Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Story

Kevin Coolidge

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot BB gun with a compass in the stock. I think everyone should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good. I do not want a basketball. I don’t think a basketball is a very good Christmas present. I will leave you a peanut butter sandwich, and a beer, and a carrot for Rudolph.


p.s. I will not shoot my eye out!

It was November of 1983, and it was the end of a long day of Christmas shopping with my family. We decided to see a low budget film called A Christmas Story which was playing in theaters. I remember laughing and thinking fondly of my own blue steel beauty. Yes, I too had a Red Ryder BB gun. This movie, however, is not just about Christmas and BB guns, but gives a wacky, affectionate portrayal of childhood. The movie did brief, modest business, and then moved to home video where it has become a cherished holiday classic.

I was thrilled to find out that the film is drawn from short stories by Jean Shepherd, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. Shepherd used material drawn from four of the fifteen autobiographical essays and wove it into the narrative of the film.

Jean Shepherd was an American satirist and radio personality. He wrote a series of humorous short stories about growing up in Indiana and its steel towns. Many of these were first told by him on his radio programs and then published in magazines. He also wrote and narrated many works, the most famous being A Christmas Story where he provides the voice of the adult Ralph Parker and also has a cameo role playing a man in line at the department store waiting for Santa Claus.

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time." The plot revolves around Ralphie’s quest to own the Red Ryder BB gun, and the obstacle to his desire, that every adult fears he will shoot his eye out.

Several subplots are blended into the body of the film based on other short stories written by Shepherd. There’s young Ralphie Parker’s disappointing discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine™; the savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the snow with neighborhood bullies; his parents pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; and the climactic moment when the voracious hounds from next door steal the Christmas turkey. These vignettes that comprise A Christmas Story have been collected in a single edition published by Broadway Books. Together these short stories become a record of Americana, a piece of America that no longer quite exists, except in our memories and laugher each Christmas.

A Christmas Story? Or Miracle on 34th St? Email me at Miss a past column? Visit the blog of Christmas past at Ho Ho Hobo, check out Hobo’s new Christmas bulb, painted by local artist Mary Wise. Read about Hobo’s wonderful life in “Hobo Finds A Home”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hobo gets a tattoo

Stop me if this sounds familiar: big, muscled guy with tattoos, who can come across as a little intimidating until you know him, ends up having the biggest heart for homeless, neglected and/or abused animals. At first, he and his family adopt dogs that they find wandering alongside the road. He imagines he’ll never really be a cat person, but once that first stray cat finds its way into his home, he’s in love, and begins to do more serious work with animal protection and advocacy associations.

Surprisingly enough, I’m not talking about my partner Kevin Coolidge, his childhood dogs Kirby and Hoover, or Hobo. Or, at any rate, I’m not just talking about them. For the purposes of a BOOK review, I was actually referring to a touching new book about Rescue, Ink. The eponymously-titled Rescue, Ink recently released by Viking Publishing, was penned by Denise Flam with a great deal of input from the ten-man New York City animal rescue group. This core group of guys has a lot in common – most are big guys, with at least a couple of tattoos, interested in classic cars and motorcycles, who grew up rough and aren’t easily intimidated. Their “daytime” jobs span the gambit from managing the family catering business to retired police chief to personal trainer to bar bouncer. What they brings them together, though, is a deep love for animals, and an intense dedication to changing the lives of those who are neglected or abused.

The cover photo on the book – all ten guys, eighty tattoos, dogs, kittens, and turtles among them – is worth the proverbial thousand words, but, thankfully, that’s only the beginning of the fascinating stories here. This book, which could have just been a publicity stunt in the wrong hands, instead flows with individual stories about different rescue cases that wonderfully showcase who these men are, what their mission is, and how they have gone about implementing it. Here are the stories of the cat rescued from sixty feet up a tree; the help given to the family whose cat population had ballooned to over 150 in the house; the rescues of “bait” dogs, mostly Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, who are miraculously rehabilitated; the delivery of new dog houses to shelter big dogs left in their yards, under the elements; the ‘undercover’ work at a slaughterhouse in the Pocono area; and many more.

Though the men of Rescue Ink have been adopting individual animals throughout most of their own lives, and now facilitate the adoption of individual animals, their mission is as big as their hearts, and bigger than the largest member of the group, “Big Ant. (Anthony)”, who weighs in at 320 pounds and whose tattooed arms are bigger than most people’s thighs. These men also confront abusers, offer help to overwhelmed rescuers and pet owners, build doghouses and better dog runs, maintain feral cat colonies, give talks at community centers and schools, and work with the larger network of animal rescue societies across the nation.

