Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

I won’t judge you…unless you’re wearing a costume

I live in a cohesive community that reminds me in all the best ways of Orange Hunt, the neighborhood where I grew up. As in good ol’ O.H., neighbors here know one another and people take care of each other. But my current neighborhood has something O.H. didn’t: a community-owned park at the end of a street. That’s where I once again judged the annual Halloween costume contest, which took place today.

My neighborhood brought me back by popular demand, if we count as a demand last night’s neighborhood-wide email blast seeking people who are “interested and highly qualified. Or reasonably qualified.” I volunteered before they lowered their standards to “reasonably alive.” But I did it with some reluctance because my 13 year-old niece, Emily, couldn’t come. She had joined me last year in a zebra outfit and under the pretense of taking notes, but really, I wanted her there for backup in case things broke bad.

Though I didn’t have my backup zebra this year, I didn’t have to go it alone after all. As I was walking out the front door, I ran into Sue, my neighbor’s mom. She had come to town to see her granddaughter walk in the parade and nobly answered the call to the reasonably qualified. I was happy to see her. I like Sue a lot, but more importantly, she’s smaller than I am and was wearing a homemade ghost costume whose eye holes tended to rove. I felt certain I could outrun her if the crowd turned on us.

At 10 a.m., the parade got underway, led, as your better parades are, by a Jeep-driving Captain Hook. Behind him walked an inflated T-Rex, princesses, a ballot box with legs, Kraft Macaroni-n-Cheese, superheroes, a donut, George Washington, Greek goddesses, a punk rocker, french fries, a president, a farmer and his barnyard animals, Harry Potter and Hermione, a UPS crew, the entire cast of Toy Story, owls, a cheeseburger, and scores of other costume-clad revelers. The Arlington County police lent their support by dressing up as themselves and clearing traffic from the parade route. The parade culminated in the park, where the other judges and I circulated to get a closer look at the costumes that piqued our interest. Forty-five minutes later, the judges huddled to determine the winners.

As I’ve said before, wearing an inflatable shows extraordinary costume commitment.

As in Olympic figure skating, we scored based on presentation, required elements, and the ability to stay vertical while wearing an absurd outfit. After three minutes of agonizing deliberation–twenty seconds of which was spent rearranging Sue’s eyeholes–we had our winners

Captain Hook took to the dais (French for “unoccupied picnic table”) and silenced the crowd so the head judge could announce our results.

The winners I remember are:

  • Kraft Mac-n-Cheese: Were the creators going for irony with a homemade costume depicting America’s favorite processed powdered cheese side dish? We didn’t know and we didn’t care. Like most people, we love mac and cheese in any form.
  • The cast of Toy Story: they had it all, and it looked like they’d made it all. Or at least most of it. It’s hard to get close enough to inspect for “Made in China” labels without committing a serious personal space violation.
  • A family of monkeys: This looked to me like a faithful rendition of life in a zoo, or family mealtime. Either way, a few hurled bananas would have upped the authenticity.
  • The farm: We overlooked the fact that this farm’s chicken was strapped into a stroller –so much for free range eggs –because the cow and pig were so darned cute.
  • A graveyard bride: dressed all in grey and black, I imagine this is how I look when I haunt my ex-husband’s dreams. Mwahahaha.
  • The UPS crew: On person’s Amazon trash is another person’s UPS truck, loaded up with all kinds img_0161of cargo and a pig in the passenger seat. The driver, a toddler who lives on my street, refused to get into the truck. I don’t blame him; I’d be grumpy about working Saturdays, too.
  • The ballot box: By the time we announced the results, she was nowhere to be found. Either she’d gone off to stuff herself or she’d walked off with the election. We’ll never know.

And though he didn’t win, my personal favorite was this one:

img_0175

Yep, that’s an “A” that flashes on and off, making him…A-blinkin’.

I texted this pic to my family, eliciting responses that reflect the national mood right now.

L.J.: “Is he running for President? Because if he is, I’ll write him in!”

Lynne: “Me too! He has my vote!” She didn’t even ask about his email protocol.

Suzi: “At this point I would even vote for the UPS truck or the mac and cheese!!” Perhaps she thinks the mac and cheese would better represent us than the current orange candidate. I cannot disagree.

L.J.: “UPS delivers the goods!”

Like this annual event, that slogan is a real winner. Now if only we could find the ballot box.

img_0153

Me and Sue. She calls it a costume, I call it the Judge Protection Program.

img_0171

Like my creds?

Judging the neighborhood Halloween costume contest: trick or treat?

Welcome to November and the daily blog slog known as National Blog Posting Month! This is my third year doing NaBloPoMo and my second with my pal/writing partner/podcast co-host Philippa. We wanted to honor the tradition but, due to scheduling and other insanity, decided to do it as a relay this time. I’m running the opening leg…look for her post tomorrow! 

My neighborhood goes large on Halloween. The same people who put on the annual Easter Parade in which I have twice starred as Lead Traumatizer do a Halloween processional featuring kids and their handlers decked out in trick-or-treat finery. The parade ends in a nearby park and culminates in a costume contest.

