A Halloween Story

Almost every morning I escort backpacked boys to the bus stop, and then race to ballet class. I love the effect all of that tuck, lift, stretch, and burn is having on my hormone-ravaged parts. (Tamoxifen should be every bit as delicious as a 3 Musketeers for all the damage it does to a midriff.) But, barre class begins a rather exact number of minutes after bus stop child disposal, leaving very little wiggle room to snag one of the unmetered parking spaces coveted by lululemon-clad women in legwarmers. We’re happy to shell out $20 per class for a flat belly, but it’s that much sweeter to save the buck on parking. Today I congratulated myself on my good fortune as I backed my car into the choicest spot that didn’t require quarters, then skipped into the studio, blissfully unaware that someone was trying to kill me.

On Thursdays, Leslie and I usually sneak out of barre early and race over to Bible Study. Today we decided to be late, because it feels rude to sneak out early, and Jesus appreciates a girl with a great ass. (Having established that Bible study-attending Churchy types can be irreverent as well as shapely, I’ll put in my usual plug for Thursday morning women’s Bible Study at the Redeemer.) Hopping into my SUV with my still-shaky legs, I turned the key in the ignition and… nothing. I flagged down Leslie and said within earshot of my would-be assassin that I’d leave the dead car in the lot and call AAA after circle time with Jesus.

AAA, for all its economy and convenience, isn’t always the swiftest champion for a damsel in distress. I spent three hours in a parking lot using my almost toned arms to pull on the steering wheel to get the column to unlock. Nothing. The key refused to turn for me, or for AAA hero #1–who was more interested in my ability to plié and do splits than figuring out why the car wouldn’t start. When fate requires you to depend on the kindness of burly men in vans, it’s better if your outfit leaves a bit more to the imagination. But I’d just returned from Bible Study, so in my these-people-in-my-path-for-a-reason frame of mind, I learned that his sister is battling cancer and we had a bit of prayer-share bonding before he told me to call a tow truck. It took another hour for AAA hero #2 to interrupt my shameless Facebook trolling for amusement. Four updates and fifteen comments later, adorable AAA hero #2 arrived, took my keys, and started the car on his first try.

Three hours of frustrated attempts to unlock the steering column so abruptly remedied made me go all Elaine-from-Seinfeld on him. I actually pushed him with an incredulous “how did you DO that?” Of course, having been blonde my entire life, I’m accustomed to these situations… it’s why we have such a bad rap. Proving in three minutes that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my car, he kindly suggested I get the ignition checked anyway. But as I exited the parking lot, my window wouldn’t close. The dashboard went dark. There was a weird rubbing noise that sounded like an expensive problem, so I backed up and told cute AAA boy that I was scared to drive with the noise and wonky computer. He sat down in the driver’s seat and closed the window without provocation before loading blondie’s gigantic, totally functional car onto the flat bed.

It wasn’t until we got to the garage that AAA cutie noticed one of my tires was hanging on with only one bolt. “Where are the other bolts?” he asked as if I use them for sundry art projects and forget to replace them afterwards. Unable to account for four missing bolts that require large, iron tools to remove, it was determined that this was a failed theft. But instead of leaving my Volvo propped up on milk crates, the criminal left me with a car that would have lost its tire as soon as I hit the parkway.

“God is looking out for you, Britt.”

That was the only explanation from my mechanic. He just called. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the steering column. Nothing. The only thing he’s certain about is that driving a car with one tire bolt would have spelled disaster… disaster that was diverted by a car that wouldn’t start. My completely functional car now sports four tire locks, and I’m safe at home in my Cinderella costume. The murderous thief is still out there… but apparently I have a guardian angel.

I've wanted this costume for years... and a failed murder attempt won't stop me from enjoying it!!

I’ve wanted this costume for years… and a failed murder attempt won’t stop me from enjoying it!!

Stay safe, friends.

The House with the Full Size Bars

We’re the house with the full size bars. Handing out gigantic wrapped chocolates is a Stockton Family tradition that is rewarded with wide-eyed appreciation of small spidermen and princesses, and keeps teenagers from egging the house. Also, stocking the home with enormous candy bars is, at least for me, an obstacle from eating them. I could easily consume my own weight in two-bite, fun size 3 Musketeers increments. Much like drinking wine at the catered party, where the glass is perpetually filled and the count becomes fuzzy, I’ll conveniently forget how many breaks I took with tiny Kit Kats. It takes an extraordinary number of bite size Snickers to satisfy me. But unwrapping a full bar? That’s too obvious a sin to commit.

