Archive for October, 2023

Not So Mischief Night

I was never allowed to do anything bad on Mischief Night. My mother once told me she had a crystal ball and I believed her all the way up til my junior year in college, assuming that if she hadn’t beaten me to death by then, then she couldn’t see anything I was doing.

Mischief Night was relatively tame where I lived. We had some ruffians nearby, but they didn’t do anything but throw an egg or two at your house and then run screeching into the night and forest. Some kids from my high school once tried to egg the house of Randall Cunningham. I wasn’t there, but in hindsight nobody seemed to express much shock at getting caught, what with the caravan of Volvos Nissans lined up outside the estate of the state’s most famous professional athlete. I wonder if Randall still thinks about it.

My one and only Mischief Night confirmed my lifelong status as a rule follower. I went out with three guys from my street. We were ill equipped, I believe only bringing along a roll of toilet paper to cover someone’s house in and I don’t think there were eggs. We dressed in dark clothes, which for me meant my grade school uniform. It was dark green, but this is what I had to work with. I did so under the assumption that we’d be in the woods. Dark Green + Dark Woods = Where’d that guy go?

I was wrong.

Almost instantly I was seen from a back window. A woman doing dishes peered out into the woods and noticed four stalking idiots. An evidently highly-trained operative, she snapped off her lights and was quickly on her porch. Seconds later she was yelling at us to disappear. Most of us did. Most. I became petrified and stayed in position. This position was lying on my stomach in front of a tree. The flood lights of the backyard were on and I could feel them pouring into my head. Every time they’d snap off, the woman would wave a hand and snap them back on. Eddie squatted behind a tree a few yards away, impoloring me to get up and make a run for it. I thought I was hidden.

“Listen to your friend. Get out of here,” the woman shouted.

“Dame. Come on.”

I tried to get up, but alas my shoelace was attached to a stick that wasn’t budging. Eddie wandered out of his hiding spot to help and, when that gesture proved useless, the woman herself came out and undud my shoelace. She pulled me to my feet and padded me on the butt (different times, I called no authorities).

Thus was the beginning and the ending of a great criminal mind. Since then I’ve left all sorts of mischief to those who aren’t me. I stay home, watch a movie, and listen for ruffians and shenanigans. 

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Stuff to be Terrified about Today

I normally love writing for kids. It’s a weird turn of events in later years. But one of the byproducts of writing science and history articles for kids is that you learn things you just would have been very happy not learning.

For instance, climate change is making spiders bigger. Yes, bigger. I’ve always sort of been worried about climate change and the prospect of floating on a door atop the future Mid-European Atlantic that used to be known as ‘Germany’ but now I have to add big spiders to that nightmare. Enjoyably enough, in future research I learned that spiders can also survive in space. So when global warming does get bad enough and humanity is forced to go live on Mars, spiders can follow us.

Another scary fact is that there are the frozen bodies on Mount Everest. And they are used as landmarks for people climbing up and down. I’m not so scared of the idea of dead people. I am, however, terrified stiff by the fact that there are people on Earth stupid enough that when they run into a frozen man in a Columbia jacket their only thought is ‘Oh, I have to make a left at Larry.’ And then off to the ‘dead zone.’

There’s a haunted radio station in Russia that’s been broadcasting a dull monotonous tone for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades. Horrifying. I’d love to visit it, but the most terrifying aspect of that ghost radio station is that it’s in Russia.

You can die from holding in a sneeze. This wouldn’t bother me, but it’s also possible to die from sneezing too hard. Sneezing. The function we can’t control can kill you if you don’t do it like fricking Goldilocks.

King Charles II used to drink red wine mixed with cremated skulls. He wasn’t the only one either, as this was a way to be healthier. Also, the barber was where one got bled. If you were sick, you were ordered by the doctor but it was beneath him to make people bleed. This doesn’t terrify me as much as make me sad that I didn’t live then. I bet people almost never had to go to work. Yes, it was because they had died, but still. No work.  

My last bit of research dragged out that some ants turn into zombies via parasitic fungus, which – wait for it – manipulates their brains. (This is how it starts.) I don’t have any problem with ants, but the fact that they can be killed and then redirected to eat my hotdog. It just seems rude.

I guess it’s good as all my other terrors are real life. A mortgage. A neighbor who sings to his tennis racket. After these daily terrors, what’s a spider with wings or an ant that’s trying to kill Andrew Lincoln? Manageable. Now, I have to get my tennis racket.  

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The Surprise at the End of the Hairy Lemon

My siblings and I have long given up the one-upmanship of our formative years. I, for example, rarely bring home dead squirrels anymore. My brother no longer sends our mother his W2s. Amanda gave her a few grandkids. I did my part by moving 4,200 miles away. And I think I was winning until my sister Julia announced that she was going to take my mom on a trip around Ireland.

My mother has been mentioning ‘Ireland’ to my dad for thirty or forty years until she gave up the ghost and started going on cruises with her friends. But a lifetime of mild disappointment was nothing compared to what I was facing now?  

Namely, how was I going to compete with my sister taking her to Ireland? Short of finding Brigadoon and setting up the Once a Century Pub Crawl, I couldn’t. Alas, bitterness set in.

But one night I awoke in a sweat and possibly surrounded by candy wrappers. It was a moment of clarity that went like this: You live near Ireland you bugwit. This was followed by more positive insights such as: I could fly to Ireland! I could do it as a surprise! It would be fun!

My moment in the son sun.

There were two concerns.

The first – a heart attack. My mom is notoriously jumpy and conducive to scares. Not just conducive, but with a predisposition that a doctor should look at. We once sat at a table together for an hour before I scared her into vaulting milk all over her shirt by asking what time it was.

So, in order to avoid employing Dublin’s emergency services, we decided to do it in a pub, with me sitting and waiting, and her seeing me. This would hopefully avoid any shock that we’d have to awkwardly explain at a viewing.

The second – my dad. My dad’s inability to keep a secret or retain information without blabbing it to all who hear is famous within our family. In fact, it’s famous outside of our family. Word has it that in one of his past lives in the revolution era colonies, he was hogtied days before Paul Revere’s ride. Another early life was sent into Brittany as decoy on June 5, 1944.

And so I arrived, I walked to a pub, got a Power’s Gold Label, asked the bartender where the Hairy Lemon was. He pointed me about 40 yards down the road and I drank the liquor with joy. Once inside the Lemon I Guinnessed myself and took up a small table by the door. They came in, my mom flipped (no medical issues), and my sister and I cheersed a job well done.

The following day happened to be her birthday (33rd) and we embarked on a great weekend of Irish history, archaeology, beer, food, and rugby. This is all despite the pub crawl my sister and I did on Friday, whose venues grow dimmer and dimmer the later they were visited. Somewhere in there was a Five Guys visit. A door code for a bathroom that I’ll always remember (0502). And the night was capped off at the restaurant of the hotel, which, my sister assured me was during the day a charming Irish pub/restaurant. This assurance came because at night it was lit and had the otherwise ambience of a vampire orgy. Everyone was much better looking than us and somehow younger by several hundred decades.  

When the red light went on and the dancing began we made our escape. Our left half our pints on the table mocking us as we ran. In the morning, as promised, we dropped into the restaurant and were greeted by a sweet-smiled young lady with blonde hair. She airily directed us towards a table and took our order. Under her breath, I could have sworn she said “you didn’t finish your drinks last night.”

We left this rendezvous out when filling my mother in on events, mainly because we were afraid to implicate her. Who knows what rules bind the Irish Vampire. It didn’t matter. Had we been bit by vampires, at least we’d have been in Ireland – the land of the jovial and friendly and inviting. That evening, exhausted by walking and touring, we stopped at a place for seafood chowder and brown soda bread. The barmen and women told us funny stories, bantered with us, and snapped jokes at us. By the time we were turning on the rugby, we were ready to drift off. And I wish I had before the end.

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Pain in the Neck

I wake up in the morning and sit up, a good yawn breaking the quiet. It especially broke the quiet as it culminated in a yelp of pain. I froze, not because I was scared, but because I couldn’t otherwise move. The dog – whose immediate morning stratagem is to play with me until she gets her belly rubbed – stopped her goofing and watched me in expectation. I walk like Igor to the bathroom and appraise my pain-crinkled face in the mirror. Ah yes, no doubt about it, my old friend the pinched nerve is back.

I remember times when my mother would be laid up in bed. She’d be in a nightgown and a thick neck brace. She lay on a heated pad. We were to leave her alone (her orders) unless we were bringing food and/or ginger ale. I also remember these times as those when we ate cold deli meats and sandwiches for all meals. Pinched nerve.

In things we get from our parents that we don’t want, my 0 to Mr. Hyde in 2.3 seconds temper and my tendency to show up 40 minutes before scheduled events are up towards the top of that list. But somewhere close – perhaps between my dalliance of ear hair and mild numerical dyslexia – is my conducive-to-pinched neck. Every now and again, my neck decides it will not only go on working hiatus for a while, but will leave in its wake a throbbing, all-encompassing pain. There are people who no doubt have it far worse, but when your neck is causing a headache you wouldn’t wish on Mussolini’s ghost, it’s hard to think of them.

I go to the internet in an attempt to self-heal. I learn some stretches and they are effective, but the cure is not long lasting. Thus I begin acting like an insane person in public. On the tram, metro, in shops and pubs, I break into some yoga, neck bent, arms out. It’s anyone’s guess what I am doing. But I greatly fear that I am being ‘that guy’. That look-at-me guy who does yoga, plays a guitar, prays in public. I don’t want to be the main character; I only want to be pain-free for a little while.

An extraordinary fact about semi-chronic pain – wherever it exists on your body – is that I can’t seem to remember life without it, despite the fact that I have lived most of my 49 years in that state. It’s just there – all the time.

I don’t have kids – a fact that fills me with great joy. Usually. Now, of course, I wish I had someone to bring me food and ginger ale while I recuperated. The dog and the cat, love me though they do, seem to view food and drink delivery as a one-way system. Not that I can’t see their logic, it would not be terrible if the cat suddenly handed me some cake. I’m just saying, it wouldn’t be turned down.

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On September 26 1774, Johnny Appleseed was Born

…and went on to spread booze throughout the frontier

The apple has seen some tough days. It’s the malicious culprit in loads of folklore. What knocks out Snow White? What has Adam ruin the lot for humankind (according to medieval art, not the bible)? And is it the Golden Pear of Discord or the Golden Banana of Discord that sparks the Trojan War? No, it’s the Golden Apple of Discord.

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Despite its evident tendency to introduce ruin and mayhem, the apple was a constant in my early life. They made their way into my oatmeal and lunches. They were offered under the suspiciously-rhyming decree that one a day would definitively forbid the approach of a certified healthcare professional. Throughout the year, apple culture peaked around October. We bobbed for apples at our school Halloween festival. We lost teeth in caramel-covered apples, where they stood like crooked little tombstones. And in September, a class trip to Steyer’s Orchards introduced me to the glories of apple cider. (The next day, spent entirely on the toilet, stomach acids swirling after two jugs of cider, I was introduced to consequences of actions. And the importance of two-ply toilet paper.)  

One positive story about apples came from the folk character Johnny Appleseed. He was a simple frontiersman who wore threadbare clothing, wore a tin pot hat, and wandered and seeded the frontier with apple trees. The real man was John Chapman, born in 1774 in Massachusetts and raised in Pennsylvania. The legend isn’t far off from reality. He collected seeds from Pennsylvania cider mills and roamed the frontier delivering apple seed to families and starting nurseries. He walked around barefoot and slept rough. He was very kind to people and animals and became a vegetarian in later years. This was remarkable at a time when most people ate whatever they could to get calories in an American wilderness notably bereft of Trader Joes.  

But Johnny Appleseed wasn’t simple. He created nurseries, which he fenced in and for which he hired caretakers. He returned when a couple of times a year to work on them. By the time he died in 1845, he owned more than 1,200 acres of valuable frontier land. Moreover, contrary to the Disney version of Johnny Appleseed, he wasn’t bringing people apples for food, he was bringing them apples for booze.

The first apples sprung up as malus sieversii in the mountains of Kazakhstan. And no doubt the first person to bite into one never did so again. They are so bitter that they were only marginally preferable to dying of hunger. So people didn’t eat them, but they did press the hell out of them and let the resulting juice ferment. There’s no record of who first realized fermented apple cider made you drunk enough to tongue kiss a woolly mammoth, but by the time the Romans show up in the British isles in 55 AD, the people there were drinking a cider-like beverage and developing the rules for mob football. The Germanic tribes and the Normans were drinking similar beverages, and the Romans spread this newfound elixir throughout their entire empire. And Europe and the Mediterranean were drunk on apples.

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