Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween: a family history of

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 29, 2009
“Weird is weird enough”

ROOFTOP – I thought we’d have a late night roofsit so we could better get the sense of the approaching Halloween. Sense of Halloween. Now that’s a paradox for you. Para something.

While waiting for you, I was focusing down at the yard trying to conjure the ghosts of Halloweens past. Weird, the stuff you can see up here when it’s dark.

What was particularly weird was being able see some Halloween moments that I never experienced. That’s one serious ghost encounter. What I was really doing was remembering my favorite scene from “Meet me in St. Louis.”

From up here I could picture Margaret O’Brien as she knocked on the door of the Braukoff home, grabbed a handful of flour from a paper sack, and screamed, “I hate you, Mr. Braukoff!” Then she hit him right in the face with the flour, and ran away screaming, “I killed the Braukoff!”

Upon hearing the news at the bonfire that’s blazing in the middle of the street, Darryl Hickman proclaims that “Tootie is the Most Horrible!” One of the strangest scenes of any classic movie, and just as intriguing as all get out.

Halloween has come a ways over the years, hasn’t it? Remember me telling you how Mom and her friends used to go around and cut people’s flowers on Halloween? That was during her childhood days in Oklahoma. Nothing recent.

Destroying peoples’ flowers is about as cruel as throwin’ flour at ‘em and screaming that you hate them. Makes about as much sense, too.

When I was growing up we were a little more civilized. We dressed up as hobos or ghosts and went around trying to extort candy from people. Trick or Treat! What is that if not extortion? “Give us candy or we’ll mess somethin’ up!”

Fortunately, people knew we weren’t serious. Oh, there was the occasional dirty trick played by some of the mean kids. We called ‘em hoods. These guys would egg a house or soap the windows regardless if they got candy or not. Hey, they were hoods.

We never pulled pranks. We’d holler, knock for a few seconds and then move along. Seemed we walked for miles. We’d cross from one subdivision to another, knocking on hundreds maybe millions of doors and screaming “Trick or Treat!” Often having to go home to get new grocery sacks for our candy. The sweat and some of the gooey stuff we collected could do a number on a paper sack.

Late at night (like after 9:00) we’d come home, empty our loot on spread-out newspapers, and sort our stuff. Separate piles for chocolate, suckers, hard candy, gum, popcorn balls and other homemades… Oh, and the bad candy – you know the ones – were placed in a separate bag to be eaten sometime in late February.

Today, parents would wisely refuse to let their children eat a popcorn ball or homemade goodie from a stranger’s house. In the olden days -- the days before the Pixy Stix poisonings – we trusted people a little better.

Today, Halloween has pretty much evolved into something called “Trunk or Treat.” A gated facility or church will have a party where people decorate their car trunks, and hand out candy to kids who walk around the parking lot. A kid can make quite a haul in a very short walk. Kids today have it made.

Halloween has had a few makeovers, has it not? Twenty years from now, kids will probably stay home while parents go around knocking doors and handing out candy. They’ll announce themselves by hollering, “Lab-tested Treats!”

In the meantime, you need to share your Halloweens past with the grandkids. Don’t embellish. What we did needs no embellishment. Weird is weird enough. And, you can quote me.


Monday, October 26, 2009

A peak drive

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 26, 2009
“Wind over ol’ Satchaconachi”

The highest point in the Northeastern U.S. is the 6288-foot peak of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. You’d care so much more about that if you had ever come close to being blown off that son of gun.

It’s only Kay’s constant whining and claw-like grip that made it possible for me to write this second installment of our recent New England trip. Thank you, Kay. You can let go now.

The highest wind speed ever recorded on this planet was 231 mph, recorded in 1934 at the peak of Mount Washington. The closest thing to that in the entire Solar System, if not the universe, is a gigantic tornado that’s currently whooping it up on Mars. (We can’t determine the wind speed of our own tornadoes, but we can tell how fast they go on other planets. Yeah right.)

The wind speed of the Martian tornado is only slightly less than the non-tornadic wind that blew atop Mount Washington. I’m sure it’s not the fastest that’s ever blown on the summit. It’s just that the poor sap who has to check the twirling windthinger sometimes refuses to leave his bunker. And, I apologize for the technical jargon.

The day Kay and I made it to the top of ol’ Satchaconachi (That’s the Indian name for Mount Washington. It means – “Wind Blow Like Tantu.” Odd, but no one has yet found the meaning of Tantu.)

What was I saying? Oh, yeah, on the day Kay and I went up there, the wind was a little less than 231 mph. But the wind chill was 240 degrees below zero. Remember, that’s not the real temperature. It’s just how cold it would feel if you were strapped to the windshield of a really fast-moving semi. Bottom line, it was cold up there, people.

The wind was so fierce that I couldn’t see. My eyes were just a glob of tears. Frozen tears. Your eyes water big time when a cold wind hits ‘em. They also water when you’re bawling like a baby. Just thought I’d throw that in.
I would’ve turned and walked backwards, but Kay would’ve kept kneeing me. The girl was attached to me at the waist and shoulders. If she had let go, we probably both would’ve taken off. Had I even glanced up, my souvenir cap would’ve ended up on the deck of a Japanese whaler. In which case, the bald spot of my head would’ve developed frostbite and they would’ve had to amputate the part of my brain responsible for intelligent reasoning. Squirrel!

We did get a certificate for making it to the top of the peak. Also got a bumper sticker, which reads “This car climbed Mt. Washington.” I would’ve stuck it on our car, but it was a renter.

We did end up with a bunch of pictures of our journey up the mountain. No photos were taken on the descent. It was all I could do to drag Kay out of the visitor center for our trek to the car. She’d still be up there on that mountain with nothing but really bad chili to eat.

Makes one realize that Mars has nothing on ol’ Satchaconachi. I’m here to tell you, hadn’t been for Kay’s claw-like grip, you would’ve missed out on all this. You would’ve, instead, read something about it in Section A. -- “Conroe couple blown off mountain. Man’s $10 souvenir cap ends up on Japanese eel boat.” – Next time.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New England: Worth the trip for the lobster alone

Photo of the bay at Camden, Maine

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 21, 2009 “In search of more lobster”

CAMDEN, MAINE – Vacations would be so much more pleasant if it weren’t for all these tourists. You couldn’t stir people with a foremast bilge gaff.

I just made that up. I was looking for something nautical sounding to match the area. A fishing town we be in. Fishing and touristy it be. Oh, and lobstery. I really like that about this place.

Kay wanted to make the New England trip mostly to see the fall colors. I came for the lobster. The foliage is just butter on the crustacean for me. So far we’ve each had two lobster rolls and a whole lobster.

It was the first whole lobster I’ve ever had. And, I was the only one in the restaurant who put the little plastic bib on. I smashed the daylights outta that poor lobster. Sent lobster spray all over the room. People were ducking. It was delicious.

We actually got the best lobster roll in New Hampshire. I believe Conway was the name of the town. Twitty’s birthplace. Maybe. Kay took a picture of the lobster roll. So far it’s my favorite picture of the trip.

I should probably tell you that we’ve also seen some beautiful country. Breathtaking. You know how on Texas maps they’ll have scenic highways highlighted? There is none of that on our New England map. Every road is scenic.

When we first got here, we stopped at each overlook and snapped pictures. Dozens of stops. Hundreds of photos. After a few hours we pretty much quit with the photography. – “Oh, my goodness! Look at that!” – “Yeah, yeah, it’s a pond with some pretty trees. I’m lookin’ for lobster, here!”

In New England they don’t have lakes. They have ponds. Ponds are as big as our lakes, but just not named right. Golden Pond was really a lake. Did you pick up on that? You ol’ poop. (If you didn’t see the movie, don’t read anything into that remark. It was meant to be cute.)

Oh, and speaking of New Hampshire, did you know that their Farm to Market Road signs have the outline of Arizona on ‘em? Looks like that from a distance. I thought New Hampshire went in with Arizona to save some money.

Turns out the New Hampshire image is actually the outline of that Old Man of the Mountain Rock they’ve got. The one whose face fell off a few years back. Now it’s just Old Faceless Rock. Sad. But, the citizens will not let the image die. They keep it on their highway signs. Looks a lot like the outline of Arizona.

Besides lobsters, beautiful foliage, lots of tourists, and Arizona signs, they also have moose here. I haven’t seen one, but I’ve seen the warning signs. Every hundred yards they have a highway sign that reads “Brake for Moose.” Without those signs, people would just run right over ‘em.

At the bottom of the sign they have a serious warning meant to scare the willies out of you. Says something like, “A billion people die each day from hitting a moose.” You’d think by now it’d know to stay outta the road.

I’ve got a bunch of other fascinating stuff to tell you about the trip, but I see my time is up. I’ll hafta write a sequel. Till them, I’m on a lobster quest. This time I’m getting the Lazy Lobster plate. That’s the one where they do all the lobster smashing for you. It cost a little more, but well worth it. I’m here to tell you that I beat the daylights outta that poor thing.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A family in search of a host/hostess

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 13, 2009
“Jill dry-docks Juggernaut”

I don’t know if you’re aware but last month Jill gave up her role as family organizer and go-to person. Just flat out quit. I would’ve told you earlier, but wasn’t sure how you would take the news. It hit me pretty hard.

Jill didn’t quit ‘cause she was upset about anything. She was just tired. I can certainly understand why. Nearly every get-together our family has had since, oh, the last three decades has been organized and, for the most part, hosted by my kid sister. She took responsibility for finding a time that would come closest to suiting everyone, telling each person what to bring and setting up the appropriate games and prizes.
This is the winning team in one of the family's Thanksgiving Day Football games. I don't remember the score of the game, but I assure you that Jill included it in the Family Newsletter.

Jill not only wrestled with that kind of stuff, but she also managed to publish a family newsletter from ’88 through ’99. There were few secrets in our family during that time. Jill told all.

Here, I’ve saved all copies. Let’s see what she wrote this time back in ’88. Okay, it seems that we drew names for Christmas at our October get-together. Someone even had an idea to draw names for birthdays. That way we only had to buy one birthday gift a year. Don’t remember how that went over. I’m sure mine was a “Yea” vote.

Look at this, Larry sent in a joke in this issue. It’s old as the hills. I think I’ll share it. – A duck goes into a fancy restaurant and orders the most expensive thing on the menu. The waiter asks him how he’s gonna pay for it. Cash or credit card? The duck says, “Just put it on my bill.” -- Larry is such a goober.
This is Lynda performing at one of Jill's hosted parties. The girl was rockin' out!

There is news of softball and volleyball games. News of family happenings small and… well, mostly small. There is one big story about our niece Cheryl helping the police catch a car thief. Great story. She had to go undercover. And, she’s not even a cop!

So much stuff. So many family stories. That was awhile back. After closing down the newsletter, Jill still continued taking care of all get-togethers. Kept at it even after Mom passed. I think that’s really what made her tire of it. Her heart’s not in it as much now.

As soon as I got word from Jill that she was quitting, I sent all family members the following e-mail:

On September 1, twenty-hundred and nine, a date that will live in family infamy, Jill resigned as matriarch of the family gatherings. A week of mourning has been called for and ratified by the powers that be. Take my word. All trophies won and/or photos taken at previous get-togethers are to be turned to face the wall, not to be righted again until midday of Sept. 8, 2009.

You served your family well, Jill. By lifting a huge load from yourself, you have left us a miserable mass of familydom. Your tremendous effort was never in vain, nor your intense responsibilities and unwavering devotion likely ever to be forgotten. Signed: #3 Son.

The costume that should've won the best costume award at the '87 Hayter Halloween Party hosted by Jill... of course.

So, there you have it. The family is stunned, but not undone. It takes more than this to dry-dock this juggernaut. We’re too close. We’re too—Oh, who am I kidding? We’re dead in the water. Somebody has got to step up to the plate before Halloween. We’ve already missed Dennis’ birthday. Time for a “Draft Jill” movement. I’ll be probably be calling you this week for donations. Hey, everybody else does it. – Next time.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Old School

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 8, 2009
“Crying over packbacks and bad candy”

While I wouldn’t care to be a young person in today’s society, I sure envy ‘em for what all they have. Those lucky ducks.

Nowadays the first thing a kid needs before starting school is a backpack. I don’t think they’ll let you in the door without one. Backpacks weren’t invented when I was a kid. Probably doesn’t matter, ‘cause the principal wouldn’t have let us use ‘em. -- “You like that thing, do you? Makes school easier does it? Well, you can’t use it.”

No we had to carry everything separate. I had this giant, drab-colored, zip-up loose-leaf notebook. I could carry crayons and a ruler and glue and stuff, but it wouldn’t hold all my books or my lunch. No, we had to carry our stuff loose. That way, when someone tripped us, everything would fly all over the place. Or when they’d sneak up behind and tug on your books, there’d be an avalanche. It was supposed to be funny.

A backpack would’ve been way cool. Can you imagine the first kid who tried it and got away with it? “Hey, Sara’s got this backpack or packback! We haven’t named it, yet. But, get this, she never has to go to her locker. And, best of all, old Mrs. Thumphead says it’s okay to bring it to school!” That’s probably the way it happened.

Molly Reeves was the first person to ever bring a lunchbox to school. I’m pretty sure that’s been documented. It was an Annie Oakley. She was standing on a galloping horse while shooting at something. Annie Oakley, not Molly. Some of you are just too cute for words.

Regardless, I never had a lunchkit. That’s what we called ‘em. Not lunchboxes. I always carried my lunch in a brown paper sack. And, it always had a little wet spot at the bottom, where my pickle bled through. Mom always stuck a pickle in our lunches. I never told her I didn’t want a pickle, ‘cause every once in awhile I’d eat it. You can never know for sure when you might wanna pickle. If I had mentioned it to Mom I would’ve never had one on the rare days I wanted one.

Back then, the only things we had to wrap food in were either wax paper or aluminum foil. Foil was way too expensive, so Mom always bought Cut-Rite wax paper. Cut-Rite started making wax paper right after Thomas Edison invented it. Edison said it was leak proof. He apparently tested it on a lot of different wet things. Everything but a pickle.

Regardless, wax paper was the universal wrap of preference. Up until Alexander “Zip” Conrad invented the ziplock bag. Genius it was! But, it came too late to do me any good. I developed a reputation. -- “Do you know Mark? The kid with the leaky lunch? Well, I avalanched him, and his books went flyin’. Flattened his lunch. Whatta dweeb!”

I always wanted a lunchkit and thermos. All the kids with nice parents had ‘em. One kid in class had that Commando Cody kit with the spaceship thermos. I tried to trade him my Fanner Fifty for it once. He laughed at me. Like I was an idiot. Well, who’s laughin’ now? -- That doesn’t apply to anything. I just felt like sayin’ it.

I wasn’t the only kid with no lunchkit. A few others were bag-toters. That’s what they called us. Lowdown bag-toters. Some of the kids actually twisted the tops of their bags, so you couldn’t tell if they were carrying a lunch or a bag of marbles. Everyone was wise to ‘em, though. You carried marbles in a sock. Not a bag. Those poor slobs.

Now, few kids have lunchkits, ‘cause they buy their lunches. It’s not a nutritious or even a tasty lunch, but it’s so much better than having the stigma of one who brings a meal to school. Kids can’t handle stigmas today. We were so much tougher. “Sticks and stones…” We drew it like it was a pistol. We had to.

Oh, and speaking of dumb kids, I was paying my check at Cracker Barrel the other day when I spied some bags of those orange, peanut-shaped, hard marshmallow candies. (Sometimes they’re pink instead of orange. Cracker Barrel is big on retro candy)

I told the kid who was checking me out that I doubted he sold many of those. He said, “You’re kiddin’. Those things are great.” That’s what he said, the little lunatic. When I was growing up, Dad only bought one kind of candy. Cheap. Apparently peanut marshmallows and orange slices and individually wrapped balls of bad taffy were cheap, ‘cause we sure got a lot of ‘em.

It’s terrible to be in the mood for a good ol’ Almond Joy and have to settle for a lousy orange slice or taffy ball or -- somebody just shoot me – pink or orange peanuts!

“Those things are great!” What kind of sheltered life has that boy led? He’s had so many Almond Joys and Snickers that he actually cherishes an orange or pink marshmallow peanut. He’d probably turn flips for a taffy ball. I feel a cry comin’ on.

Unfortunately, time does not serve for me to mention the fountain pens that would leak inside your notebook, or the 1949 Compton’s Encyclopedias that I used all the way through my Elementary and High School days. No telling how smart I would’ve become had I had a Pentel Hypergel roller ball pen or the Internet. Either one.

No, like many of you, I was raised in The Day. A time before backpacks. A time of paper bag lunches and bad candy. A time when high-top Keds were the Air Jordans of the day. A time when a boy wasn’t aware of how stupid it looked to ride a stick horse. Even at the age of 18.

But, we survived. And, we’re better for it. No idea why, but it’s good to think. Yeah, like I said, I wouldn’t trade places with youngsters today, but I sure wish I had had access to some of the neat stuff they’ve got.

Of course, if my Dad were alive, he’d probably tell me about the time he wrote his homework with a piece of coal on a shovel. Dad had some pretty good suffering stories. He seemed to always come up with one after he brought home a bag of those lousy marshmallow peanuts. Okay, it’s handkerchief time. – Next time.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The lawnmower blues

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 4, 2009 “Probably broke a Commandment. Maybe a Beatitude”

ROOFTOP – Have you noticed how this turbo vent seldom turns? You’ve been up here long enough to have noticed. Last time it was so stationary we used it to set our coffee mugs on. Remember? Well, we did. The thing doesn’t turn.

And, today we have a bit of a breeze and the thing acts like it’s asleep. What I’ve got here is a hole in the roof with a vented metal bulb over it.

I’m pretty sure what happened is I didn’t make it tall enough. The turbo just barely clears the peak of the roof. It probably needs to stick way up there. I should’ve known better than to try to install it myself. -- Beg pardon? What’d I miss?

I didn’t think we should pass up a nice day like this. It is the first halfway cool day since mid-May. It’s been overcast since early morning. I decided that if it stayed that way till after lunch, we’d go roofward. Not bad is it?

The lawn looks nice too, doesn’t it? I’m sure you were going to mention that at some point. I’m really proud of my Honda self-propelled mower. The thing doesn’t cut as wide a swath as I’d like, but it sure starts easy.

Usually when I mow I’m afraid to kill the mower to talk to a neighbor or pick up a limb. Too afraid I’d have trouble getting the mower restarted. That trait, attitude, weirdity… was caused by years of bad mowers.

When I was a kid, we never let the mower die till the job was done. Our first un-rented mower was a 20-inch piece of junk with a blade. You’d have better luck getting a cat to whistle than to start the thing before the 20th pull. .

The only thing dad knew to do with the lawnmower was to change the sparkplug. He had a drawer full of sparkplugs. All sizes. I don’t think he ever threw one away. So, we’d replace one bad sparkplug with one as bad.

Eventually, the mower would start, and Dennis and were off to the races. We’d take turns running around the yard pushing that small-wheeled piece of… I’m sorry. I kind of got carried away. Point is, I like my new Honda mower.

One of my neighbors signaled me a couple of weeks ago while I was mowing. Wanted to have a chat. I don’t think Jerry ever worries about turning his mower off to do stuff. He must’ve had good mowers when he was a kid.

Now he’s got a riding mower that cuts a serious swath. I think it’s a John Deere. Or, at least, John Deereish in color. I don’t know if that’s ever been said. John Deereish in color.

When I see Jerry mowing his lawn, I really have to wrestle with the ol’ tenth Commandment. That is the one about coveting, isn’t it? Might be bearing false witness. Hope not. That one sounds worse than coveting. With coveting I’m just thinking that I wish I had Jerry’s mower. Better than that, one of those turn on a dime things. I could mow my lawn in 20 minutes with one of those.

But, forget that. I’m trying to tell you about my neighbor comin’ over to chat, but someone keeps interrupting me. So, Jerry waves at me and I cut the mower off. Didn’t give it a second thought. It’s a Honda.

Jerry walks over and I take off my cap and wrestle off my doctor’s mask that I wear for allergies. I don’t know if it works, but it sure makes my face hot and sweaty.

We talked for a good while about… I don’t know. Nothin’ important. Then he went back to doing his chores and I slipped the mask over my head, put on my cap and pulled the cord on the mower. That bubba started right up. I almost cried. I only wish Dad had lived to see a mower that starts on the first tug.

Unfortunately, things turned bad quickly. I’d gone back and forth and around a few trees before I noticed that my safety glasses weren’t fogging over. That was odd. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the reason. I wasn’t wearing them. Apparently, they flew off when I took my mask off to talk to Jerry.

So, again I stop the mower. I walked all over the place looking for those glasses. Well, not on the next block. That’d be stupid. Eventually, I gave up and went back to mowing. Wasn’t long before I ran over the glasses. They had apparently camouflaged themselves.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a pair of safety glasses hit by a mower. It looks cool. They got hit right at the nosepiece. Ended up with two curved lenses with mangled arms. I guess that’s what you call the two parts that set on top of your ears. Arms? Legs? Brickersnicks?

It just goes to show you that, while safety glasses will protect your eyes from hurled objects, they will in no way protect your face should a mower run over your head.

I really liked those glasses, too. They had a slight tint. And, made me look super cool. When you’re wearing a white mask out in the yard, you grab for any chance to look cool. Fortunately, I had a spare pair of glasses. They’re not dorky-looking, but not cool, either.

I’m probably breaking another commandment thinking negative like that. I should be thankful that at least I have eyes. And, a mowed lawn. Look down there. Doesn’t it look nice?

Now, if I could get this turbo vent to spin, I’d be one blessed fella. Of course, then I’d lose a setting place for my coffee mug.

The message I’m taking away from this entire roofsitting episode is that we all oughtta just count our blessings. I don’t know what all you’ve got, but I’ve got a buncha stuff. For one thing, I’ve got you to join me up here on the roof. All six of you. And, I’ve got a lawnmower that starts on the first tug. You add Kay to that mix and I’m one blessed guy.

Whoa! And, if I could get Kay to help mow, I’d-- And, there you have it. I pushed too far. Just went over the edge again. Probably broke another Commandment. Maybe a Beatitude. Blessed is he whose wife moweth not, for he shall find rest atop his own roof. Now, that hints of blaspheme. Just say goodbye, Mark. – Next time.