2014

Jennifer Hanson

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This is sort of weird to admit, but a couple of months ago I found myself obsessed by Leave the Pieces, the seven-year-old country song performed by The Wreckers.

I originally heard the tune on Pandora, and it stuck. I bought it on iTunes and played it and played it and played it. Hells, I played it so often that I reached out to both members of The Wreckers—Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp—to be Quazed.

Sadly, neither responded.

Then I took it to the next level. “Leave the Pieces” was written by Jennifer Hanson, a singer/songwriter with her own website. I contacted her, and immediately heard back.

Good news: Yes, she’d love to be Quazed.

Bad news: She wasn’t that Jennifer Hanson.

Why, this Jennifer Hanson didn’t even know “Leave the Pieces.”  But then, in the strange way life often works, this Jennifer Hanson turned out to be (I’m guessing) better than that Jennifer Hanson. She’s a singer and a songwriter. She’s Canadian. She has an amazing voice, she appreciates Tupac, she’s a jazz singer who doesn’t love Miles Davis, she croons in 1,001 languages, Simon Le Bon didn’t impress her, she danced (badly) for Pete Townsend.

One can visit Jennifer’s website here.

Jennifer Hanson (not to be confused with Jennifer Hanson), welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jennifer, I’ve done more than 185 of these Q&As, and this is a first. I e-mailed you because I thought you were the songwriter Jennifer Hanson who wrote “Leave the Pieces.” Instead, you’re the songwriter who didn’t write “Leave the Pieces.” Which makes me want to start with these two questions: 1. How often is this mistake made? 2. What do you think of the song “Leave the Pieces”? 3. Have you ever met your name sister, Jennifer Hanson?

JENNIFER HANSON: This mistake is made every few days, I sell approximately 20 CDs/downloads a month, then get e-mails telling me they made a mistake but like my music. Truth is, I’ve never heard the song, “Leave the Pieces.” Should I?

As for the other Jennifer, I have never met her, but I’ve tried to get her people to sort out all the websites where we are mistaken for one another. I am mentioned on Wikipedia, however, on her page where it says not to be confused with the Canadian jazz singer of the same name!

 

J.P.: You’re a jazz singer. I’m gonna be totally honest—I’ve never loved jazz, in the way I’ve never loved wine. People will say, “Just try this glass of so-and-so! It’s from 1943 and the flavor just …” And it never works. People will say, “Just listen to Miles Davis on this track …” And it never works. Jennifer, what am I missing? And what do you love about jazz?

J.H.: I’m not really into Miles Davis either, I keep wondering, where’s the singing? I’m not actually a jazz singer, it’s just part of my job. I also pretend to like wine. I think what I like is great singers singing great songs. Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” Julie London singing “Cry Me a River,” Chet Baker singing “Embraceable You,” and Johnny Hartman singing “Lush Life.” Most people consider those songs jazz in the same way they consider me a jazz singer. It’s really just the popular music of that time … the top 40, if you will. Jazz instrumental music is a fairly small audience that I do occasionally like, but I’m a lover of music with lyrics.

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J.P.: This, from your bio: “Jennifer is one of the few singers in the Southeast who sings extensively in French and also in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. She also knows the anthems of at least 10 countries, just in case.” Um … I’ve gotta ask. How, and why?

J.H.: Well, to answer in order: 1. I make more money, because most people won’t take the time it takes to learn a few songs in other languages; 2. I come from Flin Flon, Manitoba, where hockey is what holds the community together. We’ve had many different countries play hockey there, and my sister and I sang the anthems which included whatever country happened to be playing; 3. Getting out of one’s comfort zone and putting yourself out there is what singers do. Learning the songs from other countries is definitely out of the comfort zone and a way to broaden horizons, even if it’s for the two people in the audience who might speak Portuguese and know who Antonio Carlos Jobim is.

J.P.: What’s your journey? Like, womb to now, how did you know you’d become a singer? Where’s the love of music from? How did it develop? When did you say, ‘This is what I’ll do with my life?’

