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Month: October 2014

The Not PC Halloween

The Not PC Halloween

Costume-in-a-box circa 1970s

As a child of the 70s, I have to giggle at my youngest daughter who began planning and creating her Halloween costume back in September. It’s one of the striking differences between her generation and mine. Back then, we asked, begged and cajoled our mom to take us to the grocery store to pick out our costume in a box. It consisted of a mask with two tiny air holes in the sort-of nose position and a cheap drape thing that we threw on over our normal clothes.

Our planning was null back then, except for coordinating costumes with the kids that would be trick-or-treating with us. Or maybe we were innovators, I don’t know. But, for two amazing years in a row, my brother and I went as the Peanuts gang with the Gurwell children. I was Lucy, for obvious reasons – bossy, mouth, and cruel to Charlie Brown, especially when it came to football. Then two people would go as Woodstock and Snoopy and my big brother would be either Charlie Brown (snicker) or Linus. To see a preview of the classic Peanuts’ Halloween special click here.

In subsequent years, our not so PC costumes included hobo with a runaway satchel and bum (similar to hobo – but no satchel and extra soot rubbed across the face). We didn’t have fancy schmancy treat buckets, either. Instead, we used the pillowcases from our beds. It was fortunate that my older brother had Peanuts sheets the years we went as the coordinated gang. He nailed the whole look. Dang.

The treats were not too much unlike today’s treats, except no one bothered trying to be healthy. Sure, you’d come across the occasional dentist’s home, and get a toothbrush. But, after the razor-blade-in-an-apple scares, even fruit went by the wayside. But, the one year that I will never forget, regretfully the last year I was allowed to trick-or-treat, I ended up with half a pillowcase full of Pal bubblegum. It was new on the market, and clearly sold at a low – low – low price, because every other house gave it away that year.

e0ab1f286c4b0c49b2f2f0f38cde8bf1Pal bubblegum is in fact the ugly kid sister of Bazooka Gum. Pal, if you can work up enough saliva in your mouth, is good for three, maybe four chews TOPS and then it becomes a flavorless lump. Terrible. Terrible stuff. That year, my chocolate bars felt all the more important, and I was careful to make my haul last by eating only two pieces a day. I nearly got to Thanksgiving before I’d worked down to the Almond Joys.

So, tonight when I open the door for the kids, I plan to give them a handful of chocolate, not organic or nut free or gluten free, no. They’ll have tromped up and down rainy Seattle hills, and I intend on giving them a true treat when they knock on my door.

Speaking of treats, I’ve got one for all of you. Amazon is offering my first book for FREE this weekend to Kindle Unlimited users. For your Halloween treat, download Four Rubbings and start following the mysteries in real time. 🙂

Happy Halloween, all.



Jenn's Bumper Sticker
Don’t make me do it. One more bad drive and I’m printing this and taping it on my rear window!

The last few weeks while driving my kids to school, I’ve been shocked by the things I’ve witnessed behind the wheel. Am I showing my age? Probably. But, the things I’ve watched other drivers do reminds me of the way I drive when I play Super MARIOKART with my daughters on our Xbox.

Notice that there is no sub-head that says: A Driving Instruction Tool

After another white-knuckle drive home yesterday in which I avoided two near collisions, I designed a bumper sticker. Yes, so help me God, I did. And if my afternoon commute doesn’t go any smoother, I’m going to print it and tape it to rear window of my car.

So let’s look at the key ways the game differs from real life:

  • There are no seatbelts in MARIOKART, so safety isn’t really a priority. In real life, safety matters
  • In the game, we get an infinite amount of lives. If you happen to “die” you’re promptly parachuted back onto the road. And in real life we just die
  • In the game, reading and obeying signs is optional at best. In real life, signs reminds us of the rules. If we don’t obey them, we get pulled over by a police officer
  • There are no speed laws in MARIOKART
  • There are no blinkers on MARIOKART vehicles. There are in real life – but drivers are increasingly forgetting to use them (flibberty, flibberty)
  • In the game, the goal is to finish first. In real life, the goal is to get to a place alive
  • In MARIOKART, fire is a minor inconvenience, as is driving off the road onto the surrounding landscape – both slow you down for a short time. We all know what happens in real life if you drive off the road
  • There’s no gas or electric-charging needed to run the vehicles in MARIOKART, but in real life, we need fuel. Is this why I’ve noticed so many young people walking down the highway with a red gasoline can in their hands?
  • In the game, lanes don’t matter, and lane lines are a mere suggestion. In real life, staying within the lane makes all the difference
  • In the game, we pass quick and close to cause another driver to spin off the course. In real life, we’re supposed to give each other some space so we stay safe when we pass
  • When we play MARIOKART, we laugh and scream and cheer.  In real life, crazy maneuvers  lead to road rage, permanent nail marks in steering wheels and chronic TMJ in other drivers
Where are the seatbelts? And what the heck is Luigi holding? Does this look safe?

So, younglings, the next time you hit the road, and I’m talking about actual asphalt – not pixels, remember what you learned in driver’s ed. Obey the law, be courteous to other drivers and make it your goal to get to your destination in one piece. Leave the crazy antics for the gaming, okay?


Why Parakeets Are Better Left Dead

Why Parakeets Are Better Left Dead

Mount St. Helens killed my brother’s budgie parakeet. But an obsession with Egyptians only made matters worse.

the budgie trioMy brother wanted a pet goat, but they weren’t allowed in an apartment. So, Garth moved on, visited the local pet store and brought home a budgie parakeet. He named the bird, Woodstock, after the little bird in Charles Schultz’s famous comic strip, Peanuts, Snoopy’s best friend.

Schultz’s Woodstock flew with an awkward mix of klutz and peril. He smacked into trees, fluttered upside down, spun wildly and landed on the ground with stars and spirals drawn around his head. Garth’s bird was either an avid follower of Peanuts or suffered brain damage as a chick in the egg, because he flew exactly the same way. That is, when he got the chance to spread his wings, which wasn’t very often.

Yes, because a dirty little secret about bird ownership is that it comes with a hefty side dish of guilt. When you purchase a wild animal with survival skills long ago stripped from the DNA, you’ve made a lifelong commitment to keep your pet from doing the main thing he was born to do, fly. He’ll live in a cage. With clipped wings. So he will never get away. Never. Because, the truth is, you haven’t purchased a bird, no, more like your own feathered prisoner. And that makes you his warden.

Ninety-nine percent of Woodstock’s life was lived in a tiny cage. His sole companionship came from a mirror attached to the wall. The reflected Woodstock made the real bird bob his head up and down in a somewhat pornographic way. Besides eating and bobbing, Woodstock’s entertainment consisted of sharpening his beak across a large cuttle bone, sitting on a wooden perch, and crapping on newspaper. Not an excellent way to spend a life, in my opinion.

jenn's version copy
My drawing of the budgie trio. Pen and watercolor.

I think Garth sensed the emptiness of Woodstock’s life immediately, but I’ve always been slow on the uptake. On Saturday mornings, after ingesting a bowl of sugar-coated cereal and watching a few hours of Looney Tunes, I was happy. Something about the afterglow of Tweety cartoons and the crash from the sugar made me keenly aware of Woodstock’s imprisonment. I found myself begging Garth, “Open the cage. Let Woodstock fly.”

It didn’t take much to encourage Garth, I suspect because he was already chanting the same thing in his head. He’d open the door and Woodstock remained on the perch. Garth would call his name, and Woodstock stayed on the perch. Finally, Garth would reach in and gently pry Woodstock’s curled nails from around the perch and release him into the room.

I always hoped that Woodstock would circle above our heads in graceful loops to our cheers and whistles. Nope. Woodstock’s flying, if one could call it that, resembled the inky up and down readouts of the old fashioned EKG machines. It was all quick drops and high bursts. The bird sputtered up and down in the air, almost hitting the ceiling, nearly smacking the floor, creating spastic Vs in my mind until, wham! He slammed into a window or wall, lost a handful of feathers and then crawled up the drapes where his long nails got caught in the fabric. He jerked and bobbed frantically, losing more feathers, until he was freed by Garth’s gentle hands. It was unnerving, heartbreaking and horrifying. And somehow, within minutes of nestling Woodstock into his cage again, I forgot the cruelty of letting him fly.

Well, I liked Woodstock, and because he was Garth’s, I assume Garth loved him. When we moved into our house, Woodstock came with us. He had a place of honor on the corner of Garth’s desk, next to a stack of books about Egypt, my brother’s latest fixation.

Then, on May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens blew. I don’t remember any house-shaking booms, but the sky outside became pocked with ash sacs. And poor Woodstock died of a little birdy heart attack during the eruption. We found him dead in his cage and left Garth to bury or flush him however he saw fit. I was sad, but not sad enough to miss Bobbie McPherson’s birthday party at Farrell’s, a restaurant that offered, “magical fun for everyone” in their ads. Her mother, God love her, ordered the most expensive item on the menu for us, the volcano ice cream sundae.

Farrell’s volcano ice cream sundae

May. Woodstock died in May. I don’t remember Garth mentioning the bird again, and then summer came. We went to California to stay with our family there. Before we left, Garth, who’d gotten heavy into Egyptians, made an immaculate black pyramid and set it in the bare spot on his desk that Woodstock’s cage once occupied. I thought maybe he’d put it there as a sort of memorial to his first pet. After that, I didn’t give another thought to the bird, his death, or Garth’s grieving.

The summer sped by, but at the end of August, it was time to return home to Mom and school. Before we arrived, Mom changed bedding, vacuumed and dusted our rooms. In order to clean Garth’s desk, she had to move the black pyramid. And when she lifted it up, she found a petrified Woodstock. Woodstock. If anything could bring the bird back to life it would be a few months sitting underneath a pyramid, right? That’s what the Egyptians believed would happen, resurrection, new life.

Maybe Garth’s calculations were right, and Woodstock did rise from the dead. But, with no birdseed and water and mirror and cuttle bone and Garth after waking, maybe Woodstock decided that death was an improvement.

In death, Woodstock could soar like an eagle, avoid any obstacle and hold onto his feathers at last.

Jennifer Hotes is author of YA thriller/suspense novel, Four Rubbings.