Halloween Is Dumb. Yeah, I Said It.

I hate Halloween. There, I said it.  And I won’t apologize for it.  I’ve accepted it, I’m prepared for the ridicule, and you won’t change my mind.  I have heard all of the “but it’s so fun” and “you can be anything you want” and “dogs dressed as cats are cute” excuses I can take.  Because frankly, it’s not fun for everyone, I can be anything I want anytime I want, and my dog has no desire to be dressed as a cat.  It’s why he is a dog.  And after years of asking myself why it is I’ve become a Halloween hater, I think it’s time for me to admit to myself why.  When I was 12 years old, in a fit of Hallow’s Eve desperation, I dressed as a girl for a Halloween party.

I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator. And this particular year, I had put exactly zero thought into what I’d be for the neighborhood Halloween party.  The day arrived, time was becoming a factor, and I was trying to scrounge something up for the candy fueled sugar-rager. My parents were helping me out, but nothing we had in the house was able to cross that costume threshold, the one you need to strike a balance between comfort and looking like you made an effort.

As I scrambled throughout the house, somewhere in the other room my older brother said in a snarky tone-the only language 14-year-old boys speak-that I should dress up as a girl.  Truthfully, I can’t confirm if it was my brother or not, but looking back it he’s the most likely culprit.

What happened next was a bit of a blur, but having a sister two years older meant that the pieces needed for the costume were more readily available.  And with that, before I even had time to object, there was an eyeliner pencil in my face, and somehow mascara and lipstick became part of the equation.  Being the youngest of three also lends itself to being told what to do without the ability to object, and this was no exception.  In my head I was wallowing in anxiety but I was powerless. I was being transformed from Andrew to Andrea and it was too late.

Being 12 years old is the pinnacle of the awkward pre-teen years.  Being a 12-year-old boy dressed as a girl for Halloween brings with it a whole new level of awkwardness.  Walking into the party, I was brimming with anxiety, but as I looked around the room, it became clear to me that no one really recognized me.  Whether that was a compliment or not, I wasn’t sure.  But as the night went on, I was just some kid dressed as a girl. There was still a lingering fear as I saw kids I knew from school that I’d be called out.  The jig would be up.  But as the party wrapped up, I was in the clear. My parents were on the way to pick me up, and I’d managed to navigate the absurd bobbing for apples, the ridiculous cake walk, and all the other games and activities in complete anonymity.  Until I saw Kenny.  Kenny lived down the street from me and as we walked out to wait for our rides, he looked at me, completely confused.

“Andrew?”

I froze.  I wasn’t sure if I should own up to it or not.  And in a split second, I panicked, and blew the top off the whole thing.

“Hey Kenny,” I said.  He looked at me perplexed again, and the confusion shifted to hysterical laughter.  Here. It. Comes.  They are all gonna laugh at me.  But it never came. I was saved by my mother, who for the first time ever, was right on time to pick me up. (That’s a whole different blog, trust me.) I’d made it through a night as a 12-year-old drag queen intact. (That’s a sentence I never imagined I would write.)  And the next day at school, not a word was spoken.  Kenny was in a different class, so I managed to side step his inevitable cruelty.  And all the other kids had been to hyped up on sugar to even notice.

Halloween hasn’t been the same since.  That was pretty much the last year I ever dressed in a costume, save for the occasional college Halloween party where I had costumes that were 90 percent convenience and 10 percent creativity.  And it isn’t just the year i dressed as a girl that forever poisoned Halloween for me.  It’s the ungrateful kids who ask for more candy, or when the kid who has a mask and a grocery bag and is clearly too old to be trick or treating.  Or my absolute favorite, the parent who says his kid is in the car and she’s getting his candy for him. So you can take Halloween,  I’ll eat myself stupid on Thanksgiving.  Comfortably. In my own clothes.

Trips To Lowe’s, Riding Shotgun And The Days Of Duke

Duke wasn’t my dog.  He wasn’t my mom’s dog.  Duke was my dad’s dog.  And everyone in the house, despite the fact I and my siblings had long since moved away, knew it. When we walked through the door to visit our parents he’d be the first one to greet us.  And he was large.   So large, in fact, he was the real life version of the cowardly lion.   And the only thing larger than his golden mane and aging body was the love he had for my dad.

He was part of a two-fer deal my parents fell into when they went to a Golden Retriever Rescue a few years back.  Maxx and Duke were a pair.  No two ways about it. My parents have always loved dogs, especially those just entering their golden years.  They always had a soft spot for the older guys.  And Maxx and Duke, two golden retrievers who were joined at the hip, were no exception.

Maxx had a number of his own issues-my brother swore the dog had hallucinogenic episodes-passed away a few years back, leaving Duke as the lone four legged member of the household.  And once he got over losing his brother, Duke promptly grew even more attached to my dad. They were the men of the house.

They had their routine in the morning, which, because of his age, often took longer than it probably should have.  He’d walk the grounds of the property. He’d hold court on the back deck when the family was together, and he’d sit and watch Redskins games with dad in the fall.  Having long since moved away, Duke was taking my place as my dad’s game day buddy.

Whenever I came home to visit, my parents loved to catch us up on everything that was going on, and tops on the list was always Duke, and his funny habits.  He’d sit in the middle of the kitchen, oblivious to the flurry of activity and around him, content to be in everyone’s way. We cleared many a tables and stepped over Duke taking dishes into the kitchen.  He’d get excited, and unleash a half attempt at barking that wasn’t the result of anything internal, but more so because he just didn’t feel the need to fully commit to barking.  He’d made his feeling known, and that was all.

As Duke continued getting older, I’ll never forget the image of standing with my dad outside Pet Smart, and Duke seated comfortably in the backseat of the truck, refusing to get out.  Despite the ramp my dad had bought to get his best pal out of the truck, Duke just couldn’t really be bothered.  He’d rather sit in the truck.  15 minutes later, in the freezing cold, he finally got out.

I call my parents often, and more often than not, the conversation involves the latest Duke tale.  There was his fear of thunderstorms, his wallowing in the grass, or confusion at everyone suddenly being on his floor with the new grandbaby.  He loved attention and would walk the aisles of the local Lowe’s with my dad on weekend mornings.  Whether Lowe’s allowed dogs in their stores I’m still not sure.  The rules were a little different for Duke.

A few days ago, I talked to my dad on the phone on my way home from work, as I always do.  He said that things were getting worse for Duke, whose aging body was moving slower and slower every time I saw him.  Duke wasn’t eating, which was the real indicator that something wasn’t right.

Duke passed away yesterday, and for the first time in my life, when I called my dad to speak to him, I had nothing to say.  Not because I couldn’t talk to him, but because he’d lost his best buddy.  And often times, when that happens, there is nothing you can say.  This was one of those times.

He had lost his morning routine partner, his co-pilot on trips into town, and his shopping buddy, that would help him look for home improvement supplies.  Sundays this fall he’ll watch the Redskins, and it probably won’t be the same.  After Duke was buried my dad was gathering Duke’s things and would be taking them to the local shelter for another set of dogs, maybe older guys, who are looking for exciting times in the golden years just like Duke and his brother Maxx.  Fitting that my dad would be making the trip.  Duke wasn’t my mom’s dog.  Duke was my dad’s dog.

My ITunes Playlists Are Starting To Bore Me………

Throughout the last two years my musical tastes have undergone a bit of a shift.  It used to be a relentless pursuit anything that had a blazing guitar solo, any opus that would wander for 15+ minutes into territory that was usually only captured on stage, rather than in a studio.  I was, for all intents and purposes, feasting on a steady diet of  “jambands.”  I’ve never really understood that label, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.  They jam.  I just think it discounts all the other genres those bands pull from to weave together their sound.  I digress.

I still enjoy the 17 minute versions of Love Tractor by touring machine Widespread Panic, and I still love it when ITunes randomly throws me a block of Grateful Dead songs.  But in an attempt to branch out, what I really look for and enjoy is simpler.  Strings.  Lots of them.  Fiddles, banjos, mandolins or guitars, I’ve got a thirst for simplicity when it comes to the music.  No need for the big amplifiers or cabinets on stage.  No, no, I want minimal amplification, and I want the songwriting craft to sit front and center.  Trying to satisfy my search for what I really wanted, about a year and a half ago I came across Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch.  And as quick as my pursuit had begun, it was over.

I’d heard of Gillian Welch, sure.  She’s was the one who sings all that yodeling heartache stuff, right?  Seriously, who had time for that when there was another Grateful Dead cover to hear for the 5,000th time? Nah.  No time.  I’m sure it’s good, but no thanks.  I’d never heard of David Rawlings either, and once I stumbled across he and Welch’s efforts, the change was on.  Standing in a field in Western Maryland, listening to the two of them play their set to close out DelFest, the annual bluegrass festival named in honor of Del McCoury, I realized.  Corner, turned.

I wasn’t discounting the endless times I’d listened to all those other bands, I was, I felt, growing up a bit.  There was substance here to this sound I’d ignored for years.  There was substance to these two that I hadn’t ever really experienced before, especially in a live music setting. The nimble picking of Rawlings on guitar and haunting lyrics of Welch’s voice were almost as perfect a musical combination I’d ever heard.  It wasn’t an eye-opening performance, it was a personal musical enlightenment, the realization that when I pulled back the curtain a little bit-there was after all-more to be heard.

In 2010, Welch and Rawlings, her musical partner of over a decade, joined up with portions of the folk/bluegrass titans Old Crow Medicine Show to form Dave Rawlings Machine, the first musical effort of Rawlings’ to bear his name.  They were my musical revelation of the year, but still, I felt I had been late to the party.  After all, Welch and Rawlings had been recording together for years, and I almost felt foolish for being such a late arrival.  Some musical genres lend themselves to a constant one-upping, repeated stories of how many Phish shows you’ve seen, or the time you saw Widespread Panic at Jones Beach and they killed that version of Space Wrangler.  Around these parts, it seems a little different. It’s not about when you got there. It’s fine-as long as you make it.

Page One

Look, there’s a million reasons why people have blogs.  There’s the guy who thinks the world REALLY cares about his insatiable desire to drink wine from all different parts of the world.  Enjoy your wine pal, really.  Personally, I just don’t have a whole lot of interest in the latest merlot from Tuscany.  But that’s just me.  There’s the next door lady who blogs about cats.  In fact, the blog isn’t the only scary thing about that woman, come to think of it.  Then there’s the pretentious 26 year old guy who is convinced he is still in his second sophomore year Berkeley, and wants to blog only about the post-modern writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Yet, somehow he never got the memo that FSF actually doesn’t have any post modern writings.  Short blog.  And while all of these are true, there are blogs that make alot of sense.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my friend’s blog, who has made an attempt to do something new every day of the last year, as she approaches her 30th birthday.  Partially because it’s a great idea, but mostly because she is a great writer. I however, have no ambitions like these.

I’m blogging not because I have something I want people to follow, or because I have a raging need to tell the world about anything in particular.  Actually, I’d be just as content if this blog was seen by only me……but regardless, I’m doing it with the goal of becoming a better writer.  There was a time in college, when my writing professors would tell me they could spot a paper of mine from a mile away, in a stack of hundreds.  Compliment? Maybe not, but I took it as such.  There was also a time when most of my friends leaned on me to translate their thoughts into something written-Which, by the very definition, would make me a writer.  Because of time, distance, and work really, i’ve gotten far away from the written word.  A little too far in fact, and as the year wraps up, I’ve had this itch to get back to the things that got me fired up as a youngster.  I’m 31, and I’m not sure what I’m doing.  So like anyone else, I’m writing about it.