Monthly Archives: October 2009

Halloween II

When I was in college I loved Halloween. There was drinking, revealing costumes, a chance to be someone else for the night—and did I mention the drinking? In fact, a friend of mine still throws an “adults-only” pre-Halloween party every year that is so true to the hallowed traditions of holiday debauchery that she has a DJ and a bartender. However, as I’ve gotten older, and as the thrill of staggering home at five am in full face paint has lost its thrill, I’ve started to wax nostalgic for the Halloweens of my youth, where the only adults you ever saw in costumes were the mothers who dressed as witches to hand out candy, and any drunkenness was confined to that one house on the corner where the dad was always drunk by six pm regardless.

Nowadays, however, Halloween drunkenness is common, especially downtown where I live. Who knows, maybe it’s because the town’s collective liver is still “in the spirit” after Homecoming’s Sunrise Services, but for some reason Halloween in Flagstaff seems to be especially beloved by the inebriants. In fact, a few years ago my family came up with a game to play the morning after both Homecoming and Halloween: it’s called “Puke Bingo,” and instead of using squares on a piece of paper, you use sections of downtown sidewalk and . . . well, you get the point.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty about raising my children in a place that is so young adult-centric. I mean it—if you’re twenty-one and up, Flagstaff is the bomb. But for those under twenty-one . . . well, not so much. Don’t get me wrong—I think Flagstaff does a great job in trying to provide opportunities for children and families, whether it’s the new Aquaplex or the Wednesday Night Concerts in Wheeler Park. But the sad fact is that, thanks to Flagstaff’s “poverty with a view” economy there’s only a limited audience for these things, and it’s getting smaller all of the time.

When I was growing up they couldn’t build elementary schools fast enough—my own had to switch to double schedules for a year just to find enough room for all the kids. And yet, here in Flagstaff, we’re talking about closing down elementary schools—even high schools, for that matter. And I can understand why. Again, when I was growing up my neighborhood bus stop was the pick up point for over two dozen kids—every morning before the bus came it was like a miniature version of Lord of the Flies. These days there are so few kids in my neighborhood that they could probably all be picked up by a Prius.

The lack of children becomes even more painfully obvious every year at Halloween: last year less than ten kids showed up to trick-or-treat at our house, even though we kept the light on until nine. And the number of houses on our block that were handing out candy was in the single digits as well.

Maybe it’s just evolution. Maybe trick-or-treating is just going the way of Hopscotch and Red Rover, and when my kids look back and reminiscence it will be about all the great Halloween carnivals of their youth, the ones put on by churches, and youth centers, and the city Parks and Recreation department. In fact, I was even thinking myself that the one Parks and Rec is putting on this year down at Heritage Square looked like a pretty good deal.

And who knows, maybe they’ve got the right idea. After all, if we get enough kids downtown, we can be the ones making all the drunks uncomfortable, and not the other way around. It’s definitely worth a try.

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Every Picture Tells a Story

Despite my very best efforts to hide my face from the cameras of Flag Live, (I once managed to go two years with just a picture of my bike—without me—at the top of my column), every now and then an intrepid Flag Live editor will manage to capture me on film. (Sort of like Bigfoot, except that it’s usually not one of those blurry long distance shots, but a real, live, close-up. Which, actually, is kind of a drag: I’ve always thought those grainy Bigfoot shots were rather flattering, or at least slimming. If I were Bigfoot, I’d definitely post one of those on my Facebook page.)

Anyway, what this photojournalistic documentation means for me (I won’t presume to speak for Bigfoot), is that every now and then people will recognize me. Usually, this is no problem—I actually enjoy having people come up and talk to me about my columns. I especially like it when they try to tell me a competing story about how their children are even more dreadful than mine. (It’s not a competition, folks, but if it were, believe me: this is one you don’t want to win.)

Being recognizable, however, does come with some definite disadvantages. (Just ask Bigfoot). For one thing, it makes it twice as embarrassing when you get caught (and recognized) doing something wrong. In Bigfoot’s case, it was that oh-so-embarrassing unintentional cameo he did in Girls Gone Wild XXIV. In my case, it was trying to sneak beer into a venue where they were already selling it.

Now, I don’t know about you, but in my world sneaking in your own beer is a time-honored tradition. Even if you don’t ultimately end up drinking it (and really, who wants to drink a Bud Light that has been nestled up in some guys BVD’s?), it’s the principle of the thing. I mean, isn’t that what this country’s forefathers fought and died for? Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (in the form of cheap, watery, warm beer?)

So anyway, yeah—I did it. I tried to sneak in a couple of Tecates—and I got busted. No big deal—it’s all part of the game, right?


