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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

The recent and unlikely controversy surrounding Frank Loesser's 1949 Academy Award-winner "Baby, It's Cold Outside" got me reflecting on other songs that aren't about Christmas itself but have an association with the holiday season just the same. My favorite of these is Tom Waits' "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis," from Tom's 1978 album "Blue Valentine."

Tom takes the 32-bar format of the pop standard, elongates it, then superimposes on it some very non-standard-like subject matter and imagery:

Hey Charley, I'm pregnant, living on 9th Street

Right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue

I stopped takin' dope and I quit drinkin' whiskey

My old man plays the trombone and works out at the track

He says that he loves me, even though it's not his baby

He says that he'll raise him up like he would his own son

He gave me a ring that was worn by his mother

And he takes me out dancin' every Saturday night

And hey Charley, I think about you every time I pass a fillin' station

On account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair

I still have that record, Little Anthony and the Imperials

But someone stole my record player, well now how do you like that?

And hey Charley, I almost went crazy after Mario got busted

I went back to Omaha to live with my folks

But everyone I used to know was either dead or in prison

So I came back to Minneapolis, this time I think I'm gonna stay

Hey Charley, I think I'm happy for the first time since my accident

I wish I had all the money we used to spend on dope

I'd buy me a used car lot and I wouldn't sell any of 'em

I'd just drive a different car every day dependin' on how I feel

Hey Charley, for Chrissake, if you want to know the truth of it

I don't have a husband, he don't play the trombone

I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charley, hey

I'll be eligible for parole come Valentine's Day

It's a minor masterpiece. And I still wonder if Charley ever sent her the money.

  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

One of my early insights from working after school in the travel agency concerned the different ways people perceive distance and time.

A client phoned, needing to fly one-way from Birmingham, Ala., I believe it was, home to Los Angeles. With no direct service from Birmingham to L.A., the smoothest connections and lowest fare on the desired travel date involved flying from Birmingham to Atlanta, then changing planes to a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. I began describing the schedules to our client, but when I mentioned Atlanta, he stopped me.

"I'm heading to L.A.," he said. "Birmingham to Atlanta takes me in the wrong direction."

I paused. Our client wanted to fly west from Birmingham and was correct, of course, that Atlanta is to the east. I explained that the way the schedules fell, connecting in Atlanta would put him on the ground at LAX sooner than if he changed planes anywhere else. And he would pay less to boot.

But our client remained stuck on the unacceptability of traveling east when he wanted to go west. At a certain point in the conversation, I think I tried to analogize the situation to that of Christopher Columbus, who had wanted to go east but was convinced he would get there faster by sailing west. Wasn't our client's time ultimately more important to him than the direction of the city in which he would change planes?

Apparently not; the gentleman still wouldn't budge.

In the end, I booked a reservation from Birmingham to Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles. Our client paid more and arrived home later, but he flew west from the get-go as he wanted and didn't let anybody make a chump out of him.

This scenario has come up a few times since then, most recently just a couple of years ago. I no longer push quite as hard to persuade a client that they shouldn't object to starting off in the opposite direction of their final destination. Doing what your client wants you to do sometimes conflicts with what you know would be best for them. But as my dad liked to say, "The customer is often right."

  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

How much do Laurie Bauman and I love each other? I went for a walk on Sunday and Laurie made sure the porch light was on for me when I got back ... even though it was the middle of the afternoon. And I can't resist letting everyone know. That's how much.

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