What does Santa say about you?

Posted on Dec 09 2011

Ed Stephens Jr.

 By Ed Stephens Jr.
Special to the Saipan Tribune

I started the holidays in the travel mode, which has run me through a vast spectrum of the human condition. Here’s an observation for the season: I think that Christmas is a sort of Rorschach ink blot test. The way people react to it reveals their inner workings. It’s not everything to everybody, but it is something to everybody.

For example, the holiday, and all that goes with it, seems to add cheer to people who are usually cheerful to begin with. On that note, for all its political contentions, I regard Saipan as a fundamentally happy place, where holidays are usually well-received. As for Christmas, it has a lot of charm done island-style.

On the other hand, if someone is not happy to begin with, or just wants to be critical, or is a curmudgeon looking for something to get cranky about, then Christmas, or any other holiday, can certainly deliver.

Indeed, cynicism, like letters on a page, gets the most attention when it stands in contrast to the background. Sour notes sing loudest when they’re poking through harmony. Sour singers use it to get attention.

I don’t know if cynicism is more common now than before. Maybe it’s just more acceptable. Or maybe my travels just exposed me to more of it this year. Sometimes, fresh surroundings make me more aware of the general discourse because, paradoxically, it seems so distant and institutional.

Which is fine with me, since I don’t have much discourse of my own to offer this season. As you might know, I think next year is going to be a very lively news year. Saipan feeds off an economy that is dying from too much debt, and our proximate waters are at a slow boil for military tension. We’ve got serious stuff to address next year. Stuff that makes me reach for the Tums.

So I want to milk the remainder of this year for all the quiet I can get. Yes, I’d like 2011 to be a pleasant year, so I want to end it as such.

The tally for 2012 will be a total wild card, even if you think you’re on solid financial ground. In fact, some of that ground will prove to be quicksand, since so many people have underestimated some types of financial risk. There’s nothing sinister about this, it’s just the nature of how markets don’t turn on a dime but instead slowly slosh around like giant glaciers of gelatin.

As for the quiet, well, I’m enjoying it. My wife and I are pretty much stretching the holidays all the way from Thanksgiving to Christmas. That’s a big slice of the calendar. And it’s been fun because it’s a solid chunk of time we can dedicate to goofing off.

So what a change of tempo it is to contemplate the holidays as I enjoy them, instead of having to crunch numbers and facts and responsibilities as a matter of habit, or of work.

For example, I spent a good chunk of yesterday at a random, small airport. I strolled around the tarmac looking at little propeller airplanes and a couple of small jets. Then I drank coffee and swapped flying stories with pilots in a warm, snug flight school lobby as a cold wind whistled outside.

It seems like just yesterday that I was one of the young guys on the lobby couch. Back in the day, I had a couple of air tour passengers demand to see my pilot license since they didn’t think I was old enough to fly. Now I’m one of the gray hairs.

I guess I should note how the kids of family and friends seem to have grown so much since we saw them last year, but I haven’t been surprised by that. What has surprised me was how the kids have grown in divergent directions. Some are engaged with their surroundings; they spend a lot of time outdoors, and are hands-on in various their little projects such as building forts, go-carts, and such.

The others are totally glued to television and computer screens. They exist entirely in a virtual world. One of our friend’s kids, 18 years of age, was asked by her mother to go into the backyard to pick a lemon. The kid had no idea where lemons came from, even though she grew up in a house with a lemon tree in the back yard. It made me realize that we now have a generation that has lived an entire virtual lifestyle, having been born into the computer world.

Meanwhile, my wife is sometimes tending the cell phone as she helps coordinate the logistics of her extended family making a trip to the Philippines, which involves, specifically, stocking the almighty “balikbayan” boxes of cargo. I think that half of the world’s known inventory of clothes and sundries is heading to Manila in cardboard boxes.

Anyway, I hope that your holidays are merrily underway.

Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at TropicalEd.com. Ed is a pilot, economist, and writer. He holds a degree in economics from UCLA and is a former U.S. naval officer. His column runs every Friday.

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