Notes on a Christmas Card (Don’t call it a Christmas letter!)

SCATTERED across my opinion desk are letters, invitations to parties,
newspaper clippings, notes from readers, Christmas gift receipts and
press releases.

Im calling this column Notes on a Christmas Card …

Almost everyone was home last Saturday night on Norumbega Drive
in the Monrovia hills.
Maybe people really dont want a shop-till-you-drop Christmas? Hey,
maybe, just maybe, theyd rather sip hot chocolate and watch Its a
Wonderful Life on their flat screen than buy more useless presents.
They seemed to really take in the singing from our little group,
sponsored each year by our dear friends in Monrovia, Sue and Mike
Once again, the singing (no, we never came a wassailing and we did
not hold neighbors ransom for some figgy pudding,) was the
highlight of the season for me. And the faces of the children who
dragged mom and dad to their front lawns to hear us amateurs really
lit the star on my tree.

The Angeles National Forest lived up to its moniker, Land of
Many Uses, this week when a man suspected of assault led police on a
two-hour chase on SGV freeways and into Azusa Canyon.
Criminals think the forest is a place to do their dirty deeds because
well, its dark, the roads are windy and the steep canyons hide a
multitude of sins. They seek anonymity to dump a body, grow marijuana
or set illegal campfires.
Or maybe it is a function of the media. Maybe criminals think this is
the only place they can escape the police helicopter spotlight or the
medias chopper in the sky Now in HD.
Ruben Smith, 41, who was booked on suspicion of felony evading
Monday, found this not to be true. Big Brother is everywhere, even up
in Azusa Canyon, as TV cameras captured his bonehead moves, including
driving into a mountain embankment. Dont these idiots know that
Highway 39 and Highway 2 are essentially dead-ends? They are no
outlet roads (except Highway 39, in which you can turn right onto
East Fork Road and then wind down Glendora Mountain Road, re-opened
in June).
And dont get me started about that family in Northern
California who trekked into the forest to chop down a tree, and got
lost for four days. The eco-sensitive hairs on my arms are standing
up …


Sometimes, into one mans life a little shopping must fall.
Confession: Its not so bad. My two sons, Andy, 16, and Matt, 18,
actually asked me to take them shopping for their mom. Now, thats
Note to self: They handled the traffic jams and the cashier lines
better than their dad. They just smiled and took things in stride. I
wonder who taught them that?
Also, dont let those ads that started running earlier this week
announcing last minute shopping get to you. Last minute? Hardly.
Last minute for us guys is Dec. 24 at 11:59 p.m. Shopping for
Christmas should not be a marathon but a sprint. There are more
rewarding things to do for Christmas.

On my Andys list was clothing from Hollister. For those of you
without initiation into the world of the teenager, let me explain.
This is one of those stores with trendy clothes and a high concept.
The entrance off the Arcadia mall looks like the entrance to a
Disneyland ride. Pirates of the Caribbean or Soaring Over
California come to mind. With faux mahogany and shabby chic wood
beams and shutters, it entices you into a shopping experience.
Inside, the place wreaks of their cheap cologne. The fragrance is as
subtle as Madonna in a metallic, cone-shaped bra. Every piece of
clothing has the stores name plastered all over it. Some only have a
logo (a distorted Jonathan Livingston Seagull bird). Ingenious
marketing, right? You pay them for overpriced merchandise and become
a walking advertisement.
I kid you not, the cologne is arranged on glass shelves in amber
colored bottles. It looks a lot like liquor behind a bar. Judging
from the angst-ridden expressions on the half-naked models in the
photographs that dot the darkened retailscape, Im not that
surprised. Or Ive gone mad.

1652-Hollister clothing store.jpg
1653-Hollister hoodie.jpg

To reader Angela Carter, for liking the inside look of my last
column (Some of my favorite things.) And also to Marina Tse, that
excellent and now former member of the state Board of Education,
living in Monterey Park, for sending a warm note and a historical
White House Christmas ornament. This year it depicts the wedding of
Grover Cleveland (June 2, 1886), the only president to marry in the
White House.

My list of favorite stuff

SANTA has his list.

George Mitchell had a list too, of baseball players, but only the
naughty ones.

