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Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Recalling Halloweens long ago. . . 

The only picture I have available at posting (I'm the dude with the orange nose)
We went trick-or-treating.  It was a good time.  My wife and I take turns dressing up and accompanying the kiddos.  It was my turn to trick-or-treat that year.  My sister, dressed as a candy corn, brought a treat bag 'o beer and we walked the neighborhood.  I was the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  My oldest daughter (then six) was a green grease-painted Elphaba (the wicked witch of the west from the musical Wicked) and my youngest (then almost three) was Dorothy complete with sparkly ruby slippers.  My niece and nephew were dressed as a banana and a rabid bat respectively.  My niece was disappointed because she kept getting called banana boy and Mr. banana.  My nephew was frustrated because everyone referred to him as a wolf.

Before the festivities began, however, we all met at my parents' house for pizza.  My youngest was fascinated by the bat mask, which was an sinister-looking latex and faux fur amalgam. When my nephew removed it, she'd steal it and clutch it to her chest like a teddy bear, toddling away with it.

After pizza we all marched up the hill to the neighborhood Halloween parade for pictures. Dorothy's ruby slippers kept slipping from her stockinged feet.  We later taped them on with clear packing tape.  Staples seemed 'wrong'.

When we left the parade for trick-or-treating it was still light.  My sister credited the Bush administration with his greatest achievement in office, namely not "falling back" an hour until after Halloween.  The majority of our evening out was spent in daylight.

With a beer in your hand you feel less ridiculous dressed as a Scarecrow.  I held that and a flashlight.  After every house I asked Elphaba if she'd said "thank you". Each "yes" became more and more exasperated.  This pleased me. Eventually disgusted "yesses" turned into pre-emptive "don't say it, YES".  I would stop asking for a few houses before dusting it off again later.

When it got dark, i would scribe a path of light on the pavement with flourishes of my maglight brand flashlight, each path punctuated with a sci-fi-esque noise.  Elphaba began giving me dirty looks and shaking her fist at me, promising violence if I didn't stop being "weird".  Eventually I ran out of new sounds to make and my niece said, "you already used that one."  I told her I was recycling for the environment.

Halfway through the evening (trick-or-treating from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) I offered to carry Elphy's bag.  It was heavy. From within my rope-belted pants, i drew out an empty plastic grocery bag, and she used it for the second half of the evening.  By that point my two beers were gone and stowed safely in my sister's "treat bag".  I carried a bag of candy in one hand and the flashlight in the other.

I don't like giving out candy (when I stay home), and I'm sure I'm not alone.  We stopped at a house.  The lights outside were off, but we could see someone was home.  There were lights on inside, and the TV appeared to be on.  The kids rang the doorbell.  Nothing.  They rang it again.  I don't know how long we stood there, not long, but I was just in the process of telling them nobody was home, when a woman answered the door long enough to tell the kids that the lights weren't on and that meant that they weren't giving out candy.  The kids took it MUCH better than I did.  The lights inside WERE on.  There were several houses just like it along our route and each of them WAS participating.  Later on I threw a rock through her picture window. Cause fuck her.

Not really.  I mean, fuck her, that much i mean, but I didn't really throw a rock through her window.  Anyway, after commenting loudly about egging her house we moved on.

Brief Sidebar - 1) if you're going to hide from kids on Halloween. . . then hide.  Don't come out of the house to tell them they're stupid because you don't have lights on and that means you're not home. It makes you look like a dumbfuck.  2) if you aren't participating for some whacked out religious kook reason, then leave a sign saying "no candy".  I think that's a pretty universally understood sign, and the kids don't have time to waste knocking on your door and annoying the shit out of you.  OR hand out religious nut job toys or candy instead.  You know. . . spread the Word of the Lord instead of candy.  Believe me, word will spread and the following year nobody will bother you.  (end of sidebar)

At the end of the night we trudged up the hill into our familiar cul-de-sac and trick-or-treated the one last house, our own, and went inside to rest our feet and wash off our makeup.

After cleaning up, the kids took their sacks of candy into my family room and dumped them in heaps on the floor.  They organized them according to preference or flavor or whatever category suited their cute little heads.  Then the trading began.  This has since become one of my favorite parts of the holiday.  I needed to help my daughter a little with the concept.  She was giving away all her candy.  She was bartering like an Arab merchant by the end of the evening.  Laffy Taffy for Nerds, Nerds for Hershey bars, Hershey bars for pixie stix.  The kids all had their favorites and for the most part each kid's favorite was unique.  So they all ended up with what they wanted.

There was a brief period of disaster as Dorothy re-entered the house and panicked rebagging of the candy piles ensued. She plowed into the middle of the piles with her ruby red slippers of death and began scattering Clark bars and Butterfings pell-mell before they were recaptured and rebagged by their respective owners and stowed in safer locations, unreachable by Dorothy.

When the bags were stowed, the makeup and costumes removed, jammies donned, children stuffed with candy, and Dorothy asleep in her field of poppies aka crib, we watched E.T.  I Netflixed (in those days it was called Netflix. . . ) it.  We borrowed "a cup of popcorn" from the neighbors, and I pan popped it and soaked it in butter.

We lay in the family room on couches and chairs, or sprawled across the carpet under warm blankets in the dimmed lights and watched E.T.  The words "Penis breath" and "shit" caused me to close my eyes tiredly amidst the laughter of the children, but it's still a great family movie despite that.  My daughter got scared and sad and a little panicked when E.T. "died" and I stayed close to her and whispered, "just wait. . . keep watching. . . " and stroked her hair.  She liked it in the end, except "the scary part".  My niece fell asleep on the couch.  We all got a little misty.

