Happy Damn Halloween

I used to love Halloween. I love costumes and the excuse to wear them. I loved all the little princesses and spidermen, all the knights and ninjas. I still love them. But this year it almost wasn’t worth it. What is wrong with me? I got really mad. But maybe I get mad every year. It’s just starting to occur to me that I love the idea of Halloween. Not the reality. Or maybe I love suburban Halloween.

Let’s go over what I loved about tonight’s Halloween and see if it adds up to doing it next year or not, shall we?

My neighbor Terry will certainly not agree with me. I will say, “I’m sick of caravans of kids I don’t know getting driven to my house without costumes. I’m sick of their two bags (for my little brother, he’s in the car), their mom smoking and talking on her cell phone in the running car. I’m sick of teenagers and adults without any costumes, snapping their gum and holding out their bag like me giving them candy is the law.”

Terry would say, “Lisa, what’s the big deal. You’re giving them a 20 cent candy bar. Coming to your house and demanding candy on their own terms makes them feel like they have control in a world where they feel like they have no power. Couldn’t you just give them the candy and not be mad? You still have so much more than any kid whose parents feel compelled to bus him into your neighborhood. More than any group of teenagers.”

He’d be right, of course. I’d sigh and say, “Thanks Terry, for being the voice of kindness and bliss again. You’re right, I guess. It’s just a freaking candy bar. What do I feel like I gain by telling the costume-free teenagers to keep on moving if they don’t have either a costume or a really good story? What’s my problem?”

Then I’d ask what he gave out for halloween and he’d say, “We didn’t do trick-or-treats. We turned out the lights and watched a movie.” He frequently outsmarts me by taking both the high and the low road.

So I’m talking myself down from a ledge, here. I have no right to be upset at the Suburban idling for 30 minutes in front of my house while the dozen kids who piled out of it go trick-or-treating. I am trying not to pass judgment on the mom rolling down the window of her car, driving slowly down Holly Avenue, following her kid. When she says, “Latte! Don’t you cut through that grass. Use the stairs. Latte! You hear me?”

I’m only reporting what I saw and heard. Latte had a princess costume on. She was adorable.

But there’s one mom who sent her three kids up to my door while she sat in her car, driving from house to house. I have passed judgment her. Only one of her kids had a costume. Two girls and a boy, it was. The boy was gorgeous. Huge anime style brown eyes, milk chocolate skin and cherub cheeks. He was probably around 8 years old. I grabbed my candy and started to chat, as I do with all the hollow wieners. “Hey buddy, where’s your costume?What are you?” It was cold enough tonight, about half the kids opened up their parkas to display spiderman or ninja clad chests.

This kid tilted his head back like a baby bird and said, “Bweeeeeeeeh!” while looking me in the eye. I’m sure you’d handle this better than I when it happens to you. Quickly I thought about whether this kid was retarded, messing with me or giving me a clue to his identity. I was starting to see that he didn’t have a costume (but the younger kids get a pass from me, because it’s their parents’ job to make sure they have a costume). My answer to his weird response was, “Yeah… OK kid, but what are you?”

He kept right on looking at me, dead in the eye, not cracking a smile. But this time he clamped both hands over his ears. As he did this, his mom rolled down the car window, and yelled, “He can’t hear you, he’s totally deaf.” Ok, he’s deaf. I am so dumb. So totally cloddish and stupid. I looked at his sister who was maybe 12, “So what is he?”

She looked at me and said, “He ain’t anything, he deaf. He can’t hear you.” The middle girl, piped up, “I’m a kitty!”, and showed me her ears.

Maybe you all went to planet deaf child, but I was still fixated on planet Halloween. The boy had figured out what I wanted to know by his sister’s reaction. He started to tug his shirt out from under his jacket, still looking at me, but smiling now.

I should tell you right now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had three pieces of candy in my bowl. I gave one right up to the kitty while I checked out the boy’s shirt (which didn’t look like a costume to me, but I was feeling not up to the task of evaluating the situation). The older girl without the costume got nothing and I gave the deaf boy two pieces. I immediately decided that was the wrong thing to do. But it was too late.

