Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween wins

Images of Halloween invoke death, decay and the unknown. They're the taboo subjects that spooked us as over-imaginative children and that we'll fear again as we get close to our own physical collapse.

But the reason Halloween is my second favorite celebration is that it's the only big American holiday without an emphasis on family, loved ones or lovers. Halloween is for single people! On this day and no other in our culture, it is okay for a lone person to scrape along in some bizarre outfit, completely conspicuous among the general population.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spooky photo

I finally captured evidence on film that Chicago is indeed going to hell. I took this tonight from the Belmont el train platform. It looks like the red in the clouds is reflected from the lights, but it wasn't. That reddish tint was just there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween is for scairdy cats

I'm drawn to horror stories, horror movies and all things dark. When I was seven years old and first learned to read, I started with the ghost story books at the library. I kept going until I had read every ghost story book for my age group in the place. In my teens I went through all the Stephen King novels similarly. By the time I was eighteen I had to start waiting for Mr. King to publish his next one. I'm grateful he's never stopped.

I like to think that I like Halloween because it's for those of us who live in the shadows, hiding behind masks on a daily basis. Maybe our childhoods were filled with terror and a struggle to survive, either physically or emotionally (individuation, self-esteem, etc.). Maybe the monsters that kept us awake weren't in the storybooks. Maybe we read ghost stories to make our own lives seem normal. Cowering in bed, fixated on the image of - say - a woman with no face drove out the fear of our real life problems, which loomed over us by day and couldn't be banished by closing a book. For us, Halloween let all the scary stuff out of the closet where it could fill our minds and drive out the horror of our daily lives.

But more importantly than that, Halloween let us join the monsters. How wonderful to put on a costume that let me stop being me. How empowering to step into the night as one of the little beasties. Halloween let me merge with these symbols of fear, becoming an entity to be feared by others. Talk about taking back the night.

When I was a freshman in college, I was thin and had a very short haircut, so when a group of friends decided to cross-dress for the Halloween dance, I borrowed a few items of men's clothing and I was ready. I knew my costume was a success when a girl asked me to dance, but withdrew the invitation when she realized I was woman.

That night I walked back from the dance to my dorm, alone. Knowing I looked like a boy, I felt none of the anxiety I usually felt when walking alone at night. I walked confidently, feeling like I had a protective shield around me. So this is what it's like to be a man, I thought. It was wonderful.

If only every day could be Halloween, freeing me from being the small, high-strung female I am. Instead, I relish this one day when I get to cover up the mask I usually wear and disappear behind another costume entirely.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bad Week

So I had a rough summer, a not-much-better trip to South America and came back feeling more depressed than ever. I ate a lot.

By the end of September, I had begun to pull out of it. I got back to my healthy eating habits. I started to lose the weight I put on in the aftermath of the trip. It felt like things were going to be okay.

Then some personal experiences hit me hard and I plunged back into the sugar-and-processed-food freefall. Last week I was eating MacDonald's, buying chocolate bars and hunting Hostess cherry fruit pies. Last Wednesday morning, my el train pulled into the stop where I get off for work, just as thunder rumbled overhead. The skies were dark and I recognized the moments just before a storm hits. As we commuters filed down the stairs and out to the street, the first large drops began to fall. I hadn't brought an umbrella and knew that if I wanted to stay mostly dry, I had just enough time to make a break for either my office building or Bennison's Bakery at the corner of Davis and Maple

As I ordered a single-layer red velvet cake, the rain began to pour. The bakery worker offered me a plastic bag to keep the cake dry. I took it from his hands, saying I'd put the cake in myself.

I walked to one of their little cocktail tables, got out a knife and fork I had brought, carefully untied the string on the box, opened it up and cut myself a slice. As I casually chewed the reddish chocolate cake and chilled cream cheese icing, I watched the rain pound down. It must have been the medicating properties of the sugar that kept me calm and certain that the downpour would stop by the time I needed to leave the bakery for work.

As I finished the second slice of cake, the rain let up, then changed to a light drizzle. I boxed up the rest of the cake and carried it out in its plastic bag. I hardly even got damp by the time I reached my building. Did I share the rest of that cake with my co-workers? No, I nibbled on it all day long and finished it just before five o'clock. Grubbing on sugar like that really depletes me. For the first time in a long time, I had to lie down for 10 minutes in the afternoon, to try to get my energy up. I just felt tired all day, like I was fighting an overwhelming need for sleep. Sugar really doesn't do anything good for my body, even though my brain is addicted to it.

After that I really focused on trying to stop feeling so bad. With help, my mood eventually improved over the weekend and as of yesterday, I am back on the wagon. I now have a 48-hour streak going of no processed foods or sugar. My body just can't take that kind of eating for too long.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I love that ComEd (Chicago electric company) is using Halloween-themed ads like this one. We get plenty of Christmas-themed ads every year. It's about time Halloween got more exploitation. Yay, Halloween!

Friday, October 01, 2010

I am not a vegetarian

I am not a vegetarian. I have never been a vegetarian. I have been friends with vegetarians, lived among them and even dated them, but I have never, ever joined them in their meatless way of eating.

Yet people think I am one. Friends who have known me for years, who have come to my home and eaten my chicken soup and my homemade beef chilaquiles will greet me at their cookouts with, "Reg, we got you some veggie burgers." Or they'll email me things like, "This restaurant looks good, but I don't see many vegetarian dishes on the menu for you."

Why? Why do people who have watched me eat meat think I'm a vegetarian? Likewise, why do people who have never seen me eat anything think the same thing? I've had brand new co-workers make assumptions about my "vegetarian" diet, when we had yet to make it to the lunchroom. What is it about me that, in spite of my daily habit of consuming either chicken, beef or fish, makes people think I'm a vegetarian?

I'm going to take a stab at it here. I think there's a stereotype about vegetarians and people think I fit it. I think it goes like this: vegetarians are shrill, judgmental ideologues who think too much, lean left politically, don't wear makeup and prefer sensible shoes. They often have spiritual beliefs that include reincarnation, karma or the principle of attraction. They meditate. The women often steer hard and the men tend to back down.

I think that's what people see when they look at me. I think that's why they think I am a vegetarian, even while I'm chowing down on a hamburger.

I went to U.C. Berkeley. Then I went to graduate school in Ithaca, NY. I've known those vegetarians. I've lived with them, cooked with them, gone dancing with them. I might have liked them despite their shrill ethics, but more likely I liked them because I, too, was unpleasant. I felt comfortable with their Birkenstocks and their flowing skirts because that was my counterculture at the time. Visualize world peace? Sure! Think globally, act locally? I'm down!

That was twenty years ago. I've moved on. I now wear suits and lipstick. I keep my hair short and have no patience for people who chirp, "It was meant to be!" I act however I want to act, whatever effect it might have on our children (none of which will be mine, anyway). I might have orgo-cookie, hippy granola airy-fairyness in my past, but I don't wear it into my future.

Yet it must be there. My crunchy, hair-product-free past must cling to me so that people sense the vibration and although they can't fully articulate it, they manage to express how alien I appear with the label "vegetarian."

Of course, the people who make this assumption are never vegetarians themselves. The co-workers and friends who make this mistake are always red meat chompers. True vegetarians are shrewd, or perhaps psychic, enough to perceive that I'm a meat eater with no more evidence than the meat I eat every day. They're amazing.

So what's the problem, fellow meat-eaters? Since I'm one of you, why do you try to cast me out? Is it just that I seem alien in general and "vegetarian" is your best attempt to describe my difference?

That must be it. I must seem odd in general. Even with the full hamburger or fried chicken evidence before them, people (even friends) call me "vegetarian" because that's their gentlest word for the kind of bizarre I am.

If that's the case, I guess I can live with that. I'd rather seem like a general weirdo than like one of those ascetics who tries to talk her friends out of their favorite sub sandwich or beef stew recipe. I'll push my opinions on others about a lot of things (and I still think that's one reason people think I don't eat meat), but not about killing animals and consuming them. That's one cruel act I am down with.