One of the very few good things about having a kid in college is that when she stumbles across an image she's pretty sure you'll like, she IMs it to you.
And she's right. This is pretty much my favorite drawing ever. Not just because I unironically use the adjective "peachy" all the time, but because these two antipodal fruits succinctly sum up the yin-yang relationship of me and my beloved Top Management.
The 5-year-old comes in from playing with the little boy next door.
"Do you know what happens when you leave a fish too long in the oven?" he asks.
It never even occurs to me that this might be the set up for a joke; his delivery far too sincere, he's clearly about to convey how cool it was when the kid's father ruined dinner just now or something along those lines.
And, indeed, the boy makes a squiggly gesture with his hand, as though illustrating how the poor fish was burnt to a thin, twisty crisp.
"It turns into bread," he says, awestruck.
Now, admittedly, my understanding of chemistry is only slightly less lacking than my knowledge of physics, but even so, I have to break it to him. "Yeah, I'm pretty confident that's not correct."
As he goes off to wash his hands, it occurs to me that the manner in which some sort of bizarre transubstantiation meets alchemy was just explained to him was more or less the same way I learned about sex. Which might be related, in some way, to the fact that I have six children.
As I come out for [yet] more coffee, Top Management says, "Hey, perfect timing. The cinnamon bread your 15-year-old baked just cooled enough for her to add the icing, and she's cutting you a piece right now."
This. This is why I'm happy to live at the poverty level in order to work at home as a freelance writer, rather than travelling the world as a billionaire concert pianist.
(The bread was so good.)
So. I have recently learned that, staggeringly, inexplicably, horrifyingly, a pair of loyal Left o' the Dialians have never seen this following clip, the first time Steves Carrell and Colbert appeared on television together. Naturally, I decided this Would Not Do and must be Rectified Post-damn-Haste.
(I love the way Carrell's eyes go utterly dead at the word "specials.")
I hear the brood come home. Because they've been gone for almost two hours, I have no choice but to go out and make sure nothing horrific has happened to them during that span—even though, yes, Top Management and I have texted several times in the interim.
We chat as I move the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer and I hear of the dire consequences the Golden Weasel suffered due to forgetting The Store Rule ("no running")—a bumped head and much embarrassment and grumpy contrition.
Top Management goes off to get lunch for the ever-starving chicklings and I go back in the office. I shut the door, sit down and actually gasp in astonishment as the present waiting for me on the keyboard, the same kind of present that would sometimes be waiting for me when I got back from class in college.
She loves me. She really loves me. And I have the proof.
(Well...I had the proof.)
When our kids were younger, they—like the Dowager Countess—didn't understand the concept of weekends. Both their parents were freelance writers who stayed at home every day, so they didn't get how Saturdays were any different from Fridays. Thus began our family tradition of cartoons on Saturday mornings, along with Saturday morning cereals—the one and only time of the week they get to indulge in Calvin-like Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs and such. Now that the first few kids are older, they tend to sleep a bit (or much, much) later on Saturdays than weekdays, but they still loves them their weekly hit of Looney Tunes-accompanied Froot Loops and Lucky Charms and Crunch Berries and whatnot.
Most weeks over the past year, there comes a point where I look at the kids happily munching tooth-destroying cereal positively jam-packed with not one single naturally-occurring ingredient, staring at ebullient rainbow-colored cartoon ponies on screen, and I drift back to the bedroom. I grab my iPod and my headphones and as I slide between the sheets, the same thought always runs through my mind, unbidden: I have never been this happy before. And then I usually laugh at myself because, of course, that's what I think every week.
And pretty much every week, within ten minutes, this is what my quiet, music-laden oasis looks like.
As Lionel pondered, Why in the world would anybody put bairns on me?
My wallet's falling apart. My wallet seems to always be falling apart, even though Top Management is wonderful about getting me a new wallet every seven or eight years, whether I need one or not. Within a few months, it seems like the new one's in only slightly better shape than the old one. I don't know why it happens, really; it's certainly not like my wallet gets used much.
Trying and failing to find my library card earlier today—although, inexplicably, I noticed I still have my Virginia library card, which expired five years ago—I stopped and looked at the only thing in my wallet I really love.
It was Easter Sunday 1997. We were in the hospital; our oldest, Max, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia eight days earlier. We didn't know it then, but we'd be in the hospital with her for most of the next nine months.
Two of my brothers, the ones who lived within four hours of us, had left their families before dawn to come spend Easter with us—this despite the fact they'd done the same thing one week earlier...and that despite the fact that I'd initially told them not to come. Knowing me better than I knew myself, they ignored me and had left before dawn to spend as much time with us in the ICU as they could.
A week later, we were out of the pediatric intensive care and in a regular room on the pediatric oncology floor. The staff had tried hard to make Easter as enjoyable as possible for their Christian patients—a large percentage of the patients, maybe even a majority, were Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, giving the playroom an amazingly New York melting pot feel—and holding an Easter egg hunt for nauseated little bald kids hooked up to IVs with pretty limited portability is no mean feat.
