Thursday, October 30, 2008


Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays when I was a kid. In the town where I grew up it was a 2 day celebration.
Trick or treat was never the 31st, but on the Friday before the 31st. We got out of school early that day, raced home and put on our costumes to march in the Children's Parade. The parade was a BIG DEAL. Every kid in town would meet on the library grounds where you were shoved into a category - Prettiest, Funniest, Scariest - and judged 1st, 2nd or 3rd place by some poor hapless volunteer. There would be neighborhood floats, grade school bands and politicians handing out candy. Not only did you get out of school early and get to march all over town eating candy, but if you were judged the best costume in your category you got your picture in the paper. Sweet! 
After the parade, you'd go home and bolt down your supper - probably still in your costume - and head out for an evening's Trick or Treating. It seemed like it was always cold and always raining. My Mom would vainly try to get me to wear a coat, but I just couldn't. I'd be covering up my costume and look dorky besides.
Saturday night would be the big Halloween parade, an event that has been going on for more than 80 years. All the streets downtown are blocked off and everyone in a 3-county area shows up. If you got a prize for one of the best costumes in the Children's Parade, you got to march in the big parade (never happened to me despite my Mom's best efforts).
It always fascinated me that every town seems to have it's own method of celebrating. St. Louisans do their Trick or Treating smack dab on the 31st, no matter what night of the week it falls on. They also have a rather unique way of handling the event. In St. Louis to receive a treat you have to perform a trick - tell a joke, sing a song, it doesn't matter what you do. The first year I moved here I asked my co-workers what that was all about. They were amazed that it wasn't that way everywhere. I told them that in other places, "Trick or treat" meant that if you didn't get a treat you were obligated to play a trick. I can't tell you how many times we'd come home from begging all around the neighborhood to find our pumpkin smashed or our windows soaped because we weren't home to hand out candy. My co-workers were horrified. "No!" they said, "That's just not right! That's terrible!" I tried to explain that Halloween in St. Louis was a kindlier, gentler Halloween and quite cute. Nobody could explain to me how it all got started. I was curious, so I did a little research.
According to Wikipedia (Don't you just love Wiki? I do), St. Louis' Halloween traditions are fairly unique. Here's their take on it:
"In Scotland and parts of northern England, a similar tradition is called guising because of the disguise or costume worn by the children. Although traditions of seasonal guising stretch back at least as far as the Middle Ages, it became an exclusively Halloween practice only in the twentieth century. However there is a significant difference from the way the practice has developed in the United States. In Scotland, the children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform for the households they go to. This normally takes the form of singing a song or reciting a joke or a funny poem which the child has memorized before setting out. Occasionally a more talented child may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive, but most children will earn plenty of treats even with something very simple. However, guising is falling out of favor somewhat, being replaced in some parts of the country with the American form of trick-or-treating. Such a practice is in use in certain regions of the United States, as well. Children of the St. Louis, Missouri area are expected to perform a joke before receiving any candy.
In modern Ireland there is neither the Scottish party-piece nor the American jocular threat, just 'treats' — in the form of apples or nuts given out to the children. However, in 19th and early 20th century Ireland it was often much more extravagant — for example, slates were placed over the chimney-pots of houses filling the rooms with smoke and field gates were lifted off their hinges and hung from high tree branches.
Until the 1990s, Irish children said 'Help the Halloween Party,' but are now more inclined to use the American 'Trick or treat' due to the influence of American popular culture, movies, and television. In Waterford, the phrase 'attin far Halloween' is still commonly used, being the vernacular pronunciation of 'anything for Halloween'.
In Quebec, Canada, children also go door to door on Halloween. However, in French speaking neighborhoods, instead of 'Trick or treat?', they will simply say 'Halloween', though in tradition it used to be La charité s'il-vous-plaît (Charity, please)."
That still doesn't answer my question, but it 's still pretty cool information. With St. Louis' French heritage in mind, I think the Quebec phrase is the most appropriate. I'm gonna walk around the apartment all day and practice for Friday night.
La charité s'il-vous-plaît?

Friday, October 24, 2008


The house I grew up in was just off a main road that connected several small towns and was a perfect spot for dumping strays. They all seemed to end up on our porch - probably because everyone else chased them away. My dad grew up on a farm and was never crazy about pets inside the house, but thought that it was important for kids to have them. My mom was notoriously soft hearted toward animals. When my dad moved out, our house became an animal hostel. Most of the animals ate what we fed them and moved on. There were 2 that we took in when it was cold, we named them, we fed them - they are still part of my family's folklore.
Susie was a light brown dachshund that showed up on our doorstep. Sweet little dog, but she had some annoying habits. She loved underwear and would steal it whenever she got a chance. My mom, my sister and I were down to one pair of panties each before we discovered Susie's secret underwear hiding place under the couch. She also kept trying to sleep in the ironing basket.* Mom would chase her out and she'd jump right back in. One day we came home to find Susie back in the basket surrounded by 8 puppies. Apparently, our male poodle had made her feel very welcome. We named all of the puppies after battles; the only 2 names I can remember are Dunkirk and Appomattox. We ended up finding homes for all of them, including Susie.
Squirrel was a Manx cat. I really don't know why we named her Squirrel, except that she was grey and kind of squirrelly-looking - no tail, one cauliflower ear and a big round head. We had other cats inside at the time, so we made her a bed on the front porch out of a garbage can turned on it's side and a blanket. Squirrel soon gave birth to a kitten - just 1, tortoiseshell colored and tailless - that we named Honky Cat (hey, it was the 70's). She was a terrible mother with an active social life and would leave Honky just about anywhere - on the front doorstep, in a rowboat in the back yard - and be gone for days. Squirrel gave birth the second time to 8 grey kittens, all alike, all with tails. We started calling them the Mundanes. An ad was put in the paper and we were down to the last kitten when a guy who came to take a look said, "What I really like is that cat without a tail. Where can I get one like that?" "Here" said my step dad, picking up Squirrel and handing her to him. I was devastated. I somehow ended up with Honky Cat who survived 4 moves with me and lived to the ripe old age of 17.
I don't see as many strays in our neighborhood as I did growing up off the main road, but the few animals that I see always try to follow me home. I must still have Animal Hostel in my veins.
*A note of explanation for you kiddies:
Back in the day, you had to practically iron
everything. We kept a laundry basket for clean clothes that just needed ironed and hung up. One of my first jobs around the house at age 8 or 9 was to do the ironing. I didn't mind - I could watch cartoons at the same time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

greed = poverty

My friend Sharon sent an email to me and David about Blog Action Day 08. It's a way of uniting bloggers around the world to share their thoughts on a single subject. Today's topic is one that's been near and dear to my heart this summer - poverty.
I've been lucky. I've been continuously employed since the age of 16; some jobs were great, some jobs were awful, but I always managed to make a stab at paying my bills and keeping myself fed and sheltered.
That part of my life changed in May.
I was employed as a graphic designer for a large department store chain. We'll call it Spacy's - not because I feel any sympathy for the corporation, but frankly, they've got more money and better lawyers than I have.
I had been there for several years. Sales weren't great, but nobody else's sales were either. Then 9-11 happened. Consumers started feeling guilty about buying a cute little pair of boots when the terrorists were waiting just around the corner to pounce on them, take away all of their reality shows and tell them they couldn't go to church. Sales plummeted. People started going around the office with worried expressions on their faces. A great deal of the discussion concerned making "plan". In the retail world, "plan" means that sales should be at least equal (and ideally more) on a certain day than they were on the same day the previous year. It didn't mean that nobody was buying anything. It just meant that the powers that be wanted to make, say, 2 billion in sales and we only made 1 billion.
That's right, folks. 1 billion.
I think the thing that bothered them the most was that the loss of that other 1 billion meant that some of the CEO's might have to accept smaller bonuses.
The economy was bad and getting worse. We went to war. The economy got even worse than before. Consumer confidence was shot. In an effort to blame it all on somebody, they fired the company president. It was hard to feel bad for him - he still continued to receive his salary, got a huge bonus and was told he'd better just sit on his ass until his contract ran out.
We were a dead fish in the water just waiting to be snapped up by Spacy's.
Things went from bad to worse. Shoplifting was at an all-time high and I was still churning out ads trying to convince people with less and less money to buy things that they didn't need and probably couldn't afford.
Then Spacy's lowered the boom. In an effort to cut costs, they closed the Midwest office and sent all of our work to another regional office in Atlanta.
And, just like that, I was out of a job.
Going on the dole and searching for a new job was a real eye-opener.
Let me say this - I am not a snob. I'm lucky. I just have to take care of me and I have some severance pay. I know there are a lot of different kinds of people in this world working at a lot of different kinds of jobs - some for more money than others. But the unemployment office was filled with people hoping to find a job that just pays a living wage - something that will keep a roof over their heads and their children fed. A job with benefits, like health insurance that works and is affordable. There are more minimum wage jobs out there than you can shake a stick at.
But here's the truth:
And it all comes back to corporate greed.
You see, I think that's how most companies make enough money to keep themselves afloat and still pay their CEO's those huge salaries and bonuses. Not by offering a valuable and reasonably-priced service or product to the buying public, but by paying employees as little as they possibly can, offering them health insurance plans with a $5,000 deductible, or by creating 2 part-time positions with no benefits instead of 1 full-time position with benefits.
I know I sound bitter. Seriously, I want things to be better not just for me, but for everyone.
We'll just have to see what happens after November 4th.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

small world, after all

I don't believe I've mentioned this fact, but I was married. And divorced. AND annulled (he wanted to marry a Catholic girl). We had no children, I moved to St. Louis, he stayed in Illinois - end of story.
Sitting on our back porch last night, David mentioned that he would like to make a list of 20 friends that he hadn't seen in years and try to get in touch with them. I told him that the hardest thing for me to get used to after I moved to St. Louis was going through an entire day without seeing at least one person I knew. Part of that was being new in town, part was coming from a small town where you couldn't step outside your door without running into someone - the brother of your best friend in grade school, a second cousin twice removed, the lady you paid your water bill to at the Village Hall - the possibilities were endless.
It was 1997. I was dating a fella named Brian, a local musician. He knew everyone. If he didn't, they knew him. My theory was that the world was really very small and that people could turn up in the most unexpected places. Brian's theory was that if you were in enough places you were bound to run into the same people over and over again, like a big pinball game.
A Canadian friend named Victor had an old buddy of his in town for a visit and invited Brian and me to go out on the town with them. After an enormous sushi feast at Seki in U City where several bottles of sake were consumed, we decided that some sort of caffeinated nightcap was in order - an effort to be perky drunks, I suppose. It was a beautiful June evening. We wandered up the street to Riddle's and grabbed a table on the sidewalk. We were all laughing and chatting when I happened to glance to my right. There, not two tables away were my ex-husband, the woman he left me for and the best man at our wedding. They were staring at me incredulously, with a hint of fear in their eyes.
Armed with the knowledge that I was out with 3 men and having a good hair night combined with the superhero powers of sake, I excused myself and ambled over to their table. They were so relieved to see me smiling, they almost hugged me. Best Man stared at me stonily (he never liked me for some reason - I privately thought he was a tight ass). After exaggerating the glamouressness of my big-city life for a bit, I mentioned that I had better get back to my dates.
When I sat back down, Brian said, "You knew them? Who was that?" When I told him, they all craned their necks trying to get a better look but the table was deserted. There was still a puff of smoke in the air. It almost looked as if the Road Runner had been there.
Now, what are the odds that my ex-husband would drive from Illinois to hang out in U City on exactly the same night that I ended up there? Sure, I could read my ex like a book. Best Man from Fairfield, IL was in town and Ex took him to what he thought of as the hippest part of St. Louis to impress him. I thought it was an amazing coincidence, but Brian stuck to his "pinball person" theory.
I haven't run into an unexpected person from my past for quite awhile.
Brian would probably say I need to get out more.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

employment, or lack of same

I had 4 job interviews last week.
The problem is that when you have that many in a week's time, interviewing becomes the job - a highly underpaid job, I might add.
Here's how my week went:
I take the Metrolink downtown to do my monthly "show up in person" at the unemployment office and meet 3 former co-workers for lunch. Only one of us has an actual job, working on the sales floor in the handbag department at Saks. She's already worried about making her holiday sales goals. We all promise that the minute we get jobs we'll come buy expensive bags from her.
In a fit of unemployment despair, I apply as a checker at Schnucks on the Hill. The line stretches out the door. I pass the time explaining the Great Depression to a dingy but sweet 19-year-old in line behind me. She tells me McDonald's is hiring.
I have a second interview with the City of St. Louis as a designer. They keep me waiting in the lobby for an hour while the chairs fill up with bright young things carrying Apple laptops and iPhones. My scarred old leather portfolio stands out, to say the least. Nice lady, the interview goes fairly well, but my face must have registered shock when I was told that the job was 10 hours a week with no benefits.
I don't get called for a third interview.
Thursday morning
I have a first interview at Wash U for a position in marketing with their campus food service. It is the best interview of my life. The woman is about my age, and everything I say is perfect. In an hour we've become lifelong friends. She takes me around the office, shows me where I'm gonna sit, introduces me to people, my head is spinning. Then she bursts my bubble. She can't make the final decision. An interview is scheduled for tomorrow morning with the head of the office - a rather reserved Pakistani gentleman. She looks and sounds nervous enough about it to generate a small bubble of concern, but I cheerfully tell her I'll see her tomorrow.
Thursday afternoon
I tell my mother about the job. Shouldn't have done that. You never tell your mother about a guy you're seeing until you've had at least 3 dates with him.
Thursday night
Wake up at 2 a.m. with the first migraine I've had in over a year. After pacing and puking and scaring David to death for a few hours, I finally fall asleep.
Friday morning
I feel hungover with a stabbing pain in my right eye. My legs are sore from over-shaving. I wear the same skirt and blouse I wore to the city interview on Wednesday, because I'm just flat out of wardrobe ideas. The first thought in my head when I wake up is "I'm not gonna get this job." I get there early, my new lifelong friend is happy to see me, but the Pakistani gentleman is not. The temperature in the room goes down 20 degrees. With my lack of sleep I must look like a meth addict. He never looks me in the eye - probably a good thing, because the pain is making my right eyelid twitch uncontrollably. After 15 minutes, they thank me for my time, I shake every one's hand, crack a lame joke, walk out of the office, call David, and burst into tears.
Friday evening
I'm enjoying my first cocktail of the weekend on the back porch when the phone rings. It's my ex-lifelong friend saying "I'm sorry, but I have some bad news." The Pakistani just didn't feel the same way about me that she did. I fix myself another drink.
I'm certain with the current unemployment rate in Missouri (6.6% - highest in over 10 years), the number of recent layoffs in the city of St. Louis, and the precarious state of the nation's economy, I'm gonna have many more weeks like this.
At least I'll get to meet a lot of new people and my legs will always be shaved.