The Old Haunts

I wonder if my mother will make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight.

Growing up, there was a pretty strict rule  in our house: eat all your dinner, or you do absolutely nothing fun for the rest of the night.

Nevermind that this might have encouraged chronic overeating because there was more food on the plate than our appetites cared to consume; it’s an age-old rant for every parent who works to buy the food they cook for their children’s nourishment, and they aren’t about to waste it because your eight-year-old self decided overnight that you don’t like egg noodles anymore.

(For the record, I don’t like egg noodles anymore, and I don’t know when that happened, but it was probably when I was freed from living at home and eating them on the nights we didn’t have some form of potato. I may have eaten them twice in the 16 years since I moved out of my parents’ house. Both times, I was at my parents’ house.)

Sorry, back to the point: eat everything, or there shall be no fun. Never was this rule – and the dinner that lent itself to it – more important than on Halloween night.

A debatable dinner could contain any one of the following foods:

Sister 1, Me, Sister 2, mid-scary dinner

  • Cube steak
  • Sauerkraut
  • Any vegetable other than green beans, canned zucchini in tomato sauce, or corn – mixed vegetables being the absolute worst choice possible (salad was acceptable)
  • Certain preparations of pork chops
  • Most kinds of soup (exceptions: Campbell’s tomato, Lipton chicken noodle)
  • Anything overcooked to the point of dryness or mushiness
  • Anything rendered cold by hesitation to eat (reheating was forbidden)
  • Numerous other variables depending upon children’s moods

Production of any of the above unfailingly resulted in:

  1. Children not eating everything
  2. Angry father glaring/yelling at children
  3. Threats
  4. Crying
  5. Mother giving father dirty look for saying there would be no trick-or-treating, making children cry, ruining Halloween
  6. Argument between mother and father over dirty look for ruining of Halloween

            My mother learned after a few years that, if she wanted a peaceful evening that did


          include trying to scrub facepaint mixed with tears out of shirts, she had to make a dinner everyone would eat without objection. From that year on, it was spaghetti and meatballs with salad every October 31st.
        Halloween dinner was earlier than most other nights of the year; we were at the table by 5:30, latest. There was none of this trick-or-treating at 4pm. No, it was long dark and at least 7pm before we headed out. We had to be back by 9. Dad was always the one who took us out; that’s why he had no problem with cancelling the whole event for vegetable-related offenses. We ate at a table covered in a fun, cartoonish tablecloth: a black background with orange and green and purple and white and yellow ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, witches and spider webs. Once the dishes were done (and some years Mom did them to cut down on the drama), we high-tailed it upstairs to get in our gear.
        Some of the costumes I remember donning:
  • Tweety Bird (age 5 – this was the year Sister 1 was Strawberry Shortcake and spooked at the first house we went to when she saw Frankenstein, which sent her screaming back to our house, never to come out again)
  • Slot machine (age 9)
  • Cleaning lady (age 10)
  • Hobo (age 11)
  • Mime (age 12)
  • Punk rocker (age 13 – my last year begging for candy)
  • Charlie Chaplin (age 16, for a party)

My mother would want me to tell you that when I was nine, I was actually a one-armed bandit. She would want me to tell you this because she created the costumes that year, the same one for all three of us, and it meant covering boxes with aluminum foil, cutting out a slot and using a toilet paper roll with pictures of fruit glued onto it as a jackpot roll, and — this is the key part — cutting a hole in the side of the box so we could stick one arm out to function as the lever. The other arm stayed in the box so that, if anyone pulled the lever, we could use that hand to spin the toilet paper roll. AND… (major, major detail for Mom) we wore bandit masks.

Get it? One-armed bandits.

Twenty-five years. She’s still talking about it.

My favorite part of that year was when a five-year-old Sister 2 tripped and fell flat on her front, and got stuck there because she only had one available arm and it was too short to reach around the box to the ground, and her knees were inside the box so she had no leverage. She just flailed while my father and Sister 1 and I laaaaughed and laaaaughed and laaaughed. Then she cried and my father said, “Oh, knock it off,” and picked her up.

Bounty for which to be thankful. Wait, wrong holiday. Still, though.

We would come home and dump out all our candy onto the table, where Dad would sit down and start going through it all to check for needles. True story. As he did it, he separated everything into two categories: Chocolate and Not Chocolate. The Chocolate stuff went into freezer bags and then into the freezer (after Mom stole a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Dad stole a bite-sized Snickers or Baby Ruth). The Not Chocolate stuff went into a big bowl. We sisters were allowed two pieces of candy that night. We generally had enough loot to last us til Easter.

Some years, Mom had to run to the store for more candy because it was a particularly busy night. Some years she just turned off the porch light when she ran out. The light was always turned off by 9, and the door was not answered after that, because nothing good could possibly happen after 9pm (this was also the absolute latest time any decent person could call the house unless someone had died). Anybody who knocked or rang (or called) after 9pm was deemed a hooligan, poorly raised.

