Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Nightmare

I've been waxing nostalgic this week over Thanksgiving. Now I'm going to wax some more, reaching, I'm afraid, a sad conclusion.

Like Thanksgiving, Christmas has always been a big deal in my family. The Friday after Thanksgiving used to be the day my dad would crook his finger and off he and I would go to fetch the Christmas tree. We'd hop in his truck and drive into the hills while my mother and sister stayed behind and got the house ready, rearranging furniture and pulling boxes out of the attic. In the rural 1960s trees were pretty cheap: a dollar if you chopped one yourself, two dollars if you picked one already cut. Without exception we cut our own, both because doing so was financially prudent and because a fresh tree lasted longer. As though yesterday, I can see my short, skinny self in hat and coat stomping through snowy woods in search of the perfect tree, patient pop close behind with his hatchet. When the deed was done, dad would haul the tree back, pay the dollar, and home we would go, my father singing The Bear Came Over The Mountain and I rubbing my child hands together, picturing nature's artwork over by the staircase a-glitter with our handiwork, with twinkle bulbs and ornaments and tinsel and star. 

My childhood memories of the day after Thanksgiving have nothing to do with shopping, and most certainly do not harken back to WalMart riots where thousands of people charge into a store at 5 a.m. to save a few bucks on a Chinese-made television. 

What is happening to us?

I'm not suggesting that my life growing up was a Norman Rockwell painting. We had our struggles like everybody else: we weren't wealthy by any standard, sometimes my parents were out of work, and sometimes my mother and father were angry or sad or cross. Sometimes my sister and I got spanked (yes...gasp...spanked). We got yelled at and punished and most of the time the punishment was inflicted because we had it coming: we were being selfish, or we were mouthing off to adults, or we weren't doing our jobs, like chores and schoolwork. My non-Norman Rockwell parents taught us to be honest and to work hard; they taught us to be generous with people who had less than we did; they taught us the importance of being educated, to save money, and that to try with conviction was to succeed. They taught us ethics and values. When times were good we got nice Christmas presents, and when times weren't we didn't. We had one television, one telephone, and one record player, all of which had been paid for in cash. My parents did not have credit cards, and they did not clamor for bargains. If there was no money to pay for something, that something didn't get bought. My mother sewed many of her own clothes, and mine. I was not a fashion plate. But I was warm and fed and loved and raised by good, hard-working people. In the 1960s, that was enough. With that rearing, the likelihood of my shoving people out of the way at the crack of dawn to get a deal on a WalMart toaster is on par with the likelihood of Martians landing on my front porch tonight and carrying me off. So I say again: what is happening to us?

News about the Black Friday mobs fills me with profound sadness. I'm also angry, less so with the mindless human cattle who stampede to buy a two-dollar waffle iron and more with the corporations so desperate to fill their cash registers that they have created this shopping "event." What I feel about the shoppers is fear. A writer at the Hawaii News Daily posed this question: "If Americans will literally fight each other over saving 20 bucks, what is going to happen someday when millions of them don't know where their next meal is coming from?" All of us...consumers, stores, and the corporate suits who lit this stick of dynamite in the first place...should be ashamed, although I'm not sure shame is even a part of our vernacular anymore. "Entitled" has replaced any concept of behavior that is simply wrong. We've all listened to Madison Avenue and now believe we're entitled to whatever we can get our hands on, and have the right to the object at any cost, even if it means killing another person to put the thing in our shopping cart.

Speaking of which, in Buffalo a man was trampled at a Target when throngs of people rushed through the doors at 4 a.m. He said later "I thought I was going to die." In another incident in San Leandro California, a man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping. And then there's the lady with the pepper spray (also in California), who injured 20 people while waiting in line for a new Xbox 360. The woman reportedly started spraying people to "get an advantage" in the shopping frenzy, and was in the company of two children. What a lovely holiday keepsake. Merry Christmas, kids.

As for me, I'm clinging to the memory of that one-dollar pine tree and hoping we can right this vessel before it goes down, before those of us who were raised to be humans are all dead and leave in our wake a nightmare ship of snarling animals tearing each other to pieces...over plastic toys.

