Monthly Archives: October 2008

In the True Spirit of Halloween…

I am about to commit an act of unspeakable evil. But since I admitted it ahead of time you have to forgive me!!!

A REPOST!

I am sure this is breaking the cardinal rule of blogging, but in my defense, when I first posted it a year ago, NO ONE and I mean not a single soul on this or the other side of the veil of tears read my blog.  Okay, maybe one person stumbled onto it by accident.  But now that I have some wonderful readers I cannot resist the temptation to entertain them with this holiday-appropriate article.  I do hope my sinful act is not in vain…

Halloween: Not Just for Kids

I’ve always loved Halloween – a pleasure that was condoned until I was 13. Now, at the ripe old age of 30-something, some people want to know, why do you still get into it? Well, I’m not alone. Sixty-three percent of Americans celebrate Halloween, with 30% of the adults joining the kids in costume, according to the National Retail Foundation’s Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. Americans spend more than $4 billion a year on candy, costumes, cards and decorations for Halloween, and the holiday’s popularity has been spreading internationally. Halloween became popular in Britain after “E.T.” arrived in theaters and demonstrated the unbeatable fun of trick-or-treating. Germans see fit to blow more than $100 million a year on the holiday. And in Romania, home of the Dracula myth, revelers brave the haunted night to attend parties with vampire themes.

But the question remains in some people’s minds: why would adults enjoy participating in Halloween?

 

I have to admit that, for me, candy has a lot to do with Halloween’s appeal. (And by “candy,” I mean “chocolate.” I’m one of those for whom any candy not involving chocolate is really more “trick” than “treat.”) ‘Tis better to give than to receive, as they say, and I do enjoy opening the door and depositing a sweet in each child’s bucket, so much so it might seem I had stock in a dentist’s practice. But I’ve always got a private stash of my favorite candies close at hand and, because it’s Halloween, I can indulge to my heart’s content, though often this involves my stomach’s discontent.

Since becoming a mother of trick-or-treaters, I never have to worry about running out of candy; I always know that very soon, my intrepid young treasure-hunters will return with bags of sweet plunder, replenishing my dwindling sugar supply. The key is to talk up the Tootsie Pops and Sweet Tarts – just to distract them as I snag some of their M&Ms. (I’ve also found it useful to encourage the belief that coconut is just this side of poisonous, thus ensuring that the Mounds will all be mine.)

To the untrained eye there is an apparent inconsistency in my delight in Halloween; I won’t go anywhere near a horror flick, and indeed will scream and hyperventilate if my son creeps up behind me and says, “Boo!” in broad daylight, so why do I enjoy the creepiest of holidays? The thing is, when Halloween first started a few thousand years ago in ancient Celtic communities, it was the night when dead folks or demons were said to wander among the living. The idea of a scary costume was to frighten them off, or at least to blend in among them and not appear to be a vulnerable living target. Being the scaredy-pants I am, I can get onboard with that.

Plus I love the attention. When I was seven I dressed as an alien in a homemade green fur costume with a tinted motorcycle visor mask and twisted copper wire antennae – I got applause at every house I went to. Often the door-opener would call to other people in the house to come and see the Martian that had landed on the front stoop. That kind of childhood glory can be seriously addictive.

The creativity of costuming is a good chance to turn my imagination loose. The National Retail Foundation reports that in 2006 the most popular children’s costumes were the princess and the pirate, but I like to get a lot funkier than that. (I find that sampling the candy I bought for handing out helps stimulate the creative process.) Our family disguises have included a bellydancer, Tigger and a sorcerer, all handmade by me. It’s one thing to have a child select a pre-made costume from a rack at the big box store, but it is even more fun to have them select a pattern, fabric and notions for a custom outfit.

Even better are the get-ups whipped together five minutes before the doorbell starts ringing, like the year I was a scarecrow wearing a plaid flannel shirt, my jeans and a straw hat. To complete the effect I blackened my whole nose with an eyeliner pencil, teased my hair until it looked like a bird’s nest and grabbed some long brown grass from a neighboring field so it could stick out the ends of my sleeves and collar. My neck itched all night but it was worth it; the neighborhood kids’ eyes bugged out to see a grown-up joining in their game with such abandon.

