Why Halloween is my least favorite fake holiday

I don’t like Halloween.

I wasn't aware there was a Halloween version until tonight.

I liked it when I was young, despite living in Colorado and being forced to wear a parka over my costume thanks to the snow that always dropped the day before. We froze our butts off in light, stiff, flame-proof costumes purchased at the grocery store, or drug store, or where ever my mom bought them before the Internet and corner Halloween stores were in vogue.

I remember the condensation from my breath made the thin plastic mask kind of gross – hot and cold at the same time. Yes, I was the kid with the drooling mask ringing your doorbell.

I did, however, like bobbing for apples, and was really good at it. Probably because I have two giant front teeth like a mutant horse.

Sadly, I was never able to turn my talent for apple bobbing into a lucrative career, though I do think it would make for a good sport to watch on TV. Place the camera at the bottom of the tub for intense action shots, and hire good-looking men and women to compete. Because, really, won’t we watch just about anything on TV if attractive people are in it?

So, as an adult in age, not mind, I have grown to dislike Halloween because I’m the one who has to sit home and hand out the candy. My wife and daughter go to a party and have fun. I am the dog reacting to every knock at the door.

Fortunately no pictures exist of me as a child sticking my head in a bucket of water, though I'm surprised a family member didn't try to drown me for laughs.

I get up every five minutes, tell our real dogs to be quiet, and greet the trick or treaters. Then, I have to pretend my neighbors’ kids are the cutest versions of the same Disney princess (girls), and any character that kills (boys).

I also have to monitor the candy because my wife is never sure if we’ll have enough, though we always have plenty leftover, and because 1 out of every 5 kids is practicing to be a Wall Street banker one day and inevitably reaches in and grabs more candy than allowed, on purpose.

These are the candy hoarders who one day will have to go to Congress and beg for a bailout because they bet everyone else’s candy on a risky financial scheme they didn’t understand themselves. Hey, the behavior of being a hog starts somewhere, folks.

So if a child tries to take extra candy tomorrow, reach over and grab their hand and say, “if you ever work in the financial services industry your head will fill with worms and spiders and explode in a ball of fire.”

It helps to dress as a witch when you deliver this curse. And don’t be surprised if your neighbors don’t speak to you again.

I fantasize about hiring someone to sit outside my house and hand out candy. But my wife gives me the look that spending $40 bucks on the idea will earn me a quick trip to husband jail.

Yet, how nice would it be to have my feet up and not worry about trick or treaters while the Swedish woman I hired on Craigslist sits on my front porch and hands out candy. I do think I’ll need extra peanut-butter cups and Snickers bars, however, when words gets out about my fantastic new hire.

Yes, my dear wife, it was the best $300 dollars an hour I ever spent. A small price to pay for getting my Halloween spirit back.

Building my fortress one camera at a time

The security cameras are on the way – thank you, Amazon.

This weekend I’ll be climbing up the ladder, drilling holes, running wires, installing video cameras and looking manly in my tool belt. Female neighbors will bring me lemonade and cookies and marvel at my handy-manliness.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Okay, pour the oil, honey. Pour it now.

Or, not. Probably not.

Perhaps they will if I wear my Stars & Stripes lounge pants.

It will take all of my willpower not to point each of the day/night cameras at my new neighbor’s house. Oh, how I miss the cold war – damn you, Reagan. 

Then, sometime this weekend I’ll be able to kick back with a cold one and spy the intruders coming up the walkway, at which point I’ll signal my daughter to pour vats of hot oil on them.

Is that an appropriate job for a young girl?

Ah, what the hell. Kids these days have it too easy. My daughter should know how to take down a bird with a slingshot and skin a pig at this age, not shoot pigs with birds.

After my security system goes in, a contractor will be over to tell me how much I’m going to pay for a wall so thick a helicopter can’t get over it, which I didn’t know was possible until you-know-who took a bullet to the face.

Unfortunately, I don’t live in Pakistan where building codes are lax, not to mention my neighbors might object to a wall of that size. Instead, I will have to build something decorative and nice looking.

Still, there will be a place to pike the heads as a warning to other criminals. Ah, London in the old days. Could they think up the best ways to torture people or what?

Would it be wrong of me to compare some of my hospital stays to being tortured here?