My decision was reinforced by the reaction of the little boy. He grabbed the candy, held it up to his face and looked at his sister. He stuck his tongue out and did a little “ha ha” dance at his sister.

What kind of fucked up world do we live in? I’ll take responsibility for not immediately recognizing what must be a universal symbol for deaf. I’ll take responsibility and beg forgiveness for taking my anger at the mom on the girl. And I do feel bad about doing that. It won’t happen again. I’ll try harder.

But what kind of mom dumps her three kids off in a strange neighborhood on Halloween without costumes? Not so good of a mom, OK. But one of those kids is profoundly deaf and she’s sending him without a costume to go ask strangers for candy? While she sits in her car? What the hell is that? She can’t paint an eyeliner mustache on the kid? Give him a football helmet? She can’t park the car and walk with the kid from door to door? Jesus.

A group of teenagers I did not know smashed the pumpkins of the 3 and 5 year old next door. Those teenagers headed to my house for candy, although they knew I saw them. I hollered at them and warned the other side neighbors not to give them candy. When my neighbor boys came home, they cried. They couldn’t even begin to understand anything except that their pumpkin was smashed right on their own porch.

After that, I walked down and looked to see how much longer Halloween was going to last. My entire street was awash in head and tail lights crawling along with their kids. I’m watching a movie next year. Fer real.

More Trip Excerpts

July 27th

Digging on the first day didn’t start until probably 1pm or after. That was because we got the lectures from Graeme. The lowdown, the procedures, the big picture and the small details.

The thing about Graeme is this: He’s handsome and funny with an accent that blows yer moynd. He says Yeahs (what we call yaz) when he means years. Every thing he explains takes twice or three times longer than strictly necessary. He’s got a story about everything. Sometimes relevant, sometimes not. But it doesn’t matter, because I want him to keep talking and never stop. Which he does.

We get stories about a (volunteer archeologist, like us) woman who fell face first into a drainpipe and had only her legs sticking out. They pulled her to safety right after they snapped a few pictures. We get all the various iterations of the security system at the museum, which ends up explaining why we have a key and lock.

He has an unnerving throat-clearing-cough tic which other people have had enough of, but I don’t care. I can’t figure out what movie star he looks like, but I want to bring him home with me. His wife can come along. She’s brilliant (which means awesome or great in the UK).

The stories made the instruction so pleasant, so effortless. But the truth is, he could have simply read the manual 3 times and I’d have listened to him happily. He says Americans can’t imitate his accent without sounding like dihtty scots. And it’s true, it sounds like a burr to me. But don’t tell him that. He says it’s a Geordie accent, going back to supporters of king George.

July 28, 2007

Breakfast was Cocoa Chex, I mean Shreddies.

Lunch was leftovers of dinner last night. I broke down and ate one of the hard-boiled egg sandwiches. Wait didn’t I mention the hard-boiled egg sandwiches? Oh yeah, that was part of the weird smorgasborg dinner last night. Baguettes with cherry tomatoes and sliced hard-boiled eggs.

It makes you wonder, why don’t we eat hard boiled egg sandwiches here in the US? No it doesn’t. We don’t eat boiled egg sandwiches here because they’re stupid. Eggs need the love and care of mustard and mayo or at least olive oil and vinegar. They are not meant to be eaten lonely and dry on a cheap roll.

But the digestives almost made up for it. Digestives don’t sound all that great, do they?It’s further along the alimentary assembly line than we like to associate with food, digestion is. It’s a little known secret that the British call chocolate-dipped graham cracker cookies digestives. The put them in plain wrappers and call them digestives. Then the kids don’t nag for one during your tea-break.

Other revelations? ‘Youse’ is a British dialectal variant which seems like it is similar to “you-all”. No maybe not. The quote, oddly enough, is this, “Dew yews have nicknames on y’ credit cahds, then?” It’s too fookin cute.