The artistic side to Halloween continues with the decorations, especially the Jack-O-Lantern, which is derived from the ancient Celtic custom of making a lantern out of a hollowed turnip. This tradition is based on the legend of “Stingy Jack,” a swindler and a drunk who got in trouble with the devil and had to wander about with a candle in a carved-out turnip. When the Irish brought their Halloween celebrations to the New World and found a plethora of pumpkins, they upgraded this particular practice and now we have the fabulous works of art that sit on front porches with faces that beckon or threaten, depending on whether you are a trick-or-treater or a mischievous spirit. This may be my favorite part of Halloween; after all, which other holiday’s decoration preparation involves wielding a sharp knife to gut a monstrous gourd that will end up as a one-of-a-kind candle holder? (And if I find myself getting discouraged, a quick dip into the candy stash provides just the right little pick-me-up!)

Though the US Census Bureau reports that there are 109.6 million occupied housing units in America, all potential trick-or-treat stops, I believe that Halloween means more than trying to get our share of the available loot. In today’s mobile society, a lot of us get the chance to interact socially with co-workers, church groups and at school functions, but because we tend to move a lot, we seldom get to know our neighbors. Americans have gotten further and further away from the basic human need to know the folks that inhabit the same territory as we do. Halloween gives us the opportunity to accompany our kids as they knock on everyone’s door for a brief, friendly exchange.

And what a better way to greet a neighbor than with a chocolate bar!

This article was first published in The Lake Magazine

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New release of a brilliant movie

One of my favorite writers and directors, Sembène Ousmane, about whom I have previously posted when he passed away last year, directed a movie called “Camp de Thiaroye” which is coming out on DVD on November 11th.  I am so excited that I even pre-ordered it.

Normally I wouldn’t shamelessly plug something, I’m a fairly mellow consumer, but to most people, African cinema is so obscure that I feel like if speak up, there might be a couple more people in the world that know they have another choice besides a Hollywood flick for their entertainment.

There are a lot of reasons that these movies stay obscure.  People don’t like subtitles.  Non-Hollywood movies tend to move slower and so spectators used to rapid-fire action can’t sit still ’til the end.  These movies aren’t widely available (I haven’t checked Netflix) but you have to know someone to borrow them from or else order your own copy through Amazon (definitely worth owning!) The budget that an African director works with is so much smaller than what is available for a Hollywood film that the movie’s set, costumes and such sometimes seem amateurish compared to what spectators are used to.  And sometimes, people don’t want to view a new perspective of the world in a movie, they just want the same rehashed plotline with more cleavage and a bigger explosion.

But there is so much that the average American doesn’t know about the history of the world.  Did you know in the 1880’s the big European nations got together for the “Berlin Conference” and agreed who got which part of Africa, so that they didn’t waste their energy fighting each other over parcels but could focus their efforts on suppressing (that is a nice word for killing and enslaving) the indigenous African populations?  Did you know that many African nations got their independence in the 1960’s, but that Europe and the US essentially maintained control over the countries through puppet dictatorships (which Sembène shows clearly at the beginning of his movie “Xala”)?

The movie coming out in a couple of weeks, called “Camp de Thiaroye,” tells another important, and true, story, that of the soldiers from Senegal who fought alongside French soldiers against the Nazis.  The movie exposes what happened when the Senegalese soldiers returned home and were “rewarded” by the French.

I can’t say much else without spoiling the movie.  I wish I could hold a screening in my living room and invite everyone.  I feel it is so important for us to get outside our comfort zones and our narrow points of view and see the world through totally new eyes.  Sembène achieves this result, plus entertaining us, making us laugh, endearing us to characters, and amazing us with things we’ve never seen before.  Making us think and realize a new truth are just the icing.

If you somehow get a chance to see it, I highly recommend this movie.

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Taking a ride downtown

Let me preface this post by saying, if your community has a police ride-along program, you should RUN not walk to the police station and sign up.  It is must-see tv up close and personal.

I was worried that the officer would find my presence annoying, but he said that he enjoys the company, and by the way he acted, I believed him.  Once I thought about it, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours impressing the average citizen with computers and lights and incredible acceleration?

Lucky for me nothing too exciting happened.  I’m somewhat of a chicken (which is why I signed up for a Sunday!  If you want action, obviously you’ll want to go for a Friday or Saturday night…) but I got just what I wanted — a backstage pass to hang out with a hero.

My first revelation came when the officer saw a suspicious character and immediately drove TOWARDS him.  My gut instinct is always to run AWAY from trouble screaming like a little girl, and I am seriously shocked and awed by people who are drawn in its direction.  Aren’t we lucky that I am not in law enforcement!!!

