Monday, October 17, 2016

The Fearful, Haunted Road to My House

Warning: This is not for the faint of heart. There are dangerous creatures that lurk within this post. Proceed at your own risk.

Okay, Halloween is almost upon us. In most neighborhoods that means a scattering of kids knocking at your door, showing off their marvelous, creative costumes, and then proceeding with a "knock knock" joke or a "Why did the whatever do whatever?" line of questioning.

I've got it much better than that, thanks to my neighbor Leon. He treats Halloween as seriously as most people treat Christmas - with a display of assorted monsters, ghosts, witches.... just about every twisted being you can think of - except politicians. (Some things are just too horrible to behold.)

All the photos you see here show the result of Leon's efforts. As you turn off Ballas Road, about a mile south of West County Shopping Center (Sorry, no clown masks for sale this year), you enter the Hue Vista neighborhood via Rayner Road. And that's where the traffic slows. For the little ones in the back seat, and mom and/or dad as well, to see what evil lurks in the heart of Hue Vista.

Leon, I believe, started this about eight years ago. That's when I knew for sure I had a neighbor who was my kinda guy. You see, Halloween is possibly my favorite holiday. I overcame an embarrassing childhood centered around this holiday to fully come to terms with the possibilities of pretending to be something you're not: a gangster, a gorilla, a pirate, a raggedy-ass Superman (cape dragging the ground), even a silent film comedian with derby and cane. (no, not FDR). 

About my childhood: My mother dressed me as a girl one year. I went door to door, trick or treating, playing a tune on the piano for my act, ("Country Gardens"???) and hearing a lot of "Oh, what a darling little girl you make." I survived that. I think. I gave up wearing dresses in high school, but couldn't give up the nylons. Still can't. But I digress.

The other childhood misfortune was a costume party at the temple where we belonged. I went all out to become Al Capone. Hat, cigar, pillow stuffing in my black suit, big ring on my pinky, a "gat" in my pocket. She took me into the temple for the party that evening - and, surprise: I was the only one in costume. Yes it was a party. No, it wasn't costumes. Halloween was still a week away.

But I recovered. Jump forward many decades, I'm married, have two kids, live in Westwood Forest, and I knock myself out decorating our house with spooky stuff on Halloween, putting a Hi-Fi speaker in the bushes with spooky 
sounds, chains, howls, werewolves, growls, commercials for used car dealers. That was yesterday.

Today it's the Fearful, Haunted Road designed by Leon. And I love it. This last photo is what I put up at our house this year. Not much. A $9.99 scarecrow from Home Depot, and a very old rubber mask wearing one of my Rooster ties. Like I said, not much, but it makes me feel good. Now if only someone brings me a Mounds bar. Or a Midnight Milky Way. Even a Three Musketeers. I'll consider the night a success.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Behold the Mighty Toothpick

It’s a slender stick of wood, about two and a half inches long, thin enough to slip between your teeth and dislodge a morsel of meat or a crust of bread. Yes, how well you know the toothpick.

     But you may not be familiar with its power to transform. I discovered it one day recently when I was driving to Home Depot. As I sat at a red light, a long line in front of me, I was  into my usual bored, impatient mode. The car radio, connected to my antique iPod, was playing an old Billy Joel tune about the lights going out on Broadway. I dug around in the coin tray. Maybe I’d find an interesting receipt or forgotten note, anything to fill the waiting time.
     That’s when I found the tooth pick. An old one. No telling how long it had been there. It didn’t matter. Here was a much-needed diversion. I put the toothpick in my mouth, rolled it around a little with my tongue, then clenched it between my molars. Lightning! I was transformed. I segued from an old guy on a boring chore to a tiger on the prowl, a gunslinger on the streets of Laredo. A Man on a Mission. Renewed confidence surged through my veins. the years dropped away, frailty gave way to muscle and sinew. I was ready to rumble, all because of that wooden sliver.
     I switched the toothpick from one side of my mouth to the other. My tongue moved it to various angles - up, down, forward. My eyes became steel gray beads of intimidation. I turned off the radio. Billy Joel singing about New York didn’t with with my new persona.
     The light changed. I tore through the intersection, my hands relaxed on the steering wheel but ready to snap into action instantaneously. I was King of the Road, my six-year-old Honda Insight now a new F-150 Ford pickup. 
     The Power of the Pick.

How often have you seen a character in a movie with a toothpick? Usually it’s a bad guy, mulling over administering a foreclosure, another ten lashes, a nod to the hangman. However a toothpick also works for the good guys. Gregory Peck. Matthew McConaughey.  Paul Newman in “Hud” or “Cool Hand Luke.” I’m not sure if he even had a toothpick, but he could have. That confident smile that says, “You can’t keep me down.” Maybe Robert Redford as Sundance? Possible. I hope so.

     There’s a great toothpick scene in “Rain Man.” Dustin Hoffman asks for a toothpick, the waitress opens a box and drops them on the floor. Dustin counts them, in his head, quickly, comes up with 246. Tom Cruise asks how many in the box. The waitress says “250.” He says “Close.” Dustin repeats, “246.” As they walk away, the waitress says, “There’s still four in the box.” And Dustin puts one in his mouth. The Granddaddy of all toothpick scenes I think. 
     This whole thing probably started out as an oral hygiene device. But it has assumed more meaning than that, from “Boy, that was a good meal” to “I’d love a cigarette but I quit.” The toothpick is a personality statement, a sign, clear as day, that says, “I know things; I’m extremely capable and sure of myself. Don’t mess with me.”
     Now I keep a stash of toothpicks in my Honda. Whenever I feel a little unsure of myself, I reach for one. All it takes is that comforting feeling of the wood between my teeth, the tip just peeking out between my lips. A quick maneuver from the right side to the left, a slight smile to the world and I am unconquerable.
     Maybe that’s the next Superhero. Toothpick Man. No cape, no ring, no metal claws or iron wardrobe. Just a slender sliver clenched between the teeth. Maybe this Halloween I’ll go to a costume party as Toothpick Man, see if anybody recognizes the new Me.