How about this? In 2012, on the day after Thanksgiving, all the stores close, and instead of shopping every American who is a "have" finds somebody who's a "have not" and takes them a big basket of turkey and stuffing and potatoes and pie. Wouldn't it be great if we could turn Black Friday into a day that actually is about giving?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sometimes a Scent is Priceless

My friend Angela mentioned something today that, coincidentally, I was thinking about just this morning: what's the best part of Thanksgiving? There's the menu planning, trying to come up with something different every year to accompany the standard turkey and potatoes and pumpkin pie. There's the baking the night before, and the cooking the day of with Macy's parade on TV. There's the table setting; don't ask why, but I love seeing the table sparkle with my amber Depression glass and gold (well, golden) charger plates, the crystal glasses, the good silver. There's the food, and the family, and the blazing fire after dinner. And cards or other games if we haven't all collapsed from overeating. But like Angela said, what's the favorite thing?

All families have their traditions, I guess. My family nowadays likes to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner after dark, around six, making the most of the day by nibbling and preparing and being in each other's company. My mom, on the other hand, set noon as the dinner hour, which meant the turkey needed to be in the oven rather early...like 5 a.m. early. Not in all the years of my youth did I understand why she got up in the middle of the night to stuff and dress the holiday bird, but I have to say some of my most vivid and happy memories as a child were waking up before the sun rose to the smell of turkey roasting, and knowing that my mother was downstairs in a warm kitchen, rolling pie crusts and, more than likely, humming a Patsy Cline tune. 

So I think the answer to my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the smells: of candles, and of the simmering celery/onion/mushroom/butter mixture that goes into the stuffing; of apple pie; of crisp autumn air when family comes through the door; and of turkey, filling the house with an aroma that reminds me of my early-bird mom and her lilac sachet, and a holiday that in the end is all about being with the ones you love. 

Hoping your day this year was a special one, even if times right now aren't the best, and that you took a few moments to acknowledge the good things you do have with a little nod of thanks.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Woman's Story

I've been watching with great interest the Occupy Wall Street protests around the country, the latest news as of this writing the pepper spray incident at UC Davis. I find myself asking what it is they want. Then I answered my own question this morning when I came across some paperwork from a recent experience I had with a Long Island bank. How quickly we forget.

To make a very long story short, in early 2010 I wanted to set up a loan modification for my home on Long Island, which at that time was on the market but not selling. I was one month behind on the mortgage after 12 years of on-time monthly payments. I approached my mortgage holder, Chase Bank, and chatted with a representative (in person), who told me I needed to stop paying my mortgage for the bank to even consider a modification. When I asked about the bank taking action if I didn't make monthly payments he further said Chase wouldn't do anything for 6-8 months. Surprising news (not to mention surprising advice from a bank rep), but hey! I thought. The guy must know what he's talking about, right? Shortly after speaking to the rep I got a serious bite on the house with talk of closing in a few months.  Since I had a bit of a grace period from the bank (I thought) and, since I would still need a modification if the sale fell through, I took the rep's advice and didn't make another mortgage payment.

Twenty-one days later Chase Bank foreclosed on me. I was unaware they had because I was upstate at the time, in process of relocating here permanently. My mail was being forwarded, but Chase didn't mail the foreclosure notice. Somebody from the bank put the notice in my Long Island mailbox.

I found out about the foreclosure six weeks later when my realtor called to inform me Chase had posted a notice on my front door that the house had been deemed "abandoned" and that they were going to take possession, change the locks, and board up the windows. Now let me explain something here: my home was in a lovely neighborhood and was a well-kept ranch house with a professionally manicured lawn. There was absolutely nothing to suggest the house had been "abandoned." Not surprisingly, I was furious, called the bank, was shuffled around through various departments and automated systems, and was cut off FOUR TIMES before finally getting on the line with a person who told me in a monotone foreign accent that if I didn't make the mortgage payments (now three months past due) plus $8,000 in attorney fees by 5 p.m. the next day the foreclosure would go through and I would lose my home. I then called the bank rep I spoke with initially and, to his credit, he was horrified, told me he'd never heard of anything like this before, apologized profusely, but ultimately said there was nothing he could do. There are not words...nor expletives...to describe my outrage. I paid the money and called my attorney, who for six months after tried -- and failed -- to communicate with the bank's attorney, the bank attorney I might add whose initial response to hearing about legal fees of $8,000, was "For what??" Then he went underground and never responded to my lawyer again. The bank, and its legal goons, waited me out. And won.

