Category Archives: humor

Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.

The Only Foods That Existed

I won’t say I was a picky eater, but when I was a kid, I definitely had strong food preferences. In fact, only certain foods existed for me – and not just because it was in the days before sushi entered the U.S.

Take milkshakes, for example. Though even at the time strawberry and vanilla milkshakes existed, the only kind I would accept was chocolate. I still have this opinion to some degree. For example, when I eat at Wendy’s, only a chocolate Frosty will do. But when it comes to other milkshakes, my tastes have broadened considerably. I love getting peppermint shakes at Christmas and banana shakes whenever. But my new favorite is the salted caramel milkshake at Red Robin, especially if they add a shot of booze to it, something I never even contemplated as a kid. (Salted caramel wasn’t a thing and booze wasn’t an option.)

Then there was jelly. Grape. And only grape. Not apple. Not strawberry. And certainly not mixed fruit. My toast and my peanut butter sandwiches required grape jelly or none at all. In the absence of grape jelly, toast got butter and PB sandwiches got no J.

Now I sample all the varieties of jams and jellies on offer – orange marmalade, blackberry, peach, and whatever they give me at Waffle House, to name a few, not to mention my all-time favorite, apple butter, which I guess is not really jelly. Strawberry is still my least favorite, but I will eat it when required.

Back in the day, the only lunch meat was bologna. I wouldn’t touch pimento loaf or the salami with those little hard things stuck in it that I later learned were peppercorns and wouldn’t have eaten even if I had known it. And forget head cheese! I inspected lunch meat subs (the only kind then in existence) carefully, and picked off the kinds I didn’t like. That left me with bologna and salami with no peppercorns, not exactly a culinary masterpiece.

Back then, ham and turkey were not so much lunch meats, but a breakfast dish and a Thanksgiving treat, respectively. At least that was the only way they were served in our house. Now I find that ham, turkey, roast beef, and even pastrami are acceptable. Strangely, I can hardly eat bologna anymore. Maybe my palate (such as it is) burned out on it all those years ago.

Other foods I turned up my nose at because of the way they were served. Peas, carrots, corn, beans (especially pinto beans with ketchup), and mashed potatoes were acceptable side dishes. Not so with asparagus. At that time, the only asparagus I knew of came in cans. I had never even seen a fresh stalk. Naturally, I assumed that asparagus was a slimy, icky vegetable, somewhat like okra. (If I recall correctly, all our vegetables came in cans at the time, but, honestly, there’s not much you can do to corn or peas to render them inedible. I actually even liked canned spinach, for some reason.)

Now that I’ve discovered fresh and frozen vegetables, my horizons have expanded considerably. I’ve since had fresh asparagus and liked it enough to have it multiple times. I’ve learned to like Brussels sprouts, if they’re roasted. The same with parsnips. Back in the day, roasting was a thing for, well, roasts, and maybe potatoes and onions with them, but little else.

Now I pride myself on what foods I will actually eat. I love sushi, adore hummus and guacamole, and jump at the chance to eat calamari. I have eaten curried goat, octopus, jackfruit, escargot, and pizza with nearly everything, including anchovies (not as a regular thing, but just to try it). Even my mom, purveyor of all those canned foods, learned to sample the local foods and drinks when we traveled abroad. She didn’t always like them (in which case she gave them to me), but by God, she tried them, and I admired her for that.

One of the only things I refuse to eat now is liver and onions. It’s a texture thing; they make me gag. Literally. Even my mom gave up on making me eat liver and onions when she saw that. I have lived my life happily without them and will continue to do so.

So, if you have a picky eater in the household, just wait and keep introducing new things. I once knew a child that would eat only buttered noodles who is now an expert on all things sushi.

I also know an adult who still won’t eat foods that touch on a plate, but you can’t win them all.

 

The Educated Palate

What are the foods and beverages most associated with college students? Ramen and kegs of beer, of course! And those are fine for today’s impoverished denizens of undergraduate academia.