Like the Easter parade, the Halloween event depends on the time and effort of volunteers. My neighbor T, chair of the event, asked if I would be a costume judge. The “why not?” philosophy that has led to so many questionable decisions in my life caused me to say yes before I realized this job offered similar potential for inflicting little kid trauma as the bunny gig but without the anonymity. Uh-oh.

On Friday I got an instructional email from T. It contained some details I expected, such as where to be and when, and others that I did not, such as that one of the other two judges would lead the parade in his convertible and a tuxedo. A convertible and a tux? I planned to lead my own personal charge on foot and in yoga pants. The email also mentioned that prizes would be awarded in five categories and suggested that the judges might want to take notes as kids passed. This didn’t sound like a ragtag neighborhood assembly; it sounded like the Rose Parade meets Child’s Play.

I began to wonder whether I was qualified for the job, which I had assumed required nothing more than a set of working eyeballs. Would they expect me, for example, to be able to differentiate between homemade and store-bought costumes without inspecting for “made in China” labels? And in the way that I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes whose lumps mark them as unmistakably homemade, would I be allowed to reward a lumpy costume? Finally, would I have to enter the Judges Protection Program afterwards? That last one sounds like hyperbole, but even a kids-free type like me has read enough about helicopter, tiger and snowplow parents to be nervous about screwing up.

I voiced these concerns to my 12 year-old niece, Emily, during the annual Halloween party my sister Lynne and her husband hosted on Friday night. Emily’s friends had gone and the two of us were hanging out in her room, she in a zebra outfit and I in a dress right out of Star Trek.

I didn’t expect her to care about my plight, yet without batting an eyelid my niece said, “Can I come with you? Like right now?” Emily has an addiction to office supplies, so I should’ve known she couldn’t resist an event that just begged for a clipboard. I had every reason to say yes, too. I love spending time with my niece, and I also liked the idea of having backup. Emily is nursing a bum knee, so if an angry mob formed, I figured it would target the wounded zebra first. As soon as I gave the thumbs-up, my niece tossed a clipboard, two notebooks, several pens and a toothbrush into a backpack. The Trekkie and the zebra then went on the lam and made tracks for my home in Arlington.

On Saturday morning, Emily and I arrived at the appointed corner a few minutes before the 10 a.m. start time. The Arlington County cops were there, too, because no self-respecting neighborhood Halloween parade takes off without a police escort. We were soon joined by another judge who’d done this before. She told us to focus less on the prize categories and more on the costumes. The judges would circulate, meet as a group, reach consensus on the best costumes, and then figure out which categories suited them.

The parade got underway and I soon understood why we needed to take notes: costumed kids and their handlers streamed past us by the dozens.

The head judge, riding in on a white horse. Er, mustang.

The head judge, riding in on a white horse. Er, mustang.

Em and I found it impossible to see them all, much less take notes. We milled around the park in an attempt to achieve full coverage, but this was easier said than done, as many children had abandoned their parents, their costumes or both.

At 10:45, the judges congregated to compare notes and we handed out awards 15 minutes later. In the “group/family” category, a medieval royal clan tied with a Star Wars gang, led by a dad wearing an inflatable Jabba the Hutt suit. (Several families went the Star Wars route, but we thought the inflatable suit showed a special level of dedication.) Another family won some sort of prize for its take on NASA, which entailed adding cardboard wings to a Radio Flyer wagon, covering the whole thing with tin foil and plopping a spacesuit-wearing toddler in it.

An inflatable Jabba the Hutt costume: ya gotta want it.

An inflatable Jabba the Hutt costume: ya gotta want it.

“Most original” went to a three-headed, four-armed, multi-eyeballed monster who came up with the idea and design all by himself and then handed it over to his parents to execute, which they did with aplomb. We gave the “cute and sweet” award to a sprinkled donut: an adorable little girl wearing brown, round seat cushions festooned with colorful strips of ribbon. Two siblings dressed as popcorn and Coke–the red Coke cup fashioned from a red plastic trash can–rounded out the field.

The turnout for the Easter parade was big, but it can't compete with a pagan holiday.

The turnout for the Easter parade was big, but it can’t compete with a pagan holiday.

If there were helicopter, snowplow or any other heavy-machinery or lethal animal-type parents, I didn’t see them. Nor did we notice any homemade costumes so elaborate no one could possibly make them without taking a sabbatical. People were just there to have fun, rendering all my worries moot. Even so, if I’m asked to judge again next year, I’m not doing it without my zebra.

The hardest working zebra in show business.

The hardest working zebra in show business.

 

When art imitates life, does it have to do such a good job?!

My friend Philippa and I met this afternoon to work on our podcast (read: conscript two of our dearest friends into filming another Dating Public Service Announcement since Dating PSA #1 went over so well). She also invited me to join her afterwards at the Signature Theater in Arlington to see a play called Sex With Strangers.

