Traditions to Keep and Traditions to Lose

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Not all traditions are worth keeping. Some are good for the soul. Some traditions bring only temporary happiness. Some are horrible to everyone involved. For a tradition to be worth keeping, it has to have some lasting merit.

There’s a simple tradition in my family of handing out candy on Halloween while watching a movie. This is the most innocuous example of any tradition, right? The idea of watching a movie, usually a horror flick, while passing around candy on the night of the dead is fairly harmless. You could dig deeper and say the merits of a horror flick are debatable. You could even say the act of giving children candy is terrible for their teeth. Chances of drawing a massive stir among society over these arguments would be small. Few people would really care, or see either dilemma as a life-shattering tradition. A viewer of the horror-show will rarely enact what they’ve seen on the screen, and children who eat candy can always brush their teeth. The true dilemma in that last one is whether or not the parents are teaching their children to brush.

A less innocuous tradition is that of the late-night prank. Harmless, usually, it does however have the potential to scar the victim mentally.

One time, a few years ago, there was an old man who lived near me. He seemed stable enough in his mental capacity. He seemed mellow. Halloween was near, but this old man didn’t decorate. He hadn’t answered the door on previous Halloweens, if he was even home. Possibly he left home for the night. It was also possible he was watching a movie like me, except without handing out candy. No harm in his tradition whatsoever.

Another tradition had inserted itself in the days prior to our beloved spook night and the other tradition was even spookier than death…it was political posturing time. Signs for the various parties and the names of people who represented were planted on lawns next to fake cardboard gravestones. The comparison was too obvious.

My mischievous mind couldn’t handle the pressure. I had seen the political signs go up nearly a month earlier and thought the political decorations were uglier and more sinister than life-like zombies posed in leaf piles. That night, I collected all the political signs within five blocks of my house…about a dozen of them…then I transplanted them to the old man’s front lawn.

The next day I saw all of the signs scattered in the road. It looked like he had ripped them up and thrown them out there in anger and frustration. Although it wasn’t my intention to upset the old man, it seems that’s what happened. So even though there’s a small part of my mind still finding humor over his reaction, I can’t help but put myself in his mind and think maybe he found the signs as a direct assault, not as a harmless prank. Lesson learned.

A more positive prank I did the same Halloween: I collected a bunch of basketballs from the lost and found from the rec. center by telling them I was going to donate them to a group of young men. I gathered Sharpies. I drew Jack-o-lantern faces on all the basketballs and put all of them (about twenty basketballs) in black plastic bags. Late that night, long after the signs went in the old man’s yard, I carried the black plastic bags as if I was some demented Santa Claus. I went to another neighbor’s house where the family who lived there had two teenage boys. They also had a basketball hoop next to their driveway. I put all the basketballs in their front yard with the Jack-o-lantern faces visible.

It was a couple of weeks later when one of the boys told me the story of how someone had left a bunch of basketballs on their lawn on Halloween. He also said his family had to throw away most of the basketballs because they were flat, but there were some that still held air. I didn’t offer him any clue to who might have left all those basketballs, but it was a good feeling to know one prank went right.

The Hidden Benefits of Technology

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Google Maps may be alleviating traffic. Have you ever used it to find the fastest route to your destination? Here’s how it works: you type in your destination, and as long as you allow the program to detect your current location (through the GPS in your cell phone, don’t worry, the FBI doesn’t monitor Google Maps as much as your nervous next-door neighbor might say), it will find a few different ways for you to go. The program monitors traffic patterns. It will tell you which of your selected routes is the fastest. You can choose a course that isn’t the fastest—if you like. You can even start driving and change course in the middle a few times and it will adjust to get you to your destination. The reason I suspect Google Maps may be alleviating traffic is because if a large number of people are using it, then they’re being directed to use roads they might not have used. If one person goes one way and another goes another way, then the problem of traffic is solved, even if it’s only solved for those two motorists. They don’t have to contend with each other because they’ve never met.

Amazon’s Kindle has unintentionally created a benefit to the music industry. People get sick of all the problems with reading a book on their Kindle device, so they throw their hands up in defeat and say, “I’d rather listen to _________!” Then the would-be reader fills in the blank with their favorite music. They pick up an iPod or iPhone and start listening. They connect to a bluetooth speaker and blast away the frustration. Or so I’ve heard.

Did you know there are electric toothbrushes set to two minute run-times? Yep. Certain kinds of electric toothbrushes will actually indicate when you should be done brushing. Two minutes is supposed to be an ideal amount of time for cleaning teeth, so the electric toothbrush will slow down or make a noise to tell you when you’re done. Some people have outsmarted the system and found a two minute song they like, then they brush their teeth to music. When the music’s over, they quit brushing, turn out the light, and go to bed without reading a single digital book.

In a similar way to the Kindle’s hidden benefit, the giant tablets McDonald’s introduced in their lobbies for ordering have convinced fast-food customers to branch out and find a place less fad-oriented. Instead of McD’s, they find a great restaurant such as Taco Time. It only takes seconds for the fast-food customer to realize there really is life beyond the burger. There is also quality of life outside the burger joint. Tasty Veggie Burritos are far more friendly to an artery than a beef sandwich.

And don’t forget the invention of the Modobag. The hidden benefit to this odd motorized suitcase contraption is that people who sit on a plane for eight hours can continue sitting as they make their way through the airport. Everyone in the world needs more time for sitting.

The Frisson of Fright

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Halloween is a fun time to make things more mystical, spiritual, even more thrilling.

There’s a word from French which has become lost from our vocabularies. The idea the word represents has become less lost, but still under-appreciated.

The word is frisson. Our worldwide culture craves the frisson of fright, though we’ve forgotten how to express the craving.

We want to be scared. We want to find the tingling on the back of our necks that indicates potential danger. Undoubtedly, we want to find ourselves in sanctuaries of safety, but at the same time, we want to be near the edge. We want to walk the edge and almost fall off.

To almost die is to live more.

We want excitement in our entertainment because we live vicariously through the characters in the books and movies which we consume. We demand theme parks with roller coaster rides promising near-death experiences. We want to ride the bike on the cliff edge, or in the street with vehicles twenty times our own weight.

For extra thrills, we seek out highways that cross railroad tracks, houses built on fault lines, and employees of the government who defy the principles of common sense. Any one of these could kill us at any time. We know it and refuse to change our habits.

The frisson keeps us coming back for more. More thrills to drive us. More thrills to encourage our deadly persuasion.

Halloween-time is when we all get to dress up in costume and wander around a random neighborhood begging for candy. It’s also the time when reading a frightening book is more accepted. People on the downtown bus don’t seem to mind the gory cover of a horror novel quite so much. Some of them may even ask about it.

Halloween season is when watching a scary movie after dark is perfectly acceptable behavior as long as you invite someone to watch with you. Someone like this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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All Scenarios

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If all the scenarios that ever ran through an imaginative head actually happened, there would be people who died one hundred times over, and then one hundred times again.

There would be those who could not die.

There would be explosions on the freeway daily. No vehicle would be safe from the bullets, bombs, smokescreens, and lasers. Skyscrapers would rise up in seconds and slow-motion fall. Rockets would fly off to faraway places to never return. Portals would open up passage to every point in the known and the yet-unknown universe. Soap opera affairs would curse every human relation. Time would frequently stop, reverse, fly forward, then stop again. Underground caverns would be mapped and reveal their treasures. Treehouses would be war rooms. A trampoline would shoot a person into outer space and have the ability to catch anyone from great heights so they wouldn’t get hurt. Varieties of aliens would visit the planet in hordes; some would be peaceful, others violent.

Wings would sprout out of the shoulders, backs, and feet of humans. Magic spells might really work. Magic items would pass through the hands of many: cloaks of invisibility, rings of death, amulets of strength. Dragons might show their might. Dragon eggs would be traded like currency. Orcs would overrun cities and towns only to be cut down by armies of men.

