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Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Privileges of Youth

I was at the toy section in Ikea yesterday, getting a jump on some Christmas shopping.  And I was there for a while – I’m always pretty indecisive when shopping for very little kids, and can spend about an hour wandering around in a pensive daze trying to figure out whether the child I’m shopping for would like the duck or the horsie better before throwing up my hands and telling myself the child is not even verbal yet, just pick something.

A lot of other kids were also there with their parents – I saw one father gleefully pile a whole kennels’ worth of stuffed dogs on top of a baby in a stroller, another mother chasing after her toddler who was running off with a stuffed pig.  Two little girls were really attached to unicorn puppets.  One girl was begging her father for a shark stuffie as large as she was.  I also saw some young couples playing with some puppets, giggling as they made the puppets kiss each other.

There were four boys there too, as a group – I’m not sure whether they were friends, brothers, or some mix of brothers and cousins.  But they were all about seven or eight, all of them gleefully romping through the place. “It’s Toy City!” one of them eagerly crowed, as he ran past the bins of stuffed critters.  I next saw them all crowding around a bin full of yard-long stuffed toy snakes, and they all each pulled one out and draped them around their necks, and ran away, giggling.  I’d see one of them every so often as  browsed after that, pretending to make the snake bite their mom or bite each other on the butt or such.

Their parents finally rounded them up when I was done myself.  “Okay, guys,” they called.  “Time to put the snakes back.”  The four boys obediently, but reluctantly, put the snakes back, giggling and saying goodbye as they did – “‘bye, guys!  Be good snakes and have good homes!”  And then they fell into step behind their amused parents and followed them downstairs.  I followed behind them.

And that’s when I heard one boy say to another – “Know what?”

“What?”

“Maybe when we’re adults we can come back here and get those snakes.”

“Yeah, let’s do that!”

And off they went.

In the 24 hours since, I have been hoping that those kids will indeed grow up and do exactly that.

Je Vais Arriver

The news out of Paris has had an interesting impact on me; I’m going to be visiting in December.

Hmm.

I booked the trip back in September; I’m flying out Christmas Day, staying in a tiny attic AirBnB in the 6eme arrondisment, and I’ll be there for the New Year festivities.  For much of October I’ve been browsing travel guides and making lists of cafes to visit and trying to heimlich the high school French out of my brain to practice.  I was at work when the news came in – I have a BBC News app on my iPad, and news broke at about 4 in the afternoon and I started watching closely.

At no time whatsoever did I consider cancelling the trip.

This ain’t the first time I had bad luck strike before  a big trip, first of all.  I lost my job before a big visit to Mardi Gras in 2009, and an Iceland volcano blew right before my 2011 trip to London and threatened not only my flight, but my chance to see David Tennant onstage.  And another volcano blew right before my second trip to London one year later.  And on all three occasions, any momentary thought that maybe I should cancel got brushed aside with an “oh, hell no” and I went ahead anyway.  I even had plane trouble on my way to New Orleans and missed my connection in Miami, but I simply traded in my ticket for the next connection – six hours later – and went directly to the gate and plunked myself down and sat there for the entire six hours because I was not going to miss that flight again, dammit.  There’s a saying that no plan survives first contact with the enemy; travel plans are no exception.

I will grant that a terrorist attack is somewhat different from a missed plane or a lost job.  But…this isn’t my first terrorist attack either.  I know the shock that the people of Paris are going through because I’ve lived it.  But – I also know how a lot of people are going to want desperately to know whether life is ever going to get back to normal; will people still wander into the shops?  Will there still be bright winter days?  Will people still want to have nights out in restaurants where they linger over coffee?  Will tourists still crowd the street and mangle French and get in their way all the time?  They want normal.  Clumsy American tourists are part of that normal, visitors marveling at the things they see every day are part of that normal.  They don’t want to be left alone; people around the world re-doing their facebook avatars or retweeting the Eiffel Tower peace sign is nice and all, but a month from now they will want to know we aren’t going to be afraid of their city.

And it’s a cliche that gets tossed around a lot at times like this, but it’s true – us being afraid is exactly what the attackers want.  Unfortunately in the U.S. we’ve given into that fear, with a whole degree of security theater at the airports and an embroilment in the war that seeded the movement that spurred on the Paris attacks in the first place.   But there are New Yorkers who never gave into that – who kept on with what they did every day, going to work, going to the parks, going to the big landmarks, exploring, living.  Paris seems well-equipped to have a similar reaction.

One of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists posted a series of cartoons on his Instagram page, depicting his reaction to the events.  In them, he references the city’s motto – “fluctuat nec mergitur”, which he translates to “It is beaten by the waves but does not sink”.  Or, he adds, “fuck death”.

And he’s right – the hell with that.  The hell with being afraid to live, to love, to get drunk or dance or get your  mind blown by art or tasting new food or seeing something new you’ve never seen before or striking up a conversation with someone in a language that’s not your own.  That is what we are all on earth to do – to see and taste and do and grow.  It may indeed be my fate to get hit in a later attack there.  But – if I don’t go, I risk a much greater dent to my soul.

So – Paris, I mourn with you, and I’m coming to you.

Avec tout de mon amour.

Neighborhoods New York Hometurf Holiday Special: Clinton Hill

Alien and Astronaut, 2015

So my neighborhood goes kind of big for Halloween.

The weekend before (or after, depending) there is a whole Halloween parade/fun day for kids in Fort Greene Park, complete with hay rides, a pumpkin patch, and a costume parade.  There’s also a dog costume contest at the north end of the park. And then at night, three blocks close to car traffic and three houses all stage competing stage shows – there’s the family-friendly option and the B-movie-lovers’ option, and then there’s the jazz band that jams on the sidewalk in monster costumes.   Combine that with every kid in the neighborhood running around hopped up on sugar, three ice cream trucks and someone selling glow-in-the-dark toys out of a street cart, and it’s quite the spectacle.

This year was the first time I’d tried to catch the dog show – and I foolishly thought I could just wander over a few minutes after they started.  Surely there’d still be a seat, right?

Ha.  There were over 150 contestants, all crowded on the steps leading down to the stage, with a tuxedoe’d MC and a woman in a kitty costume keeping some kind of order while scores of dogs in various states of dress waddled about.  The MC was already introducing contestant number 28 when I turned up, and I had to walk the long way around the crowd, stopping only to take the occasional picture before finally sitting on top of a wall next to a very friendly boxer, and in front of a French Bulldog with a strange little froggy bark.

Lots of people went with some variant of either cars or food; there was a matched set, a taco and a taco truck.

Taco and Taco Truck (Fort Green Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

There were no less than three Robin Hoods, four mermaids and a handful of dinosaurs.

T-Rex (Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

A lot of people also dressed up along with their dogs; like this “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe”.

The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (2015 Pup Costume Contest)

The grand prize winners were a trio dressed as “Animal Control,” with the handlers dressed as squirrels being chased by a pug in a civic uniform with a net.  The Player Piano came in second.

Animal Control (First Prize, Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)Player Piano (Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

Things ended soon enough for me to try to get a healthy dinner before heading back outside; as I walked home, I passed small knots of kids already trick-or-treating in the various businesses along Myrtle Avenue, watching for shops with signs declaring “We Have Candy!”  The fishmarket had a hastily-scrawled message on a whiteboard – “All Out Of Candy, Sorry!”

I’d come up with a way to dress up as an angel – a hastily-pinned together thing with bedsheets, a sash, and a store-bought set of wings, with a royal blue sari draped around myself.  It was voluminous enough that I could put on layers underneath and not freeze outside.  My roommate – who is from Belgium, and said this was her first Halloween – declined my offer of a couple of my last years’ costumes, and said she would just observe.  We were on our way down the stairs when we ran into four kids – two from our neighbors on the second floor, and two other friends – who all turned when they saw us, and shouted, “Trick or treat!”

“Oh!”  We hadn’t counted on this.  “Oh dear…well, we angels don’t have pockets,” I said, “So… my angel helper can run up and get something.”  My roommate took the cue and ran back upstairs.  I stalled with some angelic-sounding patter, complimenting all the kids on their costumes; one girl was a phoenix, with elaborate makeup and a huge pair of gold wings, which she unfurled for me to show off.  “And you are?” I turned to a little boy, all wrapped up in green swaddling and green facepaint. Just as I was preparing to guess whether he was Leonardo or Michaelangelo Ninja turtle, he announced, “I’m a Green Mummy!

“Oh!  I’ve…never met a green mummy before, I didn’t know you….could be that color.”  Fortunately my Angel Helper came back with four Kind Bars she grabbed from the house stash and dropped them in each of the kids’ bags, and then we swanned out past them, me telling them to have a blessed Halloween.

 Most of the action was on the show blocks, but the whole way there we still passed clusters of kids with parents hurrying there; some of whom seem to have already gotten into the sugar.  One tiny Green Lantern was engaged in a swordfight with an Iron Man, until their cat-eared mother scolded them to “Knock it off and keep up!”  My roommate had offered to carry my things (angels don’t have pockets), but I asked her for my camera when I saw a kid dressed as an entire red British phone booth, complete with a fake take-a-number flyer advertising a used camera or something.  It even lit up inside.  Unfortunately, when I finally got my camera from her he turned his back to me, and I waited a couple fruitless minutes for him to turn back around to face me before giving up.  Meanwhile my roommate was trying to get a shot of the whole family of mom, dad, and three girls who’d all donned roller skates and light-up LED tubes to go as “Starlight Express.”

"Malice in Underland", Halloween 313 show, 2015

We’d showed up midway through one show, which was a strange mix of Alice in Wonderland with Fantastic Voyage – I think the premise was that Alice had been shrunk down to atomic size and she and her rag doll were now in Cheshire Cat’s body, trying to find their way to his brain.  An interesting idea, but maybe too high-concept in execution.  Right about the time that a bunch of kids in white body suits were trying to crowd the stage and Alice was saying “oh, no, Rags!  Cheshire’s leukocytes are trying to attack us!” my roommate turned to me and said “I don’t know if I get this.”

“Me either,” I admitted.  We went over to the next block, where Pam Fleming’s band was just wrapping up with “Monster Mash” before segueing into a slow blues jam about Satan coming for you and your woman.  It was near time for the second show to start, and I studied the set.

Set for Waverly Place Halloween Show, 2015

In years past, this show just used two side-by-side garages, one of which had a remote-control door opener; this year was their last show, so they went all out and made it bi-level, complete with full sound, neon lights in two separate languages and a video screen.

Set, 2015 Waverly Place Costume Parade

This block’s show always would go for the over-the-top gore and the B-movie monsters – lots of fake blood, fart jokes, and jump-scares.  For their final outing, they decided to go all-out, with a subplot about a roving reporter who’d devoted the past ten years to studying the “strange Halloween events of the past decade all fortelling a 2015 apocalypse”.  After a pre-taped review of all nine previous shows, he retreated to his “hotel room” at the top of the set, and the show then hit us with four classic movie monsters – Frankenstein, his Bride, Godzilla, and Wolfman, all rampaging through the set and fighting each other.  As soon as they showed up, about five parents towards the front who’d had kids perched on their shoulders started edging their way back away from the stage, all their kids in full-throated scream-cry mode.  The rest of the kids were a little baffled, and stayed so when Godzilla rampaged through a cardboard set of Brooklyn, squirting something out of a tank through the rear end of his costume.  “He’s pooping!” I heard one father in the crowd explain to his child.

Dracula, 2015 Waverly Place Halloween show

Dracula also showed up, as did a little girl in an Exorcist homage complete with bleeding walls and puked-up pea soup.  The show even sent our hero to hell, where he competed in a parody game show against past shows’ heros for a chance to be restored to life – but then he, and the world at large, was saved by Ultraman.

Ultraman, 2015 Waverly Place costume show

Only as soon as he got back to Earth, the Wolfman ate him, in a fantastic spray of fake blood.  The end.

Pam Fleming was starting up again as the cast took their last bows, but my roommate and I turned for home.