J.H.: I come from a huge family that did two things—read books and play music. We still sing whenever we get together. My older sister Susan was the first one in our family to become a professional singer, and I wanted to be just like her. I never had an “Ah ha!” moment, I have always just been a singer. I don’t think we always make a choice, it happens by osmosis. I was immersed in music from birth and I hate getting up early. A no-brainer was to live the music life.

J.P.: Your debut CD came out in 1999, and you won a Prairie Music Award (Canada) for best jazz recording. I’m a writer, and I’ve always felt writing awards are kinda bullshit. I mean, who’s to say one story is better than another. I feel that way about music, too. Agree? Disagree? And where is your Prairie as we speak?

J.H.: It would be even more embarrassing since I think I wrote half of three songs on the album. It was for jazz recording, and it was a very small category, and I really think the other guys should have won. I hate awards of any kind because music, like writing, is personal, and different kinds appeal to different people. And Britney Spears has won how many Grammy Awards? [Answer: Just one] Is that really a club I need to be a part of? My prairie is Manitoba which is a beautiful, haunting, cold and culturally totally awesome place.

J.P.: When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was have sex with a singer. There’s just something soooo appealing about that particular talent. However, I don’t have that particular talent. So I wonder—do you get it? And, as a singer, do you look at other singers and feel that tug? That pull? That ping in the heart?

J.H.: Having dated other singers, I can say that there’s no pixie dust that rubs off on you like you think. We have huge egos and criminally low self esteem, so you’re taking the chance that the experience will be all about them. I like to think I’m more well adjusted than that, but I haven’t always been. Singers (and any proficient musicians) make music very sexual, and yes, singers feel that, which is why we’re able to translate it to the audience. It makes us feel exactly the way you think it would. I met David Bowie one time and I have to say, he had some serious mojo magic around him—a tangible aura. I also met Simon Le Bon, who was clearly famous and looked great, but didn’t have it so much.

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J.P.: You’ve sang the national anthem at many NHL games. What are the vocal complexities of anthem singing? Is it an easy gig? Scary? And have you ever messed one up?

J.H.: The American anthem is the hardest, it has a huge range which is why it’s almost never sung live in the really big games. It’s too easy to fuck it up. It’s terrifying being in front of 20,000 people with no band to hide behind. Some singers can handle it, others cannot. I sang for the Winnipeg Jets from 1989-96, and I enjoyed it because I truly loved the team. I also was young enough to take the stress. The hockey club also treated me very well and I was there when we lost the team, so I was totally invested. Those things make the difference between a passionate anthem, and someone singing as many notes as they can get into one phrase just to show off.

J.P.: You’ve clearly had a great career. But you’re not a household name, a la Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. Did you ever crave fame? Do you crave fame? Does it at all bother you how so many musical lightweights become superstars, and so many true talents linger in the shadows a bit?

J.H.: I’ve had a great career because I’ve always made a living playing music. I thought I wanted fame, because it’s what you’re supposed to want. I went though a period in my late 30s when I kind of mourned that I wouldn’t have a bigger career, and then I got over it. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because one thing shouldn’t define us, even if we’re really good at it.  Also, when I met my husband and had kids, I didn’t want to be the kind of mother who kept going on tour. I took my kids a few times then realized I couldn’t do both. So I made the choice to be with my family and bloom where I was planted.

Does it bother me when lightweights make it? It used to, when jealousy played into my low self esteem. I don’t watch music reality TV or award shows because it doesn’t mean anything to me, and the really good singers on American Idol haven’t had the opportunity to spend thousands of hours learning good stage presence. So their shows are very planned and staged so that there’s no worry of dead space or a joke that failed or any real intimacy with the crowd. If you’ve ever watched the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop you can understand how most artists feel about art and shit that’s marketed to the masses tarted up as art.

