Tag Archives: Halloween 2020

Homemade Fig Newtons

A snack idea turned into monster memories and a response to a scary post

Can prunes be an adequate substitute for the leftover Halloween candy in my freezer?

We tried to get rid of it, the bags of miniature Snickers and 3 Musketeers. Brian was handing out so much candy per customer that it prompted one observant kid to ask whether we had had very many trick-or-treaters. Sounding even more grown up was the young woman who told us to stay warm as I stood there in the doorway wrapped in a comforter. Enjoying what was left of unrestricted youth, the teen was roaming the neighborhood with her friends on the one night that a random stranger might be welcomed. Trick-or-treat for as long as you can.

Eventually, we might circle back to the fun it was to put on a wig. College bars. Parties. You’re back to deciding what to be. A Potluck? Now you have to decide what to bring. So, there you are, Little Red Riding Hood with your tater-tot casserole and cold feet because those are the shoes that go with that outfit. You came with Doug. He’s a wolf. Of course, he is. He brought a bag of pretzels. We hate Doug. Then those parties you somewhat dreaded – parties that required overcoming barriers, psychological barriers, just to leave the house – these parties will be something to miss while you’re either supervising your own monsters or cooing over the costumes of other people’s kids.

“What a beautiful princess you are!”

“What a scary ghost!”

A lollypop and a bacon strip – a pair for some reason – came to our door the year I started to write this post, 2019. The bacon worried – and probably hoped – that he might offend a vegetarian. He was itching for something, an encounter that would cue the statement churning in his head, a belief in search of context. What exactly did he want to say all puffed up like that? A skeleton – first the meat and now the bones – carried a ten-gallon pumpkin for her stash. Her mother was quick to tell me that “She picked it out!” We laughed. Smart kid. Brian has robbed a baby of the fun of dropping something into his bucket of candy. So, he gives the boy another chocolate “for the hand.” Held in the arms of his father, the boy’s little arm swings around like a boom. His candy lands with a pleasing crinkle. You can see this on the baby’s face. He did that. Did we see? Yes. We saw. You did that! Good for you, kid!

It’s amazing what can be understood and between whom. A baby. A man. A politically incorrect slab of meat.

Or is it dumbfounding what is confused?

A Facebook post about a left-wing global warming conspiracy brings me down. It is liked and shared without question, replacing the discussion we might have had.

This is from my Facebook feed.

The guy who posted this used to be a friend of mine. We were part of the same weekly dinner group. At some point we lost touch, only to reconnect on social media. There I can see that things are going well for my old friend. Girlfriends. Dogs. Skiing. Lots of pictures in beautiful places. Nature. There is God. Crusaders are mixed with A Course in Miracles – something I associate with Marianne Williamson who endorsed Dennis Kucinich for president for ’04 and who herself ran for the office in 2020 as a peace candidate. What I remember about Williamson’s take on The Course was that one can be centered in love or fear. The idea prepared me to deal with those who have made an art out of scaring people, be they salespeople, politicians or someone who thinks they are closer to God than I am. Anyway, the contradiction reminded me of Stu.

Stu was a gay sergeant in the U.S. Air Force before Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He had married his beard who was stationed somewhere far away. Marry a lesbian and live with your lover. It was a fairly common survival tactic in the military, or so was my understanding back then. (More recently I heard a similar story. A lesbian Mormon approached a bachelor friend to suggest a marriage that would be arranged to help her pass in that world. I can’t remember what he was supposed to get out of the deal. Reluctant sex? Money? The casting off of stigmas that we invent? I’m so sorry that this person can’t just be who she is – openly – without fear of punishment.) Well, I suppose it’s naive and possibly insulting (for that I am sorry), but I was floored to learn that this gay man who took a wife for show was a Republican. “They’re called Log Cabin Republicans,” he told me.

I never knew my old dinner party friend as a particularly religious guy, though not without some belief in a higher power, a sense of mystery behind the curtain so to speak. And now here he is lauding the late Reverend Billy Graham. It’s just another thing that separates us: A religious leader who defended the death penalty instead of seeking mercy for the condemned; and a belief that pollution that could be prevented isn’t contributing to the shrinking polar icecaps.

Why is it taking me so long to finish this post? When did a first draft appear? November? 2019. That was pre-Covid-19. Remember when we used to say pre-9-11?

You’ll have to deal with the leftover candy, unless of course you’re the sort to turn off the lights and hide until eight-thirty when the little monsters go in for the night for their baths and bedtime stories. Was it not for Brian, who knows what I would do? I almost skipped it last year. But eventually I joined him on the porch. I had been washing windows and putting up lights to cheer up the place for the coming winter. It will be dark at four-thirty before you know it. So, I was tired and it was hard to get off the couch. Hard not to just doze off to the sound of Brian greeting the kids and their parents who carry babies dressed like bunny rabbits and nudge superheroes forward, often reminding the likes of Spider-Man to say thank you. Soon they’ll be wandering the streets with their friends unsupervised and without costumes or gloves or hats because this is what freedom looks like to a child.

Now it’s another kind of mask. The face coverings that are supposed to fend off real monsters have been politicized. They stand in as cheap knock-offs of fundamental human rights. It’s a misplaced grudge, of course. But it’s hard to get people to talk about the dread caught in their stomach, a feeling that they might end up on the street because a layoff is looming and they’re behind on the rent. And even if your investments might give you a sense of security, deep down you worry because you don’t really understand how the stock market works. It’s hard to get people to talk about how they have really been screwed by the system where something as basic as affordable health care is not assured. How can you relax when you know that something that started as a cough could sink you for life? And if you’re lucky enough to have a job, it might be a soul-sucking one, the kind of work where you put your time in until you can retire without going broke. But those are big rocks to move. It is easier to complain about how wearing a mask is impinging upon your freedom.

When my old dinner friend thinks of me, he remembers how I hated flies. One of the rare times we actually exchanged words on Facebook, he recalled how I had lost my mind the time they had overtaken the house where I lived. They dotted the white cathedral ceilings in the kitchen as if someone had flung a box of raisins into its frosted underside. “Guilty as charged!” I said. This has not changed… Nor has my objection to the death penalty. At what age is a child aware of lethal injections that are administered by doctors, sanctioned by the state and defended by men with Bibles? Whatever it is, it is too young to be burdened by such sad things. Whatever age it is, that’s when I knew that I was against it. Was she always that way? Yes. I was always that way. Is she still that way? Yes. We ask these things of people we used to know. We wonder if we ever knew them.

There is but a trickle of kids this Halloween night and Brian and I wonder if we should give up on our ritual of sitting on the porch with our big bowls of candy, making a game out of giving away the perfect amount to each kid so that we neither run out of treats too early or end up with a surplus. It’s a game we never win. The lulls between monsters give us a chance to reminisce. I try to remember what it was like to trick-or-treat when I was a kid. Pillow cases for bags. Being out in the dark with Matt and Amy. Ginger? Who was in charge? My dad? Yes. He must have been there. Or was it one of the “big kids” taking us from house to house dressed as clowns and witches – costumes my mother made – and – one year for some reason – really fat baseball players with painted mustaches? Or were we kids on the loose? Unsupervised. Free.

How does one respond to a long-debunked conspiracy theory? I could post a quick “Really?”, by which I would mean, “Are you frickin’ kidding me?” It’s hard to find the words that are both kind and truthful. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is a thing. Besides, even the smart-and-carefully-crafted-to-be-kind rebuttal is sharpened by pixels. Plus, if I am to believe the things that I am reading about this or the podcasts that are addressing the subject, it’s very difficult to talk someone out of a conspiracy theory for which they’ve already made the non-refundable down payment. It’s hard to abandon the sunk costs, even if that just means the hours someone has spent with their face in a YouTube channel.

Don’t respond. What good will come of it? Talk about fig newtons.

I can see my dad inspecting the candy that is spread out on the kitchen counter. He is protecting me. These days I try to protect him with advice like, “Don’t click on suspicious links!” He already knows this, but I warn him anyway. We both know that he is a target for scams because he is old. Why doesn’t anyone do anything about this? Why are parasites an acceptable feature of our society? Once just hours after my parents ordered a new iPhone that was to be delivered by Fed-Ex, a suspicious call was triggered. My dad knew enough to hang up. He even called Apple. Yep, it’s a scam. They were fully aware of it. I never got the full story. What was the point? How exactly did the voice on the other end of the line intend to separate my dad from his money? How did they know that he had just purchased a phone? Instead, I was stuck on a single question. When are we going to realize that we can design the world as we wish and that we need not tolerate predators that see our loved ones as easy marks? Instead, we stand around as if there is nothing to be done. We re-elect incumbents on every level of government who have failed to stop this bullshit. Impotent, we are left to rebel against the common good with a lie about a medical condition that prevents us from wearing a mask for the ten minutes it takes to buy a jug of milk. It’s pathetic.

With Covid-19 heading into another peak worse than the previous ones, now I worry more about organic viruses than the ones that infect my parents’ computer.

By the time I was in the third grade, we lived in Tehran where the locals would have been confused by tiny Frankensteins at the door. That must be why I have memories of the Halloween parties that replaced the trick-or-treating. Bobbing for apples wasn’t for me and the cake walks weren’t as exciting as tromping around the neighborhood wrapped in the smell of night. My mother made a jack-o-lantern cake for one of these occasions. I wanted to keep it. But alas it was for some other kid to win.  These must have been squadron parties, military families entertaining their kids in a foreign country. At one such party, Santa Claus gave me a camel. Who arranged for this? A lowly one-striper? An administrative assistant? I want to thank you. I still have that camel. But that’s Christmas. We’re talking about Halloween.

So, Brian and I are on the porch handing out candy. He would be content to read between customers, but he lets me sit there with him. He’s mostly cooperative when I ask him questions about what he remembers about trick-or-treating. But he does not remember how old he was when he stopped. I couldn’t say either. He marks his place and puts down his book. You can read, I say. He won’t do this until I leave or pick up my own book. I ask him how the book is going. Then business picks up. One kid. Two. Three at a time. Four. Talk of bagging it next year fades.

Of course, we didn’t know what next year would bring. It’s 2020. The department of health is advising against a traditional Halloween.

Let it go. Just let it go. But I can’t.

There was a stretch when it seemed like some parents were opting for house parties instead of trick-or-treating. It was safer. Warmer. Maybe, but mainly safer. It’s better to eat pizza and watch a scary movie than to worry about razor blades in your candy. Now the neighborhood listserv is abuzz with talk about how “goodie bags” can be safely distributed to the kiddos who are desperate for the kind of fun that cannot be replaced with musical chairs and party favors. That want something real. We all do.

The Facebook meme that has me torqued complains that Dr. Elaine Curry “gets no media coverage.”  Tucker Carlson seemed to like her. I know this because I watched the interview on YouTube. And now an algorithm has pegged me for a nut. But maybe I could be convinced that global warming is a hoax, if only I were to watch all of those suggested videos. Well, even as he interviews her, Tucker seems uninterested in what Curry has to say. He has is own agenda to push and he uses her to do it. In a cursory search, I did not find an example of Curry using that word – hoax. Her issue is actually more interesting than 44 blurry words on a meme. But why look any further? Two grainy photographs – a woman and a girl – are somehow enough.

Have my Internet wanderings triggered the right-wing political mail I’ve been getting? If this is how the Republicans are spending their money, I suppose there is some hope in that.

So now there’s candy in the freezer. Brian gave up sweets a long time ago and I have never had much of a sweet tooth. And yet this afternoon a candy bar did sound good. Did I say there was candy in the freezer? What would be the harm?

It turns out that rampant candy tampering was never a thing. It used to be that calling out a hoax cleared the air. Made us less afraid, assuming you were willing to accept the good news. Imagine that! Refusing to accept the good news. Instead we cling to the thing that keeps us in a perpetual state of fear and mistrust. Why are we so comfortable there when we could assume the best of people? What would Marianne Williamson with her love-versus-fear-based perspective say about that? In any case, hoax is just another word that has lost its meaning.

Curry’s issue seems to be that mainstream academia has sidelined her for presenting data that does not support the theory that burning fossil fuels is a driver of the climate crisis. She’s also cranky about the claims that there is almost perfect consensus of the scientific community on this issue. Skeptical Science refutes this along with several other of her statements.

I want the snappy response that will definitively win – and more importantly end – this argument. I want this even though smarter people than me (and you my old friend) have ended it several times only to see conspiracy theories resurrect like the zombies at my door, lies that will not die because it is so damn easy to click share and to repeat what we have heard from behind the fortress of a keyboard. I can’t stay with you here, pretending to believe in monsters under the bed. There are plenty of real monsters. If you listen, you will hear them knocking. Answer the door. Instead, you hide. You’re in the house. Except for the glow of the television, it is dark. But those pesky kids persist. They ring the doorbell anyway. So, you turn up the volume and those the giant heads pound the message even louder. They pound it so hard that you’ve lost sight of a truth that used to be yours and a common sense that seemed – but wasn’t – intractable. You have been robbed. But instead you just figured that you must have spent that twenty dollars. You just can’t remember where. 

You seem paranoid. I’m afraid that it is contagious.

I tell myself to drop it.

Too much work.

Too dangerous.

Write about Fig Newtons.

What happened to you, friend?

What happened to me?

Would it have made a difference were we still eating dinner together?

If your chest is tightening, if you think I am lost, corrupted or brainwashed, I understand. You call me names, I’ve seen them on the Internet, in my Facebook feed and elsewhere. But before that, there were the businessmen who used to come into Paddy O’Neil’s where I was a cocktail waitress. Tom, a big guy in a suit, was a known tipper. I think he was a lawyer because he wasn’t a doctor and in my mind, those were the people with money. But he could have been anything. Regardless of where Tom sat – your section, mine – the alpha waitress would usually claim his table that would be stuffed with more suits who were loose with their money. So, it was unusual that I would ever have to deal with him, but sometimes I did.  He was a scotch man and I brought him the usual, a double Dewar’s on the rocks. When I was new on the job, the first time I heard him order it – dubdersrox – I asked him to repeat it. He did and it didn’t help. I didn’t know my scotches. I still don’t. In any case, most of our exchanges have long been forgotten except for this summation. “You’re a bleeding heart!” he said. At the time it hurt. Today, I would have said, You’re damn right. What led to this, I do not remember. Maybe he was extolling the virtues of Billy Graham and I just couldn’t help myself and confessed that I couldn’t make sense of his lack of compassion. Or maybe he saw me wince when he made a comment about the lazy Indians who pass out drunk in the park. I wouldn’t have been able to resist hinting at the irony, the idea that some of these suits might drive home inebriated that very night, as if inebriation were somehow classier than a bum who smelled of dirty socks. Or maybe I just asked a question that challenged an assumption and instead of taking it seriously, it was easier to slap a label on me. Or maybe you can just tell that kind of thing about a person.

I am reminded of Dr. Elaine Ingham She is a soil scientist. Like Curry, she too complained about how the university system pushed conventional wisdom. In her lecture at the Oxford Real Farming Conference she introduced herself in part this way:

Yes, I do have the academic alphabet soup after my name. So undergraduate, masters, PhD… I am currently the president of Soil Food Web, a company I started after I ran smack into my university, Oregon State university’s absolute dedication to Monsanto…

Her approach appealed to me. It made sense to me in the same way that I’ve always been opposed to the death penalty on a gut level.  Without being a soil scientist myself, it seemed reasonable to suggest that a cycle of tilling and fertilizing and applying pesticides was eroding the soil and harming the very microbes that make it possible to grow the stuff. So, I am not unsympathetic to the suggestion that unpopular ideas can be shushed by the establishment or that a minority voice might actually be right, while the majority presses for conforming to bad science. Galileo was accused of heresy because he made the case for a heliocentric solar system (what did they call it before it was the “solar” system?) as opposed to one that revolved around Earth. So, there are two examples.

But this hardly means that I should concede that the climate crisis is a hoax because someone’s research didn’t warrant priority funding. Brian and I talked about this a lot. The way we choose our scientific pursuits is not perfect. It might even be unfair. But it’s a little too convenient to claim that whenever the consensus doesn’t swing your way it means that there is a conspiracy.

Brian thinks that climate change denial is rooted in the question about how we can transition to a green economy without wreaking havoc on the economy as it operates today. He’s probably right. But it’s hard for me to understand. It’s kind of like people who might vote for Trump because their 401-k was doing well the last time they checked. Or what about Stu, who married a woman just so that he wouldn’t be hassled by anyone who might notice that he was gay? How did he set aside this reality when he voted for the clowns who would have been happy to slam the closet door on his face? And lock it shut? And he did this for what? The perception that Republicans are fiscally responsible? They are not. Morally superior? Give me a frickin’ break! No wonder depression has a grip on this country. We’re constantly setting aside our values to guard our dog bones, and they are bones. That’s what you get when money rules a system.

We all have our cognitive dissonance. I voted for Joe Biden.

Likewise, most climate change deniers – those people who are smarter than a collaboration of international scientist – are the same people who will be the first to avail themselves to modern medicine be it LASIK surgery, an artificial joint, or a treatment for cancer that would have killed their grandparents. They’ll jump on an airplane without a care in the world, embrace nuclear energy and fill their homes with gadgets: handheld devices that are essentially an extension of their brains, GPS systems that rely on satellites in space, or robots that vacuum their floors. But when it comes to a warning that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are dangerously high, they’re good with brushing it off as a hoax because it’s not economically viable?

Of course, it is beyond ironic that this Facebook meme is presented as an example of “media manipulation”.  Our current president will go down in history as having invented the idea of accusing people of your own crimes. But it’s an old trick and it’s certainly being used here. A deceptive message warning us about deceptive messages? Maybe that could have been my snappy response to my friend’s ignorant post.

This year, the year when Covid-19 emerged, for Halloween we sat on the lawn with our neighbors instead of waiting for the monsters to knock. Trick-or-treaters marched by to take their goodie bags from the tables that lined the sidewalk at a safe distance. It was windy. Gusty at times. It occurs to me that we are sitting under a maple that is dying and loosing its branches. Maybe we should think about moving? We don’t. The women are wrapped in blankets. Every year the blankets.

A block over, “It’s hoppin’!” There are bon fires. But I’m not sure they had anything to do with the firetruck that went by.

The neighbor’s kid is dressed like Trump. Backlit by street lamps, we can see a stick figure inside a blow-up costume that is wearing a diaper. His brother is dressed like the grim reaper. I don’t think this was on purpose. They are accompanied by the headless horseman who doesn’t have a pumpkin to carry or a horse to ride. So maybe he was just headless? When it’s time to go inside, the brothers have to walk their friend home. So a baby Donald Trump and his brother the grim reaper escorted this decapitated body down the street.

I tried to find the clip that solidified my dislike for Reverend Billy Graham. It seems like it was something on Larry King. A woman in Texas was going to be executed that night, always midnight for some reason, a strange custom when you think about it. I couldn’t find it. Instead, I discovered that the man had evolved. He actually seemed humble when talking about how he might have been wrong to condemn the gays. Elderly now, he seemed comfortable with reflection. And I was surprised to learn that he was – eventually – on the right side of the Civil Rights movement. That was something, wasn’t it? Of course, religious extremists didn’t like the Reverend’s change of heart. How easily they turn on you.

How easily they turn on you, indeed.

If only we could just be who we are, without fear of punishment.

Sometimes cold. Usually. Sometime after moving to South Dakota, I would associate Halloween with blizzards. It was probably the weather more than my age that determined when it was time to stop tick-or-treating.

Homemade Fig Newtons
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
 
Ingredients
  • 5 prunes, chopped
  • Saltines or other cracker
  • Walnuts, 1 handful, chopped
  • Maple syrup
  • Peanut butter
Instructions
  1. Spread finely chopped prunes/prune paste on a cracker.
  2. Sprinkle the above with crushed walnuts or another nut you like. Pecans would be good.
  3. Drizzle the above with maple syrup.
  4. On a separate cracker, spread a dab of peanut butter. Use this to make a sandwich with the first cracker with prunes etc.