Sunday, October 30, 2016

When Halloween sneaks up on you

Halloween kind of snuck up on me this year. It was terrifying.

I know. You're probably wondering … 'Where are earth do you live? Australia? Here in the great U.S. of A. the ghost of Halloween future has been hovering overhead since late August when the procrastinators among us started shopping for Back to School.

I'm not sure how it happened. My kids usually plan their costumes months in advance, making me lose my mind and days of sleep in the process. They visit me in the wee hours of the morning with their tablets and sketchbooks, waking me from pleasant dreams, to show me in gory detail how they would like me to sew a wearable submarine resembling a humpback whale playing croquet, or an acrobat delivering pizzas from a tightrope.

Then, as kids will do, they submit their change orders three days before All Hallow's Eve and expect I can accommodate the transformations. “Of course, the idea of delivering pizzas from a high-wire isn't going to work. Perhaps I can manage to knit you a magic rabbit costume using stardust and real unicorn fur. I have two days.”

End. Sarcasm.

Of course, I'm kidding.

The magic of my costumes is all in my mind.

My kids are old enough to realize this, too. They know my expertise in costuming revolves entirely around what I manage to scrounge out of the recycling bin or find at Goodwill, and even then they will have to explain what they are to the strangers they approach for candy.

I suppose if I'd thought about it, I would have realized that that Halloween has slowly been losing its mayhem.

Maybe I should have known from the moment we realized the unpleasant reality that carving jack-o-lanterns made our skin itch, or when most of the intricate costumes we had labored over make trick-or-treating a seem like just another dead-end job.

And don't get me started on the candy. So many aversions, so few treats they will actually eat.

Yet still, there's something about being out after dark. Pretending to be something your not. With your mother in tow.

It seems strange that I hadn't noticed. Having lumbered behind my troupe of doorbell ringers wearing the same old gorilla costume, all gussied up with this year's less than brilliant accessory:

Mermaid gorilla ...
Zombie gorilla ...
Housewife gorilla ...

One would think I'd have seen ...

I must not have been able with my mask's limited vision.

So it was with some amount of shock that I realized one day last week that October was almost over and neither of my children had mentioned Trick-or-Treating.

Did they forget, too? Have they outgrown this frightful holiday? Or worse … do they not want my help?

Have they finally noticed that any grandiose plans they may have will look pretty anemic once I unleash my considerably lacking creative skills in the construction phase? Is it possible they don't even want me to help, since they've learned I might be able to spray-paint their designs black, but they should probably move their bikes and everything else they own and hold dear in the general vicinity should they NOT want all of their belongings unevenly coated in Rust-Oleum?

Magic Eight Ball says: All signs point to yes.

It was a Haunted Hayride commercial that reminded me about my forgetfulness as I was burning toast for breakfast.

Oh no! Halloween!” I shrieked. “We are almost out of time!”

The kids poured their own cereal and laughed. “We already have our costumes for the most part. I'm going as a gumball machine and he's going as death.”

Turns out they managed without me.

This year instead of waking me up in the middle of the night to alert me to the horror of not having a clue what they would wear for costumes. They found their own:

The girl glued every pompom in the house to an old sweater and paired it with a red A-line skirt. The boy repurposed his ninja costume and found an old hockey stick he thought looked like a scythe.

A little face paint,” he said, and Halloween would be “good to go.”

Hey … you know who's great with face paint,” I'll offer.
Yeah, I know. My sister is Great with face paint.”

See what I mean? It's scary when Halloween sneaks up on you.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Piece of cake

The melody was familiar, but without words, I couldn't quite put my finger on the tune. It wasn't exactly contemporary ...

Or was it?

"Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line for the next available customer service representative."

The Muzak returned to the spot it had left off.

Of course, that would be a guess. I wasn't exactly concentrating, and I still couldn't place the song. Sounded a little like “Cake by the Ocean.”

The dog was barking.

The boy was bouncing a ball.

In. The. House.

And I was waiting to be dipped in the hot lava that is tech support for troglodytes.

My son kept bouncing the ball.

I cleared my throat and sent eye daggers in his general direction. He stopped bouncing and let the dog out.

"Hello, My name is Ariel ... how can I help you today?"

I stammered for a moment.

"Oh, hi ...uh ... well ...

I'm just trying to get my game console to connect to our wifi and it's just not. ...”

Wait … that's not right.

"Well it's my son's game console ... which I really know nothing about ... and he's just a kid. Which I know ... he probably shouldn't be playing online games anyway, but he had a birthday, and there he is with his own money and ability to spend it on a game where vegetation and the undead duke it out over the world wide web."

Oh my god, stop! I think to myself. You're just sounding crazy.