J.P.: I love hip-hop. Love, love, love it. You sing jazz and standards from the 1930s and 40s, among other things. I wonder, do you get rap? Can you appreciate a Tupac song? A Jay-Z tune? Do you even consider it music?

J.H.: What I like about rap is that it’s roots are really and truly organic, people will make music in whatever way they can. In the case of rap and hip hop, I think it came out of the absolute lack of arts in the schools and communities, so people just used what they had—their rhythm, their muscle memory of generations of music, their turntables, which became instruments. How frickin’ cool is that?

I heard the Eminem song with Rhianna, and he sounded like a pissed off white guy, so I don’t really get that. But Tupac, he was speaking for a generation, I appreciate him as an artist. I don’t listen to a lot of rap-right now—it just seems like it’s a contest of who can be the baddest motherfucker  and be the hippest (Is that even a word anymore?) representation of their generation. Now my kids are talking about trap, which I keep calling tarp just to piss them off. But I do get it.

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J.P.: I would love to hear the stories of your greatest on-stage moment and your lowest. Please …

J.H.: My greatest stage moment has not been the tours of Europe with the pop groups or the big audiences, but two moments. My second favorite is when I sang with my church choir at a contest called, “How Sweet the Sound”—which was a national contest. We did not win, and we were probably the only white choir and I bitched for weeks about it because I was worried that we would have our butts handed to us on a plate. From the moment we started the song, “Oh Happy Day,” the crowd went nuts and I was the soloist and the judges were famous gospel singers and I pulled out my best gospel chops, and it was so much fun. Everyone was  really accepting and joyful. And I was reminded once again that it’s just about the music. It’s always got to be about the music.

My favorite moment was a party I played at with my family rock band, The Hanson Sisters, about six years ago. We were playing in our hometown and it was a party for a hockey tournament and there were a bunch of ex-NHL players there from our hometown—Bobby Clarke, Gerry Hart, Jordy Douglas, etc. And there were probably 1,000 people there, and we could just feel the love and the joy that the audience had for this great weekend, and the fact that we love our community, and hockey, and the energy coming from the audience just about blew us off stage. It was a tangible energy that hopefully every musician gets to experience in his/her career.

The worst one is not really singing. I tried out for the musical Tommy. Pete Townsend was there and liked my voice so I was told he wanted to hear me one more time. I showed up to really give it my all and then they told me I had to dance for him.

Think Elaine in Seinfeld. Dancing for Pete Townsend.

He made excuses for me to the choreographer because he liked my singing. It was excruciating to have to dance for one of the most famous rock stars in the world. I got the part but was told I had to move the next week so they could teach me how to dance. I didn’t take it. I hate dancing.

I have dozens of embarrassing moments by the way—this one still haunts me. I was singing the anthem in Atlanta for the Thrashers because the Canadiens were in town and I thought I would sing the Canadian anthem in both French and English. I started in French and then just forgot the words, so I inserted the words, “Pepe Le peu,” into the phrase and then went into the English part. I actually hoped the ice would open and I could just disappear into Valhalla or wherever it is that mortified singers go … at least the non-French speaking people didn’t know.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENNIFER HANSON:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Debbie Gibson, Jonas Salk, Nick Jonas, Davey Lopes, mango salad, Venice Beach, Ikea, Richard Dawson, Toronto, the knuckleball, your left foot, Diet Sprite: You’re weird. But here I go … My left foot (my hi hat foot—I play drums), Toronto (the band not the city), Mango salad, Venice Beach, IKEA, Jonas Salk, the knuckleball, Richard Dawson (only for The Running Man), Davey Lopes (baseball?), Debbie Gibson, Nick Jonas, Diet Sprite

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, I recall thinking (it was a small plane with an open cockpit), “Why is the pilot flipping madly through the manual? This can’t be good. Please Jesus, don’t let this really smelly man sitting beside me crush me to death.”

• One question you would ask Doug Flutie were he here right now?: Can we be in a band together?

• The inside of your car smells like …: Something piney from Yankee candle or some crap like that with a soupçon of old coffee.