My second big eye-opener was to realize how much investigation is involved.  You know how sometimes a patrol car will come up on your tail really fast and you are painfully certain that they are going to pull you over?  Then they disappear?  Several times last night he followed someone and called in their tag, then let them go when he found out it wasn’t who he was looking for.  PHEW!

And this is just one example of the eagle eyes that the officer develops in the line of duty.  Many times throughout the night he would say, “Did you see that?” and I’m looking around wildly into the darkness and then I would finally spot what he saw.  They are constantly scanning for the slightest thing out of place, the smallest sign of suspicious activity, the cars belonging to the people who must have warrants served on them, the faces of wanted people, cars violating traffic laws… etc.  My eyes are only tuned to making sure that traffic is staying where it is supposed to so I can avoid an accident.  For a police officer that is only step one in a long line of visual sorting and decision-making.

I was able to observe how 911 operators are heroes as amazing as the law enforcement out on the street, and the officer gladly acknowledged this.  Within a second he could have the attention of a dispatcher, and his request for information would be responded to within a few more seconds.  They are an efficient and reliable team and I feel very secure knowing that these would be the people working to help me should I ever need it.

Some other random tidbits:

He said that, unlike an episode of “Cops”, police work is 90% boring (paperwork, checking on buildings, driving through neighborhoods, lying in wait for traffic infractions) and 10% exciting.  He says he is an adrenaline junkie so he lives for that 10%.  (I would be avoiding it like the plague!)

He pointed out how people slam on their brakes when they see his car, which actually makes the road more dangerous.  I saw this first hand when he had a difficult time maneuvering through traffic to get to a suspicious car because people began to assume unpredictable speeds as soon as he got close.  Just act cool, people!

He is collecting his evidence and composing his argument to the judge from the first moment he spots a subject or situation.  He has an eye and mind to make sure that a wrong-doer is successfully prosecuted so that the system has the chance to work the way lawmakers intended, and that he, as an officer of the law, does not mess up a single one of the jillion procedures he is supposed to follow, resulting in a criminal getting away with their crime.

And to dispel a final myth: He did not eat a single donut all night.

I cannot express strongly enough how impressed I was with this officer and the department he represents.  I learned a lot and highly recommend the experience to any concerned citizen.

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No future for nostalgia?

A couple of years ago I wasn’t in touch with anyone from my past.  Not because I’d burned any bridges, not because there wasn’t anyone dear.  Just lost touch, moved away, got lazy, whatever.

Then when we left Oregon for North Carolina I got on Facebook and found a few people from the recent past.  But in the last few months, and most especially in the last few days, I have found a whole lot of friends and family that I haven’t spoken to in, well, not to make myself sound old, but… decades.

It is blowing my little mind.

Pretty soon everyone will have at their fingertips access to everyone they’ve ever known.  We are all starting to make our way onto the Net, that vast container that begins to encompass all of humanity, and we will be able to see how old or beautiful or successful or pitiful or broken we have all gotten.

And then what is to become of nostalgia?  When it all comes out of the past, all the old photos posted onto profiles, all the stories relived, what will become of memory?  Our entire past and present will exist on pages networked throughout cyberspace.  Instead of making up a perfect image of the good old days, I will simply enter a search and retrieve it from a database.  Instead of telling an embellished story of adventure, carefully amended for the whims of the audience I wish to entertain, the tale will be told on a blog with everyone adding comments.

I’m not complaining!  It is all new and exciting.  I am not afraid because I get to make it up as we go along, same as the next guy.  None of it has ever been done before.  No one has ever lived like this, on such a scale, inside such a network.

Does it blow your mind too?

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Folly in Polly-ticking

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.
  – Paul Valery

I thought this quote was appropriate for the present climate of election frenzy which threatens to choke the life out of any hope of rationality.  I think my brain is getting a bit mushy from trying to keep up with the verbal gymnastics that is policy debate, which inevitably just dumps me on my head right where I started.

I need to go dig my hands into the dirt, touch something real.

I need to go sit out beneath the moon and just watch her be round.

I need to sit atop a cliff and feel the Pacific ocean pound the hell out of the rocks below.

I want silence, just honest, straightforward nothing, so we can all look around us and remember what the point was.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m just coming off closing statements by Presidential candidates.  It’s enough to drive anyone to drivel.  Or dribble.  Not the basketball kind, the lobotomy kind.

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Team loyalty

I feel that there’s something slightly slutty about shifting the weight of one’s team affiliation, or rooting for more than one team, so I have come here today to attempt to explain my NFL team preferences and hope that I emerge with some shred of integrity generated by the rationality and/or sheer passion of my arguments.  

