Five years ago just before Christmas, I found myself with a large cup of coffee, the computer on in front of me, and my mind wandering how things had changed quite drastically for me when it came to the Holiday's. I started reminiscing and writing about it. What came out of that was the below, and it turned out to be by far the most popular of my longer form written musings (which are typically found on my Facebook page). I had a number of requests to dig it up and do a re-post of it here since the vast majority of my listeners had likely never read it. So here goes...
Wishing you and yours a fantastic holiday season, and thanks for your continued support for the past 27 years on NYC radio! Ian
Locating my Christmas spirit...And how 3 weeks as a Jehovah's Witness, a security guard, and a great woman, got me to do so.
Since my home has now gotten into full swing with the Christmas spirit, along with all it's accoutrements, it got me to thinking how my attitude has changed when it comes to this season. My lovely wife positively adores Christmas and everything that goes along with it, so much there's a dedicated wing of our attic just to store all the gear that our own little Santa's Village requires. I knew I was going to bank major points when she said "Honey, can you bring the Christmas stuff down from the attic?", and I had then completed the job. This is akin to Van Halen saying "Ian can you break down our stage equipment and haul it by hand out to the Mack trucks?". Deb loves this season for all the right reasons, as it allows someone like her who is giving and thoughtful by nature, an opportunity to go absolutely hog wild. She could give a toss about receiving a thing, but definitely loves coming up with the most incredibly thoughtful stuff for the people she surrounds herself with. And this means anyone from dog walker to direct family. I on the other hand, although dreaming up at least one or two things that will surprise her with my effort in obtaining, fall into the "Ok, what do you want for Christmas?" category. Bless her heart, she's great at feigning surprise, even though she knows exactly what's coming, and has probably already seen the box with the company's label on it when it arrives at Casa O'Malley anyway.
Now until 3 years ago when Deb said "I'm going to completely change your attitude about Christmas" (which she did), the entire season for me was one big bummer. Like her, I enjoyed the giving part, especially to the tertiary folks that helped me in my daily routine and didn't expect anything, to the various charities that helped families out during that time of year that truly needed it. It was fun knowing that some anonymous kid was going to be opening some gifts up on Xmas morning simply because I cut a check. I did that because not only is it my nature, but to be honest, like any of us who are heavily involved in charity work, I also liked the sensation of the doing a good deed rush. Anyone that tells you that there are no slightly selfish reasons when giving of any sort, especially charity, is full of shit. So after all the giving was done, I was left to dread the upcoming Christmas holiday itself, knowing I'd be alone doing an air shift, and returning home to Moo Goo Gai Pan while watching the clock in anticipation of the next radio show. Christmas was an inevitable depressive time for me for a variety of reasons, but mainly, two.
Reason One....My Father. Who absolutely LOATHED Christmas. Before you start envisioning the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, the old man was anything but. He was to this day the most charitable human being I've ever known, and pretty much gave away his literal fortune to charity and those in need. That said, he was undeniably eccentric, and thought Christmas was a load of forced upon commercial nonsense. "Taking one for the team" around the holiday season wasn't really part of his makeup, and around my house as a kid it was more "Ok, can we get this over with already?" than any sort of The Waltons all gathered around the tree singing carols sort of thing. With 8 kids in my family, and an 18 year difference from youngest to eldest, everyone was spread out all over the planet anyway, so there was no peeking out the window to see the next sibling strolling up the walkway with an armload full of presents.
Here's the best example of how much my father rolled his eyes at the entire Christmas season and everything he felt, whether right or wrong, it falsely represented.
Dad was fascinated with religion, especially what other folks were up to with theirs. Though we might have leaned Catholic a bit, I never remember as a kid adhering to any one sect in particular. Probably because we always seemed to sampling some religion to satisfy my Fathers curiosity about it. Generally this time frame would last 3-4 weeks, after which he would say "Ok, nice enough folks, but enough of this one", and there would be a lengthy grace period until we were poking around the next experiment. I truly don't think he was "searching" for anything, as many individuals do when they "Find God", and it was more about "Hey! Let's see what these Mormons are up to!".
Two years before he passed away, when I was then 10 years old, he saw his opportunity to put the screws to Christmas. It was early December when he dropped this bomb to my mother and I...
"I was thinking of seeing what the Jehovahs are all about".
There was no mistaking the concern on my Mother's face.
I said "Ummm...There's a kid in my class who is a Jehovahs Witness, and he always sits when they play the national anthem while everyone else stands. And, wait a second...Don't they NOT CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?".
There was no talking him out of it. That weekend off we went to the ol' Kingdom Hall. As were part of his rules when Dad pulled one of these stunts, we had to follow the modus operandi of wherever we were attending. Up until that point, there was nothing that extreme in the traveling roadshow of checking religions out. About as "out there" it got was a 3 week New Mexico stint as part of a faith healer "being slain in the spirit" sect of the Pentecostals. I was 9 at the time, and thought it was hilarious all the yodeling that was going on during the service (the congregation speaking in tongues). Confusion set in though when the preacher kept pushing people on the forehead while screaming some gibberish, and then the congregant promptly falling down backwards to the wild applause of the audience ("Slain in the spirit").