My brothers arrived bearing far too many gifts and gave Max far more laughs in a few hours than she'd had in a week; Max was always an unusually serious baby, and almost the only uncontrollable bellylaughs we'd ever seen her have were courtesy her beloved uncles.
Back then Max wouldn't even try candy, but she was happy to sort Skittles by color for hours, and her parents were more than happy to be the ones eating the Reese's eggs for her.
The hospital kitchen was open, of course, and brought a tray up but there was little to nothing on it Max was interested in, and that went double for the rest of us. So we ordered in from the only restaurant open on Easter: a Chinese restaurant, of course.
It was fantastic. Max was happy, the food was tasty, and for a few minutes the terror went away, at least a little.
The nurse came in to change Max's IV. Noticing the unopened fortune cookies, she said, "Aren't you going to read your fortune?"
"Oh, no," I said seriously. "I had a fortune cookie the night before Max was diagnosed and now she has cancer. I'm not doing that again."
The nurse's eyes got very wide before Top Management hit me and explained to her that I had an odd sense of humor.
After she left, Top Management and my brothers and I had our cookies, reading our fortunes aloud. They were the usual pleasant platitudes, common sense advice.
"Aren't you going to open Max's?" my brother asked, looking at the last cookie left on the bed.
I shrugged. Max didn't eat cookies, so I didn't see the point.
"All right," he said, grabbing the cookie. "I'll do it. Here you go, buddy, this one's yours."
He broke the cookie in half and took out the slip of paper. He started to read it out loud, then stopped. He handed it to the other brother, who looked at it and said, "Oh my God."
They handed it to me.
I'm not a superstitious guy, in general. But other than taking it out today to scan it, I've had it in my wallet every second since.
It's now permanently stuck to the photo we took of Max a few weeks later, also always in my wallet. The photo was taken right before we cut off her ponytail, as her hair was falling out. Behind her you can sorta see, if you know what one looks like, the blue IV pump that she spent much of the next year hooked up to, as well as the bedrail that had to always be up, as she was considered too young to be allowed to sit on a bed without rails. On her neck is the bandage she got the first night in the hospital, when they stuck a tube in what I think was her carotid.
When we first read that fortune, we were still weeks away from learning that Max hadn't actually been handed the death sentence we'd thought, still weeks away from being told by the head of oncology that it was possible for her to be cured, and not just have her life extended by a few more years.
In an hour I'm heading to the airport to pick Max up; she spent the summer about 1200 miles away, in Austin, at an intership at a software design firm. In my pocket as I drive will, of course, be my wallet. And in my wallet will, of course, be that fortune she got so long ago, fifteen years now, back when an extra five years seemed wildly optimistic. Do I think the fortune had anything to do with it? I do not. But I am also never, ever letting it go.
...I think I've actually been to this Denny's.
I love pizza. I love The Onion. Put the two together and there can be no bad result.
I like food. Don’t love it, but I like it. Sure, I could easily live on pretty much nothing but pizza, but that don’t mean I don’t enjoy a (very) little bit of variety now and again. Like, say, peppermint stick ice cream.
But I have never wanted to eat at a restaurant as much as this joint.
Major tip o’ the G4 hat to her royal badness Krissy, not least for not making me stop calling her Krissy.
Mmm….there’s nothing like a good peanut butter and salmonella sandwich.
FDA Was Aware of Dangers To Food
The Food and Drug Administration has known for years about contamination problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms that led to disease outbreaks that killed three people, sickened hundreds, and forced one of the biggest product recalls in U.S. history, documents and interviews show.
Overwhelmed by huge growth in the number of food processors and imports, however, the agency took only limited steps to address the problems and relied on producers to police themselves, according to agency documents.
Congressional critics and consumer advocates said both episodes show that the agency is incapable of adequately protecting the safety of the food supply.
FDA officials conceded that the agency's system needs to be overhauled to meet today's demands, but contended that the agency could not have done anything to prevent either contamination episode.
You know what you could have done, you jackasses? You could have done your damn jobs.
They knew the peanut butter may have been unsafe. And they let it go anyway.
Because the Food and Drug Administration cares more about Big Bidniz than keeping your children alive.
Last week, the FDA notified California state health officials that hogs on a farm in the state had likely eaten feed laced with melamine, an industrial chemical blamed for the deaths of dozens of pets in recent weeks. Officials are trying to determine whether the chemical's presence in the hogs represents a threat to humans.
Hint: eating an animal that’s been accidentally fed industrial chemicals is bad for you. This has been Science for Complete Morons 101.
Pork from animals raised on the farm has been recalled. The FDA has said its inspectors probably would not have found the contaminated food before problems arose. The tainted additive caused a recall of more than 100 different brands of pet food.
The outbreaks point to a need to change the way the agency does business, said Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA's food-safety arm, which is responsible for safeguarding 80 percent of the nation's food supply.
Seriously? You think?