Brodie has asked to be the door greeter/candy bar distributor this year. My ten year old is approaching the holiday with I’m-too-old-for-that disdain. This saddens me. Our smallish neighborhood with far too many darkened doorsteps of elderlies who don’t want to be bothered hasn’t provided the spooky fun spoils every kid deserves. I loved Halloween as a kid: forcing down Mom’s healthy meal in advance of the anticipated pillow case of junk, waiting forever and ever for Dad to get home (when did he say he’d be here, Mom? Is he coming? Did he call? IT’S GETTING DARK!!!), unsuccessfully refusing the warm coat over the plastic-y costume, and finally rushing out into the shadowy streets with the promise of free candy.

I’m fairly certain my Dad initiated the Trick or Drinking tradition in our neighborhood. He and the other un-costumed fathers stood at the curb with their clinking glasses of vodka and scotch and approached for refills at houses where I guess they knew a “Trick or Drink!” appeal would be honored. After the pillow cases were heavy, we all landed in someone’s family room to sort and swap while the grown ups drained their lowballs and forgot it was a school night. The next day, the city kids bragging about their absurdly large spoils from many floors of closely spaced apartment doors sounded like cheating to us. Halloween happens in the dark; and it’s a little tiring, a little chilly, a little scary, a little magical.

I’m hoping for an eleventh hour change of heart from Brodie—that he’ll swap his indifference for a ninja costume and head out into the night with his little brother and Bernie. I’m hoping that the whole romantic notion of unlimited sweets and a flexible bedtime is too alluring to keep a ten year old boy at home to tend a bowl of big candy bars. Though I love Brodie’s maturity and “old soul” approach to the world, I don’t want him to miss the fleeting fun of Halloween– a precious time of goofy, sugar-fueled excitement coupled to the safe feeling of Dads at curbs and neighborly fellowship. I want at least one more year for him to collect his own Halloween memories, and sort his spoils while discussing the ethics of the just-take-one bowl and why anyone gives out pretzels.

I’d like to think our address is included on the trick-or-treating route, as well as in the catalog of Halloween stories, for any number of teeny Harry Potters. We’re the house with the full size bars! And if you show up with less than two fingers in your lowball, you can totally count on the Lee house for a Trick or Drink pour. Happy Halloween, friends. Go make some memories.

Look at all of that fluffy goodness...

Look at all of that fluffy goodness…

A love letter to baseball, by Steve Safran

Many of us are feeling the nostalgia-twinged excitement tonight. Go, Sox!

Mom didn’t expect to see herself on the bright, new, hi-def Enormo-tron overlooking 36,000 people. None of us had ever been on Fenway Park’s big screen before. But there we were, enormously memorialized during Game One of the 2013 American League Division Series. How many lucky guys can boast attendance at this game, accompanied by the parents who birthed him into this great (Red Sox) Nation? Me. I can. Look at us.

Dad, Mom, her nose, and me

Dad, Mom, her Band Aid, and me

Mom wishes she’d timed the nose-mole removal a little better, since now her Band-Aid schnoz is captured forever, both here and on the JumboTron. We’re too superstitious to have arrogantly assumed this game would foretell future pennant grabbings. But now, my childhood team of bearded heroes is headed to the World Series, and the Jumbotron still of me, my parents, and one of my oldest friends gains even more sentimental cache. Also, superstition dictates that Mom cannot remove the Band Aid until this wraps up in November.

At the risk of having a puck hurled at my head, I’m partial to baseball over other popular sports in these parts. Playoffs in basketball and hockey are interminable. They’re playing when you file your taxes, hunt for eggs, and plan brunch for Mom… and they’re still at it when you put out the patio furniture and buy socks for Dad. That’s not a playoff system– that’s three entirely different cute kitties on the calendar. Baseball? Lose three out of five and you’re gone. And I’ve been to some magical nights at Fenway. As Humphrey Bogart once said “A hot dog at the ballpark beats a steak at the Ritz.” A bad night at the park–with the parking ticket and the drunk asshole and the Sox breaking our hearts–that’s still a damn good night.

A life-long love affair with the Red Sox, fostered by their parents, and shared with their best friends is a significant part what makes Bostonians of all ilk high five in the streets and feel Boston Strong. And tonight, on the eve of the first night of the World Series, I’m writing a love note to the Red Sox, to Fenway… to Baseball.

Dear Baseball,

I saw your gorgeous, green Fenway field for the first time in 1975– the very year the Red Sox came thisclose to winning the World Series in what is agreed to be one of the great Fall Classics. I was the seven year-old boy who cried when Fred Lynn crashed into the wall in Game Six, so worried for my idol that I sobbed myself to sleep that night. There was something about Carlton Fisk, and I missed the rest of the game, but Dad has his I-was-there story for all time.

That home run I hit in Little League in 1979? That cemented our bond, baseball. Maybe it was a grounder that went through the shortstop’s legs, allowing me to scoot from one base to another in a comical series of bad throws. Never mind all that. It was a Home Run, with merit trophy proof of my commitment to you… even if it was for coming in second.

I dozed off every summer night to announcers calling your plays on AM radio. Stu loved you as much as I did, and took me to game after game—a childhood relationship chronicled in Fenway ticket stubs. So I know you were sad, too, when it happened, losing one of your purist fans on September 11th when I lost my best friend.  After that we became even closer, baseball. Your games took on new meaning—weightier and urgent– as I root hard enough for the both of us.

A love note to you inevitably includes a family history of heartbreaks. Papa was a Boston Braves fan who was 20 when Babe Ruth played his final, sad year on the club. Dad once left a game early with his father, only to see a Ted Williams homer sail over his head as they walked behind the Green Monster. And me? Well, I died a little in 1978, 1986, and 2003. But then, in 2004, you rewarded us for our faith in you. (Because we know you love the Sox, too.)

Passing on our passion for you to our children is like a covenant in this town. My middle son was born in the fourth inning of a Sox game in 1998. I held him and explained your rules… starting in the sixth. Appreciating the subtleties of baseball, I told him, is a lifetime commitment. Baseball, you are the great imitator of life, providing the perfect proverb for my kids: though you may fail most of the time, you will still be a hero as long as you stay at the plate.

“How can you not get romantic about baseball?”  asked Billy Beane, echoing our feelings exactly. You are our shared history, our shared hot dogs, our shared disappointment, and tonight, our shared excitement. You’ve provided the venue for me to bond with my family, reminisce, enjoy new friendships, honor old ones, and drink an immoderate amount of beer. But you are a fickle lover, baseball, and I won’t implore you to bless our Sox tonight. We’ve got this covered. We’re Boston Strong. And Mom’s still wearing that Band Aid.

With great love, and a Pedroia jersey,

Steve

Your baby is totally flirting with me

Rants are all the rage in the blogging world. From “open letters” to pet peevish posts punctuated with angry bullet points, these writers are fuming, and it’s something you are doing wrong. Of course, a proper rant is as satisfying as a Snickers® if you’re nodding right along with the writer. To wit, in honor of Pink-tober, Lisa Boncheck Adams reissued her angry plea to end kitschy Facebook postings that annoy us in the name of “awareness.” (The 99% who won’t repost are my kind of people.) Because my feathers don’t ruffle easily, I want this style to be wicked funny (better yet, satirical), or I read only whiny, self-indulgent, holier-than-thou foolishness.

If you are a ravenous reader of rants, you’ve noticed that the Internet has hijacked the word “feminism” in order to write angry essays about all sorts of things. When a 24-year-old Australian blogger took a crack at Feminism, and his young, thoughtful female readers chimed in with “I’m not a feminist, but…” comments, I couldn’t keep my meddling fingers from the keyboard. Doesn’t everyone know that the definition of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes? That’s it. Full stop. If you think women and men deserve equal rights and pay and access and accountability, then you are a feminist. (Yup, that’s you. Go get your bumper stickers.) All sensible and caring humans are feminists.

But after reading a ridiculous rant today, I see a glimmer of why sensible and caring people might shy away from the term instead of embracing it with pride. Occasionally, “feminist culture” has one too many Chardonnays and permits a dogged McCarthyism to unearth slights and inequalities in innocuous settings. Tagged with feminism! and gender this was published today on the always entertaining Belle Jar. A proud, but irritated mother of three absurdly attractive children doesn’t want you to compliment them. Seriously. She wants none of your inappropriate cooing about her diapered “heartbreaker.” She doesn’t want you to “warn” her that her son won’t be able to fight off the ladies. And when her Disney cute child aims a gassy grin your way, she doesn’t want to hear “he’s flirting!” Because apparently babies aren’t sexual creatures designed to seduce. Aaargh! I’M SO MAD THAT MY CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL AND YOU ONLY HAVE COMPLIMENTS FROM 1965!

Taking offense at well-intentioned grandma praises is almost as silly as writing an essay about the downsides of financial security. I’m assuming future guest posts will tackle injustices against the naturally thin. Blessed with gorgeous, healthy children this mom can only suffer the right brand of compliments? A thread of supportive comments suggests there are plenty of sensitive moms who don’t think this is as silly as I do, but instead are aghast when someone wants to nibble Matty’s fat little toes. I imagine all of them sewing small burqas to shield gorgeous children from gender-role stifling compliments of evil anti-feminists. But telling someone in the checkout line that her baby is “delicious” is lovely, goddamit. There is NO OTHER WAY to receive this aside from, “thank you” or “I know, right? I just want to bite him!” The compliment may be trite or old-fashioned, but it’s a kindness from a stranger and should be paid forward with something much, much better than a rant about how not to say nice things about a baby.