When I had my own place, at 22, I was working the graveyard shift on Halloween. (Haha… I’m so clever.) I was asleep from 3 to 9pm and therefore put a big bowl of candy outside with a note that said, “Please take two – don’t knock!” When I left for work at 10:30pm or so, the candy had been untouched. It was the first of what, so far, have been 12 years sans trick-or-treaters. It’s kind of sad. Because of work, I’ve never gotten to go see my nephews on Halloween. I miss seeing flocks of kiddies in their ghoulish or cutesie garb, overtaking the streets of suburbia with little pumpkin pails or pillow cases in hand. Some years, I’ve found myself driving home from work wondering why there’s some guy dressed as an angel walking alone down an empty street, because I’ve forgotten it’s Halloween.

Angels walking alone down empty streets are creepy, by the way.

These days, I put candy out in a bowl in the hall for my neighbors and their visitors. The cartoon tablecloth has been handed down to me, because I was always the one who liked it the most. I watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” without fail when it comes on ABC. And if I think about it, I kind of miss the old haunts of Halloween.

But I get to eat whatever I want for dinner.

It’s My Friday. I Can B*^%h If I Want To.

I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few weeks wherein I turn out to be really pissy on Wednesdays. Wednesdays are my Fridays, and apparently, after five days of my noisy, insular, deadline-oriented workplace, I have reached my limit. My limit is different from what it was a few years ago, when I had a higher-stress job I twistedly loved and thrived in. Somewhere along the line, my tolerance for that waned and I had to drop back. I don’t regret it in the slightest. But apparently I just can’t take the little madnesses anymore.

For example, yesterday…

-I would not have minded stabbing in the eye the coworker who kept sniffling every ten seconds. Yes, she has a cold. And yes, I really like her. But she was sniffling every ten seconds, and that makes me homicidal on a good day. You could be Santa, I’d still want to stab you in the eye.

-If the basement wherein I work had windows, I would have hurled my computer out of one. It crashed twice in the first hour and a half I was at work, which necessitated two reboot attempts that take at least 10 minutes apiece. This is after the initial boot-up, which takes 20 minutes because I have to log in, then find out whether one of the applications I need is going to function properly, discover it won’t, which means it’s lost connectivity to the server, and then reboot. This is every day. Wednesday, I had had enough. And the IT guys can’t fix it because the problem is the company I work for is too cheap to buy the newest version of the programs we use, and there are no longer patches available for the ones we run.

-I wanted to pull the hair of one of the interns. The one who used to be a stripper, not the one who called herself “mini-hottie”– she’s gone now. Yesterday, the former stripper was wandering around trying to get someone to eat the cookies she was carrying. In her hands. “Eat this!” she kept whining. Occasionally the tattoo that stretches across her lower back showed as she reached toward people with the cookies. Nobody told her they didn’t want them because her hands had fondled them all up.

-I want to say all sorts of terrible, mean but true things to the guy who chews food and gum louder than anybody I know. I sit five feet from him and I can hear everything he sloshes around in there. He smacks his lips louder than I would think is humanly possible. I’m practicing right now and I don’t think I’m doing nearly as loudly as he does. He’s also a walking malapropism. He says he wants to throw caution “in the air” instead of “to the wind,” and “If you may” instead of “if you will,” and “be that as it is” instead of “be that as it may.” He says “long story short” and proceeds to talk for a full five minutes. He says “a’pposed” instead of “supposed” and “gots” instead of “has.” He never. Stops. Talking. He injects himself into other people’s conversations, loudly, often, and having no idea what they’re really talking about. When people ask him to tone down the volume, he says, “I didn’t know we worked in a library,” and mopes. He is wildly inappropriate and offensive. When he talks to professional, educated people outside of our shop on the phone, you’d think he was talking to his best friend from college: “Hey baby, how you doin’?” “What’s up, m—–f—-er?” He yawns and stretches and blows his nose loudly. When you ask him how he is, his response is the same every time: “Livin’ the dream.” Every conversation is a “good talk.” He cannot spell anything. Or pronounce anything. He just basically looks at a word and takes a shot, and whatever syllables or letters make it out of his mouth are apparently good enough. He is obnoxious. He was raised by wolves. He is a used car dealer who has somehow been separated from his tweed jacket and white wingtips. I want to bash him in the head with a phone.

-I wanted to tell my former-as-of-last-night co-worker exactly what I think of her self-centered way of operating. She is leaving to take another job, and while I genuinely like her as a person, she’s one of those people who is constantly freaking out about projects and turning everything about anyone into something about herself. Example: yesterday was another co-worker’s birthday, and he took the day off. Her way of wishing him a happy one was to post on his Facebook page that he was missing her going away party. This is better than her frequent status updates in which she reports “her” project successes. As though nobody else had anything to do with them. And people “like” these updates. They post comments like, “Way to go!” and “Woohoo!” You have no idea the restraint it has taken for me not to post a comment that says, “Wow, and you did it all by yourself!”

It seems that, once a person reaches his or her late 20s, it is apparently too late for them to ever learn social graces. The rest of us have grown up and now keep our mouths shut rather than saying something that could make things uncomfortable in the work environment. (More uncomfortable than when the guy behind me makes comments about how hot some of his co-workers are.) If one has not learned by the age of 27 that one should not manhandle food and then attempt to give it away, one will never know it. If one has not learned to filter, one never will. If one has not learned humility and grace, consider it a dream.

