Tag Archives: humor

Shopaholics Unite!

We talk about shopaholics the way we talk about alcoholics – as though it were some sort of addiction, presumably one that can be treated through a 12-step group (though I’ve never actually heard of Shop Anon). Alas, that’s not the case. Those of us who have spending problems largely have to go it alone. Our friends are more likely to enable us than to talk us out of it.

In the past, I’ve had spending sprees that focused on music. I still buy CDs occasionally, despite the fact that most music is now in the form of downloadable mp3’s. I tried to fight my urges by, first, buying CDs secondhand and second, dividing them into columns, or rather, stacks.

There was a previously-owned music shop (the music was previously owned, not the shop) in town called Second Time Around. Way back when, they sold vinyl record albums. My high school friends and I haunted the place and picked up music by our favorite artists. (At the time, we never considered that we were depriving those artists of royalties. Later in life, I was once inspired to send a quarter to an author I knew because I had picked up one of his books in a used bookstore. But I digress.)

I wandered through Second Time Around, picking up everything that caught my eye (or ear) and piling it up in my little basket. Then I would retreat to a window ledge and sort the CDs into different piles: Must Have, Would Be Nice, and Don’t Really Need. I would buy the Must-Have discs and a couple of the Would-Be-Nice ones, but abandon the Don’t-Really-Needs. Using this strategy, I arrived at a total that, while not totally within my budget, missed it by only a little.

This strategy has served me well over the years. Now the baskets are virtual, but I still fill them up with whatever attracts me and delete as needed (or not needed).

Over the past months, though, my overspending has kicked into overdrive and my doorstep has filled up with Amazon and UPS packages. Nowadays, I over-buy items we may need for our trip abroad (planned for the spring), such as power converters, sweaters, scarves, umbrellas, and guidebooks.

The other item I’ve been jonesing for is pajamas. I work at home, at my computer, so pajamas are my daily uniform. I have shelves of pajamas in my office closet and a few more upstairs in my dresser. I have nightdresses, nightshirts, flannel pajama sets, fleece pajama sets, shorty pajama sets for the summer, and a number of pairs of pajama bottoms that I can pair with the nightshirts for in-between weather.

Pajamas are one purchase that works well with the “stack in the basket and weed” strategy. My husband has been helping me curb my spending. He asks helpful things like “Is there enough money in the bank account?” and “Do you need more pajamas?” I explain to him that the pajamas, particularly out-of-season ones, are on sale at really good prices.

One thing that does keep me from buying pajamas with such wild abandon is the shipping prices. If the shipping costs more than the pajamas, I wildly abandon them – though with regret. I suppose I could rack up the total to where I’d get free shipping, but that feels like cheating on my attempted shopping abstinence.

Travel items and pajamas, I tell myself, are not really so bad. I used to have a thing for jewelry. Now that I work at home, I never go to places where I need to wear necklaces or earrings. So, really, I can skip the jewelry and just buy pajamas. Or else found my own Shop Anon group – perhaps with my husband, who has a comparable problem with seed catalogs.

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What the Cool Kids Do

Playing Wordle is the newest obsession among the cool kids. And I have never been a cool kid.

Let me say first that I am not in. This screenshot is taken from a friend’s Facebook feed. He tried nobly to resist the lure of Wordle, but ultimately gave in and got in.

For those not in the know, Wordle is the newest internet craze, a word game (almost certainly a portmanteau of “word” and “puzzle”) that asks you to guess letters and determine what the target words actually are. To me, it’s sort of like Wheel of Fortune combined with Hangman. It’s supposed to improve your general brain health.

Every day there is a new puzzle, and people post their scores on the internet. (Not everyone is happy about this. I have heard complaints from friends about the number of Wordle scores clogging up their news feeds. It does seem an awful lot like bragging, at least when their scores are low. Another friend is hoping to see “floccinaucinihilipilification” show up as one of the daily words, which seems unlikely, as the words are only five letters long. Perhaps eventually they will have a 29-letter version. But I digress.)

It’s not like I haven’t had my clickie game addictions. I used to be a devotée of Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and Bingo Blitz. I’d play several games of each nearly every day. My husband would ask me, “When are you going to be off the computer?” I would answer, “After I lose the next game.” I never bought any of the “power-ups” that cost actual money, though, which is probably why I kept losing.

