Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rambling Rant

Did I ever mention that I think whoever decided to put Christmas in December was a real Bozo?

I think the modern calendar was designed by Julius Caesar, who took the opportunity to name July after himself, and then later modified by Pope Gregory, who didn’t name anything after himself. I’m not sure either of them actually sat down with a cup of joe and went through all the dates and made decisions like “I think I’ll start the year in January and put Christmas in winter.” I think they were mostly trying to get a grip on when spring was so they would know when to plant their crops.

Both Christmas and Easter joined forces with existing holidays to create two super-special days for the Christians and the Halmark greeting cards people.  Easter had an easy enough time outshining the celebration of fertility and springtime. It’s hard to beat a good resurrection. All they had to do was remember it’s the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox and figure out a way to incorporate eggs and bunnies into the holiday. But Christmas was actually invented to compete with an existing pagan season. After noticing people were already celebrating the Winter Solstice, the church decided to assign the birth of Christ to winter. The Solstice holiday had a tradition of general debauchery so it was easy enough to just morph that into the office Christmas party. People who know animals know the shepherds weren't "watching their flocks by night" in the cold winter. Jesus had to have been born in the springtime with all the other lambs.

I don’t punch a time clock anymore so I can’t complain but I do remember how busy accountants are at the end of the year trying to close the books. They don’t have time to go to Christmas parties or do any shopping. They’re trying to track down which bonehead bought a copier in July and didn’t turn in the paperwork so they could set up a depreciation schedule. Or, if they’re really smart, they’re shipping all their goods so they can record the income. The freeways on New Year’s Eve aren’t just full of drunks; there are countless freight trucks driving around with boxes full of inventory that's been cleared off the books and recorded as income in the old year.  But the people who bought all the stuff don’t want to record the purchases until the new year. So they just keep driving the stuff around for a couple of days. It’s a kind of accounting limbo.

Accounting is just chock-full of cute tricks like that one. And the best ones are saved for the year end. But that takes a toll on the bean counters’ ability to enjoy Christmas.

I’ve been trying to tie up all the loose ends from our October trip to Guatemala and hopefully make sense of dozens of wrinkled scraps of paper with notes and numbers scribbled on them, sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in quetzals, Guatemala’s currency. Then there are the times Linda or I paid for something for the team and need to be reimbursed but we can’t remember how much money we spent or what it was for.

Norte Presbytery gave us the most beautiful gift: a hand-painted comal with the names of all the kids in the Nutrition Project on it. A comal is what the women use to cook tortillas on and it’s made of pottery.

Well, let me show you how gorgeous it was:

And, I guess by using the word “was” I gave away the ending. Here’s what happened:

As soon as we touched it we realized it was not only beautiful, it was delicate as well. Packing it securely would be critical. On the last day of the trip I walked all over Antigua looking for a business who might pack it for the plane. I started running out of time so I went to Plan B and found a pizzeria. In my less than adequate Spanish I tried to explain to the lady I wanted to buy a pizza box. I didn’t want a pizza. I just wanted the box. And I was more than willing to pay for the empty box. Try that one in a foreign language.

But it turned out that even the largest box wasn’t going to be big enough. The comal wouldn’t fit into anyone’s suitcase, either. We decided to wrap it as carefully as we could and take it on the plane as carry-on to hold it in our laps like a precious infant.

We made it through about three different security gates until the last one—the one controlled by our host for the flight: Spirit Airlines. They told us we couldn’t take it on the plane. It was dangerous pottery, they told us. It could be broken and the sharp edges used as a weapon. We assured them that this comal wasn’t dangerous. It wasn’t going to break into sharp edges; if anything, it might crumble. The man at Security was adamant. We would have to check it with our luggage. Now, mind you, we had already checked the maximum amount of luggage we had budgeted for. An extra bag would cost about $35 extra. This was also the same airline that would not allow me to take a sealed bottle of water onto the plane then charged me $3 for a soda once we took off.

Annette was trying to be diplomatic but firm in her eloquent Spanish. But I was screaming in the only Spanish words I knew that this was a gift from the Iglesia, from los niños de iglesia. I wanted to tell them that this wasn’t just any old pottery, it was a beautiful hand-painted and totally safe and delicate GIFT from the children of the Nutrition Project-- A gift made in the name of God. (I thought by naming names it might help and you can’t get any bigger than God.) I wanted to tell them about all the names on the comal-- Yoselin, the deaf girl, and Wilbur, the little drummer boy with the bad eye. I kept screaming “Niños!! Iglesia!!”

Time was running short and Spirit Airlines wouldn’t budge. So, Linda and I pulled out all the quetzals we had left and gave them to Annette who ran with the comal to the packaging kiosk. She got the gift packaged and sent off to the baggage hold wearing a zillion stickers boldly announcing “Fragile.” She made it back just in time to board the plane. The sad ending to the story, of course, is that it arrived in Dallas in about seven pieces. Rob glued it back together but I’m afraid it will never again be the work of art it originally was.

So I’m trying to figure out how to explain all this in an expense report so I can get it recorded in the current year even though I have long since forgotten how much money I gave Annette or how much the packaging cost. This might call for some creative accounting.

Beaven says I'm rambling so I will close.  But if you don’t get a Christmas card from me this is my excuse.

ps: I'm afraid I will never be able in good conscious to recommend Spirit Airlines to anyone.

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