But this Jehovah thing was a whole new level. I was 10 for Gods sake. That age is about the apex of a kid going completely bananas on Christmas morning, and I knew mine was slowly fading like Marty McFly's family photo in the movie Back to the Future.
Sure enough, on Christmas Eve, and my father being adamant about the non-breakage of rules, I was shipped off to my new Jehovahs Witness buddy Alvin's house for a sleepover. To this day I'll never forget waking up Christmas morning there in Prince Edward Island Canada, and the entire family sitting around the breakfast table eating oatmeal. Everyone was chatting away like it was, say, March 10th. Aka any other day of the year. For the record, I couldn't care less if someone's personal savior and God is a Cocker Spaniel named Martha dressed in a pink tutu. Whatever brings you faith and peace, and doesn't hurt anyone else, have at it. But all I could remember thinking was "Hey this is Christmas, and this is SERIOUSLY FUCKED UP that we are all here talking about playing Parcheesi after everyone does their chores", instead of going apeshit opening presents. When I got home that afternoon and my mother saw the look on my face, I knew our sampling religion days were over. She drilled my father a new asshole, and I had a proper gifting session 2 days later. Still, the Holidays never remained that big a deal, although the Christmas following two months after my Dads death, seemed to be more like the one's I saw on TV, with a few siblings showing up. After that, it was business as usual.
Reason 2... Fast forward to when I got my start in radio. I can assure you that's an entirely different chapter(s) of the life story and won't be expounded upon here. But like any newbie in a business, you get handed working the shifts nobody wants. And that especially means the big holidays. I was 18, living in eastern Canada, and my mother had long split to go live in Alaska over five thousand miles away. Seriously. Maybe now you're getting the gist of why I first started hearing "Man, you GOTTA write a book on your life story!" already at the ripe old age of 21. And that's not including the 25 years of Rockstar story related insanity since. Anyway, being that I never had a soft spot for Christmas to begin with, it wasn't that big a deal to be working my radio shows on or around the holiday itself.
My doing the radio DJ thing during Christmas has continued to this day, but now with an entirely different attitude. Primarily due to the love of a great woman, and a security guard named Jose....
When I came to NYC in November of 1989 to work at the legendary WNEW FM, it was a dream come true. I was 25 (which was very young to be working at the biggest rock station on the planet), and about as much of a green-horn that has ever stepped foot in NYC. Shit you not, I was a regular Crocodile Dundee walking down the street in the morning with a smile saying "Good Morning!" to practically every stranger who walked by. That is, until I got hip after the 20th "Go fuck yourself" response from passerby that this wasn't how things were done here. None the less I had the world at my fingertips, and New York City was a whole other planet with the city bustling and lit up for this my first Christmas season in the Big Apple. Although I'd always volunteer to work the lousy Christmas shifts so guys with kids could be with their families, I knew being a part-time employee, I'd be working anyway. It's part of the gig when you're known as a "Weekender" in my line of work. So off I went to do the Christmas Eve 6pm-Midnight radio show on WNEW, knowing I'd be back at 6pm the following day. I was walking (for lack of a better term) on air, still buzzing that I actually got a job at the station that any DJ in rock radio history dreamed about. My personal history with Christmas made my lack of being around family and friends and partaking in all the cool stuff the holiday has to offer, a non-factor.
Upon finishing my show at midnight and officially welcoming in Christmas day, the elevators opened up to the building lobby. It was one of those gigantic lobbys in midtown with soaring 60 ft ceilings that we've all grown accustomed to, but with one major difference. Back in '89, though at that time the city being a considerably more dangerous place to live (Thanks to a former mayor named David Dinkins), it retained a certain innocence in some areas. For instance, many if not most of these buildings with these gigantic lobbys I'm speaking of, didn't have a front desk. Typically there was a doorman/security guy strolling around, and a door somewhere that lead to a mailroom for deliveries and the such to be dropped off. During that day and age, we had no worries about scum of the earth terrorists running into a lobby or strolling upstairs strapped with plastic explosives. Being asked for your ID upon entering was unheard of. So these big waste of space towering lobbys without much if anything in them, were commonplace.
When I walked out of the elevator, the first thing I saw was a lone security guard, a guy that worked weekends and who I had become friendly enough with named Jose. Besides a lone Christmas tree and Menorah that was parked in a corner which seemed a mile away, it was just Jose sitting on a metal folding chair, looking forlorn, and listening to merengue on a portable radio. He still managed a big smile and a "Merry Christmas Mr O'Malley", but I couldn't help but notice this must be one shitty way to spend Christmas or even part of it. When I inquired why he didn't have a TV to watch to bide his time, or even a comfortable chair, he said it was against union/building rules, and that he was stuck the way he was. Not only that, he was pulling "a double" to help pay for his kids Xmas presents and would be experiencing this torture until 5pm that afternoon, a full 17 hours away. After sympathizing with him, off I went out the doors to what seemed a perfect snow fall for a White Christmas. About halfway down the block, I stopped in my tracks and turned around to head back to the building lobby. Jose upon seeing me asked "Did you forget something?". And I said "Well, kind of, but not in the way you're thinking"....