I don’t know if Wordle sells hints or letters or power-ups or whatever. I didn’t know how the game designers made their money at all. I thought maybe they were selling users’ info to data mining sites or Russian trolls or something. Then I found out. The New York Times bought Wordle. I don’t need to ask how they’re going to monetize it. I used to solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle regularly, which did cost money to play. I had forgotten that I had a subscription to it, which you can get without subscribing to the actual New York Times. I only recently remembered that I had a subscription to it and started playing again, though it happens that I like the acrostics more than the actual crosswords.

(I once worked at a place where they came down on me pretty hard for solving crosswords during working hours. I justified it on the grounds that I don’t smoke and never took a cigarette break. I thought taking a puzzle break was therefore justified. The powers-that-were didn’t agree. But I digress. Again.)

In addition to the aforementioned clickie games, I have dabbled in other online games that I felt were a cut above the run-of-the-mill inane ones, ones that ask a player to build a hypothetical theme park or solve a not-so-hidden objects puzzle. Once I played a lot of Words With Friends, back when that was the thing the cool kids did. I’m a word nerd, so I did pretty well, but I learned that people who were skilled at hitting the double letter and triple word score squares could take me down.

Will I continue to be unattracted by the admittedly fascinating lure of Wordle? Or will I be like my friend and eventually say, “I’m in”?

I’ve generally reveled in my not-a-cool-kid status. Why should I give it up for Wordle? It’s not like I need another time-sink. Facebook already serves me too well at that. And I don’t need to get rid of all those game addictions only to succumb to yet another. If I want to improve my mind, I’ll just read a book.

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These Are Words?

No, I’m not going to complain about neologisms such as “yeet,” which are actually useful, even if I do have to look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Instead, I have some things to say about recent words I’ve encountered that make little sense to me or that I have misread as something else entirely. I find these words perplexing, for a variety of reasons.

One I encountered recently is “sewist,” which is easy to mistake for “sexist” if you’re skimming (or typing, if you’re very bad at it). I think it is an attempt to replace the possibly-problematic-gender-wise “seamstress.” You can’t just retrofit it to “seamster,” I guess, in the way that “actress” has been. (I must admit that it is still difficult for me to refer to Angelina Jolie or Maggie Smith as an actor. I suppose I’ll get used to it, though it’s going to take me a while. But I digress.) There’s always “sewer,” I suppose, though that’s as unlikely to catch on as “sewist,” probably because, pronounced differently, it already has an entrenched (sorry not sorry) meaning.

I must point out that there is another, already existing, term that conveys the same content in an equally nonsexist manner: “fabric artist.” Admittedly, it does have the drawback of being two words and four syllables, which is difficult for speakers to handle in this fast-paced modern world. But the term also conveys the idea of someone skilled in making beautiful things (as well as useful ones) in a way that “sewist” just doesn’t.

The next candidate for Worst New Word is “sanism,” which I thought at first was shorthand (or a mistyping) of “satanism.” After reading further in the passage, I realized that “sanism” was one of the many “-ism” words that refer to offensive, discriminatory practices – like ageism, sexism, lookism (not kidding), racism, colorism (which is different from racism), ableism, and the like.

“Sanism” refers to the oppressive dominance of sanity, over what or whom, I’m still trying to determine. Surely not insanity, which is, these days, a legal term (not guilty by reason of) and not one that should be used to refer to people with mental health issues. Perhaps it refers to the presumption that everyone is sane until proven otherwise, which sounds to me like another class (sorry not sorry) of privilege.

Perusing Merriam-Webster’s words that were added to the dictionary in 2021, one comes across “copypasta” (which does not refer to stealing recipes); “teraflop” (which is not an unsuccessful dinosaur); “halotherapy” (which is not a religious term); “hard pass” (which is not a football term); and “gig worker” (which is not someone who spears frogs).

Of course, none of these may catch on the way “truthiness” did after it was introduced on The Stephen Colbert Show. It was just so darn useful, and resonated with those observing the political scene in 2020, when M-W noticed the word.

One other word that has been resurrected this year, though not with its previous meaning, is “oobleck.” This, of course, was coined by the illustrious Dr. Seuss (one of my first (and still) all-time favorite authors) in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where it referred to a kind of goopy green snow. Now it means a substance made from cornstarch and water that behaves like a solid at times and like a liquid at others.

Personally, I approve. I think Dr. Seuss would have been proud. Or chuffed, if he were British.