I've been in the work force since the month after I graduated from college. I've made my money and paid my taxes, purchased homes, contributed to the economy, never so much as collected one dime in unemployment in 30 years, and, as I said, was a solid citizen who paid her bills and did what she was supposed to do. This, after three decades, was my reward. Eight grand paid into the overflowing pockets of Chase Bank. I'm confident the Chase attorneys didn't get the money, the bank did, gallingly as the result of my taking advice from one of its own, albeit apologetic, representatives.

As I reread the paperwork this morning, I heard myself muttering "Yeah, I get it now, the occupy movement." Bless those people who are saying with their protests and sit-ins and signs what I wanted to say when the untouchable dinosaurs at Chase Bank squashed me down; who, figuratively, doused me with pepper spray. I'm not in a position to protest, and if truth be known I'm not sure I would if I could. I'm glad someone else has more guts than I do, glad there are brave people out there who are speaking for me. What they're saying on my, and on everyone else's behalf -- those of us who have been trampled and mauled and cast away as insignificant -- is ENOUGH.

To the occupy protesters from one insignificant writer, thank you. More people are behind you than you know.





Technological Meltdown

Stay tuned--Friday column and updates will be posted as soon as possible.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November Observations

Temps are falling. Animals have transitioned to undercover sleeping. My space on the mattress now measures about 12 inches. Harry and I have a new game: I let him outside at 6 a.m. and when he returns we race each other back to bed. Generally he wins.

Things I haven't done: raked leaves; put the chimnea in the carriage house; put the lawn furniture away; most other necessary autumn duties. I did, however, clean the wax off some candlesticks and pull out a box of Christmas lights.

My technological problems deepen. Fried computer has been carried off by one who promises to revive it, or at least save its brain; Mac keeps getting knocked offline; another desktop is quirky and failing. The other night my TV shut itself off as I sat watching. Family room lights have been blinking. Techno-spooks at work.

Bought bananas yesterday after deciding the pain in my knees is from potassium-deficiency and not old age. I also realized for the first time that I'll be doing laundry for the rest of my life. 

Buzz words of the month: occupy Wall Street; protests; Newt; Fannie Mae; Freddie Mac; Mitt; flip-flop; crony capitalism; Perry; gaffe; oops; Cain; sexual harassment; Penn State; jock horseplay; Tea Party; deficit; Iowa; New Hampshire; 9-9-9; 99%; polls; China; Iran; Israel; economy; economy; economy. Makes me want to buy a shopping cart full of canned food and bottled water, put tin foil on the windows, and build a bunker.

Saw a flock of Canada geese today, up there high above all this. Non-political, non-financial, non-nuclear, non-middle class, non-Republican, non-Democrat, non-presidential. Just geese doing what they do, flying through the valley and up over the hill. I stood on my back porch and watched, wishing I could go with them. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Technological Cobwebs Have Spiders That Bite

My last blog post, on Friday, covered my fears about the date 11-11-11. I said I wouldn't get out of bed, which didn't happen. I did in fact get out of bed and went, as I usually do, to my office. I turned on my computer, answered a few emails, and, within 20 minutes or so of turning the thing on, it crashed. Fried. My Dell, of which I have been so fond for so long, is deceased.

11-11-11. I knew it.

I'm fortunate in that I have more than one computer, and at the moment am working on my laptop (a Mac). The Mac's great. It does not, however, play host to all of the many and, as I thread through my computer life, varied informational tidbits that I foolishly stuffed into the Dell. Financial information. Work information. Contact lists. My written works: books, columns, articles, letters, and God only knows what else. I have not been particularly good at backing up, but as a hoarder struggling to reform, I do have much of what I've lost on the Dell stashed elsewhere. On flash drives and in hard copy, on other computers (yes, there are more), and on email. I haven't been as smart as my friend Gloria, who stores her vital information "in the void" on an ftp site. But like so many in our new techie world, I trusted that the dots on the screen and then mysteriously stored in a black box at my feet were safe. They were, as it turns out, not.

This 11-11-11 debacle of mine caused me on Friday to shut down. Having misplaced my Blackberry in a quest to reorganize my bedroom, I figured this was a sign from above to just go ahead and tune out entirely. I did keep in touch with "out there" via the television (which was more background noise than anything else over the weekend) and I was lucky that the telephone never rang for three days. Nobody knocked at the door. I was, as it were, unplugged. 

I gotta say, while I'm not happy that my computer crashed and that my Blackberry went missing, the experience was wonderful. I puttered. I sorted Christmas ornaments and did laundry. I scratched an unidentifiable substance off the kitchen faucet handles. I built fires and gave the dog a bath. Then on Saturday night I gave myself a bath, swishing around in the bubbles in utter silence. I treated my hair to a deep condition and filed my nails. I pampered my house and my dog and myself and never had to speak a word to another human being, not on the phone, in person, by text, or by way of any other means we all now have of keeping in touch. Sometimes, I don't want to keep in touch. I love my friends and family and appreciate every one of them. But man, sometimes you have to lock the door and turn off the lights, both literally and otherwise.

Not unlike my poor sad computer, our brains have to be shut down every once in awhile or we'll crash, and recovering the information stored between the part in my hair and my jawline would be vastly more difficult than rummaging around in my desk drawer for a flash drive. I woke up this morning alert and repaired, able now to face the unfortunate situation going on in Dell-land. I fired up the Mac, found my Blackberry, and surged ahead, cobwebs gone.

I didn't grow up with all the media input the technology experts have inflicted on the young. And I really hope kids who are labeled ADD or ADHD or any other number of "diagnoses" doctors have for explaining the inability to focus can learn that sometimes they need to unplug from the network of communication. It's difficult, I know. I love email, too, and texting, and being able to call somebody in Belgium from a tiny piece of plastic in my pocket...while standing in the grocery check-out line. Still, I hope our kids who are so overwhelmed with the lust to communicate learn that sometimes taking a few days to scrub the grout and poke around in the Christmas boxes might be enough to refresh the best computer ever made, the one right there above the neck that occasionally needs to be placed gently on a pillow in a quiet room and given a chance to reboot.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

11-11-11...And More Bad News

The news has been so busy this week. Herman Cain and his sexual harassment troubles. The Republican debates, where Rick Perry had a "brain freeze" when he tried to come up with the three agencies he'd obliterate as president, and the Penn State abuse scandal, featuring students rioting because they're upset that "legend" Joe Paterno, the school's football coach, was fired because he neglected to contact police after he found out his former assistant Jerry Sandusky was seen molesting a boy in the Penn State showers...nine years ago.

Since I don't know where to begin...should I talk about Herman, and the now four accusers who claim he sexually harassed them? Or that he called former speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi "Princess Nancy" during the debate? Or that his only responses to questions last night seemed to be "I have a BOLD plan, 9-9-9"? Should I beg Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman to learn to pronounce the country in which she lives, and for which she is running for president: Michelle, it's not "The Uninined States", it's The UniTed States." Should I talk about Mitt Romney's flip-flop views, or Rick Santorum's bragging about putting people to work on the natural gas project and never mentioning the possible negative effects on the environment and on the people who live near the wells? (or that the moderators didn't bother to question him about same?). Should I get on board with every other news outlet and mention over and over and over that Rick Perry has no more business running for president than a jumping bean? Or talk about Ron Paul, who while always entertaining and is maybe a good guy to have on staff is just a hair too out there to be president? Then there's Newt, clearly a smart man but slightly over the top on brain science as one of his key platform points, and Jon Huntsman, the only person on the stage who seems to have any sense and whose poll numbers suggest he'll be one of the first to drop out. I could talk also about Penn State, and how utterly mystified I am that students are filling the streets and shouting "Joe Don't Go!", seeming to forget entirely that there are eight boys, and maybe (probably) more, whose lives have been shattered by this monster Sandusky and that Pantero, in the name of football, did nothing to stop it.

But I can't. I can't talk about any of these things for two reasons: my head is bursting with absurdity of our Republican presidental candidates and the horror of the Penn State scandal, and because at the time of this writing it's the eve of 11-11-11.

For years I've been consumed with the number 11. January 11 (1/11), November 11 (11/11), and (egads!) when the clock strikes 11:11. 9-11 was no surprise to me (in that there was an 11 in the date), nor was the fact that one of the flights that hit the Trade Centers was American Flight 11. The number 11 and any of its variations has terrible connotations for me. I used to have to cover the digital clock in my car with a post-it note because I became so obsessed 1:11 and 11:11. It got so bad that if I happened to see those numbers I'd look away, then look again, and then believed that if I looked at the numbers a third time it meant bad luck. Yes yes yes, I realize this is a bit OCD. But what can you do? We all have our...well, our OCD moments I guess.