I’ve watched football since I was a tiny kid by virtue of it being on in my father’s living room, but I soon got old enough to turn it on myself.  Just the sound of it in the background reminds me of Thanksgiving and lazy Sunday afternoons, my Dad slowly raising two fists while uttering a subdued “yes…,” the opportunity to ask him endless questions about why there was a flag when the guys were just running and smashing the way they always do.

In order to feel less sleezy, I want to explain to anyone who will listen why in heaven’s name I appear to root for all manner of teams, and why there are teams I never cared about who are suddenly making their way onto my roster of approval.

# 1 Oakland Raiders  (This is most likely the only time you will ever see them associated with the number one, unless it is a list of the all-time most crappy teams…)  As long as they stay in Oakland, they will always be my number one team, since they are only a two-minute BART ride from the place I was born.  My Dad won’t root for them until Al Davis is run out of town tarred and feathered, but I was just so happy when they left LA and came home that I can ignore the fact that they are run by a lunatic.  (For further thoughts on this particular neurosis of mine, please see one of my previous blogs: The Ten Best Things About Being a Raider’s Fan )

#2 Miami Dolphins  A recent addition to my list of favorites, this has always been my husband’s favorite team.  If we invite you over to dinner, feel free to insult any politician, deliver a raging diatribe against any basketball organization, even make snide comments about the Pope, but if you so much as sneeze at my husband’s mother or Dan Marino, you’d better make for the nearest exit right quick.

#3 Detroit Lions  My father’s favorite team, being his hometown.  When I was a kid I secretly hated the Lions, just to be contrary, so the fact that they are third now is a big step up.  But, to make up for it, the Detroit Tigers always were and always will be my favorite baseball team, even over and above the Oakland A’s.  (Plus “Athletics” is a moronic name and they have lame colors.)

#4 Carolina Panthers  This is the most recent addition and in fact the inspiration for this post.  I never cared a whit about these guys, until:

  1. My youngest son was born in North Carolina
  2. We are entering our second year of being residents of North Carolina
  3. And finally, and really the most valid reason of all, Panther games are the only damn thing they will consistently show on the channels we get.

#5 Seattle Seahawks  A leftover affiliation from my 15 years of living in Oregon, where they somehow manage to carry on living without a professional football team.  (It’s shocking, really, it must be the oxygen deprivation caused by all the burning patchouli.)  Most residents who are savvy enough to hug trees AND watch football at the same time root for the Seahawks, just to try to elevate awareness of Seattle as the birthplace of grunge, I suppose.

#6 Chicago Bears  This is a demented kind of loyalty to my other son, who was not born in Chicago and indeed has never set foot in the state of Illinois but somewhere along the way decided that he liked the Cubs and the Bears.  I’ll root for them against most everyone who isn’t above them on my list, just to give my son the illusion that Mama supports his interests.

#7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers  Another team similar to the two directly above.  My husband doesn’t wish they were dead, so if they happen to be playing another team that we care even less about, we will root for them just to make the game exciting.  They don’t even really deserve to be on the list.  The fact that I extend the list this far just dilutes my fanhood to an embarrassing degree.

So let’s end that list now and move on to the opposite group, not intending to insult or offend anyone, bearing in mind that this list is even less well-thought-out and its illegitimate status should not be questioned but just assumed:

Teams, in no particular order, that I will always root against:

San Francisco 49ers  Okay, this is the only even vaguely legit one.  My father and grandfather used to cross the bay to go to 49ers games many decades ago, until the fans became so obnoxious and violent that it wasn’t fun anymore.  At one point some drunk maniac threatened my grandfather, I think the story goes, and they decided from that moment on to be done with the team forever.  I am carrying out the tradition in the style of genuine, bigoted, mindless hate.

Dallas Cowboys  This is kind of like hating the most popular girl in school, even if she’s nice.  Stemming from a severe lack of self-esteem and jealousy, I have decided that the Cowboys suck and I despise them.  My husband likes them okay, so it kind of relieves any tension I might feel in our relationship to be able to declare “Well I think they stink!” and know that no permanent damage is done.

Any team in the New England area/NY  I’m not entirely sure of the origin of this, if it is a carry-over from my learned abhorrence of the Yankees (having been raised by a Tigers fan, you understand) or being a Californian who thought that NY was our main cultural rival, or if in a past life I was killed by a murderer wearing a Jets windbreaker.  In any event, this organic displeasure is reinforced by my husband who has the whole “South vs. Damn Yankees” issue going on.

And that’s pretty much it.  All the other teams will get my cheers if they play a team on the hated list, will get my boos if they play someone on my sweet darlings list, and will get the game turned off if they are playing each other.

Unless I am super desperate for a game, which happens with alarming frequency.  I think this addiction is the origin of my unfocussed loyalty, and I think a true aficionado of the sport would understand;  I NEED to watch FOOTBALL right this MINUTE and the only game on is a rerun of West Virginia playing Arkansas in 1976.  Go Razorbacks, whoever you are!!!

Thank you for listening, and judge kindly, remembering that I am battling a serious football addiction.  It’s not me, it’s the disease.

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My obsessions

You have to imagine the groovy twangy beat of that Stevie Wonder song from 1972, “Superstition,” playing in the background as you read this, because as soon as I read the word “obsession” this morning and realized I’d been tagged on http://stacybuckeye.wordpress.com/  my brain remixed the song to reflect this topic.

Here is my obsession… BOWbowpbowpBOW-buh-bowpbowp…”

Problem is, you could cut and paste Stacy’s post and it would quite nicely represent my own situation (changing the name “Jason” to “Richard” would be the biggest edit).  So in order to avoid being a copycat, I am going to have to change it up a little.  Instead of organizing by number of years old (yet another similarity!) I’m just going to riff on a few big fat categories.

Food

Chocolate, for openers.  And closers too, thank you very much.  As I always say, if it doesn’t have chocolate in it, it doesn’t really count as a treat.  

Seafood.  Fish tacos, shrimp scampi, crab louie, poached salmon with a buttery pesto sauce.  Oooo baby.  If it’s been extracted from the stinky polluted swill that is our modern day ocean and served with rice pilaf, then count me in.

Coffee.  ‘Nuff said.

Eating out.  I know it is an addiction which involves spending too much money that is, quite literally, flushed down the crapper, but I crave going out to eat.  I love not having to cook it (though I do love cooking, I just need the occasional respite), feeling taken care of, even if it’s for a price, and best of all, not having to clean up after it, dirty dishes being my nemesis.

Eating with my family.  Due to my husband’s current work schedule, I’ve pretty much had to give up this obsession, but it still means a lot to me.  Sure, after hours of making a special meal and laying it out in a lovely way on the table for the whole family to enjoy, the event inevitably ends with one kid refusing to eat the squishy looking side dish and the baby howling for attention and one of the older kids yapping ad nauseum about some goofball thing that happened at school that doesn’t even sound like it was funny to have actually been there for.  But somewhere in the midst of it all, I always have a lucid moment where I rise above all the squalling and complaining and appreciate that we all happen to be in the same place at the same time and that this is why I bothered getting up this morning.

Books

If you took all the books I’d ever owned and laid them end to end, it would reach the moon.  Or at least Cleveland.  Okay, probably only up the street, but you get the angle I’m going for.

I currently own a paltry two bookcases worth, which does not accurately represent my deep love for these items.  I love the way they smell, the way an old heavy hardbound opens into the palm of your hand and submits to your penetrating gaze, the way a new paperback waits with intact, unbent spine for me to be the first to devour its words.  

I love to hold a reference book and imagine that I hold the key to an entire subject, that simply by possessing it I become the ultimate master of whole kingdoms of human knowledge.

I love to fall so deeply into a fictional tale that the world around me becomes laughably irrelevant and the only thing that matters any more is the bright tunnel that leads me on into the author’s imagination.

I love to fall so deeply in love with a character that I genuinely miss them when I close the book for the final time, the bittersweet joy of having made the acquaintance of a fabulous personality about whom I will never learn more, but who must wait in passive silence for me to deign to visit again when I reread the book.

“The power!!!”  *cue lightening and thunder*  “The awesome power!!!”

Kids

I suppose you could say they are my driving obsession… driving them to the park, to the library…

I could go on forever about them, but one of them is in desperate need of a diaper change and another hasn’t stopped hounding me since I began this post to hurry up and finish so he can play on the internet.  

So I will wrap up this category quickly by saying that however satisfying it is to eat a great plate of tortellini alfredo, to take that first sip of coffee in the morning or to find ten hardbound books of “Asterix” at the thrift store for a quarter a piece, hearing my kids laugh tops them all.  

 

To continue the tag, I invite el burro and Kelly to blog about their obsessions/addictions.

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