But back in the day, we had certain foods and beverages (well, mostly beverages) reserved for special occasions.

Indulgent cookies. You know that commercial about the mother who has let the children take over the bathroom, but hides there to eat her cookies? Now, aside from the aesthetics of eating in a bathroom, that ad sparked a fond memory. I suppose when we were poor college students, we could have indulged in less expensive, more expansive bags of Oreos or Fig Newtons. But when we wanted to splurge on a real indulgence, it was Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies all the way. We’d buy them at the tiny on-campus convenience store that cleverly stocked them. Then we’d try to make them last. They never did.

The Make-Out Drink. Never mind booty calls. Back in the day, we knew that a guy had certain intentions when he showed up with a bottle of Amaretto di Saronno. Instead of “chill and Netflix,” the invitation was expressed as, “Do you want to go up to the roof?” (It was a notorious and private place around the dorms.) Only di Saronno would do. Anything else was considered déclassé.

The Show-Off Drink. Nowadays I understand there is a drink called a Blow Job, involving whipped cream and a hands-off method of ingesting it. We had the General Sherman. This was a shot of Southern Comfort, lit on fire, and swiftly chugged. Despite what you might think, the drink caused no harm to the imbiber – unless it was a man with a mustache. Then it was inadvisable, to say the least. (For those confused by the name of the drink, consider the name of the alcohol and just go look up General Sherman, okay? But I digress.)

The Birthday Drink. When anyone in my circle of friends reached legal drinking age, we initiated her with a tradition: retiring to the pub in the Student Union (that’s a thing that existed back then) and ordering a pitcher of Sloe Gin Fizz. There is no more candy-ass girlie drink on the planet and a pitcher of the practically glowing pink liquid is quite a sight. Sloe Gin Fizz is also a drink that sneaks up on you. The birthday girl (or, less often, boy) would slosh down a fair amount, then try to stand up while we all laughed.

Another birthday tradition, reserved for those of our acquaintance who had effervesced to excess, was the tie-dye cake, which was not yet a thing like it is today. Again, there was ritual. It was baked in a sheet pan, covered in white icing, and adorned with M&Ms spelling out Happy Birthday. (I like to think that the candy gave a hint at the multi-colored wonders awaiting the recipient.) Once sliced open, it usually had the desired effect, which left the rest of us to eat the cake.

The Poetry Drink. I studied poetry in college, and one of my creative writing classes would occasionally meet at a dive bar just off campus. (It was called the Royal Palm Tavern but was invariably referred to as the “Hairy Palms.” But I digress. Again.)

This place was a shot-and-a-beer sort of place frequented by townies, not students. No Sloe Gin Fizz there. So my fellow poets and I got into the swing of things, ordering the obligatory combination. But we had to be different, so our shots were not whiskey, but peppermint schnapps. This may sound appalling, but I encourage you to try it sometime. Knock back the schnapps, then sip the beer. After the sweet, sticky burn of the schnapps, the beer tastes especially cold, crisp, and clean. I’m not sure what it did for our poetry, though.

I’m not advocating binge drinking among college students – or anybody, really – and I know that campuses now have rules about over-imbibing and promotional campaigns to discourage it. We can well do without students staggering around campus.

But I do hope that college students have their own drinking (and eating) traditions to reminisce about when they’re old and gray and much less inclined to indulge in silly libations. Or that they at least smile when I still order a peppermint schnapps and beer, as I do occasionally, just for old times sake.

 

 

Don’t Harsh My Buzz

We all have things we love. We all have things we hate. Where the trouble comes in is when we love something that others hate and they feel compelled to tell us we’re wrong. I’m not talking here about huge social or religious dilemmas or political differences. I mean the stuff that shouldn’t matter, but people get all exercised about.