The number one most annoying thing about the country of England is this: there are no public trash cans anywheres. Not at the train station, not at the bus station, not at the coffee or the sandwich stand. It’s bizarre.

Today we got the first explanation of why this might be. Terrorists. They can’t put a bomb in your trash can if you don’t have a trash can. A guy on the train comes down the aisles to pick up the trash. He wears rubber gloves and carries a clear plastic bag.

I ate a crumpet today. They’re like bad, super-spongy pancakes cooked only from the bottom. So the top is all bubbles, and the bottom is brown. They make squishing noises when you chew them. Very strange. But if you have good jelly, you can eat it and enjoy it.

July 29th

If I die here, it will likely be because I looked left instead of right. These whackos drive on the other side of the road. It’s really dangerous. I don’t have a good conscious grasp of left and right, but I learned after numerous humiliating experiences that I do have an unconscious grasp of it.

If not, how do I explain trying not once, but twice, to get into the driver’s side of someone’s car when they offer me a ride? I am so embarrassed. Damn!

How do I explain 100 percent of the time looking for oncoming traffic the wrong way. I had no idea that I looked consistently and unconsciously to the right direction when crossing the street. (Now that I ‘m home, I couldn’t tell you what side is the correct side to look to, but I always do it correctly. In England, I always did it wrong. Unless I talked myself through it, which looks dumb, but not as dumb as jumping back to the curb when a car sneaks up from your other side.)

You can’t count on looking how the cars on your side are parked, either. They parked all over the place, every which way. If you go to that part of the world, be verrry careful crossing the street.

Two of our team mates are Sam and his grandma Helyn. Helyn is in her 80s and Sam is 18. Helyn has traveled all over the world. She’s smart, intellectual, sharp and serious, but not unpleasant.

Sam is beautiful. He’s got a mouthful of beautiful and straight teeth, a mop of shiny and curly brown hair. He’s thin, really thin. He looks kind of like a supermodel, only a boy. He’s serious also, but cheerful. He seems to be content to be here with his grandma in a way that I imagine is rare among 18 year olds. He won’t touch meat, and eats a lot of mustard and lettuce sandwiches. He’s a complete idealist, in a way only 18 year olds can be idealistic.

He’s affectionate with his grandma in ways that surprise me. Does things like touch her shoulder as he walks into the room or rub her back while she sits and takes a break. He fixes her jacket when it’s buttoned wrong. It’s sweet. He watches out for her when she crosses the street and she muses about how on earth he’s going to get along in the world if he can’t keep track of his keys. They’re both sort of offended that the other is so patronizing.

July 30th

Our job consists of coming in, getting our buckets and equipment (brush, tiny wood handled, flat mason’s trowel, dustpan and shove, gloves and knee-pads or kneeler), heading out to the field that used to be a Roman military fort, supply base, barracks, compound, iron age roundhouse or Victorian neighborhood, depending on how deep you’re digging at the moment.

We take direction from and are watched over by Roger. He is a pot-bellied, hunchbacked, red-faced, monkish archeologist. He hums a lot, loud. He sings. He’s got a beautiful singing voice, it turns out. He’s cheerful, but clearly sad and lonely. He’s gentle and pleasant. His accent is so pronounced that it seems like he’s putting us on. His voice is a lot like Igor from the old Frankenstein movies, but his accent is different. He pronounces Graeme (which we would pronounce like the cracker, and some people pronounce like game with an extra r) as if it were “Grime” and never seems to actually open his mouth when he talks. He is a delight.

He gives us instructions. So far both digging days have been spent uncovering a stone substrate. A road of cobbles about the size of two fists together. They haven’t seen daylight since about 160 AD. It shouldn’t be hard, but it is. Physically it’s hard to kneel, bent at the waist and scrape away spoils and sand. But figuring out how far to go and where to stop is a little harder. He instructs us like this: “Y’tayk off the tope layeh of th’ greeynish sand and stope when y’ gate tew th’ reddeesh maytreex.”

