Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dressing for the office

Almost nobody in my office wore a costume today. We had one woman trotting around in a horse costume. Her legs were the two hind legs, and sewn into the costume were legs for the rider and the front legs and head of the horse. Rather than a bunch of heavy stuffing, the whole thing had a little battery-operated fan in back keeping the whole thing inflated.

I dressed up as a mime. I simply wore black shoes, pants, and a shirt I already owned, tied my hair back, and let the face paint imply the rest. The costume could use some white gloves, too, but I don't have any on hand (ahem!). I didn't paint my face until after my drive in, since it's sticky and itchy to wear face paint. Otherwise, it's as comfortable a costume as there is. It had the unintended effect of startling a number of my coworkers, because it doesn't look like anything out of the ordinary from behind. They come into my cube from behind me, to ask a question, and only when I turn do they suddenly realize that my face is not my usual. I've inspired some great double takes in the hall, too.

Later this evening, I used the same face paint, touched up a bit, to pester the kids who came to the door for candy. I bent down to get a good look, acted shocked, had the bright "idea" to give them some candy, and wordlessly admonished one who was taller than me. I spotted butterfly wings on one little girl and jumped up and down, flapping my arms.

After grade school, I've always dressed for Halloween a little reluctantly, uncertain of whether I might be the only one dressed up, but I've always been glad that I did. It is, after all, the one day when it's sanctioned and expected to be a little crazy, to dress strangely, and to act like someone you're not.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The really scary part

Halloween has evolved since I was a kid. We used to dress up at school, to show off to the other kids. In the evening, we'd go around with our parents behind us, dressed up as witches and warriors, princesses, dinosaurs, and ninjas. We'd parade around to the neighbors' houses gleefully participating in a peculiar sort of sanctioned extortion. By the time I was a kid, pranks had mainly fallen out of fashion and many parents quietly omitted to tell us what the "trick" part meant in "trick or treat".

The decline had, in some people's opinions, already begun. The holiday had been well-safetified by the time I got there, with pre-wrapped candy only, porch light on, known houses, parental accompaniment, and flashlights were all drummed into us by concerned parents and teachers. Mass-produced costumes had appeared by then, too. Even as a kid, I recalled being put off by the printed foam and plastic masks of licensed characters. They hung stiffly and made a poor excuse for a superhero or cartoon character.

Still, a trip up and down my suburban street this month looks nothing like the Halloweens of my youth. Perhaps one yard in three is festooned with orange lights and sports large lawn decorations. The part that irks me most about them is that they are not at all unique or individual. House after house has essentially the same things: inflatable ghosts and pumpkins, unconvincing fake spider webs, plastic skeletons. They have all come from a handful of stores, mass produced, and they're all cutesy rather than scary.

I have nothing against getting into the holiday, or even decorating yards. Some of the coolest homes we visited as kids were the ones that went all out with scary decorations. A couple of years ago, some teens a couple of houses over got together and built an eight-foot high monster with blue lights for the eyes. It wore an expansive black plastic cloak over a scrap lumber and chicken wire frame and they rigged it to wave its arms when an operator behind the scenes tugged the other end of a fishing line. The improvised teenaged engineering meant that the monster's entire form shuddered, giving it if anything an even creepier appearance after dark. To top it all off, they put the candy dish inside a homemade "jaw" that opened on another string.

You just can't buy that sort of stuff. Unlike plastic tombstones, the thing really was scary, at least in the dark. Some of the littler kids wouldn't even go up the driveway at that house. One went away bawling as her mom tried to contain laughter. It also involved some actual creativity an ingenuity. Purchased light-up plastic things only involve -- according to market surveys -- an average of $51 per household, per year. (More for the houses that decorate.)

I don't have figures for this one, but I'd venture to guess that fewer kids and parents than ever are making their own costumes these days.

Where does this leave us? Another mass-produced, over-commercialized holiday, rapidly being stripped of its original intent, and coming soon to a neighborhood near you. What can we do? Buy the requisite candy, but carve our own pumpkins and use our imaginations instead of plastic to decorate. Spend less money, and have more fun. Isn't that the whole point, anyway?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The wind changes

As if overnight, the road that is my noontime escape has changed character dramatically. Only Monday a fellow walker there commented on the heat; today, the first tiny hints of autumn are in the air. For one thing, there is a wind today, where all summer there were only breezes, if that. The wind scattered a fresh blanket of pine needles down onto the road.

Whether it was the air itself or the plants around me noticing the change, the mountain smelled different, hinting at the crispness of the season to come.

It is not cold yet. I was quite comfortable walking in short sleeves, but I certainly should start reminding myself to dig up my jacket and bring it along. By the time I really do need it, I may remember.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Road hazards

The dry wind of an Indian summer today left a tree across the two southbound lanes of Highway 17 this morning. The conifer's tip encroached a bit on the southbound side, the direction I was going. We had one and a half lanes in which to dodge the obstruction, so I was delayed only a bit, but the southbound traffic was all but stopped. A few brave southbound drivers wound around under the base of it, on the right shoulder. It didn't look as though anyone was hurt, though it must have been fairly fresh, since not much traffic had accumulated behind it and no work crew was in evidence working its way towards the fallen log.

This marks the beginning of what will doubtless prove to be another adventurous winter of commuting over that mountain. In dryness and daylight, it's a lovely, if curvy, road. In pouring rain and darkness, it is treacherous. When it is wet, the mountain drops rock and wet earth onto the road, and out from under it. It is best, for these reasons, to travel in the inside lane: the problem is more likely to be near the edges. Please drive safely, and I will try to do the same.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rules and regulations

If you go to the US Postal Service Website, there's a list there of what things may not be mailed to various countries. Most of them are about what you'd expect. Most places have predictable, routine restrictions on explosives and weapons, coins and currency, various agricultural items, and occasionally also on media of a subversive or unduly lascivious nature. I'm curious who makes the call on the last type, but all those things are basically understandable.

This one, from the list of things one may not send to Togo, though, is a bit puzzling. What, really, would be the harm?
Weights and measures other than those of the decimal metric system.

Apparently, if someone you know in Togo needs a contraband tape measure in inches and feet, you'll have to get it there some other way.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Talk radio

I saw my grandfather today. He's 88 years old and he and my grandmother celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this month.

We compared notes on passing the time, him for his regular workouts at the gym, me for my daily 40-minute commutes over the hill to work. It turns out we both like to listen to talk radio. I mentioned that I was flipping channels earlier this year when I stumbled upon a talk radio station that I've been listening to ever since.

"Which one?" He perked up.

"You wouldn't like it," I assured him.

"Liberal?" He eyed me suspiciously. We don't talk politics.

"No, Spanish."