Suzanne Olsen's Humor Blog - I don't offend some of the people most of the time

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Halloween 2020

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We don’t get many trick or treaters on our street. Parents drive their kids to clustered neighborhoods of decorated houses where all the lights are on so they get maximum loads of candy with minimum time and effort, like I did with my kids. On our street the houses are darker than a bat in a cave. They are obviously not in the free-candy business on October 31st. Except us. One of us is usually home, or at least we leave a full candy bowl on the porch.

stacked pumpkins with big spider on top

A few days before Halloween I put a few decorations around the house, a witch sitting on a pumpkin with a plug-in little Christmas light in it, an round, orange wicker basket full of dried mini-corn cobs – those kinds of things. For the window by the front door I have six carved pumpkins stacked on each other – about 2 feet high – that my mother-in-law gave me years ago. They sit on the shelf looking out the window. This year I balanced a giant spider on the top pumpkin’s head to look creepy.

My daughter's ghost - round eyes and smile

I also hang ghosties outside. My kids made a dozen or so of them years ago out of baseball-shaped Styrofoam covered with white cheesecloth and a pipe-cleaner that we twisted under the ball to look like ghosts. By fanning out the “arms” of the pipe cleaner under the fabric, they become fuller and look more lifelike. Each one is about 8 to 12 inches long. My daughter drew happy faces on hers – my son’s look grumpy.

My son's ghost - has a frown and some stitches

For the final decoration I carve a pumpkin – three triangles (two for the eyes, one for the nose) and a jagged mouth. This year I found a pumpkin at the last minute. He was the right size but had a big gash. I got him for a discount – $1.67 – and figured I’d just carve the good side. But when I started carving, the gash was so mushy I cut it out and gutted him from that direction, rather than the top. A semi-rotten pumpkin is the way to go. The whole thing turned out to be soft and pithy. It was very easy to carve. Plus, it’s extra creepy-looking with the whole back of his head gone, and you can see through it so it gave off more light. I put it on top of my car facing the street, and could also see the whole pumpkin’s face (from the inside) while looking out the kitchen window. 

You can see the car outline in his right eye because he has no back on his head.

Since we were home because of Covid, we decided to watch “The Shining” as our Halloween entertainment. Neither of us had ever seen it. Boy, that Jack Nicholson can sure look spooky when he moves his eyes sideways, especially with the eery music that sometimes sounds like my heart pounding (or maybe it was). We’d pause the movie so one of us could grab a Milky Way while the other got a little bag of peanut M&M’s that had either 4 or, if I was lucky, 5 pieces in there. Hardly worth the effort to tear open the package.

I got worried around 8pm – not because Jack was hacking through the locked bathroom door with an axe, his lunatic – no possessed – eyes wild. I worried that Covid would keep my one family of trick or treaters from showing up. I’d gone to the kitchen for more food (candy) when I heard the doorbell. By then my nerves were as tight as new banjo strings, and I was afraid that, instead of a sweet family, there’d be an axe-wielding maniac with crazy Jack Nicholson eyes.

Giggles from outside gave me the courage to open the door. “Trick or Treat!” they called. “So glad you came! Tell me what you are.

The boy, who’s maybe middle-school age, had on a black outfit and carried a black bow with arrows on his back. “I’m the Black Bowman,” he said.

“Haven’t heard of him.”

“It’s a name I made up.”

The girl, who’s close to high school, was also in black with a wad of aluminum foil on her right hand. “Are you familiar with Marvel characters?” she said.

“Yes.” I know about 479 Marvel characters and have seen about that many Marvel movies. Tuesdays used to be $5 movie nights (before Covid) and my friends and I saw a lot of Marvel movies.

“I’m Bucky Barnes.”

“I don’t know Bucky Barnes.”

“He’s a fried of Captain America.”

“Oh, okay, cool,” I said. “I know him.” I turned to the adult behind her. “And you are?”

“I’m a hobbit.”

“That’s what you were last year.”

“Yes, you’re right, I was.”

“Good to get your money’s worth out of these costumes. What about you?” I said to the woman beside him, but can’t remember what she said – I think it was a half costume, like when you dress normal and wear a witch’s hat. “How about you?” I said to the woman behind her – making Halloween small talk, I guess. As a kid, I used to hate it when people delayed me with a lot of questions – I wanted to get to the next house for more candy, but figured this was their last stop.

“I’m just me,” she said. “No costume.”

“It’s hard to tell if someone is wearing a costume when we all have masks on,” I laughed. They chuckled at my sparkling humor. “I’m just really glad you came. You made my night.”

“We love coming here,” the girl said. “We love all the ghosts. We call you the ‘Ghost Lady.’

“The Ghost Lady,” I said. “Hmmm, I like it. I have a Halloween nickname.”

“I love your stacked pumpkins,” the boy said.

I held out the bowl of candy. The kids grabbed handfuls. “Take more,” I said. “Anything you don’t take I’ll eat.” I stretched my arm toward the adults. “Here, you guys, take some. Take it all.” Each of them grabbed a small fistful. I offered it to the kids again. They took most, but not all, of the candy. “Trust me, you’ll want a few pieces tomorrow,” the man said. Of course he was right.

They left, and it occurred to me that, in all the chaos of life, we’ve had this five-minute encounter that I look forward to every year. I know where there live (not on our street), but I don’t know anything else about them. They always come later, probably after they’ve hit the good, candy-rich neighborhoods. We’ve never exchanged names. Every year I’ve had taken my kids out, and in later years walked with my friend and her youngest daughter, or occasionally we’ve gone to a party, but I always try to be home by 8 in case my one family comes. I leave the candy bowl out in case they get here before we do.

When they left I came back inside beaming, an active participant in the Halloween tradition that I have loved ever since I can remember. “Well, they came,” my husband said. “Yeah, they came,” I said. I cozied up under my throw, pressed the “Play” button and saw Shelley Duvall slice Jack Nicholson’s hand when he reached through the hole he’d hacked in the bathroom door to get to the doorknob. The blood. The fear. The horror. Didn’t bother me a bit. I was floating like a, well, like a ghost. The Happy Ghost Lady. That’s me.

Superhero Pajama Man

I took my dog for a walk on a quiet street today and came to a fenced yard that corralled three rambunctious children. As soon as I came into view, the three blitzed me with questions and “watch this’s.” They reminded me of baby birds clamoring for worm-gooey from their momma. 

A pie-faced little girl in a flowery sweatshirt and tan leggings galloped over to the fence like a horse wanting a sugar cube. She had long blond hair wrapped in a black nun-like veil similar to ones I’ve seen on immigrant Russian women in rural Aurora. She climbed on the bottom rung of the fence and hollered, without taking a breath, “I don’t live at this house, I’m having a play date, I live down the street, I get school at home because of the corona, I like your little dog, I’m five and a half, how old are you?”

At the same time, two skinny boys on the side-yard jungle-gym just behind her shouted like an unholy, discordant back-up choir. “Watch this. Now watch. I have superhero pajamas on. I’m a superhero pajama man. Watch me do this. See, I can climb up here all by myself. Watch now. Watch and I’ll swing. Look at me, I’m swinging. I’m swinging. I’m Superhero Pajama Man.” 

I was about the legal social-distance away – six feet – and had stopped walking to give them my full attention, but all three still shouted.

Father’s Day 2019

Father’s Day Fish Slippers

It’s Father’s Day, and my daughter sent her dad a pair of fish slippers. Thankfully my husband’s sense of humor got passed down to our kids.

A Memory for Mother’s Day

Note: I wrote this when my daughter was around ten years old.  

It’s five in the afternoon, and I’m debating whether to sacrifice precious calories for a glass of wine, or save them for a piece of the ugliest cake on earth that my daughter, Kelly, made last night.  It’s really no contest. That cake! Oh, my! 

The Girl and the Piñata

I was at the high school tutoring in the second floor library on a warm, sunny day so the windows were open. I could hear a commotion outside, and when I looked out, I saw a class full of students in a half-circle yelling at a blindfolded girl who held a stick and stood in front of a piñata hanging from a tree.

I could understand the class being outside and soaking up some rare Oregon rays, but I couldn’t figure out the piñata. What did that have to do with economics or health? Maybe it was Spanish class, but it wasn’t even Cinco de Mayo, which I’ve been told means “put the empty mayonnaise jar in the sink.”

Easter Craziness

This Sunday is Easter, and I observe the usual traditions from my childhood, plus things that other moms have done that sounded like they were better moms than me. That’s how the Easter Scavenger Hunt got started.

Be Yourself – What a Bunch of Nonsense

When you were a teenager, did a grownup ever say to you, “Just be yourself?” To me this was exactly like them telling you to “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

How would you find the right spelling of a word in a place that requires you to know the right spelling of the word to find it? Grownups never had an answer for that, because they had never actually cracked a dictionary themselves, unless they were English teachers. Why couldn’t they at least give us a hint – a couple of letters – to get us started?

I could have used a hint about being myself as a teenager. When I was being myself and, say, flipping someone with a rubber band because that’s the kind of person I was deep inside, someone would get mad at me. Maybe it was because I was so good at it – I could hit someone in the chest with a resounding “thwack” at thirty feet. I finally realized it was a skill I shouldn’t practice on human targets.

Same thing with hitting people with snowballs, especially when the snow went down their shirt. So even though my “self” wanted badly to cream others with rubber bands and snowballs, I had to deny myself or risk getting a shovel full of snow in the face. Which actually happened to me last winter.

Let me tell you about it. I’ve got this cranky neighbor who was shoveling snow one day as I was walking my dog up the street. I playfully threw a snowball at him from about eight feet away that hit him in the leg. He happened to have a shovelful of snow ready to sling it to the wayside, and instead heaved it at me as if to say, “I’m a jerk and don’t you forget it next time you come around here with your playful BS.”

The snow hit me right in the face, and since I wasn’t expecting it and had my mouth open, it went down my throat and clogged my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe. It was quite frightening. I got my throat unclogged eventually by coughing forcefully like a three-pack-a-day smoker. Then gulping in the cold air caused a whole ton of new coughing. I have to admit I played this up a little once I realized I wasn’t going to die. It was a dirty trick to hoist a whole shovelful of snow in exchange for one measly snowball.

Here was a guy being himself (a jerk), and causing misery all the way around. It cost him a a lot of blubbering pleas for forgiveness and a bottle of wine he brought to my house later by way of penance.

I don’t think anyone should tell kids to be themselves. Tell them to be nice. If they don’t know what nice is, spell it out for them. “Don’t hit people in the chest with rubber bands, even if you are the best rubber band shooter in the whole universe. Plus don’t strangle people with snow.”

If you want to know the truth, I still don’t know who my “self” is, but I know I like the parts of me that are kind and sweet and considerate, and see the fun in life. So I’m glad that self is starting to win out over my other self which is ornery, mean, and spiteful and will cough a few minutes longer than necessary to make a jerk feel guilty.

In conclusion, thanks to my dear friend, Google, I never have to pick up a dictionary again. Not that I ever did before. A dictionary is like a First Aid kit. It’s good to have around but you never, ever want to actually use it. Although, who knows, you might find your “self” in there. It’s one place I haven’t looked.

Excavating the Empty Nest

I finished shoveling out my daughter’s room today. It was part two of the cleaning – I got about halfway done a few days after she left for college but after several hours I gave up and closed her door. It was like that TV show about hoarders who won’t throw anything away. She’s kept every item since she was an infant – seashells, pretty rocks, pieces of Barbies –along with candy wrappers and potato chip bags she’d snuck into her room late at night, wadding up the evidence and tossing it under the bed.

I found two portable phones that have been lost for years under there.

Her room hasn’t been really clean in years. Sure, we’d change the sheets and dust and vacuum – but I made my kids clean their rooms, and when she “cleaned” she’d simply take everything strewn in the middle of the floor and piled on top of her dresser and toss them under the bed and into the closet. It would appear to be clean for a day or two, and then you couldn’t walk through it again.

When their rooms became fire hazards, I’d help them deep clean. First we’d pull out all the dirty clothes, some had been stuffed into the closet still wet and muddy where they grew mold and mildew and the odors they cause. Then we’d put away all the books that were tossed on the floor beside the bed. Then we’d arrange the stuffed animals and large toys back on the shelves. That all went pretty fast.

The worst was those little odds and ends left on the floor – things that didn’t really have a place, such as the toys they got for free from McDonalds or those little things they’d win at arcades when they cashed in their tickets.

Both my kids hated to throw anything away  – it all had some unique function or wonderful memory tied to it, but by this point in the process I was ready to be done. I did not want to sweat the little stuff.

In the meantime, they had sneakily wandered out of the room to get something and hadn’t come back.

I finally created a new bin for the McDonald’s toys and little stuff, some of them still in their wrappers. One of these days they’ll be worth a fortune, I’m sure. Just like Beanie Babies.

My son’s friend, Dylan, was obsessed with them. Every time a new Beanie Baby came out, which was about three times a day, he’d get his dad to drive them to the mall so they could buy it. They bought tag protectors to keep the tags from getting crumpled, because that made their “investment” more valuable.

I’d say, “How can something they’re selling to every kid in the universe and a whole lot of their parents be an investment? Something has to be rare before it’s valuable. They’re selling millions of these.” They wouldn’t listen because they kept hearing on the commercials (made by the Beanie Babies company) that they were collector’s items.

They never really played with them, although they’d gently lay their precious Beanie Babies on the floor and admire them one at a time and talk about how valuable they were, like Midas counting his gold. They also threw a substantial amount of money away on Pokemon cards for investment purposes as well.

Today when I was cleaning my daughter’s room, lots of good memories flooded into my head, so I guess it was worth it. I can’t even imagine what my daughter’s dorm room looks like, and thank goodness I don’t have to.

Hippie vs. Hipster

My husband and I and some friends went to the Hawthorne Street fair today. To those of you unfamiliar with Portland, this is an area on the east side where hippies went to raise their children, and now the children are sporting tats, piercings, and pink pony tails.

The thing we noticed the most were the tattoos, and I still don’t get it. Today I saw people whose skin was nearly covered – both arms, legs, necks – everywhere that was showing and Lord only knows what was underneath.

As I was looking at the parade of tattooed youth, I thought, “Doesn’t that hurt?” When I got home, I asked Google to find out how it’s done: “Artists create tattoos by injecting ink into a person’s skin. To do this, they use an electrically powered tattoo machine that resembles (and sounds like) a dental drill. The machine moves a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. The needle penetrates the skin by about a millimeter and deposits a drop of insoluble ink into the skin with each puncture.” (health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/beauty/skin-and-lifestyle/tattoo.htm)

That sounds more painful than I imagined. Just the thought of a drill sounding like a dentist’s made me flinch, much else the pulsating needle.

I can understand the traditional “drunken sailor” doing this. Alcohol kills the pain, and they only got one or two tattoos. I imagine it sobered them up pretty quick. I can also understand gangsters, thugs, and gang members. They have something to prove to their peers.

What I can’t understand is people using tattoes as a fashion statement – girls especially.

My friend said, “I must be getting old because I have absolutely no desire to get a tat.”

“You’re not old if you call them “tats,” I said.

“I feel pretty old. I remember when we first invented tie-dye, and look – it’s everywhere again.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” I said. “You know you’re getting older when the stuff you used to wear comes back in style.”

Of course this generation looks nothing like we looked in our tie-dye shirts. We were thin, with long, straight, shiny, healthy, natural-colored hair. Today I saw tie-dyed hair that looked like someone had taken a dull knife to it and then dried it with a blast furnace. There were whole chunks shaved (or yanked) off of people’s heads, surrounded by ragged, lifeless, crisp hair.

We were tanned, healthy, and acne-free because we were into nature, hiking, eating healthy fruits and vegetables, treating our bodies like they were our best friends. Many of the people I saw today looked like they only came out at night, and their bodies were their mortal enemies. Pierce it! Stab it with needles! Yank the hair out! Douse it with harsh chemicals! Remove the color and replace it with pinks, purples, black! Whack at it with dull razors! Put a big round orb in your earlobe and stretch it three inches! Cover everything with fat! Pierce your tongue, your breasts, even your…

Well, I guess I’ve made my point. These guys may be young, but I’m not so sure about bright – except their hair and skin, that is. I’d pick being a hippie over a hipster any day.

Sad Little Good Memories

Today we got a new refrigerator to replace a refrigerator and separate freezer in our bonus room that are old energy hogs.

I don’t go out to the bonus room much anymore. It’s my daughter’s lair. I swoop in with a vacuum on occasion, so I only look at the carpet. Today as I was rearranging the space for the new refrigerator, I started noticing things that I hadn’t “seen” in a long, long time.

I noticed my son’s snowboard and remembered how my son, daughter, and I used to go up to Skibowl on Fridays when they had cheap night skiing so we could learn to ski. My husband is a good skier, but I learned at the same time my kids did. My daughter was only five years old and had a neon pink one-piece ski suit. Both kids were fearless and zoomed down the hill with me trying to catch up between my constant falls. They looked like cartoons of speeding streaks while I had skis and poles flying through the air. We’d ski until 11:00 at night under sparkling stars, freezing on the excruciatingly slow lifts but having too much fun to go inside.

I saw the skateboard and remembered getting up at 4 am and going to the skate park hauling my son and six of his friends in our old Ford Taurus station wagon. That early, they had the whole place to themselves. My daughter and I would roam around the adjacent pastures with the dog and then fetch French toast sticks at Burger King for everyone. That was before I quit eating there because of their tacky commercials.

I saw my son’s lacrosse stick and remembered tossing that forty pound ball with him, worried that it would miss the tiny little net in my stick and knock me out cold.

I saw the boogie boards and remembered going camping at the beach and playing with the kids in the ice-cold Pacific ocean. We would go in an inch at a time and let that part of us get numb before going a little further. The legs weren’t so bad, but when the water got to my waistline it was SO cold on my back. I didn’t want to go any further but they’d splash me until I was wet enough I might as well dive under the waves.

I looked at my son’s drum set and guitar and remembered the garage band practices and how the walls in the house literally shook from the loud vibrations. I saw the wooden blocks that they used to build roadways and ramps. I noticed the two big bins of Legos and remembered the castles and spaceships they worked hours building, and stepping on those tiny pieces barefoot in the night, silently cursing that Legos were always everywhere.

I saw an old blanket and remembered how they’d would gather every blanket in the house and build elaborate multi-roomed forts, and how they’d make me crawl on the floor and go inside.

Holy crap, it was a tidal wave of memories that knocked me down and left little streams of tears rolling down my cheeks. 

What happened to those fun little people? They used to always be right by my side. We had new adventures every day – building obstacle courses, doing cartwheels in the back yard, playing hide and seek. They disappeared and left their memories to collect dust in the bonus room as thick as the dust under the old refrigerator.

If you are still with me through this soulful trip down memory lane, I can only say that this one little day of boo-hooing is a very small price to pay for years and years of great memories. My kids may not give me the time of day now, but not so long ago they were like little planets orbiting around me, and I was the light of their lives.

Excuse me, it’s midnight and I hear a car door slam. Let me drop EVERYTHING and greet my baby girl who’s all grown up now.

sigh….

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Copyright © 2020 by Suzanne Olsen