My first line of inquiry to Jose was if he expected to see anyone leaving or entering during the overnight. He laughed and replied "Not a soul. Never have for years this day of the year. Next person will be around 6am to work at your radio station". I then asked if he A) Liked beer, and B) if he was hungry. Too which he said a resounding yes to both. I told him I'd be back in 10 minutes. Off I went to a local deli , and did a little shopping. I ordered two Italian subs, grabbed a big bag of Doritos, and then a case of Budweiser. When I came back to the building carrying all this stuff, Jose knew exactly what I was up to. And the only thing that would have made his smile any bigger was if I told him that Sofia Vergara was on her way to keep us company for the next 6 hours. Ok, she didn't exist in every man's fantasy at this point, but you get my drift.
Having no proper place to park ourselves, I suggested we sit on the floor in the middle of the lobby, and for him to bring over his little radio. And we did just that for the next 5 1/2 hours hearing our voices, laughter, and the merengue echo off the huge atrium lobby. Subs and Doritos were consumed, and we drank every single one of those beers. We talked about all the things we were thankful for (me about landing my dream job at WNEW, He about his wife and kids) and told stories that had the other doubled over laughing (I'm pretty sure one of mine was the Jehovah stint). He also spoke of missing in many ways his native Dominican Republic, a country of which I had spent a fair amount of time in at that point. And which could provide yet another chapter in my book if it were to come to fruition.
By 5:30am, were were both giddily smashed, and close to dog tired. I had to go sleep and sober up for my next radio show which was thankfully that evening at 6pm, and he said he'd be able to catch some Z's in order to be in good operational shape for the wife and kids later after seeing the next DJ's short arrival and other's departure. It was to that point, the best Christmas I ever had, and it unwittingly taught me what the Christmas spirit is all about. It has nothing to do with the commercial aspect, and everything to do with a nice gesture and good company.
A few years later the station moved from that location to another in midtown. I'd like to say that Jose and I made it a yearly tradition to celebrate Christmas that way at that 3rd ave locale (where he's no longer employed and went on to a better gig, so he's safe from any repercussions), but I think we both knew we'd gotten away with murder and best not to mess with a great memory. I ran into him on the street about 10 years after that, and we shared a big hug and a laugh. Oddly enough, it was around Christmas.
Literally just short of 20 years later from Jose and I's infamous night sitting in the lobby, I met my now wife. I also found in all the years up to that point, I'd get more and more bummed out working the holiday season. I guess just wishing to share in all the excitement and good cheer I could see in the street, and/or listen to in the voice of a listener calling up when I was on air during Christmas Day, expressing some new found joy of some sort. Usually a gift that blew their mind, or that they just got engaged. There were even certain songs that I would play during my Xmas show that though I loved the song itself musically, would get me depressed being it would remind me that I was alone, and would be going home only to await the next air shift. Springsteen's "Merry Christmas Baby" and the Pretenders "2000 Miles" immediately come to mind.
Deb and I had only been on two dates when Xmas '08 rolled around and she went to LA to be with family. From our frequent and lengthy conversations, she was already well versed in my history with the Holiday season, and how it totally bummed me out. When I walked into the station that Christmas morning, I was in full "just get through this show and we're clear for another year" mode. Waiting for me in my mailbox was a package that was sent from Deb containing two small gifts that were unbelievably thoughtful, and made me laugh out loud. It was then and there I knew I was going to marry her, and for the first time in forever, my radio show on that day was one filled with genuine joy and laughter. The next year when we were celebrating our first Christmas as a co-habitating couple, she made it twice as nice, feeling that I was owed one for what I called "The Christmas Jehovah Jipped" when I was 10 years old.
So as I get ready to head outside to string up lights on a number of trees in front of my home, I realize that my Christmas spirit is very much alive and well, and I have so many things to be incredibly thankful for. Namely a loving wife, a baby boy on the way in March, a job that I adore, and when I look back at it, meeting a security guard named Jose. And while I string those lights, trying to avoid breaking my neck doing so, I have a feeling I'll be happily humming a tune. Probably "2000 Miles" from the Pretenders....
"Merry Christmas Baby", and wishing you all the joy and happiness the Holidays can bring...
During the course of my show and throughout the week, I'm asked some seriously funny questions, light hearted inquires and on occasion, some downright serious opinions. I figured I'd grab one or two that I receive (only first name and town will be used) from listeners and post them under "Ask Ian". It could be anything that I'm asked (vacation stuff, wine, searches for music, dedications, plugs for charity events, etc. Feel free to fire away with anything that's on your mind by emailing me.
Reply STOP to cancel. Standard text message and data rates apply.