• You’re offered $200,000 to take all of Snoop Dogg’s songs and adapt them to jazz. You in?: Absolutely, could I do what I like with the other $180,000? Would I have to swear?  Isn’t he called snoop lion or something now?

• In exactly 26 words, please offer your take on the band Hanson: I have no idea what they do now but I think we may be related. They are blond and Scandinavian. I am sometimes blond and Scandinavian.

• Why do you believe prayer does/doesn’t work?: Of course prayer works. Not for winning games, but for joy and everyday peace.

• I’m Jewish. The other day I accidentally ate some bacon bits. Now I feel awful. What should I do to atone?: What would Jesus do? (He was Jewish)

• I know some people who think Mike Trout is better than Rickey Henderson in his prime. I consider that ludicrous. Your thoughts?: Rickey Henderson was more handsome and charming. Those are my only requirements for professional baseball players.

• Five greatest female vocalists of your lifetime?: Mahalia Jackson. Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Julie London, my sister Susan.

Bullies

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Weird stuff happened at the local 24 Hour Fitness tonight.

Was standing on the perimeter of the basketball court, waiting for next game. I looked up and saw one player pushing another player—hard—after a missed shot. The pusher then looked at me and said, “Hey, you wanna play?” Then he turned to the kid he shoved and said, “Get off the court! Get off!”

I refused to enter, and the moment passed. But it also stuck. At the conclusion of the game, I asked the guy who was pushed how old he was. “I turn 13 tomorrow,” he said.

“No way,” I replied. “Really?” (this was 10 pm on a court occupied by adults—some in their late teens, most in their 20s, some in their 30s, one, ahem, in his 40s)

“It’s true.”

I asked him about the person who hit him. “Is that your brother?”

No, he said. It was a guy he knew from the court. He apparently gets frustrated by the kid’s unwillingness to play defense. “Listen,” I said, “there’s no reason for you to take that shit. None at all. You’re here to play basketball and have fun.”

“I know,” he said. “But he’s older than me …”

This is the moment where I failed. I should have pulled the pusher aside and told him his behavior was inappropriate; that if I ever saw him bullying another player again, I’d report him to the gym and make certain he’d be an ex-member. That’s what I should have said … but I didn’t. The pusher was with a bunch of guys, and I momentarily imagined them jumping me as I walked to my car. I also didn’t fully know the relationship between pusher and pushee. Nobody else said anything, so perhaps it was no biggie.

Still, I couldn’t fully let it go. There was another kid there, age 17, who clearly knew both involved parties. I asked him what was going on, and he explained that the pusher doesn’t like the pushee; that a lot of people don’t like the pushee.

“But he’s 13,” I said. “Why aren’t you helping him? Do you like being bullied?”

“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s really hard.”

Before I left, I reported the incident to the staff. But it did little good. Next time, I need to speak up.

Next time, I need to practice what I preach to my children.

Ryan Lindley throws a touchdown

Yinka (left) and Ryan: The streaks didn't last forever.

Yinka (left) and Ryan: The streaks didn’t last forever.

A few minutes ago Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley threw a touchdown, ending his dazzling streak of having gone the first 228 passes of his career without completing for a score.

With that, I can’t help but flash back to the lord’s year of 1997, when the New Jersey Nets featured had a center named Yinka Dare. On January 7, I headed out to the Meadowlands to write a CNNSI.com (yes, that was the url back in the day) piece on Dare’s incredible streak of playing the first 76 games of his career without a single assist. It was just such an irresistible story—the bumbling 7-footer out of George Washington University and his staggering inability to have a pass go from his hands to those belonging to a teammate prepared to successfully shoot.

Anyhow, I snagged my credential, spent some time with the soft-spoken Dare beforehand, trotted down to my media seat in the largely empty arena and watched …

… Dare tally an assist.