Like pineapple on pizza. There are those who love it and those who hate it. But for some reason, the haters attack the lovers as though they’ve committed a mortal sin by allowing fruit to touch their Italian dish, which we all love. (Technically, tomato is a fruit too and nobody minds having tomato sauce on pizza. Don’t ask me what that kiwi’s doing there in the photo. I have no strong opinions about kiwi. But I digress.)

Now I admit to liking Hawaiian-style pizza on occasion, the kind that comes with (for some unknown, peculiar, multicultural reason) Canadian bacon and pineapple. It isn’t my very favorite – that’s pepperoni and extra mushrooms. But once in a while, I order pineapple.

This hurts no one. So don’t harsh my buzz. Be like John. I invited John over once and served him pizza. It had pineapple on it. Without making a fuss, John picked the chunks of pineapple off his slices, ate the pizza, then ate the pineapple separately, as a sort of dessert, I suppose. That is what I call a mature, polite approach to pineapple pizza. That’s how I would approach a pizza with kiwi, if I tried it (I would) and didn’t like it. Hell, I even tried anchovies once, just to see.

I find that some people like to harsh other people’s buzzes over a variety of topics. Once, when I posted something about Star Trek, a new Facebook friend replied, “You do know you’re too old for this.” Well, phooey on that. I loved Star Trek when it first came out and I still do.

Yet it seems that loving Star Trek is not enough for some people. I need to love the right kind of Star Trek. These days, Star Trek: The Next Generation gets beat up a lot for its storytelling, plot lines – everything except Patrick Stewart, who everyone admits is pretty great, except when he says, “Engage!” or “Make it so!”

But damnit, I like NextGen (as it’s called, when it’s not called ST:TNG). In some ways, I like it better than the original series (ST:TOS). Don’t ask me to defend why I like it. I shouldn’t have to.

Or take Cats (the movie). Okay, it wasn’t great cinematic art for the ages and it didn’t have much of a plot – which is understandable if you know that the source material is a series of poems. But it had fine singing, incredible dancing, and amazing costumes. It had cats and T.S. Eliot. Why wouldn’t I love it? Even my husband said it was “astonishing.”

Country music is another area that I love that people are determined to knock. It all sounds the same, or it’s the music of racists, or everyone sings through their nose, or some other objection. Or I should spend my time listening to something good (however that’s defined).

This really harshes my buzz. I grew up with country music and, despite it being my parents’ favorite music, I never disowned it, not even when I was in my teens and the Beatles hit it big. I enjoyed both Willie Nelson and Elton John. I even enjoyed John Denver. (There, I said it!)

I don’t know. Maybe it would have been different if I had lived in Texas, but in suburban Ohio at the time, I met with only scorn among my peers. And, I’m sorry to say, that scorn continues to this day. And I can see how easy it is for that scorn to develop. I never listen to modern country music. I’m still stuck at the Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Emmylou Harris stage. (And don’t harsh my buzz about Kris Kristofferson movies, either. I still like them, except the one he made with Sylvester Stallone, whose movies I’ve taken a vow never to see. But if you like him, fine. I won’t hassle you about it.)

I’m hoping that now that Ken Burns has turned his documentary lens on it, country music will regain its status as something that it’s okay to like. In fact, I may listen to Waylon Jennings while eating pineapple pizza, and then relax with a little NextGen.

It’s my choice. Don’t harsh my buzz.

Memories of Things I Didn’t Know Existed

My husband has a terrific memory. Not for where he left his car keys or wallet, of course. But for obscure TV shows, theme songs, and jingles, he’s the best.

Today, for example, he wanted me to look up online “Lincoln Vail of the Everglades.” I did, while he started singing the theme song. It turns out that it was an actual TV show that lasted for one entire season, recounting the adventures of a law enforcement officer who sped around the Everglades on an airboat. Dan also referenced “Sky King,” a similar show about using an airplane to fight crime.