And sure, we know what she’s getting at… after all, we’re all feminists (see paragraph 2). And language used thoughtlessly can certainly feed all sorts of stereotypes we would like to obliterate. But, if your children elicit these responses regularly enough to rally a rant against them, then you are throwing that cute baby out with the politically incorrect bathwater. Have the self-awareness to realize the world’s appreciation for your stunning children might not be knicker-bunch-worthy. Acknowledge a sincere kindness–hell, even a passing and corny kindness– as just that. And when we recognize the beauty of a child, this is not a willful neglect of his other traits, or a condemnation of all un-pretty babies (which do not exist, anyway).

Me, I’m much more concerned about why Suzie won’t be encouraged to pursue astrophysics. And if you want to compliment my boys on their cuteness and future prom date fitness, fire away. I’m going to thank you, and agree with you, and pour you a Prosecco.

My boys when little... big time flirts

My boys when little… big time flirts

Writing to be liked

My college application essay probably sucked. I cringe at what teenage Britt included on one sheet of dot matrix. No doubt I dragged my gymnastic and typing accomplishments into an argument for personal betterment. (And what prestigious university isn’t recruiting self absorbed, inter-office-memo-drafting cart-wheelers?) No doubt the essay was very serious and heroically boring. But at the blue eye-shadowed age of 17, nothing had happened yet. Anything worth recounting in five sassy paragraphs was far off in my mammogrammed future amongst Asians, so I probably typed the usual drivel that drives admissions staff to an early and generous pour of single malt. Recently, a lovely and accomplished high school senior asked me to take a crack at her college essay. And because it wasn’t me who needed to impress some faraway grownup with a red pen, I transformed into a charming, competitive-swimming diabetic fluent in French. Je suis tres amusant avec une pompe de insulin sous ma lingerie! It was super fun.

Sometimes this is how the best writing happens: ignore any assumptions about the audience, and write for the sheer joy of it. Jenny Polk, an old friend with thousands of Twitter followers, wrote to me, “I would never have the guts to say f**k in my posts!” Presumably, that’s because her mother-in-law is a follower. I think potty mouth has all but lost its shock value, and the f-bomb sometimes provides the perfect staccato for an angry sentence. I wouldn’t recommend incorporating it into the Harvard essay, but for a silly blog, no one cares a fig. And as soon as I start worrying about how my own mother-in-law is going to react to scatological word choices, any written missives about moon cakes (vile) or Chinese food preparation (arduous) or energy work (hilarious but effective) will suffer for authenticity. And after two years posting sassy paragraphs peppered with baser adjectives and exclamations, I’ve received nary a complaint… but quite a few editing gigs.

I’ve been doing rewrites for family and friends, scientists and students for a quarter century. Even though I’m certain my own admissions essay was met with groaning, future literary endeavors (inspired by the inimitable Professor Kuyk) landed me a paid job in the college Writing Center. Training to become a Writing Associate involved one semester at a roundtable with other faculty-endorsed “writers” writing about writing. This was before anyone used the word “meta.” Professor Beverly Wall was an enthusiast for something called “desktop publishing” and encouraged us to “post” our papers on a school-sponsored “intranet.” In effect, we were all contributing to a classroom blog, although that word hadn’t been invented yet, either. In the early ‘90s, we found this tedious: we wanted to discuss our work, not type criticisms with a blinking cursor. Also, there was no “like” button.

It’s impossible to imagine a gaggle of college kids loath to type opinions onto a shared server, since this form of communication now eclipses all others. But those were ancient times when writers feared more than welcomed an audience with the ability to disparage your five paragraphs with one calamitous (or anonymous) comment. Modern writers are cursed and blessed with ubiquitous readers. Everyone loves to be “liked,” but your most and least favorite Facebook status updaters are testimony to the influence of audience on the tone and quality of a sentence. As I wondered if an adolescence of misspelled texting and like-clicking critique is ruining the written word, I read that Tufts University is now accepting video submissions in place of the compulsory essay… and that article used the word “interestingly,” so you be the judge.

A handful of my old Writing Center relationships have endured and their work still gives me goose bumps: Nancy’s guffaw-inducing comedic rhythm and word choice, Julia’s pretty handwriting reflecting her outer beauty and inner complexity, Tony’s brilliantly fashioned lefty opinions devoid of lawyer-speak, and Ran’s latest series of stories that will make you hmmm and ahhh and hate him a bit for being so fucking eloquent. I still swoon for a beautiful sentence; but now I blog, email, instant message, and craft silly statuses, because that is the stage for contemporary writing. I also edit college essays to stifle the sort of schlock I wrote before I had the chutzpah to make an admissions officer giggle… before I had a voice… before I stopped writing to please an audience instead of marinating in the sheer delight of having one.

CALVIN AND HOBBS