Tag Archives: holiday

How to Ruin Halloween

We're a culture not a costume campaignA few years ago I wrote a blog post about offensive Halloween costumes and how they send the wrong message to children, mocking people who look different or who come from communities on the margins. The commercialization of Halloween, like the commercialization of every American “holiday” is so focused on profit that there is little left to authentically celebrate. But Halloween has seen a surge in popularity in pop culture and it seems like every year the offensiveness quotient is ramped up another notch or two. Despite campaigns against appropriation for Halloween, there are far more instances of using other cultures as dress up or as object of mockery than resistance against such moments.

Halloween also puts pressure on parents to buy the best, most professional costumes possible lest their class status appear too low. A casual glance at children’s costumes on the Web reveals that if one looks for something beyond a plastic costume and mask, prices start in the mid-$30s and range past $100. This puts children in the position of announcing their parents’ financial resources just to participate in the evening’s festivities (unless they’re in a very cold weather region and the costumes are tucked under coats, perhaps).

Then there’s the fear. Trick-or-treating, once the duty and delight of kids when I was a child, has declined due to concerns about tampered candy and nighttime predators. Parents who do let their kids go door to door follow them around on the sidewalk, or children are corralled into events that take place at the local YMCA or city block. And while I may love kids, I cannot handle having 3,000 small costumed children banging into each other and screaming over the last Snickers mini-bar.

There may still be some glory left in what was once a harvest holiday. If neighbors can agree to have some candy and entertain kids for a few hours, one can get to know those neighbors a little better and get to know the neighborhood more. If children are encouraged to share their candy, get out and walk around and laugh with their friends and family, I see a glimmer of fun in the experience. But certainly there is a lot to wade through to get past the hype, blinking skulls, fake spider webbing, and plush DisneyTM/Sesame Street/PowerRangers/Transformers costumes to get to the fun.

And hooray, Columbus Day is next week. Don’t get me started on that one.

A Humble List of Gifts for Working Writers

notebook page with writingMy mother claims I’m hard to shop for whenever some holiday or birthday rolls around on the calendar. I love cooking, football, writing, gardening, reading, and coffee, but she insists it’s a quagmire to buy anything for me. (Cue eye roll, teenager style.) If others find themselves in similar situations, I hope you find this list helpful. May peace settle over the land of your family. No, this isn’t a secret or ulterior list for myself, but I wouldn’t throw any of these items off my front porch, either. Read More…

On Father’s Day

father's day tiesThere is a heavy glass frame on a sideboard table in my dining room, among other sundry items like playing cards, pottery serving pieces, and right now, a stack of diplomas earned by Susanne and myself as we reorganize the office into a nursery. In the frame is a picture of my parents, some sunny day from the 1980s, on a trip they took to Hawaii. They’re seated at a luau, with beautiful leis around their necks—nothing resembling the cheap plastic ones you can find at the dollar store—but what they’re wearing most wonderfully are their smiles. My mother’s hair is perfect; my father is wearing a new, hasn’t-been-stained-yet tropical shirt, and they’re just about to settle in for a fun evening. If photos can capture and preserve a moment in time forever, this was a great one to snatch. Read More…

Holiday trains, planes, and automobiles

Detroit Metro AirportThe lack of proximity between purchasing airline tickets and actually getting onto an airplane has not served us well this year. Susanne, in early October, had her face buried in her laptop screen. “What do you think about this flight,” she asked, her eyes mere inches from the glowing pixels, “it’s a really good price.”

“How good,” I asked, leaning over. “Oh, that is good.”

“But it’s a red eye,” she said.

“But the price,” I said.

Abstractly, I understood that it was a middle-of-the-night flight. I do, after all, have a very successful track record with surviving the middle of the night, even if I’m usually asleep for it.

“It’s three legs,” she said, sounding less confident.

I responded by ignoring her fears. “It’s always at least two, hon,” I said, a little too cheerfully. She should have understood right then that I was just blinded by my thriftiness and rethought our approach. But perhaps Susanne was seeing little stars of savings, too.

We sent our credit card numbers through the information superhighway and were rewarded with an email confirming we had just purchased our way to visiting friends and family for the holidays. And then went about our daily routine, forgetting all about it.

And then we were driving, in late December, to the airport. We had an 8 o’clock fight to Seattle, a multi-hour layover, and then a midnight flight to Minneapolis, followed by another couple of hours in that airport, and then a morning flight to Detroit.

What a horrible itinerary! Who had done this to us?

We had. We had done this to ourselves.

We drove by the bad broccoli plant, which for its part sent us an intense putrid odor as a parting shot for departing Walla Walla. Every time we’ve left before, the city has done some kind of stick-its-tendrils-into-us to slow us down. What would it be this time, I wondered, trying not to breathe as I drove past the paper mill. It just loved us so much it wanted to stay in our nostrils.

