The Arabs have a proverb: All sunshine makes a desert

It’s only natural when the New Year comes to start to think of all things new and yet to come.

Instead I think, “Gosh, 1999 was 10 years ago, wasn’t it?”

The thought just won’t fit inside my head. Somehow the year 2000 still seems somewhere up ahead. Sometimes I worry I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to get back to a place behind me, behind us, forever gone.

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Should have been a super year for Cowboys

The Cowboys lost Sunday and didn’t make the playoffs.

They needed one win to get in, and instead got blown out in the sort of game where if they’d played 100 games, the outcome wouldn’t have changed. The sort of game that makes you wonder if all the Dallas players owed their bookies money, or if Wade Phillips forfeited Saturday and somebody forgot to tell the team that that meant they didn’t need to actually play the game out.

In other words, it was ugly.

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Some light reflections on the Christmas season

I hate Christmas lights.

I know you’re not supposed to say you hate things during this season, and Christmas lights are an odd choice to be sore at, but I do hate them – gaudy, useless, charmless things. Hung up everywhere, adorning everything, contributing nothing except their own space. Pah.

My aesthetic sensibilities aren’t everyone’s. It would be fair to say my appreciation of what’s attractive is quite different from most, really. To me, uniformity, simplicity and order are the soul of beauty; a building made of red brick I find gorgeous.

The fact that dangling icicle lights, poorly strewn multicolor monstrosities and overblown displays with more figures on the lawn than there are neighbors on the block draw my disdain shouldn’t be surprising.

But if I don’t like theĀ “tree” atop the American State Bank building, I very much like the orange bulbs running along its corners and roof. It satisfies my aesthetics, though something deeper and more necessary is still lacking.

This will sound sexist, but I’m a young man; it’s where my mind goes. Anyway, it’s the best analogy I can think up.

Fashion models are generally considered very physically attractive people. It’s obvious why: their job demands that they be pretty. Yet, see a beautiful woman on a runway, and somehow she isn’t. She has no charm in her. It’s her profession to adorn a stage, and she either does it well or doesn’t. However physically attractive, there is no beauty there. That she has good proportions means as much as a bartender’s smile or a stripper’s wink.

Smiles and winks are valuable, to be sure, but it means more when it isn’t self-conscious, and it isn’t trying, and it just is. Lovely because it can’t be otherwise.

I tell you, one stretch of Eighth Street at midnight – any midnight – looks better than all of Emerald Forest will this season. I’d sooner donate to Flint Hills than Starbright Village, sooner look south of Interstate 20 than go to McKinney Park. The parks department spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to dress up the city. And for what? To slap some lights on that serve no other purpose and are humbled by the twilight view from this building’s rooftop in mid-June.

I see more beauty in my drive home each night than all the self-aware and extravagant displays the world over and combined.

See, for all I’ve said, I don’t hate Christmas lights for anything more or less than this: They restrict what should be a daily and universal occurrence to a single season and a few plots of land.

Christmas lights hoard attention selfishly and force scarcity on what is already priceless. Priceless, precisely because it isn’t scarce at all – or at least doesn’t have to be scarce if we don’t let it.

The brake lights on a row of cars at a stoplight in Crane are far more dazzling than the downtown itself, with all of its expensive decorations hanging. No single artist, planner or group can take credit for my delight looking down on El Paso after sunset. It’s the product of hundreds of thousands just living, giving no second thought to the gift of their result. And if a string of lights on the street is pretty during December, why not a string of street lights in May?

Like gift giving, charity and basic human decency, the celebration of the divine, sublime and mundane ought not be confined to mere season.

Merry Christmas, all. With any luck, you’ll find Christmas lights draped across the dust of your windshield and dancing before your eyes all year and your merriment won’t have to end with the holidays.

Sometimes delaying the inevitable makes the pain worse

I saw an article the other day about tapes from the Lyndon Johnson presidency being released.

Vice president Hubert Humphrey and GOP nominee Richard Nixon were in the middle of a rough presidential race when word came to Johnson that the Nixon campaign was sabotaging Vietnam peace talks. Nixon representatives promised leaders in South Vietnam that he’d deliver them a better deal if they stayed in Saigon until after the U.S. election. Call it Nixon’s “other” Southern strategy.