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We Were Girl Scouts Once … and Young

Yes, I know. The main thing that most people associate with Girl Scouts is cookies. And those are certainly one important part of the Girl Scout experience. But they’re far from the only thing, or even the most important.

Officially, cookie sales promote goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. All the money raised stays with local councils and troops. Nowadays, Girl Scouts no longer sell door-to-door as we did back in the day. Instead, Scouts do phone and online selling, or set up tables in front of stores and in parking lots, often waving signs to attract buyers.

I was a Girl Scout from Brownies through Seniors. And yes, I sold cookies. (Many scouts had their fathers and mothers take the sign-up sheets into work, where coworkers often ordered their goodies. My father wouldn’t do it because, he said, he worked for a government institution and it wouldn’t be proper. But I digress.)

Although the activities that cookie sales funded were many and varied, my favorite – even more than earning merit badges – was camping. I wrote about camping a few years ago. As I described it:

There we were, bedding down on sleeping bags in our tents, the cold, hard ground only a layer of canvas or plastic away. When we sprang out the next morning, our lithe teen forms dressed in green shorts and Vibram-soled boots, we hoisted our backpacks and hiked over hill and dale and rocky trails, singing optimistic songs and breathing deep of the fresh air. We ate granola as we walked.

Later that day, we built a fire and sat upon logs, tree stumps, or little water repellent squares while our dinner cooked slowly, smoke curled around our heads, and mosquitos had their meal before we had ours. Then it was more songs, jokes, stories, and talk till it was time to pour water on the fire, make sure the ashes were cool, and return to our sleeping bags, where, after hours more chat (not the electronic kind, either) we dozed off.

That was, indeed, one style of camping we did. We also went to official Girl Scout camping facilities instead of state parks. I have vivid memories of those adventures, some terrific and others less so.

There was one decidedly memorable state park trip. We set up our tents, which we shared, four scouts per. After dark, we settled in our tents to tell stories and jokes. The girls in my tent read aloud from the book The Hobbit, to the glow of flashlights, lanterns, and the occasional candle (one thing we had learned was how not to set one’s tent on fire and what to do if we did).

A sudden storm came up and turned violent, with rivers of rainwater flowing through our camp, and indeed through our tents, our candle threatening to sail away. As we read the book, we were at a passage describing a storm rife with heavy wind and rain. Every time the storm in the book became more severe, so did the storm in our camp. It was eerie. Eventually, we decided we should stop reading before we were completely washed away. The next morning we had to cope with damp sleeping bags and muddy ground. But that’s what we did. We were scouts.

Other memories were less dramatic and less pleasurable. There was the time we ate “brontoburgers,” hamburger patties wrapped in bacon and then in foil and cooked in the embers of a dying campfire. The next morning we learned a valuable lesson about the inadvisability of eating meat that was less than thoroughly cooked.

Official Girl Scout camps had large tents on raised wooden bases, so we didn’t have to worry about rainwater. We had camping names like Rover and Binky and ones based on the Lord of the Rings (Strider) or MASH (Trapper, Hawkeye), which were popular at the time. We learned songs (some of them from Free to Be (does anyone else remember that?), as well as traditional songs that must have been around since the invention of scouting (“Make new friends, but keep the old./One is silver and the other’s gold.”) The best times were when we became camp counselors, in charge of younger scouts for a month at a time.

Those were the days, never to return. But now some of my sister scouts are grandmothers and I buy my cookies from their offspring.

My Personal Style

I didn’t think I had a personal style, until I invented one for myself. I’ve never been a Victim of Fashion or a Fashionista. Maybe an Unfashionista, but that’s about it.

Ever since college, jeans have been my uniform. (Except when I worked at a Frisch’s and had to wear a real uniform, or when I worked in an office and had to dress like a Respectable Business Lady, or now that I work at home and wear nightshirts or flannel pjs all day. Come to think of it, I really only have two pairs of jeans now. But I digress. Whenever I go out, unless it’s to a funeral, I wear jeans.)

My mother sewed and she made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid. When I got to the college-jeans stage, she made me western shirts (the kind with the yokes and the pearl snaps) and patchwork vests. Sometimes she got whimsical and made me something special. I particularly loved the Robin Hood hat she made me, which I wore to Beginning Archery class. (The instructor just rolled her eyes.)

Actually, my fashion “sense” was pretty well summed up by what I considered appropriate winter outerwear. I rocked an authentic army-surplus, lined, olive drab jacket (with the snorkel hood lined with real fur). The capacious pockets held my wallet, my student ID, and my driver’s license, and sometimes a paperback book. Snowmobile boots completed the ensemble.