Until being busted meant that everything I was carrying got a thorough searching, and that meant that everything got discovered. Which meant that there was a mortifying moment in line when a certain item was pulled out of my bag and held up for all the world to see. The gate girl must have raised her eyebrows about a foot as she held the incriminating object between thumb and forefinger, looked at me, and in clear and ringing tones said, “Don’t you write for Flag Live?”

“That’s not mine,” I stuttered. “I’m just holding it for a friend.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, staring at the offending object disdainfully.

Without another word I snatched Clementine’s copy of Ok! Magazine out of her hands and shoved it back into the bag. This meant that Rob Pattinson (AKA “Edward”)’s sultry stare was now directed at the blue cheese, hummus and crackers, and not at all the curious people in line behind me. (His new placement was actually kind of oddly appropriate, since according to rumors, blue cheese and hummus is exactly what he smells like.)

Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. From Clementine. Who, as I’ve mentioned before, was the true owner of the magazine in question. But not, alas, the Tecates. Although I suppose that, as her mother, I could have blamed those on her, too. Or at least on Bigfoot. But then again, that probably wouldn’t have worked very well either. I mean, just look at him. Anyone with a mullet like that obviously drinks only PBR.

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Vision Quest II

In some cultures, when a child reaches a certain age he or she is sent out on a vision quest. This is usually the time for the child to face all of their deepest childhood fears (both real and imaginary), so that—hopefully—upon successfully completing their quest they will return back to their community a better person. Or, at the very least, they can return home better able to handle the world in which they live.

Sometimes, of course, these quests turned out to be so dangerous that the participants don’t return at all, again either because of the real or imaginary dangers encountered in the wild. This is because while different cultures all have different versions of their vision quest, they all seem to have two things in common: one, that at least some of the danger faced must be real, and two, that the participant must face the danger alone. Think of Spartan boys (at least the ones who inhabit the Frank Miller universe) being sent out to face a deadly wolf and you begin to get the idea.

Bearing all of this in mind, I recently decided that, even though he is only eight, the time had come to send my son, Clyde, on a vision quest of his own. There were two factors that played heavily in my making this decision. One was that I really think that the extra challenge and responsibility of having his own vision quest will help him deal with all of the trials and tribulations of the world he currently inhabits. And two: the particular quest I’ve given him is one that I’m afraid to do on my own.

Yeah, that’s right: I made it his job to wake up his sister, Clementine, in time for her to get to school in the morning.

Poor Clyde. Each and every school day, armed only with his wits and his trusty PS3 remote, Clyde must venture into the very bowels of the Twilight shrine and wake up his sister. Not just once, but every day. And while you might think that repeated trips back into the lion’s den would at least teach you how to handle lions, the truth of the matter is that Clementine is more like a Hydra than a lion: every time you think you’ve come up with a way to deal with her she simply grows a new (and completely different) head.

Think you’re going to try the “gently patting her arm while whispering her name” approach, because that worked yesterday? Think again, because this morning she has been lying in bed for the past hour and a half, eagerly awaiting her opportunity to jump up like a vampire who has just seen the stake and send any would-be Van Helsings scurrying back to the sanctuary of the living room.

Okay, I know what you’re saying: why send anyone in to wake her up at all? Why not just get her an alarm clock, and let it suffer the abuse? Well, for one thing, in the same way that scientists believe that Black Holes swallow electrical pulses, Clementine’s room eats electric devices. And also: it really is a good vision quest. After all, if the purpose of the vision quest is to better prepare a child for the world in which they will eventually live as an adult, then what better way to prepare Clyde for the world of surly DMV clerks and unhelpful help-line operators than by having him face his irritable sister each and every morning?

Sure, he might have a few more scars than the average 8-year-old to show for it, but think of the payoff: he’ll be like a Spartan, but with surly girls. Which, in this universe, is a way better skill than the ability to fight off a wolf.

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“As far as I am concerned, (President Obama’s speech to students) is not civics education—it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”
—Steve Russell, Republican state senator from Oklahoma

Okay. It’s been a month now since Obama (that unrepentant socialist and, apparently, heir to both Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein) gave his speech to the school children of America. And what, in the end, did we learn from it? Well I for one learned that it’s harder to make a tinfoil hat than I thought. Who knew? I mean, sure, just squishing tinfoil down on your head, that’s easy enough, but to make a really stylish hat, one that, say, a teenager will wear—well, that requires more skill than I possess. Obviously, given the disdain with which Clementine examined the hat I made her for the big Obama speech.

“What’s that supposed to be?” she asked me. “A swan?”

“No,” I replied. “It’s not for saving leftovers; it’s for saving your soul. It’s to stop you from being indoctrinated by Obama’s evil socialist plot during his school speech.”

