Day after blustery fall day, Aldo the painter toiled in his chilly studio, a dozen narrow brushes spread on a cracked oak table next to his battered easel. At 3 each afternoon, he would step back from his work, lift his heavy eyeglasses to his forehead and examine his canvas. Were the elves' ears pointed just so? Were the reindeers' smiles eager enough? Would Aldo's scenes — Santa's workshop, Santa's sleigh, Santa's toys — cause everyone who saw them to recall the spirit of giving and the joy of the season? Of course they would, for Aldo made paintings for Christmas popcorn tins.
But even Aldo would never eat the caramelized, cheesified, cinnamon-coated kernels in the can that he received each year when the job was over (along with a modest check and a calendar with pictures of the Alps). Instead, he removed the plastic bags of popcorn and filled the tin with dry food for his cat, Umberto. Because that has always been the best use for a holiday popcorn tin, which is just airtight enough to keep cat food stale but unspoiled for months at a time.
The best use for the popcorn in the tin, according to Pitch Fat City blogger Owen Morris, is to make enemies.
When Morris took a moment after Thanksgiving to share his reservations about certain staples of the December pantry ("Christmas foods that are overrated," November 28), he poured a shot of holiday wry: "Last year, my household ended up with three popcorn tins given to us by so-called friends. We threw out two of them without even opening them." Through a complex system of RSS feeds and elfin magic, the three "so-called friends" received immediate BlackBerry alerts of the Morris family's wasteful treachery, and now the food blogger works behind a shield of expensive popcorn-proof Plexiglas.
Meanwhile, the Internet snapped to attention as Kansas Citians debated the evils of prodigal, cheese-corn-discarding America. Or just the evils of Morris. Someone calling himself "The Mike" weighed in: "This article was great. I'm gonna go cook some pancakes and throw them out. I don't like pancakes after three bites anyway." Imagine how Three-Bite Mike would feel about a whole tin of pancakes under the tree. That's a tradition above the Arctic Circle, in places such as Syracuse, New York.
Italian craftsmen also paint fruitcakes, of course, which may be why Morris raised similar objections to the food more widely understood as a punch line than something that doesn't actually damage human organs. A "silicone puree," he called it. Some commenters, however, defended the fiber-laden mash of candied dates and 16th-century flour with stirring eloquence. "Barry" elucidated: "Dumbass, good fruitcake is kick-ass."
Morris has already taken Barry's advice about good, manly fruitcake to heart and ordered one from the Sears catalog. He's betting it still comes in a tin, and he promises not to throw it out. Ever.
Winner Take Nothing
On Sunday, November 30, The Kansas City Star publisher Mark Zieman published a letter to readers with his assurance that the daily was in fine shape, despite three rounds of layoffs, a troubled economy and a brutalized newspaper market. Of course, he also retreated into a history lesson and, not for the first time, trotted out six-month Star stringer Ernest Hemingway as evidence of the paper's eternal greatness. To which Hemingway wrote the following reply.
Dear Mr. Zieman:
In 1929, I published these words in my novel A Farewell to Arms:
"We won't talk about losing. There is enough talk about losing. What has been done this summer cannot have been done in vain."
Zieman, you talk too much about losing. Winners don't beg for love the way you do. Your talk of business models is a coward's prayer. I was at D-Day and I mucked Marlene Dietrich. Don't talk to me about penetration. You are a boy.
In the summer you laid off some, and in the fall you undid more, and in the late fall your simple pattern got done. Now you speak my name and you say you cannot have done these things in vain. But you have already lost. Was it worth it, Zieman?
I liked the paper in the morning.
In the morning you don't talk and you don't need to talk. You read the paper and you drink the coffee and taste the chicory in the mug and feel the day on your face. Now you feel Mary Sanchez on your face and you taste bitter on your lips at the mention of Steve Penn. You do not read the paper so much on the whole. You wish it was like it used to be. You wish C.W. Gusewelle would hold his mud.
Zieman, I did once say the rules for writing at the Star were good. Maybe better than good. Maybe the best. I was 18 then and I used to paraphrase those early lessons. Short sentences. Short first paragraphs. Vigorous English. An 18-year-old was a man when I was at the Star, and newspapering was a man's work. Now you let men and women older than that, but no wiser, tell the news, and it takes a strong man to read it. You must be tough as leather to get through any of the editorials. You grit your teeth against the FYI section, and its sissy sisters spread over tables in town. You are lashed by writing that talks down to you and spits in your face, and you want to punch back.
That was a long time ago, and for me the rules changed. They changed in the charnel house of Europe and the whorehouses of France and under Spanish gunfire and aboard Cuban skiffs. I changed the rules in Key West and I changed them back in Ketchum, Idaho. You are crazy to have rules and you are crazy not to have rules, and that is what writers call truth. Tell the truth, Zieman. Do you make the salary you made a year ago? What is it? Tell the truth.
Anything you would say about my six months at the Star would have to be as short as a good sentence. I never won an award there, but you keep honoring me anyway. I don't understand that.
Zieman, damn it, stop. Unless you find my pancreas in the drawer where I left it in 1918, I don't want to hear you say my name again.