Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween Memories

Since my blogging day falls on Halloween this year, I figured I’d put politics on hold for a week and thaw out and doctor up an old post I wrote in 2009, about my best Halloween memories and adventures. It's not as scary as having your house broken into and getting beaten with a hammer by a crazed enemy of your wife, but... oops, there's politics again.

Hallowed Wieners

I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, it was just the candy and costumes.  As a grownup, it’s a chance to remember the candy and costumes of youth, plus stick a thumb in the eye of the religious right that thinks it has something to do with Satanism or evil doing. (Once again, “God’s Chosen” are on the lookout in case someone, somewhere, might be having fun.)

Unfortunately, the neighborhood I live in does not appear to participate in Halloween. I’ve lived in this particular apartment for 11 years (at the time of original writing, and 10 more after that) and have never had a single trick-or-treater, or seen anyone in costume in the streets. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a house decoration up either.  My particular area of Baltimore is home predominantly to Orthodox Jews, but I don’t know if that’s the root cause. All I know is that Halloween is a big goose-egg here.

On the bright side, there is always a lot of good candy on sale the day after Halloween.

Back when I lived (as a grownup) in Albany NY, we had some very good years with Halloween. The best was the year I also worked at a crafts store that sold all kinds of good seasonal stuff. I did up the front of the house with spider webs, a black light, glowing red eyes in the window, and a CD player hidden under the stairs that played creepy music. 

The killer, though, was the Scream Mat. You plug it in and set it in front of the door, so when someone steps on it, there’s an ear-splitting shriek. That’s a good way not to miss any trick-or-treaters because there would always be at least two screams… one from the mat plus one (or more) from whoever stepped on it.    

The Scream Mat belonged to the (ex) wife. I suspect, but cannot prove, that she was also the voice model.  All I can say is that it sounded awfully familiar.

It’s really too bad that kids now can’t enjoy Halloween the way so many of us used to. Once I got to be in maybe 5th or 6th grade, my friends and I would take off on our own and work the neighborhood until we dropped or everyone turned out the lights. I had the fortune of living in nice little suburban neighborhoods back then, so it was just block after block of families. We never used those plastic pumpkins to hold our goodies, either. We used pillowcases! Gotta aim high, after all. We also had to pay my dad the Milk Dud Tax. He’d always say, “Remember, your Milk Duds go to the house.”

I don’t remember too many of my costumes from the early years. I was a tiger in 1st grade, and a devil, in 4th, but I can’t recall much else. Then in 7th grade, being heavily into Cheech and Chong, (aka the funniest shit I’d ever heard, at that stage in my life), I went out as a hippie. I had this big, fake, black, beard and I wore an old T-shirt and ripped-up jeans. I only mention this costume because it actually scared a little kid that answered the door. The parents said he was afraid of the beard, but I swear the little shit was anti-hippie. He’s probably a regional RNC leader right now.

In college, I went to a party dressed specifically as Tommy Chong. (I had a real beard, by then.) The kicker was, well, does anyone remember the Cheech and Chong album, “Big Bambu”? It came with 12” long rolling papers. I took those papers and rolled a big fat joint made of chewing tobacco and carried it around with me. You should have heard the cars beeping at me as I walked down the street to the party! In retrospect, I’m pretty lucky none of those cars had any red and blue lights on them, or I’d have had some ‘splaining to do. I'd have to hope the officer in question could tell chewing tobacky from wacky tobacky 

Yes, I know that’s Cheech and not Chong, but it’s the only pic I could find with that big joint.

Remember back in the early ’80s when generic packaging was popular? They’d have these goods with white packaging and black lettering that said what the product was. Like there would be a plain white can that just said “BEER”. Or if you were minding your generic calories, you could opt for “LIGHT BEER”.  Nothing like having generic options!  

I went to one college party as a Generic Man. This was another easy homemade costume.  I just wore plain black and white and labeled everything I wore or carried.  There was SHIRT, HAT, BELT, SUSPENDERS, SNEAKERS, etc.  Obviously, I brought generic BEER, which I, unfortunately, had to then drink.  My favorite bit was the white jeans with a little emblem on the back pocket that said, in a fancy cursive font, “DESIGNER JEANS”. 