On the first plane, the flight attendant told us happily that we’d be making a stop in Yakima on our way to Seattle. This meant we were splitting the trip into two 25-minute segments. Never going about 15,000 feet, we stopped like a bus at the Yakima airport and five people joined our flight. About ten minutes away from Seattle, the worst stench of gastrointestinal distress invaded my olfactory nerves. I looked at Susanne and mouthed, “was that you?”

She shook her head no emphatically. We tried to breathe as little as we could, having just practiced this outside the paper mill. The flight attendant empathized with us, as she was also stuck at the very back of the plane with us and the killer fart. As we rolled into the gate, they put two staircases up to the fuselage, and the flight attendant, knowing our plight, told us we could just take the one in the back, two feet behind our seats. We walked the length of the terminal toward our next gate. Having cleared our heads, our stomachs started rumbling, and we decided to get dinner.

The waiter asked what we wanted. As we were in a tap house and pub, we each ordered a wheat beer. He plunked them down on the table, announcing last call.

“When do you close,” I asked.

“In 30 minutes,” he said.

We drank our beers and ate our greasy food quickly, rushing off to the shuttle train to our next terminal and departure gate. I could feel the reuben sloshing around in my tipsy stomach, but we had some time to relax before the red eye. The Seattle airport has free wifi, which seems nice until one notices that it has next to no power outlets. What teases. We wandered around looking for a free outlet, to no avail. And the people who had already juiced up weren’t offering to unplug, even for a little while. This made me wonder if:

1. everyone had terrible laptop batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge

2. they hated Christmas and were hogging the electricity just to be nasty

3. they were inattentive, oblivious Northwesterners

So we booted up my laptop, sharing it between us and hoping to model good behavior for all of the manners-impaired strangers in the terminal. Somehow I think it didn’t make any difference.

We piled on to the red eye, hoping for a smooth enough, unoffensively smelling enough flight that we could catch some sleep before getting into the Twin Cities. Susanne conked out on my shoulder quickly, but I have trouble staying asleep while sitting up, so I watched the people around me slumber instead, some snoring, some with their jaws hanging open while doing so. And I realized that it’s no wonder why people eat a good number of bugs over the years.

Landing after the red eye, we were somewhat dismayed to discover we still weren’t there yet.

Our next gate was a little ways down from a Caribou Coffee. A family of three each had a drink from there, and they looked so happy, like a live advertisement for the wonderful things coffee can do for you, too. Have an impressive blonde son and snappily dressed trophy wife! Enjoy endless energy and increase your income potential with our frozen vanilla frappuccinos!

“I’m going to get some coffee,” said Susanne, standing up. “Would you like anything?”

I stared at the happy people. Happy people. I wanted to go to there. I nodded at her.

“Okay, what would you like?”

My voice, exhausted, came out in a whisper.

“A frosty mcfrosterson,” I said.

“A what?”

I pointed at the 4-year-old toe head. “Mocha,” I squeaked.

“Is there anything else you want, like some caramel flavor or hazelnut?”

Why was she making this so difficult? I said frosty mcfrosterson! Just understand what I want! I’m perfectly clear!

That was what I thought. But what I said was:


“Okay,” she said, now talking to me as if I were only 4. “Do you want anything to eat?”

I shook my head no.

She came back a really long time later that equaled something like 7 minutes, and I sucked back my frozen mocha in a few gulps. The caffeine hit me like a Boxing Day tsunami. Maybe that’s exaggerating and trivializing. Okay, it hit me like really bad flatulence, except it was so good. And not odiferous in any way. I was suddenly, powerfully awake.

I typed things, I texted people. I was online and sending status updates to anyone who cared. In the very narrow band of things that could be remotely productive while sitting in an airport waiting to catch one’s third flight in 12 hours, I was a king of getting shit done.

Susanne seemed to be buzzing, too. She asked if she should get us a bagel and cream cheese. That sounded like a terrific idea! Sure! Get us 14 bagels!

She found some organic-pretends-to-be-French bakery and got us a hemp bagel. I had no idea people ate hemp. Wasn’t it reserved for scratchy rope and reusable shopping bags? Would we get high from eating this?

We did not get high, which was good, given that we were already loopy. But I did discover that hemp seeds can get caught pretty easily between one’s teeth. Good life experience to note, I guess.

Finally, at long last, we were on our last flight. Only two hours and forty-eight minutes to Detroit. The flight was uneventful.

Our bags were not on the belt. I lined up in a long queue for lost luggage, not confident that I could explain what had happened with any degree of clarity, or words, even. Probably I would just wave my arms a lot and point to my claim tag bar codes, and hope that would suffice for them. I was a raving mad man, a very tired raving mad man. So maybe I wasn’t raving. I was a raved, farted on, ear-drum deafened, sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, hemp-eating mad man.

Three people before I reached the front of the line Susanne tapped me on the shoulder and told me she’d found her bag on one random luggage belt and mine on another. I trudged out to the car, brought thankfully by her cousin and husband, who came with the car as part of a package driving deal, and didn’t ask how our bags wound up on the opposite end of the baggage claim area. I didn’t care anymore.