"This administration does not like regulation, this administration does not like spending money, and it has a hostility toward government. The poisonous result is that a program like the FDA is going to suffer at every turn of the road," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the full House committee. Dingell is considering introducing legislation to boost the agency's accountability, regulatory authority and budget.
In the peanut butter case, an agency report shows that FDA inspectors checked into complaints about salmonella contamination in a ConAgra Foods factory in Georgia in 2005. But when company managers refused to provide documents the inspectors requested, the inspectors left and did not follow up.
Sweet fancy Moses! Are you kidding me? That’s it?!
“We suspect your factory has a salmonella problem. We’d like to look at some documentation to make sure you’re not, you know, killing children.”
“Oh. Okay, then. Have a nice day!”
As Allah is my witness, those inspectors should go to jail, as should their superiors. That is beyond reprehensible. That’s immoral. That’s criminal damn negligence.
A salmonella outbreak that began last August and was traced to the plant's Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter brands sickened more than 400 people in 44 states. The likely cause, ConAgra said, was moisture from a roof leak and a malfunctioning sprinkler system that activated dormant salmonella. The plant has since been closed.
During the inspection, the report says, ConAgra admitted it had destroyed some product in October 2004 but would not say why.
And they should be joined in stir by a whole bunch of ConAgra folks.
My God, it’s like Upton Sinclair never wrote The Jungle, or that the desperately needed reforms that book led to never happened.
They happened, of course. They’re just being rolled back. Because your kids aren’t as important as money.
The FDA has known even longer about illnesses among people who ate spinach and other greens from California's Salinas Valley, the source of outbreaks over the past six months that have killed three people and sickened more than 200 in 26 states. The subsequent recall was the largest ever for leafy vegetables.
In a letter sent to California growers in late 2005, Brackett wrote, "FDA is aware of 18 outbreaks of foodborne illness since 1995 caused by [E. coli bacteria] for which fresh or fresh-cut lettuce was implicated. . . . In one additional case, fresh-cut spinach was implicated. These 19 outbreaks account for approximately 409 reported cases of illness and two deaths."
"We know that there are still problems out in those fields," Brackett said in an interview last week. "We knew there had been a problem, but we never and probably still could not pinpoint where the problem was. We could have that capability, but not at this point."
According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group, "When budgets are tight . . . the food program at FDA gets hit the hardest."
In next year's budget, passed amid discovery of contamination problems in spinach, tomatoes and lettuce, Congress has voted the FDA a $10 million increase to improve food safety, DeWaal said. The Agriculture Department, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs and keeps inspectors in every processing plant, got an increase 10 times that amount to help pay for its inspection programs. The FDA visits problem food plants about once a year and the rest far less frequently, Brackett said.
A $10 million increase. For the entire year. Just for reference: that is, conservatively, what the occupation of Iraq costs us every ninety minutes.
William Hubbard, who retired as associate commissioner of the FDA in 2005 and founded the advocacy group Coalition for a Stronger FDA, said that when he joined the agency in the 1970s, its food safety arm claimed half its budget and personnel.
"Now it's about a quarter . . . at a time in which the problems have grown, the size of the industry has grown and imports of food have skyrocketed," Hubbard said.
Police themselves, huh? Tell you what, why don’t we let taxpayers all just, you know, police themselves comes tax time? Or, hey, you know what, let’s let broadcaster police themselves—I’m sure none of them would show, say, graphic sex during prime time, right? We can trust them. And if they do, you know, "slip" and show something, well, I'm sure they'll feel bad. No need for any punitive measures. Of any sort.
Hey! Let’s let airline passengers police themselves! After all, we all hate those long lines. I’m sure it’ll be fine.
For that matter, let’s just bring all our troops home now and let the Iraqis police themselves.
I mean, why stop with making sure the foods our children eat are safe? I’m sure they are. Aren’t you?
Of course, the question is: these are what we know about. (What we know about now—the FDA’s known about these and who knows what else for years.)
What else have we not heard about yet?
So we’ve got a fambly tradition of coloring the milk green for St. Patrick’s Day. (And red for Valentine’s Day.) This year, in addition to that, I decided to really blow my little girls’ minds and give them Shamrock Shakes.
That’s right, the wholly artificial and utterly disgusting and yet oh so delicious taste treat McDonald’s dusts off once a year. I loved them as a kid. Oh my did I.
And then one year I didn’t. I don’t know whether they changed their formula or I changed into something approaching a discerning adult or what, but one year in either high school or college I suddenly found what had been a highlight of my year to be completely and totally repulsive. And not in a good way any longer.
So time moves on and one year I find myself in a Mac’s around St. Patty’s Day and for the sake of nostalgia I decide to give one a go.
And it’s better’n ever. Every cell in my body bursts out in spontaneous song, “The Hills of Connemara.” Is it a shade of green never otherwise seen in nature? It is and what of it? The same can be said of “The Quiet Man” and, what’s more, there’s no sense that a forty-minute fight isn’t only necessary, it’s the cure for all. Sure and begorrah.