Everyone on MySpace, the social networking site, has a list of their
favorites ya know, movies, songs, friends, recording artists,
teams, etc.

Heck, buy something online at and guess what? They have a
list of your favorite books and gifts.

The obsession with lists especially at Christmas time is as
widespread as the publics addiction to everything celebrity.

While Im still leery of giving out my list to those gazillionaires
in the Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue, Ill do it for you guys.
Just because I like you. Heres my criteria: The lists are things
that made a strong impact on my life, not necessarily the best work
of art or literature or sport. And Ill limit each to five for this

1. The Bible. Head and shoulders above any that follow.
2. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Im still trying to catch
my kids from falling.
3. Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. One of those
family/psychological dramas I couldnt put down.
4. For Kings and Planets, or anything else by Ethan Canin, one of
the best contemporary writers no one knows about.
5. This Present Darkness, Frank E. Peretti. Talk about putting
flesh to the spirit world!

1. Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen. I know the dialogue by
heart. Still hilarious, smart and the best movie on relationships and
New York (my hometown).
2. E.T., directed by Steven Spielberg. A masterpiece and a
tear-jerker no matter how often I watch it.
3. Its a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra. Ditto.
4. Rear Window, or anything by Alfred Hitchcock.
5. Au Revoir Les Enfants, Louis Malle. Most effective movie about
Nazi Germany; tells of the Holocaust through the eyes of children.

Music/recording artists (rock n roll)
1. Counting Crows. Adam Duritz songs speak to me.
2. U2. Just the best rock band since the Beatles.
3. R.E.M. Still playing on my MP3 player, their music and Michael
Stipes voice and lyrics never get old.
4. Switchfoot. New Christian/crossover rock band with lyrics that go
beneath the skin.
5. Wilco. Best American rock/country band today.

Music/solo artist
1. Van Morrison (especially his later stuff)
2. Billy Joel. My (piano) man from Long Island! Still rock n roll
to me.
3. Steven Curtis Chapman, musical variety and faith-based lyrics that
span the gamut.
4. Ryan Adams. Flat out talented. Period. Rock balladeer
5. Maria Callas, best soprano opera star in the modern era. No one
comes close.

Live sports moments
1. Yankees victory over Kansas City Royals, ALCS, Oct. 14 1976. Chris
Chamblisss Shot Heard Round The World. Ended a long drought of
Yankee losses (12 years of my childhood of no playoff appearances)
with a pennant and entry into the World Series. I had to run through
Yankee Stadium, with my younger sister, Grace, and through the South
Bronx bedlam to escape fellow Yankee fans jubilation.
2. Mickey Mantle Day (there were several), Sept. 18, 1965. I got to
walk on the field of old Yankee Stadium and shake Mickey Mantles
hand. I was 7.
3. Seeing Wayne Gretzky play hockey at the old Los Angeles Forum.
Following his gold stick from the stands was like watching ballet on
4. California Angels loss to Boston Red Sox, Game 5, ALCS, Oct. 12,
1986, 7-6 (11 inn.) after coming within one out of a spot in the
World Series. The drive back to the San Gabriel Valley was the
longest, loneliest car ride of my life.
5. Anaheim Angels beating New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 2005, by a score
of 5-3, in the ALDS at Anaheim Stadium. Some redemption for me, a
converted Angels fan.
There you have it. Share this with friends and family (just not those
Silicon Valley guys).



I got a phone call from Barack Obama’s campaign. We are working on a date when he can visit our editorial board. Then the campaign person, I believe her name was Carrie Townsend, said it could be “the candidate or a surrogate.”

I prefer the candidate, please. Unless the surrogate is Oprah.
She is stumping for Barack this weekend in Iowa, hoping to sway the women’s vote from Hillary. Note: The person who called from Barack’s campaign was a woman. Hmm. I sense a trend.


Got off the phone the other day with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, who was talking to me about the national debt and the new paygo rules passed by Congress. It’s for a future editorial I was working on. Then I asked him which presidential candidate he is backing. I was reminded the last time we spoke he was talking about how he was a stand-in for the press for John Edwards — that was when he ran in 2004, before he became a VP candidate with Kerry.

Adam hasn’t officially endorsed any candidate, he said. But he told me he had recently spoken to Barack Obama and was “very impressed with Barack.” Stay tuned.