December 13, 2012
It started in 1973. Only two months returned from my LDS mission to Brazil, I was dating the girl who had played the lead in a production of Brigadoon that I directed the moment I got back.
With no money and no driver's license, my ability to come up with either gifts or dates was highly limited. So I hit upon the idea of giving her 12 ridiculously cheap gifts, one each day culminating with the 12th gift on Christmas day.
It included things like eight bananas on the eighth day, and at the end I came up with 11 baskets inside a big hamper-sized basket, making a total of 12.
Even when the gifts are slight, the anticipation magnifies them. Let's just say that she noticed my romantic campaign. And even though it took four more years before she married me, I haven't missed the 12 days of Christmas in 40 years.
Today, as this issue comes out, I begin that 40th year. Nowadays I conclude the 12 days on the 24th, so they're finished before Christmas day; that's why I begin on the 13th.
I'm not sure if I'm telling you this because it was such a fantastically romantic idea, which you should emulate, or to warn you to avoid starting something like this because, if things work out well, it never ends.
You have no idea how hard it is to come up with 12 gifts a year, with as many of them as possible having the same number as the day, and without ever repeating a gift.
It helps, though, that I have a very cooperative audience: She wants to like the gifts. It's rather like watching your 6-year-old dance. You're just happy that they're doing it at all; you're not very critical about the quality of the performance.
Maybe you've noticed that there's a See's Candy store in Friendly Center.
See's is a western chain – they're all over California and Utah, but this is the first time they've appeared east of the Mississippi.
This is because See's is thinking of opening a candy-making factory in Tennessee, along with a bunch of eastern stores. So this Christmas, they've opened a bunch of temporary Christmas-season stores, where you can buy a limited selection of predetermined packages.
Caramels, candy bars, and lollipops are almost decorative compared with the real attraction: one-pound boxes of caramels, nuts and chews, and other standbys.
For me, the main attraction are the milk bordeaux. Covered with chocolate decors, these are See's signature candies. Of course the chocolate coating is perfect; the centers, however, are what make them so popular. Essentially, they're a "creamy brown sugar," which doesn't really begin to describe them.
If you've never tasted See's, then it's worth stopping by and picking up a box or two. (If you want to sample the bordeaux without buying a whole pound, they do have individual bordeau candy bars.)
But we're also taking part in something rather like a contest. If See's decides to go ahead with that Tennessee candy factory, they will open stores in the towns where these temporary Christmas stores do the most business.
That means that the more our Greensboro store sells, the better our chance of getting a permanent See's store here.
I don't think of See's as competition for our local jewel, Loco for Coco. After all, I've been ordering See's online during the entire time that Loco for Coco has existed. Their offerings are different, and they can coexist quite nicely, I believe.
But if we have our own See's store, we'll be able to go in and pick up just a couple of chocolates as an impulse buy, a treat, an experiment.
Think of it as your duty as a citizen of Guilford County to help bring See's here. It'll benefit a lot more people than, say, a baseball stadium or a performing arts center, and it won't cost us a dime of tax money.
It may, however, cause some of us to have to buy larger clothing. But that's a matter of private self-control.
My wife started watching Homeland on Showtime before I did. She sampled it when it was offered on a regular network, and so she wasn't aware, as she became involved with the show, just how much nudity and profanity it had.
That's because it was all cut out for the special promotional broadcast. Thus they proved that all that nudity was completely unnecessary and was there only for pornographic purposes.
Except that it's not even interesting as pornography. Just a dead spot where naked people bore each other and us as we wait for the story to resume. I always feel sorry for actors forced to set aside their art and offer themselves like slaves in a marketplace, with their bodies open for the inspection of strangers.
But such are the times we live in. The cast of this television series is brilliant – some of our favorite actors:
Claire Danes, who began with My So-Called Life and performed brilliantly in Temple Grandin and Me and Orson Welles.
Damien Lewis, who movingly played the lead in Band of Brothers and The Forsyte Saga.
Morena Baccarin, who was unforgettable as the courtesan Inara Serra in Firefly and Serenity, and is always radiant in guest spots on TV series.
Mandy Patinkin, who has two acting modes: brilliant and ham. In this series, he's entirely brilliant – restrained, realistic, magnificent.
And even as we move down the cast list, we find actors who are completely worthy to share the screen with these notables.
What makes the story work, however, is the writing. This is like a more realistic, more paranoid, deeper, personal version of 24. Damien Lewis plays Nicholas Brody, a U.S. soldier who was presumed dead during his eight years as a prisoner of a terrorist mastermind.
He was discovered and rescued during a raid on a terrorist stronghold, and now has returned to his family. But troubled (and marginally insane) CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has reason to believe that he is a double agent – that he was "turned" during his captivity.
We quickly come to know that truly terrible things were done to Brody by his captors, and that he himself was driven to do unbearable acts that wake him up at night. He is capable of terrible violence and he is an angry, lonely, frightened, bitter man.
But is he actually working for the enemy? Or are the "signs" of his being a spy for or agent of the bad guys merely Mathison's paranoia turning one man's pain into a vast conspiracy?
We are only a few episodes into the series, but, unbelievably enough, the shows actually get better, though the early episodes are so good that it's hard to believe that "better" is even possible.
What makes this better than most spy stories is the human relationships. Mandy Patinkin, playing Claire Daines's friend and boss, is morally complicated as he can't decide whether to back her up or shut her down. She is every bit as questionable as Brody.
And Morena Baccarin, playing Brody's wife, Jessica, is tormented by the fact that in his absence, she fell in love with his best friend – who is now assigned to try to keep Brody as a sort of public mascot for the military. It means that she is constantly thrown together with her lover even as she tries to rebuild some kind of relationship with this tortured stranger who used to be, and thinks he still is, her husband....continued on page 2