Yes, it was just one. In garbage time. At the end of a meaningless 90-74 blowout of the San Antonio Spurs. But, still, it ruined the whole basis of my piece, and caused me to walk off into the night without the story I’d wanted to write.

It also left me happy.

See, I don’t root for failure. I genuinely don’t. The joy of sports is, ultimately, success and satisfaction and happiness.

With that pass, Yinka Dare (who died at age 31) could muster a bit of happiness.

Or, at the very least, relief.

Just like Ryan Lindley.

When planes go missing …

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In case you missed this, earlier today an AirAsia plane went missing during its flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. There were 155 passengers aboard the Airbus A320-200. In all probability, they’re 100-percent dead, somewhere deep within the ocean.

It’s heartbreaking.

But it’s also haunting and, truth be told, I think that—more than anything—is what draws us to flight disasters. They’re haunting. Really fucking haunting. When you participate in one, you almost certainly die. But they don’t involve exclusively celebrities, or foreigners, or third-world countries. They’re not just soldiers or pilots or business executives flying chartered planes too close to the sun. Put different, it’s not the sort of thing where the normal person can say, “Yeah, plane crashes suck. But they only happen to ________.”

Nope. The thing about such disasters is they almost always involve us. Doctors. Lawyers. Housewives. Dancers. Cafe owners. Construction workers. Receptionists. Funeral directors. Clowns. Teachers. Journalists. Adults. Children. Men. Women. They don’t discriminate and they don’t lean toward a certain genre of individual.

I won’t speak for others, but whenever I read about incidents like today’s tragedy, I picture myself on the plane, palms sweaty, screaming, crying, desperately trying to call the wife, shoving an oxygen mask against my face, head bent toward the knees, bracing for an impact I won’t possibly survive. I think of all the times I’ve flown. All the scary (to me) moments of heavy turbulence and weird shaking and (if I’m being 100-percent honest) suspicious glares and scowls in the waiting area post-9/11.

I also think back to my childhood; to a day that changed my entire perception of flight. On January 13, 1982, I was a 9-year-old boy living in Mahopac, N.Y. Innocent. Pure. I still remember hearing the news—Air Florida Flight 90, en route from Washington, D.C. to Ft. Lauderdale, had crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and then plunged into the Potomac River. There were shots on the news of pedestrians jumping into the frigid water trying to save people. There was a wing sticking out of the water. There was death—lots and lots of death.

There was also a made-for-TV movie several months later that scared the living shit out of me, and has never fully left my brain. I still imagine what it must have been like, seeing the bridge for that split second, then …

Sigh.

I love traveling, and I hate hearing of people who refuse to fly out of fear. I actually used to work with a woman at The Tennessean who’d only been to two states (Tennessee and Kentucky) and it broke my heart. There are so many things to taste and see and feel. The fear sucks, but it’s not worth keeping yourself from seeing the world.

But I get the fear.

Boy and dog

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My son Emmett and I took Norma to Laguna Beach today. It was her first-ever trip to the ocean, and exceeded all expectations.

This might sound dumb, but there’s something beautiful in the simplicity of boy with dog, playing a game of fetch …

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Key We(s)t.

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So earlier this afternoon … actually, just about an hour ago, the wife, son and I had lunch at the nearby Mongolian restaurant.

It’s a lovely place with excellent, healthy food. You place the ingredients in a wood bowl, bring them toward a stove and watch as two men cook it up. Yum. And affordable.

Once again, I digress. Emmett and I filled our bowls, then I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Emmett said he had to go, too, so together we walked into a small one-person bathroom. There was a single toilet and one of those long wall urinals. Sorta like this …

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Anyhow, Emmett peed first. Then, when he was done, I peed. I was wearing a gray-and-black sweatshirt I’d bought at Target about a year ago. It’s OK, but the pockets tend to be a bit loose. If you have something in them … say, your car keys, they are prone to …

PLOP!