So. I’m thinking of introducing my bonny wee lasses to this most unnatural delight. But there’s a problem. Apparently there are few if any McDonald’s in SoCal which carry this culinary masterpiece.
Easily solved, of course. I simply have to make them myself. There are recipes online which claim to replicate exactly the real unreal thing.
I mean, duh. Ice cream, milk, peppermint extract and green food coloring. Whew! Thank you, Jesus, that someone went to so much trouble to do the research.
Of course, is it possible I'll get the proportions a bit off? It is. Since my girls have had something like four milkshakes in their lives, I’m guessing they’ll not be too critical.
Since I gave up sweets for Lent, I can’t even taste the concoction to see if it needs more of this or less of that. Oh the pain. The agony. Woe is me. I beat the cat with my shillelagh and that makes me feel better.
So I give the girls the shakes and they are over the moon; The Bean’s curls actually shuddered with joy.
They ask what’s in it and as is my utterly twisted way, I tell them The Boy’s old diapers. They squeal and shriek and giggle.
Then I ask The Bean, “Seriously, if The Boy’s diapers tasted like this, you’d eat them, wouldn’t you?”
She took a sip, looked up and off to the side for a moment, thinking, then nodded slowly. “Probably,” she said.
What higher praise?
You know what’s really, really good?
These. These are really, really good. I recommend them highly. For some reason, they’re even tastier when someone else buys ‘em. But they’re mighty good either way.
Change it? Nay, my good friends. I dare say it just might save it some day.
Okay, maybe not quite that big a deal. But it’s about as handy-dandy a two-minute video as you’re ever likely to see.
Another in my never-ending list of differences between the left coast and the right (which is not necessarily a synonym for “correct” in this case):
Edy’s ice cream is known as Dreyers out here. At first I thought another company was just capitalizing on Edy’s design—you know, the brown and white stripes and the little stick person jumping over the name and all that—but, no, it’s an official thang, and they're both (now) owned by Nestle.
Why is this the case? I do not know. Neither the normally reliable (well…sorta) wikipedia nor the official Dreyers website gives any insight, beyond the fact that an ice cream maker named Dreyer hooked up with a candy maker named Edy back in 1928. They dissolved their partnership twenty years later, and then thirty years after that the business grows larger, with Edy’s being marketed east of the Rockies and Dreyers in the west.
But why? Why? Why?!?!
I don’t care much for flavored coffees normally. I love the idea, but rarely like the actual result. Why is it that I love hazelnut and I like chocolate but neither of those flavors works for me in coffee? Makes no sense to me. So vanilla or irish cream or whatever is just fine—and I loves me my amaretto favored coffees—but most just don’t do it for me. And mint? I love mint, but in coffee? Fugheddaboutit. Hideous.
But when I got gasoline the other day—at about fifty cents more than it was when I left Virginia—they had cinnamon flavored coffee. Seemed unlikely to be good, but I gave it the ol’ college try. And it was outstanding. Out.Stand.Ing.
Scintillating, I know. What can I say? I haven’t seen my wife or kids in 16 days now. I think my grey matter is actually softening slightly. Or slightly more, I should say.
I've been drinking too much coffee. I can’t help it. My sleep cycle’s still all kinds o’ screwed up. And yeah, I know, the java prolly ain’t helping. But I've been waking up early early and unable to get back to sleep, and then I crash early early early. But then I also start to crash in the middle of the day. And the middle of the morning. So what are you gonna do?
So yesterday, for instance, I woke up at 5:00am and that was all she wrote. So I did some laundry and headed into the office around 6:15am. And by 9:30am I was practically weeping with exhaustion. And by 10:00pm I was struggling to stay awake, hoping to get onto a more regular schedule. Or maybe because I’m just a big nancy.
Fortunately, there’s a good coffee bar just a block away. The problem is that it’s a good coffee bar. And I don’t really like good coffee much. Or at least not what most people consider good coffee. My favorite coffee in the world is probably the stuff you buy from the vendors on the street corners in the mornings in New York City. It’s been ten years since I had it, so maybe it’s no longer as great, or maybe I’m overrating it, but the stuff was like butter. Like smooth smoky butter. That kicks you in the ass and wakes you the hell up. For, like, a dollar per twenty ounces. Mmmm…nutritious, delicious, efficient and cheap as all get-out.
There’s certainly other good coffees too. F’r instance, my in-laws scored me some Kona coffee, which is rare (most of what folks think of as Kona is actually a blend, a mutt, not a purebred) and outstanding. But it’s also the price of liquid gold, so it’s not so much a regular occasion kind o’ drink. Not really something you guzzle mid-morning so’s you can be on top o’ your game.
So I avoid Starbucks both because I think they’re a bad company (and, no, not just because of how they wronged my boy Bruce Springsteen) and because I don’t like their coffee and as an extra bonus, because I tend to avoid the big chains in favor of the little moms and pops.