So what goes with jeans? T-shirts, of course! I have quite a collection, many of which I purchased at science fiction conventions. Many of them were lost in the tornado that hit our house. I still remember fondly the one with a picture of the Death Star and the caption “Ceci n’est pas une lune,” which is really hysterical if you know Star Wars, French, and art. Yes, it’s obscure, but when I saw it, I couldn’t do without it.

For a while, I went through a Banana Republic phase. (This was before they sold out to The Gap, for which I never forgave them.) Adventure clothing seemed the ultimate in cool to me. Plus, everything was khaki or olive drab, which made accessorizing easy – camo scarves, wooden beads, and amber earrings. (I fondly remember driving to Erlanger, KY, near the Cincinnati airport, where the B.R. outlet lived. The first time I got to an actual Banana Republic store, in La Jolla, I hyperventilated. If I could afford full price, which I usually couldn’t, I shopped their catalogues, or sometimes just read the awesome travel stories and daydreamed.)

When I did wear skirts, I chose the midi-length (mid-calf), unless I could only find business clothes that hit me right at the knee. I even admit that in high school, I wore granny boots with midi-dresses, which about summed up my fashion sense at the time. (I also had a red and beige gaucho outfit, about which the less said the better. It even came with a red gaucho hat.)

Then there’s my purses. They were always large enough to carry one or more paperback books. Until my back gave out, of course, and I had to switch to an e-reader. Now a regular-sized purse accommodates over 1,300 books. When I saw the slouchy pouches that women were carrying a few years ago, I fell in love. Not only would they hold books, but snacks, hats, phone, wallet (if I carried one, which I don’t, my money being tucked into my jeans pockets).

Anyway, if I should ever give up my jeans (and couldn’t wear my nightshirts and flannels), I would have to go with a mish-mosh that I invented myself. Midi-skirts, still, I think. Keep the t-shirts. Ballet flats (not Birkenstocks). Patchwork whenever possible. Camo accessories and lots of semiprecious beads. I’d keep my boring navy slacks and top for funerals, of course. (During my Business Lady phase, I owned a black Liz Claiborne dress that I bought on clearance. For a while, it was my go-to funeral dress, but I had to wear a jacket over it, as the back was a little low-cut. Awful for summertime funerals.)

I can just imagine the get-ups I could create. And I’ve even invented a name for the look. I call it Boho Hobo.

Growing Old Together

No, this isn’t going to be a post about me and my husband, although it’s true that we’re growing older (every day) and we’re still together (after nearly 40 years).

Instead, I’m going to write about growing older with my cat, Dushenka. (Dushenka, incidentally, is Russian for “Little Soul” and is used colloquially to mean “Sweetheart” or “Darling.”)

I once had a cat (Louise) who lived to be 21. That’s rather old for a cat. I had her with me since she was a kitten. While she wasn’t mine for all of my life, I was hers for all of hers. Figuring cat-to-human years is tricky, but she was definitely a senior cat. But I digress.

I don’t really know how old Dushenka was when she came to us, but the vet records show we first brought her in in 2012. Assuming she was two or maybe three when she chose us for her family, that makes her 11 or 12 years old, or approximately the same age as I am now in cat years. We are aging together, and not always gracefully.

In fact, “gracefully” is a memory for both of us. Every time she jumps down from her perch by the window, her back legs don’t work so well and she bonks her little bottom on the floor. To get up on the perch, she now has to take a route from one of the chairs in my study and make a smaller leap, rather than jumping up from the ground.

I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes my legs don’t work right either, and more than once I’ve gotten up off the floor by using a chair as an intermediary.

When cats age, they often get gray or white hairs on their chin or around their muzzle. Dushenka avoids this by having a completely white chin and muzzle already. (It should be noted that all my profile pictures were taken mumblemurph years ago.)

I get cold very easily and need sweaters or blanks tucked around me. So does Dushenka. Her favorite napping spots are on a chair that contains one or more of my sweaters or a pillow that makes her look like a princess. Her favorite sleeping spot is in our bed, curled up in a little nest made of the comforter, or on top of my husband (who radiates heat like a fuzzy stove).

Dushenka is, however, not too old to play sometimes. She likes “get that string” and is pretty quick at it. I like playing “get that string” too, from the other end of the string.

