'Tis the Season to Embellish

Blowing smoke up Santa's chimney

I’m going to make a holiday admission that will probably irritate some people: I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas letters — you know, those long accounts, written on seasonal stationary, that some people send out with their Christmas cards to catch their friends up on what’s been going on with them and their family over the past year.

It’s not that I’m not interested in hearing about such things. In most cases, I am. But as my wife and I like to joke, many such letters come across as a bulleted list of bragging rights, centering around things like amazing vacations, grand achievements, and remarkable personal fortune.

“I want to hear about the dysfunction,” I once said to my wife with a chuckle, as I was reading a family’s Christmas letter. “I mean, their kid drove their brand new car into a lake last summer, and there’s absolutely nothing about it here in the letter.”

Okay, so I made up that story about the lake. I did so because if I told the actual story (which I assure you isn’t any less spectacular), it might get back to the family in question, and they’d probably get mad at me.

My point is that Christmas letters, by nature, tend to be a bit contrived… in some cases, even embellished. The goal is usually to place each family member in the best possible light. It makes sense, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But the fluffing is sometimes so overboard, and so braggy, that I can’t help but find it amusing. So amusing, in fact, that it inspired a Daly family tradition… one that incorporates my own embellishing skills as a novelist.

A few years ago, I launched the first inaugural Daly Family Christmas Letter. While it includes a number of real-life family events, those events are — let’s say — enhanced with a strong dose of imagination. It’s an exotic year-end review that stands head and shoulders above the chronicles of even our most accomplished and adventurous friends. It not only grossly exaggerates our achievements, but also our failures (or at least devised failures), spinning wild tales off of a few candid truths (and each family member’s real-life personality) to lay out outrageous, alternative stories.

For example, I had a lot of fun taking my wife Sarah’s 40th birthday celebration to the next level in 2017’s letter. The true part of the story was that I rented out a local movie theater for a private-party screening of her all-time favorite movie, Dirty Dancing. Then… I got a little creative:

The event was a blast, with a large group of Sarah’s friends and family joining her for a night of corny dialogue, cheesy 80’s music, and further speculation over how far actress Jennifer Grey’s career could have gone, had it not been for a disastrous nose-job. The night was highlighted by Sarah drunkenly demanding that attendees rise from their seats and participate in the iconic End of the Summer dance. Initially met with hesitation and confusion, Sarah commanded compliance by blocking the exit, smashing open a beer bottle, and waving its jagged neck at frightened guests while screaming, “We paid for your damn tickets, now get up!” Unfortunately, the loud sobbing and frantic 9-1-1 calls that filled the theater drowned out most of the movie’s main song, “The Time of My Life.”

As the patriarch of the Daly family, I reserve most of the family folly for myself, like my description of our vacation to the Western Slope of Colorado a few years back:

… The only real mishap took place in Pagosa Springs, where the family had planned to relax in the mineral hot-springs pools that morning. Due to John forgetting to pack his hair-clipper, Sarah was unable to perform the customary preliminary procedure of shaving his back. Thus, when John removed his shirt at the pool, a public panic quickly ensued, and he was sprayed in the face with bear repellent before being shot in the neck with a tranquilizer gun. Luckily, Sarah explained the misunderstanding to forest rangers, and John was soon tagged and released back into the wild.

I could cite even more outrageous excerpts, but I’m guessing you get the gist.

Lots of friends get a kick out of the letter (which my wife enjoys contributing to), and very much appreciate the satire. Unfortunately, we had to stop sending it to certain family members just a couple years after the tradition began, my parents among them. As crazy as the stories were (and are), Mom and Dad Daly had great difficulty deciphering what was real, and what wasn’t. So did my brother and a few others. This created a fair amount of confusion and gossip, along with sincere worries that I and others in my household had been either hospitalized or arrested. Therefore, to spare the involved parties some drama, we started withholding the annual letter from them (and people on our list who they regularly talk to) under the unspoken premise that we no longer write it, and instead just send everyone cards.

Believe me, it’s best for everyone.

Unsurprisingly, this topic came to mind because December is just about here, and I’m getting ready to start work on this year’s letter. 2020 has of course been a rough year, which makes a comedic take on it a bit more challenging, but my wife and I are up for the challenge. I think it will be a good one.

Do you send out a Christmas letter? If so, please feel free to let me know how much of a jerk I am for poking fun at them.


Grappling with Some Things

I wrote a column last week for Bernie’s Goldberg’s website that’s still getting quite a bit of attention. In it, I looked at the theory that cable news networks picked up where professional wrestling left off (and won over a good chunk of their audience in the process). Eric Bischoff, former President of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), who I cite in the piece, calls my column a “must read.”

You can read the piece here.

Speaking of pro-wrestling, someone from the industry who I really admired passed away last week. His name was Bob Ryder.

No, he wasn’t a wrestler, and I’d be shocked if any Daly Grind readers recognized his name. He was a backstage guy, who actually worked for Eric Bichoff and WCW during the company’s heyday. He co-hosted a popular, behind-the-curtain Internet show that aired every Monday night, immediately following the company’s flagship television program. Bob was also the founder of 1wrestling.com (a once very popular wrestling-news website), and a co-founder of IMPACT Wrestling, a promotion that has been around (under different names) since 2002.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a longtime wrestling fan. I’m more of a casual fan these days, but back in the mid 80s (when I was a kid) and again in the late 90s (when I was a young, unmarried adult), I watched many hours of sweaty dudes in tights throwing each other around in a ring.

It was in that second era (the late 90s) that I became familiar with Bob. I was a regular listener of his aforementioned Internet show, “WCW Live!”. I’d listen to it as I did apartment chores or played around on eBay.

Bob always came across as an incredibly kind, thoughtful man. He had a clear passion for the wrestling business, and genuinely enjoyed talking with fans and talent about it. But again, what stood out to me was his personal decency, lightheartedness, and respect for people (even those who were disrespectful toward him).

Though he kept a low profile outside of the Internet, Bob actually did appear in front of the cameras once. It was as part of a wrestling story-line in which a wrestler named Tank Abbott (he was a successful MMA fighter before that, and thus a true bad-ass) was “beating up” non-wrestlers until he was granted a shot at the world title. As sort of a shout-out to listeners of WCW Live!, Bob was scripted (reluctantly, if I recall) to be one of Abbott’s victims.

Here’s the clip (sorry about the poor quality of the video):

“The whole Internet crew’s been wiped out!”

What’s particularly funny about the segment is that Abbott later told Bob that Bob had physically hurt him more than any competitor he had ever faced.

“What?” you’re probably asking, being that it was Bob who was clearly on the receiving end of that exchange.

It takes a keen eye (and a second view of the video), but right at the moment where Abbott pushes Bob into the side of the ring, the force of that move inadvertently sends Bob’s knee up directly between Abbott’s legs. Abbott was in excruciating pain (though he covered it up well) throughout the rest of that segment.

After WCW effectively went out of business, I actually met Bob at a start-up wrestling event in Las Vegas. Sarah (my fiancee at the time) and I had been wanting to go to Vegas for a long weekend anyway, so we planned the trip around the date of the event (my wife’s a very charitable person).

Bob was very kind and generous with his time, and I enjoyed our conversation. Months later, when a number of writers for his wrestling-news website abruptly left at the same time to launch their own website, I offered him my pro-bono writing services to help fill in the gaps until he could hire others. He was very appreciative, and I had a lot of fun doing some show reviews and opinion pieces. It wasn’t cutting-edge, “insider” content or anything like that, but I was glad to be of some help. In a way, it was sort of my first national writing gig (and good experience for later things).

I lost touch with Bob quite a while ago, and it’s not like we were all that tight to begin with, but I was deeply saddened when I heard last week that he had been found dead in his home, following a long battle with cancer. He was a good man with a good heart, who, according to the dozens and dozens of tweets from former colleagues I’ve read over the past few days, was incredibly loyal and generous to everyone he knew.

IMPACT Wrestling posted a nice tribute to Bob on their website, if any of you are interested in reading it.

The Hullabaloo

Looking for a unique Christmas gift for a friend or family member? How about a signed, personalized copy of one of my Sean Coleman Thrillers? You can order them directly from my website, and they’ll get to your house with plenty of time left before Christmas.

Random Thought

Has an Edward James Olmos character ever smiled?

Featured Vinyl

An old friend of mine once remarked that the band Los Lobos performs Ritchie Valens’ music better than Valens did. I agree, as evidenced by their fantastic work on 1987’s La Bamba soundtrack.

The entire album is really good (and a lot of fun), with acts from the 80s (including Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats) putting their own rockabilly spin on classic songs from the 50s, but Los Lobos’s covers are particularly strong. While the iconic title track received the most radio play at the time (for obvious reasons), "Come On, Let's Go!" is my favorite song on the album. There’s just something about its energy and pacing that makes you want to play it over and over again.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

Want to drop me a line? You can email me at johndalybooks@hotmail.com. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, please click on the “Subscribe now” button below. Doing so will get these posts emailed directly to you.

Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books (they make great Christmas gifts), you can order them directly from my website.

Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!