Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

This Saturday, they're filming a music video at my house. I use the term 'they' to distance myself from the people doing this to me. Yes, I know them, or thought I did. Now, however, in a quiet, fleeting moment of sanity, I have my doubts.

Somehow, in a freak mental lapse, I okayed this. I'm allowing potentially hundreds of people I've never met before, except for seeing their pictures on the "Wanted" posters in the post office, into my humble home. I'm even feeding them. I might even clean up a bit. I'm definitely getting a tetanus shot.

I should point out that this video shoot is sandwiched neatly between Halloween, psycho sugar holiday of rioting teens and pumpkins rumbling down streets at midnight, and Daylight Savings Sunday, when everyone migrates south an hour earlier than normal, turning clocks back a bit so the Stock Market can catch its breath.

Okay, so it's not that bad. Just a video crew, a country band, a lot of food and fun. The song for the video is, in my perfect opinion, awesome, and of course that creates more problems. Once this video gets major airplay, people are going to start picking apart the setting, i.e. my house:
  • Did you see those curtains? With THAT couch? What was she thinking?
  • The rose bushes are eight feet high - when was she planning on trimming them - 2012?
  • Someone was drinking white wine with their steak. How could she let that happen?

Chance of rain on Friday and Sunday. So far Saturday looks ok, but then, SoCal is known for its subpar weathermen. Sometimes their botox absorbs a little too well, and their standard "Sunny and 80" monologue kicks in. They often pre-record their forecasts two weeks in advance, then sneak off to Maui. In other words, who knows what the weather will be like Saturday. Santa Anas, perhaps? Forest fire? Mudslide, anyone?

My son's birthday party was once forced inside by rain. Yes, I'm aware people elsewhere deal with this all the time. Here in SoCal, though, it's simply bizarre and completely unexpected. We pay good money to avoid weather. Anyway, we had to tie a rope off the upstairs railing for the pinata and hope nobody took out a support wall with their pinata bat.

No pinata bats this time. Everyone is expected to bring their own weapons. BYOBats.

If you're curious about the song, it's called "Country Girlz" and it's here -

Don't mind me - I'm just going to sit over in the corner here until Saturday, breathing into this paper bag so I don't faint.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Halloween's Gonna Be a Bear

I'm not sure how any costume could be scarier than today's economy. There's not enough fake blood in the world to frighten me more than watching my 401k shrivel to the size of a walnut. Although I have experienced some pretty spooky Halloweens...

Ten years ago, I was nine and a half months pregnant. The day before Halloween I bought a new spot steam cleaner for my carpet. It worked so well that I got carried away and cleaned the entire family room with it. Helpful hint - when you're excessively pregnant, scrubbing the floor all day is not a good idea, even if you possess power tools. I was up all night long with 'false labor,' a term that insinuates that the pain is phony. It was not. Imagine wrapping eighty-three industrial-strength rubber bands around your middle. Then let some invisible being snap them randomly for seven hours straight. From the inside.

By the time Halloween night rolled around, I had had no sleep for thirty-six hours. One kidney was still vibrating from the rubber band snapping, and my hormone-marinated temperament was ready to disembowel the next human it encountered. On the bright side, my carpet was spiffy.

Thank goodness my husband (at the time, may he rest in pieces) was assigned to trick-or-treat duty. Somehow, though, he caught wind of my mood. Perhaps he noticed the green smoke curling from my ears that morning, or the way my head swivelled all the way around when he asked for coffee. Suddenly he had to 'work late' again and couldn't make it home in time to help. Putting down my Book of Irish Curses, I tossed on some black clothes and headed for the front door, where some errant tricksters were wearing out my doorbell. I winged some juiceboxes at their heads and disposed of them.

