Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Fine Art of Trick-orTreating

1. Know who has the good stuff.

2. Ring doorbell, say "Trick or Treat!," wait patiently as treats are handed out, and ALWAYS say "Thank you."

3. Know which houses and neighborhoods to avoid.
(They're probably only giving out pencils and toothbrushes, anyway.)

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Great Halloween Candy Control Conspiracy

World domination is so much easier than I ever dreamed it could be.

It started out innocently enough. When the calendar turned to October, I set up my office Halloween decorations and filled my little pumpkin pots with candy corn. Just regular old Brach's candy corn, nothing added. A little food coloring and a lot of corn syrup (candy corn syrup, I'm betting) - that's it. I didn't soak them in LSD or lace them with Oxycontin. Out of the bag, into the buckets. Girl Scout's honor.

After a few days I noticed something interesting. All sorts of folks came to visit me in my office on some pretense or another. A little chatter, plus a dip or two or three into the candy corn pot. Some picked at the goodies unconsciously; some admitted outright that they came for the corn.

It didn't take long for my buckets to empty, so I made another Duane Reade candy corn run and replenished the supply. In all, I topped up the pots four times.

This week has been particularly stressful, so the corn level hit bottom early yesterday morning. By the afternoon, panicked people were popping into my office only to discover - oh, no! - no candy corn. I was even accused of plotting complete control of my co-workers by stringing them along with the goodies, then suddenly taking away the candy corn, causing the staff to willingly sell their souls to the Candy Corn Queen just for a nibble.

"Well, that was easy," I said to myself. No cunning plan. No fancy weapons. Anyone, anywhere can be controlled by whoever holds the candy corn. Now that I know this, I plan to use it to bring peace on earth and extreme personal wealth for myself. I think that's fair, don't you?

Alas, I fear this particular form of total human domination will fade at midnight October 31. Which sets me thinking - hmmmmmm. How can I keep everyone under my power in November, eh?

By the way, the candy corn is again spilling over the top, dear co-workers. Why don't you drop by? Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaah!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Movie Checklist

The leaves have turned, it's dark and rainy, and bags of candy corn and bite-sized Butterfingers fill store shelves. That's right. It's time for - oooooh! - Halloween. Since I'm too old to go trick-or-treating, as is my dear child, I must be content to celebrate the season glued to my favorite horror films and Halloween specials.

Yes, yes. I've posted about this before (check out October 2005, 2006, etc). I'm very picky about which scary movies I consider Halloween-fare (no Alfred Hitchcock, for example), so it's time to review my Halloween Must-Sees to find out how I'm doing. Because Halloween won't come if I haven't seen the following by midnight Saturday:

1. The Haunting (1963) - Nope. Turner Classic Movies has it scheduled during the late night hours on a week night. Do I stay up, or not?

2. Hocus Pocus (1993) - Check.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Check.

4. Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) - Check.

5. Worst Witch (1986) - Nope. This one's hard to find, but daughter has my DVD, so unless some TV network decides to reach way back in its vault, I guess I won't be following the trials and tribs of Mildred Hubble.

7. The Uninvited (1944) - Nope. Hoping TCM has it on the schedule this week.

8. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) - Soon-to-be-Check. Airs tonight, I think.

9. Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (all o' dem) - Partial check. Have seen about 6 years' worth so far. Looking for the early ones.

10. Rosanne Halloween Episodes (all o' dem) - Partial check. Hoping TV Land gives me a Rosanne Halloween marathon before Saturday.

11. Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) - Nope. Again, hoping Turner Classic Movies has them on the schedule.

12. The House on Haunted Hill (1959) - Nope. Still looking.

13. Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Nope. Looking.

14. Rosemary's Baby (1969) - Check.

15. Halloween (1978) - Yup. Big check.

16. Carrie (1976) - Soon-to-be-Check. I'll watch it on pay-per-view if it doesn't come on one of the freebies.

Hmm. So it seems Halloween may not come this year. There are a lot of non-checks on this list. Ever hopeful, I will stock up on candy corn and cider, just waiting to be creeped out by one of these gems. (Don't even talk to me about remakes . . .)

What cinematic wonder(s) do you need to get you through Halloween?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Death Becomes Them

In the spirit(s) of the season, I hopped the N train for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and spent the day tromping around its rolling hills, searching out the graves of the famous and infamous, and attending a book event with the author of Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious.The sky was blue-blue and the leaves were a blast of color.

Someone once wrote about the cemetery (founded in 1838) that "it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood".The tree-filled hills and valleys are crowded with ornate mausoleums, statuary, and gravestones most suitable for all those Fifth Avenue toffs.

