Halloween and I have an understanding. It gives me candy, and I don't call it a pagan abomination.
Halloween does not get the same respect, though, as other holidays, because it is not based on a single, iconic event, like breaking bread with a race of people whose land you want, or the birth of a deity.
But who needs respect when you've got multicolored marshmallow circus peanuts? Who needs clothes, even?
This year my kids, one of whom is a teenager, and the other of whom is so close to teenage he can smell its Axe-scented breath on his back, went to a haunted amusement park for the first time. You know these places. They build temporary scary mazes for you to walk through, and then teenagers in creepy masks jump out at you from dark corners.
This is a great job for a teenager, because it gives him the chance to scare pretty girls without actually asking them out.
The maze designers did an incredible job of plumbing the depths of human fear, because my kids refused to go near them. They just went to the park to be, to borrow a term from the real estate business, "fear-adjacent." They just wanted to wander around the "scare zones" outside the mazes and soak up the general malevolent ambiance.
I can relate. I once went to a political convention.
When I was a teenager, adults had not yet figured out how to entice money from teenagers in such a slick, professional way, unless you count Jordache Jeans.
Sure, there were "haunted houses" you could visit, but they were in suburban neighborhoods, and were mostly free. Anyone with an old hockey mask and a plastic steak knife could put up a strobe light in their garage and attract a crowd.
Well, nobody really showed up. I was kind of disappointed.
The best thing about going to these kinds of scare-parks with friends is the fright-induced bonding, and the stories which come out of this, to be told and embellished forever. This year's tale will undoubtedly entail the moment when my son, responding to some zombie who had growled in his face, yelled back, equally ferociously, "LEMONS!"
The zombie evidently muttered a startled obscenity and wandered away a little disappointed.
Ah, kids and Halloween. If only they could, like their candy bars, remain "fun-size" forever.
On Tuesday, another phase of Obamacare rolls out, so today I will try to
cut right through the confusion, in the sincere hope that some will
trickle down onto you. Take this short quiz.
"Obamacare" is a term which means:
a) As God is my witness, I'll never pay for cough syrup again
b) The department of term-coining clearly didn't survive the sequester
c) He cares, you pay
d) They finally ran out of words to end with "gate"
True or False — Politics has no place in health care
a) The Health Insurance Marketplace will make buying coverage easier and more affordable
b) I will be watching "The Voice" religiously
c) Whenever a TV pundit says "Health Care Marketplace," you have to drink
d) Adios, sunscreen—I'll have health care!
I think the biggest misconception about the Affordable Care Act is:
a) The rumored involvement of the Care Bears
b) The definition of "affordable"
c) How we got the North Koreans to pay for it
d) It all would have worked perfectly if it weren't for those meddling kids!
Under Obamacare, I will finally:
a) be able to get that arrow removed
b) be vindicated about that whole anti-Christ thing
c) learn the difficult but exquisitely pleasurable art of complaining about having a doctor
d) not be denied care for my pre-existing condition, political cynicism
Before Obamacare, my health care:
a) was not named after anyone
b) consisted of a Q-Tip, rubbing alcohol and prayer
c) was overseen by Doctor Robitussin
d) provided everything I could ask for except two things—health and care
I do not think government should be in the __________ business.
a) health care
c) support hosiery
In health care, the concept of "prevention" is:
a) a scam by the left
b) just a sneaky way to promote that magazine
c) a tried and true method of avoiding more serious medical terminology
d) a way for doctors to charge you without actually curing anything
Since Obamacare was passed, it has faced a lot of opposition because:
a) the wealthy think that a healthy underclass is an uppity underclass
b) humans were involved
c) well, I'll just say it—true Americans are just born healthy
d) conservatives think it is a bad idea. Plus, they never get credit for coming up with the basic principles of it in 1989
If you have finished this misinformational quiz more angry than
light-headed from laughter, it just illustrates how divisive politics
can be. I mean health care. I mean politics. Maybe some day they will
come up with a pill.
. . .
Want actual information about Obamacare? Here is a good site with basic info.
I got into a conversation the other day, as men will do, on the
subject of shims. It is a topic every man is conversant with, because a
man encounters many things in his life which are wobbly.
problem-solvers by nature, so a shim is like a little wooden man.
never know when you will need to shim something up, so I carry one at
all times. Restaurants don't spend a lot of energy on table stability,
and I got tired of having to remedy that with a stack of sugar packets.
Now I just shim it up and eat in peace. Sometimes I will even leave it
there, my gift to future diners.
I don't want to be the
Shim Guy or anything, with a show on A&E and a pile of money,
so don't go reading this and then flooding them with emails and a link
to this column.
It's not like I have had a custom leather shim holster
made, yet. (But if I did, it would feature an embossed cowboy down on
his knees, shoring up a situation.)
For the longest
time, I thought that song from Mary Poppins was called "Shim Shim
Sheree," until I figured out Dick Van Dyke, as a chimney sweep, didn't
really care at all about issues of wobbliness, unless it pertained to
dancing penguins, and even then he was in favor of it.
