Archive for October, 2022

The All Hallows Shindig

As a kid, Halloween was simple and glorious. We drew witches and cats in school and made a macaroni ghost. We carved Jack O’Lanterns with plastic trowels. On October 31, I was put into a plastic mask, handed a pillow case, and told to walk around saying ‘Trick or Treat’ to strangers. For this simple task I was granted candy. This, I believed, was the world’s greatest scam. When I was older, I rued the ageist unfairness of it. I never considered the tradition I was taking part in.   

Amid Halloween’s 2,000 year development and its many manifestations, it’s sometimes easy to forget that it all started with the ancient celebration of Samhain. For the Celts, a people who lived in Ireland, UK, and northern France from about 2,500 years ago, Samhain was one of the most important seasons of the year. It marked the harvest, the end of summer, and the beginning of winter. Most importantly to people who didn’t have electricity, it was the time ‘the light loses and the night wins’. There’s surely romance to the spookiness and the folklore of Halloween, we must remember that for the Celts it ushered in months of darkness, sparse food, and death.

To make matters worse, the Celts believed that at Samhain the barrier between their world and the ‘otherworld’ was at its thinnest. Thus, their deceased ancestors came back and visited, along with spirits, fairies, their dead enemies, and every waiter they’d ever stiffed. To ward off these entities, they hollowed out turnips and carved scary faces into them, and they dressed up as animals or demons or Kim Kardashian to trick otherworld visitors into thinking they were also an otherworld resident. They left out offerings of food and drink to appease former enemies who might be bent on revenge. They told stories and tales around bonfires that were meant to keep the evil spirits and darkness at bay. No matter how you cut it, this time of year was scary as hell.  

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The Unfairness

I was once walking through the park when an old man abruptly shouted ‘the unfairness!’ He was sitting on a bench and I thought perhaps a robin had pooped on him. Also, no. The man was in standard old guy in the park gear (trench coat, high top sneakers, pants). So I was naturally frightened. I walked away briskly and never thought about him again.

That is, until today. I made the monumental mistake of sneezing while I was getting out of bed this morning and I somehow gave myself spina bifida. See, this was a problem and not for the reasons you think. The four minutes after I get out of bed in the morning are reserved for my knees to learn how to work again. Throwing my back out at the same time just wasn’t going to do. I slouched towards the bathroom like Quasimodo and was muttering in what can liberally be described as ‘tongues’. Just as I sat down I said ‘so unfair’. The rest of my time in the bathroom was spent in quiet reflection, well, it was once my tablet died and I had to stop looking at Reddit.

It’s not that people don’t warn you about all the bad things that happen when you get near fifty, they tell you all the time. It’s just that you never think it’s going to happen to you. I am not, at the age of 48, a walking cliché. I am nostalgic. A McDonalds commercial from the 1980s can bring me to tears. I would give anything to be at a Little League post-season pizza party. Various parts of my body have elected to stop working. My knees and back revolt against me so often there’s no way they’re not in cahoots. What the fuck is with my heel? I went 46 years without thinking about my heel, and now they pervade my every day. I get an abrupt ringing in my ear that I’m pretty sure prewarns a hernia. Or a haemorrhage. Or a nose bleed. A hernia, haemorrhage, and a nose bleed are some of the various things I’m fairly certain I’m suffering from or about to be suffering from. It joins a long list.

I have medicine for everything. Should sudden onset heartburn, hemorrhoids, acid reflux, headache, or jock itch overtake you while visiting my house, I got you covered. I am that guy. I can fall asleep at a traffic light. Then there’s the things I accidentally slip into conversations. The greatest geriatric hits: When I was your age, Listen young man, I may be old, but the alternative is being in a vase on your mantle, Back when I was young, and on and on and on. I am a walking talking cliché.

The thing is, I don’t feel old. I feel good. Yes, my hangovers last more than 72 hours. Yes, it takes me a week to recover from a workout. Yes, my heels take turns not working. But I feel good. Ish. Oh well. Could be worse. At  least I have my health. Ish.

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On October 12th every year in the 1980s kids in America heard some rendition of the same story. Christopher Columbus wanted to find the Atlantic route to the East Indies and India. It was there that spices existed in abundance.