A friend of mine, who is aware of this little problem I have, sent me an email tonight about all the people who are getting married on 11-11-11, and all the gamblers who are betting on 11-11-11, and all the others who think this date has some kind of magical qualities. Good for them. In fact, I wish I was one of them. But I'm not. For years (no kidding) I've planned what I'd do on November 11, 2011. I'm not going to the local veterans' day parade. I'm not getting married. I'm not going to the casino and throwing my life savings on the roulette wheel's number 11. What I am doing is absolutely nothing tomorrow. I'm not getting in the car, I'm not turning on the stove, and in fact may not even get out of bed. I'm thinking I may just stay put, with quilts pulled up to my chin, hug the dog, and wait for 12:01 a.m., November 12, to arrive. My only problem is that if I don't set a foot on the floor tomorrow I'll probably find myself turning on the TV, and in the process will be forced to listen to more dreadful details about sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and Republican debate gaffes, not to mention dropping points on the stock market.

I'm not in the least surprised all this bad news is happening this week. Tomorrow is 11-11-11. I don't know about you, but I'm keeping my head down.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Library is More Than A Building

Autumn is here in this small town. I took a walk tonight and enjoyed maybe the last gasp of fall. Leaves blew around on the sidewalk in a warmish breeze. There was no moon in our clear sky. I breathed it in: the smell of early November when snow is around the corner, a hint of crispness tonight but one that is surely a promise in the weeks...maybe days...to come. Tonight felt like a turning point in the seasons, an evening ripe with waiting.

I was in Manhattan over the weekend and was asked no less than ten times if I enjoyed living here, if in fact I'd adjusted to a rural life. My answer, ten times, was yes, although I admit there are moments when I do miss an urban sensibility. The convenience to airports and movie theaters. The lively streets. The bagels. All in all, the scales tip toward rural now for me though there are certainly people and places I miss in New York City. I had a grand life there. Now that a page has turned, life here, too, is good.

On my walk tonight I thought these things as I passed the library, lighted and majestic in a quiet downtown. I am deeply moved by libraries, with their books and soft-soled attendants. A library evokes quiet nobility to all who enter, an enchanted spot where you need only sign your name to have a world of learning at your fingertips. I didn't give libraries much thought when I lived downstate. At my fingertips was the computer, a library in a can so to speak, sitting heavily on my desk. I couldn't even tell you where the library was in my town on Long Island. I didn't go, but I appreciated it from afar, knew the importance of these institutions without actually getting involved in that library's day-to-day.

Like so many other changes in my new life, I'm very involved with the library I passed tonight on my walk. In fact, I'm on the board of trustees. I was honored to be asked and am on a fast learning curve, absorbing information about budgets and renovations and, overall, the care and feeding of an enterprise that's been in my village for a hundred years. This is a task I don't take lightly, especially in an age of electronic readers and information now available on a lighted screen in my office. The truth is, my computer might crash at any moment, my only recourse in such a catastrophe being a clever nephew or a frantic call to The Geek Squad. The information in our library has more traditional caretakers, tended by delicate hands of humans who still appreciate the feel of bindings, the smell of ink, and the gentle voice of the storytime lady holding up a picture book to a room full of youngsters. In a way, when I look at the brick and roof and doors and the volumes, I see a huge computer there, contained behind safe walls filled with words on pages. The library, like the computer, is a font of knowledge. Unlike this humming box at my feet, however, it is also filled with texture and history, soft carpets and soft voices, distant laughter from the children's reading room. There are happy ghosts there, drifting through the stacks, spirits who remember a time when there was not computer nor television. There was only the library, a tranquil place of pages filled with history and love and drama and news and adventure, a place to learn. 

I stood in front of the building for awhile tonight on my walk, a balmy night for November. The windows were alight with warmth now that darkness falls early and I could see people passing, busying themselves behind century-old walls. One day, maybe a hundred years from now, my spirit will be gliding through those rows of books, proud of my own part in caring for such a fine place. Next time I'm asked if I've adjusted to rural life, I'll say most certainly. In a small town, I'll say, it seems easier to make a difference. And those differences seem richer because they're blocks on top of building blocks, laid by people who were born here, and made a difference here, and died here, and who are now up on the hill past town, a hundred years under stone.

My Dell, while a fine tool, pales in comparison to that magnificent library downtown. Here, words are dots on a screen. There, words are life.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Will it be Politically Incorrect to be Politically Correct?