Dan can sing the theme songs to “The Littlest Hobo,” a show about a wandering dog, “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “Davy Crockett” (which actually has more lyrics than just “King of the Wild Frontier”). For cartoon shows, he’s a good reference, too, blithely singing the theme songs to “Chip and Dale” and “Tobor, the Eighth Man,” which was a cartoon about a robot (get it? robot spelled backward).  He can sing “George of the Jungle,” of course (can’t everyone?). But he can also sing the entire theme to “Super Chicken” and part of “Magilla Gorilla.” And he can hum the tunes to the “Crusader Rabbit” and “Clutch Cargo” themes, which have no words.  He also still remembers the cartoons “Tennessee Tuxedo” (and his sidekick Chumley), “Mr. Magoo,” “Top Cat,” and “Beany and Cecil,” one of my personal faves.

But it’s in television commercials where he really shines. He even remembers the Ajax Pixies, who sang the first-ever commercial jingle on television, back in the 50s. He knows all the lyrics to the Good ‘N’ Plenty candy jingle (“Choo Choo Charlie was an engineer…”). He can sing the Texaco tagline (You can trust your car to the man who wears the star!/The big, bright Texaco star!) And he really captured my heart when he sang me the jingle for Kisling Sauerkraut, which he knew from growing up near Philadelphia. (It had a wonderful line in it about the product being sold in transparent plastic bags. That always gets me.  But I digress.)

References to old shows, cartoons, and jingles have made their way into our everyday lives as well. Sometimes when we leave the house, Dan will say, “Here we go, rocketing into fun-filled adventure with Adam Ant and Secret Squirrel!” (Half the time he says “a damn ant,” but never mind that now.)

Admittedly, these are not terribly useful skills, but they use as many brain cells as I do remembering Emily Dickinson’s, William Carlos Williams’s, and e.e. cummings’s poetry, I suppose. And, come to think of it, his knowledge is more likely to come up in bar trivia games than mine is.

Now, if only he could remember how to figure out what the date of Thanksgiving is, or the code to our storage locker, or the lyrics to “Bad Moon Rising” (he still thinks it goes “There’s a bathroom on the right”), then he’d be truly formidable. Until then, I’ll just have to be the repository of useful knowledge such as whether you have to travel north or south on the highway to get to the airport and what his cell phone number is and how to spell and pronounce “foliage.”

It’s a small price to pay for all those quality Saturday morning reminiscences.

 

 

My Husband’s Bananas

Now, I’m not saying my husband’s an ape, but he sure seems to have a thing for bananas. At least recipes containing them.

When I married into his family, I didn’t realize I was also acquiring a sacred banana cake recipe, handed down from Dan’s Grammy. It always seemed like banana bread to me, but Dan calls it banana cake, and I’m not sure what the difference would be, anyway.

I love bananas, but only when they’re close to green. It’s a texture thing. I don’t even like the dark, mushy spots on bruised bananas. But I can’t eat a whole bunch of bananas by myself, so Dan gets the leftovers to leave until they’re the proper mushiness for cooking.

Dan insists on making his banana cake in a bundt cake pan, therefore, I guess, reinforcing the cake-ness of it. He claims that the cake cooks properly only in a bundt pan so the inner part gets as brown as the outside. Once, when we made mini-cakes for Christmas gifts, he acquiesced to the use of mini-loaf pans, but I could tell he wasn’t happy about it. (We also made my signature spice cake, which is notable for having to boil the raisins first, making them plump and juicy. But I digress.)

Dan’s other tasty banana creation is a non-patented, no-bake, sugar-free banana cream pie. The concept is fairly simple: graham cracker crust, slices of too-ripe-for-me bananas lining it, sugar-free banana pudding, more banana slices, then sugar-free whipped topping. Low-fat milk for the pudding, of course.

The pie is good, but we’ve improved it over the years. One time we were low on milk, so we substituted part of it for chocolate milk. It worked moderately well, but there wasn’t a lot of chocolate flavor to the finished pie.

So we began to experiment. This pie was open to variation, unlike the sacred banana cake. We tried different combinations of pudding, different amounts of plain and chocolate milk, and other variations.

In the end, what we came up with was a pie with the same graham cracker crust – no way to improve on that, at least not easily. Then we mix two boxes of banana pudding with two boxes of chocolate pudding, but use only half the milk called for on the boxes. This makes the pie much firmer and easier to slice, though I must confess that sometimes we just grab forks and eat it right out of the aluminum pan. Sliced bananas and whipped topping as before.

My family had their banana idiosyncracies, too, I guess. My mother used to eat bananas with peanut butter, long before Elvis invented or at least popularized the fried banana-and-peanut-butter sandwich. She’d just smear a dollop of peanut butter on top of the banana, bite off the end, and repeat.

Maybe I should suggest to Dan that he try to invent a banana-and-peanut-butter pie. I don’t think peanut butter pudding exists. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) So I think it would be a matter of mixing the peanut butter into the banana pudding and tinkering with the milk ratio until the consistency is right.

We’re going to have a house-warming party this spring when our house is rebuilt. Maybe I should consider having a desserts-only buffet and serving all three kinds of pie and the banana cake as well. Of course, anyone allergic to bananas, chocolate, or peanut butter would be out of luck. We’ll have to have some plain old pound cake for them.

Or spice cake. Is anyone allergic to raisins?

 

Ms. Whisht and Buddy

They look so innocent, don’t they? Of bank robbery and murder, as my Dad would have said. In actuality, these cats are naughty little fiends who try to get away with anything they can, including chicken bones if we don’t keep a sharp eye out and a lid on the garbage can.

Their names are Toby (the tabby) and Dushenka (the calico). (Dushenka, if you’re interested, is Russian for “little soul,” but has a colloquial meaning of “sweetheart.” But I digress.) All our cats have had nicknames, from the descriptive (Mr. Underfoot), to the sickening (Toto-Booboo), to the ridiculous (Sir Boinks-a-Lot), to the obscure (Naughty Baby Fek’lhr). But when these two take up the sport of door-darting, they acquire new ones – Buddy and Ms. Whisht.

Dushenka is the primary door-darter, and in a way, I can’t blame her. Before she came to live with us, she was a mostly-stray cat in our neighborhood and it might be expected that she would want to pussyfoot around in her old haunts or beg handouts from other suckers. But we don’t let our cats outdoors for health and safety reasons, and once she joined our little family, she had to follow the rules.

Except, of course, she didn’t. One day I looked out an upstairs window and said, “That’s a pretty calico walking up the neighbor’s drive. It looks a lot like Dushenka. Hey, wait a minute…!” We would chase her, to no avail. We would stand outside and call her name fruitlessly, then give up. After about half an hour I would go back out, lean on the car, and call her name again. Shortly she would amble into the cul-de-sac and flop down on the macadam, where I could scoop her up and tell her she was a naughty girl, which she ignored. Toby got out occasionally too, but he wasn’t used to the outdoors, so he was much easier to round up.

When we moved to a new neighborhood, though, we had new worries. This wasn’t familiar territory for either cat. If they got out, they might not be able to find their way home.

Of course, it happened. Dushenka slid through the screen door opening (which I would have sworn was only two inches wide) and made for the street. Dan and I threw on pants and shoes and followed as best we could. She wandered about, inspecting the row of houses across the street as we followed along behind her. When we got within about seven feet of her, she would casually stroll into the backyard or over to the next house or into a stand of trees.

Finally, we gave up, exhausted. We were headed back to the house to start printing up Wanted posters, when I noticed that, about seven feet behind Dan, Dushenka was coming trot-trot-trot in his footsteps. She followed him all the way home and flopped down on the patio, looking smug.

She had invented a new game, which was fun only as long as we played it. We took to waiting out her occasional escapes until she had had enough boredom and come home, usually in about 30-45 minutes.

