Around the world – with Christmas! 6


Lots of countries celebrate Christmas, but not all of them mark the holiday in the same ways we do. Here are some of the more unusual Christmas customs.

santaUnited Kingdom

In England, children write their letters to Father Christmas and then throw them into the fireplace, hoping they will float up the chimney and fly to the North Pole. If the lists catch fire first, they have to rewrite them. It is no surprise that English children lead the world in writer’s cramp.

At Christmas dinner, a plum pudding is served with little treasures hidden inside. These bring their finders good luck, and their finders’ dentists vacation homes in Spain. England also originated the custom of hanging mistletoe, as well as the tradition of stealing a kiss underneath it. Given the state of English dentition, this is the only way many English men would ever get a kiss without paying for it.

In Ireland, it is tradition to leave mince pies and bottles of Guinness as a snack for Santa, which helps explain both Santa’s girth and his red nose. In Northern Ireland, a traditional surprise for Santa is a pipe bomb disguised as a cheese log.


In Spain, Papa Noel delivers presents by climbing up balconies – or at least that’s what he tells husbands who come home unexpectedly. On Jan. 6, the three wise men come and leave gifts for the children. By waiting for the post-Christmas sales they save a bundle, proving that they are not only wise men, but also smart shoppers.


In the Ukraine, Father Frost visits all the children in a sleigh pulled only by three very tired reindeer. He brings with him a youngster named Snowflake Girl, who wears a fur-trimmed costume and a crown shaped like a snowflake. This speaks volumes about Ukrainian child-labor laws.


In Italy, on the evening of the day after Christmas, children are visited by a good witch named Strega Buffana, who flies around on a broom leaving treats for good children and
coal for naughty children. It is tradition to give a bag of dried lentils to friends to make soup. This bean soup reminds recipients of their humble beginnings, and also helps propel the witch on her journey.


In Austria, on Dec. 6, Heiliger Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) rewards good children with sweets, nuts and apples. Bad children get a bag of dried lentils.


In Lebanon, families plant seeds of grain in small pots a month before Christmas. When Christmas arrives they have little pots of green to place around the traditional Christmas cave. The Christmas cave houses the Batmobile and … no, wait – that’s another cave. The Christmas cave actually houses a nativity scene.


In Australia, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight white kangaroos. Since it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas dinner is eaten outdoors and is often followed by a visit to the beach and many, many cans of Foster’s lager. Projectile vomiting traditionally takes the place of caroling.


In the race with Father Time, it’s nip and tuck for some guys 6

Guys, has this ever happened to you? You’re having a nice, hot shower, flexing your best Mick Jagger chops (or your best Lady Gaga chops – I’m not judging). You step out of the shower, wipe the steam off the mirror – and there’s some creepy old dude staring back at you!

Before you reach for the phone – or a gun – reach for your glasses. That creep is probably you.

Sad but true. Father Time is having his way with us guys, making us look older than we feel. And this very thing is driving a record number of American men to opt for plastic surgery.

I read a great article the other day about the increasing number of men who are undergoing plastic surgery in an attempt to look younger. An example cited was a software engineer from California (I know, right?) named Joe.

When he was in his 50s, Joe said, he felt “young and powerful.” But when he looked in the mirror, he saw a worn-out person.

Deep wrinkles lined his face, he said. His brow drooped. He had permanent bags under his eyes. The skin under his chin sagged. Joe knew what he wanted: he wanted to not look like Benicio Del Toro.

For the record, I share most of these same characteristics, yet no one ever tells me I look like Señor Del Toro; in fact, the few times I’ve been compared to a celebrity, it’s been to Droopy Dog.

At any rate, Joe is part of a trend — a small trend to be sure, but one that is being eagerly followed by the nip-and-tuck industry — of men who are opting to go under the knife to tweak their looks.

According to this article, American men had 1.2 million cosmetic procedures performed last year. Even factoring out Michael Jackson, that’s still a shit-load of surgery.

And although cosmetic surgery – for either sex – is becoming more commonplace, it’s not without its drawbacks. For men, a little too much lift and we look like we’re standing in a wind tunnel, or piloting an airboat through the Everglades. And it can be worse for the ladies; for example, I work with a woman who has had her face lifted so many times that she’s now sporting a goatee.

A surgeon quoted in the piece said that men have historically had a more positive body image than women – maybe because we don’t grow up with women trying to peek down our shirts. Plus, according to a psychologist cited in the article, men traditionally worry more about how our bodies perform than how they look. So, in other words, where us older guys once had one thing to worry about, now we have two.

