november 2012 books.

I feel like I am not very good at talking about books. I'm not even sure I'm particularly good at reading, to be honest. I know that I frequently miss things that other people pick up on. But then again, maybe I am picking up things they miss. I have noticed that attempting to talk about a book does help me be more mindful in my reading. So maybe the trouble has been that I haven't been thinking enough about what I read.

Ugh, that whole paragraph seems to indicate that I can't write very well either. Anyway, I don't know what to do about this lack of other than practice. So here's what I read this month.
  • Come To Think of It, Daniel Schorr
    Dan Schorr was a journalist for 70 years or so. This book is a collection of short essays he did for NPR between 1991 and 2008. I was alive during those times, but I was not paying attention to current events (in fact, I think 2008 was the exact year I started paying attention). It's interesting not only to learn about the things I missed, but to read about them as they happened, as opposed to reading an account written with the benefit of hindsight.

    Schorr led an amazing life. In between ruminations on the Lewinsky affair or 9/11, there were stories about being slipped a mickey by the KGB and testifying in front of Congress. His perspective is tempered by a long view of history, which I like. It's very easy for us to get caught up in what is happening right now, as if the whole of human history hasn't been played out over and over again. We're like teenagers who think they're the first ones to ever fall in love.
  • Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm
    Man alive, this book was wonderful. It's an old old book, possibly in danger of falling off the edge of the earth. I am a sucker for picking these books up. Nothing delights me more than the possibility of rediscovering an old classic. Zuleika Dobson is about a beautiful woman who comes to Oxford, where all the undergraduates fall in love with her upon first sight. And then they all kill themselves by throwing themselves in the river during a boat race.

    That's pretty much the plot, because it's not a plot-driven book. It's satire! There are a lot of unkind things said about rich boys at Oxford. The prose is eccentric and ornate, and that's really the reason to read the book. Also, Beerbohm just knows a lot of words. I had to look so many up that I started writing them down. For example, did you know that "legerdemain" means "skillful use of one's hands while performing tricks?" Me neither!

    The thing I liked most about this book was how the world of the book progressively opened up the more I read. You start with some people at Oxford, but soon the list of characters and actors grows to include a set of statues, a few ghosts, some gods of fate, a muse. In the middle of the book, right smack in the middle of nothing really happening, there is a chapter about the narrator, who turns out to be some kind of ghost. At the end, all of these actors in their various spheres of influence come together. It's a very cool trick.
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
    This book was this month's book club selection. It's a magic in this world kind of book. The story takes place amongst people who can do actual magic ("manipulation," one of them calls it), but these people exist in our regular world. Us non-magical folk just don't realize it.

    The ladies at book club complained about weak characters, and once they did, I noticed they were right. Character development is not something I notice, I've discovered. I just thought it was fun. There was magic and weird carnival people and love. The author majored in set design, and each scene is rich with vivid description. Someone pointed out that she hit all the senses in describing each tent in the circus.
  • The Assassins' Gate, George Packer
    I felt like a smart type person carrying this book around. It was only 450 pages or so, but it looked and felt much bigger. Also, it was about the Iraq War (the second one), which is an Important Topic. Thus, I must be a person who Knows and Cares about Important Things.

    All that pretension aside, this is a very thorough and nuanced book. Someone who saw me reading it asked whether it just blamed everything on George W. Bush. While the former president is not spared, the author really finds lots of blame to go around.

    The main point seems to be the disparity between the reality in Iraq and the reality that Washington wanted to believe. What started out as deceiving the American public (WMDs, connections to terrorist, the estimated cost of a war, our mission) turned into self-deception. And since Washington was not looking at what was really going on, they did a pretty crappy job of dealing with it. We expected to go over there, get rid of the bad guy, and then be done with it, because FREEDOM. There was little to no planning for what to do after the bad guy was gone, as if we felt no responsibility for the situation we had created.

    Packer says that the administration saw freedom as "absence of constraint. Freedom existed in divinely endowed human nature, not in man-made institutions and laws. Remove a thirty-five-year-old tyranny and democracy will grow in its place, because people everywhere want to be free."

    We did not want to be seen as occupiers, and so we didn't assert any authority. There was rampant looting, leading to most of Iraq's existing infrastructure (power grid, water services, libraries and museums) being destroyed.

    "Confused, frustrated Iraqis, who had never before been allowed to take any initiative, turned to the Americans, who seemed to have all the power and money; the Americans, who didn't see themselves as occupiers, tried to force the Iraqis to work within their own institutions, but the institutions had been largely dismantled."

    Besides the lack of public services, a lot of the population was suddenly out of work, partly because we fired all of the local leaders as part of an effort to get rid of any vestiges of Saddam's ruling party, the Baathists. Of course, since everyone was required to be in the party, that took out the good people along with the corrupt. We also disbanded the army. Mass unemployment means the people have no money to live on and nothing to do with their time. And then there was an insurgency and, oh yeah, civil war.

    Then, once we were in the mess, no one could talk about it. Republicans refused to look at it, just saying mission accomplished. Democrats could only talk about the fact that we had been lied to in the first place. Basically, no one thought about the Iraqis, at any point. And it's not even over.

    I admit that before reading the book, I was pretty hung up on the idea that the President lied to the public so that he could start a war. And that is still completely inexcusable. However, the lie obscured the other reasons for going to war and led to a general flippancy on what the undertaking required. There was never a discussion about whether democracy is something that can be imposed on a society or what that would take. Saddam was terrible. He used chemical weapons on his own people. There was no question whether or not he should be gotten rid of. But whether we have any place doing such a thing is a different question, one that was not really asked.

    Anyway. Amazing book.
  • The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken
    This book is about a boy (later a man) who suffers from an overactive pituitary gland. He never stops growing. It's told from the perspective of the lonely town librarian, who falls in love with him. The story is doomed from the start, because people who don't stop ever growing die young. Gosh, I sure do give away a lot of spoilers when I talk about books.

    See now, I'm struggling to talk about this book. And I think that it's because its main thrust is the characters. The story of the book is the development of the characters and their relationships. I read it, and I liked it okay, but now it's over and I don't know what to say.

    Which is odd, because there were a lot of things about the lonely librarian that I related to. She keeps herself separate from other people, even as she craves interaction. There is a scene where another character accuses her of being "reserved." She makes a bunch of jokes about the different meanings of reserved, like a reserved table or seat. But the other character says that it's all the same meaning - something is reserved for someone. But who are reserved people reserved for? If they remain reserved their whole lives, then it's all a waste.

    I thought that was a great point, neatly made. The book had lots of bits like that, and yet I am left underwhelmed. I will finish with a quote that I wrote down, just because I liked it.

    "She had parents who were in love with each other, and that is a blow no child can ever recover from."


acquired flat foot.

About two weeks after joining Curves, my ankle started hurting. First, it hurt just when I worked out. But I powered through, because pain is just weakness leaving the body. Then it started hurting pretty much all the time. I limped around for so long that I couldn't tell if my ankle was still injured or if this was just my new way to walk. I also continued to go to the gym and run in place in thirty second increments. I did dig out my old ankle brace from high school.

The weird thing was that there was no time when I recalled injuring myself. I have some familiarity with ankle injuries (thus the brace), and usually you pretty much know when you've gone and hurt yourself. Usually you fall, there is instant pain, and sometimes a great big friendly cracking noise. There had been none of that. Just pain.

While I was having this pain, Josh and I were fighting about it. He was being uncharacteristically sensible, telling me to take it easy and for pete's sake, stop going to the gym. I really wanted to just tough it out. Because I had just started going back to the gym, because I was doing so well getting up early in the morning to go exercise, because I had momentum here, and I was not going to lose it over a silly thing like the thought of never walking again. The lady at the gym had just that morning told me how much she liked seeing me come in, because I worked hard and sweat, while a lot of these ladies barely move and then complain that they're not getting any thinner. I told Josh that I wouldn't jog in place anymore. I would use the machines, and then during the aerobics part, I would do the twist. The twist doesn't require stepping at all! The twist would save me!

He was not convinced by my promises of twisting. He nagged me into silence, which is not the same as concession, just so you know.

He told me to go to the doctor, which was about the silliest thing I'd ever heard. The doctor is going to tell me to ice it and keep off it and then charge me $150. What I did do was fire up the old googler and typed in "inner ankle pain." The first thing I discovered is that the inside of your ankle is called the medial side. I read some internet comments and looked at foot diagrams and diagnosed myself with a inflamed tibialis posterior tendon. The tibialis posterior tendon attaches your leg muscle to your foot and toe bones. It loops underneath your ankle bone, and so when it hurts, it feels like your ankle hurts. I looked at pictures of the tendon, poked my ankle to see where it hurt, and called it a match. Then I found a YouTube video where someone stands on one foot, then raises himself onto the balls of his feet. This was illustrating the work of the tibialis posterior muscle (and its accompanying tendon). To verify I had the right injured body part, I tried this exercise. It was excruciating.

Of course, the thing about a google diagnosis (is there a word for that? there should be a word for that.) is that while finding one, you're going to come across tales of horror. Lots of people have problems with this tendon, and basically none of them ever walked again and also their puppies all died. In fact, tibialis posterior tendon dysfunction is also known as "acquired flat foot." Basically, your foot just sorta collapses in on itself. Awesome. I kept waiting to hear the snap of my tendon breaking every time I tried to go down stairs. I imagined it would sound like a whip crack. Waaa-cack!

But finally, maybe after reading some more about acquired flat foot, I gave myself a few days off from exercise. To my irritation, I found that my ankle did not hurt as much and was not as swollen in the evenings (Did I mention the swelling? There had been swelling). And Josh told me that he was proud of me for not going to the gym, because it showed that I knew he was right. I did not respond.

After a long weekend of not exercising, I went back on a Monday, determined to do what I could without collapsing my foot. I was going to do the most enthusiastic twisting since Chubby Checker. My ankle felt fine, so I did my usual jogging in place during the cardio portions of the workout. After a few rounds of that, my ankle started twinging, so I switched to the twist. I felt moderately stupid, but really, everyone looks pretty spastic doing solo aerobics.

This week, it hasn't hurt at all. So I guess my tendon is okay for now. Which is just as well, because I'm not a very good twister.


approved devices.

I got a postcard in the mail from Time Warner Cable, and that's just never a good thing. I prefer to never hear from TWC. I am content to not be reminded that I pay them money every month despite their wretched customer service. Plus, communication only means that they want more of my money. Either they are letting me know that they're going to be taking more of my money for the same service, or they are trying to sell me something. I receive sales calls every few months from incredulous people who can't believe that anyone wouldn't want cable television.

Oh, the glorious sounds of a company trying to hold on to its increasingly outdated business model in the internet age.

The postcard said that they were going to start charging me $3.95 a month to lease their modem from them. Which is weird, because I've been using that modem for 4 years now. I guess that was some kind of trial period. They also helpfully included a list of approved devices that I could purchase, if I wanted to avoid paying the rental fee. Of course, I jumped at that opportunity. At $80, the modem will pay for itself in saved rental fees after 20 months. But really, the satisfaction of withholding my money from TWC is all that I need. Every month, I will skip to the mailbox to drop my check in, gleefully singing about how they're not getting my $3.95. Or I would, if I didn't use online billpay.

So I bought one of the approved devices. Then I called TWC, because I had to register my new device with them so that they would recognize it on the network and send it all the internets. Actually, I tried using their online chat service first. It took 30 minutes for a CSR to get to me, but I spent the time updating addresses on my wedding guest list. When the guy finally got to me, he told me that I would need to call, because I couldn't chat over the internet and set up a new modem at the same time. Then why do you offer that service on your helpful little postcard? The CSR gave me a special number to call that was different than the regular line, but then he ended the chat, which closed the window and took away my secret number. I had asked to be emailed a transcript of the chat, but of course, I never received that email.

TWC, how I loathe thee.

So I called the regular number and was told that I had a thirty minute wait. I just hung up at that point, because I had other things to do. I waited a couple of days until I had time to wait. The voice cheerfully told me that my call was important to them, but due to unexpected call volume, I was likely to wait for more than thirty minutes. That's quite alright. I washed a giant sinkload of dishes, cleaned the counters, then folded a load of laundry, all while listening to the wait music on speakerphone.

Let's be positive here. The good thing about TWC customer service is that it allows you to get a lot of chores done.

Finally, a real live person answered and then immediately transferred me to another department, which led me to believe that if only I'd had the secret number, I could have avoided doing all those dishes. I waited another five minutes or so, during which time I put away the clothes I folded. Then a fellow came on the line, and we tried to set up my new modem. This consisted of me reading out a special code on the side of the modem. This is the address that the modem sends back to TWC to identify itself, and then TWC looks at it, confirms that the address matches one of their paying customers, and allows access. I read out the code, he read it back to me. But it wasn't coming up on his end. He read it back to me, and I read it back to him a few more times. He apologized for asking me to read it back to him over and over, all the while saying that it's really confusing how sometimes the B's look like 8's, and don't even get him started on how the C's can look like 6's.

After ten minutes of that, he concluded that there was something screwy about the modem's address. He advised me to return it to the store and get a new one. Thank you for calling, is there anything else I can (not) do for you today?

No, no, no, no, no. No. I'm sorry, Mr. CSR, but I've had some experience with both your cable company and Motorola, who makes the modem. I've been carrying a Motorola on my person for the last three years, and I have to say that I am a satisfied customer. So when something is screwy, and it's either TWC or Motorola, I'm putting my money on the monolithic cable company that shows nothing but contempt for its customers because it knows that they can't go anywhere else for their precious internet. You know, the same company that sent the cops to my door because they had my address wrong.

I was going to have to troubleshoot my own issue. "Hold on a sec. Let me reboot the modem and see if that helps." When in doubt, always reboot. It was funny how I was kinda turning around this here service call. I unplugged the modem, waited ten seconds, then plugged it back in and watched the lights come back to life.

"Oh, here it is. It's coming up now." Well, how about that. I guess my brand-freaking-new modem did work after all.

"Oh, good. You ought to add the reboot step to your troubleshooting script." He did not respond to that one. Instead, he told me to reboot my wireless router. I'm not sure if that is in his script, or, having been introduced to the magical power of rebooting, he was going to try it on everything. His next caller was going to be told to try unplugging the microwave.

Internets achieved, we ended the call (58 minutes, with wait time). Five minutes later, I got a survey call. I rated the CSR reasonably well, since it's not his fault he works for a terrible, terrible company. He was helpful and friendly, even if he was working on a bad script. Then they asked me how likely I was to recommend TWC to a friend. I put in 1, for "least likely." This answer was so inconceivable to the nice phone recording lady that she asked me again, did I mean to put that in or was I just confused about the 1 - 10 scale? No, ma'am, I'm sure. While it does seem like anyone would have to be a real moron to be your customer, I assure you that I am not.

I was also given a minute to record a message about my experience, which I used to let them know that hey, rebooting can be a good alternative to sending people back to the store to exchange perfectly good modems. Yeah, I'm sure they'll take that one to heart. They're rewriting the scripts as we speak.

Whatever. Totally worth the $3.95 a month.


open sesame.

We have a phrase at my house that we use to describe someone who is especially enthusiastic about something minor or obscure. We say that the person is on the (Thing) Council. The idea is that there is a specific group of people who promote that thing to their friends, strangers on the street, perhaps even Congress. They buy giant billboards reminding you how great their thing is, and at the bottom, in tiny italicized print, it says "Brought to you by the Thing Council." For example, Josh is on the Breakfast Council. He regularly encourages people to eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day, and will happily tell you about how it boosts your metabolism and gives you energy and cures any warts you may have. He doesn't even really need you to be listening, he'll just go on and on about breakfast. That man loves breakfast. He goes to Breakfast Council meetings, held every third Saturday at 7:30 in the morning at a place called, oddly enough, Clarence's Friendly Lunch.

Anyway, all that is to announce that I have recently joined the Sesame Seed Council.

I can hear you scoff! You're probably thinking that sesame seeds are not good for anything except decorating the bun of your Big Mac. But listen here, I bet if you opened up a jar of sesame oil and gave it a big whiff, you'd realize that all the Chinese takeout you've ever eaten was gently flavored by the humble sesame seed (Indeed, sesame seed was the first seed they figured out how to get oil from). And if you've ever had hummus, then you're eating chickpeas flavored with sesame paste (called tahini, delicious and also fun to say). Sesame seeds are full of antioxidants, protein and the good kind of fat. The plant is hardy and survives in all kinds of terrible conditions, from drought to monsoon.

You really ought to show a little more respect to the sesame seed. And a good way to start would be to make sesame brittle! It's incredibly simple, takes no time at all, and I haven't been able to stop snacking on it. I found small packets of sesame seeds in the Latin food section at my local Food Lion. If you happen to have a Latin grocery store nearby, you could probably find bulk packages there for cheaper than the little baggies. Other ethnic food stores may also have it, as most cultures rightly place the sesame seed on a higher pedestal than a hamburger bun.

Of course, as soon as I realized how ridiculously easy it was to make such a delicious and unusual snack, I had grand notions of making a bunch and giving it away at Christmas in smart holiday-themed plastic baggies (with color-coordinated ribbons!). That may not happen, because my ambitions are greater than my motivation, but if you don't have that problem, this would be an excellent and unusual holiday snack gift. You could even include a nice educational card extolling the humble sesame seed. And at the bottom, you can put "Brought to you by the Sesame Seed Council."

Brought to you by the Sesame Seed Council.


you there!

Josh brought home a Stormtrooper helmet that he found at Goodwill. It has buttons on the side that play phrases like "Halt!" or "You there!" or "Oh man, I think those might have been the droids we were looking for." There is also what looks like a microphone inside, but that does not seem to be working. In any case, as soon as I saw it sitting on the table, I put it on. And that's when we found out that Remix is apparently part of the Rebel Alliance. Even though the helmet had been sitting in the same room with her all afternoon, and even though she had seen me put it on, she was growling and barking at me like I was here to confiscate her Nylabones. She's not real smart.

We saw this as a useful teaching tool. We've been having problems with her being less-than-friendly to strangers, the whole barking and growling bit (basically, "You there!" over and over again). It's really unpleasant for the stranger, very embarrassing for us, and is just not good ambassador behavior. We explained to her that she was giving pitbulls everywhere a bad name and confirming lots of stereotypes, and she looked at us like she understood, but then she did it again.

I did some internet research and found out that, of course, this is our fault. Whenever the dog is bad, it is our fault, because basically dogs are too stupid to have agency (or something like that). When she meets a stranger, she is not confident that the situation is under control. She does not know that the Alpha (us) has everything in hand, so she thinks she needs to assert herself. What we need to do is find a good way to let her know that Hey dog, it's fine, I got this. So what we have been doing is surprising her with the Stormtrooper helmet. She and I will be outside enjoying the lovely fall weather, when a Stormtrooper will come out of the house wearing Josh's clothes. And she'll get upset, but I will shut her down using my very angry voice (which, let me say, is terrifying in its own right). I hush her up and make her lay down. Usually Josh gets bored and starts dancing while this is going on, adding another level of confusion. We also switch it up where I wear the mask and Josh shuts her down.

It seems to be getting better, in that it's much easier to get her down from Red Alert. Of course, we may only be training her to trust Stormtroopers. A whole team of robbers in costume could come into the house and take all our useless crap while she sat meekly in the corner. Also, we're going to have to ask all visitors to the house to wear the helmet. Somehow, I don't think most of our friends would even mind.



Josh asked the groom if they were registered.

"To vote?"

"No, for presents. People get presents when they get married."

"Oh, no, we're not. You could bring some liquor, though."

So that's what we did. We went in together with Trevor and presented a fifth of Four Roses and a fifth of Maker's Mark. These gifts were bestowed at the party the night before. Trevor bestowed the Makers by yelling across the room, "Hey, this is for y'all" and then he opened it up and took a slug of it. The bottles got passed around all night, then periodically misplaced and found again, then passed around some more.

The little brother of the groom brought moonshine, the purchase of which brought no money to the revenuers. He said that since it was a special occasion, he sprung for the nice stuff. Nice stuff meant fruit-flavored. It was in a quart mason jar and also got passed around. I stayed away from the whiskey, but sampled the moonshine, just to be friendly. It was dangerously sweet - it went down way too easy.

The next morning, in the clear remorseless light of day, everything was gone except for two beers. Someone said there was still whiskey left, but we never found it. And all that remained of the shine was a sticky jar. I washed it out in the bathroom sink of the cabin, intent on taking it home as a fun wedding souvenir.

Most of us spent the day sleeping so that we could be fresh for another round of celebrating. There was a wedding, a reception, an open bar, dinner and dancing. As we walked back up to the cabin, I was sober enough to do some gin math and decide that I needed to switch to water. I dug the mason jar back out of my bag and filled it up in the sink. I chugged water like it was my job.

I was sitting next to the groom. He asked if I had gotten some more moonshine. I passed him the jar and he took a big swig. "Oh man, that's good." He was holding an unopened beer. I offered to put it back in the pack for him, but he said it made him feel less lame to hold it. Then he drank some more water. We passed the jar back and forth between us, periodically refilling it. Soon someone else noticed how fast we were pounding the stuff, and we passed it to them, too. The jar went around the room, and each person who drank of it got a sort of relieved look on their face. We were happy to celebrate our friend's wedding, but we were getting too old for this nonsense. We made jokes about how hardcore we were as we refilled the jar again and again. It was so oddly wholesome in the midst of all the revelry. And somehow it was even cool. I'm going to start bringing mason jars to every party.

Pretty soon, we started calling it "H," short for H20. Josh pulled me aside and sternly said I couldn't call it that, because it was slang for heroin. He assumed that everyone else was in on the joke, but not me. Okay, fine, I hadn't known that, but now that I did, it was still fun. Pass the aitch.


feed your sandra.

We were in Podunk, Virginia, trying to find our way to a resort on the top of the mountain. We had an email telling us that GPS wouldn't get us there, but that was all the info we had. The GPS was going, but I didn't know whether to trust it. So I was trying to look up the website of the resort to get old-fashioned directions, the kind that say turn left at the Citgo. Also, both of our phones were moribund. All in all, I was kinda stressing out. Josh pointed out a red hatchback with a Jesus fish that looked like the U.S.S Enterprise. I snapped at him.

I got a text, asking for beer. We already had some, but you can never underestimate how much beer people will drink, at least not the people we were going to be hanging out with this weekend. There were no stores within an hour of the resort, so we were stocked up. We weren't entirely sure whether we were allowed to bring booze into the national forest, so it was all in the back, hiding under an innocuous pink blanket. We stopped at a Food Lion. I didn't feel like bundling up again to go into the store, so I said I'd wait in the car.

It seemed to take forever. If I'd known Josh was going to set up base camp in there, I'd have taken the trouble to put on my shoes.

Suddenly, I realized that I was really, really hungry. It was a special hunger, one that would soon morph into a headache. Once I was at headache, anything I ate after that would come right back up. Trust me, this has happened before, but if I could cut if off early, I would be fine. I needed food. Seeing still no signs of Josh (what was he doing in there? Podunk, Virginia Food Lions probably have terrible beer selection), I laced up my sneakers and ran inside to find the nearest Snickers.

I found Josh at the self-checkout, with a 12-pack of PBR, a pack of potato rolls, some ham, and a bag of potato chips. Sweet, blessed man. We were halfway back across the parking lot when he realized we didn't have anything to drink (well, except for 36 beers and two fifths of whiskey), so I ran back inside and grabbed a Mountain Dew and a Dr. Pepper.

Back in the car, following the GPS, I made plain ham sandwiches. They were quite possibly the best ham sandwiches that ever existed. My bad mood, my hunger, my headache all went away. I was left with a sense of appreciation for the man who knew when to feed his Sandra.


election chili.

For election night, I made the Obama Family Chili Recipe.

We'd both been feeling cautiously optimistic lately. And then, the previous weekend, we'd been out of town and busy with friends, which meant away from all of it. We were way up in the mountains, in a national park, and that meant no ads, no signs, no talking heads. It was awesome. There was some political talk, but luckily we were all in agreement, and so it stayed light. There was a twenty-year-old who argued passionately for Romney, then said he wasn't going to vote anyway because he didn't really care. He reminded me of myself in 2004 - understanding that it wasn't cool to like Bush, but not liking Kerry for some vague reason that probably had a lot to do with my upbringing. I suppose I could've resolved this internal battle by, you know, informing myself, but I didn't. I voted Libertarian. I think the candidate was Mark something (I looked it up, it was Michael Badnarik).

I made the chili, and we ate it while watching X-Files, the laptop on the coffee table showing the auto-refreshing red and blue map. I celebrated when they called Ohio, though Josh was skeptical that "they" were going to switch it in the night. Trevor was happy, too, even though he says he doesn't care because it's all rigged anyway. I live with paranoid people.

The chili was good, but not what I would've called chili. It was more like a spicy beef stew. A really spicy beef stew, because I bought chili powder at the Indian food store and that stuff is potent. The chili is served over rice, which is also un-chili-like. I'm not sure if this chili is from Chicago, Hawaii, Kenya, Indonesia, Kansas, or some mix. Ain't that America. I'll probably make it again, though I'll feel free to make some changes so as to add some North Carolina to it. Also, I won't call it chili, because that's confusing. In any case, it was good hot comfort food on a cold election night, watching the returns come in.


what are you supposed to be?

I left my Halloween costume ambiguous, mostly by just waiting until the last minute to come up with something. Usually to "come up with something" means to ponder a thought for a while and see what ideas result. In this case, I disappeared into the dark places of my closet, before coming up with a pair of mustard-colored corduroy overalls. Well, it's something. I think I shoved these into a paper grocery bag in the frantic last moments of a church yard sale. I have a few pieces of clothing that are like this - I may have another set of coveralls, actually - and the problem is that I can't not take something weird and free, but at the same time, I really have no opportunities to wear them.

If Halloween is not a chance to wear the ridiculous items lurking in the back of your closet, then I do not know what is. Otherwise, I'm going to have to wearing silly things on regular days. That might be fun, too.

But what I had was an outfit, which is not the same as a costume. A costume implies that you are dressed up as something, whereas an outfit is just clothes that you are wearing. I was doing it backwards. You're supposed to come up with your persona first, then figure out the best way to look like that.

Lots of people wear coveralls, so I could just say I was a janitor. But that's kind of boring. I tried to think of more unusual explanations for my outfit. I could add a corduroy hat and be a corduroy enthusiast. I could be a person who has a pair of coveralls that she never gets to wear. Except that's not a costume either, since I really am that.

I still hadn't really thought of anything by the time I was zipping up my coveralls. I stood in stark contrast to many other women who like to wear as little as possible at the end of October. Maybe it's these particular coveralls, but man! These were really unflattering. They were also very comfortable and warm, with lots of pockets.

I wasn't entirely worried about the fact that I didn't have a costume, per se. I figured that most people are more concerned with their own costumes to really care about what I'm wearing. But what I found was that most people will hazard a guess to your costume if they are not sure. And if you are unsure about it yourself, you can just tell them that they are right. To the five people who thought I was a Ghostbuster, I was a Ghostbuster. One guy thought I was a banana, though I think he was kidding, or maybe he thinks I am strange. The lady at the grocery store, seeing me with Josh as Count Dracula, guessed that we were both from Twilight (she hadn't seen Twilight, but she knew there were vampires, and hey, maybe sometimes they have their cars worked on). My favorite, though, was a guy who guessed that I was animal control. Yeah, all the kids want to be animal control at Halloween.

The real lesson here is that if you don't know what to be for Halloween, just put on some silly clothes and everyone else will provide the answer for you. Then pick your favorite and pretend that's what you were doing all along. Just like that one year where I went as animal control.