If MacGyver had had a shim? Done. That show would have been over.
is true that a wood shim will wear out a jeans pocket in about a month,
so I have taken to shoving it into my belt, at the small of my back.
It's a conversation starter.
Women tend to look at you a little oddly,
but men will often just nod kind of respectfully. And you know that
whatever plans they had just got converted into a trip to the hardware
A shim is almost a state of mind. It begins
narrowly, then grows wider; its usefulness adjustable to your need.
Whatever gap you find in this metaphor—shim it.
See what I mean?
found in life that the simpler the solution the better. Need to be
taller? Slip a shim in your shoe. Need to level a new window? Shim it.
Need to fill out a 400-word column after procrastinating it all week?
You may have read this before. I posted this first in 2009. I am re-running it because today my aunt turns 104.
. . .
My Aunt Lucile just turned 100, which surprised no one in the family, such is her vitality. A childhood spent laboring on her family's farm in Pomona was better than any gym membership. In fact, she got the nickname "Herc" (as in "Hercules") at UCLA because she took down a male friend by wrestling his belt from him and tying his ankles together.
I marvel at the size of her hands even now, bigger than mine, meatier too, a legacy of 100,000 pitchforks full of alfalfa hoisted in her youth, a million apricots picked in the family orchards. She still has all her marbles, too, although she tires easily now, and has had to use a walker since she fell two years ago.
One hundred, though. One hundred years. I guess quitting smoking in her 50's paid off.
The year Aunt Lucile was born, 1909, Mary Pickford made her very first movie. They laid the final brick in the Indianapolis Speedway. President Taft announced that a naval base would be built in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, "to protect the U.S. from Japanese attack."
In 1909, women could not vote. Movies did not talk. Crossword puzzles had not yet been invented. Neither had the bra. The hottest innovation was cellophane. Until Lucile was seven years old, a horse and buggy were the family car.
She and her two older sisters were eventually joined by five younger siblings, my dad being one, and the family's days revolved around their alfalfa fields, peach, apricot and apple orchards, and walnut grove.
One of Lucile's earliest childhood jobs was rising before dawn, milking the family cow, and lugging the pails back into the house. Heavy work. "Herc" was on her way.
Live a century and you have stories to tell. During the Depression, the only job Lucile could find was in the tiny desert town of Goler Gulch, teaching gold miners' kids, grades 1-8, in a one-room shack, and living in a wood-floored tent with only a gas lantern for light. (She later taught in Spokane and 20+ years in Claremont schools).
In 1934 she bought a shiny new Plymouth, with rumble seat, in Detroit, then ran out of gas money on the drive home to California, until she remembered a small gold nugget a miner had given her, which the service station owner weighed before pumping her the equivalent amount of gas.
The things my aunt has seen in a century. The U.S. population tripled. Inventions as mundane as sliced bread, microwave ovens, copy machines and ATMs, and as profound as X-rays, penicillin, the artificial heart and pacemakers.
She has seen the advent of radio, television, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, jet travel, space flight, not to mention women's rights and racial integration.
The year of my aunt's birth, the NAACP was founded. At age 99, my aunt saw an African-American elected president of the United States.
In my favorite picture of Aunt Lucile, she is in her 20's, smiling fearlessly and standing barefoot on the rump of a moving horse. Then there is Lucile, all glammed up for her college grad photo, hair fanned just so, costume jewelry uncharacteristically at her throat. There is baby Lucile, nuzzling her mother who, 26 years later, would give her grief about the overly-exposed neckline of her wedding dress. And there is Lucile, 100 years old, her tiara proclaiming "Birthday Princess."
What does she do for an encore? Perhaps in 15 years she will be the oldest woman in the world. The doc says she has very strong bones.
Personally, I wouldn't count "Herc" out.
- - - - - - -
Lucile, at left, with her parents and sisters, around Christmas, 1912
Same sisters, Lucile at right, 1915 or so
My dad blaming Lucile for tipping the load, early 1930's
But there is more to life than bailing hay
College grad, early 1930's
With the miners' kids in front of school, Goler Gulch
Aunt Lucile cleans up nice, alongside her new Plymouth, for which she saved delivery charges by buying direct in Detroit, 1934
Teaching school, Spokane, 1950s
School teacher photo, Claremont, 1970s
Big Alaska camping trip with her siblings, 1980s
100th birthday party, July 2009
After being applauded for blowing out the candles on her cake without assistance, Lucile joked "I've got a lot of air."
When I saw this in a parking garage, at first I thought they were really rubbing it in. Of course the Benz is for the rich. Then I realized some guy named Rich probably bought himself one. Either way, it's a dumb idea to leave a car like that unattended, especially when a lot of other drivers, drivers who can't afford this kind of car, tend to keep a lot of those little ketchup packets in their glove compartments in case of an urgent need.