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The reason why Bill & Ted’s adventure was excellent

I’ve heard it said that the essence of music is to make people enjoy patterns without realizing it. As far as I can tell, this is true. I can’t grasp music, whether I hear it, see a sheet of notes or play Guitar Hero. It’s beyond me, but I like to listen.

As fans of ’80s sci-fi/comedies know, music can do something else: let you time travel. Not literally, I mean, but the effect can be just as real as if it were.

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I experienced my first Black Friday last week

Actually, until my sister got a job selling cell phones (down in the Sam’s store), I was pretty ignorant about the whole idea.

“I don’t know how to put this, but it’s kind of a big deal.”

I’ve read about some of the Black Friday observants. These people are certifiably insane. I feel less safe to go out in public knowing one of them could be around the next corner, trying to get a good deal. If we were at the same shopping center, I might actually fear for my well-being, especially if we were reaching for the same item. These folks are stone-cold professionals and wouldn’t think twice about dropping me right there in the aisle. They would drop me, and they’d sleep well that night.

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I think I need a new obsession

I apologize in advance for my column this week. I had a very bad weekend, and the worst thing about it is nothing bad actually happened to me.

OHS’s playoff game slipped away from them, and Texas Tech got absolutely humiliated by Oklahoma. And none of you care, but Atlanta knocked Carolina out of first place in the NFC South.

Odessa and Tech weren’t alma maters. I graduated from Permian and never even sniffed Lubbock when college application season came around. Nor did I gamble on any of these games. I just invested myself emotionally to a degree that the losses have stayed with me, and I’ll feel a lingering sense of disappointment all week.

Clearly, I care too much about football, but sometimes it works out well. My giddiness about the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss lasted through most of the summer.

(“Hey bartender, who’s that guy sitting down next to the girl I bought a drink for?”

“Her husband.”

“Oh. Well at least the Patriots went 18-1.”)

I’m not alone in this – although to this extent, I may be – because there are some very valid reasons why sports are so compelling, and why the excitement and drama of football have made it the national obsession, to borrow Sal Paolantonio’s phrase.

That’s part of why an e-mail forwarded to me that pretended No Child Left Behind was being applied to high school football was a very effective comparison. The unfairness of it, nevermind federal government involvement, was plainly apparent. It’s a satire, not intended to be closely dissected, but at another level I take it at face value.

I once heard it said that if people followed their politicians half as well as they did baseball players, our democracy would become perfect. Well if people cared half as much about education as they did football, our nation would approach perfection.

This is a common complaint, I know, but when LBJ Elementary (which I actually did attend) lost to Reagan for the sixth-grade championship, I was sincerely disappointed. Certainly, many people were justifiably saddened by OHS’s playoff loss, as well. But how many outside the school system (how many inside the school system) were upset by the academic performance of any school in the district, not just on government standards but actual learning? How many parents who wouldn’t stand to see their child on second-string are content that their child isn’t taking AP classes, not earning – and I stress earning – all A’s, not studying hard enough for the next exam?

Because it is plainly ridiculous to mandate that every high school football team make the playoffs and win the championship, or that every kid have the same skills at all times, but no one would claim West Texans have any biological athleticism to succeed at sports, at yet for several decades, it seemed true. Or if not all sports, generally, then football specifically.

It’s amazing what a good program can consistently accomplish with average people who are driven to accomplish great things and supported materially and emotionally by a community who heaps rewards on their success.

It isn’t an either-or between academics and sports: the valedictorian of my graduating class was a first-string football player. And obviously, debates and midterms aren’t compelling spectator events. Even so, we should care as much about substantive things to push and enthrall our children into working hard at the things that will benefit them – and us – in the future. We should get a vicarious thrill out of what they do between the desks at least as much as between the sidelines.

And we don’t, because most of us don’t care.

I certainly don’t care. For all this, I can’t make myself care. But I do wish the matriculations of school children enraptured me as much as matriculations down the field.

And that field goal hadn’t gone wide left.