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?

You can dress ’em up, and sometimes that’s plenty

You know what holiday makes me appreciate and respect my mom even more than Mother’s Day? Halloween, because that was when her Make-It-From-Scratch skills reached their zenith. 

That’s really saying something, too, because my mother could and can figure out how to do just about anything and do it well. A self-taught cook, she made magic in the kitchen (except for that one time when she made shipwreck, but hey, we all screw up sometimes). She not only owned a sewing machine but knew how to use it, sometimes to make clothes but more often to perform non-elective surgery on pants, dresses, shirts and stuffed animals. And she’s resourceful, a trait that really came in handy during the pre-internet 1970’s and ’80s, when I was coming of age. 

Way back when, a month or so before Halloween, Mom would ask what we wanted to be that year. In hindsight, that question alone astonishes me. If I had four kids deeply involved in tennis, baseball, band, swimming, soccer and piano, I’d be in triage mode until October 29 at the earliest and wouldn’t ask a question any more open-ended than, “Which one are you, again?” I picture myself gathering the kids ’round the laptop for a festive Amazon.com session during which I’d ask them which costumes they’d like that are under $25 and can be delivered free by drone. Not Mom, though. She let our Halloween imaginations roam and then did a heroic job of keeping up with them, no matter what it took.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, I bring you a few entries from Mom’s Homemade Costume Hall of Fame (you’ll have to supply your own Barry Manilow soundtrack):

  • Miss Piggy: For some reason, my sister Lynne identified with this Muppets character and her diva ways (perhaps the steadfast refusal to carry a tune awakened a kindred spirit in my sister?), so that’s what she wanted to be for Halloween one year. Rising to the challenge, Mom didn’t try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; it was almost the other way around. She fashioned a snout from a Dixie cup, which she covered in pink felt. She made and attached to the Dixie snout a set of rosy, stuffed cheeks, which in turn were affixed to a strap that somehow met at the back of my sister’s head. The above-the-head portion of the ensemble was rounded out with a headband into which was wedged a pair

    The Miss Piggy costume Mom made was waaaay better than this, though her failure to accessorize with wine in a plastic cup is a serious oversight.

    of stuffed pig ears, sewn by Mom. In place of Miss Piggy’s signature lavender gown? Mom’s purple polyester bathrobe.

  • Jailbirds: Whether it was career foreshadowing or something more benign, in the late 1970s, my best friend, Liz, and I insisted on dressing up like a pair of convicts. Our knowledge of incarceration fashion was limited to cartoons, according to which orange was not the new black; horizontal zebra-stripes were au corante. To achieve that look, my mother and Liz’s mom took white undershirts from our respective dads, put down masking tape or something like it in horizontal stripes spaced an inch or two apart, and took a can of black spray paint to the un-taped remainder. They did the same with white corduroy pants and then made us accessories in the form of striped, brimless hats. The pièce de résistance was the ball-and-chain. The moms somehow sewed two black spheres and stuffed them with newspaper for the ball part. And don’t ask me where, but somehow they found chain loops made of bamboo or something similarly lightweight –the light fixture in our family room may have sacrificed something to the cause — that our little kid legs could drag around without fear of injury. (Wait a minute, is that what happened to my glam-string?!?!)
  • An Ewok: The Force was pretty much always with my brother. L.J.’s Star Wars addiction began before kindergarten, so it was just a matter of time before he requested one of the characters from the movie series. How in the world could Mom hope to replicate this furry, fictional forest critter? She took a set of footie pajamas and attempted to dye it brown. If she was aiming for burnt umber, she wound up with toasted marshmallow. Then she made custom headgear. (My brother hastened to clarify the term “headgear” here refers not to the orthodontic torture device I wore for the better part of 200 years but rather to a mascot topper.) According to L.J., Mom bought light brown furry material and covered most of the head with it, and then she added a piece of darker felt to depict the Ewok’s raccoon-like eye mask. Even Steven Spielberg would have been impressed.
  • The World Serious: My brother was into baseball at an early age, by which I mean an age where you, upon hearing a term like “World Series” and having no idea what either “world” or “series” means, may make a wee bit of a mistake when you try to pronounce it. L.J. heard the phrase as the “World Serious” and wanted that to be his costume. My mother took his World Serious request world seriously and re-created the 1986 showdown between the Mets and the Red Sox by somehow sewing together jerseys and hats from both teams. As my brother put it, “whichever side of me you saw, you got a ballplayer for one of the teams.” And trick and a treat, and a costume grand slam.

