Thursday, October 30, 2008


Here are some decidedly not-so-spooky costumes I've worn for Halloweens of yore...

Hmm. I think this is 1973, which would make me 5 and my aunt (dressed as...what? Cinderella? Barbie? Debbie Harry?) nearly 10. I won't take any accolades for this shabby witch costume, as I don't even remember the night. But it must have been cold, as I'm wearing that delicious satiny Army-green parka. With the hood. (*shudders*)

Looks like 1978, which makes me 10 here. This is officially called the "put-all-the-shit-you-love-together" costume. Magic kit cape? Check. Plastic vampire teeth, complete with "blood" dripping from the corners of your mouth? Check. Totally weird hat that I have no recollection of acquiring or owning? Check. Fireplace poker, held threateningly over head? Check. Ah, but the coup de gras...rubber monster hand that you simply HAD to have, but could only afford one of, so you look like some sort of half-mutated vampire-child dressed convincingly in '70s brown-on-brown? CHECK! (Interestingly, this face is still one of my favorites to make, even to this day...)

Well, it's not like I didn't get dressed up between 1978 and 1992, when this photo was taken! But, I didn't actually own a camera of my own until about 1996, so photos of me are rather few & far between. This costume is one of my very favorites...obviously, right? Totally homemade, with 2x4's screwed to the bottom of an old pair of work boots, real metal studs adorning the front "shin plates," plus enough sequins and chain and aluminum foil to make any aspiring Kiss fan proud! I nearly won a costume contest later that night at Boomer's...only to lose at the last minute to a Crash Test Dummy. (Literally a guy dressed as the fake human used to test cars...not one of the members of a different rock band.) (*hums to self: mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm...*)

Whoops! This isn't a'd THIS end up in here? Heh. Jus' kiddin', folks. At the last minute we decided to party with our friends the Jones', and this "80s rocker" costume was put together in 1997 from, frighteningly, items that were still in my closet. (*the gods weep*)

The first of many parties hosted in the public "hall" at our apartment complex: this is from 1998, and from left to right are Tess, her sister Amanda, Amanda's boyfriend at the time, and yours truly. We had a BLAST hunting down the outfits to go as Kiss from the cover of Dressed to Kill. While this SHOULD have been at my urging, a perhaps-faulty memory suggests that it may have really been the brainchild of one of the other intrepid members of our quartet. Nonetheless, we were THE hit of the party that night...especially when we threw out our best album-cover pose...

From 1999, this is about the only decent photo of me dressed as Qui-Gon Jinn. I was at a loss, and The Phantom Menace had just come out, so I handily wrapped a flashlight in foil (are you seeing a theme here? Aluminum foil as the costume-maker du jour?) for my "lightsaber," tied my hair back, and partied with what looks to be my date: a very mannish nun named Joel.

We started to offer themes for our Halloween parties by 2000; we just found that some people were more likely to show up in costume if they had at least the notion of a starting point. This year was "Come as your Favorite Rock Star," and while someone from Kiss would seem obvious for me, I had just done that a couple of years earlier. Instead I padded myself with a pillow, put on my tux, found a red satin hankie, and became a pretty convincing late-70s Meat Loaf. Funny story: Tess' friend Marie first met me at this party, and was shocked to see me again several weeks later...turns out she though that the padding was all me!

From 2001, this was another great themed party: "Come as your Favorite Duo." We encouraged people to think of great historical duos, like Batman & Robin, Butch & Sundance, etc. My friends Chris & Colleen came as Bill & Monica...her in a dress so besplotched by "cum" stains you could hardly tell that it was blue. Gross. Anyway, Tess' mom made us our great Ren & Stimpy heads, as well as my blue nose.

And, this is a pretty good shot of me at our last big bash, in 2002. Our theme for this one was "Come as your Favorite Cartoon Character," and I scored big with my fairly simple Hong Kong Phooey outfit. Brent & Joy came as Lady & the Tramp, and Tess hysterically decked herself out in a gaudy dress, bunny ears, a plastic carrot & too much lipstick to come as "Bugs Bunny dressed up in drag." Y'know, 'cause he was always doing that to thwart Elmer. Funny shit.

Once we moved from our apartment complex, we stopped having annual parties, which had become rather legendary (if I do say so myself). Not having that huge common room to decorate and party in was the real loss; I always feel a little silly putting on a costume and just going to someone's house to sit around in the living room. Although this year, it looks like we may just be doing that. Stay tuned for pictures of Tess over the rainbow...while I abide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


What can I say? He gives me hope. Using words I would ordinarily only use about a lover...he makes me feel like a better man. Like I can be a better man.

Next Tuesday: two words...

President. Obama.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Republican Corruption

So, with just a week to go until the election, and convicted criminal Ted Stevens is still in a dangerously close race in Alaska? Are you kidding me?!? The guy wasn't just accused of committing a crime; he was found guilty on all seven counts of committing crimes! This was no "press trial," this was the real deal, and he's still running in a statistical dead heat to win another term.

Un. Believeable.

Of course, the Republicans are pretty well used to corruption by now. It's typical of modern conservatism: say you want one thing, and then secretly work to achieve just the opposite. Time magazine recently did a story about indicted Senators - you can read it here - and while not all of them were ultimately convicted of crimes, most were forced out of office. And the amazing thing? 9 out of the 11 Senators who have been indicted...were Republicans. (Although I wonder at the very first one, since "Republicans" didn't really exist in 1803.) Yup. 82% of those Senators accused of committing crimes were of the party that, in modern times at least, campaigns on a platform of being "tough on crime."

Then there's Sarah Palin and her wardrobe. I know, give it a rest, right? Aren't there more important things to worry about than blouses & pantsuits? Well...there OUGHT to be. But, when a woman is claiming to be the champion of "small town" America, then hits the campaign trail in hot little numbers like this...

Yeah, baby! Red leth-ah! Ka-WOW! Um...except, how is this supposed to help her identify with rural voters in Indiana...or Pennsylvania...or Ohio? Can you get this cowskin at Wal-Mart? Or, do you have to go to, say, Neiman Marcus and shell out a grand or two? No, it's not fucking ABOUT HER WARDROBE, you dumbshits! It's about the fact that over one-tenth of a million dollars was spent to doll her up! And not from JCPenney, or Sears, or anyplace that might be perfectly fine for the average voter. Nope, she gets her shit from places that would probably kick out the very voters she's hoping to gain. Gah. It's disgusting. On top of it all, the Republican campaign? Once this whole story broke, they claimed that "well, most of these clothes were always going to be donated to charity once the election is over." Yah. THAT'S believeable! Like, they're just going to drop big garbage bags full of Coach purses and Manolo Blahnik shoes off at the local Volunteers of America. 'Cause I see shit like that in there all the time. ALL the time. Huh.

With a week to go, remember: you can cast your vote for a party that claims to represent small-town American values but has a clothing budget BIGGER than most of those same small towns...or you can vote for a guy who wears expensive suits, yes, but at least he buys them with his OWN money.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Riding Grampa's Bike

In a life made rich by the amount of love shared among friends and family, the acquisition of "stuff" seems like such a shallow goal. Don't get me wrong: I likes me a lotta different "stuff," from Kiss collectibles to comix to DVDs and records. But, that stuff doesn't define me beyond any surface level. Well, okay, the Kiss stuff might, but let's move on, okay?? What I'm trying to get at is this: it's the people in your life who make you what you are, who allow for the truest expression of yourself. If you surround yourself with good and loving people, not all of the stuff in the world can can equal or replace the riches that you have.

Which isn't to say that we don't THINK about stuff, right? Especially our relatives' stuff. Be honest: you've stood in your parents' house, and you've gone "Gee, I hope Sis doesn't want that collection of ruby red Cape Cod dinnerware, 'cause that shit is MINE, goddammit!" This desire for a certain kind of stuff - the stuff that, for one reason or another, you equate with your family - isn't to be viewed as any sort of imminent death-wish for the current owners. I know you're not all like "God, I hope Mom dies soon so I can get my hands on her collection of vintage umbrellas!" But I think there are "things" that you associate with certain people, and a good way to keep the memory of those people alive on a more-or-less daily basis is to have some "thing" of that person hanging around. "Oh, look, there's that silly ceramic bee on my counter; why, I can remember having breakfast at home, and Mom would spoon whipped honey out of that thing like there was no tomorrow..."

My grandparents are old. Gram is fighting with some form of age-related demtia: call it that, call it Alzheimer's, call it old-friggin'-age...whatever it is, it's cruel and it's robbing her, in little tiny (but noticeable) bits, of her ability to remember shit and to think clearly about her present. Gramps still has his wits about him, although by his own admittance even his memory ain't what it used to be. He's lost a lot of his physical strength now that he's in his late-70s...but I still wouldn't want to arm-wrestle the guy! He's totally the one who, when told to really wring all the water out of the washcloth so that it doesn't mold, accidentally tore the fucker in two. THAT guy. They're great, though, and I feel really blessed to have had them in my adult life. Shit, I'm one of the only guys I know whose grandparents are still ALIVE, for fuck's sake! So, I can't really be bitching about their health now that I've hit my 40s.'s hard, right?

For years, I've know what "stuff" of theirs I want, the stuff that will keep their memory fresh in my mind once they're gone. And really, it's nothing. There's no rare coin collection that I'm looking to unload on fancy, vintage '58 Corvette parked in the back garage...we're talking about mundane, ordinary things, crap that my own wife probably doesn't want hanging around our house. And, with any luck, it'll still be years before she has to put up with that 2-ft. tall black onyx-like cat...
Me at about 5 months, with cat on hearth.

or the glass Murano clown with his stupid feet on backwards, eating a peanut. The bikes, though...the bikes are now ours.

I don't really know why I wanted the bikes. Maybe because they're of a time before me. They represent a world that my grandparents knew, that didn't yet have me in it. They're 1967 Schwinns, solid tubular steel frames, made in the U.S.A. and about 40 pounds each. My grandparents rode them all over their neighborhood, took them camping, took them on their cabin cruiser up to Tawas and rode them around town there. Already the "Deluxe" models (note the chrome fenders, etc.), Grampa tricked each bike out to the max, wiring them for lights, putting on classy horns, giving the ladies Breeze a front basket. They represent to me a thing that is valued: expensive at the time of their purchase, they were treated as a major investment and so were well-cared for. These values are a part of my life, something that I inherited not so much through nature as through nurture. The values were taught to me, and here, almost as if they traveled through time, is the physical embodiment of those values brought to 3-dimensional life. Not values that exist in the "thought/mind," but values made real, for me to touch and to know that there walked upon this earth people who cared. So...I guess I DO know why I wanted the bikes...but I couldn't put it into words until I started typing this entry.

Anyway, I heard through the family grapevine that Gramps was thinking about selling them to the local Schwinn dealer. He's still in business - or, rather, the business is still there - but of course all of his stock is now lighter (but cheaper) aluminum, made in China, a shadow of the former solid glory that the bikes once represented. Gram can't really ride anymore, and Gramps wanted the bikes out of the way so he wasn't constantly tripping over them. I about went apoplectic when I found out what he was going to do. Sell these bikes, to a total stranger?!? Someone who only cared about turning them around for a profit? No no no. I quickly offered him the exact price the store owner did, willing to buy them given the fact that what I viewed as an eventual inheritance was quickly turning out not to be the case at all. And Gramps agreed...and that was that. I paid him - probably less than he paid for them brand new, and certainly a lot less than they're worth as vintage cycles - loaded them onto my bike rack, and drove away. Mine now. My bikes.

The plan was to take them to Mackinac, where they would find new life in a community where bikes were actually valued as a primary conveyance, and not just as a child's toy or a piece of adult exercise equipment. I had them tuned up at a local shop, where the owner was sadly unimpressed with their vintage glory. Hey, what the hell: he races, so of course he's into the newest-&-lightest. I took them up north last weekend, and you know what? They're like Cadillacs. In this era of mountain bikes, you sometimes forget what a truly great ride a simple road bike can be. They're 3-speeds, which means that compared to a modern 21-speed, you get the equivalent of 5th, 15th, and 21st gears. In 3rd, you can cruise along flat ground at about 20mph, only giving 40-50 pedals per minute. And, straining to get uphill by the Grand Hotel, you eventually jump off and push, watching the much more modern bikes easily cruise by you in pedal-your-ass-off 1st gear. I watched this...but I wasn't made jealous by those newer bikes. I gladly pushed Grampa's bike - MY bike - up the hill, serene with the knowledge that for the next 40 years the bikes would be a constant reminder of the values I learned from the original riders. A set of values which dictate that how quickly you get there isn't what matters; in many cases, it's the ride itself.