AS OLD MAN WINTER arrives, he brings two kinds of "annual letters" tucked inside Christmas (or, to be P.C., holiday) cards.
The first kind is filled with bad news. The second is good news, which can be worse if it fills you with envy.
The bad-news letter reveals someone is suffering with a disease, or lost a loved one, a job, a pet, or is living in the shade of betrayal by a loved one. That evokes pity, but maybe also relief that the evil tide has engulfed someone other than you.
In the season of joy, the bad-news letter chills you like a penguin's backside. Can a note from you comfort someone in great pain? Some think so, but I think that's inadequate. So now I feel guilty. Thanks.
Last year, the great Phil Jasner, our Hall of Fame Sixers beat writer, died at the end of Hanukkah, which will forever mar the joyous holiday for his survivors. Or does it guarantee they will always remember him at this time of year?
No, they would remember him anyway. This bad-news segment is a downer. That's why I put it first. The rest of the column will be upbeat - making fun of other peoples' foibles.
I have a lifelong friend whose daughter is a future president of the United States. I am not kidding. To avoid embarrassing him, I won't use his name, but when Katie becomes president, I'll come back to say, "I told you so."
Even before she was out of college, she had seen about a quarter of the world - concentrating on the hell holes - volunteering to help in education and health. Every year an annual letter arrived filled with Katie's greater and greater awards and achievements, while my own offspring . . . let's just say they won't be president.
Sometimes annual letters have pictures, so easy to do on a computer. Oh, look! Here's a picture of friends standing on the Bridge of Sighs or in front of the Eiffel Tower or in Red Square. This year, I'm guilty. My letter had a shot of me on an elephant taken in Thailand. Just a big showoff, like everyone else.
The big problem with most annual letters is too many people just pour out a gallon of slush. Good writing is hard. I can't sing, so I don't sing in public. But some people who can't write, write anyway. Most blogs are loaded with things from people with nothing to say - and say it badly.
Then there are people who can write, but usually brag (see above) about their kids. While Katie gives her parents ample ammunition, some parents think a really good BM by their 4-year-old deserves mention.
It does not. Nor does your big (undeserved) raise, hitting the machines at Parx for 10 grand, nor the McMansion you got for table scraps because the owner went bankrupt.
We don't really want to read about your ultra-luxury cruise (unless it ran aground) or your 5-star hotel in Rio (unless they discovered bedbugs and rats).
It's the wrong economy to be "sharing" all that. Just send a picture of the kids and the dog.
My annual letter is more entertaining than my average column because I don't have an editor, libel lawyer or P.C. coordinator scrutinizing every word.
I am free to insult. And I do. Including my bosses, but since a few of them actually read my column, I must not say more. Think of this as my annual letter this year (the public version anyway).
Happy New Year!