Halloween of 1988 came with a tough choice. I was managing a record store in Cleveland at the time, and I could either go to our district Halloween party, or I could use the free tickets and backstage pass I had to see Joan Jett open for Robert Plant. That one was a no-brainer. First I went to the party, in another cheap but effective homemade costume, using nothing but the cardboard collar insert to a new dress shirt, and put it on a black button-down shirt. Shazam, I’m a priest!

Then after spending a couple hours at the party, I went to the show. (Yes, I changed first.) No way was I turning down a chance to see my queen. 

I hung out with her and the band backstage, caught her set, and then dashed back for the rest of the Halloween party. Screw Robert Plant… I was never a big Zep fan and I thought his new solo album was lame.

My “Best Halloween Ever” (that doesn’t include hanging out with rock stars) was my last year of trick-or-treating when I was in 8th grade. My buddy, David, had an aunt who worked with Civil Defense. I don’t know if they do this anymore but back then, Civil Defense used to stage these elaborate mock disasters designed to test emergency readiness. They would simulate a massive car wreck, train derailment or airplane crash and have the EMTs come and do triage, “treat” us and sometimes take us in the ambulance to a hospital. 

For all these exercises, they needed volunteers to be made up like accident victims. That’s where my friend and I came in. We probably did 3 or 4 of these things and while there, learned some tricks of the “horrifying makeup” trade. So for our last hurrah, his aunt got us some supplies and we both made ourselves up to be accident victims. 

I used putty to build up “tissue” on my forearm and stuck a chicken bone in it, to simulate a compound fracture.  My buddy spread putty over half his face, hollowed out a spot where an eye would go, and stuck a few little sticks into it. I also used rubber cement to layer on my arms, then lifted up the “skin” and stuck “bloody” cotton balls underneath it. This nicely simulated a serious burn. And of course, we covered ourselves with loads of fake blood. (Recipe: cocoa, Karo syrup, and red food coloring… we had to repeat it at every stop.)

We went out and just had a blast. Everyplace we’d go, whoever answered the door would go back and drag out anyone that was home.

"Go get Grandma to come see these boys!”

We'd have the whole family peering through the door at us like we were some kind of biological experiment gone wrong. When people asked what happened to us, we’d usually say something like, “we were chasing parked cars.” I damn near filled the pillowcase that year, boy. I think I stretched that candy out until at least December. And Dad was flush with Milk Duds.

I wasn’t allowed to go out anymore after that… I was too old for it, my parents said.  So I got to stay home and hand out candy. And from my brother and sister, collect the Zagnut Tax.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention one of my favorite costume ideas I’ve seen, which was pulled off many years ago by my sister and her husband. She wore a life jacket and carried an oar. He wore thigh-high fishing boots. They went to a Halloween party as Row vs Wade. I suppose if they tried that again now, each would have to have a dagger hanging out of their backs.

When I first moved in with Sweetpea, we’d get two or three trick-or-treaters, max. Since COVID in 2020, there have been exactly zero. But that doesn’t stop Sweetpea from buying at least three bags of candy every year. I keep telling her that one bag will be more than enough, but she wants to be prepared. I’m like, “Then at least buy the good stuff, OK?”

I was hoping for Snickers and Reese’s, but she got Twix, Butterfingers, and a bag of various Tootsie items. I can live with that though, which is good because I know whose job it’s going to be to eat this stuff. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

She’ll say, “I can always give it away…”

And I’m like, “Well, let’s not be too hasty… We don’t want to give anybody cavities…”

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Home Stretch

 Here we are again, approaching the next Most Important Election of our Lifetimes. Early voting has already begun in many places; I dropped off my ballot at a drop-box on Friday, so my deed is done. So it’s time to talk about this election in “now” time, rather than in some amorphous future.

What happens with this election is going to send the country careening in one direction or another. Or possibly several.

The Republicans aren’t even hiding their intentions anymore. They’re explicitly saying they want to enact a national abortion ban, overturn the right to same-sex marriage, further restrict contraception, and cut back on Social Security and Medicare.

All of those scare the piss out of me because there’s no reason to think they won’t try to do what they say they’re going to do. Many people thought Republicans would never really kill Roe v Wade, but here we are. They put the right religious nutjobs in place and they did what they intended to do all along. We should not have been surprised.

Granted, they’re not exactly running on all those points. You won’t see many commercials saying “Hey, I want to take your (or your parents’/grandparents’) social security check away, vote for me!” No, they’re busy trying to scare you about crime and inflation. Fear… it’s what works.

That their threats are hollow doesn’t matter. They know most people won’t learn that the highest crime states are the ones that went for TFG two years ago. And they know that inflation is a global phenomenon, with many countries worse off than we are, but they don’t care. Nor do they have any kind of plan to reduce inflation themselves. They just blame Biden and the Democrats.

The funny thing is that the new British Prime Minister just got yanked out of office when her tax cuts and supply-side economic plans torpedoed their economy, the same idea Republicans enact every chance they get.

I suppose they could always ask their wealthy business-owning donors to do them a favor and stop price-gouging so hard for a little while. But I doubt they’ll even do that because they don’t give a shit. Do you think Mitch McConnell gives a rip about how much milk costs? Not a chance. He’s too wrapped up in setting a price for how much a Congressman costs.

So these are the ads and memes we’re seeing this week. Prices are high so vote Republican. Crime is still here so vote out the Democrats.

For me, the situation is numbingly simple. Assuming that the Dems really are at fault for high prices, (and I don’t believe for a second that they are), I’ll gladly pay a few more bucks for gas and groceries if that will buy half of our citizens the right of bodily self-determination, Social Security and Medicare gets shored up rather than cut down, everyone can love whomever they choose, use whatever birth control they choose, and the rest of the government takes climate change as seriously as the military does. Prices go up and down and always will, but you can’t put a price on basic human rights. And the right of rational people not to have to abide by the fever dreams of religious wingnuts is supreme.

I do think there may be enough votes out there to keep Congress under Democratic control; I just worry about how far those people who have weaseled their way into positions of influence over elections will go to ensure the outcome they desire. What are all those hired to “watch” and “challenge” voters going to do? How many state legislatures, who have gerrymandered themselves into permanent positions of power, will seek to overturn legal results that they deem fraudulent, for no other reason than that they don’t like the outcome?

We only survived the last election with a degree of sanity because there were so many people of high integrity, from both parties, who were running things. Unfortunately, many of those principled individuals have been driven from the position by harassment and death threats, making room for the aforementioned weasels. I think the aftermath of this one is going to be bad. Like, “democracy-killing” bad. If we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that it doesn’t take much to get a crowd of idiots to take up arms against the government, out of “patriotism.”

Monday, October 17, 2022

Vote Early, Count Early

Sometimes I can find arguments to pull apart on Facebook like they grow on trees, yet other times the trees are bare. But today I had one fall right into my lap. Someone dropped an Anonymous comment on my last post that just took my breath away. There were so many faults there I barely knew where to start with a reply.

It was completely off-topic for a post about legalizing pot, which is a reliable indicator for a troll with an agenda.

I wrote a short reply anyway, knowing I could flesh it out in today’s post because there are multiple fronts for dissection:

·         This is a complete, raging, logical fallacy, as there is obviously zero correlation between the quality of any candidate and when the votes are counted. That right there is enough to dismiss it from serious consideration. Whether you count it before or after Election Day, a legal vote is a legal vote. Period.

·         The commenter, of course, is passing on the conservative trope that some kind of nefarious, liberal, monkey-business going with mail-in and drop-off voting. Not that anything has been proven or even reliably demonstrated. It just is because they want it to be. It’s the only way they can rationalize that their point of view is not dominant throughout the country.

