were they perhaps too scared to venture into Manhattan again. Questions I’d never have the answers to….

One thing that made the post 9/11 strangeness livable was the feeling that we were all in it together. There were American flags on houses, cars, businesses…virtually everywhere! Groups were banding together collecting items for families that were affected, or to help rescue workers at Ground Zero. People were friendlier to each other and more respectful…even politicians! From New York City to Washington, the political discourse had a united front. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, we were Americans. There was no finger pointing, just everyone shouldering the load and helping to move forward. If every cloud has to have a silver lining, that was September 11th’s.

Too bad that these many years later, so many seem to have forgotten. There’s no way that anyone who lived through that day will not be thinking today about their experiences, about all the New Yorkers who are no longer with us and about how the rest of us pulled together as a team. I’ll also be thinking about my friends who were involved after the towers came down. People like NYPD ESU Officer Scott Strauss who pulled the last survivor out of the rubble, or PAPD Detective Don McMahon who spent the next 6 months at the on site morgue, or the many Fire Men I know, both NYFD and others who spent so many hours on the pile digging. Thank God there are so many people among us who run towards trouble as the rest of us run away!  Thank you for your service and for your friendship and for setting an example for the rest of us.

Even in our new world, I know we live in a better world because people like Scott and Donnie are a part of it.  As we remember those who died that day, I hope we will all also remember the heroes of September 11th.  Friends, neighbors, family members, and people whose names we will never know, who stepped up on that horrible day.  Ordinary folks who did extrodinary things, and renewed our faith in our fellow human beings.  That’s the lesson I try to take from that horrible day.

WABC’s 2002 9/11 Montage put together for the first anniversary