Hey, you — you’re the worst

I don’t really like Halloween.

There, I said it. I want to. I used to. But now, as an adult, it’s just disappointing. Like, it makes me disappointed in society.

Every year, I can’t help but feel a vague sense of dread, just waiting to see what kind of destruction takes place. And today, the day after Halloween, is when all the lovely details come out.

This is how I feel about Halloween

About twenty cars were vandalized in my neighborhood last night – I’m talking graffiti, slashed tires, broken windows, theft. Just…why? I live in a city, in a neighborhood with people from all walks of life. It’s not crime-free, but it’s far from a scary, violent place. Except on Halloween, I guess.

I did walk away from my car with some trepidation last night, worried that perhaps I’d find it egged or a pumpkin smashed across the hood. I gave people too much credit. Thankfully my car was spared, but many of my neighbors had their day/week/month ruined this morning for no reason at all.

A few miles away, my dad, a man in his sixties, reluctantly answered the door shortly before midnight after relentless knocking and ringing of the doorbell – simply to stop the racket that I’m sure was stressing out both him and our elderly family dog (who has major anxiety). At which point a bunch of jackass teenagers silly-stringed him – a retired man, relaxing alone in his home. Really?

Every year it’s the same thing – teenagers, even adults, smash to pieces jack-o-lanterns lovingly carved by small children. Homes and cars are vandalized. Actual riots break out.

I get that Halloween involves mischief – kids being kids, pulling pranks, a little TP and shaving cream. But it’s not that anymore. Now it’s genuine cruelty and destruction and just makes me wonder what is so wrong in people’s lives. A holiday that should be so fun – for adults too but especially for kids – has just become sinister.

Honestly, what’s next? Breaking into people’s homes and stealing their Thanksgiving turkey? Throwing coal through people’s windows on Christmas Day? Crashing a child’s birthday party and slapping him or her in the face?

To the people who pull this crap: You are high on the list of the worst people in the world. Below terrorists and serial killers – but far above litterers. And you know how I feel about litterers.


Don’t ruin Halloween

Recently, for a freelance assignment, I was researching ways to have a more “green” Halloween.

To be honest, I had never given much – okay, any – thought to the environmental impact of Halloween. Probably because when you’re the one picking out plastic-y costumes from the party store and rolling around in candy wrappers, you’re a child. And then after that, you’re more concerned with a costume’s impact on your boobs than its impact on the environment.  And after that, you’re not really concerned with Halloween at all until you have your own kids.

So I had never really thought about it. But once I started reading about it, it made sense, and there were actually a lot of really simple ways to make Halloween a bit more eco-friendly. I found myself nodding in agreement with the reasonable suggestions.

The way it should be

But then. Oh then… Then my head exploded. Several of the sources I found advocated handing out organic, fair-trade dark chocolate to trick-or-treaters. Another suggested giving them soy candles. SOY CANDLES. I had to read that one like 12 times to make sure I was understanding it correctly.

Ok. If I, as an adult woman, show up at your house trick-or-treating, feel free to give me organic dark chocolate and a soy candle. I welcome it. However, if I were a child and received this, I’m pretty sure I would throw myself on the floor screaming. In fact, even now I’d probably be pissed if I didn’t get any Smarties or Reese’s Pieces. Also – if you do this, you should probably expect to have your house egged by an angry mob of children. Just a fair warning.

Can’t we be environmentally responsible without ruining childhood? That’s all I have to say.

(Actually, no it’s not. It’s ridiculous standards like these that make actual important causes seem so elitist/inaccessible to people. Isn’t it better to give everyone simple, affordable ways to make a difference rather than suggesting you need to spend $350 on chocolate at Whole Foods to be a good citizen?  End rant.)

Princess dreams

When I was a little girl, everyone had a favorite Disney princess. I guess it was kind of an elementary school girls’ version of the Sex and the City game: are you a Carrie or a Samantha? Are you a Cinderella or a Belle? (I was a total Snow White, but longed to be Ariel.)

True story: when I was in fifth grade, I came home from school crying to my mom because a boy I had the biggest crush on had looked at me in class and said, “Uh. You look like Snow White.” My mom was baffled. “Snow White is beautiful!” she said. “No she’s not,” I wailed. “She’s not one of the hot princesses like Cinderella!” HA. I die at this story now.

My point is, Disney princesses were a quintessential part of childhood. And it’s not like they were a new fad. Snow White had been holding steady since, what? The 1930s? But I’ve noticed that now, it seems almost politically incorrect to love the princesses, or to introduce them to a new generation of girls. I don’t think the three-year-old girl I babysit has ever seen Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Cinderella or Jasmine onscreen (she still wants to be a princess, though — the phase is just inevitable).

How can this not make you happy? Look at Sebastian!

I was recently hanging out with a group of women, some I knew from college and some I had just met. I knew the room was on the feminist side (as am I), but I still floated out there my love of Ariel and the magical experience of seeing The Little Mermaid on Broadway – in my twenties. Everyone was on board and immediately started sharing their own childhood connections with the princesses. One woman even said her interest in becoming an archivist stemmed partly from Ariel’s collections in the movie; it made that much of an impact on her as a child. How cool is that?

get the concept of not wanting little girls to think they’re helpless creatures who need a handsome prince to rescue them. But the thing is…who thinks that? None of us remembered thinking, “Well, guess I don’t need to work hard or apply myself in school because a gallant gentleman is ultimately going to come along and provide for me” (and honestly, even if you did think that, wouldn’t the notion be pretty well crushed the second you actually started dating?).

Girls have – or should have – so many other influences in their lives, I find it doubtful that their lifelong values will be based on a princess movie. And if a girl wants to grow up to be a princess when she’s three, so what? If she wants that when she’s twenty-three, well, there are some bigger issues there that probably can’t be blamed on Disney.

What do you think – did you have a favorite Disney princess? Do you think they’re a bad influence on girls?

The scent of memories (Or: Proust and lemon lollipops)

The other day, I came across a display of essential oils. I recently heard it’s a good idea to stash a little bottle of a pleasing scent in your purse and smell it when you’re feeling overwhelmed. So I stopped to peruse the labels and see if any caught my eye. I saw the usual suspects – lavender, jasmine, ylang ylang – but for some reason I immediately reached for the lemon. I unscrewed the lid, lifted it to my nose, and bam – a smile of pure delight spread across my face.

You see, the second I smelled it, I was no longer a grown woman standing in the aisle of a store – I was a little girl sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car. We had just gone through the drive-through at the bank, and I had delightedly witnessed what I considered the most magical engineering feat of all time – those air chutes that went whoosh! and whisked my mom’s deposit slip from where we sat in the car to the teller inside the bank.

And then whooshed back a single lemon lollipop for me.

Yellow Lemon Lollipops: 5LB Bag

I have no idea how many times this actually happened, but in my memory I ran errands with my mom and was rewarded with that sweet lollipop at least a hundred times. In my memory the bank teller even knew my name. For all I know, this may have only happened five or six times total, but it doesn’t matter – when I smelled that lemon oil, I was four years old again, being handed my prize.

I can’t remember the last time I thought about those bank trips, so it took me by surprise to have them so vividly spring to life in my mind. But smells always do that, don’t they?

Several years ago, I was in Victoria’s Secret and saw a pear body spray. Oh, I love the smell of pears, I thought, spritzing some on my wrist. Bam! I was at a middle school dance. I had forgotten I wore a pear body spray all the time in seventh grade, and the memory hit me so hard it was disorienting. Like I had actually time travelled, just for a moment. Whoosh.

This has happened many other times. There’s a certain shampoo that transports me to a shower stall at a campground in Montana during the best month of my life. And a cologne that, when I smell it on a passerby, makes me nauseous with the memory of a bad boyfriend. I once got into my sister’s car after not seeing her for a long time and was flooded with memories of a place we used to live.

I know most people have experienced this, but I didn’t know it had a name. Apparently, it’s called the “Proustian phenomenon” after a book by Marcel Proust in which the smell of a madeleine cookie causes the narrator’s whole childhood to come rushing back.