Back in the 1980s I worked in a small publishing company in Manhattan. I was in my late twenties and was something of an innocent, having been raised in upstate New York and, prior to the publishing gig, had only one other real job, as a newspaper reporter in Arkansas. I've never been what you might call naive, but I was a bit inexperienced in the ways of the big city.

There were many people at the company who were my superiors on the pecking order, but I answered directly to two men. One of them, who I'll call Mr. X for the purpose of anonymity, thought himself quite the charmer. Whenever he came into the office he'd wink and carry on with me, saying my name in a sultry way and acting generally flirtatious. He was married (I was not) and was quite a bit older than I, probably by 15 years or so. He was okay looking and for the sake of office getting along, sometimes I'd flirt back. Nothing serious. Back then, office flirting was not uncommon and certainly wasn't looked upon as being politically incorrect.

After awhile, though, Mr. X started taking things too far. His mild flirtations became highly suggestive, and the more he came at me the farther back I pulled. I no longer flirted, and in fact started mentioning to him that I really wasn't comfortable with his advances. The truth is I think he was too much of a chicken to actually carry out any of drivel that came out of his mouth, but that didn't mean the drivel didn't bug me. And, of course, he was my boss.

So one Saturday a bunch of the office crew came in to work on a project that had a nearing deadline. There were maybe seven of us in a conference room and Mr. X started in with me, remarking on my clothes and my hair and spouting off with what I'm sure he considered to be charming sexual remarks. I'd had enough. In front of the entire room full of my officemates, I slammed my hand down on the table and said "Do ya really want to? I mean, do ya REALLY? Because if you do let's go, pal. Right here. On the table. Let's just go ahead and get it over with already!" The room fell quiet (although there were more than a few smirks being hidden behind surprised hands) and Mr. X clammed up. Then he rose and left the room. I don't really remember if he came back in, and I have no clue what, if anything, was said after that. All I remember is that I handled it. A few days later he slunk into my office and told me how I'd humiliated him in front of the staff. I responded "Good. Now you know how you've been making me feel." From that day forward, our relationship returned to one of employer and employee. We even became friends, though at a distance, and a year or so after the incident went our separate ways, into our own careers.

I haven't been able to turn on the news this week without hearing about Herman Cain's sexual harassment situation. I'm not a supporter of Mr. Cain, nor am I a non-supporter. I'm interested in his ideas for turning the country around, and he seems like an intelligent and successful guy. I'm also interested in hearing the details of the sexual harassment charges because I'm wondering what in the world he might have done to cause one, then two, and now three women, years later, to start talking about how he harassed them. I'm interested because I wonder if he was as blatant as my Mr. X in his advances, if in fact he made advances at all. Did he tell a raw joke? Did he remark on a nice outfit? Or did he attempt to have sex with one or all and threaten their jobs if they didn't go along? I'd like to hear why one or more of these women went on to get settlements for his alleged off-color behavior, whatever it was, and how much the lawyers got when all was said and done. Most of all, I'd really like to ask these women why they didn't just handle it, like I did; why they didn't tell him to stop, and, like Dolly Parton in the movie 9 to 5, tell him they'd turn him from a rooster to a hen in one shot if he didn't back off.

I get the importance of being politically correct in many situations, I really do. When it comes to flirtations in an office setting, however, I'm conflicted. By today's definition of sexual harassment I've been harassed ten dozen times, by bosses, co-workers, clients, doctors, contractors, bartenders, gas station attendants, and friends. Men flirt. So do women. Men say stupid things. So do women. Men tell dirty jokes and assess, unsolicited, various parts of the human body. So do women. If we all stopped flirting and talking and assessing nobody would ever go on a date again. Ladies, when unwanted advances get on your nerves, tell the guy to stop. If they don't, humiliate them into stopping. And if they still don't? If they threaten your job? Yeah, okay, take it to a higher authority, but only as a last resort unless you're feeling genuinely threatened. If the guy is some clown where you work...yes, even your boss...there are ways to handle the situation without involving lawyers and getting settlements and stirring the pot years later because now the guy is running for president.