Our neighborhood must be known the world over for its candy, because every pop-sucking rugrat in a twenty-mile radius hits our block up for sugar. They're bused in, swarming the streets with their creepy giggles and hideous "Thank yous!" This sweetness is intentional. They are disgustingly nice in order to avoid giving me any excuse to get mad. Drives me up a freakin' wall. One can only hear "Trick or Treat!" so many times before the nut switch gets flipped.

After several hours of this, a little blonde witch, about five years old, walked over and looked me up and down. "You don't look scary," she sniffed. "What are you supposed to be?"

I leaned over. Actually I was already bent over, my posture nearly done in from the labor contractions, carpet cleaning, and candy-giving. "Little girl," I squeaked, "I'm nine and a half months pregnant, and that is scarier than anything else you will see tonight."

She scurried back to her father and asked him if I was right. "Yes, dear," he concurred nervously."Let's get going. Quickly, now."

Years ago our neighborhood had incredible Halloween displays, and not just the decorations. People went to incredible lengths to entertain. Instead of just candy, every house had a different theme. One house had a popcorn cart tended by a headless witch. Another featured a cappucino machine catered by a very gracious Dracula. Wolfman offered pedicures, which was a little weird, but his heart was in the right place.

This year I'm considering going out trick-or-treating myself. My chocolate bank is running a bit low, and this could be an opportunity to cheaply bolster its bottom line. Much like the Federal government is doing with Wall Street.

My costume would consist of my stock reports - vertical lines are quite slimming. What these busy lines do for my blood pressure is a whole 'nuther story. All this Wall Street wailing is giving new meaning to the term 'Bull' market. Somebody needs a spanking.

Considering the economy (I don't want to, but they're making me do it), perhaps we could tweak Halloween to reflect our nation's current sorry state. One house could hand out resume' tips. Another could give away Canadian coins, a wise investment since they're now worth more than their US counterparts. A punching bag featuring the face of the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, would be popular. Others could offer barter services - lawnmowing, babysitting, husband-removal, etc.

Yes, candy still holds a vital place in this holiday. It makes us feel better. But this year we all need a little more. We need to hit something. Hard.

Trick or Treat, smell my feet.
Give me something good, Wall Street!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This Blows


Everyone is in a horrendous mood lately. I did my research, in other words I asked them what the heck their problem was. Sorting through the various colorful responses, I discovered that the real culprit is not the current economic deathspin, global warming, or even worldwide famine, but rather, the Santa Ana winds.

For those not located in Southern California, Santa Ana winds are nasty, dry gusts that swirl and blast, sucking the moisture from your skin, leaving everything coated with dust and the remains of our 401ks. They hit every fall, usually the same day that people climb on their roofs to put up holiday decorations. Traditionally, Santa Anas appear on trash pick-up day, wrapping the garbage trucks in a swirl of SoCal flotsam, papers and plastic floating about them like so many deformed snowflakes.

On the freeway, the Santa Anas push cars around like toys. This has become more of a problem lately, because in an attempt to save the environment money, many commuters have purchased hybrid vehicles. These little 'green' cars typically weigh less than some of the patrons at the local Hometown Buffet. So when they hit about fifty miles per hour, the Santa Anas lift them from lane to lane, pushing them sideways, upwards and all over the place. Nothing like motoring along in a nice solid SUV only to have a Prius splatter across your windshield.

Gusts blow from all directions, with no pattern, rhyme or reason. With a normal wind, you can steady yourself against the anticipated blast. Not so with Santa Anas - you will set yourself for a gust from the Northeast, only to get shoved from the South. They are unpredictable, unstable, moody, and hot - the weather equivalent of Mother Nature's menopause.

The worst part, by far, is the fires. My Aunt Marge had hot flashes that cut through everything in her way, but even she couldn't roast ten thousand acres at a clip. Santa Ana winds knock tree limbs into power lines, which ignite, well, everything, and away we go in, as I mentioned earlier, every dang direction. First a fire blows southward. Whoops, now it's headed east. Hold it, it's heading up a canyon on the west side. Firefighters are truly dancing with the devil.

I've lived in many difficult climes. I've waded through four-foot snowdrifts, shivered in 30 below temperatures, simmered in sweltering summers of 100% humidity, endured electrical storms that hit the building I was in, and hunkered down in hurricanes. The Santa Anas are by far the worst of the weather. Nothing is as irritating as a dirtwind, gusting from all directions, coating your desiccated skin with scuzzy dust from who knows where.

How does this affect the rest of the world? We know that regarding things of importance, such as movies, plastic surgery, and the latest rehab techniques, SoCal drives the country. So when these horrible winds ruin our party, our temperamental tailspin creates a domino effect, crashing moods and creating crankiness all the way to Wall Street. When the proverbial butterfly gets blown sideways in the San Fernando Valley, someone in Palm Beach runs over a cockroach. You might think a dead cockroach is a good thing, but this one might be a pet owned by a mentally unstable entomologist who, finding his beloved bug smushed, vows revenge on the world. Make a few million people cranky and worried about losing their homes in a firestorm, and the whole world's gonna hurt.

Time for a solution. I don't have one, but I do know it's quite entertaining to wander about complaining about how irritated I am. At least it's entertaining to me. Whether others find it entertaining or irritating, I could care less. Which is a very liberating way to feel, and makes me smile. At which point the Santa Ana winds coat my teeth with soot and dust.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Country Pumpkins

For a kid in the country, life can at times be lonely, especially at Halloween, when your lack of human contact translates directly into dismal candy poundage. Trick or treat all you want with the cows - they don't hand out tootsie rolls. Most of them don't, anyway.

The kids in town had it easy - they'd walk from door to door, scoring a Hershey bar or pixie stick every 8 seconds. They’d haul in enough sugar to last until Easter. But in the country, Halloween was, sadly, a non-profit industry. With the houses so few and far between, there was simply no way to accumulate a decent amount of candy, even with a parent driving you around. We still went through the routine, out of a ridiculous sense of ritual, although many traditions were altered a bit, for survival's sake.

The first tradition to tweak was the costume. Creativity was worthless- there was little reason to make or buy a fancy costume if you were just going to bury it under a parka anyway. 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.

Neighbor Lady: Oh, my – what are you dressed up as?

Me: I'm the tooth fairy, ok? Got any chocolate?

Neighbor Lady: Your pretty costume is all covered up by your jacket.

Me: Could we move this along, please? I’d love to stand here in the sleet and chat, but I can’t feel my toes.

The focus was instead on survival. Your costume would consist of as many layers as possible, for several reasons:

1. warmth – in upstate New York, sub-freezing temperatures in October were routine. We often had snow on the ground. Try wearing a Tinkerbell outfit and battling frostbite at the same time. My Aunt Marge did it once, but she had a huge jug of Gallo wine.

2. anonymity – with a ski cap pulled low across my brow, a scarf across my face, and a Sears polyester bubble-wrap parka pouffing out my torso like the Michelin Man, I was basically encased in an arctic burkha. No one would know it was me taking my little sister trick-or-treating, so no hassle at school for that. That wasn't me - that must've been her handler from the zoo. Humiliation could hurt as much as frostbite.

Plus, bundled up like that, I could murmur naughty invectives at people because they couldn’t tell what I was saying, my words muffled much like the linguistically challenged who burble at us via speakers at fast-food drive-throughs. Behind a Montgomery Wards ski mask and several layers of scarves, a cheery "F**k you!" was often mistaken for a "Thank you!"

3. protection - many dogs liked to play "Pull the mitten off the kid and make her drop her candy." Usually they'd settle for a glove or a hat, giving us a chance to escape. We kept extra, expendable clothes in the car to share with the next mutt we ran into.

However, nothing, nothing could deter Farmer Hornbeck’s guard goose. It was fast, loud, and frightening - honking, flapping and charging at us full throttle, wings akimbo and utterly outraged. It was quite adept at pulling off mitten after mitten, then going after your ankles. We kept candy corn in our hands to distract it, throwing the candy for it to eat in order to buy some time to reach the safety of our car. You knew if it attacked your ankles, you were going down. Then you were doomed, because no one would dare venture out of the car to save you. You had to lie still in the cold mud, hands about your face for protection, and wait for it to stop pecking at you and waddle away.

Neighbor Lady: Oh, my, look at you, all covered in mud – what are you dressed up as?

Me: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, ok? Got any chocolate?

Neighbor Lady: You should be more careful, dear. You got your pretty costume all dirty.

Me: Could we move this along, please? I’d love to stand here in the sleet and chat, but I can’t feel my freakin’ toes.

All this for a tootsie roll, or, heaven forbid, if the people were anti-sugar, a tiny bag of carrots or a toothbrush. At least Charlie Brown got rocks. You could do some damage with those.

While Mom drove us door to door, Dad stayed home and scared the living daylights out of any visitors. Actually, he did that every day, but Halloween was special.

Dad would put sheets over the small trees that lined the driveway, turning them into ghosts, but not really fooling anyone. The yard looked more like a redneck clothesline than a herd of spooky ghosts. I wanted to put a few cows in the front yard, paint them red and put duct tape on them – now that would be frightening, or at least be abstract art that could potentially win us government funding. But I guess that was tweaking tradition a bit too far, so we settled for Dad’s lame tree ghosts to spook any trick-or-treaters wandering our way.

What our Halloween visitors didn't realize was that one of the tree ghosts was actually not a tree at all, but rather my dad, under a sheet, pretending to be a tree ghost. They would drive slowly up our driveway, looking at our fierce horde of tree ghosts, exclaiming how they were soooo unscary, ha-ha, when suddenly one of the tree ghosts, usually Dad, would leap at their car. Everyone in the car would scream, wet their pants, and try not to drive off the cliff.

Did I mention the cliff? We lived on a ridge, and the driveway was shaped like a fishhook, angling across a huge front yard, the downhill side of it dropping off steeply. In daylight, the drive alone was enough to scare people away. Add darkness and a freaky dad-tree-ghost to the mix, and visitors simply never came back.

While Dad was busy 'greeting' people at home, 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 clothing. My little sister often sat on hers, gluing herself to the car seat. At the next stop she'd realize she was stuck and squeal "Help meeeee!" I'd have to yank on her, hard, to release her from the firm grip of the sticky ball. Often the two of us would fly out the car door into the dirt, whatever goodies we had gathered spilling out into the darkness, our arctic padding saving us from injury. Mixed blessing actually, since I got to pull really hard on her arms, on the pretext of 'helping' her out of the car, and not get in trouble for it.

My sister once literally disappeared. She had been walking behind me, half a popcorn ball still stuck to her bottom, screeching just to keep warm, "Wait uuuuup! Wait uuuuup! Wait uuuuup!" when bloop! Gone. Nothing but serene, peaceful quiet.

Three miles down the road Mom noticed how quiet it was, realized Chatty Kathy was missing, and made me go back and find her. Turns out little sister had missed a step on a narrow walkway and had been swallowed up by a snowy ditch. The only thing that saved her from falling further into an icy crevasse was the sticky popcorn ball on her butt. It had caught in a crack and stuck, much like an ice axe would dig into the snow, saving its hiker from plummeting down Mount Everest. After sorting through her candy and discussing my fee, I pulled her out and we trudged on.

Because there were no streetlights, quite often it was incredibly 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 be reminded how freaking cold we were.

By this
time, if we could gather enough strength, we would start fighting in the car, and, if we were lucky, Mom would 'punish' us by turning the car around and going home. Then we'd eat all the candy left over from the people who didn’t visit our house anymore because my Dad had frightened them away. Why we ever left the farm is beyond me. Tree ghosts had much more fun.