Book In Common: stay home by the heater and listen to a good story

It should come as no surprise to anybody that when President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, he was trying to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. According to Wikipedia, ” With the country still in the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression.”

Am I the only one that doesn’t get the logic there? Where do people get money for shopping during a depression? Shouldn’t they be putting money in the bank? Saving for their children? I guess I’m no financial wizard.

I think Roosevelt would be happy to see the way things have turned out.  People are really shopping earlier every year, no matter how bad the economy. Now the 25 or so days between Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas Eve are not enough – Alan Marsden at KHSL news reports that “Black Friday” has lost it’s luster to Thanksgiving Day shopping. Our culture has embraced consumerism as a holiday.

This morning I found my digital free sample of the Enterprise Record waiting in my e-mail box – the first two pages are ads for Black Friday sales. I know, advertising works on gut reaction – these ads will send a mob out to the malls, bursting at the seams to get merchandise, whether they are buying it as a gift or not. It’s that BARGAIN FRENZY, you can’t afford not to shop!  Many people do their own shopping at Christmas, we already knew that too.

Knowing this, I will spend the day within the boundaries of my property. I don’t even want to walk out into the street with my dogs today, I’m afraid we’ll get smeared by some woman throwing her apron out the car window as she speeds to the mall.  Instead, I thought  I’d finish listening to Jean Shepherd’s radio reading of the short story he later rewrote as the screenplay for the 1983 film “A Christmas Story.”

Of course this story is all about consumer lust. The main character, a little boy for whom the holidays revolve around the ads in his adventure magazine.

He talks about “Open Road” magazine, “a publication which at the time had an iron grip on my aesthetic sensibilities…”

This story is set in the golden days before everybody had a tv in their house,  telling them what to do and how to do it. But, they had magazines and other advertising media, – and there’s always social pressure – and all that seems to have had a similar grip.

The magazine “sold dreams, fantasies, incredible adventures, and a way of life…it’s Christmas issue weighed over seven pounds, it’s pages crammed with the effluvia of the good life of male juvenalia, until the senses reeled and avariciousness, the growing desire to own everything,  was almost unbearable…”

Ralph wants his Red Ryder bb gun, desperately, and fantasizes all kinds of scenarios in which he will really need it. Yes, I had that want and imagination. I wanted a pony for years. I actually visualized riding my pony along the highway wherever we went in our car, there I was, riding my Indian pony, my fingers laced through it’s tangled mane. Our neighbors had us on their horses occasionally, so I knew the feeling of a pony’s furry belly against the tops of my bare feet.  I had read every book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she had a pony. But, whenever I’d mention it to adults, they’d blow my fantasies full of holes with “where will you put the manure?” Ever the practical geniuses, my family. 

Poor Ralph – every time he shares his dream, he is told, “you’ll shoot your eye out, Kid.”  

The humiliation of being told you don’t know what you want, is what this story is about for me.  The worst part is, the adults are usually right, Dammit!

Jean Shepherd is a great storyteller. The movie is great, but you get the same feel from hearing the short story – especially since Shepherd also narrated the film. It’s not the whole story, it is edited to fit the airtime. But, I sat riveted to my computer as I listened – his descriptions are so vivid, it’s like having a movie in your head. You will live it as he tells the story, just listen.

This short story is called “Duel in the Snow; or How Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” from the book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”   Now that I’ve listened to this story, I will have to look for the entire book, see if the whole thing is available to read online, or maybe the library has it.

It beats the heck out of shopping. 












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