A phenomenon indeed. Lots of things can call up memories, pleasant or painful – a song, a picture, an article of clothing – but nothing hits you quite so hard as a smell. And it’s not something that can be reproduced over and over – it’s that complete element of surprise that takes you back in time when you least expect it.

Still, I think I might buy that lemon oil for my purse – or maybe just some lollipops.

Just tell ’em that you knew me back when

Last night, I cried in my car for approximately seven seconds. Then I stopped to focus on what’s really important in life – getting a parking spot. And there’s no crying in parallel parking, especially when it’s the only spot on your block. (If there’s one thing that can override any other emotion, it’s my burning desire for that spot.)

But for those seven seconds before I saw the parking spot – tears. And what triggered them? Why, a song, of course. I’ve blogged about how music is a time machine, but it also has an uncanny way of hitting you with a hefty sack of emotion out of nowhere, even if it’s just a fragment of a line that does it.

This is what happened to me last night. The culprit? I was listening to the new Ben Folds Five album (so so good), and there’s a line that goes like this: The brightness of air/Out walking somewhere/And when they ask you/Just tell ‘em that you knew me back when…

Doesn’t seem like much, right? I know. But for some reason the last part cuts to the core of me every time. Just tell ‘em that you knew me back when.

And it’s because, lately, I’ve realized there are very few people in my life who knew me back when.

Isn’t there just something so comforting and so important about those people who have known you forever, or the ones who knew you at a really formative time in your life?

I think the reason they’re so important is because they help us keep alive all those past versions of ourselves that are both still part of us and kind of completely gone at the same time.

Like when I hang out with a friend I met this year, she knows me as I am now, and that’s nice. But when I hang out with a friend who’s known me since eighth grade, she knows me – the totality of me, from awkward middle schooler with braces all the way up to today. We have shared memories, sure, and that’s part of it. But it’s more that we just have the kind of knowledge of who the other person is and how they got to be that way that’s hard to establish with those we meet later in life.

A few months ago, I got together with a new friend. As we sat at the bar having a beer, she said “Ok, what’s your relationship history? Go!” I liked her approach, because I knew what she was after – it was like she was saying – Quick, give me the CliffsNotes version of all your greatest loves and heartaches, so I can put into context anything you tell me about your life now. So we swapped histories, and it was good – but not the same as actually reading the book.

Growing up, I moved around a lot. To my mom and dad who are reading this – it did not traumatize me. In fact I think I got many positive things out of it. But I’ll admit, I’ve always been jealous of people who could say, “Oh us? We’ve been friends since we were in diapers/in preschool/before we were born.” I’ve never known anyone that long.

Of course, there’s always your family. But I think your parents, especially, have a unique view of you that’s both more and less accurate than other people’s. There’s something precious and special about the way they know you – witnessing, from birth, every step of your life and your development into a fully-formed person. No one will ever know you quite like they do. But at the same time, they have a certain perception of you that’s so tied to you being their child, it may be hard for them to see sometimes the totality of you as an adult. And that’s where friends or significant others are able to see you in a different, and necessary, way.

I have a theory that this is why so many people wind up going back and marrying their childhood sweethearts (and why there are so many movies about it). Because that person knows them – not just the polished-up adult version, but all the versions that came before.

(Lest it sound like I am romanticizing my own childhood sweetheart, I can assure you after his complete psychotic break with reality, this is not the case. But, I get why people do it.)

And I think one of the hardest things about certain friendships and romantic relationships ending is when that person was with you through a time of your life and a version of yourself that you really don’t want to forget. When there ceases to be anyone around who knew you then…it can feel awfully hard to hold onto.

I have an old friend I don’t talk to often, and we really have nothing in common anymore. But it’s comforting whenever I see her. When she laughs and shakes her head at something I said, or says “that’s so like you” – she knows what that means.

Relationships and, sadly, even friendships come and go. But for sure the hardest ones to let go of are the ones who knew you back when.