When the movie ended, we bundled up sleepy children and sent them home or to bed and then went to bed ourselves.  It couldn't have been later than 9:45 but it felt like midnight.

It was a happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I'm an Excellent Driver

So. . . last night I left work early to go to a 5:00 meeting on the Southside.  I left the office at about 4:25 ish. . .plenty of time.  On the way, I missed my turn and ended up in Oakland, trying to turn around and get back to where I came from.  It was a stupid lapse in my brain that I can’t adequately explain except to say I’m getting elderly and instead of taking Grant Street (if you don’t know where these streets are, just let the words wash over you soothingly and enjoy the ride) I took 376W.

There is no convenient way back once you've gone that far except to go through the city of Pittsburgh, which I did.  Did I mention that the meeting was at 5:00?  Don’t answer that, because I know I did.  It was 4:48.  I snaked and through the snarl of roads and exits to find a way to cross the Smithfield Street bridge for the meeting.  I was coming at it from the East (see map).

Yesterday was the Penguins home opener, so traffic downtown (where the Consol Energy Center, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Hockey club, is located) was brutal (but not quite as brutal as that sentence).

My wife, coming from the North (see map), called me to say she was going to be late and to hold them over and discuss Lily's future until she got there. . . except I could see I was going to be late.  We discussed this.  I was stressed out, pissed off, and she offered some helpful suggestions about things I could have done differently in order not to have gotten myself stuck in downtown Pittsburgh traffic, which I reacted less than ideally to.  (I had a minor tantrum that I did my best not to direct at her, but failed moderately before recovering later).

Cars moved at a snail's pace if they moved at all.  I finally oozed my way through Pittsburgh, curling up north as my wife turned and headed east into town.  It was 5:25.  We’d called ahead and the meeting was on hold until we arrived.  But that didn’t make it any less stressful since we were already a half hour late and getting later every minute.

Map of Pittsburgh and our routes. . . "ish"
I turned east onto the street that was going to take me to our meeting. . . and my wife crossed at the light behind me from the other street.  She pulled in directly behind me and waved cheerfully.  It was so absurd that it made my stress disappear.  Our timing couldn't have been any better.  Quite literally there’s almost no way we could have said, “okay, you come from the north, I’ll come from the west and we’ll meet at the intersection at 5:30. . . GO!” and made it work within 10 or 15 minutes of each other.  The odds of her pulling in immediately behind me from another street in the midst of that mare’s nest of roads and traffic are astronomical.  It was sort of cool.  Except that we both arrived at the meeting at 6:00. . . an hour late.  They told us under no circumstances could the meeting go past 6:30.  They had to be out of the building by 6:30.  We left at 7:15.


This morning on my way to work I was impatient with the traffic going through the tunnels and took a short cut to the West End bridge, which sort of parallels the Fort Pitt Bridge, but further down the river. . . then the road joins 376 on the other side of the river, past the tunnel.  (Again, if you’re unfamiliar with the roads, just let the words wash over you, the message amounts to the same thing.  Just insert your own road names.)
It takes slightly longer, but sometimes the traffic on the Fort Pitt Bridge makes it worth it.  A guy in front of me was going so slowly we were barely moving, so I jumped ahead of him and tried to get back in the lane to take the ramp to 376. . . and couldn't.

So I said. . . fuggit, I have a GPS. . . I’ll just drive a little further and then cut across.  Only there's no cut-across, and what I didn't realize is that I was almost heading in the opposite direction from work. . . my short cut was going to end up being longer than the commute itself.

not to scale and stuff
So I turned the GPSs on, and ended up driving through neighborhoods I'd never heard of before, and some that I had heard of but never seen, until eventually stuff started looking familiar.

I had already started the commute a little late.  After I dropped the kiddos off and left the daycare an urgent call of nature forced me to stop at home first before I continued to work.  I got started on my commute about 10 minutes late.  I usually get to work around ten minutes to 8, so, no biggie right?

I got to work at about 10 after 9.  About an hour late.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Learning Against Her Will

Batman riding a rainbow unicorn over a purple dolphin sea.
Emma is reluctant to study anything other than what she knows is going to be on her tests.  She will fight with me, for example, if I attempt to get her to give me the meaning of something that she knows she will not be tested on.  

Last night we were going over definitions for a Social Studies test.  The teacher had placed an asterisk by all the terms on a list that would be on the test but there were maybe fifteen or so additional terms and I forced Emma to review those too.

"Daddy, Mrs. G said that's not going to be on the test."

"I know honey, I still think you should know it."

"But she said we don't have to."

"But I said you do."

"But Daddeeeeeee. . . "

And so on.  She fought me and got all sullen because I made her tell me what a savannah was. . . or a mesa. . . when all she really needed to know for the test was grassland or prairie or plateau.  But ultimately she got them and we moved on with our evening and she went to bed.  I think she might have been a little tired, having just finished a 3 hour softball game the hour before.

So this morning after breakfast, I was giving her a practice spelling test and "rainbow" was on the list of words.  It was number 19 of 20, but before I gave her the last word (scrape) I said "unicorn" instead.  Because really, you can't have rainbows without unicorns.  I think that's pretty much understood.

But it was not on her list of words.  I waited for the protest.  This time I was going to immediately capitulate since i was really only teasing her, but she spelled it out on the paper correctly, quietly concentrating as she wrote it out. . . and then looked up as if I'd just slapped her and did some sort of weird double-take, saying, "Wait, what did you just say?"


She scowled in confusion.  "Was that on the list?"

"No sweetie," I smiled in reply.

She was just on autopilot, too sleepy to notice or too in-the-zone. She got mock angry with me for tricking her into learning something; scowling unconvincingly before smiling and laughing with me when I pointed out that she spelled it right in spite of herself.