I sort of think that, if the rest of us were allowed to, just once, haul off and say exactly that which needs to be said, maybe these people would be struck by the realization that they are annoying and should work on that.

Then again, if everyone went by my theory, all of you would comment forthwith and posthaste that I am a total critical b*^%h.

But I told you: It’s Wednesdays. Today I’m totally fine.

 What do you want to tell someone who irritates you? Do you have a day of the week when you’re more easily annoyed than others?

Hello, Gorge-ous.

I am totally gorging on Fall.

Which is probably why I’ve gained three pounds. (I don’t actually believe it. I’m suing the scale for accuracy. Tomorrow it will tell me something completely different. It lies. And confuses the cat when she steps on it. And sometimes inexplicably switches from pounds to kilograms. But mostly it lies.)

I will admit: Fall is my favorite season not least because of the comfort food it brings. Apple cake, mac & cheese, pots of soup, Crock Pot creations, potatoes (damn you, potatoes – I wish I knew how to quit you), and various hearty types of fare have come out of my kitchen in recent weeks. I am ardently, if breezily, badgering a coworker for her incredibly rich lasagna recipe, having realized that the one I grew up with is disappointingly inauthentic and blah. (My grandmother was 100% German, for cripe’s sake. Her parents came off the boat in 1914 and her mother never left the house after that. Who told her she knew how to make lasagna?) The trouble is, I love to cook, and I cook for the week on my days off, but then even if I only make two entrees, I wind up with too much food because it’s just little ol’ me around here. And sometimes I don’t eat what I made because I have dinner with Jack or Ali on a night off, or I’m not in the mood to eat what I made and I have to get out of the basement where I work, so I go down the street to fetch something instead. Plus, one cannot make individual servings of tomato basil bisque, or beef stew, or casserole. I share what I cook sometimes, but then the trouble with that is that the recipients share back, sending me home with meatloaf or pasta.

And then there are the yummies from other establishments, like pumpkin spice lattes and hot cocoa from Starbucks. They’re usually way too sweet for me and I hate drinking my fat intake (I’d rather save the fat for chewing), so the lattes are skim and I skip the whip every time, but the hot cocoa cannot be compromised.

Do not. Compromise. The cocoa.

And then… there is the bounty of Thanksgiving. This is a bounty I’ve missed out on for years because I’ve had to work. But this year, I’ve just learned, I will be off on Thanksgiving. And the heavens opened, and a chorus of chubby little cherubim with dark meat turkey legs in one dimpled hand and bowls of homemade stuffing in the other dimpled hand sang “hallelujah” around the gobs of grub in their cheeks.

"I wonder if we'll have broccoli in butter sauce." -"Yeah, or green bean casserole. I love that stuff."

(Then, out of nowhere, my father swooped in and gave them searing looks for singing with their mouths full. He would have done it for singing at the table, too, but cherubim don’t have to sit at a table to eat. So instead they got looks for not sitting at the table to eat. Even though they have wings and they float on clouds and the tables would fall through the clouds, so that’s totally unfair, Dad.)

Point is, this is the time of year when I fantasize about stuffing. I could go into some warm and glowy homespun story about the tradition of stuffing-making in our family; the recipe and the way everyone contributes, but I’ll save that for a time closer to when we’re actually making it. This year, my father’s older brother and sister-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving, so I won’t be contributing, but Christmas will be at my parents’ house right after they move back from Florida to commence retirement (yes, they are moving out of Florida when they retire) and it will be on like Donkey Kong.

I have Christmas off for the first time in years, too. Cue seraphim covered in cookie crumbs.

"Behold! The kingdom of the Lord is at hand! Not that hand, THIS hand. Put some of those butter cookies in it. They're... uh, they're for the baby Jesus. Yeah."

I’m indulging in other signature Fall experiences, as well; cuddling up in my big fleece robe or under a blanket on my huggy couch, watching some scary show or a feel-good movie, or reading a book. Grinning like a sappy fool at pictures of Twin Nephs in the pumpkin patch. Breathing deep the scent of burning fireplaces in crisp evening air, or of comfort-scented candles. Pulling the covers up over my head and sleeping a little longer. Sipping big red wines instead of chilled white ones. And staring at clear blue skies with changing leaves below them, trying to gauge exactly when the colors at the nature trail will peak on a similarly crystal-skied day before losing their leaves in a single rainstorm, and whether it will coincide with my days off so I can go take pictures like I hope to do every year, but never can because I always miss the prime conditions.

Maybe I’ll actually walk a good chunk of the trail while I’m playing photographer. I’ve got at least two holidays full of stuffing to prepare for.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

The gloves are off.

There were a lot of accusations, recriminations, spats and flat-out confrontations in the latest debate in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, aired on CNN last night.

It was like the political equivalent of the Real Housewives.

Not that I watch that.

Fine. Just the New Jersey one.

"Rick, I'm speaking! I'm speaking! I'm speaking! I'm speaking!"

You might be rolling your eyes, thinking this is the last thing you want to see or hear, and I get that. But I think it was great. Not because I don’t like these candidates, and not because I love it when politicians squabble over petty disagreements, but because I think it shows two things: character and un-spun approaches. A good fight is going to show you who can outwit whom and who can think fast on their feet. Being president requires both those strengths. Also, it’s good television, and if audiences are bored by debates, this is how to get them to watch.

Since Herman Cain hurdled over Mitt Romney in some polls since the last organized face-off, it was his turn to bear the brunt of the harsh questions off the top. Target: 9-9-9, Cain’s tax plan that he says is simple, transparent and effective. He would wipe out the entire federal tax code and replace it with a 9% tax across the board on income, corporations and sales. He says the reason it’s been attacked is because lobbyists, accountants and politicians don’t want to throw out the current tax code. He says it’s an easy plan. But he spent a lot of energy telling the other candidates they didn’t get it.

When you’ve got everybody on stage (except for Newt Gingrich, who seems to really like Cain) telling you your plan is crap for reasons they can specifically enumerate, you’ve got a problem.

Herman, we've got a problem.

Rick Santorum pointed out that a report from the impartial Tax Policy Center shows that 84% of Americans would actually pay more in taxes if Cain’s plan was implemented. I took a look: the worst hit would go to the low and middle class, smacking those who make between $10- and $20,000 with an increase around $2,700 a year. But homes with the highest incomes would pay less; those making more than a million per year would pay nearly half of what they pay now.

Texas governor Rick Perry told Cain that all he has to do is go to New Hampshire (or any other state that doesn’t have a sales tax) and he would find that the 9% consumer tax Cain calls for would, in fact, be a tax hike. Especially since, as Mitt Romney pointed out, the individual state sales taxes would not go away. Now you’ve got a 5, 6, 7% sales tax on top of Cain’s 9% federal tax. That’s 15% sales tax on everything you buy, every time you buy something. Plus, there’s no provision in the plan for a standard income deduction like we have now, and there’s no plan that helps families by decreasing the percentage of tax levied on income relative to dependents.

With attacks from all sides, Cain really couldn’t deflect the criticism. He wanted viewers to read the analysis of the plan posted on his website and see for themselves. Good luck. I’m fairly bright and I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. Admittedly, I’m not a business person, so I haven’t had to come up with tables and indexes; maybe someone else can look at the scoring and figure it out.

This might be the first time I can remember candidates flat-out calling for what amounts to an increase in taxes on the poor. The reality is that about half the country pays taxes. The other half have various reasons for immunity, but largely, it’s because they don’t make enough to meet the government guidelines for income tax liability. Now not only is Herman Cain saying they have to pay 9% income tax and 9% sales tax; Rep. Michele Bachmann says everyone should pay something as well. I understand that sentiment, but it’s not like the impoverished are getting away with something scandalous. Let’s find a serious way to lift them out of poverty instead of leaving them there and taxing them more.

One of the more fiery moments of the debate came when Rick Santorum challenged Mitt Romney on the issue of health care. He told Romney he has no credibility talking about “Obamacare” because of the health plan instituted in Massachusetts, accusing him of changing his story about whether it would be a good national plan. When the squabbling rose to a level at which Romney demanded to be heard without interruption, Santorum said, “You’re out of time.” It leaves Santorum looking petulant, but for a guy who can’t possibly win, he does a good job in challenging the guys to fights (he never engages Rep. Bachmann- he prefers to spar with Romney and Ron Paul). It might be his greatest value in the campaign.

Gov Rick Perry (3rd from right) stands like a cowboy. All the time. "Come 'n' git me."

This debate was, to a degree, make-or-break for Gov. Rick Perry, who’s crashed and burned in the previous face-offs. And he came out like a gunslinger last night. Perhaps the single most acrimonious moment was when Gov. Rick Perry flat-out accused Mitt Romney of hiring illegal immigrants. Romney at first denied knowing what he was talking about; then, upon challenge, he explained that his wife and he hired landscapers, who turned out to employ illegal immigrants, and when the Romneys realized it, they terminated the service with that company. But wow, did this get heated between the two men. I mean there were death stares. These two guys really don’t like each other. It led to another showdown of interruptions, so intense that Romney asked Anderson Cooper to break it up. When Cooper allowed Romney to speak and Perry interrupted again, Romney condescendingly, but with humor, said, “You have a problem with allowing people to finish speaking. And if you want to be President of the United States, I would suggest that you allow both people to speak.”

Fightin' words all over the place.

If Mitt Romney were my father, I would be terrified. My father was big on manners.

There were three controversial issues raised in the debate that I thought provoked compelling responses. Anderson Cooper asked, in light of Rev. Robert Jeffress’ condemnation of Mormonism as a “cult” while speaking at a Value Voters event headlined by Gov. Rick Perry, whether faith was fair game in a campaign. Rick Santorum, who is a vigorous Catholic, made his stand clear: values are important. If a candidate professes a religion, it is entirely fair to look at the values taught by that religion and parse how it will affect a candidate’s decision-making. But parsing the road to salvation is entirely different and should not be part of the debate over politics.

It was, to me, an impressive and fair-minded answer from a guy I often consider to be a closed-minded hot-head.

What? I admit my biases.

Gov. Rick Perry, by the way, repeated that he did not agree with Rev. Jeffress’ statements, and Romney was gracious enough to accept that without offense.