Then, when I’ve completed these two security upgrades, I’m going to sell the house and move to a cave with a gate. And there I’ll protect my family and live on bats and McGriddles.

That’s my story and I’m not sticking to it.

Why do you need an MBA to decipher medical bills in the USA?

Hospitals bills and insurance EOBs in the USA are the equivalent of going to prison, surviving unharmed while there, getting released and being mugged and stabbed by ex-cons two months later.

I am always happy to get out of the hospital, but the real pain doesn’t come until a couple of months later when my wife and I open the mailbox.

The complexity and inaccuracy of medical bills bothers me, deeply bothers me, and makes me think we don’t live in what some consider to be the greatest country in the world.

undergear.com sells these for 9.97. BTW, that's me modeling them. I'm looking cut.

Either we have citizens who flunked basic math who are programming the billing systems, or we have creative geniuses inventing evil ways to delay and screw up payments so people just pay the bills because they don’t have the skills to figure them out.

So, we are either incompetent or immoral in this country when it comes to medical billing practices.

Example: Two months ago, we received a bill for my last hospital stay. We owed over $1,500 and the EOB matched up. Then for some unknown reason the hospital went back to the insurance company for seconds. The claim was readjusted. According to the EOB, our out of pocket is around $600 now and not $1,500.But the hospital is asking us for more money above the original $1,500.

What do you think the chances are we will get the refund we’re owed?

About the same as me never having to go back to the hospital again – unless I run in front of a bus wearing a suit made of EOBs and hospital bills (Our medical files are thick. I could make two or three suits if I knew how to sew paper).

Now starts the game we play to straighten it out. Well, my wife plays it. She has an MBA and works with numbers. It started with emailing 12 documents to the hospital, each with my wife’s handwritten notes, making them look like my junior high English papers.

If we ever get accurate and ethical medical billing in this country, I may start to believe we’re as good as we think we are. Until then, I’m hiding my Stars & Stripes lounge pants in my dresser drawer.

I speak to a police officer

I would not want to be a police officer. At least not the kind who has to speak to annoying people calling to complain about their neighbors. No, not that kind, behind a desk, trying to decipher who is telling the truth, who is lying.

I'm looking good while patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles. Kind of like Batman without the outfit and really cool car.

I’d rather go after perps in high-speed chases in the streets of L.A. And tap them in the rear bumper with my turbo-charged Hemi-powered Dodge and send their car spinning out of control. Then, I’d jump out and just shoot them. Well, not really. I’d play it by the book. But if they pointed a gun at me, I’d demonstrate the hours I spent on the range making holes in paper targets.

Back to reality.

I spoke to a police officer the other day. I told him the short version of the conflict I had with my neighbor. I’m sure it went down in the report as a “neighbor argument.”

Accurate, I’m afraid, but not quite what I would classify it as. Just as the police categorize incidents, I do as well. But try to explain how the type of communication someone uses, and the statements they yell out, differ from what most people might say in an argument. It’s not easy and I gave up trying to.

I’m talking about statements that make you say, “where did that come from?” Or, “that doesn’t make sense.” Or, “Am I talking to a rational person?” 

The verbal equivalent of a furry bat winging its way past your head in broad daylight. Was that really a bat?

How do you describe a non sequitur that might denote someone not playing by the rules most “normal” people play by? Then again, I wear a bag on my head.

“No, officer, he did not yell a profanity at my wife.” The point is he yelled at my wife for no reason. And after allegedly having a gun out in broad daylight a week earlier. So, I went to find out why he felt it necessary to call out to her.

Despite the officer being nice, I can’t say there’s much for the police to do now. It’s my psychological drama to live out. I’m committed to not provoking or speaking to the neighbor. Still, the memory of it hangs over me like smoke in a German restaurant in the middle of winter where no one will crack a window to clear the air, and four Germans at a table in the corner keep looking this way and laughing.

It’s uncomfortable and I can’t wait to leave the restaurant.

How my Post a Day during October got derailed – and other stuff

I haven’t posted in a few days because a neighbor yelled at my wife for no reason at all. No reason at all. And I walked across the street to find out what it was all about.

That’s it, the reason I missed posts. Simple, but not.

It was the neighbor who who allegedly showed a gun to my other neighbor’s gardener over a week ago. And after the “conversation” I had with him this week, I’ve spent the last two days researching fences and security cameras, catching up on missed work and writing a blog post detailing what happened with this neighbor that I’m not sure I should publish. The situation may have a “legal” future to it.

I may be overstating it, but I’m cautious and it’s unpredictable what will happen next. I don’t want to be water-boarded by a lawyer about a blog post I wrote.

Creative Commons: Photo by Nadia Prigoda

Oh, and we may move out of the neighborhood.

I’m tired of brown lawns, tilting picket fences with peeling paint and cars parked on lawns. If we go a mile south, the neighborhood has driveways filled with cars with paint on them, and gardeners who know the difference between a weed and plant.

I’ll stop here tonight and think about the unpublished post and whether it should go live on the Internet.

****

In other news, I went to my three-month clinic appointment this week. It was okay. My PFTs are holding since the last hospitalization. That’s the good news. However, they are still down from the major bout of flu earlier in the year. I’m not sure they’ll ever rebound now that six months have passed. That is life with CF. We’ll see. I’m putting on a happy face I’ll wear during Halloween.

Regarding the clot in my neck, we may pull the port during my next hospitalization. ARGH

I finally get a port after all of these years of PICCs because I’m going to prison every three months and then I stay out for over six and don’t use it. And a clot develops next to the place it burrows into my neck. Worst of all, I can’t do a Rambo and cut it out of my own chest because the clot would come lose and hurt or kill me.

Add “self-removal of a port” to the list of things to avoid in life.

Once the clot is gone, or covered by cells, and not a threat to take a road-trip south to my heart, we can pull the port and I can go back to midlines. We’ll see. The future is murky and unpredictable, as always.

Murky and unpredictable and full of M&Ms and sushi and my daughter’s book reports and black and white labradors and helping my wife manage the stress of living with me and tiny moments that feel large.

And standing fast when someone crosses the line in the sand.

My warped decoding of the Chevrolet commercial, “Like Father, Like Son”

[NOTE: Chevrolet, to their credit, has since edited/updated this commercial. Details are in my 12/4/11 post.]

I fell on my head too many times as a child. See UC run down the steep hill where he lived. See UC’s feet go out from under him. See the back of UC’s head bounce on the hard sidewalk. 

Sharing this warm childhood nugget should explain a lot regarding this blog and the pain I feel when I obsess about some trivial detail most people let go, but I can’t.

Case in point: the Chevrolet commercial below. Please check it out, or everything I write won’t make sense, though it may not make sense anyway – no guarantees.

What did you think? Cute, huh? That’s what I thought at first. The innocent little boy playing with his truck reminded me of moments I had as a child playing with my Hot Wheels cars, driving them over our black lab. I had Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and Barrels of Monkeys, too.

Such a wonderful scene. Watching it made me feel so all-American that a piece of Apple pie I ate when I was 10 years old came back up my food pipe.

But something about the commercial didn’t ring true to me – a wrong note in the score, a scratch on the record, an image out of place. This is why I paused the football game and watched it again.

First, there is the purple-haired doll, which the little boy appears to be helping to move her pretty-pony horse trailer. What a nice young man, but that is the price you pay for owning a truck. You become the moving company for your friends.

"Why doesn't he love me? She's no good for him. She's mean, mean, mean. I'm the one for him. Can she see in the dark?"

Back to our purple haired sprite with the bowling ball head on a broom stick of a neck. She represents the girl we males were friends with when we grew up. A tomboy, our fun neighbor, which is reinforced by the friendly language the boy uses to say, “thank you.”

She’s nice, but she’s not the marrying type or the one you’re going to want to go home to. Nope, despite being cute, fashionable and an entrepeneur with her own stable of magic ponies, the purple hair, giant head, and genetically-deformed cartoon eyeballs kill her chances of being a serious romance.

She is the girl you confide in, share your love of another woman with, open your heart to and thank for being such a good listener. No matter how much she longs for the dude who drives the truck, she has no shot.

That’s because the young dude who drives the truck has a whole lotta woman back at the ranch.

"Did I tell you to take the bag off your head?"

Oh, and she looks anything but happy, despite the boy pretending to be her and saying, “hey, honey, I’m glad you’re home.” Her expression betrays this and says she knows – they always know – he was out helping Ms. Pretty Pony tow magical horses.

I mean, I get it. As a caveman, I understand.

Drive the Silverado and you’ll go home to a very tall woman wearing a skin-tight top, camo Daisy Dukes, big boots and a holster-like garter belt. And she will take you into the house and hurt you to an inch of your life, and you’ll have to wear turtlenecks in the 100-degree heat of the construction site for the next week while your buds ask why you’re dressed like that and walking funny.

So, I have to ask: Why couldn’t she wear a white doctor’s coat? Or a business suit and carry a briefcase? Or be a successful rockstar and have a tattoo and hold a guitar? Or not have proportions impossible to achieve for 99.9 percent of the women on this planet?

And it made me wonder why my wife has never greeted me at the door dressed like this? Is it because I don’t drive a Silverado?

Or could it be because she’s too tired after working all day looking at spreadsheets and unsexy Excel formulas and taking care of our daughter?

I’m thinking Halloween will be very different at our house this year.

My to-do list:
1. Search Lara Croft costumes on Amazon.com
2. Rent a silver Chevy Truck
3. Call my Doctor and beg for a Cialis prescription
4. Rent two bathtubs so my wife and I can bathe separately and look at the sun set over the power lines in our backyard

Clearly going to college and raising a daughter has screwed me up. And I’m no angel with thousands of years of male genetics working on my feeble image-sensitive brain each day.

However, if there is a bright spot in the portrayal of female dolls in automobile commercials, one need only look at the original Nissan Z commercial with GI Joe driving across the floor to steal away the yuppy Ken’s honey, who makes an amazing transformation from repressed Barbie to Tawny Kitaen in a Whitesnake video. Two-timing Barbie doth not a role model make (Shakespeare).

I look forward to an ad agency making a commercial using a realistic looking female doll to drive the truck. Then, with a Lady Gaga song blaring, she drives home to discover Kenny, her unemployed construction worker boyfriend – he can’t find work in the recession – in a dirty tank top barely covering his belly, sporting baggy white Jockey shorts, and holding a bong in one hand and a hammer in the other because he’s demolishing the workout room to build a man cave.

It would be at this point in the commercial I would hit pause on the remote, lean over and tell my daughter this is why every woman should own a truck. It makes it much easier to pack up your stuff when it’s time to move out.

“Sweat the Details” or “Done Is Better Than Perfect”?

The downside of performing the same job for over 10 years has been experiencing a revolving door of supervisors and managers. The range has been wide, from “great leaders” to “I’d rather swallow my iPad before I work another day for this moron.” Oh, and knowing more about the work than they do.

These are my new work pants and shoes. Trust me when I say I thank my lucky stars every day and wish all of life's good parts could last forever.

The true challenge is staying up with the various, and sometimes contradictory, team-building ideas, motivational techniques, and management styles the new managers bring with them.

Just a few years ago we lived something close to the Facebook saying: Done is better than perfect. And we churned out substandard work. Lots of it.

Yes, a large number of projects were checked off as complete, but we always felt dirty and embarrassed because our names were associated with the work, and the results lived on long after the managers had left the building.

Then a new management team would arrive and review what was done and say, “we can do better than this, people. It’s a good thing we’re here to save you.” But then they would fall victim to the “more is better” rule of the 2000s and we’d explain to the next group of managers that followed them why it was what it was.

And change was always promised, but not delivered, in the game we played to keep our jobs: Quantity is easier to measure than quality.

And then Steve Jobs up and died and now we worship his 10 commandments and the popular, Sweat the Details, which may be the most amusing of all, as volume hasn’t changed. Now we sweat the details on certain projects, with certain being the key word.

It doesn’t say “sweat some details,” which made my wife wonder if sweating all details is healthy. She thinks it should read “sweat the important details.” I agree because I always agree with my wife and I really do agree with her this time.

It’s an odd contradiction of the workplace, these “mantras du jour” that keep us on track and motivated.

I do, however, look at a another of Jobs’s rules and dream to adopt it: Kill a 1,000 Projects. Now Sweat the Details makes more sense to me. It’s easier to sweat the details on 10 projects than 1,000.

And yet, when you have a boatload of projects on your to-do list, and half the time you need to complete them, apply the Facebook mantra and you may live longer.