As I said, I don't know what Herman Cain did or didn't do, other than try to cover up the "scandal" (which as it's turning out was a colossally bad idea). I actually don't much care about his lack of political correctness back then because I have a sneaky feeling his telling a saucy joke in the office hallway or flirting with a secretary...or possibly worse in that category...doesn't tell us much about how he's going to deal with global financial meltdown. Yes, let's be PC when we're talking about ethnic backgrounds or sexual orientation or skin color. Let's not insult people for no good reason. Let's not be cruel in humor. But let's also be careful about ruining somebody's career and good name when it isn't warranted. Maybe campaign meltdown will be warranted in Mr. Cain's case, at this point none of us can say. However I can say that in my case with Mr. X I handled it instead of getting a lawyer and running away with a big check in my hand...and possibly a big book deal in my future. 

I'm not sure I'm all that interested in what Mr. Cain has to say about this. I'm very interested in hearing the other side, because I've been there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No Tricks, All Treat

All week the TV airwaves have been rife with slasher movies. This genre is not my favorite in spite of my own tendency to write thriller fiction. I can read it, I can write it, but I can't watch it. The reason every movie channel seemed to be all about murder and mayhem this week was, of course, because of Halloween.

I'm a big fan of Halloween, have been since my own trick-or-treating days. There's something about glowing Jack-o-lanterns and kids in costume roaming the village streets that makes my silly heart sing. While begging door to door for food and money on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages, I was surprised to learn that trick-or-treating as we know it really took hold in the U.S. in the late '40s and early '50s. My personal experience back in the 1960s was pastoral. Unlike in the new millennium, kids then were set loose and allowed to wander unattended until sacks were full of candy and popcorn balls and apples. There were no predators, then, or at least none we heard about. My costumes were classic and (I like to think) charming: ghost, witch, cowgirl, princess. Masks were inflexible plastic and pretty basic, with ill-fitting eyeholes that caused plenty of fencepost bumping. Home-cooked treats were not uncommon, and I don't remember a time when I wasn't allowed to consume what I collected. There were no slasher movies on TV back then. Only excited kids ringing doorbells on a chilly night in October, shouting trick-or-treat and getting compliments on a costume well done.

Here I go again, right? Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses?

So yesterday was Halloween. I spent much of the day busying myself with All Hallows' Eve tasks. I carved four Jack-o-lanterns and set them up on the front porch, one in a chair with full jacket and slacks attire. I took out all the bright porch bulbs and replaced them with one 40-watter, so as to keep the light on as the trick-or-treat come-on-over signal, but still dim enough to create a spooky mood. I hung rubber bats and cobwebs. Then I got dressed in a long black flowing cape and wild-eyed mask. I pinned my hair into crazy flyaway swirls and got the big bowl of candy ready. Then I hoped. Hoped there wouldn't be shaving cream and eggs, and that teenagers wouldn't be racing through the streets smashing pumpkins and vandalizing. I hoped that I'd see a ghost or a princess out there, figuring my rose-colored glasses would be busted out one more time because hey, it's new world, right? With slasher movies and angry citizens and economic decline? How delightful, once in awhile, not to be disappointed.

There were moments last night, peeking out through my front door, when I thought the stained glass view had somehow transported me back to childhood. The streets were positively flooded with little kids and smiling parents. I lost count of how many feet approached my spooky threshold, tiny voices chirping "Trick-or-treat!" and holding bags politely. I had friends here, and we took turns answering the door, delighted at the skeletons and aliens, jumping back in "fright" and heaping compliments on costumes, some home-made, some fresh from the store. Occasionally I'd sit next to my Jack-o-lantern man, very still, and reach out to an unsuspecting child. One boy pointed and said "Watch out! That's one's real! She's going to move, you'll see!" (which of course I did to delighted laughter). After one mad dash to the store for more candy, we finally gave up and shut off the porch light, so many were those who prowled the neighborhood just having good old-fashioned fun. With millions of people out of work and political candidates sniping and headlines shouting bad news, how nice it was to have a few hours when the world was as it should be.

I'm taking my Jack-o-lanterns off the porch today, will throw a couple in the garden and maybe make a pie from the others, their orange smiles now just holes in autumn gourds. I'll replace the bulbs and take down the rubber bats, and later will tuck the mask and vampire teeth and cape back into the Halloween trunk and put it in the basement until next year. What won't be tucked away, though, is hope: that, while life has gotten somehow harder and meaner in these strange times, there's still sweetness in the world, a sweetness in the simple joy of seeing a kid in a princess costume come knocking at my door on Halloween.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum