Monday, November 30, 2009

The Feast Itself

Thanksgiving this year wasn't too frenetic, since only the four of us were at our house for the holiday. But some effort was needed to convert this 20-lb. raw bird...

... into a golden-brown bird ready to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, and again as part of the meal on Friday night, and again on Sunday as part of a soup, and again today as part of my lunch -- turkey leg, Henry VIII style, which I can do when no one else is around.

On Wednesday night, I decided that brining the turkey would be just the thing to prevent dry white meat on Thanksgiving, but it took a while to come up with a container large enough for the job. Finally I settled on a cooler we bought years ago to take on long trips, but which had actually seen few trips. Now it's found its calling as a vessel for saltwater and raw turkey.

The rest of the menu was almost too conventional for words: mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green salad, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, sparkling white grape juice. I couldn't even be bothered to open a bottle of wine this year. I did open a jar of green olives, however. It's not Thanksgiving without olives on the table. No one else ate any.

We mashed our own potatoes but didn't put as much effort into the stuffing. It wasn't cooked inside the bird. That always seemed like too much trouble. Instead, Lilly made it from a box. But it's good. Stuffing mix has improved since the early days of such products, at least in this case. So I can recommend Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix if it's stuffing you want, but aren't enough of a purist to want to go to the trouble of making it yourself.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Five Guys, Mount Prospect, Illinois

The day before Thanksgiving we discovered that we still needed to buy a few things to make the occasion more-or-less complete. Such as a turkey. Just after dark the girls and I found ourselves near a large retail store in Mount Prospect, Illinois, a town we don’t visit all that often. They were lobbying for McDonald's before entering the large retailer. I was resisting the suggestion but didn’t have an alternative until I saw some bright red letters: FIVE GUYS.

I didn’t realize that Five Guys had any locations in the Chicago area, vaguely believing it to be an East Coast chain, just as Fatburger belongs on the West Coast and Chick-fil-A belongs to the South (though neither of those really do). Shows you what I know. Turns out that there are seven Five Guys within a 25-mile radius of my zip code, one in fact closer than the Mount Prospect location.

It's good to be open to serendipity, and soon McDonald's was forgotten amid the sizzle of meat on the Five Guys grill and the fine smell of potatoes frying in peanut oil. The menu is simple: hamburgers or cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, fries and sodas. The decor is simple too, but striking in its use of two colors, red and white. Red and white lamps hung from the ceiling, which was painted white but also which had a bright red vent running the length of it. A strip with a red-and-white checkerboard pattern ran all the way across the wall, and the signs on the wall quoting favorable reviews of Five Guys used to the checkerboard color scheme as well.

There were even signs like that in the bathroom, over the urinal. "Best burgers and fries in the known universe! -- The Freedonia Times" was a typical sort of message. They reminded me of the brief critic quotes that ads for movies use, except that they lauded Five Guys.

Ann had a grilled cheese. She doesn't always finish her food, but she ate the whole thing in this case, which speaks well for its flavor (she called it "tastiful"). Lilly and I had the tastiful hamburgers, whose distinction are hand-formed patties.

But the fries were the star attraction as far as I was concerned. Stacked strategically to separate the ordering- and order picking up-areas from the dining area are 50-lb. bags of raw potatoes done up in Five Guys red-and-white, with Five Guys labeling on them. They're practically the first things you notice upon entering; otherwise, you'd run into them.

Written on a white board near the cash registers was, "Today's potatoes are from Shelley, Idaho." Located on the Snake River in east-central Idaho, Shelley is apparently a place that takes its spuds seriously. According to Wiki at least, "The mascot for the city's high school is 'King Russet,' a russet-burbank potato that wears a crown, robe and scepter." It's also the location of the Idaho Annual Spud Day. By eating Shelley spuds, I was glad to do my little part to support that bit of Idahoiana.

Five Guys does well by its genuine Idaho potatoes, making them into the best fast-food fries I've had in a long time. Not quite as good as the fresh fries Gold Coast Dogs on State Street in Chicago used to make, or the cones of fries you can get from carts on the streets of Brussels, but almost as good, and those are pretty high fry standards.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Interesting Than a Holiday Inflatable

Regards for Thanksgiving. I'll be posting again near the end of November, at least to comment on the beginning of meteorological winter, which is December 1. That day is also the feast of St. Eligius, patron of coin collecting and numismatics, among many other metal-related activities.

One of the houses on our block has hung a net a lights from their roof of their two-story house down nearly to the ground. This is the first time they've ever done so, though they aren't new to the house. It is a tricolor flag. France? No, the stripes are horizontal. Russia? No, the colors are red, blue and white, from top to bottom, rather than white, blue and red. It's the simplified Serbian national flag.

I don't know these neighbors, but there's no reason they can't be Serbs. This is metro Chicago, after all. But I wonder whether they celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar, or go along with the Gregorian, or have two Christmases. In case any, they're American in the sense that they've decorated early. And nothing says Merry Christmas like the Serbian flag.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Or Maybe Ostrich For Thanksgiving

Lilly has declared for turkey this year for the Thanksgiving meal. She's the only one in the house with a strong opinion, so we'll probably go along with that. Was last year ham? Or ostrich? I don't even remember. I told her she needed to help with the mashed potatoes if she wants those, and she said she'd mash them. It might be harder to persuade her to peel the things.

I've been noticing people outside putting up Christmas decorations lately. Since it has a way of snowing around here around December 1 -- and the weather wonks say that snow on Thanksgiving itself is a real possibility this year -- that's probably a good idea. Not as many people are lighting them yet, though a handful of eager homeowners are.

So I took the outdoor extension cord from the garage and attached it to the lights that I left clinging to the front-yard bushes since last year. They're composed of two small strings of lights, some years old, and it turned out they couldn't take the elements over so many months. They don't work any more. Or maybe they're just being true to their cheap made-in-China natures, and wouldn't have worked no matter where I stored them.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Item From the Past: The Bayeux Tapestry

Google News ran this tag line for an ABC News story this morning: "Shortly after making his first ever spacewalk, Bresnik, 42, experienced another first: His wife gave birth to a baby girl back in Texas while he orbited 200 feet above the earth."

I clicked through to the story itself, and of course the text read the correct "200 miles." But I had to laugh at the thought of the new dad astronaut floating by office buildings and over treetops. You'd think he could have come to Earth from only 200 feet to be with his wife at a time like this.

That's another thing. Regarding the capitalization of Earth, as in the planet Earth, the AP Style Guide says, "Capitalize earth only when using it in association with the names of other astronomical bodies that are capitalized," which seems to imply that if referring to the planet to by itself -- say, "Major Tom never came back to earth" -- lower case it. That's never made any sense to me. When talking about dirt, lower case. When talking about the orb on which we live, upper case, same as the continents, countries, states, cities, towns and streets on which we live. What do the other planets have to do with it?

Fifteen years ago we visited Bayeux, France, which I remember being a delightful little town. We went for three reasons: ultimately to catch a ferry across the Channel from Cherbourg, but before that to see D-Day beaches and other related sites, and to take a good look at the Bayeux Tapestry. I can't remember when I first heard of it. Maybe it was from Paul Freedman, formerly a professor at Vanderbilt, now one at
Yale, from whom I learned a great many things about medieval Europe, some of which I remember even now.

The Bayeux Tapestry is exhibited in a revamped 17th-century seminary, now a museum entirely devoted to it. Note the ticket refers to Queen Matilda's tapestry; Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife, is sometimes associated with its creation. No doubt school groups and the like show up from time to time to see the tapestry, along with some tourists in the summer, but on a weekday in November, I was the only one there besides a guard (Yuriko wanted to rest, and hadn't come). It's behind glass, or probably sturdy clear plastic, illuminated in a way that doesn't harm the fabric, I suppose, but which still makes it vividly easy to see. Bishop Odo himself probably didn't have such good lighting.

It's an astonishing, intricate piece of work -- actually an embroidery, despite the name -- made even more so for being a 900-year-old graphic novel. One that continues to inspire:

The link to the animated Bayeux Tapestry, for Facebook readers.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two Cents Worth of Mad Men

Another new regulation just promulgated by Federal Trade Commission regarding bloggers: Everyone's now required to post at least once about Mad Men. Gushing praise isn't mandatory, but if you have pretensions of being an intellectual, anything else is frowned on.

So this is my post. The Spindletop of praise for the series from the chattering classes, especially those commentators about the same age as Don Draper's older children, made me previously suspect that it's overrated. But I got around to renting the first few episodes on DVD recently, and it turned out to be high-quality entertainment. Not the absolute best thing ever on television (that would be this), but well worth watching for any number of reasons, most of which have been discussed in exhaustive and maybe exhausting detail elsewhere, even such minutiae as the typeface used in the series.

The show's high-sheen verisimilitude has been much noted, and for good reason, as has the way it hammers home the point that people behaved differently back then, at least about certain visible vices, a number of now-discredited social mores, and various questions of personal safety. Occasionally the show exaggerates this to the point of unbelievability. Not for a minute did I believe that Betty Draper (or very many mothers at all, even in 1960) would allow her small daughter to run around covered by a plastic dry cleaning bag.

Still, that's a quibble. I'll be renting more of the series, if only to follow the development of such a remarkable fictional character as Don Draper.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

H1N1 Up Yer Nose

It was a classic drizzly November day today, with some periods of heavy rain. Grey skies throughout, except for a rim of sunlight from the west just before sunset. Anyway, it's damp out there and the trees are bare. It's only a matter of time before I see Orion in the evening sky and winter begins. I was up in the wee hours one night early last month and for some reason I had to go outside, and there he was with animal companion Canis Major. But that doesn't count. He has to be in the evening sky.

Lilly and Ann received swine flu immunizations up their nose today at school. So far Cook County has declined to likewise immunize the adults of our household. Last week I called the county's flu hotline and, amazingly, got a human being instead of a recorded message. I expressed interest in getting the vaccine, and she asked, "What disease do you have?"

That is, we have to have an existing health problem of some kind if we're between 25 and 64. Alas, we're too healthy right now to get shots from the county, the main advantage of which is the low, low cost -- not free, but no extra charge on top of the taxes we pay to support the the county health department. A rare thing in the hall of mirrors that is health-care pricing.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheap Numismatics

A Guam Quarter turned up in change lately. I'm glad that Guam got a quarter as one of the DC & Territorial series, which also includes DC, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the USVI, and the Northern Marianas. But not US Minor Outlying Islands such as Navassa, home of goats but no people. Navassa also has an "informal" flag, according to FOTW Flags of the World. A completely uninspired design, if you asked me.

This disk also appeared lately at our house, though it's been with us a long time. I just ran across it in an unexpected spot.

It's 10 avos, or one-tenth of a pataca, which is still the currency of the Macau Special Administrative Region, as it's styled now. I got it in change in Macao in September 1990 and it's been in one container or another in my vicinity since then, at least until small hands got a hold of the coin sometime and put it our coffee table drawer.

Cheap oddities made by political entities that don't exist any more, or denominations that don't exist any more; that's what I like when it comes to numismatics. Such as a half-centavo from the U.S. Philippines.

A British West Africa penny. Note the Arabic script.

And two sen from Meiji Japan.

Not many people realize it, but the yen was originally divided into 100 sen, a denomination about as useful as a mill coin in our time would be, when 100 yen isn't quite enough to buy you a drink out of a vending machine.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Years to Come

Classic November day of the non-drizzle variety -- gray skies throughout the day, cold but not quite freezing, occasional flights of geese making their way wherever it is geese go. The year's nearly gone and good riddance. The decade's nearly gone too, come to think of it, but it hardly seems worthy of the name. Back in the 20th century we had real decades, by gar.

Heard a discussion on the radio today about whether next year will be "Two Thousand Ten" or "Twenty Ten." Since it was NPR, they went to considerable lengths to quote people supporting both stylings, along with various arguments supporting their choices, some more ridiculous than others. Go with your ear, I say. "Two Thousand Ten" for me.

At some point in the next ten years, however, the year will shift to a "Twenty-" format, since 2020 is already called "Twenty Twenty." As the first one to end with "-teen," I suspect 2013 might be the dividing year, but it could also be 2012, since "Twenty Twelve" is fairly euphonious. Then again, the special-effects show in theaters now seems to be calling it "Two Thousand Twelve."

The first decades of the 20th century are little guide, aside from the fact that most of the people who lived through it are gone. "Nineteen" applied to each of the years from the beginning. That reminds me of Mr. Allen, my eighth-grade English teacher, one of whose pet peeves was "Nineteen Oh-One" and the like. He insisted it be pronounced "Nineteen One." His reasoning: "Oh is not a number." I'm pretty sure that in the more than 35 years since he told us that, almost everyone in the class has ignored him on that point. I know I have.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Item From the Past: The 15-Foot Confucius

We had a good visit to Tokyo in November 1993, but oddly enough I didn't write anything down about it. Or maybe I've misplaced the text. Still, I remember visiting such places as Yasukuni Shrine and its military museum, a place that raises hackles in other parts of Asia, as well as the considerably less controversial Tsukiji Market, the metro area's wholesale food market. We ate at a small sushi shop there. Expensive, but the best I've ever had.

We also went to the the Yushima Seido in the Yushima district, an unusual relic of Confucian learning in Japan. According Japan Visitor, "Yushima Seido was established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1690 as a Confucian shrine and was made a center of Confucian learning (known as the shoheiko) -- one of the earliest institutes of higher education in Japan."

The place lost its government sponsorship after the Meiji Restoration, and its main hall burned down most recently in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but was later rebuilt. But that structure isn't what I remember. What better to have at a Confucian shrine than a tall statue of Confucius?

An interesting bit of work but not, as it turned out, a particularly old one, nor particularly Japanese. Japan Visitor: "Retrace your steps back down to the Nyutokumon and out left and down a few more steps to the giant 4.57m high bronze statue of Confucius, gifted the temple in 1975 by the Taipei Lions Club."


Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Those in Favor Say Aye

"Green Fields of France," posted for Veterans Day, is fittingly somber, but it wasn't the only thing I chanced across while looking for a fittingly somber song to post. One place I found was the web site of the truly remarkable Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project of the Donald C. Davidson Library of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the UCSB Libraries have created a digital collection of nearly 8,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections... On this site you will have the opportunity to find out more about the cylinder format, listen to thousands of musical and spoken selections from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and discover a little-known era of recorded sound," the site says. It also asks for donations to advance this worthwhile project. As soon as I have any money to spare, I'll donate some.

In the meantime, we all can enjoy such remarkable bugs-in-amber as, "All Those in Favor Say Aye," a comic tune that could have only been recorded in 1919, as indeed it was. The song manages to advocate showing the recently deposed Kaiser Wilhelm the business end of a rope, as well as cleaning the bolsheviks' clocks, but fails to come up with a ringing endorsement of Prohibition. Here it is, for download or streaming.

The singer, the generally forgotten Arthur Fields, made a lot of recordings in his day, it seems, including some generally forgotten World War I songs. They're not necessarily songs that need much playing now, but the titles do make me smile: "Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware, General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine," and "It's a Long Way to Berlin, But We'll Get There," both from 1918.

I also came across this, which at one time Dr. Demento considered one of the ten worst song titles ever (Book of Lists, 1977), though it doesn't seem to be on later on-line lists attributed to him. It should be.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day 2009

The link to "Green Fields of France," for those reading on Facebook.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good Morning, Captain

To judge by how many days characters from the show have shown up on the Google home page recently, the fellows who founded the search engine, or at least the one who passed his preschool years in Michigan rather than the Soviet Union, seem inordinately fond of Sesame Street. By the time it came along, I was too old for it. I don't actively dislike it, but I don't have a strong sentimental attachment either. Likewise for Yuriko, who reports that the show's Japanese version didn't exist until she was in junior high.

Were our children fond of Sesame Street? No more than their parents, it seems. When Lilly was young enough for it, I was working in an office while it was on. But I heard that she was a little scared of Big Bird, which put a damper on things for her. "Birds shouldn't be that big," was her reasoning. Which makes me wonder: For all his good-guy pretensions, does Big Bird occasionally go out late and commit a few hate crimes against cats? You know, just to even the score?

As for Ann, she would watch it sometimes, but back in her PBS Kids days other shows commanded her attention more. Some of which were annoying pablum (Caillou), while others had modest charms (Arthur). Unfortunately, neither of my daughters had the benefit of a kid's show that taught the valuable lesson, as I learned, that ping-pong balls might fall on you at any time.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Vaccine Demand vs. Vaccine Supply

The road to public health is a bumpy one. Right after their school was over today, Lilly and Ann and I went to the Hoffman Estates municipal building for seasonal flu shots. Theirs, since I've had mine. We noticed right away that things were different this year because a line snaked out the door. Last year, there was a short line for the shots but a longer one to vote absentee in the presidential election. I guess it depends what's on the top of the public mind.