She likes sun and fresh air, sitting or sleeping on her perch when the sun is shining and I’ve opened the window for her to sniff the wonders outside. She watches cat TV, also known as “I wanna bite the birdie.” I like the feeling of sun on my old bones too, and the fresh air, as long as I have one of the sweaters. I watch human TV and enjoy “I wanna bite the birdie” when they’re fixing poultry on “Chopped.”

She does not go outside, primarily because I want to keep her safe from fleas, diseases, and marauding cars. I stay inside to ward off pandemics and how people-y the outside world is.

Still, it would be foolish not to say that Dushenka and I are both on the decline. She will likely reach the end of her life a few years earlier than I do, given the cat-year-progression thing. And when that happens, I will have to think hard about whether to get another cat. I surely wouldn’t want to adopt a young kitten and leave her all alone at some point in the future.

Maybe a senior cat. They always need homes. And we can grow older together.

 

Nature Red in Claw and Sting

Yes, I know the quotation is “nature red in tooth and claw” and it refers primarily to beasts that have those appurtenances, like lions and tigers and bears. But those don’t scare me much, because I seldom run into them in my day-to-day life.

(There was the time, years ago, when a group that should have known better brought a baby lion to the mall and offered to take pictures of people holding it. I couldn’t resist. They handed me the bundle of joy, which weighed at least 50 pounds. It proceeded to lick my ear. Afraid that the lion was just testing whether I was tasty enough to eat, the handlers swooped in and grabbed the lion, but not before they took this picture. But I digress.)

I will readily admit to being afraid of bees – an apiphobe (which, despite appearances, does not mean someone afraid of apes. That would be a pithecophobe.) If a bee gets near me, I freeze and scream until someone braver shooes it away. If it lands on my drink or my person, game over. Even the gentlest of bees terrifies me. My husband swears that carpenter bees don’t sting humans, for example. But I know wasps do, and one once got into the house while Dan was away. Now whenever Dan sees a flying insect in the area, he tries to convince me it was a butterfly or a dragonfly.

In fact, some people will tell you that’s why I got married – so I would have someone who could defend me from airborne attacks. And it would be hard to deny. When he wasn’t home and a wasp got in, I had to hit it with a shoe, then scoop it into a bottle with a lid and take it outside where, if it lived through all that, it could choose a different victim.

Ironically, I took beekeeping in college, in hopes of overcoming my fear. It didn’t work. I was okay during lectures, when we looked at diagrams and tasted samples of honey. But I had to take Valium to go to lab, where we interacted with real, live bees.

But now we have new threats. First came the killer bees, also called Africanized bees, that somehow lost their way and were invading the US through Mexico, last I heard. I think a border wall would have been sensible then, not later, when human beings were the supposed threats. Somehow they never made it to Ohio – at least that I know of. (My husband may have been censoring the news.)

Then came the 17-year locusts. (I’ve had to endure these twice in my life.) I don’t know if they actually bite or sting, but they have a terrible reputation. If they can be a Biblical plague, I might as well be scared of them. As far as I can see, though, the most harm they produce (to people, not to crops) is to drop down from trees in massive numbers and make an icky squishing sound when you happen to step on one, which is unavoidable. Seventeen years ago, I knew a woman who carried an umbrella to protect herself from the falling ones, though I don’t know how she avoided the squooshing noises.

This past year came the murder hornets. I could never steel myself to even read anything about them, but I assume they tied people up, stuffed them in the trunks of cars, stung them, then rolled the bodies down the nearest ravine. At least, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

What will come next? Serial killer scorpions? Kidnapper tarantulas? Predatory lady bugs that look all cute and harmless until they attack? By now, I don’t trust any insect (or arachnid) to stay in its place, which is at least ten feet away from me. Not that I would want to touch them with a ten-foot pole.

 

There’s a Redbud in My Shower!

I love plants and flowers. I really do. As long as they stay outdoors, where they belong, as nature intended. Or sit politely on windowsills, if indoors.

What I object to are plants and flowers that refuse to know their place.

I really shouldn’t blame the botanical specimens for this. What I object to is my husband putting them where they don’t belong. My husband brings home rescue plants.

(Both of us believe in adopting rescue animals. Adopt, don’t shop is our motto. We have adopted dogs and cats (mostly cats), all the way from Dumpster divers to pets that adopted us. But I digress.)