Thanks to my mom and all the other moms out there who set an impossibly high bar in the Halloween costume department. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some shopping to do on Amazon.

T2 wasn't alone in his costume cluelessness.

Last year’s find, courtesy of Target.

At long last, the follow-up to “Date Expectations”

Several attentive readers pointed out that nearly a month passed and I still hadn’t written a follow-up to my post about a much-anticipated first date with “T2.” My love life skews so heavily towards comedy that I thought you might find a cliffhanger a nice change of pace, but apparently not, so here goes.

A lot of people wanted to know if I was nervous. No, I wasn’t. I don’t really get nervous about these things, though I have ample reason to, based on my behavior on one particular date two summers ago. I was just looking forward to it, the best possible mindset to have before a date.

T2 had made a reservation at Georgia Brown’s, a downtown restaurant that serves upscale southern fare. He offered to pick me up and I accepted. I don’t usually do that, but I had a good feeling about T2, and my gut is rarely wrong, whether or not I listen to it.

Moments before T2 pulled up in front of my house, a torrential rain let loose. He came to the door with an umbrella big enough to shelter a family of 6, which meant there might even be room for my hair. We arrived at the restaurant and were shown to our table, one of a series of two-tops with chairs on one side and a long, cushioned banquette on the other.

T2 asked, “Where would you like to sit?”

It looked to me like the person who sat in the chair might be more in traffic, so I said, “I’ll take the chair.” The hostess pulled out the chair for me and I sat down. I should note that T2 and I are pretty much the same height, or at least we were until he took a seat on the banquette and immediately lost four inches.

I tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t, and neither could T2.

“Could I get a booster seat over here?” he said, just one of dozens of lines that kept me laughing all night.

By the time we finished dinner, the rain had abated so we walked around the monuments. DC is a picturesque city under any circumstances, but like most of us, it looks just a little better in the moonlight. Our conversation wandered happily, too.

I could hardly have imagined an evening going any better, which is why I went ahead and told T2 I thought we should move in together.

Oh, relax, people, I did no such thing. I didn’t even invite him to Thanksgiving. But things had gone well enough to make a second date a very good idea. This was fortunate because, in a slight breach of sequencing protocol, T2 had actually invited me on a second date –a Sunday spent admiring the foliage on Skyline Drive –before the first occurred. He had acknowledged the departure from convention but, based on how much time we’d spent texting, he figured he was standing on pretty solid ground. I agreed.

T2 again kept me in stitches that day. He’s one of the wittiest, funniest people I’ve met in ages, and he continued to impress me with his thoughtfulness.

After that date I went off to Texas for the TWA Conference and we had plans to get together once I returned. T2 had known I was a bit nervous about giving my workshop, so he checked in to send encouraging (and hilarious) thoughts.

Safety note: Before I continue with my story, I must ask that you first back away slowly from your cast iron skillet, hammer and any other blunt object within easy reach. In fact, now may be a good time to encase yourself in a protective layer of Nerf.

So I got back from Plano and texted T2. But instead of making plans to get together, I told him I had some misgivings and didn’t think we were a fit romantically.

See? Aren’t you glad you put on the Nerf? I’m the one you want to hit over the head, anyway.

Here’s the thing: I like T2 very, very much. He has qualities that I prize–kindness, thoughtfulness, curiosity, intelligence—and he cares about his family the way I do mine. He’s funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously. But we lacked combustibility, an essential ingredient for me. Some of you will think I rushed to judgment, that friendship offers the best possible base upon which to build a relationship. You may have a point, but it’s never worked that way for me, and I thought too highly of T2 to go on if I couldn’t be All There.

We had a long text exchange and I did my best to explain my inexplicable nature. T2 accepted it with incredible grace and thanked me for my honesty. Then I did something I’ve not done since I started dating again after my divorce: I asked if he would want to be friends. Though I struggle to find time to nurture the friendships I have, T2s don’t come along every day, and I didn’t want to lose him. He politely declined, and I could hardly blame him.

A week later he made my day when he said he’d thought about it and wanted to try to be friends.

We went to a Halloween party together last weekend. He dressed up in disco garb, including a spectacular wig, and it would have been perfect if only we didn’t discover the theme of this particular costume party was sci-fi and superheroes. Oopsie. Then again, I’m pretty sure he could have survived nuclear war in that polyester suit he was wearing, so maybe he had some superpowers after all.

Anyway, maybe, just maybe, I didn’t entirely screw this one up. Whether or not T2 and I had chemistry, we have plenty of warmth, and I’m glad we decided not to let the whole thing go up in smoke.

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.