“I’m not wearing that,” she said. “It’s stupid.” And then she left, leaving the usual trail of darkness in her wake.

I bet she’d wear it if it was black, I thought to myself, but then let the matter drop. After all—what was I worried about? There was no way Clementine would ever get involved with anything with the word “social” in it.

But what about all of those other children out there? Who was going to protect them from Obama’s evil socialist plot? And why socialism, anyway? I mean, you’re telling me that Obama has perfected a brainwashing method that will work on the youth of America, and the best he can come up with is socialism? What about clean-up-your-roomism, don’t-hit-your-little-brotherism, put-the-milk-awayism, and about a dozen other isms I can think of, just off the top of my head?

Supposedly, of course, there was no socialism involved at all: his speech just consisted of things like “stay in school,” and “study hard.” Really? Talk about a wasted opportunity. “Stay in school?” What about “stay out of Mom’s purse?”

Actually though, the real wasted opportunity lay in the fact that, after all of the Conservative parents pulled their kids out of the classroom, Obama didn’t take the time to check behind his back, look straight into the camera, and then whisper, “Okay, so now that they’re gone, here’s the deal: while I’m busy keeping all of these people distracted with my ‘socialist agendas,’ you kids do an end run around them. Stay in school. Get an education. Vote. Before they know it, you’ll be in charge—of everything. Now remember, when those other kids come back to class, don’t say anything about our little talk. Mum’s the word. Okay, here they come—look bored.”

Actually, I guess that’s kind of what he did. Hopefully, even if only ten percent of the kids who stayed and listened to his speech took it to heart, that will mean that ten percent more of them will stay in school, work hard, and become educated. And to become educated is to become a voter—it just goes without saying. Think about all of the people you’ve ever heard saying “What’s the point of voting, anyway?” Didn’t it also seem likely that the next thing you heard out of their mouths was “Would you like fries with that?”

Hmm. Maybe those disposable folded paper hats work even better than the tinfoil ones do.

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Lazy Man

I once had an argument with a friend of mine about government inspectors, of whom he felt there were entirely too many. His argument, basically, was this: when left to their own devices, people tend to do things correctly. They wash their hands before making your sausage, use the proper ratio of sand and gravel when mixing the cement for your bridges, and check the oil level in your airliner before it takes off for a flight across the Atlantic. People will do these things, he said, not because they are basically good, but because they are basically lazy: it’s just easier to do something right the first time than to have to go back and fix it later.

At the time I didn’t really have a good argument for this (besides, of course, “Haven’t you ever read The Jungle?”), although I believed then (and still do now) that he was wrong. Now however, if I were to have that same discussion again, my response would be simple. “You don’t have any kids, do you?”

That’s because nobody can half-ass things like a child can. Whether it’s dropping their dirty clothes next to the clothes hamper, or pushing their bike to within six inches of the bike rack before letting it drop to the ground, a child can make you wonder how our ancestors ever managed to make it down out of the trees in the first place. (If the decision to evolve had been left to a child we would probably all still be living in bushes, because that’s about as far down as they would have made it before calling it a day.)

Yes, it is easier to do things right the first time. That makes no difference whatsoever, though, to a child. Take my daughter, Clementine: the other night it took her six attempts to pick up some dried spaghetti from off the floor where she had spilled it. Six. That meant six journeys from her bedroom to the kitchen, six trips to get the dust pan and broom, six trips to the garbage can. Six. And, if all the stomping and muttering were any indication, it wasn’t as if she was particularly enjoying these trips. Stomp stomp stomp she would come out of her room, called back once again to finish picking up the spaghetti.

“But I already finished!”

“Then why can I still see it on the floor?”

“There’s only a little left on the floor.”

“But I want none left on the floor—the same way the floor was before you spilled it.”

Sigh. A few more pieces would make it into the trash, and then she’d be gone again, leaving about forty pieces behind.


And back she would come, only to pick up about half and then disappear once more.

The scary thing is that in ten years she might be the person making the sausage (“What? I washed one of my hands.”). Or the person mixing the cement (“One bag of sand, ten—what difference does it make?”). Or even the person checking the oil in the airliner (“I’m sure it’s fine—I checked it last month.”).

My only hope for the future is that one day there will be people in her life who are even better at nagging than I am. The neat freak roommate who wakes her up at 3 AM demanding to know if she was the one who used his bath towel. The college professor who only accepts papers if they are formatted just so. Even the boss who stands next to the time clock glaring at her as she clocks in late. In other words, the inspectors.

If not, then in twenty years I am faced with an even scarier future—one in which she ends up being the inspector herself.

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