But I’m that way with beer too. I don’t generally like good beer. I love Guinness as a change of pace and I drink Sam Adams because the original guy was such the studmuffin, and my (old) local brew, Starr Hill Jomo Lager is like nectar, albeit nectar which will cause you to walk into walls if you have too much in too short a time, but when it comes right down to it, I like Miller Genuine Draft and Corona and, I'll admit it, because it returns me to those halcyon days of long ago, Busch in a bottle, something which is surprisingly (or perhaps not so much) hard to find. Hm. I wonder how Milwaukee’s Best would taste these days? Best not to find out, I suspect.
So I stopped at a gas station on the way into the office and grabbed a big ol’ thang of their “gourmet” coffee, which really isn’t, which means it’s really more my speed. Tasty and cheap. And, best of all, it worked.
[Meanwhile, to make things even more interesting, an hour later, after the coffee had gotten cold, I nuked it for half a minute in the same microwave, I realized after the fact, that someone had obviously overheated chicken soup in at some point, causing said soup to top its levees. Chicken soup and coffee—two great tastes that certainly do NOT taste great together.]
What can I say? I’m just an average joe, albeit one blessed with a hot and brilliant wife and five gorgeous and brilliant kids, all of whom are, alas, a bit of a ways away at present. And, alas alack, I also have coffee breath. Such is life. And such are the little things that make my wife not miss me quite so much.
Late night last night. It has been revealed, beyond any shadow of a doubt—not that many if any had any doubts at all, actually—that I am no longer a young man.
But here’s where I ate.
It was pretty magnificent. But I kept thinking how much more fun it would be with Top Management.
So I come up from work for lunch and I find all four of my favorite females making a spice cake. For me. As a surprise. For no special reason. Just to surprise me.
And it is indeed a surprise, since Top Management tends to do most of the cooking in the house whilst I do most of the baking. And indeed, I end up having to be the one to take my own surprise cake out of the oven as Top Management has to run out to the doctor to see if The Boy’s ears are up to having new ear molds for his hearing aides (he really needs new ones and has for some time now) made.
Nope. Still gots too much wax and even a little bit of fluid in his ears so they can’t make the molds and no one there’s up to the job of removing the gunk. So we need to go to a specialist. Which is another afternoon of work for both of us gone, and that’s once we manage to get an appointment, which normally takes about a month to procure. And, not that we pay attention to such mundanities, hours on the phone getting approvals and then an extra fifty bucks to shell out. And then, and only then, can we get his new molds made, which’ll also take some time, of course. So that by the time he gets his new ear molds it’ll have been about three months since he really should have had them. Pneumonia can really be a prolonged hassle.
Anyhoo, Top Management runs out with The Boy and I wait for the cake to come out of the oven. And out it comes and doesn’t it just smell wonderful? Indeed it does. And I’m looking forward to savoring the beaters and the bowl, as is my constitutional right as the head of the household.
Only I find that the children have ever so thoughtfully cleaned up. And there’s my bowl, with the beaters in it, soaking in the sink. Because we’ve explained time and again that we don’t ever eat raw batter or dough because of salmonella. So the girls made sure to fill the bowl with water, ever hepful chillens that they are.
I am so disgruntled. I’m going to have to introduce a tiny bit of nuance into this equation. I shall make it clear that they should never eat raw batter or dough but that such trifles as salmonella have no effect on daddies. That we daddy-types may have bad backs and asthma and tinnitus but puny life-threatening diseases quake in terror at the mere thought of us.
I doubt they’ll buy it. They know me too well. So I guess I’ll just have to fall back on the ol’ "because I’m your dad and I said so" thang.
Well, that’s a huge exaggeration. Still plenty o’ joy. Just not as much as there would have been had people in our neighborhood given out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for Halloween the way they always do. I mean, it’s a staple! Has there been some boycott of which I’ve been unaware? I do not approve.
On the other hand, I must say, I’d forgotten how splendid the 100 Grand bar was. Oh, it’s no Snickers, but then that’s a standard not can match. So given that, the 100 Grand is still mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed. An overlooked gem.
And our philosophy seems to have worked again. The Rose and The Bean both asked to go to bed early last night, one with a headache and one with a tummyache—which The Bean referred to as "a candyache"—and they’ve seemed to turn a bit green at the mention of candy. I knew forcing them to smoke an entire pack of Skittles would do the trick.
Success is mine, saith the Scott.
Our family has had what’s perhaps a slightly unusual history with Halloween. Like most folks our age, Top Management and I seemed to come of age at just the right time for Halloween; just a few years after we were officially Too Old to go trick-or-treating (which isn’t to say that we didn’t continue for a year or so longer than we perhaps should have, as most kids do: it’s a sad, sad day when you realize you don’t get to partake of the free loot no more) Halloween seemed to take a nosedive, what with poisoned candy and all that. More and more people started having Halloween parties for the kids rather than risk letting them go out trick-or-treating and get razorblades in their Skittles.