Broadway babies Leonard Bernstein and Fred Ebb are buried at Green-Wood. So are the Tiffany clan, inventors Elias Howe and Samuel Morse, Henry Steinway, Margaret Sanger, and Boss Tweed. To name a few.

The reading by author Alix Strauss took place in the ornate Chapel (lousy acoustics, by the way). The author discovered that no one had ever written a book about famous suicides and jumped right on it. She had a great sense of humor and she shared lots of juicy, interesting details about a couple of the folks in her book. She even gave away little bottles of Vincent Van Gogh Vodka and Death By Chocolate bars with every book purchased! I opted for chocolate-flavored vodka, thereby covering both bases.

Cemeteries are always fascinating, whether it's Halloween or midsummer, whether the rich and famous are buried there or not, and whether a lovely incentive like a reading about well-known suicides is dangled before you. Spending a few hours with folks who have "crossed over" is time well-spent. Death does, indeed, become them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fewer posts, less time

One of my biggest grammatical pet peeves is the rampant misuse of "fewer" and "less." I am not an English teacher, but I had superior, picky junior high and high school teachers who instilled in my teenage brain basic rules of grammar. It seems that people avoid the word "fewer" at all cost. "10 Items or Less." "Less than 2,000 showed up for the show." "The team has less chances to win without the star quarterback." Yeah. I've seen/heard all of these over the past few days.

As I said, I'm not an English teacher, so I can't properly explain the difference to you (it's ingrained in me, so I just know when to use it - like "effect" and "affect"). It has to do with numbers - singles or bulk. One source explains it this way:

"Just remember that if the noun can be preceded by a number (one person, three dogs, six of us, nineteen problems), it should be modified with fewer."

A few years back the grocery store Publix in Atlanta changed those infamous "10 Items or Less" to "10 Items or Fewer." Yes! Thank you, Publix, for leading the grammatical way for the poor schlubs who don't know any better. Now, Public, watch and learn.

Thank you Keener, Sumner, Jacoway, Babcock, Moore, Johnson, Walker, and Smallwood. Yeah, we did a lot of eye-rolling over diagramming sentences and nit-picky red grammar marks on otherwise fabulous themes, but your outstanding teaching paid off for at least one (and I hope more) of your students.

And, yes, my blog has fewer posts of late, because I have less time. Hope to correct that soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading till the cows come home

A couple of days ago, the New York Times had a story about a woman who decided to read a book a day for a year and blog about it. Think of it as a book-version of the Julie & Julia thing, where the woman cooked her way through Julia Child's cookbook for a year. Not as tasty, but a whole lot cheaper and less work.

Nina Sandovitch started last October 28, so she's almost completed her effort. It's an interesting endeavor, but I feel conflicted about the project - happy she had the time and energy to finish a book and blog every single day, but wondering how enjoyable the exercise was for her (or would be for me), racing through books instead of savoring them.

And who has the time to read all day? Well, maybe if I didn't goof off so much - you know, with work and eating and dealing with families and all - and really put my mind to it, I could manage it. But then to blog about each book when finished? Yikes! Such discipline (as one can tell I lack with my infrequent posts).

Reading through her blog I notice that I've never heard of most of the books she's read. Maybe if I'd get my nose out of mysteries for a while, I'd have more diversity of reading matter.

What do you think? Admirable? Impossible? Enlightening? Frustrating?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Walking through East Harlem the other day, I happened upon a once-iconic New York scene that has mostly disappeared in recent years - clothes hanging out to dry on lines strung between apartment buildings. Thank goodness I had my camera with me and could document the clothes flapping in a cool autumn breeze.

You don't see clotheslines much anymore. England's about the only place I've seen "working" clotheslines in recent years. English-mum Jeannie always hung clothes outside to dry, no matter the temperature. Only a dowsing rain would cause her to use her clothes dryer. But I never see clothes a-wave on lines in the United States. Not in New York. Or Atlanta. The closest we come to fresh-air drying anything is a wet towel thrown over a hotel railing at the beach.

Growing up, we had a clothesline that spanned our backyard (which was pretty wide). There was a wooden pole used to prop it up in the middle so the wet clothes wouldn't drag the ground. A nostalgic sight - the various materials flapping back and forth.

A few months ago, Bro sent an email with basic clothesline rules. Thought I'd share:

1. Wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes - walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth.

2. Hang the clothes in a certain order; always hang "whites" with "whites," and hang them first.

3. Never hang a shirt by the shoulders - always by the tail! What will the neighbors think?

4. Wash day on a Monday . . . Never hang clothes on the weekend, or Sunday, for Heaven's sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines to hide your "unmentionables" in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y'know!)