I need to stress that the clinic was offering seasonal flu vaccinations, as it does every year. A number of signs taped to the doors, and the walls along the way, said as much as well: WE DO NOT HAVE H1N1 VACCINATIONS. Sign of the times.

We waited a while, not an intolerably long while, but just before we'd made our way to the table at which you file out your forms, a woman with the clinic told us that the stock of vaccine had been clean run through. Plumb used up. Gone like a sailor's pay on Sunday morning. None of those were her exact words, but she did say that they weren't expecting such a crush of people.

So we left with some dispatch. I wanted to get out of the parking lot before word got through to the people in line behind us, who would then all want to leave at about the same time, like at the end of a concert. Before we left, we did hear from the kindly clinic lady that there will be another clinic, but she didn't know when. Maybe when Togo and Balto manage to bring more vaccine to Hoffman Estates.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Item From the Past: Grant's Tomb

On Saturday, I could sit out on the deck and eat lunch, and then read, without thinking about how various parts of me were getting cold. On Sunday, I could do it again. So I did. How often does this happen in November? Just about never.

But there have been a good number of good walking days in November, as opposed to sitting around outside. On Sunday, November 5, 2000, I had a fine walk around parts of Manhattan that were new to me, including the Columbia University campus, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and this structure:

It's Grant's Tomb, a remarkable edifice, and officially the General Grant National Memorial in Riverside Park. According to the National Park Service, "Approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 towards the construction of Grant's Tomb. [In big, fat 1890s dollars, mind you.] This was the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time. Designed by architect John Duncan, the granite and marble structure was completed in 1897 and remains the largest mausoleum in North America. Over one million people attended the parade and dedication ceremony of Grant's Tomb on April 27, 1897."

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Guy Fawkes, Where Are You?

Guy Fawkes Day, that's what this country needs. The Gunpowder Plot might be a little obscure for Americans, but there's no need for the day to be anchored to any particular historic event. We could burn effigies of other hated figures on November 5 just because we need a day to burn effigies. Last year, for instance, it could have been effigy Wall Street bankers.

But it will never happen here, and if news accounts are to be believed, the custom is being elbowed out in Britain by North American-style Halloween. Our British cousins are making a mistake, if you asked me.

Speaking of Halloween, the candy haul was large this year for both daughters, and much of it is still in the bags in which it was collected. I was mildly disappointed as I pawed through the selection because there was little in the way of unusual candy. Not even any Mexican or Polish candy, which would be quite easy to get around here.

Next year I'm going to make a point of giving away something off beat -- dollar-store or Big Lots items, maybe -- since we too were guilty of giving away only the usual this year: 3 Musketeers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Baby Ruths and Nestle Crunch. These are all good candies, but nothing to make a kid say, "What's this weird one?"

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Chain Gang Chili Dog & Accomplice Fries

The Chicago hot dog stand is a long-standing part of the fabric of the city, with variations but also basic characteristics. On the inside, Felony Franks is mostly undecorated, like any good hot dog stand. Before I went, I was expecting more cheesy prison-themed decoration than the place actually has. The prison theme is mainly in the naming on the menu, which is on the wall.

In case that's hard to read, it includes felony franks, misdemeanor wieners, pardon Polish sausages, probation burgers, guilty gyros, mobster mozzarella sticks, handcuff tamales, and a selection of sandwiches -- burglar beef, jailbird chicken breast and fraudulent fish -- among other items.

I had a chili dog, which wasn't bad, though I can and do make better chili dogs myself. Supposedly it's called a "chain gang chili dog," but I didn't actually see that name on the menu. Just a misdemeanor wiener with chili, then. When ordering I didn't use any of the too-cute names, nor did the cashier ask me "to plead my case." That phrasing is on a sign taped to clear plastic wall (bulletproof, I've read) behind which the employees work. It says: ORDER HERE and say, "I'm ready to plead my case." She just asked what I wanted to order, and I told her.

