Thursday, October 29, 2015

Candyland: The inside scoop




No one decorated their yard with severed legs, dismembered children, and Day of the Dead tableaux when I was growing up. We were lucky if neighbors remembered to put out a pumpkin.

Half the time, they didn't even bother to stick around. There'd just be a basket of candy on the porch with "Boo! From the Hendersons" scribbled across a piece of graph paper. As the basket held nothing but Smarties, the Hendersons often found an unpleasant return on their investment. But not from my quarter, I assure you.

Me and my friends, we never tricked. That would have taken both too much time and too much imagination. We didn't even bother with regulation costumes after the age of five. A little grease paint, a torn shirt, and we were good to pillage. Sugar. We wanted sugar, and nothing but sugar. Specifically, chocolate sugar. "Open wide for Chunkies!" (Which must be the creepiest ad slogan ever.) No time to chat, just in and out, done and done.

Most parents in the subdivisions spent Halloween watching Gunsmoke, and would answer the door feigning only the barest vestige of interest. But there was always that one house. That house where the grown-ups were way too excited, way too invested in the evening's entertainment. For whatever reason, they had passed through adolescence and teenagery into dotage, somehow blissfully unaware of Halloween's true purpose.



So these -- we'll call them "enthusiasts" -- had a yard decorated with some sort of children of the corn configuration. The mom dressed up as Morticia and the dad as a vampire. While the Addams Family theme played in the background, they'd greet us with a cauldron of Hi-C fruit punch and dry ice and say, "Come into our chamber, my pretties."

We had no choice, we had to go inside, they played bridge with our parents. Thus, we'd waste precious chocolate-accumulating minutes dipping our hands in a bowl of cold spaghetti labeled INTESTINES, peeled grapes labeled "EYE BALLS." We'd smile politely. "Oh, that was real spooky, Mrs. Johnston." And she'd wag her finger and say, "Mrs. Johnston? Who is this Mrs. Johnston you speak of? Gomez, Do you know a Mrs. Johnston?" Then Mr. Johnston would jump out from behind a door and flap his cape, "Cara mia!"

We felt greatly embarrassed on their behalf, and finally understood why their kids had taken up pot at such a tender age.

When we eventually escaped the clutches of Morticia and Gomez Johnston, I'm sure I wasn't the only kid to appreciate my own parents, whose Halloween lassitude suddenly seemed quite sophisticated.

Many of us lived in sugar-restricted homes and any candy we hadn't eaten along the way was confiscated as soon as we opened the front door.

Next spring, we'd set up a stand outside our house and sell the candy back to the original owners. But at a discount. And I suppose they handed it back to us the following fall. Who knows for how many years that went on. Some Dutch scientists recently proved that subatomic particles travel both backward and forward in time. Apparently the same principle applies to candy corn.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A blogger friend died last week





I considered him a friend; maybe you did, too. Birdman -- that's the only name he provided on his blog -- even if you and he had posted back and forth for several years. But he generously shared other sides of his life.

What did we, the virtuals, know about Birdman? He was an English teacher, who on a dare wore a kilt to school. He loved and was loved by his wife Elenka. His family lived in Maine, and he grew up somewhere on the North Atlantic coast. Had kind of a Tom Sawyer childhood, rode his bike delivering newspapers as a youth, protected birds and other wildlife, loved the sea, dreaded the dead of winter, longed for spring, traveled in summer. And most of all, he had the gift of gab, a wonderful optimism, and a talent for photography.

Birdman always struck me as the uncle or cousin you'd want to be seated next to at a Thanksgiving Day dinner. The one who could spin a yarn, tell a joke, at the appropriate time, break up any sort of tension. Kind of the Will Rogers of bloggers.

One of his October posts -- and he blogged every single day -- ended with:

"Always remember...Wishing is important. Sometimes pieces just tumble into place."

His last post is here. If he touched you too, say good-bye.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I'll never know

If there is a heaven, for my mother's sake, I hope heaven has a skylight roof, six escalators, seven hair salons, eight movie theaters, ten shoe stops, a Sears, Broadway, and a few furniture stores named after famous early American patriots. That might bring her eternal peace.

I never understood mom's love of the grand indoor shopping malls, but then, I never understood my mom. This is true. And the lack of understanding was mutual. We directed eye rolls in each other's general direction from the day I screamed my way onto this planet.

We practiced a certain amount of unkindness upon one another. The reason for this escaped me then, escapes me now. Sure, I have theories, everyone has theories, but the thing is, I could have risen to the occasion, but didn't; been the bigger person in this relationship, but wasn't.

So we gave up on one another very early in the game.

It wasn't until she had Parkinsons that we played nice. Me, because what kind of a shit wouldn't treat someone with this disease kindly, and she -- she had way too much on her plate to bother chewing over an ancient grudge. And both of us, because we only saw each other about once a year.

Not that we ultimately, at the bitter end, liked each other. That Titanic of childhood and parental bonding or non-bonding rarely swings a 180. Still, I do realize I've spent way too many hours in this life thinking about my mother. And after all those ill-spent hours, I've reached a conclusion: I don't believe she screwed with me intentionally. More likely, accidentally -- incidentally. Perhaps inevitably, and from her point of view, quite forgettably.

That's the thing with most intimate relationships -- you generally don't press the save button on similar memories. And why a certain one means so much to you and so little to the other is probably more significant than the incident in question.

But back to the malls.

Our relatives from Europe would visit. As social and cultural coordinator, Mom didn't put the Getty or a national park or the Art Institute on the docket. She piled all who were willing in the Monte Carlo and drove to cathedrals of consumerism called something like West Haven Galleria, Grand Traverse Mall.

I remember one uncle preferred to stay back at our home and play bocce balls. Bocce balls is a tedious, pointless game. We got quite good at it, my uncle and I.

When mom and relatives returned, they didn't drag in trunks full of plunder. Maybe just a modest upscale bag or two. While mom loved the malls, relished the act or the process of shopping, it rarely led to an actual purchase. Same with the relatives. After all, they had shops, likely better shops, back home in Europe.

When the relatives left, so did I. I think the only time mom and I felt some degree of comfort in each other's company was in the leave-taking ritual. We waved, and I ran through the airport like running for my life. When my plane taxied down the runway, I sighed with relief, mostly. And unexamined regret.

Where did we go wrong?

Wasn't there a time? There was a time. When you came to my first grade class, dressed in a beige velvet suit, gold and pearl earrings, with a solje pinned to your white linen blouse. I don't know why you were there -- maybe to talk about Norway or painting, art. But beautiful more beautiful than any movie star. I looked around the room and saw everyone adored you. But you didn't belong to them. You were mine, in all your glamour, and I owned you. After your speech, I grabbed your hand and dragged you out of the classroom to the hallway, tugged at your shoulder so I could kiss your cheek. I tried to tell you something important, but my feelings out-sized any words I knew. "I just love you so much." That's the best I could muster. You looked surprised, but not displeased. Touched a cool hand to my forehead.

This is also true.

Was there a love between us, a love up for grabs? Did you not see me reach for it? Did you reach for it too, when I wasn't looking?