Halloween 101 (throwback)

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In case your calendar is out of order, I’d like to inform you that Halloween is this weekend. This means that it is socially acceptable for the children in your neighborhood to come to your front door and beg for products containing processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
If you want to be well-liked, you’ll purchase the really good candy (which contains chocolate). Further, you should make sure each piece can fill the palm of a 10-year-old boy wearing an Iron Man costume—anything smaller may be met with disgruntlement and covert eye-rolling. Also, please don’t be a house that only gives out Sweet Tarts. If we wanted candy that reminded us of antacids, we can just go down to Walgreens and buy some Tums.

Many folks think that Halloween is a modern holiday, but, actually, that is not the case. Use of the word “Halloween” dates to 1743, but it derives from the term “All Hallows’ Eve”—which was an old religious festival (with pagan roots) that honors the dead. As early as the 16th century, celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve were widespread in Scotland, Ireland and Wales—and the traditions bear a marked similarity to those we know today.

Children would wear disguises and sing rhymes and songs in exchange for fruit, nuts, and sweets. This early form of trick-or-treating was called “guising.” Like today, that harvest feast would be the highlight of their childhoods.

I’d like to see what would happen if we passed out a bunch of fruit and nuts to trick-or-treaters nowadays. Half of the kids would sneer at the fruit and the rest would go into anaphylactic shock from their severe nut allergies.

Halloween is about more than just trick-or-treating, thankfully. It’s also a time for scary books and movies that will make it hard for you to sleep at night. Long before Hollywood made movies about chainsaw murderers and children that see dead people, writers throughout history have been crafting stories designed to make you wonder if you remembered to lock your front door.

I must admit that I’m a wuss when it comes to scary books; I generally avoid them whenever possible. One of the innovators of American horror fiction was Edgar Allen Poe. In 1843, he published his famous work “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was forced to read this short-story in school and it seriously freaked me out. Since that day, I can’t listen to the sound of a human heartbeat without thinking about it. If you haven’t read it, please do. Even if you aren’t a “reader” (you poor human, you), it’s only around eight-pages long, so you should be able to muscle through it. After all, the menu at the Cheesecake Factory is much longer than that.

Lastly, I hope you and your loved ones have a safe Halloween—may it be filled with fun, good memories and lots of high fructose corn syrup.

(Originally appeared in print in The Patterson Irrigator on October 30, 2015)

Fall To-Do List

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pumpkineverythingSome folks like the spring, while other yearn for the summer. For me, Autumn is the best season of all. I can feel its arrival in the air— the crisp mornings, later sunrises, and the stench of rotting leaves. I like to attack the season with vigor and purpose, which, for a Type-A person like me, means that I must make a list of all the things I’d like to accomplish. It’s no secret that I love lists. So, I just pulled out my favorite notepad and scribbled out the first three things that came to mind.

The first item on my to-do list is a perennial fall favorite— the Fantozzi Farms Corn Maze. Here in Patterson, we’re lucky to have this fun, family-friendly destination right at our door step. Each year, they select a unique theme for their corn maze design. This time, they’ve etched the US Capitol Building, along with the heads of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump into their massive corn field. While it’s difficult to tell which candidate has the most inflated head, Trump’s hair, alone, should at least cover a couple of acres.

As always, there are lots of other fun and spooky activities for kids of all ages at the Fantozzi Corn Maze. You should check it out this October. After all, who knows when we’ll get another opportunity to run around in these candidates’ heads? I can imagine what kind of scary stuff we may find lurking around in there. Perhaps the thousands of Hillary’s lost emails and the remnants of Trump’s sanity? Who knows!

This leads me to the second item on my autumn to-do list— voting in the 2016 Election. Voting is our civic duty and responsibility. When I turned 18, I was so excited to vote in my first election— which turned out to be the historic 2000 Presidential Election. With all the Florida recounts, ‘hanging chads,’ and Supreme Court hearings, that election had more drama than an episode of the Real Housewives.

While voting at the polling stations on Election Day is more atmospheric, I’m personally a fan of mail-in voting. I like sitting in the privacy of my own home and wearing my favorite pajama pants while I vote. Being an informed citizen is key, so while filling out my ballot, I like to have access to Google and Facebook. These resources are our main sources of super-factual information. After all, everyone knows that everything you read on the Internet must be true. I’m pretty sure that Benjamin Franklin once said that. And, he should know since I once saw online that he also invented Wi-Fi.

Anyway, I suspect my voting experience this time around to be a much more somber affair. After I fill out my ballot, I plan to sit in a corner and cry.

To make myself feel better, I plan to start my Christmas shopping early— which is the 3rd and final item on my impromptu to-do list. I collect online coupons the way some people collect baseball cards, ceramic frogs, and if you’re Donald Trump, staggering business losses.

It’s a compulsion, and nothing makes me happier than getting 25% off my purchase with a coupon code that I found online. It’s the best feeling. So, I find that holiday shopping is best tackled when I’ve collected a varied assortment of coupons. As the old saying goes, ‘the early bird gets the coupon for free shipping!

Whatever your own personal fall to-do list entails, I hope you have fun with it. Just don’t get lost in that corn maze— there are just some things from which we can never recover…