Another controversial topic was the Occupy movement. I’m surprised that it only rendered one question. Days ago, Herman Cain had said that if a person is angry that they’re jobless and not rich, they shouldn’t blame Wall Street; they should blame themselves. It’s exactly the kind of thing most self-made, successful businessmen would say. He stood by it emphatically at the debate, even though it’s not going to sit well with independent voters. Ron Paul countered, saying he understands why people are angry, and he said Cain’s approach blames the victims in most cases. He used it to get into his adversity to the Fed, and that’s where Cain accused him of mixing problems. But Cain also suggested that the protestors are in the wrong place; he wants them to march on the White House instead of Wall Street.

Which means they’re blaming government instead of themselves. I’m confused.

But here’s the moment that may do Cain the most harm going forward: he got a question about his stance on negotiating with terrorists. Could he see himself making a deal for a prisoner swap, similar to the one made yesterday in which the Palestinian Authority released an Israeli soldier. Cain said yes. The reason it’s a bit of a flap is because, in an interview prior to the debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cain if he could see himself making a deal that, say, released all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a benefit to the US.

And Cain said yes.

After the debate, Anderson Cooper did an informal one-on-one with Cain, and played the soundbite from the Blitzer interview. Upon returning from tape, a slack-faced Cain said very succinctly: “I misspoke. We were moving fast (with the interview) at the time and I misspoke. I would not do that.”

Generally I would suspect this was a bs answer because he’s trying to walk back a mistake, but his response here struck me as genuine. Still, if fewer people saw the Cooper interview after the debate, the negotiation question may come back to bite him.

I don’t know if Herman Cain will hold on to his momentum after this debate. Not being able to explain his “simple” tax plan is a problem, and he was exposed for novice levels of knowledge in other areas, like foreign policy. If Rick Santorum stays in the race just to hammer away at the poll-toppers, his greatest service will be to make people think twice, and that’s not a bad thing. Rep. Michele Bachmann is done. She can’t claw her way back from the basement with anything near the way she performed in the debate, spouting answers unrelated to questions and shooting for cute turns of phrase. Ron Paul may hold steady, which is to say he’s not going to rise; he’s got his staunch supporters and I don’t think he’ll gather many more (though I believe he’ll get the Occupy vote). Gov. Rick Perry did much better in this debate; he may come back a bit in the polls. Mitt Romney may actually suffer a tad for his patriarchal condescension and his anger at interruptions. And Newt Gingrich continues to fascinate me. But I’m sensing a pattern now. His intelligence means he’s easily and genuinely clever. And the crowd ate it up.

I think I’m finally starting to figure out debate audiences.

"Now you're getting it!"

You can read the full transcript of the debate here. (I feel sorry for the transcribers in this one.)

Swinging For the Fences

I had a serious dilemma trying to figure out whether to watch the GOP debate or the baseball game last night.

No, really. I did.

Technically, I shouldn’t have cared about either thing. The Phillies are out, their hopes dashed in five games by Jack’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Pfft. Whatever. And the debates may now officially be an exercise in futility, because despite the fact that Herman Cain has surged, nobody is talking about Rick Perry anymore, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie body-slammed the right with two major announcements:

  1. He is still not running for president… no really, he means it.
  2. He is endorsing Mitt Romney.

The first thing wasn’t a surprise, because he’s been saying all along that he’s not running, but he gave a speech at the Reagan National Library and Nancy Reagan was there and some people were all “You should run” and so out of respect for the former first lady he said he would reconsider.

There are lots of reasons he answered correctly, by the way. For example, and in no particular order: his style works in New Jersey, but wouldn’t work nationally; he is far, far more moderate than some of the people who were calling on him to run realized, particularly on illegal immigration, climate change and gun control; and he doesn’t offer anything that the other guys (namely, Mitt Romney) don’t offer. He’d be a redundant candidate, and he knows it. Any run from him this year would have been only to gain national exposure to run for either the Senate or the presidency down the line.

But Tuesday, when he came out and endorsed Mitt Romney, he pushed momentum very clearly in Romney’s favor, and wasted no time doing it. It’s sort of like Game 2 of the NLCS when the Cards brought out the bats in a big way in the fourth through sixth innings. Sure, things could change, but if you wanted to beat the traffic home, you were probably okay to leave early.

That got me thinking: baseball and political campaigns are kind of similar. Both can sometimes be overly long and tedious processes. Both contain their share of change-ups and even sliders here and there. Both need good pitching to come out a winner. In either sport, a match-up can be won or lost on a single error. In either sport, there are some spectacular meltdowns and some teams that just peak early and fade.

There’s even a little bit of a financial comparison. Herman Cain and the Tampa Bay Rays both proved that they can pull off an impressive surge without having the funding that the big guys have. And both wind up sitting in the bleachers for the championship run. (Cain is too green to get the nod from the GOP.) Still, it’s fun to watch and it reminds people of why it’s sometimes so much fun to root for the underdog.

I found a way to watch both events, by the way. Hooray for the internets.

This debate was only about the economy. I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving you a real play-by-play. Nobody said anything new, and since part of my multitasking was also that I was trying to get some work done, I didn’t get to watch the whole time; I was just listening to a lot of it. So instead of giving you platforms, with which you’re familiar if you’ve read my previous debate posts (check out the Political Snark category for a comprehensive review), I’m going to break this down into baseball terms.

Herman Cain, for all his momentum recently, still can’t stop talking about his 9-9-9 plan, and in this debate, a couple of the candidates got to expose it for the overly simple problem it would likely be. In fact, this translated to my favorite Rick Santorum Moment, in which Santorum questioned Cain directly and asked him, with his lack of governing experience, how the American people could trust him not to allow that tax to be raised. Cain’s response was that there are three deterrents to that:

  1. He would ask Congress to include a 2/3 majority vote before raising the tax;
  2. His simple, visible and transparent plan would allow the American people to hold Congress’ feet to the fire;
  3. He would be president and wouldn’t sign anything that raises that tax.

Under his breath, Santorum groused, “You wouldn’t be president forever.”
And I agreed with Rick Santorum. And then the world shifted on its axis. But I digress. Point is: Cain put up a pop fly everybody would cheer for, but Santorum easily caught it and Cain was out.

A moderator asked Rep. Michele Bachmann if it was right that no Wall Street executives have gone to jail for the damage they did to the economy. Her answer was that the problem could be traced back to the federal government, not Wall Street. She said it was the government that pushed subprime loans and community reinvestment and housing goals, pushing banks to lend to those who were not qualified and withholding business merger possibilities if the banks didn’t make the loans. She said Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae created artificially low mortgage rates and lower credit qualifications for the first time in history.

Republican home run.

But later she blew the run when she championed her stance on insisting that Congress not raise the debt ceiling and give President Obama “a $2.4 billion dollar blank check.” She’s said this several times before. You know what makes me nuts about it? If there’s an amount written in, it’s not a blank check. Error. Then she said she’s a federal tax lawyer: “That’s what I do for a living.” Wait. I thought you were a congresswoman. Error #2. And then she said that if you take Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside-down, you’ll find the devil is in the details. I don’t think she’s wrong about the flaws in the plan, but what’s with the kitsch? You just sort of called the plan evil, and called Herman Cain Satan by association. Bad throw. Error #3.

Newt Gingrich continues his codgerly rant against all media, which makes me write him off as a sore loser arguing a call with an ump, with or without spittle. I had to chuckle at his characterization of the Occupy movement: he figures they’re basically two groups – either left-wing agitators who would happily show up at whatever movement springs up next week, or sincere middle-class people who are much more like the Tea Party. Gingrich says the difference is that the decent people pick up after themselves, and the activists trash the place and walk away.

I think Newt Gingrich might be the out-of-touch, once-great old manager in this campaign. He grumbles in the dugout while scratching himself and occasionally looks up and notes accurately that someone has just completely screwed up on strategy and cost the team. You don’t know what to do with a guy like that.

Meanwhile, if there’s an umpire in this bunch, it’s Mitt Romney. He’s the guy who doesn’t like being argued with or interrupted, but he’s also the guy with the good eye who tends to know all the rules and stays on message. He generally sees what questions are coming and knows how to call the play. He doesn’t get them all right, but if somebody gets in his face, he calmly points at the dugout and sends them on their way.

And Rick Perry is starting to strike me as the owner who has no real idea of how baseball works. (This, from the woman who just realized yesterday that, in 34 years, she has never asked anyone what the catchers’ signals to the pitchers actually stand for.) He’s still horrible in debates. His moderation does still show here and there, but mostly he’s struggling to find a way to word his answers.

Jon Huntsman is the fan who scores the game obsessively. Finally, he’s started talking about China, and man does he have useful knowledge. But now he has to find a way to make it understandable. After a question about China’s manipulation of currency and its effects on pricing and exports, he started talking about quantitative easing, parts one and two. He eventually figured out how to be social, but at the moment, nobody wants to sit next to him.

And I’m not even sure Ron Paul suited up. He didn’t blow anything. He just didn’t really get any hits or force any outs.

I’m learning a lot about baseball lately, watching the signs and thinking through the plays. And I’m starting to wonder if this bunch of candidates is doing that, or if they’re just taking the swings that will make the crowd cheer. In the major league playoffs, if you want to win the game, there’s a delicate balance. Play it right and you’ll get the crowd behind you. Play it wrong and you could be going home to watch the big games with everybody else. Or you could be the team that comes from relative obscurity and wins it all, without anybody ever really understanding how.

Thrill Me, Chill Me, Make Me Scream

Jack won’t watch scary movies with me.

*Pouty face.*

This time of year I always get all excited about scary movies in theaters and ghost shows on TV. And there is nobody who will watch them with me. Which is so not good, because that means I have to either go to the scary movie by myself or watch it by myself at home on TV and then watch Comedy Central for at least 30 minutes afterward so I can go to bed without thinking I’m going to open my eyes and see a very bad person standing really, really still in the doorway.


I like to watch Ghost Adventures, which I think would be scarier if the host guy wasn’t such a d-bag, but which still makes me think I see a little ball of light in the hallway out of the corner of my eye. Oh, and Ghost Hunters International, in which the people once went to Wolf’s Lair in Poland and taunted. The ghost. Of HITLER.

Such a bad idea. Lose-lose. No good for anybody. What are you doing?!

I want to see Dream House. I figure it has to be good because Daniel Craig and Naomi Watts and Rachael Weisz are in it, and why would they waste their time on a crappy horror flick? They wouldn’t. So I want to see it.

I’ve spent two weeks watching a bunch of previews for the new FX series, American Horror Story, with Connie Britton and Jessica Lange and Dylan McDermott (who is not scary at all, knowwhatimsayin’?). And I’ve thought it looks totally freaky and I’ve been so excited.

Even the font is scary.

And when I got home from work Wednesday night, The Exorcism of Emily Rose was on cable. Ohhhhh, but that movie freaked. Me. OUT when I saw it in the theater a few years ago with my friend Jay. For days, I was afraid to wake up at 3:00am. Weeks, even.

It’s what Jack calls a “devil movie.”

“I’m not watching any devil movies!” he tells me when I poke him about watching something scary with me.


He did actually watch about an hour of The Exorcism of Emily Rose once, on TV. Allegedly. I wasn’t there, so I can only take him at his word. I don’t know which hour, but if it was the first hour, then he was probably pretty skeeved. That’s the hour where all the really OMG stuff happens. Emily Rose goes to college and gets possessed and winds up convulsing all over the place and eating spiders and jumping from her knees to her feet and back to her knees again in the corner of a room with, like, mindbending speed–

That's a pile of bugs near her hand. She's been eating them. Also she's been clawing at the walls.

–or is she just suffering a rare form of epilepsy so severe that it causes psychotic episodes and hallucinations of the Virgin Mary? You walk away from the movie trying to figure out if demons are real and denying them means you’re making God sad, or if all those people who supposedly had demons back in the proverbial Day were actually just mentally ill. And then that leads to wondering whether the supposedly mentally ill among us are actually possessed by demons.

You don’t know.

Alright, fine, you probably know, but it’s still spooky. And since Jack and I are both Catholic, the possession/exorcism thing is more real for us and makes those movies even scarier.

I love that.

I hate fake scary movies. If it’s not something that could actually happen in real life, it’s not going to scare me. Some burned up guy with blades for hands? Please. Never gonna happen. A guy who climbs out of a lake with a hockey mask on? Nope. A leprechaun with a voracious appetite? Dumb. I’ll admit that dolls and clowns scare the bejeesus out of me, which is completely unreasonable, but those are both universally regarded as creepy, so it’s not a failure of logic so much as it’s an inexplicable, but established, wrong. But you give me a call that’s coming from inside the house, or a fleeting human figure flashing noiselessly past a doorway in shadow so that you’re not quite sure whether you saw something or not, or a family man who loses his mind and picks up an ax, or a recurring nightmare that leaves you so sleepless that you can’t tell whether it’s real or not when it seems to start actually happening during your waking hours… I’m a sucker for that.

In the itty bitty hours of Thursday morning, I actually watched the pilot of American Horror Story (after I watched the end of The Exorcism of Emily Rose). And honestly, it didn’t “scare” me as much as it made me sort of go, “What the hell is going on here?” It introduced a lot of craziness that is probably supposed to confuse me, and explained just enough to make me go, “No. Way. That is messed up!

Can’t wait for the next episode.

Meanwhile, Jack and I are watching Game 5 of the NLDS together tonight. He’s from St. Louis. I’m from Philly.

This is going to be terrifying.

How do you react to scary movies? What’s your favorite scary movie?

I know what democracy looks like. Stop yelling at me. Jeez.

It’s a good thing I was born to a quasi-apathetic generation. I could never stage a protest for 20 days.

For one thing, I have to work.

Today is 20th day of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration in Lower Manhattan, and it’s spread throughout the country. It’s super-exciting because the New York folks (who are not actually on Wall Street, so the name is a bit of a failure) are yelling chants and camping out (well, the hard-core people are camping out; the rest are just joining up on the weekends) and painting their faces to look like corporate zombies while they eat fake money. Seven hundred of them got arrested for blocking the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend. Of course, this means the protestors are now also protesting against police brutality. Which everybody else is against, too, so apparently it depends on how you define it, and they’re defining it as “we got arrested for blocking the bridge.”

The cops did pepper-spray some women who were penned into a little square on the sidewalk and didn’t do anything to deserve it. I’m down with that definition of police brutality.

But I wish I knew what these super-exciting protestors actually want.

I mean I get that they don’t like Wall Street corporate money-eating zombies. But I’m guessing pretty much everybody is against that. Zombies are terrifying. Some of the demonstrators say they’re like the Tea Party movement, but liberal. Which is then, by definition, not at all like the Tea Party movement. And then others say they’re like the Arab Spring demonstrators who brought down their rulers in the Middle East. In fact, Occupy Wall Street’s website says it is using that model.

So I guess one of the things on the list of demands is a coup…?

Wait, there’s not actually a list of demands. And that’s what sort of frustrates me about this demonstration. It seems even the mayor of New York City doesn’t really get it. Michael Bloomberg says the demonstrators aren’t even aiming their protests at the right people. As quoted by the Associated Press: “The protestors are protesting against people who make $40- or $50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s the bottom line. Those are the people who work on Wall Street or in the finance sector.”

Um… Mr. Mayor… I might not know exactly what they want, but I know they’re not protesting the dudes who make $40,000. Perhaps you need a refresher in symbolism. You look like an idiot when you say stuff like that.

I looked at to see if their mission statement was clear there. Not really. In a sidebar to all the video and photos and calls for solidarity to the vague cause, there’s a summation that says:

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

(Well now I have a rhetorical bone to pick, because there are only two genders, and because most of us are angry to some degree, but I wouldn’t say all 99% exactly have decided they will no longer tolerate it, and this group doesn’t have 99% of the country at their protests. But protests are, to some extent, about rhetoric. So I’ll let it go.)

I don’t have a problem with the people’s right to protest. Protests that started small and gathered steam have helped change the way things get done in this country, despite the dismay of the majority. I believe in standing up for what you think is right, and if you feel that you need to stage a protest, by all means, go ahead. Please make it reasonable, non-violent, and not a catalyst for criminality. (Disturbing the peace and other civil disobedience measures I can handle, to a point.)

But this particular protesting fad that’s sweeping the nation doesn’t seem to have a cohesive point or a broader understanding of implications. I’ve heard some protestors say that they are staying put until the entire American banking system changes. Well… you’re going to be there a long time. Bloomberg is going to mistake you for homeless people and sweep you out when it’s time for holiday tourists. Other protestors want reforms to health care. Some are calling for an end to corporate tax loopholes. There’s a set that wants an end to corporate campaign donations (there is a larger argument that companies have too much influence over government). Still others say the biggest problem is income tax discrepancies. And then there are those who want our entire political system to change. For some people it’s about the educational system. Or the distribution of food. And some of them do want a coup. There are so many different causes that the only thing uniting the group is their anger.

I wasn’t part of the 60s. My frame of reference for the civil rights era is one that benefits from the grace of historical perspective to define it more succinctly. At the time, I suppose it felt largely like chaos and anger and fear and brutality. But it seems that it still had a single message: end discrimination. It seems it had a credible goal, rather than a propensity for overstating that takes away from its validity as a movement. I guess maybe there were a lot of messages back then, a lot of fractured demands. But it’s easy, from a historical, humanist perspective, to see why people fought back. It’s easy to see why people deserved their rights.

It’s harder to see that when we’re talking about concepts like capitalism. Capitalism absolutely has its victims. And it would be ignorant to claim that it’s not as fierce a foe to those victims as the violent and widespread, blatant racism of the pre-civil rights era. The truest victims of capitalism’s crimes are hungry, homeless, hopeless, sick or desperate. Poverty is a plague that claims generations, just like racism. And the two have their inarguable links.

I can support a cause that believes government must empty its pockets of corporate influence, at least to some extent. But there are so many other demands… I can’t tell if that’s really the overarching theme. And if your movement doesn’t seem to have a unified voice, how can you expect it to accomplish anything besides making noise?



I think another part of the reason I’m a little frustrated with these folks is because we have it pretty damned good in this country. It’s far from perfect, and right now it’s unacceptably difficult for a larger group of people than usual. I believe in constantly striving to be better. But on the whole, this country is still the envy of the world, and there’s part of me that feels like using the Arab Spring as a model for rebellion here makes a mockery of the fight those people were fighting. I have to wonder: of all these people protesting, how many of them will vote in November? How many will vote in local races? How many will contact their congressional representatives after that to exercise their voices on varied issues?

And how many are just there because it’s a thrill to join in the frenzy?

I know what democracy looks like. I’m not sure the protestors do. This country is not a democracy; It’s a republic. It’s a republic for a reason. We may be incredibly, angrily frustrated with our representatives, but if we were a true democracy in which nothing was calibrated for weight, it would be absolute madness on a scale we’ve never seen. All the voices in the cacophony would cancel each other out and we would be left with nothing but unproductive, intractable noise and no message. Above the din of everyone yelling, no one would ever be heard.

I’m not saying every person on Capitol Hill is a genius, and I’m certainly not saying they all offer a true representation of their constituents. But I grow increasingly frustrated with a population whose information is limited, but who insist it is educated enough to know how the handle global financial affairs. The reason we’re a republic is that sometimes the People are flat-out stupid and there has to be somebody who knows how things actually work who says, “Yeah, thanks. We’re going to go ahead and ignore you because if we do what you say we’ll all be in the midst of nuclear war and widespread famine within five minutes.” Ungoverned groupthink can be dangerous because it lacks checks and balances. The world is a big place and a small place at the same time, and not everybody plays nicely in the sandbox. It takes finesse to play it right, and the People don’t have that.

But we do have a voice. If you insist you don’t have a voice once the elections are over, you have forgotten that you can call or write or email or show up at the door of your representative or senator and insist on being heard. Sometimes you will be ignored, or deflected, or pawned off on someone else. But you do have a voice. Sometimes a representative does not hear it. Vote them out. Use your voice for something other than shouting at the rain. And don’t confuse the effort to make yourself heard with the effort of getting your way.

Because that will make you just like everyone you are trying to defeat.

What do you think of the protests?