Tangent: one of the many benefits of being Top Management and looking ten years younger than she is that she actually only stopped going trick-or-treating the year before Max was born and that was because we were living in New York City at that point and I felt that the ratio of crackhouse to candyhouse wasn’t cost-effective. It’s a tough ol’ world and at some point you just need to determine when the temptation of free Snickers is outweighed by the cost of being busted in a crackhouse. And that, perhaps, is when you know you’re an adult. Or maybe not.
Anyhoo, that Halloween lull seemed to last about a decade but trick-or-treating appears to be back in style again. Maybe it’s just because we live in a neighborhood that’s ideal for it—many houses close together—or maybe it’s just that folks finally realized that few people are clever enough to fit a razorblade in a Skittle. Or, if they do somehow manage that, that few are dense enough not to notice a big razorblade sticking out of a Skittle.
If I’ve just set myself up for a copycat crime, I’m going to be really upset.
I don’t recall what we did our first few years with Max. I think Top Management dressed her up and took her to a few parties or something. And then the first few years after that, when she was old enough to go trick-or-treating we were either in the hospital with her or she was too sick to go.
Our next-door neighbor’s birthday was on Halloween, though, so when she was, I think, four years old we went to that and then everyone went trick-or-treating afterwards. Now, by this point Max had never had ice cream or cake or cookies or any kind of candy. One of the ways they got kids to swallow some of the particularly nasty chemo was by sticking it in stuff like chocolate pudding. We’d been such hippydippy parents that we never, ever gave Max refined sugar and here we were trying to give her chemo wrapped up in the most processed of refined sugars.
It did not take. Which meant that not only did we have to figure out another way of getting the chemo in her, we’d also turned her off all sweets. Imagine that: a four-year-old who cannot abide sweets. We were an interesting family.
So we go trick-or-treating that first year and she of course has no idea what’s going on or what she’s supposed to do or anything, but she’s game and she follows the other kids’ leads. And at the end of the night—she was a little short on stamina back then, so the end of the night was about a block and a half—we end up back in our apartment with a decent-sized bag of candy.
Max is fascinated. She very carefully dumps it out on the carpet, then sorts through it all, making little piles for Snickers and M&Ms and Skittles (sans razorblades) and so on. And when she’s done, she’s so happy. And she gives it all to Top Management.
The next morning she asked for her bag again. Perhaps, we thought, she was regretting her largesse. And again she goes through it all and separates it all out in various ways—bags of Skittles and M&Ms here, candybars there, lollipops off yonder. And when she’s done, she again gives it all to Top Management.
And the next year, she did the same thing. Loved her trick-or-treating, although she still didn’t seem to entirely get the point. But when she was done, she played with the candy. And never took a bite.
Things are different these days. At some point Max decided that maybe she wouldn’t shudder and dryheave whenever someone offers her a bite of ice cream. And one thing led to another and she’s now a (relatively) normal kid, albeit one whose sugar limits seem much less deadly than most (cf. her parents).
So. Our kids still get fewer sweets than most kids, I think, largely because their parents have just awful sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) and are trying to ensure their kids don't turn out the same way. Also, as diabetes runs in Top Management’s family, we’re trying to minimize the chances of that as much as possible.
Still, they dig their candy. Which makes the resurgence of Halloween a semi-blessed event for them.
So out we went last night and pillaged the neighborhood for hours. But we’ve instituted three rules that make the holiday quite a bit easier. The first one is this: when your bag o’ candy gets too heavy for you to carry yourself, you’re done trick-or-treating for the night/year. After a year of carrying the overflowing bags for The Rose and The Bean, I decided something had to change. This new rule makes the night much shorter and quite a bit more pleasant, as they know that there’re only so many times they can casually mention how heavy their bags are. About three blocks was the limit for them, and then they were more than happy to go home and begin gorging.
Which is the other rule. Sorta the way some parents, upon finding their offspring investigating a first cigarette might force the kid to smoke the whole pack and thus learn ‘em a lesson but good, we let our kids have quite a bit of candy both Halloween night and the next day. Far, far more than they usually get and more than’s probably good for them. And the result has tended to be that by the day after the day after Halloween, they’re pretty much done with candy for a while.
Which, naturally, means that the extra goes to their playing-it-cool parents. Heh. See how that works? We're wily, we are. We think ahead.
This is on top of Rule Number Three, which is actually a year-round rule and was stolen from The Boy’s surgeon (and whom we never credit for this brilliant concept): The Daddy Tax.
Whenever the kids gets a donut at church or a cookie with their Happy Meal or whatever, Daddy gets the first bite. If Daddy's not there, Top Management gets the option, although she usually declines, the softie, which makes the chillen even more pleased by my absence than usual.
In the case of Halloween candy, they pretty much have to tithe to both their parents. Top Management tends to get most of the Skittles—which has the extra benefit of her extra-sensitive senses noticing the presence of razorblades—while I tend to swipe the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s a fine, fine rule o’ thumb and one which I’m certainly glad my parents never instituted. But, I mean, seriously, what’s the point of having children if you can’t scam ‘em?