I could recap the specific stories of this book, but that would take away from your experience with it. I invite you to dig in to the personal stories of Big Ant, who had to learn to walk again, or Joe Panz, whose scars – five bullet holes, knife wounds, and burns – bear silent but powerful testament to the way he grew up, or Des, who joined a gang young to survive his neighborhood. All these men have powerful stories of their own, and yet, the focus of this book is on the incredible work they do. Gentle giants, every one, with attitude to spare. They’re not afraid to knock on a door in a bad neighborhood in New York City, and tell a guy to his face that he’s abusing his dog; then offer to take the dog, whom they treat with only gentleness, love and respect. This is the powerful combination that Rescue Ink offers.

Hobo gives his two thumbs up to Rescue Ink, the SPCA, Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries, and Animal Rescue Societies everywhere for the work they do. Special thanks to the people who adopted the two abandoned kittens out of the bookstore this weekend. Jeers to the idiot who dropped them off in a cardboard box in the middle of the night. Hobo would like to remind everyone to stop by the Second Chance Animal table at the BookFest this weekend, AND make sure you spay/neuter your pets!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Making the Most of Your Deer

Kevin Coolidge

Clear, cold--more than a little frosty, a good morning to hunt, and it just got better. A nice eight point cautiously makes his way along the edge of the woods. All the fatigue from the long hours of waiting washes away in a rush of adrenalin. I raise my rifle for the killing shot. I squeeze the trigger and the buck crumples. Silence fills the air. The hunt is over, but the hunting experience has just begun.

You got up a 4AM, had your wife call in sick for you, braved the cold, spent hours lying in wait, saw a twelve point while taking a leak, missed an easy shot, but finally you bagged that whitetail. Now what? Now is when you wish you had picked up Making the Most of Your Deer written by Dennis Walrod and published by Stackpole books.

Dennis is an experienced deer hunter who has written for a number of outdoor magazines, including Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. In these tough economic times, you want to get the most bang for your buck, and this book will show you how.

Dennis starts with the basics of field dressing and getting your deer out of the woods. First, make sure the deer is dead. There’s more than one hunting story about a “dead” deer springing to life on an unsuspecting hunter. If you approach a deer, and the eyes are closed, that is almost a sure sign that the deer is still alive. Shoot again aiming for the heart or the base of the neck, then unload your gun and get that deer tagged.

Field dressing can appear very complicated to a beginner, but there is more margin of error than many veteran hunters will lead you to believe, and it’s really no more difficult than changing a tire, and even a botched field dressing job will leave the venison in better condition than if the deer was left unattended. You want the carcass to cool as quickly as possible. Dennis covers four basic methods from the involved “ream-and-tie” to the “quick and dirty”, usually performed when the sun is going down, and you are still a long way from the road.

Yep, you have to get the deer back to camp, and there are several methods. The most conventional is to grab it by the antlers and start walking. Sounds easy, but it isn’t, especially if it’s doe season, and the way back is almost always uphill. You can bet on it, and don’t pull the deer backwards; you’ll just end up deeper in the woods. You did remember to bring rope?

You have the deer home, and you’ve decided to save some money and butcher the deer yourself, but it’s a little intimidating. A commercial butcher has an array of cleavers, chopping blocks, and band saws. But venison butchering can be done with far fewer tools than butchering domestic animals. Often using the same five inch blade you used for field dressing and skinning. Native Americans were able to butcher a deer with no more than a sharpened rock. Do you really need an electric knife? Dennis goes on to cover why home butchering can be the better choice for you, what tools you will find the most useful, as well as aging meat for tenderness and preserving the meat.

The meat is my personal favorite part of the deer, and Dennis includes some great venison recipes as well as information on making sausage, and some useful information on how to improve the flavor of venison. He also goes on to cover a wide range of topics including salting and tanning hides, basic leathercraft, soapmaking, trophy mounting, and whitetail deer handicraft—such as fishing lures, and that deer leg lamp that uncle Earl has in his workshop.

The hunting experience doesn’t have to end with the moment of the kill. Native Americans utilized the entire deer, from the meat for eating, to the tendons and intestines for bowstrings, and even the ribs were used to add rigidity to baskets. Such complete use may no longer be practical, but if modern hunters acknowledge the responsibility to use a deer to the fullest value, we increase not only the value of the deer, but of ourselves…