6. It doesn't matter if it is sub-zero weather . . . Clothes will "freeze-dry."

7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes. Pins left on the lines are "tacky."

8. Line the clothes up so that each item shares one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.

9. Make sure the clothes are off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?! Well, that's a whole 'nother subject!

Still, I wouldn't trade a clothes dryer for an outdoor clothesline. The dryer just asks me to dump the clothes in and set a timer, then delivers fresh, warm, fluffy clothes in a matter of minutes. A clothesline requires a lot more time and energy. The clothesline is a romantic notion for painters, photographers, and nostalgic types. But in the real, work-a-day world? No thanks.

Do you still use an outdoor clothesline?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let's hear it for Shock-tober!

Well, it's finally here. The month I longed for back in August.

It's turned right cool here in New York City. The leaves are slowly dissolving from green to yellow/red/orange. Those that have already dropped are blowing dryly across sidewalks and park paths. Halloween decorations are everywhere, including in my own tiny "tenement." Chilies and stews are on full boil. College football reigns supreme. Ahh, autumn!

What I love about October - at the heart of it - are the memories of years past and the anticipation of the festivities that will fill out the rest of the year. This month we honor early memories of school carnivals and childhood Halloweens, as well as the first anniversary of daughter Kate and son-in-law Greg and other family anniversaries and birthdays.

October's celebrations morph into a November full of birthdays and anniversaries, culminating in a most splendiferous Thanksgiving. (Can you smell the turkey and pumpkin pie?) And no sooner will we finish giving thanks than the fun-filled wildness and holy celebration of Christmas will be upon us. Bam-bam-bam. All in a row. Wonderful!

Need a little help getting into the October holiday spirit? I've offered plenty of suggestions over the past four years. Links to some of my posts about scary movies, songs, stories, and whatnot can be found here. Enjoy!

Bundle up, kick some leaves, give some treats (or tricks), and get ready for the year-end holiday fun-fest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meet the Gumpertzs

Last week, I got to know a couple of New York families - the Gumpertzs and the Baldizzis. I visited their homes and saw where they ate, slept, lived. I looked at pictures of parents and grandparents, listened to some of their favorite music, and saw the street-view from their front room windows. Last week, I visited the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street.

Friend Beth was in town for a few days, so we pounded the pavement visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the new High Line Park, Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Trinity Wall Street, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. But one place I'd never been was the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Beth's visit gave me the opportunity to see this treasure for the first time.

I've always been curious about it. I mean, how interesting could visiting a tenement be? "And here's a really tiny room where 14 people slept. Over here's is the coal stove. Notice there's no running water or toilet." Really. Seen one poverty-stricken apartment, seen 'em all.

But the Tenement Museum's tours are based on the stories of real people who lived at 97 Orchard Street over time - from the 1860's to the 1930's. Each family has been researched through immigration and court records, oral histories, and the things they left behind, enabling tour guides to pull visitors into the lives of the families who lived in the building.

Several tours are available, giving a slice-of-time look at how the tenement dwellers coped with local and global events that shaped their lives. We took "Getting By," where we experienced how the Gumpertz family coped with the Panic of 1973 (um, pretty much exactly what we're going through today) and the Baldizzis made it through the Great Depression. Other tours focus on the garment industry, one Irish family's experience, the life of a Sephardic-Jewish teen, and a neighborhood walking tour. Each tour cost $20, which is kinda pricey, but you really get your money's worth.

Immigration is a touchy issue, I know, but in hearing these stories, I was struck by how similar the arguments then are to the arguments now. "There's no excuse for hard-working people not to have enough money to pay for food, housing, education, medicine." "Only people born here deserve jobs and benefits." "If we let these people in, we'll no longer be Americans, but Irish. . .German . . . Polish . . . Italian . . . " No one could possibly dispute that the vast majority of immigrants coming to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries were hard working, imaginative folks who mostly blended in (though some never did). It takes hearing stories of real people to bring that message home.

The other thing that struck me, living in a tiny NYC apartment of my own, was "Wow! A little paint, a new hardwood floor, a private bath, and you could rent this 'tenement' for $1800-2000/month these days." The tour was a great history of apartment-living in the city and how what was required of landlords changed over time. The biggest breakthrough was when the powers-that-be determined that every New York apartment-dweller had the right to air (thanks for the air shafts, guys!), water (at least cold running water), and light (a window in every room).

When I scrape up enough money, I hope to take the other tours and meet more New York families. I highly recommend spending time with the Gumpertzs and the Baldizzis.