My car keys fell into the urinal. The bottom. I immediately yelled, “Oh, no!” then stared at them for a second before reaching down. The urinal wasn’t overly wet, because everything drained out. But as I grabbed them, I did notice a small yellow droplet dangling. Actually, taunting.

“Ew,” I said.

“Ew.”

“Ew.”

“Ew.”

I washed them off with a soft warm water, then wet some toilet paper and washed them again. I asked Emmett whether he thought we should tell the wife, who was about to eat her lunch. “That’s probably not a good idea,” the son said.

He was right, so we returned without saying a word.

Meaning she’s learning about this whole thing right … about …

Now.

Christmas in California

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If you’re reading this, you probably know I’m a Jew.

Which means I don’t celebrate Christmas.

Ever.

Christmas to me has always been Chinese food and movies. Why, yesterday we hit up two films—the somewhat excellent “Big Eyes” and the somewhat putrid “Into the Woods.” Which was fine and dandy and cool and excellent.

And yet …

I missed the cold on Christmas. I really did. Which is so weird, because I don’t celebrate Christmas and I don’t like the cold. But there’s something … off about palm trees and Christmas. They just don’t go together, and I’ve never experienced a holiday season that feels less like a holiday season than this one. Again, I probably shouldn’t mind. I don’t believe the virgin Mary had a son. But as the years have passed, and I morphed from resentful Jew in a Christian town to Jew in a pretty Jewish town to, well, my present incarnation of an indifferent guy on the West Coast, I find myself longing the snowfall and glistening trees and stiff wind. Not permanently, mind you, but for a couple of days.

The truth is (and I rarely admit this), I genuinely love Christmas. It’s a beautiful holiday that—even when it misses the mark and focuses more on commercialism than Christ—seems to bring families together over eggnog and fireplaces. Yeah, it’s not my holiday. But it’s something I enjoy observing.

Just not as much when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.

Shuffling along …

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I don’t know Ickey Woods, the former Cincinnati Bengals running back, but somehow we’re Facebook friends.

Earlier tonight, while combing through my feed, I came across the above photo—Woods signing some autographs at a mall in Ohio. And, being 100-percent honest, I felt bad for him. There’s something about the retired athlete, stripped of his abilities and stature and physique, that can be heartbreaking. To have been something special, and to then spend the remaining decades trying to keep that specialness alive, well, it’s often not pretty. And we, the people, feed off of that. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s a Revenge of the Nerds sort of thing. Most of us never played in the NFL or NBA, so we take a sadistic pleasure in watching folks who once did slip to our level. Ickey Woods isn’t wearing a helmet any longer, or running over would-be tacklers, or shuffling into the end zone. Nope. He’s just an old-ish dude with a pot belly, and watching him sit behind a folding table inside a mall ain’t pretty.

And yet … fuck me. And fuck you, too. Truth be told, Ickey Woods is raising money for this foundation, which is named after his late son, who died at age 16 from a severe asthma attack. He’s using his celebrity to do something righteous and decent and courageous. He’s turning heartbreak into hope, which is awfully powerful.

Furthermore, who am I—or you—to rip retired athletes for using past success for present stability? These guys had their bodies destroyed, their minds battered. They played for our cheers, for our enjoyment. So if someone wants to sign autographs at the local CVS, or use their name to sell meat products, hey, more power to them.

More power to Ickey.

 

Proposal on a beach

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I tend to be cynical.

It’s a flaw, and—like herpes and rectal drip—it’s not something easily controlled or contained. Too often in life, I see something and immediately develop criticisms. As a journalist, I suppose this has done me well. I don’t tend to accept things at face value.

On the other hand, it can be an ugly way to think.

Earlier this evening, I was walking with some friends along the beach behind Hotel del Coronado off of San Diego. It’s an absolutely majestic place, with gorgeous sunsets and landscapes. To call it “magnificent” is to woefully understate.