Calling cosmetic surgery part of the “normal aging process” is telling, I think. For me, the normal aging process has less to do with surgery and more to do with buying baggy clothes, turning all our full-length mirrors to the wall, and wearing a wetsuit when I go to the pool.

Boomers: If you hope to die before you get old, time’s running out 8

Bob Dylan did a song on his Time Out of Mind album called “Not Dark Yet.” If my fellow Baby Boomers were to write a song about themselves, they might title it “Not Old Yet (Dammit).”

I read an article the other day (once I finally located my reading glasses) about a recent poll that suggests that most of my Boomer cohort don’t consider themselves old. In their eyes, we may not be exactly young, but at the very worst we’re middle aged. Of course, the eyes are the first to go.

The results of the Associated poll beg the question, “What is old?” Younger adults – those younger than Boomers – call 60 the start of old age. But Boomers are pushing that number back. The median age cited by those polled is 70. And a quarter of them insist you’re not old until you’re 80.

For men, there’s this little indicator: middle age is the first time you can’t do it the second time; old age is the second time you can’t do it the first time.

The poll showed that, overall, we Boomers are upbeat about our futures. We’re more likely to be excited about the positive aspects of aging, such as retirement, than worried about the negatives, like illness, death, and having sex with people who are just as old as us.

Sixteen percent of respondents reported being happy about aging. Speaking for myself, I’m happy as a clam to be aging. As a wise man once said, getting old may suck but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

Despite being generally upbeat about getting older, some Boomers are still taking steps to look younger. Some dye their hair, while others take up an exercise regimen. For me, this first option is too expensive, and the second is too much work. So I’ve taken the cheap and lazy option – I just hang around with Keith Richards as much as possible. Compared to him I look like Justin Beiber.

Another surprise: about half predict a better quality of life for themselves than their parents experienced. Add me to this group; my life is a hell of a lot better than my folks’ – largely because I didn’t have to raise a kid like me.

Of course, the outlook isn’t all rosy, and Boomers do have some serious worries. The top three mentioned included losing their independence, losing their memory, and … uh … well, it’ll come to me.

A quarter of the women polled had paid more than $25 for an anti-aging skincare product, such as a lotion or night cream, while just 5 percent of the men admit to such purchases. I’ve never spent a penny on anti-aging measures, but I will admit to pulling my ponytail back really, really tight in hopes of ironing out my facial wrinkles. I gave it up when I realized it didn’t make me look younger – it just made me look like Steven Segal with gas pains.

Boomers most frequently offered the wisdom accumulated over their lives as the best thing about aging. Sure, that’s great, but for me the real joy comes from finally being able to say, “Why, when I was your age … . “

Nice to meet you; please pardon the gloves 1

Ladies, has that cute guy you’ve been checking out started keeping his hands behind his back? Or wearing baseball gloves – on both hands? Or, if he’s Italian, has he been effectively rendered mute? If you answered “yes” to any of these, I think I know why.

A team of Korean urologists has supposedly found a direct correlation between the length of a man’s fingers and that of his … well, you know.

Dr. Tae Beom Kim, a urologist at Gachon University in Inchon, Korea, and his colleagues claim to have found that the ratio of the length of a man’s index finger to that of his ring finger may reveal the relative size of his wedding tackle. The lower that ratio, the longer the manly member may be, the researchers wrote recently in the Asian Journal of Andrology.

Dr. Killjoy – I mean, Dr. Kim – and his team studied 144 men over the age of 20 who were undergoing urological surgery for conditions that do not affect the length of the penis. (Do us a solid, doc, and list the procedures that do.)

One team member (yes, I know I said “member;” grow up, already) carefully measured the lengths of the index and ring fingers on the subject’s right hand before surgery. A second team member then measured penis length immediately after the subject had been anesthetized.

The length was measured both when the penis was flaccid and when it had been stretched as much as possible. “Stretched length is thought to correlate to erect length,” the team wrote. “Ouch,” they did not add.

If the findings are accurate, they put to rest the conventional wisdom that the length of a man’s penis can be accurately deduced from the size of his nose, the length of his feet, or the fact that he drives a Hummer.

This is not good news for us guys – I mean … uh … those guys – who got shorted on the finger-ratio thing. And there’s not much they can do about it, either; their little (and I do mean little) secret is right out in the open. And while women can wear padded bras, good luck finding padded gloves (not that I’ve tried, mind you).

Although these conclusions may sound like a cock and bull story, they may be legit. Several earlier studies suggest that the finger-length ratio is determined by prenatal exposure to both testosterone and estrogen. And if that exposure affects finger length, then why not that of other manly extremities?

Anyway, this news has made me more than a little self-conscious so, if you wave at me, don’t be offended if I just nod back.