We rode 90 minutes to Susanne’s parents’ house, had a cup of tea, and took a 3-hour nap. We had crossed 17 hours, three flights, four airports, one train, two commutes, one really bad cheese cutting incident, two bad meals, one hurried pint of hefeweisen, and three increasingly inarticulate conversations. We woke up at 5:30pm Eastern time, which felt like 2:30 to us, kind of, since I think I never actually saw the sun the whole day, and really, I didn’t even know what day it was anymore.

But hell, it only cost us $525 a ticket.

Morning cats are free

Saturday brought with it a flurry of activity, starting with barrel tasting weekend. Susanne offered to be the designated driver and we piled into the car — Susanne, me, and two other folks from the college. The first vineyard, Dusty Valley (an appropriate name for around here) has a couple of strong wines, including a pinot noir. No barrel tasting, though. We went to two more vineyards, heading to Pepper Bridge where we sampled a merlot that will be bottled next year. The sun set on the rolling hills strewn with grapes, unseasonably warm for December. We drove back into town and found some church stairs from which to watch the holiday parade.


2007 barrel of wine

2007 barrel of wine

Now then, I am not unfamiliar with small-town parades. My hometown of Hightstown has a few parades a year, including a don’t-call-it-pagan winter parade.

But Walla Walla, as I know all to well at this point, is not anything like New Jersey. I don’t think I’ve met even one Italian at this point, three and a half months into living here. It was a small parade. It was as small as a parade can be and still have some semblance of a parade. I mean, you need more than a few slowly moving vehicles, right?

The tininess of the parade was distinctly at odds with its name, officially called the “Macy’s Festival of Lights Parade.” Wow. Small town America meets international capitalist licensing and sponsorship! Yes, there is a Macy’s in town. It is in fact, the only department store in Walla Walla. There are at least half a dozen auto supply stores, two of them are Schuck’s Auto Supply, as it happens. I wonder about that. Are they separate competing franchises? Or held by one owner who didn’t want to have to commute too far between them? Seriously, what are they, the Starbucks of car parts? My favorite new Schuck’s joke, because I need the laughs, goes like this:

Customer to clerk: Why are you named Schuck’s?

Clerk: So when we’re out of something, we can say, “Schuck’s, we don’t have that.”

Okay, so that can’t be why that’s their name, because that’s Bad Marketing.

And I digress.

The parade started on time, which was very impressive, since practically nothing and nobody is punctual around these parts. There was a Mini Cooper brigade, which consisted of the 8 Mini Coopers in town getting together and driving slowly through the parade route. Too bad we drive a Honda.

There were many trucks decked out with white lights, a few floats with square dancers on them, not looking anything like the folks I’ve seen at New York City and DC’s pride parades. In other words, they most definitely did not look like this:


Gay dancing cowboys on a float

Gay dancing cowboys on a float

I don’t think Walla Walla, or any part of eastern Washington, is ready for that, but then again, I’ve never seen Spokane’s pride parade.

The only actual disconcerting thing in the parade was the Santa. I know Santa is the anchor in these things, in the last car before the police end pace car. But Santa was facing backwards. Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t Mr. Kringle be more forward-looking than that? What’s with the symbolism, people? Further, I know it’s slow-going because it’s a parade, but uh, that’s not good for preventing motion sickness. The last thing you need at one of these is to traumatize a bunch of kids because Santa decided the best green for his red suit was his split pea soup lunch. Dare I say more?

No, I daren’t.

So, without the plethora of gay-related dancing floats, without a series of politicians doing their bit for public relations (who cares about 29,000 votes, anyway *cough, cough, FRANKEN cough*), and with no high school marching bands, we had representatives from most of the churches in town, from a couple of businesses (10% off your next 5 gallons of paint at Gary’s!), and cutest of all, from the local chapter of the Humane Society. There were many dogs wearing sweaters that said, “Adopt Me,” and they drew a lot of “aww”s from the crowd. They also handed out candy canes with stickers on them, which fortunately for me, I did not read until the next day. 

Marketed on the stickers was an upcoming adoption drive for December 20. December 20, as many of you probably don’t know, will be a bargain basement day for pet adoption in lovely Walla Walla. Dogs will only cost $40 (regularly $80-$120) and cats the low, low price of $10! And only between 10 and noon, cats are free.

Seriously, I think it’s a good thing, even if I am a little weirded out by making animals seem like they’re for sale at Filene’s. But we can’t really get a dog until I can walk him or her everyday. And I can’t do that until there’s allograft material for me, and wow, the world is a weird place, isn’t it? I refuse to bargain for a dog on the death of some person. I just would like a friggin dog, and to go bowling, and try the foxtrot again, or even to carry a 10-pound bag of flour from Costco without feeling like I’m playing russian roulette with my remaining knee ligaments.

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