Still, our goal was for her not to get out in the first place. Now I have to stand guard when either one of us opens the door. Dushenka has learned that when I take up position, clap my hands, and loudly hiss, “whisht,” she is to remove herself to another part of the house, or at least stand back six feet.

I then engage in a little monologue. “Don’t even think about it, Missy. I have my eye on you! [making the gesture where you point at your own eyes and then theirs] You’re thinking about it. I can tell. Don’t make me whisht you! ‘Cause I will!” While I’m at it, I pin Toby down. “You too, Buddy. Don’t you get any ideas either. Whisht!” He wanders off, pretending he has no idea what I’m talking about.

They still try every once in a while, especially when Dan is bringing in an armload of packages. He has to ring the bell so I’ll know to get to the door and be ready to clap and whisht. I can’t wait until we have company over and they get a demonstration of our little routine. It may sound stupid, but it works for Ms. Whisht, Buddy, and us.

Blue Hair – Not Just for Punks Anymore

It used to be that we made fun of little old ladies with blue hair. It was the physical sign of social uselessness and impending senility, or so we thought. We mocked them in songs like “Blue Hairs Driving in My Lane” (ttto “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” in case you didn’t pick that up).

It was a thing that old women with white or silver hair did. They’d go to their hairdressers regularly and ask for a blue rinse. (Many of them pronounced it “wrench.” No, I don’t know why.) I also don’t know why they did it. Maybe it was to prevent the hair from acquiring a yellowish tinge, as it sometimes does. Maybe it was a holdover from when you would add “bluing” to laundry to get whites really clean. (Bluing is also something you do to guns to make them dark and shiny. It must work differently on sheets. But I digress.)

Then blue hair came into style – for young people, both men and women. Not the pale, ice blue of the blue rinse, either. These blues were deep and vibrant and also made the wearer unemployable when they first appeared. There are still businesses that feel that way, but a lot have surrendered to the inevitable.

It wasn’t just blue, either. Shocking pink, Day-Glo green, candy-apple red, and deep purple were also popular choices. Wearing hair in Kodachrome colors signaled that you belonged to a tribe of young people that didn’t care for convention, or were musicians, or enjoyed other body mods like piercing. Multi-colored hair went along with mohawks and other radical hairstyles to separate the free spirits from the “straights.”

Why are we now seeing older people sporting other-than-natural hair? Maybe the teens and twenty-somethings simply aged but refused to give up their signature hair. Maybe they became parents of teens and indulged in mutual hair-dying as a bonding experience. Maybe they are baby boomers with memories of letting their freak flag fly, as we used to say. Maybe they retired and no longer cared about employment. Or maybe these women reached an age when they no longer gave a crap about what other people thought of them.

Whatever the reason, they indulge in brightly colored locks. I have considered doing something colorful with my hair, though I meant to start out slowly, with those clip-on strands of pink or green, often adorned with beads or feathers. Instead, I stopped going to the hairdresser at all and let my hair grow long and gray, like my Granny’s did. (Not that I am above using someone else’s non-gray hair on special occasions.)

I still might dabble in crayon colors someday. I admire the older women who defy convention or simply create their own. Many of the women I know have indulged, and not just the artists, either. Women from all walks of life have jumped on the trend and now sport outrageously colored locks. I have the impression that young people enjoy seeing this, but I’m not altogether sure. Maybe the teens will go back to natural hair colors in reaction. The seniors may have stolen the style completely.

Perhaps this trend will fade, like so many others, and seem as ridiculous in old photos as the big hair that almost destroyed the ozone layer from all the hairspray. I prefer to think that seniors are going to continue rocking this look as long as they can and, as new populations reach senior status, they will join in and let their freak flags fly, too!

 

Halloween? Bah, Humbug!

I hate Halloween.

Mind you, I have no problem with the pagan event (Samhain) overtaking the religious one (the eve of All Saints Day).