·         Explain how when using the same methodology, there is less “Trustable, reliable, secure” counting going on before Election Day than there is after? Is he charging that there’s a completely different set of rules for counting votes prior to Election Day? (Probably, despite the fact that the idea is ludicrous.) They won’t recognize that Republicans (mostly TFG) engineered the high likelihood that most of the late-counted votes being Democratic, by exhorting their own people to vote in person. If TFG didn’t rail against mail-in voting like he did, the late returns would have come in more evenly. Obviously, it wouldn’t change the count, it would just rearrange the order of the returns. Note to Election Deniers:

o   1+2+3=6

o   2+1+3=6

o   3+1+2=6

o   2+3+1=6.  Etc.

See, in any order you count it, you still get the same result. Biden won.

TFG and his minions had a pretty good idea that he wasn’t going to win, so he created the very set of circumstances he then used to contest the result. That’s fine for a Banana Republic dictator, but it doesn’t fly for the President of the United States.

·         If you want the results on (or near) Election Day, in 2022, you’d better start counting them early. There are far too many mailed and dropped-off votes in play to only start counting after the polls close, without severely delaying the results. Maryland is expecting over 400,000 of them. And remember, until this election, Maryland state law decreed that they can’t even start counting the votes until the Thursday after Election Day! Weren’t Republicans also complaining about counting votes that far past Election Day? (Answer: yes they were. They even went to court to stop the counting, (in places they were ahead, of course).

This guy is on it.

·         This line of complaint is in sync with Republicans’ overall messaging, as relayed by Fox “News” and other such open-air sewage systems, that mail-in voting is inherently corrupt. This is despite there being zero evidence of any widespread malfeasance, or even just enough to tip a single election, despite there being several states who have used mail-in voting extensively for ten years or more, without incident. And in some of these states, especially rural ones, Republicans have been mailing in their votes too.

What it comes down to is that mail-in voting is just too easy. It allows the common people a much faster and easier method of voting, and that’s the LAST thing the rich Republican donors want. Rich people don’t want poor people voting, because it might cost them money, especially if the poor realize how badly they’re getting ripped off. So they want long lines. They want fewer voting machines in more populous areas. They want to require the specific IDs their opponent’s voters are least likely to have. They want to make it more expensive and time-consuming to get those IDs. They want it to be inconvenient to vote so that the huddled masses STAY HOME and let the well-to-do keep carving up the country’s resources for themselves.

On a Lighter Note…

I might have stumbled onto a more entertaining way to deter Jehovah’s Witnesses and other doorstep pests:

If this catches on, I just may have to invest in that front-door surveillance camera system that I’ve been avoiding.

Also, how long before someone claims “Devil Vagina Magic” as the name for their all-female punk band?

Monday, October 10, 2022

High There

I trust you saw the good news over the weekend: President Biden is pardoning all those with federal marijuana possession convictions? I understand it doesn’t really cover that many people; I read there are only between 6000-7000 people that have such convictions and none are currently in jail. But it’s still an important step to sane weed laws.

First of all, it does help those 6000+ people by wiping a serious conviction off their records. Often employers want no part of hiring anyone with a prior arrest, no matter what it’s for.

When I used to manage record and video stores, it was an automatic disqualification if that box was checked on the application. No matter how perfect the candidate may have been for the job, I was forbidden from hiring them.

Secondly, and I think most importantly, it sets a signpost for governors to do the same. That’s where the real numbers kick in. Most pot busts come from the state or local level, not from the feds. The president leading on this issue can get a lot of people back into the legitimate workforce.

Granted, I don’t think anyone but Blue State governors will bite, but every little bit helps. And if it becomes a campaign issue in Red States, all the better.

It strains the brain to realize that even now, marijuana is still categorized in the same bracket as heroin and cocaine. Seriously. Even when I was back in college, (where I first encountered that little tidbit), I couldn’t believe it.

While I don’t think many people support giving the shit out as party favors on the playground, it can at least be treated on par with alcohol or regular cigs. And the tax windfall should be huge. What government is going to pass up such a lucrative area of taxation? It may even be enough to tempt the Red States. Then they can gain more operating money on the backs of the common people and leave the corporations alone, just like they always do. Although based on recent history, I do expect to hear the following argument from the Right:

"Hey, I took my pot bust like a man. I accepted my consequences. Everyone else needs to suffer like I did or else it won't be fair to ME."

The thing is, no amount of government propaganda and scare tactics are going to convince anyone who’s smoked pot, or even been around someone who’s smoked pot, that it’s some kind of heinous pharmaceutical boogieman. We’ve all seen it. Most of us have survived it, none the worse for wear. That’s why I’m sure that marijuana legalization is going to pass with flying colors in next month’s Maryland elections.

Those like me who grew up in the 60s and 70s will welcome the chance to decriminalize it. The people who are hard biased against weed are probably those who grew up in the 40s and 50s, and are aging out. Or maybe not.

My dad, who was always highly anti-pot, eventually softened his stance once he got older and began experiencing chronic back and leg pain. It was keeping him from sleeping until he tried THC oil. He’d put a few drops on a pizzelle before bed and it was lights out. He eventually got himself a medical marijuana prescription for it. So maybe the old anti-reefer people will come around once they see what it can do for them now.

I got my ballot over the weekend, which reminded me that legalizing pot is even being voted on. I completely forgot. The state legislature is ready to legalize, but wanted the voters to give them the cover of a mandate. I’m pretty sure they’ll get it.

Once it’s passed, I expect our next governor to follow Biden’s example and pardon/waive/forgive all simple marijuana possession convictions. (Assuming it’s not Dan Cox, GOP nominee and TFG’s Maryland ball-licker-in-chief, who I expect to lose by at least 20 points. I expect he’ll just do whatever TFG tells him to do.)

For my part, I’ve never been much of a pot smoker. I can probably count on my fingers the times I’ve indulged and still have some left over. Most of those times, usually when I was in my teens or early 20s, I was already so drunk I couldn’t tell the difference after taking a hit. But the biggest reason for not doing it is that I don’t like smoking anything. Regardless of any benefits of mellowing out, I end up coughing my face off trying to get rid of the tightness in my chest. Who needs it? I’d just as soon have a couple of drinks and call it a night.

But the big change that legalization would present to me is making edibles available. I’m very keen to try copping a buzz via eating a light snack. If I like it enough, I may just quit drinking. There will be fewer calories than alcohol and it will be much easier on my liver. Of course it may be so expensive that drinking remains the go-to vice. So we’ll see what happens.

And speaking of health, I hit a new high on my Fitbit from last week. I got my best sleep marks ever!

Sure, my daily steps have cratered since I stopped going into the office, but at least I can still rack up the sleep!

I wasn’t really having much trouble sleeping before but for some reason, the Fitbit would delay when it started tracking me as asleep. I’d get up from a good night’s sleep, check my stats and it would only have shown me as asleep from 1:30 AM on, when I was out cold by 11:15. Anyway, I had a very good week not only with time spend asleep, but the quality. I think it was because it finally turned cool at night, and there’s nothing like burrowing down under the covers on a chilly night.

And now, a word from Herschel Walker and every other Republican Congressman and Senator:


Monday, October 3, 2022

Read the Labels

I know it seems like we hear about elections all year long but now it’s heating up in earnest. There’s only another month left until the mid-term elections, where either Republicans take one or more houses of Congress and grind bill passage to halt, or the Dems hold on and we continue the possibility of making incremental changes. Granted, it’s technically possible that Democrats not only hold on but gain enough seats to make Manchin and Sinema irrelevant, but hardly anyone thinks that’s likely.

I’d like to think that there will be enough anti-Anti-Abortion sentiment to surprise everyone like Kansas did, but we have to remember, that was a vote on an issue. It’s one thing to vote for or against an issue proposal, but another to vote for a member of the rival party, who your own party has been condemning as subhuman, Satanic, Communist, baby-killing, pedophiles. The abortion referendum didn’t have an “R” or a “D” next to it on the ballot, so there’s philosophical cover there.

Still, I have hope that enough people will be practical enough to disregard labels and vote their interests. But it’s hard to overcome the messaging.

I realized that Republicans running for office right now are taking notes from the Supreme Court nominees. SCOTUS noms will come in and dance around every hypothetical and specific, trying to say as little as possible about what they’d do on the bench, and then once they get in, they vote the way their nominator and the Federalist Society put them there to vote. They preach “stare decisis” right up until they start shit-canning all the prior decisis that gets in their way.