Someone would inevitably raise their hand. Why would they go there? The teacher would answer smugly, Spices? You mean like salt and pepper? The teacher would pop on a coy smile, for this is what she’d been hoping for all along. Yes. That’s right. Spices like pepper and cinnamon were very difficult to find in Europe, so explorers wanted to find routes to the Spice Islands and India so they could get a source of these spices for themselves.

Wow, we said. Then she would really blow our minds by telling us how a bag of cinnamon might be worth the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s money. We oohed and aahed and the less bright of those children planned a pantry raid on his parents’ spice rack later that day (to the great permanently-damaging joy of his parents).

Why would he undertake such a dangerous voyage just for spices? Well, glad you asked, this was the age of exploration, you see, when things like the sextant and the magnetic compass allowed brave men to veer away from the coasts into the open waters of the ocean, find new worlds, and then kill all of the people they found there.     

The story would then head back to Chris Columbus and the simple facts we learn as kids. He discovered America. He was smart – he thought the world was round when nobody else did! But he thought it was much smaller that it was, so he also thought the Caribbean was India (oh did we mock him for that). And, plus, we erroneously call Native Americans Indians because of that last bit. Since this was the 1980s, we continued to call the Native Americans Indians without much compunction, but our little developing brains had just begun trying to link India and the people who had lived in America. Thus in one day at school, we were on one hand taught to admire Christopher Columbus and to make fun of him for not understanding geography the way a bunch of fourth graders did.

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Hotel: A Love Story

Over the weekend we went to Tabor, a small town in South Bohemia. It’s an hour from Prague, but offered a nice respite from our humdrum autumn. Besides, we got to stay in a hotel. Which was the main draw.

We talked about the hotel for the last week. When you cook and clean for yourself every day, a weekend at a hotel means (in our minds) being spoiled and looked after. It means a shower better than yours, a toilet that should warm your cheeks upon sitting, and a team of people ready to pamper you from arrival to departure.

A day into our stay we admitted over trout filets that the hotel was fine. It was fine with no other attempts to qualify that word. It was just fine followed by an almost audible period and then a conspicuous period of quiet in which no further words were used to explicate.

The hotel was nicer on the outside than on the inside. It seems as though they spent all their money making it pretty, but forgot to put it into things like making the interior look like a hotel in the 21st century. Its carpets came straight out of my grandmother’s house. The dining room was so much like a high school cafeteria that I expected a bell to urge us back to class. The lights in the broad stairwells blinked off and on, like something in a horror movie setting. The room was also fine and was mostly taken up by the bed, which was also fine, but as the bed was harder than the floor it was less fine. The shower was good (fine) but there was no soap. The wellness center was marked by a neon sign that gave it a brothel sort of feel. The staff was fine. But there’s a pervading sense that the staff does one huge, permanent, continuous eyeroll whose meaning is “Fuck. Guests.”

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To Clean a Kitchen

t all starts innocently enough, usually with an offhand comment, often after some drinks, always before a couple more are on the books.

“I’m cleaning the kitchen tomorrow.”

The idea is met with the same good-natured skepticism which all grand plans borne of fermented beverages. How often have you been sitting across from a person at a pub when they suddenly out with some grand idea. “I’m going to run a marathon next summer.” “I’m learning how to captain a ship.” “I’m joining the Marines!”

And how have you reacted? That of course depends on how far down the lane you were as well. A beer or two in, you smile and say something partially supportive and noncommittal. A couple more down the road, you might egg that person on and even compound their plans with subordinate benefits. If you’re as far gone as they are, you might jump in there too. “Shit, I’m joining the Marines too!”

I estimate Burke to be in the second group, because she sounded off with some excited tones but wasn’t fool enough to offer her services. I admit now that I look back on that with some mixture of love, admiration, and rage.

The problem with all of these things is this: morning comes. And when morning comes, you have to decide what kind of a person you are. Are you the sort who does what they say? Are you the sort to ignore it completely? Are you the sort to go back on your word? Yes to all three. But the question was, who am I today?

Today, I was the sort of person trying to put off his workout. I put on my workout shorts and my workout shirt and I rolled out my workout mat and I queued up my workout video. And I said workout sentences, like “Hey, could you bring the dog out of here, I need to work out?” and “Say, when I finish this workout I think I’ll go for a walk.” I said both of these with one of my arms sticking unnaturally across my chest while tucked in the elbow crease of the other and holding it there in a grand interpretation of an “I’m about to work out” stretch. I reached for the play button on the video.  

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