Dan gets these wayward plant specimens from work. No, he doesn’t work at a nursery, but a big box store. They do have a gardening section, though, and in it they have plants. And when the plants look the least bit discouraged or haven’t bloomed in a while, that’s when my husband swoops in and carries them off. Occasionally they make him pay a buck or two, but usually they were destined for the Dumpster (making Dan a Dumpster diver, too, I guess).

Sometimes the plants he brings home have little ceramic pots – often chipped or cracked. Other times, he brings home plants with tiny bare roots or ones with potting soil clinging to them. Fortunately, Dan has a robust collection of dark green plastic containers that he uses for the pot-less orphans.

It’s not the actual plants I object to. Dan has brought home some truly gorgeous ones – orchids and African violets and night-blooming jasmine and leafy green things that threaten to take over wherever they’re planted.

And unfortunately, where they’re planted is often the bathroom. When we had a regular tub, Dan used it as a potting table (or trough, really). He thereby acquired the chore of scrubbing out the tub.

Now, however, we have walk-in showers with lots of little ledges designed to hold soaps and shampoos and exfoliants and loofahs and such. They are instead filled – you guessed it – with plants, from the flourishing to the bedraggled to the defunct. (He claims he was experimenting to see whether plants would grow under the bathroom’s LED lighting. They won’t.) He waters them by the simple expedient of showering with them. (We have two walk-in showers, and so far the greenery hasn’t invaded the second one.)

They also show up in other places – in the sink or hanging from the towel bar, for instance. I swear I once almost wiped my ass with a philodendron leaf from a plant that was completely obscuring the toilet paper roll.

Nor has Dan stopped with taking over the shower and the windowsills. (I grudgingly allowed him to place one small, easily-cared-for plant on the windowsill in my study.) A number of his botanical friends seem to have taken root on the coffee table. Well, not taken root, actually, but you get the idea. This is his temporary repotting station. He claims he’s going to set up a real one in the basement. (I’ll believe it when I see it and I haven’t seen it yet.)

I shouldn’t complain too much about the rescue plants, I suppose. The seed catalogs have started to arrive and Dan will most assuredly negotiate his orders with me.

Can I spend $200?

Can you keep it down to $75?

$150?

$75 now and $25 more when we get paid again?

At least those will mostly be planted outside, unless he has to store them in the refrigerator till the ground unfreezes. Or unless they need potting in the aforementioned shower, sink, or living room. Then it’s time to offer up fervent prayers for no more freezes.

Freeze is also an issue in the fall, when Dan needs to bring in the potted plants that adorn the front stoop. I gather daily weather reports and hold the door open for him as he brings in banana trees and other large specimens, being vigilant about our rescue cat door-darter. (At least the foliage doesn’t have that bad habit.)

I must admit that the plants and flowers add a certain ambience to the house. Just not to the bathroom.

 

Dressing for Work

Of course, since I now work at home, I wear pajamas. Or maybe scrubs, as my latest pair of pjs looks like I could walk into any doctor’s office and riffle through their files. I wouldn’t be caught unless someone noticed that the cute sheep in hats and scarves were saying Baaa Humbug.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today. Once (or twice) I worked in a regular office where I wore regular clothes – skirts, blouses, sweaters, slacks. If I was lucky or awake that day, they even matched. I was also fond of drop-waist dresses. I had at least four, in solid colors and florals.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today either. Once I was assigned to interview a woman for a temporary job. She answered my questions shyly and monosyllabically. Desperate, I asked her a version of one of my go-to questions, “If you could dress up as anything at all for Halloween, what would you be, and why?”

(This was a version of a question I always swore I’d ask an official giving a press conference. Once I was able to ask my remedial English students to write a paragraph on the topic, and they all wanted to be birds of prey or cats of prey. Once I asked Jenny Lawson this question and she said “a tapeworm,” because she wouldn’t have to walk around and people would feed her, which I guess shows you how her mind works. But I digress. Again.)

Back to the drab woman I was interviewing. When I asked her my Halloween costume question, she instantly lit up. “Oh, Cinderella,” she said with sparkling eyes. “The ball gown and the shoes and the carriage and the whole thing.” She waxed rhapsodic for several minutes. She didn’t get the job, but I learned that it’s sometimes the goofy question that can unlock a person’s personality.

Our office did dress up for Halloween, though. One memorable year, the accounting department wore white sweatsuits with black spots. Then they each put a newspaper outside their doors, colored part of it yellow with highlighter, and deposited a tootsie roll on each one. The 101 Dalmations cosplay was cute, if disgusting.