Anyhow, we came across a table in the sand, with two chairs, a couple of glasses, a guitar player and a bunch of signs offering such platitudes as YOU MAKE ME A BETTER PERSON and I’VE NEVER LOVED ANYONE AS I LOVE YOU. It was immediately clear someone was about to propose, and a crowd of, oh, 100 people gathered around. My first thought: Cheesy.

Yeah, cheesy. And cliched. The rose pedals on the ground. The signs. The public proposal in front of strangers. C’mon, man. Just … c’mon.

But then, well, it happened. The couple arrived. The man got down on one knee after opening up a box with the ring. They hugged, he looked at all of us and exclaimed, “She said YES!” Everyone clapped, everyone cheered, a few people wiped tears from their eyes. It was beautiful—cheesiness be damned. Simply beautiful.

And it also caused me to ask myself why, oh why, am I so pessimistic? Why the cynicism and negativity? Why can’t I just be happy for someone, without looking toward the dark side?

The answer: I don’t know.

But perhaps watching a proposal by the sunset changed my ways.

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Holiday Cards

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Tis the season for holiday cards. Which makes tis the season of great entertainment.

I love holiday cards, more than I love holidays. And, damn, I love holidays. But holiday cards are awesome. They’re telling. They’re revealing. They’re fun. They’re curious. Granted, they’re not as personal as they once were—I vaguely recall people actually picking up a pen and (gasp!) writing messages inside the cards. But that’s OK, because now we get pictures of kids. Smiling. Hugging. Laughing. Dancing.

Hey!

But here’s the issue: When does a family stop the cards? Back when my kids were tiny, the holiday cards looked great. One can’t go wrong with a baby and a 3-year-old blonde girl in a princess dress. But the years pass, and pass, and pass. Now my son is 8, my daughter 11. They don’t look like Munchkins, they look like … people. And while people can be cute, they’re not as cute as Munchkins. Not even close.

We receive some cards that features teenagers. And teenagers aren’t attractive. They’re gawky and uncomfortable, and lord knows they have no desire to pose for a photo. So should the tradition continue? Should the cards still be sent?

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: Holiday cards are meaningless on the surface, yet reaffirming below the skin. They say, even subtly, “I care” or, at least, “I care enough to spend 50 cents on getting you this card.” They remind us of the people in our lives, and that relationships matter.

For me, the favorite card is always the one I receive from Warren Thompson, a man I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years.

Warren is the widower of Lynn Thompson, a wonderful women who allowed me to profile her way back in 1995—when she was dying of cancer. At the time I was 23 and painfully immature. I was working as a features writer for The Tennessean, young and dumb and unwilling to take advice from everyone. The local alternative weekly, The Nashville Scene, rightly wrote “If there’s one cow-pie in the field, The Tennessean’s Jeff Pearlman will manage to step in it.” I screwed up and screwed up and screwed up, and had my bosses wondering whether I’d ever figure things out.

Then, one day, my editor asked whether I’d like to write a piece about a sick woman and her loving husband and their garden. Which I did. Lynn Thompson was marvelous. Wonderful. Strong. Courageous. I knew nothing about life, and she explained it best she could. Dying, she told me, wasn’t as scary as you’d think—it was more the idea of all the events she’d miss. Her children growing up, getting married, having kids. She regretted her inevitable absence and, I think, felt burdened by how it would impact her daughter, Kate, and sons Nick and Brendan. Warren, meanwhile, was the husband I aspired to one day be. When his wife was at her lowest, he was there, caring, supporting, reassuring. He promised to maintain her garden, which led to the headline atop my piece: Lynn’s Garden.

Lynn passed shortly after the story ran, and for the ensuing two decades Warren has religiously kept me on the ol’ holiday card list. What I love are the family shots—his kids with spouses; his kids with grandkids; his family expanding. That Lynn isn’t here to enjoy those things still breaks my heart. It’s not fair, and never will be fair. But I have little doubt that, in her heart, this is what she wanted—happiness and joy for her loved ones.

So, while I’m prone to mock certain holiday cards, the goodness far outweighs anything else.

Merry Kwanza.