Wednesday, December 24, 2014

COLUMN: Concrete

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to make my blood boil every year, it's the kickoff of the holiday season.

Once upon a time, the words "holiday season" referred to those precious few days that kids are off on winter break. Stretching from a few days before Christmas until a few days after the New Year, it's a magical time for family, gift-giving, and cheer. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Or at least it was. Thanks to the ever-hungry open maw of big business, the holiday season now runs for roughly a third of the year, and it's diluted and drained almost all the magic right out of the holidays. The four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter have been outmoded by capitalism, and it's high time we just went ahead and changed our calendars to the new corporate reality of our THREE midwest seasons: (1) Oppressively Hot, (2) Abusively Cold, and (3) Those Months Where We're Too Busy Buying Stuff To Care About the Weather -- or, as I like to call it, Thanksmasoween.

The evidence is clear: It's mid-November and Mix 96 is already blaring non-stop Christmas tunes. The Hallmark Channel has already switched to 24/7 Christmas movies. Our area's premiere holiday event, the Festival of Trees, wraps up every year before we've even changed our calendars to December. As far as retailers are concerned, Halloween is essentially Christmas Eve, Christmas is a 55-day shopping spree, and Thanksgiving is just that meal we grab on our way to stand in line for the take-no-prisoners melee combat arena of Black Friday. We should all be ashamed.

My annual whining about the consumerism of Christmas is about as traditional as chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but this year I feel just a tad bit guilty about it. I guess I need to come clean about something. It's mid-November... and I've already had my Christmas. This year, my wonderful parents skipped pomp, circumstance, and the entire month of December to surprise me with my gift super early. But they had good reason, I promise. This year, I received the best gift of all. The gift... of concrete.

I suppose in the Quad Cities, a gift of concrete isn't that odd, given the local popularity of Isabel Bloom sculpture. No offense to the fine folks who make and buy those figurines, but bulbous cement children hugging each other really isn't my style. No, this was concrete of the flat and functional variety.

My house doesn't have much of a back yard. There's just my garage, and then some space next to it. Well, a few weeks ago my dad asked me if I'd like that random space converted into an additional parking slab, to which I replied, "Heck, yes!" And, since it needed to be poured before this week's cold weather set in, there was no time to wait. It was now or never. Well, it was now or spring, and I'm both impatient and greedy.

My parents must think that I host frequent Gatsby-style shindigs at my house and therefore must be in constant and dire need of additional parking. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I hardly ever have friends over, and when I do, there's abundant street parking. But there's a far better reason than parking to convert some of my yard into extra parking: less yard.

I have a love-hate relationship with nature. As in, I love to hate it. Lawn and yard maintenance is for the birds, so the less yard I have to maintain, the better. In a perfect world, every square foot of my land would be a concrete slab. Bye bye, weeds. Hasta la vista, lawnmower. See ya, creepy garter snake that I saw in my yard two years ago and I'm pretty sure lies in wait for me to this day.

So as I went to work the other day, a team of concrete guys rolled in with shovels and wood and cement magic, all under the watchful eye of my dad, who drove up for the occasion. The result is awesome, and a lot bigger than anticipated. This thing is less parking slab and more like a slightly-smaller-than-regulation basketball court. I'm not kidding when I say you could now creatively fit five compact cars in my back yard. Maybe it IS time for a wild-n-crazy fiesta at the International House of Shane.

The only down side is that I came home from lunch that day in just enough time to see one of the concrete guys nonchalantly trying to splice my cable line back together. Not cool -- but also not their fault. Cable lines are supposed to be buried 6-8 inches underground, and my guys barely broke ground before accidentally severing mine. To their credit, though, the cable company was out straight away and ran all new lines, so no major nightmare. If I've got to choose between hating nature and loving the internet, I'll take the internet every time. I'd probably be perfectly cool being a castaway provided the desert island had high-speed broadband and decent wi-fi. Communing with nature is challenging enough, but having to do it without knowing who Taylor Swift is dating would just be too much to bear.

The real winners of this early Christmas, though, are the freeloading tenants of my back yard. About six inches from my property line, my neighbors have a walnut tree that hangs over my yard and parts of my house. That tree is home to about a half dozen black squirrels, including my arch-nemesis, the infamous Mr. Poofytail (named by a neighbor, mind you. I prefer some other choice names.) For three years, this squirrel has thrown some serious shade my way. Between his nasty noises ("Thpf! Ffft!"), the walnuts he purposely drops on me, and of course the fateful morning that he peed on my head, there truly is REASON as to why I detest nature.

The rodent workday usually involves shaking branches until walnuts fall on my roof with a mighty thud before rrrrrrolling off into the yard. Then they take the walnuts onto my back steps and thwack them against the wood until they break open. (Squirrels are a lot smarter than most people give them credit.) Every morning, I open my back door to bountiful piles of walnut detritus on my steps.

But it didn't take my acrobatic buddies long to discover that concrete is harder than wood, and now all they need to do is knock the walnuts onto the concrete and most of them bust open on contact. The end result is that my new parking slab is now covered in nut shells and looks like the floor of Steve's Old Time Tap, and my nefarious plot to thwart nature has instead lent it a hand.

All in all, though, I love my new Yuletide concrete, and earlier tonight I used it to back a car full of groceries right up to my door. That's precisely seven less steps I have to take with every bag, and that, my friends, is nothing less than a Thanksmasoween miracle. Happy holidays, whenever you choose to start celebrating them.

No comments: