Monday, October 30, 2006

So-Cal Spooky

The sidewalk churns with noise and movement, squawking, squealing oddities dragging bags of plunder. Mini-vans pull up like so many circus clown cars, wee weirdos piling out to join the swarm. Too many's crawling with rugrats...where did they all come from? All this for a snickers bar?

Never in my life have I seen such commotion as on Halloween night in my neighborhood. The monsters grow with the darkness, little Pooh Bears and bumble bees waddle about as the sun sets, while tall hobos and slick cheerleaders party late into this unholiest of nights.

Why is the sky blue? How does Santa deliver all those toys? These questions pale next to "Why do we have to dress up and go door to door when you already bought 53 pounds of candy? Mom, just turn the lights off and have a KitKat."

I have no good answer for that, but my boys placate me and attempt costumes. Last year, my oldest was a decent version of the headless horseman, using my Australian oilcoat buttoned up over his head. His younger brother decided that he would be the headless horseman's seeing-eye dog. One block and several bruised shins later, they figured out that a shaggy sheep dog costume, with its long fur and bushy brows, did not make the best seeing-eye dog.

This year one will be a gorilla. The other wants to be a streaker. I'm going to turn the lights off and have a KitKat.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Taking Candy from Strangers

The town kids had it easy - they'd walk from door to door, scoring a tootsie roll or pixie stick every 30 seconds. But in the country, Halloween was a non-profit industry.

It started with the costume, which would usually consist of as many layers as possible. Creativity was non-existant- the idea was to survive:
1. warmth in sub-freezing temperatures
2. protection from dog bites - usually they'd settle for a mitten or a hat, giving us a chance to escape
3. identity protection - so word would not get out at school that I had to take my little sister with me

We looked like lurching balls of yarn. If someone asked me what I was for Halloween, I'd reply, "I am cold!" That usually shut them up, and sometimes they'd even throw in some 'pity' candy.

Mom would drive us door to door while Dad stayed home and scared the living daylights out of any visitors. He did that every day, but that's another story.

We would trudge from farmhouse to farmhouse, braving fierce dogs, spooky cats, and creepy people, just to get a sticky, clumped popcorn ball that would immediately begin to suck lint from our costumes. Usually my little sister unknowingly sat on hers, gluing her to the car seat. "Help meeeee!" she'd squeal at the next stop. I'd have to yank her out of the car, the two of us flying into the dirt, whatever goodies we had gathered spilling out into the darkness. Mixed blessing actually, since I'd always manage to lose my popcorn ball, and my sister had hers stuck to her butt. Plus I got to pull really hard on her arms, on the pretext of 'helping' her, and not get in trouble for it.

It was dark. Pitch black, blanket-across-your-face dark. Sometimes we were lucky enough that the full moon was out, shining on the snow, so we could see our fingers shaking and know how freaking cold we were. Once, my sister disappeared - literally. She had been walking behind me and poof! Gone. She had been chattering away, "Wait uuuuup!" just to keep warm, when bloop! Nothing but serene, peaceful quiet. Three stops later my Mom realized she was missing and made me go back and find her. Turns out she had missed a step on a narrow walkway and was swallowed up by a snowdrift. The only way I found her was by the smell of her sticky popcorn ball.

By this time, if we could gather enough strength, we would start fighting in the car, so Mom would 'punish' us by turning the car around and going home. Then we'd eat all the candy left over from the people that my Dad had frightened away. Why we ever left the house is beyond me.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Black-toothed Blueberry

Have you seen this guy? Tan, skinny, muttering, wandering aimlessly around the parking lot, waving his arms and nearly bumping into several cars. Chattering a mile a minute, voice heaving upward, peaking, then down like a verbal roller coaster. Voices buzzing in his head, I thought, like so many others. I looked for the telltale black bulge above the ear....but his messy-chic hair hid any sign of a headset. No matter, he was clothed in the latest style, scraggly, baggy jeans, worn bare with expensive faux dirt. Imported, of course. And he looked like he hadn't slept in days.

Was he begging quarters or trading penny stock? Hobo or metro? Upscale or up a creek? That Starbucks cup - cappucino or cuppa change? Either way we should steer clear of him, right? We try not to stare, but he's like a car accident - we simply must look, justified by thinking we may learn something. Do we? In trying to become a classless society, have we instead become a society with no class?

I read once that since every junior high kid was now wearing the baggy 'gangsta' look, the real deal had taken to dressing 'business casual-'
"Yo, 'sup? Stylin' golf shirt. Word!"
"Ese, yo. Nordstrom half-yearly sale. Peace out!"

It's unsettling when we can't accurately judge people by what they wear. At this moment you're judging me on my words - only my words, without the knowledge that I'm sitting here in my underwear writing this. Let that burn your retinas for a while. For bitter or verse.

Don't judge a book by its cover? Don't judge a Republican by his cover, either, or his pages. You can Foley some of the people some of the time, but a Foley and his money are soon parted. And what's a politician without money? Nothing but a bum. We hope.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Lice Whisperer

Back-to-school time in Southern California - watch the leaves on the trees turn from green to toast. Bombard neighbors and relatives with school fundraisers. Crank up the diesel-fueled homework generator.

As I shoveled my way through another pile of school notices, notes, and non-sequitors, I came upon the traditional yet cheery "Greetings-your-child-may-or-may-not-have-been-exposed-to-head-lice-we-must-tell-you-so-we're-not-liable-have-a-nice-day" announcement. Why Hallmark has not come out with a card for this occasion is beyond me. Every year we would get this note. Every year I would freak at the thought of tiny insects camping out on my children. Every year I would pore over their scalps searching for the elusive 'nit.' Never did I find anything.

Until now. Both boys had them. Yech. It was like playing 'Where's Waldo,' only in this case, Waldo had six legs and no sweater. My younger son was worse – crawlin’ with crawlies. Waldo’s extended family, I guess.

I immediately bought the $20 (ripoff!) bottle of magic shampoo and globbed it on our heads. I then boiled every piece of fabric in the house, shaved the dogs, and offered a burnt sacrifice to "Rid", patron saint of bald children. (To be honest, the 'burnt sacrifice' was our dinner that I had neglected while I was shaving the dogs.) Armed with the traditional teeny combs, we then began the ritualistic hunting of the nits.

Novices may think that is all there is to it. Veterans of the Lice Wars know better. Twice a day we hunted. Every seven days we’d adorn ourselves with stinky goop shampoo as an offering to repel the evil insects.

But still they came, crawling back again and again for more. Finally we cornered them. On my youngest son’s head they made a stand, drawing their tiny covered wagons into a circle.

The instructions on the shampoo bottle may tell you what to do, but they don't tell you how to get it done. "Take traditional teeny comb and scrape through child's hair as they squirm, pausing often to yank on individual hairs to induce screaming. Rinse & repeat for 45 minutes."

No sober seven-year-old will stand still for five minutes, much less the 45 needed to properly explore his cranial bug zoo. I was desperate for a solution, and my tranquilizer gun was empty. But since you were kind enough to read this far, I'll share my solution with you, although it's not for the squeamish.

We filled the sink with water. I armed my son with a long hair from my own head. This, I told him, was his fishing pole. If he could hold still, in a few minutes we'd be going lice fishing. As I combed through his hair I'd put any bugs I found in the 'pond', and he'd fish for them with his 'hair pole.' This was fascinating, to the point that he was very upset when he no longer had any lice on his head with which to restock his pond.

When you're done scratching I'll continue. The audience is now split between those wretching at the thought of crawlies in their hair and sink, and the others making note of my technique to use in the future. Judge not, lest ye yourself be itchy.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Humor Crisis

A friend called me today, badly shaken up. "You gotta help me," he begged. "I can't go on like this. There's too much. We're working day and night, trying to keep up, and they, they just keep coming! My head is spinning...I've got agita out the wazoo. We can't take it much longer - please do something!"

"Who is this?" I asked. I, too, had felt the sting of the whip, and not in a good way. So I knew where what's-his-name was coming from, and it had to stop. Too many people were getting hurt. But what to do?

An embarrassment of riches. If you thought it was excessive during prior administrations, it was never like this. Ford has his fumbles, Nixon his jabber-jowls, Clinton....well, jeez - who could ask for more than Clinton?

But we got more, didn't we, and our poor, overworked comedians can't keep up. At first, jokesters thought they'd hit a goldmine. Nonstop bumbling rants, furrowed brows - Larry, Moe and Curly got nuthin' on Bush, Dick, and Rummy. But it's a fool's goldmine, wearing everyone down. Leno is speed-reading to get everything into his monologue, icing his overheated jaw down on commercial breaks. Letterman is constantly on the verge of an uncontrolled eyeroll. (Sure, he's always like that, but still.) Craig Ferguson no longer needs to say anything - he simply tweaks his head to the side, bird-like, and looks at the audience. What can you say when the White House is the Ice House?

How long can you laugh before suffering a hernia?
I can see the lawsuits now - "Your honor, my client was not duly advised when he entered the nightclub that he would be subjected to intense, gut-wrenching humor. The proper safety warnings were not in place. My client suffered immense emotional damage induced by the defendant's willful and premeditated jokefest. As a result, my client is no longer able to continue his career as a marine proctologist. We'd also like to submit this bill for dry-cleaning."

It's only funny until somebody loses an eye. This proud generation of joke jockeys is beaten down by sheer volume, trying to stay afloat on a sea of pathetic political punditry, living on out-takes and take-out, lattes and late-night. Some have already snapped under the pressure, reduced to insipid, mute sideshow performances. So if you see one wandering the streets, exhausted and speechless, give him a hug. Because a mime is a terrible thing.