My costumes were a bit esoteric and usually no one “got them.” One year my mother had made me a floor-length nightgown in a camo pattern (my mother could be whimsical). I asked her to make a matching nightcap, powdered my hair, and went as Rambo’s Granny. No one guessed what I was. I had other notable non-successes. Once I dressed as a pirate and the office guessed I was a motorcycle mama.

One year they understood what I was, but all stepped away from me and didn’t make eye contact. I was “Indiana Jan,” complete with bullwhip. If anyone was brave enough to ask me about the bullwhip, I replied, “Oh, this old thing? We just had it around the house,” which did not detract a bit from my reputation for oddity.

Then, every Halloween, rain or shine, we had a march around the outside of the building, led by an employee who called herself the “Grand Poo-Pah.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it should have been “Grand Poo-Bah.” Those were the days!

Now, of course, I shun Halloween and all its trappings (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Yu). This year, if I answer the door at all, I’ll probably wear the Baaa Humbug scrubs.

 

Mysteries I Love and Hate

Cozy mysteries are a thing, and I do not like them. As all my friends know, I am a mystery lover – I’ve even written one, which is now making the rounds of agents.

But cozy mysteries have gone too far. These are the kinds of mysteries that take place in bed and breakfasts or bookstores, that have chefs or weather forecasters as their sleuths, and exhibit little to no blood, despite the crimes. They are called cozies, I suppose because you can cuddle up with a cup of tea and read them, safe in the knowledge that nothing really bad will happen.

And the titles! Most of them are puns – usually lame – based on whatever setting they have. I just can’t bring myself to read something called Chilled to the Cone (bakeshop), Premeditated Mortar (fixer-upper), Absence of Alice (garage sales), or The Malt in Our Stars (literary pub). The “detectives” are never real police officers, obviously. And most often the (supposed) humor and (artificial) quaintness fall flat.

I must admit to reading several cozy series many years ago. These were usually ones that had a setting I was interested in or characters that were well-rounded and well-drawn, or contained cats (sometimes as the sleuth). Susan Wittig Albert did a series based on an herbalist. Diane Mott Davidson did a cooking series, complete with recipes that I never tried. There was a series, the Amanda Pepper mysteries, that was set in a Philadelphia prep school, and the Kate Fansler series, set in the English Department of a college.

One that I used to read devotedly, but finally gave up on in disgust, was Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who mysteries starring retired newspaperman Jim Qwilleran and his two cats, Koko and Yum Yum. (I also like Mikado references.) The first three came out in the 60s, but there was an extensive hiatus until 1987, when the series reappeared and continued yearly until 2008, with The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers. I gave up in 1991, with The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, a dreary, supposedly amusing book set in the Potato Mountains, concerning a conflict between two clans known as the Spuds and the Taters. It was just too cozy for words.

Some writers are able to switch gears and write both cozies and grittier novels. Linda Barnes, for example, started with the Michael Spraggue mysteries set backstage at a theater but switched to the much more robust Carlotta Carlisle series when, as she said, Spraggue ran out of friends and relatives to be killed off. Carlisle, a former police officer, drives a cab in her off-hours but encounters plenty of hardened criminals and deaths. These I read whenever Barnes writes a new one.

The other cozy mysteries I read are the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman. They are typical in that when you read them you know that nothing terrible will happen to any of the main or even subordinate characters (who are colorful, if unbelievable). The thing that attracts me about the Mrs. Pollifax books, other than the goofy premise that she is a grandmother who works for the CIA, is the extensive travelogues of wherever her handler sends her: Mexico, Albania, Turkey, China, Zambia, Hong Kong, etc. I find her novels soothing rather than irritating, the sort of thing I read when I’m stuck in bed with a really nasty flu.

Cozy mysteries no doubt have their place in the pantheon of mystery novels. They’re certainly popular, at least. But for the most part, I’ll take Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski over Reel Murder any day. I want believable plots; well-drawn, interesting characters; crimes that make you care what happens; and real danger. Give me early Robert Parker (before he started phoning them in) or John Sandford or Laura Lippman or even the original Nero Wolfe series, for when I want vintage mystery fiction.

Of course, I read other kinds of fiction (Gregory Maguire and Handmaid’s Tale come to mind), but mystery novels hold a special place in my to-be-read list. Let’s not mess up the genre with The Good, the Bad, and the Lemon Tart.