Well Yeah. But it’s all sort of brown, there’s no reddish matrix, no greeyneesh anything. It’s sand colored. It pops up a little better when they wet it all down, which they do a couple times a day, prompting all sorts of snickers about who’s holding whose hose and whatnot.

In case I haven’t made it clear, working at the site is incredibly fun. I say that without irony. I love it. The only thing more fun is digging in the spoils pile for things that I think are cool, but have been discarded. I do this when I tire of eating cookies and drinking tea at the mandatory tea breaks.

July 31st

Dinner yesterday was a pitiful set o of chicken wraps with rubberized, chopped, formed chicken product with breading. Wrapped up with lettuce, red onions and some sort of French (But not really French) dressing drizzled over it. All in a cracking and dry-edged flour tortilla. There was rice. Maybe a sort of Spanish rice. If by Spanish rice you mean cracking open a box of Tio Ben’s and mixing tomato sauce in it. There were brownies for dessert. Bleah. Not good.

Dinner today was some abomination that was comprised of (yeeeash) green peppers stuffed with green olives and feta chunks and cheddar cheese. There was also tortellini with chicken puree inside it, marinara sauce and mushrooms in an onion sauce. My god, what have I done to deserve this? Just writing it down is making me spit up a little. Dessert was jell-o pudding cups with white foam on the top.

I realized today that I’m going blind. I can’t see the stuff I have to write with a number 3 pencil. At home I don’t notice because I just turn up the light, or I’m dealing with familiar stuff so I don’t need to see that well. I wore my shades all the time, though. What can you do?

August 1st
Digging and drawing today. Mary and Roger found tons of stuff over where they’re digging, pieces of pottery… Carol found a full femur of a something.

I just found dirt, rocks, a head of a femur and lots more dirt.

We cut out early and crossed the Tyne river to go and look at the priory. It looks like a castle ruin to me. That was a really wonderful ruin, but it was closed by the time we got there, and it was starting to rain just a little. We went to a pub and had a little sit-down. The bartender made a shamrock in the foam of Dad’s Guinness, as he poured it, or tapped it or whatever one does with a beer on tap. It was stylin’ and impressive.

We trecked a long, long way to see this priory and it was closed. Helyn was with us, she’s very healthy, but she’s 80 something. She’s a little slow. Roger was in front, being all Australian and engineery. He kept trying to herd us by example. Disappearing from time to time because he was so determined to keep moving. He got blocks ahead of us.

Which would have all worked out if he had a clue where he was leading us. Or if we were all under 70, maybe. Or if we weren’t hungry. But he didn’t, we weren’t and we were. Richell and I took turns hanging back with Helyn who was getting pretty damned crabby by this time. Sam had stayed back at the Inn. At least she had an umbrella. We all ended up hating Roger for a couple hours. Helyn might still hate him.

A group of us finally mutineed when he told us he was POSitive he knew where there was a place for fish and chips just up the road a bit. We smelled an indian place exactly right where we were and we went for it. The service was slow, slow, slow but the food was good and we were sitting and dry. It turned out that Roger’s place wasn’t serving fish and chips. We were glad we didn’t traipse around after him more. We calculated we walked about 15 miles. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me.

People here say “as well” instead of “too”. It makes them sound smart.

August 2nd

Bridge collapsed yesterday around rush hour. That was 11 at night here. I can’t picture where it is, except it’s in Minneapolis. Too, too close. It’s very creepy to be so far away and watch people on the news talk about your home. We worked today on counting heads back home. Seems like all our people are accounted for.

August 3rd

Today was a normal breakfast. Lunch was cold cuts and hot English mustard. More cookies with tea. God we have so many tea breaks, it’s crazy. STart at 9, tea break at 11, lunch around 1, tea break around 2:30, go home at 4:30.

Dinner was cold broccoli and cheese quiche with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, corn, olives and cucumbers. There was cole slaw with onions in it (nasty trick, that). New potatoes cooked in pickling spice, so they smelled like cloves and cinnamon and allspice. Dad was deeply disappointed in dinner. I was pretty bummed too, but I ate.