Fries came with the chili dog. They were fresh, not frozen, and better than the dog, and probably better than I can make. Lemonade was my drink. The entire tab was less than $5. My order came to me via a small revolving platform, like a revolving door, next to the register, so that at no time was the cashier exposed to the customers. I don't think the separation of cashier and customer is part of the theme; it's part of the neighborhood.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Visit to Felony Franks

This is Felony Franks, a hot dog stand at the corner of S. Western Ave. and W. Jackson Blvd. on the West Side of Chicago, just before sunset last Friday. I went there to talk with the owner for an article I completed about the place over the weekend, and to try the food. Of course, I wasn't the first writer to cover the story. Open up a hot dog stand with a prison theme and hire ex-cons to run the place and you're going to get some attention, it seems.

Felony Franks' mascot, painted on the door and one of the walls not visible this image, is a cartoon hot dog in prison stripes and fastened to a ball and chain. I didn't get a good picture of him, but he's fairly prominent on the web site.

Note that there's no sign hanging in front of Felony Franks. The Chicago alderman in whose district the place operates does not like the name or the prison theme one little bit, and has denied permission for a sign. Something about a cartoon hot dog glorifying the criminal lifestyle. He may be on to something, considering how often cartoon hot dogs appear in gangsta rap videos.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Showing Off on Public Transit

I don't have the opportunity to ride the El as much as I used to, and I'm poorer for it. But on Friday I rode the line that used to be known by the unwieldy name Congress-Douglas-O'Hare, in pursuit of an article. These days it's the "Blue Line." I never did like the switch from names to colors, even if that particular one was a mouthful. Taking the Brown Line; that has no poetry to it. Taking the Ravenswood Line; that's evocative.

The car wasn't very crowded, and on my end was a lad chatting up a lass. I learned from his chat that he was about to turn 21. She looked in the same ballpark. And what did he do to impress this girl?

Showed off his tattoos. At least some of them. One on each upper arm, including a colorful job he claimed that he'd done himself. He also rolled up his pants a little and showed her one down around his ankle. There was also some discussion about the best places, in his estimation, to get yourself inked in Chicago. I wonder if all that earned him a phone number.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween '09

Distinctly cool on the last day of October this year, and windy too. That was an important consideration for Ann, who wore a witch's costume, with hat, for candy collection in the late afternoon. It blew off so many times that I tied it around her chin, and even then it had a habit of taking flight.

She made the rounds with her friend Elizabeth, who was dressed as a black cat -- her familiar, though I didn't mention the term to them. Elizabeth's father and I trailed behind. It was the first time I'd accompanied either of my children on Halloween in some years, since during the last few Lilly has gone with her friends and Ann has tagged along. Lilly, tired of this arrangement, was actually the one who suggested Elizabeth this year, and Ann latched onto the idea. Lilly was thus free to troll for candy with her friends and for all I know spread toilet paper around (but none from our stock, as far as I could tell).

The best costume I saw on the suburban sidewalks this year was a boy -- though I guess it could have been a girl -- dressed as Death. Complete black vestments, including a black hood and a black covering that obscured the face. No scythe or ticket to Samara or any other deathly tokens, however, just plain ol' Death. Maybe the kid was 10 years old, so Death was short. You'd think Death would have a more commanding height, but maybe that's just a prejudice of the living. Or maybe he was supposed to be La Petit Mort. But somehow I doubt it.

Most of the other kids, and the scattering of adults who dressed for the day, sported run-of-the-mill costumes. What would have really been scary this Halloween? Someone dressed as a foreclosure notice. Or maybe a pink slip.

The houses we passed varied, as you'd expect, from undecorated to outrageously decorated for the day. The odd thing was that the amount of decoration offered no clue as to whether anyone would open the door to dispense candy. It used to be that if you were willing to give away candy, you'd leave your porch light on; if the lights were off, you declined to participate. Here's a contemporary tip for homeowners who insist on decorating for Halloween: If you're going to decorate, especially to the ridiculous nines, open your damn door and give something away.

My own favorite bit of decor was a skeleton made out of cut-up plastic milk jugs. That took some cleverness on someone's part. Almost as good was a faux-bone and faux-skull wind chime, though it would have been much better if they had been real bones. But we're in suburban Chicago, not Bohemia.

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