I have no problem with skeleton cookies and other trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

I have no problem with children dressing up as witches, vampires, devils, or anything else they want to be, whether it smacks of evil or not. (I do hate the “sexy” trend in adult costumes. Sexy crayon. Sexy Mr. Rogers. (No, really.) Whoever thinks these up has too much time on their hands and too much weird on their brains.)

What I hate is the trick-or-treating. (It should really be called treat-or-vandalism.)

When I was doing the trick-or-treating, it was different, of course. There were still difficulties. I wear glasses, and back in the days of plastic dime-store masks, my choices were to wear the glasses but have the mask slip around and make me functionally blind or to wear the mask without glasses and be functionally blind.

Later on, I put together my own costumes out of old clothing and other things around the house. That was fun, though occasionally baffling. I think most people guessed “gypsy” from the bandana and necklace of gold coins, but what they made of the pink flowered dress and tan plush toy snake I just don’t know. Even I don’t remember what that was supposed to be. (The g*psy outfit came long before we all learned about cultural appropriation and ethnic slurs. But I digress.)

Around that time, the first round of tainted candy scares went through, when children took their goodie bags to the ER to be x-rayed for razor blades and had to throw out apples, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade fudge. That took a certain something out of the playfulness. Halloween parties became a trend, where treats could be supervised and stupid party games involving cold spaghetti and peeled grapes could be played. I think those parties have now taken over from door-to-door begging.

My mother loved the trick-or-treating. She would ooh and aah over the cute little kids and their costumes. What she didn’t like were the teenage boys who went around with pillowcases and didn’t even bother to dress as anything. They didn’t even smear on charcoal beards and pretend to be hobos. (Mom always kept a special bowl of last year’s left-over bubblegum just for them. It was unpleasant, but not actually poisonous.)

I think I started hating trick-or-treating when my Mom got older and couldn’t pop up and down to answer the door, so I had to do the popping and dispensing of candy and old bubblegum and describing of the costumes. But I did it for her.

Later, when I was on my own, I lived in upstairs apartments and other locales that didn’t see a lot of costumed traffic, so I had time to think it over and discover how much I disliked the custom.

Over the years, I’ve grown more and more antisocial, nearly to the point of waving my cane at youngsters and calling them “whippersnappers.” We live in a cul-de-sac at the very back of the neighborhood, so we don’t get many visitors anyway. My husband always buys too much candy and we eat our favorites both before and after the fact. (I have to remind him not to get Butterfingers. I hate Butterfingers.)

Actually, buying too much candy is a defense mechanism for him. One year we didn’t have enough, and he didn’t even have enough loose change for everyone. As the kids were departing in sorrow, he yelled out the door in desperation, “Does anyone want some Coke?” He meant the soft drink, but the shocked look on their faces was priceless.

Now I simply refuse to participate, curmudgeon that I am. I stay in the back of the house and turn off the porchlight, the universal signal for “Don’t stop here. Keep moving.” (Though I don’t know why we bother with porchlights, as trick-or-treating is now always done during daylight hours to cut down on car accidents and candy-muggings.)

These days I’m the one with knees that don’t like popping up and down or creaking up and down, really. I get depressed when I see how many little girls have bought into the pink princess-y thing. Opening the door makes me tense, as we have a cat who is a door-darter. Every other year my husband says, “I did it last year; now it’s your turn.” Sorry, not falling for that one. If you like it, fine. If you don’t do it, I’ll just read a nice zombie novel like Feed to mark the occasion.

This year there is a slightly encouraging lately – having a teal-colored pumpkin outside your door if you will be giving out non-food treats, such as small toys, colored pencils, glow sticks, and the like. It will cut down on food-allergy-related deaths, but it will also result in a lot of stomped-on teal pumpkins. The older kids already have made a sport of stomping pumpkins and running. Imagine their annoyance at receiving a pinwheel or a Koosh ball.

The start of the pumpkin-stomping craze was when I stopped decorating too. You can save Christmas ornaments from year to year, but last year’s pumpkins are just sad. I suppose I could find some nice cobwebs in the basement, but getting them intact to the windows upstairs would be difficult.