Unicorns would remain elusive.

Mushrooms would grant powers to those who dared eat them. Stuffed animals would come to life, speak wisdom to any who may hear. Cats, ravens, and rabbits would carry on conversations with everyone.

Walls would become philosophical constructs. Doors would become debatable, moot. Gravity could be manipulated with the flip of a switch. Suns and moons would become symbols of power—and would power massive machines. Machines would be grandiose and miniscule all at once.

Musicians would be grand wizards. Painters would hold the keys to other worlds. Writers would be able to knit over the fabric of reality. Sculptors could raise the hammer like Thor swings Mjolnir and rearrange the elements at will. Artists of all kinds would forever be regarded as the most powerful among us.

God Himself would be seen as the ultimate imaginative mind. And yet…and yet…He is seen in such a way even now by those who have faith. The faithless accept limitations.

Just Admit It

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Hanging from the office lights, I casually snipped off and conked the HR guy, Gavin, on the head with a freakishly large, size eleven boot.

It was his boot.

He was trying to get me to give his boot back to him. He’s so tall, you’d think he could jump higher, but reality isn’t always as you think. He jumped, but he barely left the ground. Then I let go of the lights and knocked him out. To play fair, I left his boot by his unconscious head. He’ll find it easily.

Teasing him is my habit these days. There are things about him that make it seem like he is absolutely begging to be teased. For one, he’s noticeably cute. He’s tall and very much a man. I’m very much a woman, so there’s that between us.

He also likes to wear hats. Stupid hats. He thinks they make him look like something other than what he really is. He has his wide-brimmed “adventure” hat. He has his bowler and his stovepipe and even one of those hats like the guy in the band Cake wears. It doesn’t make him look like the guy in the band Cake. It doesn’t make him look like anything to me except a target.

I stole his hats whenever I got the chance. I still steal them. And when he left his boots on the side of his desk while he was clipping his freakishly large toenails—that was nothing more than blatant temptation. How could any self-respecting tease pass up such an opportunity? How could anyone not see those boots sitting there like something more likely to be found in a dry dock? Anyway, I stole one while he was looking and he chased me for it. You know how that ended. While he was out cold, I stole another hat.

People in the office have called me “floozy” and “tease” and some other things not worth repeating. “Dum.” They call me dum. I’m no ladder-climber. I’m just in the office to do my job. Like teasing Gavin.

Don’t get me wrong. The teasing is not all one-sided. He can send the tease right back at me. He isn’t one of those who can’t take the bug—he could return the bug with style, if he wants. He told me once about how dum my spandex is. “Who wears stretchy pants to work?”

I do. It’s dum, like dum-dum dum, you know? It’s goofy and self-aggrandizing, but I’m addicted. Addicted to spandex. Is spandex a brand name? Should it be capitalized? I don’t know. I’m dum, remember?

Back to the point, though: thank goodness he never stole my pants and hid them behind the break room refrigerator. That could’ve been really embarrassing. And that would be where he’ll find his bowler hat if he thinks to look there. Behind the break room refrigerator.

His “adventure” hat is having its own adventure out on the fire escape ladder. He might not know to look there either.

He stole my coffee cup not too long ago and hid it on the mail delivery cart. I found my cup and stashed his stovepipe hat there in return. Do you think he’ll find it?

His Cake hat? I bet you can guess where that is. It’s in my spandex.

The other people in the office say I’m showing off my butt when I wear stretchy pants to work. What will they say when they see this odd lump on my rear? Will they even care? Will they tell me I need to go to the doctor and get the lump checked? Will they tell me to stop teasing Gavin? What will they say when Gavin wakes up? Will they tell him they’ve seen a hat shaped lump somewhere, but they can’t say where exactly? Maybe they’ll give him a clue. Maybe they’ll play that game Hot-and-Cold. I’ll have my deepest girly thrills if they do. They’ll all be saying, no, they’ll be ADMITTING, that my butt is hot.