So few congressional hopefuls (outside the deep-red Bible belt) will come out and say that they favor a national ban on abortion. Instead, they’ll pay tribute to the “sanctity of life,” and other bullshit they don’t really mean, or can even define, and hope that by soft-pedaling it, the election goes the way it was gerrymandered to go. Then, they’ll be free to vote with the rest of the party on that abortion ban, cutting or privatizing Social Security, cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and rolling back regulations on pollution.

Or in other words, they’ll say whatever it takes to get elected and then go do whatever they wanted to do in the first place.

In theory, people in their district or state can vote them right back out, but that doesn’t happen very often. When you see polls about how low the regard is for the institution of Congress, it’s always, “Well, I like MY guy but the rest of them suck.” Then multiply that by the people in the other 49 states, and you have the reason why so many incumbents coast to victory every time.

But if the threat of a national abortion ban doesn’t mobilize people, women in particular, I don’t know what else it could possibly take. It doesn’t seem like the charge towards authoritarianism is moving the needle. Even the highly publicized and televised J6 hearings have barely made a dent. I don’t think they changed many minds. The court case deciding whether state legislatures can overturn elections isn’t getting much play either, and I find that terrifying.

You can see the drip-drip-drip of revelations from Republicans… national abortion ban, restricting contraception, hell, even repealing the amendment that gave women the right to vote… and that’s just what’s been said out loud (before getting shooshed by their more polished brethren, who know not to speak of such things in public until they’ve been elected. Or even then, only when absolutely necessary, like when casting their vote.) But just imagine the things that go unsaid. Women have to be getting nervous about their status in this country. If they’re not, they must not be paying attention, and are about to become very surprised when they wake up one day and realize they are second or third-class citizens, with fewer rights than cadavers.

For all the problems we have locally here in Maryland, they really do “voting” properly. Early this year, I signed up for mail-in voting, in perpetuity. And I don’t even have to mail the ballot back; there are drop boxes all over the county. We have one about a mile down the road from us.

Last week I received an email from the Board of Elections:

They also email me a confirmation when they’ve received my ballot. I like that transparency and it gives me confidence that things are running well somewhere. Although getting them counted on time is still an issue. Like I mentioned a couple posts ago, the GOP nominee for Governor filed suit to stop drop-off and mail-in ballots from being counted before Election Day. (Actually, the current law says they can’t start counting these votes until two days after Election Day. It’s a remnant from before the demand for mail-in voting exploded from COVID.)

His suit was thrown out, but he is appealing the decision. Of course. That’s how far they’re prepared to go, just to maintain an excuse to challenge results they don’t like. And I’m confident they’re not going to like this one. When the sitting Republican governor of a deep blue state refuses to endorse his party’s nominee, it just shows how far from center this guy is.

One idea that keeps getting tossed around is making Election Day a holiday, to facilitate voting. On the surface that might sound fine, but it would be an ineffectual gesture, especially if the goal is to provide easier voting opportunities to those who need them.

The problem is that those who need the time won’t be the ones off work. Look at our biggest holidays… Christmas and Thanksgiving. Are there still stores open? Some are. Gas stations are open. Convenience stores are open. Many restaurants are open. Now consider that this will in no way as big as Christmas and Thanksgiving; it will probably be more like Veterans’ Day or MLK Day. What is closed on those days? Government and banks. All stores, gas stations, and restaurants are open. I bet Bezos doesn’t shut down his Amazon facilities, not while people are at home (or work) buying stuff online. Those are the people who need the time to go vote.

And yes, employers are obligated to make sure their staff has time to vote. And that works out for office workers like me, (back when voted in person.) I always had time to go vote, which I’d do first thing in the morning, on my way to work. If I was late, it was cool. I had my “I Voted” sticker. But picture the person who has two or three jobs. Each employer says “You have the whole rest of the day to vote, just make sure you’re here on time,” regardless of the fact that the worker then has to go to the next job, or just home to take care of the family.

So yeah, it’s a nice idea, but it’s pointless. Unless the point is to make it easier for those who already have it the easiest.