Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Sometimes going on your own merry way is the only way to go

Just as I predicted, the nasty aftermath of the 2016 presidential election left me with a hangover. Not the garden variety, one-day affliction either, but a long-acting, and singularly joy-resistant strain. It didn’t care that the holidays were approaching, thus I didn’t care, either.

That wasn’t like me at all; I love the holidays. They’re just an excuse to do fun stuff with my family, like hunt for Christmas trees, hang up pretty lights, and make architecturally unsound gingerbread houses. But the thought of those things didn’t put a dent in my hangover.

The Yank tree hunt went forward the first weekend in December as usual and we had fun – Dad and I took turns using the saw to cut down my tree and then celebrated the early Christmas miracle of retaining all of our limbs – but the idea of decorating my tree sparked no enthusiasm. It did, however, spark enthusiasm from my neighbors. On seeing my car pull into the driveway with a tree atop its roof, they immediately mobilized to lend a hand. I politely declined, not because I didn’t appreciate their offer but because the presence of competent help would have minimized the chances that something would go comically awry, thereby reducing the chances that I could get a blog post out of the whole thing. Sadly, I got the tree upright and reasonably straight in the stand on the first try.

Two days later it remained vertical, so I decided to decorate it, solo.  I couldn’t summon up the usual urge to invite friends over for an evening of snacks and ornament origin stories (a Spam ball warrants an explanation), which made me realize I had to snap myself out of it. But how?

During a text exchange with my brother the following weekend, the answer came to me: force. Not a force, but The Force.

L.J. and I had been texting about travel when the topic of Star Wars arose, as it does, and he wrote:

Btw, are you flying down next weekend so we can see Rogue One?

He and I had grown up on the Star Wars franchise and went to see The Force Awakens with my niece and nephews when it came out last year. His  question about the latest movie, opening on December 16, was as natural as it was tongue-in-cheek. My response was, too:

We both know I’ve gone further for less.

It’s true — I’ve gone to Pennsylvania for bacon shirts and Seattle for Barry Manilow — and the Star Wars flicks are not my sister-in-law, Leslie’s, cup of tea, but there was no way I could pull off a flight to Atlanta on less than a week’s notice during a peak travel period. Yet I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. What if I could find a way not only to get there but to surprise my brother? I tested it with Leslie, and she loved it. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, until doing it became not an “if” but a “must,” and for almost entirely selfish reasons.

I cashed in some miles and booked a flight that would put me on the ground in Atlanta at 9:30 p.m. on Friday the 16th. With just a little travel luck – something I can’t always count on – both the plane and my spirits would achieve liftoff. I could hardly wait to give Leslie the news, and I could hardly wait to get there. That feeling of buzzy and nearly unbearable anticipation — a purely kid-at-Christmastime sensation — grew as I counted down the three days to my trip. By Friday afternoon I was ready to jump out of my skin.

I’d requested an Uber to take me to National Airport so I wouldn’t lose time parking. The driver pulled up right on time and got out of the car…dressed in full cowboy regalia. The only person on Earth who’d have appreciated that sight more than I did is my brother, which I took as an omen that everything was going to work out perfectly.

The driver tipped his hat and said, “Howdy, ma’am. Where y’all headed to?”

“The set of Tombstone or a Village People casting call, whichever is closer,” I wanted to say. But I just asked him to take me to National Airport instead. A missed opportunity, I know, but I had places to go.

As we got underway, he said, “I’m not from Texas,” simultaneously reading my mind and eliminating the only plausible explanation for his attire. He’s from Florida and has a passion for horses, so I guess he just wants to be ready in case a steeplechase breaks out on the Beltway. Outfit notwithstanding, the rest of the ride was uneventful, as was my flight to Atlanta for a change.

The minute we touched down, I sent Leslie an email to tell her I’d made it. I hopped in an Uber – this one driven by a person dressed for suburban Atlanta rather than the OK Corral – and in 30 minutes was standing in my brother’s driveway. I dialed his number. I rarely call him, especially after 10 p.m., so I wasn’t surprised when he answered on the second ring and asked what was up. Our dialogue went like this:

Me: Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m going to see the Star Wars movie soon, and I thought you should know.

Him (sounding a bit disappointed or envious, I couldn’t quite tell which): Aw, that’s okay, Wheat. Are you going tonight?

Me: Uh, well, really soon.

I put the phone on mute so I could knock on the front door.

Him: Are you going alone?