That would be the Snickers bar with almonds. Delicious? Oh, you bet. Then again, it was the first time too. When it was called a Mars bar.
Look, when it comes to candy bars, there are really only two kinds: Snickers and Everything Else. And sometimes you get in the mood for Something Else. And on those occasions you stray: you turn to your Mars bars, your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (which is still a candy bar, according to the North American Society of Candiology Association, just a differently shaped one or, as they put it, rectangularly-challenged), your Baby Ruth. But you choose those less because they’re a delicious tastetreat—which they are—and more as a temporary alternative to Snickers, a quick daytrip down Paths Rarely Taken.
I love Mars bars. I love my Reese’s (although Reese’s Pieces blow big time; no matter what your filmian triumphs, I shall never forgive you for that one, Mister Steven Spielberg). I adore my Baby Ruths.
But the Snickers rules over them all. The Snickers is the candy equivalent of Sauron’s ring: one bar to rule them all and in the belly bind them. Other bars may have their own powers and abilities, but they are no match for the awesomely overwhelming might of The One Bar. It’s packed with peanuts and, yes, it does satisfy. Great googlymoogly, does it ever.
So take it from me, Snickerspeople: whenever folks mention how I haven’t changed a bit since (take your pick: New York, college, high school, grade school, the crib) I always explain my motto: why tamper with perfection?
Leave the mighty Snickers alone. After all, look what happened when Adam and Eve tried to improve sheer perfection. Bad, bad idea.
Another outstanding meal was delivered tonight, this time by friend Sarah. Great pasta sauce, killer bread and a salad to die for. And I am given to understand that peach ice cream also arrived, to be consumed later, when those meddlesome kids aren’t around.
I am beginning to suspect a ruse, however. I have some doubts as to the necessity of The Boy’s two operations, especially given how rare his type of hernia recurrence is. My suspicions tell me the entire thing is simply a ploy, an elaborate scheme to get Top Management out of cooking for two weeks.
Which isn’t to say I care, of course. These are some seriously fine eatin’s. If The Boy needed to snipped in order to make that happen, well, so be it. We all have to make sacrifices in this world. It’d be good for him to learn now that it all works out for the best when the sacrifices are made by others for my benefit.
So I’ve been bitching about my neighborhood a lot lately on Left of the Dial. Which is unfair. Because while everything I said is The Gospel Truth According to Me, it’s also only part of the story. Here’s the flip side:
Today I was walking up the stairs behind The Boy. Remember when our lives changed in oh so many ways, as The Boy discovered The Joys of Stair-Climbing, aka How to Keep Your Parents on Edge for Months at a Time? Well, when we first moved here, The Bean did the same thing. And try as we might, we couldn’t find anything that’d block the stairs to keep her away—and we tried EVERYTHING. What’s more, because of the unique way our banisters are shaped, top and bottom, we can’t just run out to Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy a baby-gate—none of them will fit. So one would need to be specially-made, which is so very far beyond my ridiculously limited abilities.
So with The Bean we basically just took two or three weeks and let her climb the stairs all day until she’d mastered it. And that was that.
The Boy, however, is a bit more of a challenge, due to his skull fracture and his much-better-but-still-existent hypertonia, which means his legs aren’t quite able to stretch out all the way. And he can’t crawl, so he climbs up stairs differently and yadda yadda yadda.
Hey. That’s right. He can’t crawl. After days of agita, that fact finally penetrated my pea-sized brain.
So I simply pushed the piano bench in front of the stairs. And while The Bean would have just crawled under it, The Boy can’t do that. So he can’t get upstairs anymore. Likewise, I put a couple of comicbook longboxes at the top of the stairs, so he (theoretically) can’t fall down. Problem not quite solved, but ameliorated considerably.
But we still want him to learn to climb the stairs, of course, so we make sure we let him practice several times a day. It’s also good for tiring him out when we’re ready to start putting him to sleep. So I’m walking up the stairs behind him this morning and we’re at the very top which, for logistical reasons that are obvious when you actually see the stairs but which are too complex and tedious to get into here, is the trickiest part. And it’s important that he master this final (literally) step. So I’m waiting on him as he maneuvers this way and that, trying and failing to find an easier way to do it. And down below us The Rose and The Bean open the front door and peek out.
I can just see some feet down on our sidewalk. And then a woman says something to the girls and The Rose goes out and picks something up and comes back inside. With a big plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Needless to say, this gets my full attention.
The feet come closer and it’s revealed that they’re attacked to legs which, as they come even closer, turn out to be attached to the rest of a woman. A woman I’ve never seen before but who looks up and sees me standing on the stairs. I later realized she almost certainly couldn’t see The Boy, so she must have thought me most odd and quite rude for simply continuing to stand there almost—but not quite—at the top of the stairs while she’s down below in my doorway, having just delivered some homemade cookies. I mean, seriously, what kind of freak doesn’t come down to grab homemade chocolate chip cookies when he has the chance? She must have been thinking, jeez, no *wonder* this kid’s got so many problems—look what he’s got for a dad.
"Hi," she says, and introduces herself. "We’ve never met, but I heard about The Boy and I thought I’d just bring you guys some cookies."
I thank her, quite sincerely (there’s virtually no easier way to win my heart than with homemade chocolate chip cookies…virtually) and she adds that she knows we’ve got our hands full right now and maybe we’ll have a chance to actually meet officially when The Boy is feeling better.
I thank her again and she makes sure the door is closed securely, somehow sensing that that’s not a particular strong suit of the girls’. And when Top Management comes up later and sees the cookies, she’s pleased but curious and asks who they’re from. I tell her and she looks more confused. I’d just assumed that while *I’d* never met The Cookie Lady before that the two of them knew each other. But no. This woman just lives in our neighborhood, heard about The Boy’s surgery and even though she’d never met any of us before, baked us some cookies to brighten our day.
And she’s not even part of the group of women who signed up to bring us meals while The Boy recuperates. First it was just a neighbor or two. Now we’re getting something like ten meals over the next two weeks. And I can tell you, the first two have both been *outstanding.*
And that’s why, road woes or no, I really like my neighborhood.
Just got this email from Top Management (prompted by her bad example, I finished off the Oreos):
I have eaten the Chips Ahoy
You bought for your daughter
And now there are no cookies left
To send in her lunch
They were delicious
and so sweet
I know, I know, that’s quite a straight line. But, seriously, there is a major glitch in my basic make-up.
I took Max to Dairy Queen for May Day, a holiday which Top Management and I have always celebrated (putting us in the one percent of one percent of Americans who do so). There was a small line in front of us, but within a minute of our arrival, there were no fewer than fifteen people behind and maybe even more. The one cashier and the one guy making up the orders were, needless to say, pretty harried. At one point it turns out the cone the dude’d just prepared was supposed to be in a cup so, barely even pausing to aim, he whipped it over his shoulder into a trashcan in the corner. It was a nice shot, but the waste of ice cream sent a visible shudder through the line; Max, in particular, was stunned and horrified by the wanton disregard for all that is good in life, which is pretty much how she views ice cream.
So Max gets her small vanilla cone with sprinkles and I wait for my medium Blizzard (with mint and oreos, thank you very much). And when the guy finally shoves it in my hands and rushes off to do the next order, I look down at the stubby little cup and wonder if Dairy Queen has changed their sizes in the three or four months since I’ve last been there. I look at the cup sizes atop the machine, though, and no, sure enough, my medium is actually a small. The woman next to me sees me looking and confirms that, yes indeed, he gave me the wrong size.
I try to catch his eye but he’s running around like crazy. I look at the line snaking through the place and decide that it’s just not worth it. So Max and I split.
But I was totally bummed out. Analyzing the situation I realize it’s incredibly foolish to be bummed that my medium ice cream is only a small. I mean, it’s not like I *need* more ice cream. And it’s not like I get this often, so any amount’s a nice treat. And talk about the glass being half-empty. I know all that. I do.
And yet there it is. I was still really bummed. And I realized I would honestly rather have had none than order and pay for a medium and only receive a small.
Which brings us back to: what the hell is wrong with me?
Top Management thinks it has something to do with my being the youngest, but then she thinks that about almost everything that’s wrong with me—and that’s a pretty hefty list.
It’s like when I was in high school and I’d get a hot dog and pal Karen would ask for a bite. But I didn’t want to give her a bite of my hot dog. It was mine, I ordered it, I paid for it and now I was going to eat it. And it’s not that I was cheap—I would have been more than happy to buy her a hot dog for herself. But she didn’t want a dog, she just wanted one bite (which, by the way, begs the question: what the hell was wrong with her?). I, meanwhile, didn’t want 90% of my dog, I didn’t want 110%, I wanted the dog, the whole dog and nothing but the dog (which, yes, leaves aside the question of what really was IN the dog).
So what makes me this way? I’m not generally a perfectionist, not even close, and I’m not even remotely a food nut—food is pleasant and necessary but I have no problems eating peanut butter and jelly or Oodles of Noodles for weeks on end; I have no need for a truly good meal, or even a not-good-but-a-favorite-meal, on any kind of a regular basis. So what explains this character flaw of mine?
Thinking it over as I write this, I suspect it’s possible I’ve gotten off-track in my own analysis by focusing on the food part. I think much of it is that when I order something—whether it’s food or books or CDs or whatever—I want and expect to receive what I ordered. Maybe that’s the problem. I simply expect people to do their jobs properly. And I understand why the guy messed this one up: he was doing a tough job under tough circumstances and we all make mistakes. So it’s not like I went nuts on the guy or called him out or feel like condemning him to the fifth circle or whatever—hell, I didn’t even make him re-do the order, since that would have meant screwing up his day and the day of all the folks in line even more. It just…bums me out.
And, yes, the easy solution is to stop eating ice cream altogether. Fortunately, I’ve never been one for easy solutions.