"Besides all that, it's just not working, and I'm not even sure why it's not working ... so here I am ... 

"Calling you."


"That's our dog."

I don't think I could have sounded more desperate if I tried.

I could hear the laughter in her voice, which seemed warm and reassuring.

"Don't worry. I can help you figure this out. 

"First let me ask you some questions …"

I stopped holding my breath. Maybe this wasn't going to be the root canal I imagined. Maybe this friendly voice on the other end of the line COULD help me find my way back to the path and a virtual connection.

Now, you have turned it off and turned it back on, correct?”

Welcome to Internet gaming 101.

For the next hour and a half, we told each other everything. I told her how I spelled my name, and she told me how she spelled hers: “Cereal only with an A.” I'd had it all wrong. 

I told her how I wanted to kick the machine with malice and the full force of my left foot.
She told me that she understood, and could empathize.

Next, we established what kind of game console we were using, what exact words were spelled out in the error message, and that I needed to create an account.

She walked me through the seventeen thousand steps needed to make the appropriate accounts; and no fewer than four hundred security codes to authenticate them, including a one-time, credit-card payment of $.50, which would be donated to charity.

It would also be the two-bit proof of my adulthood.

Eventually, my new friend guided me through some more jostling of this and cajoling of that until the ISP whispered its secret language to the console and it opened like magic.

Presto! It's working! It's working! It's updating!”

You're not out of the woods yet,” said Aereal. “Once it's done updating – which could take a while – you'll have to download your new accounts ...”
And it won't prompt me, will it?” I said, finishing my new friend's sentence.

No. It won't. … But don't worry. You really do know what you are doing. I'll send you a link to the instructions and it will be a piece of cake.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016


My kid saw the snarling cat faces, electronically pasted two layers deep, on the cover of The Daily News before I did. He started to giggle, as any nine-year-old boy might.

To him, the layout was funny -- just felines and fangs in the place of some letters in a word he hadn't known had a second meaning. "Look, mom! It's so funny!"

"Grab 'em by the (P 🐱 🐱 🐱 y )."

Heat crept up my neck.

We were at a sandwich shop, awaiting our turn. Ahead of us in line were several men who kept eyeing me nervously, shifting their weight from one foot to another. I hadn't noticed them until my son brought my attention from the over-head menu to the under-the-counter cats.

Impulsively, I wanted to turn over the few unsold copies remaining, but I knew the cat was out of the bag.

Instead, I focused on the discomfort of the men.

Suddenly, I felt all eyes upon me. Suddenly, I felt this was somehow my fault.

Was I supposed to stand in front of the news rack?

Was I supposed to shush my son with a hiss and a promise to explain later?

I couldn't.

Cue difficult and public conversation #357 in which I use too many words and not enough punctuation:

"It's not funny," I say with more sorrow than anger. "It's mean ... and the man currently running for president made that statement a few years ago while he was waiting to be interviewed on national television. But unlike all the rest of the awful things he's said about people, no one heard this comment until now. And now some people are saying it's just Guy Talk - locker room banter taken out of context.  But I believe what he said is much worse. It says hurting women is not only acceptable; it is one of the benefits of being a man."

I take a deep breath and look up, half expecting the ceiling to fall in around me.

With every other car in the parking lot brandishing a "Make America Great Again" bumper sticker, I knew I could be in hostile territory.

Nothing happened.

There was no audible gasp from the live studio audience.

The room didn't go silent.

The men ahead of us paid for their sandwiches and left.

Business as usual.

My son doesn't understand. Why would he? He's nine.

But my daughter understands. She was 11 when a boy she liked called her a "slut."


Don't ask me what she said to him. Or what she was wearing.
Don't tell me it takes two.
It only takes one.

She is as blameless as I was when a boy I barely knew grabbed between my legs when I was 12.


As blameless as my mother, and her mother, whose stories I never learned but I know exist from my memories of them and their abundance of caution.

They might have been even younger than we were ... back in "the good old days," when folks didn't speak of such things.

But I had never heard my husband's story -- the one from inside the locker room.  And I needed that side.

"Is this 'locker room talk'?"

"If it's not true, it could be," he admitted. "But what you have to understand is there's only one guy in there saying things that vile. No one likes him, and no one trusts him."

"You mean, except for the folks wearing t-shirts and carrying signs and erupting into applause every time he says "We're going to Make America Great Again."

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I'm a homebody. I'm a worldwideweb traveler, whose heart palpates at the challenge presented in renewing an expired passport … just not in a good way. I travel vicariously.

And it haunts me.

I've traveled out of the country a handful of times and only left North America once. For my honeymoon, where I met up with my mother-in-law, who traveled with us, showing us the sights.