Me (still knocking, loudly): Haha, no…

Him: Who are you going with?

Me (still knocking): Um, this guy…

Him: Who is this guy, making you pick him up, and so late? And is he ever going to answer the door?

Me (still knocking): I don’t know, are you?

Him: Wait, are you downstairs?

Right then my sister-in-law cued up the Rogue One trailer, the Star Wars theme song began to play in the background, and I burst out laughing. Leslie and I had pulled off the perfect surprise.

Over the course of the next 40 hours, we not only saw the movie (which L.J. and I loved) but pimg_2126acked in a visit to the aquarium with my adorable little nephews, a delicious dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, and a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us so the little guys could pick out a Christmas present from their aunt. My time in Atlanta flew faster than reindeer on Christmas Eve and my spirits were soaring just as high.

When my brother dropped me off at the airport on Sunday afternoon, I felt a bit sad on the one hand, yet on the other, I was looking forward to getting back home for Christmas with the rest of the family. Getting into the holiday spirit this year was as easy as going Rogue.

Hope all of you find your holiday spirit, too. See you back here soon!


The Force Awakened, and it also tested our mettle

My brother, L.J., and his family came up from Atlanta for Christmas this year. Their holiday visits tend to be chaotic, and this one promised to be particularly so since my dad was still navigating some health issues. (He’s doing much, much better, and thanks to all the kind souls who asked.)

Always a realist, my brother scaled back his expectations and said, “I just want to do one thing while I’m up here: see the Star Wars movie.”

He had one other condition: he wanted to go with me and Mom, the two people he’d seen the original movie with in 1977. Star Wars made a huge impression on me and my brother, and nowhere was that impression more evident than in L.J.’s Christmas list, which included requests for the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, an X-wing fighter, and enough action figures to man the whole enterprise. (I was glad he asked for those things, because it freed up space on my list.) Over the next several years, he and I spent hours and hours re-enacting battles we’d seen and fighting new ones.

When The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, Mom made sure L.J. and I were among the first in line for tickets at the Springfield Mall, which I believe required her to take us out of school a few hours early. Mom wasn’t the type to let me and my siblings miss school even if we handed her a burst appendix, so this was an event of epic proportions. We treated Return of the Jedi with similar reverence, and The Force continued to strengthen in us.

L.J. and I, along with millions of other Star Wars fans, spent the next 16 years waiting patiently for the prequels. Though my brother lived in Atlanta by then, we managed to see one of those movies together, both of us likely operating under the mistaken belief that the company would somehow improve the experience.

High expectations for those movies, we had. Test our faith in the franchise, they did.

Yet because The Force remained strong in us, we kept our hopes alive for the latest installment and snagged tickets for a daytime showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 23. To ensure the Jedi tradition would be passed down to the next generation, we brought my niece and four nephews with us. (We weren’t able to pull Mom away from her post at home, alas.) For old times’ sake, I sat next to my brother.

As the introductory text began its trademark scroll up the screen and off into space, accompanied by an unmistakably John Williams score, L.J. leaned over and whispered, “I’ve got chills.”

To my astonishment, I did too. And that’s when I realized I had more than mere hopes riding on this movie, I had pinned actual needs to it. I needed to feel like a little kid again, to have this space opera engross me so thoroughly that, for at least two hours, I could forget some of the realities of life in middle age. Not that middle age is bad, mind you, because it isn’t at all. But if I had to express a complaint on behalf of forty-somethings, it’s that people both way older and way younger than us seem to expect us to be utterly dependable and responsible, whereas we’re not supposed to need anybody. Never mind that being responsible and dependable to these people, whom we love dearly, is the very least we can do and a privilege. Sometimes even the most responsible among us gets a little petulant and longs for the days when bad stuff was mainly imaginary and could be vaporized with the swing of a light saber.

I was feeling that longing just as The Force Awakens came out. I needed to go hurtling back to a time long, long ago and a galaxy far, far away, a place where good guys are too busy battling the Dark Side to worry about things like gum grafts.

I won’t give away any details about the movie in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s enough to say that it gave me what I needed and then some. It was a two-hour nostalgia trip at light speed that left me and my brother elated as we walked out of the theater. The Force Awakens rekindled our love for the franchise, solidified our bond to the past, and gave us plenty of hope for the future.

My brother summed it up perfectly when he compared it to the best kind of old friendships: “We picked up right where we left off.”


I think I'll hang on to this one.

I think I’ll hang on to this one.


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.