Jim Ruffalo: The Christmas mood seems cheerier this year

Looking behind the scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Is it just me, or is it getting nicer around here? Well, maybe “nicer” isn’t the correct word, but more about my problem with picking the correct word later in this column. Perhaps the proper word is “hopeful” because there seems to be a change of attitude going on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m painfully aware that financial matters are indeed getting worse, and jobs have become scarcer than Republican senators really giving up earmarks. Still, something is in the air and it isn’t the next Arctic blast. Anybody notice there are more “howdies” being uttered, people holding the door open for others rather than rushing into an establishment (Black Friday an exception)? And lately I hear more people using those almost archaic words of “please” and “thank you” in normal conversations and transactions. Harvey Roper agrees with me, which in itself is nicer. That conversation began about the national “shop local” campaign for the final Saturday of November. According to Roper, his Lincoln Way jewelry “saw more foot traffic than normal, and our sales were up 25 percent over a year ago to date.” Naturally, I was prepared with other mercantile questions, but Roper went off on another tangent. “There’s another thing I’ve noticed. It seems that people’s spirits are a lot higher this year than last,”‘ he said. “It’s as if people are tired of being told to be depressed. This year, they’re insistent on having a good Christmas.” He may be correct. People do appear determined to enjoy the season, despite bad news arriving at about the same pace as the Alaskan Gulf storms. Why? You need to ask somebody in a higher pay-grade than mine, although it could be pent-up demand, frustration at not getting anything new, or even the Titanic Syndrome where passengers up to their lips in freezing water suddenly wished they’d done more in their lifespan. On the other hand, it could be as it was when we bridged the gap between Carter’s malaise and Reagan’s “city of the shinning hill” optimism. However, Roper thinks it’s simpler than all those guesses. “We create our own destiny,” he insists. “Last year, people seemed to be trying to do the best they could with what they had, but this time, people are set on having a Christmas.” Roper seemed surprised that I was surprised by this new attitude. “I’ve always been thrilled that people — up here, anyway — are self-sufficient and determined to take care of themselves and their families. And they also try to take care of others who don’t have that much, which explains why we always have more volunteers than anywhere else.” So a pessimist sees the glass as half-empty, but Roper always seems to be filling it to the brim for you ... Mea culpa: Last week, I wrote in part about those publicists working in the livery of governmental entities, and while I haven’t changed my mind about what I felt is the proper choice between paying them or paying for public safety, I do feel an apology is in order. In that column, I described Anita Yoder as “competent” and meant it as a compliment. How foolish! Somebody such as myself who juggles words for a living needs to be far more careful in which ones he chooses. While “competent” is not pejorative, it hardly describes Yoder’s career. She not only consistently wrote a usable press release (a lost art these days), she also doubled in Office of Emergency Services duties, and was always thinking about how the news business operates, which was apparent by her suddenly appearing seemingly from nowhere with just the right reference, quote or phone number of a needed contact. And on that rather rare occasion when we got it completely correct, there would be a note or call complimenting us. Obviously, she had a special place in her heart for us wretched scribes, especially when she felt we blundered. Rather than pick up the phone or dash off a curt memo to chew us out, she’d politely ask us if we’d like to review this file, or talk to that county employee, or give us a page number of some arcane report where more info could be mined. Yoder wasn’t always right that we were wrong, but she always defended her brood, and tried to guide us to the story she wanted. Most other flacks feel similarly about their turfs, but Yoder never, ever was vitriolic. She even e-mailed me after the column, gently referencing “competent,” but also including one last piece of news, pointing out that County CEO Tom Miller has already made it known she won’t be replaced. How right he is! Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at