Honestly, I could just skip Halloween and be perfectly happy. In fact, I do and I am. Call me a spoil-sport or a party-pooper if you will, but spoiling sports and pooping parties are how I celebrate.

 

 

Fun With Dictionaries. No, Really.

When I was a kid, I had one of those small, plastic record players that came with small, plastic records of children’s songs. One yellow plastic disk had a song on it about dictionaries. I still remember it.

“Oh, the dic-dic-dictionary/is very necessary./Any word that you can cook up/you can look up./Pick the book up.” It also included a verse exhorting children to look up the words “dromedary” and “estuary.” Or maybe “actuary.” The sound reproduction was not that great. Neither word is one that I needed to know until much later in life, but I went through childhood with them stuck in my brain.  For that matter, they still are.

Also stuck in my brain is a dictionary adventure from slightly later in my childhood. Like many – perhaps most – of you, I ventured to the fount of all knowledge to look up “dirty” words. I didn’t find them all (I didn’t know them all at that point), but I found one that made a distinct impression on me. To this day, I can quote the definition of “fart” word for word: “an anal emission of intestinal gasses, especially when audible.” In other words, what was called a “poot” in our household, though that was not listed as a synonym.

There was one dictionary in history that caused quite an uproar, and it was largely (though not exclusively) caused by a different four-letter word: ain’t. Webster’s Third was not the first to include “ain’t” – even Webster’s Second did that. But Web3, notorious for downgrading (or I guess upgrading) usage labels, no longer listed the word as “illiterate” or “substandard,” but merely “colloquial,” or usable in regular conversation, though not in formal speech.

Headlines abounded: “Ain’t Ain’t Wrong, Says Webster’s.” Lexicographers were incensed and language mavens had the vapors. Not to mention the grammarians, who really got their undies in a bundle. The only people not freaking out were the linguists, who considered “ain’t” “nonstandard,” which was their nicer way of saying “substandard.”

(Lexicographers, linguists, and grammarians are different species, whose nether garments bunch at different sorts of things. Let me know if you want to know the difference. I’m lots of fun at parties. But I digress.)

Speaking of parties, there is a nifty party game that can be played with a dictionary, if you’re trapped at a party with no drinks, food, or music. It’s called Fictionary and bears no relation to Pictionary, which at least can get raucous.

For Fictionary, one person, acting as moderator, wields the Webster’s and selects a suitably obscure word. Each participant writes an imaginary definition on a slip of paper, while the moderator writes out the actual definition. The papers are then collected and read aloud. Participants vote on which is the correct definition. If a bogus definition wins out over the real one, that player gets a point. Hilarity ensues.

(The secret to winning a point is to start your fake definition with “of or pertaining to.”)

And speaking of word games, there’s Scrabble (aka Words with Friends if you’re among the techno-literate, which if you’re playing Fictionary you’re probably not).

A fascinating book (for those like me who are fascinated by such things) is Word Freak – not my autobiography, but instead a searing look into the dark underbelly of competitive Scrabble. For those who never thought competitive Scrabble was a thing or that it had a dark underbelly, it is and it does.

Now, of course, dictionaries have been replaced by the computer and particularly the internet. Among the most useful and colorful sites is the Urban Dictionary, where you can find the definition of words like “yeet,” though not its past tense “yote.” (I still don’t know what the past participle is. “Yoten” is what I recommend, though I’ve never written or spoken a sentence where it was needed.)

The Urban Dictionary proved useful to me once when a character on House, M.D. (okay, it was House) used the term “squish mitten.” I pretty much got the meaning from context but felt a need to verify it, just for accuracy’s sake.

Actually, the internet is a good place to get your lexicography. The language changes constantly and rapidly, so the only place you can really keep up with it is online. Although I think it’s fair to say that “fart” hasn’t changed much, is still spelled and pronounced the same way, and still has the definition that made such an impression on me as a kid.