When it comes to fitness, abstinence won’t make the heart grow stronger Reply

It’s no secret that guys think about sex. A lot. And it’s not just the young bucks, either – sex is important to old dudes, too. For instance, just picture Hugh Hefner and his young girlfriends while … no, wait. Don’t picture that.


Let’s get back to the sex. Some older guys – especially those with cardiovascular disease – sometimes wonder if the horizontal bop might be dangerous for them, potentially triggering a heart attack in the midst of the excitement (also known as “coming and going.”)

On the other hand, exercise is supposed to be good for the heart, so maybe the same is true for sex. Lots of exercise there – especially if you count the pleading.

Well, fellow old dudes, wonder no longer. A new review by the Harvard Men’s Health Watch indicates that, looked on as exercise, sex is much like chicken soup. No, I don’t mean that it’s better with matzoth balls. What I mean is that, while it may not help, it probably won’t hurt, either.

Several studies have linked sexual activity to heart attacks; however, none of them sharply define “sexual activity.” As a result, it’s not clear if they’re using a very narrow definition that covers only the act itself, or a broader one that includes things like foreplay, going to the jewelry store, or procuring chloroform.

Anyway, the Harvard study showed that the rate of fatal arrhythmias during the act itself is about one in 200. For a healthy 50-year-old man, the risk of having a heart attack in any one hour is about one in a million; sexual activity doubles the risk, but that risk is still just two in a million.

For men with heart disease, the risk is 10 times higher, but that is still only 20 in a million. Factor in the odds of an old dude actually getting laid to begin with, and the chances of checking out during sex are about the same as getting hit by lightning while cashing a winning Power Ball ticket on the deck of the Titanic.

So much for the danger part; what about exercise? How does making whoopee stack up against more prosaic forms of exertion, such as running? Well, I’m sorry to say that sex comes up short (I apologize for my language; “coming up short” is not a phrase any man wants to hear in relation to sex).

Researchers studied 19 men, measuring their heart rate on a treadmill in the laboratory, and while having sex in the privacy of their homes. I think they should have studied them having sex on a treadmill – I would love to see those numbers (and the video).

As it turns out, sex burns about 5 calories per minute, about the same as walking on a golf course. In other words, if you’re hoping for any sort of aerobic gains through sex, you’re going to have to lose the cart – or at the very least, fire the caddy.

Malick’s “Tree of WTF” a (very) long strange trip 6

If you always wanted to drop acid but missed your chance, I have good news for you. Terrence Malick’s new movie, “Tree of Life,” is just as weird, and you can accurately recreate the LSD experience without possible chromosome damage or exposure to Phish fans.

The movie has a lot in common with the ergot experience. Confusion? Check. Inability to make sense of what’s happening? Check. Suicidal thoughts (e.g., “One more shot of Brad Pitt clenching his jaw and I’m going to kill myself.”)? Check. And while acid trips last 8-12 hours, “Tree of Life” only seems to drag on that long.

Still up in the air about seeing this flick? Here are some guidelines that might help you decide

  • Do you still own a lava lamp?
  •  Have you seen the Grateful Dead (intentionally) more than once?
  •  Do you know how to macramé?
  • Have you ever twisted up a bomber on the “Dark Side of the Moon” LP (or do you even know what that means?)
  • Do you think “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was pretty much the high-water mark in rock music?

If you answered, “yes” to three or more of these, then you will love this movie. And if you thought “2001: A Space Odyssey” was heavy, wait till you see this – it’s effing ponderous.

I noticed that the film credits listed an editor, and that confused me. I came up in the world of print where editing typically makes things shorter and more coherent. Apparently film editing has the exact opposite goals.

This is one movie that really needed some slicing and dicing. There were countless scenes of people gazing upward – so many, in fact, that I thought perhaps the Earth was being invaded by aliens. It could be they were just looking for the “exit” sign; I know I was.

There were so many upward shots – through tree branches, gazing at clouds, images that looked like the Big Bang – that I got vertigo and fell out of my seat. Seriously – if all of those scenes had been excised, Malick would have been left with a trailer and not a feature-length film. In my book, that would not have been a bad thing.

A friend described this flick as “challenging.”  And she’s right – after about 45 minutes it was all I could do not to bolt from my seat and into the theater next door to catch “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

It’s also a very thought-provoking work. It prompts us to ask questions like, “Who or what created us?” and “Why are we here,” and the one I repeatedly found myself returning to, “Has my watch stopped?”

The best review of this movie is one I heard, not one I read. I was waiting for my wife to get out of the restroom and I heard a woman say to her friend, “OK, I may be stupid, and I may be shallow – and I’m cool with either one – but what the fuck was that about?”

Glad she wasn’t asking me.