Just let that sink in for a moment. My mother-in-law was the tour guide on our honeymoon trip. And the only key bit of information is there wouldn't have been a need for a passport without her. We wouldn't have gone anywhere.

Yes, I'm a homebody alright.

I guess I should just admit as much. Sink into the deep, soft cushions of my couch and put my feet up.

I've only ever traveled alone once. And since I was meeting someone at the destination, I'm not sure it counts.

And counting is what we all seem to do these days.

Which is exactly what I was doing one Sunday evening recently as I waited at a bus station in Albany to collect a friend visiting from Portugal: I was counting all the fears that lead me here. Literally.

My friend -- a world traveling, couch-surfing, ride-sharing, life-liver was arriving from New York for a brief visit -- had offered me a stop closer to my house.

And I said NO because I was unfamiliar with the area.

An area NEAR where I live.

She had come thousands of miles, crossed oceans, figured out transportation snags in I-don't-know-how-many cities and I couldn't meet her at a Park and Ride in Catskill because I was afraid I might get lost on the way.

So if you heard the infernal noise of a car horn's rhythmic blaring, it was likely just me beating my forehead against the steering column of my own inertia.

Of course, this is the part of the story, dear friends, where I tell you I am changing my ways*.


I am going places**.


I am changing the scenery. And not just in my mind***.

***Crosses fingers.

I am slitting the cellophane on this store-bought dinner and taking a risk****.
****Sorry, I have no idea what that means either.

But I do know that this year, around Thanksgiving, I will get on a bus headed in a southerly direction. At Christmastime, I will get on a plane headed northwest. And after the New Year, I will make plans to renew some passports and visit the country of my name's origin.

“It will happen this time,” I say over and over again.

Although, I am probably just weaving together all the fibers of my wishful thinking and coming up with the sweater vest of vacation options, I'm not sure it's entirely a fabrication. I won't likely get a dozen “Pinocchios” or a “Pants on Fire” designation from the fact checkers, even if none of these plans turn out to be a resounding “True” or even a lukewarm “It's Complicated.”

My mind is made up. Things are already in motion. Tickets purchased and calendar dates marked with indelible ink.

This time, it will happen.*****

 ***** Because my mother-in-law is making the arrangements.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Squirrel food

The sliding doors of the grocery store opened with a metallic click and the sound of rushing air.

They stayed open as the gales from the humid outside mixed with the piped-in air conditioning inside and circled me.  I just stood in place at the mouth of the colorful produce department -- in full view of the optic monitor and pyramiding boxes of citrus -- and stared straight ahead.

This hesitation is the stutter before the start. It’s easy to feel lost in the options.

When did I begin to think it was like an amusement park in here? Was it when I noticed the new, fun-sized carts or the proliferation of sample hawkers offering a little taste of excess during the weekdays? Or maybe it’s was the smell of stale beer near the bottle return and the aroma of fried foods wafting forth from the deli case.

It was my second supermarket visit of the day. The first time I had dropped by on the spur of the moment, thinking I'd just pick up a few essentials I never seem to manage to scratch onto a list. Toilet tissue, dish soap, bulk cheese.

Not that it would matter. The more detailed the shopping list, the more likely it is to be left on a kitchen counter next to the reusable tote bags I keep buying on impulse and with all my good intentions.

What had I come here for again?

Oh yes. Video return.

I dug into my bag and produced two red plastic-encased rentals. I pushed a button, and the machine slurped them up. I feel a surge of relief. A few more days gathering dust at our house and we could have owned these box-office flops.

But now that I was here, I might as well have a look around.

The phone in my bag pulsated. I dug it out.

"Plz gt seltzer H2O."

Another three vibrations followed in rapid succession:

"We're out of juice boxes."

"Soy creamer!!!!"

"Cat says she's out of cat food."

I zig-zag around the store, collecting items with the efficiency and precision of an over-stimulated squirrel.

At times like these -- without an agenda or serious need -- I find myself attracted to shiny things and novelties, tossing one silly thing into the cart after the next.

I think about all the Wednesdays from now until the end of the semester. I will be racing a clock to feed four people two different meals before we go in three different directions. I toss a half-dozen frozen dinner packages on the pile.

Mmmmm. Chicken L’Orange.

There are no components in my cart. Nothing to cook, just reheat.

The cashier barely looks at my purchases as she rings them up. But I know my label-reading husband will give me the side-eye when I get home and unpack the polypropylene bags of my trick-or-treat-like haul.

"Muffin in a cup?"

Just add water!!!

"Puzzle-piece cheese puffs?"

Limited edition AND holiday themed!!!

He just shakes his head and reaches for a bag of chocolate sandwich cookies.

"You really need to get out more."