“It sounds relevant to our demographic,” she said.  I hadn’t heard anything about it yet, and the last time I went to a show without knowing anything about it, I got a whole lot more than I bargained for, but I agreed to go for the sake of the show.

As it turns out, the show was relevant not just to our listening demographic but to the two of us.

The Signature Theater website synopsizes it as follows:

A raging snowstorm traps strangers Olivia, an unsuccessful, yet gifted, thirty-nine-year-old writer, and Ethan, a tech-addicted and wildly successful young blogger, in a secluded cabin. Opposites instantly attract, undeniable chemistry ignites and sex is imminent. As the dawn rises, however, what could have just been a one-night-stand transforms into something more complicated when online exploits interfere with their real-life connection.

I later learned the show is based loosely on a book called I Hope They Serve Beer In Hellwhich of course I’ve heard of because my book lives in the same sketchy neighborhood on Amazon.com.

Shortly after the characters meet in the opening scene, Ethan freaks out when he learns the cabin does not have wireless. I actually snorted, having lived out a very similar episode this summer, not with a handsome stranger but with Philippa. She and I were at the DC Arts Center, doing a live recording of our podcast, when Philippa’s phone began to malfunction.

“My phone’s not working,” she said.

“That’s okay, mine is,” I said,  thinking that Philippa’s concern was having a device to record the audio portion of our show.

“But my phone’s not working,” she repeated, only louder and slower this time, as if she were a foreigner visiting my country for the first time, found us natives stupid, and hoped to overcome our ignorance by cranking up the diction and volume. I decided to go native.

“I…know…Mine…does.”

“But I can’t get on Facebook!” she said.  Ah, she wasn’t worried about the show so much as the loss of access to cat videos. A crisis of epic proportions.

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” I said. “You can enjoy being unplugged for a bit.”  When Olivia said something similar to Ethan he reacted  with a glare so icy we got frostbite in the third row. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with Philippa but I could feel her looking at me.

A few minutes later, when Olivia was lamenting that the novel she’d written years earlier didn’t sell well because of how the publisher marketed it, Ethan suggested that she self-publish.

“Are you kidding?” she said, and went on to note that self-publishing is the refuge of “hacks.” I reached into my purse for the rotten tomatoes I keep handy for just occasions and hurled a piece of overripe produce at her head. Or perhaps I just inched down in my seat until my shoulder blades were resting on the cushion.

I’d like to tell you that was the only moment that made me cringe, but the show is full of uncomfortably authentic dialogue on all sorts of topics, and the excellent acting enhanced it. It’s also packed with insight into how most of us humans wage a constant battle between logic and impulse.

And one of its minor themes –the idea that a book has the power to make readers fall in love with its author–stuck with me long after I left.  I hope that’s right, because as regular listeners of our podcast know, I’ve had just about enough of OK Cupid.

Philippa and I snapped a post-show photo with the stranger himself. No wonder Olivia did what she did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every writer needs a garret…or a beer garden.

People sometimes envision writers as lonely souls, holed up in a garret and getting third degree burns from candle wax. The house I bought in 2012 had electricity but no garret, so I usually write at the standup desk in my office or in the comfy chair next to my bedroom window. As nice as these writing spaces are, though, sometimes loneliness does set in.

When that happens, as it did on one of those freakishly gorgeous nights we had in the DC area last summer, I pack up my laptop and go someplace else to write for a while. Sometimes having people nearby helps, even if you’re not interacting with them.

The evening in question was a weeknight, which made a road trip impossible, so I did the next best thing: put on a pair of shoes and strolled to the Westover Beer Garden. Though technically an annex to a grocery store called the Westover Market, the WBG is the main attraction.

Locals love it for the beer, the food, and the outdoor patio that’s open year-round.  That patio, which I had visited only twice since moving to the neighborhood, held center stage in my mind as I walked towards it, laptop and manuscript in a bag over my shoulder.

I sat down at a partially occupied picnic table, took out my red pen, and got to work.  I immediately drew the attention of several regulars, of course, because few things rival the sheer excitement of live-action editing.

The regulars wanted to know what I was working on and, on hearing it was a collection of humor essays, asked when it would be finished. (That question brought me as close as I’ve ever come to starting a bar-clearing brawl.) One of them, a jovial fifty-something named Larry, mentioned he had a background in comedy.  This did not surprise me in the least, but what absolutely floored me was his offer to be a first reader.

When I left the WBG that night, I had gotten very little editing done but I didn’t care because I had a new community of enthusiastic supporters, a genre-appropriate reader, and a great place to write. I began to meet Larry there regularly, and every single time, the other regulars would stop by to ask how the book was coming along.

When I showed up at the WBG on Tuesday night bearing a copy of Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing, they might have been even happier than I was. And it sounds like the WBG is considering carrying my book there. (This strikes me as an excellent idea, because I certainly don’t recommend reading it sober.)

So for all you writers out there, stay focused on your craft, but don’t be afraid to leave the garret, especially if there’s good beer to be had.

The Westover Library, which is just a few doors down from the WBG, formed a club called “Books on Tap.” I think I’ve found my people.