Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Blue Shame

There’s a saying about cars that goes something like this: “What’s the world’s fastest car? A rental car. What’s the second fastest car? A company car.” I have tested and proven both of these statements to be true, and I have come up with an addendum: “What’s the third fastest? Anything you are insane enough to give a teenager.”

When I was such a teenager, an old two-lane highway near my house had been widened and improved. And in between the time that it was finished and officially re-opened, it was used as a drag strip by the local kids because either the local sheriff’s office was unaware of this new development or they were turning a blind eye. Either way, I decided to take this opportunity and turn this strip of road into my own personal Bonneville Salt Flats.

My weapon of choice in my assault on the land speed record was the family grocery-getter, a baby blue 1985 Honda Civic – a car I had taken to calling Sid. The speedometer topped out at 120 mph, and I was intent on seeing that Sid reached his limits . . . or die trying.

After making a couple of cursory passes on the highway to check for Smokey (that’s 1970s trucker talk for “the law” for the uninitiated) hidden behind a billboard or hillock, I placed Sid in first gear, revved the engine (imagine how menacing those four cylinders of fury must have sounded!), and popped the clutch. (I want to say I had something really cool like The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” pumping on the factory-installed, two-speaker “stereo”, but it was probably something like Pet Shop Boys or Duran Duran.) At any rate, I took Sid through the motions and into fifth gear. When I reached 84 mph, the car started shaking. By the time I got to 92 mph, I could feel the fillings in my own mouth starting to loosen. But that didn’t stop me.

Funny thing here is that all those things I was taught in Drivers Ed – you know, the one about reaction times exponentially increasing for every mile an hour you are over the speed limit, the one about the likelihood of death should your car reach the speed of sound, etc. – didn’t suddenly leap to mind. While it was highly possible that the rivets and weldments holding my parents’ car together could fail at any moment due to the fact it was shaking like it was attempting re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and I would have to pull up to the house in only a car frame with four wheels and an engine, that concern didn’t cross my mind. The only thing I was thinking was, “Holy smokes, I can’t believe I didn’t bring my friend Craig as a witness. Who’s going to believe a factory-built 1985 Honda Civic is going 120 mph?”

Poor planning on my part, I admit. However, let us remember I was only a teenager. And had my parents found out at the time that I had done this, their reaction would have been something like, “Son, you could have killed yourself out there.” With my own experience as background and feeling as though I have learned something from my parents, I believe I would be able to take a more modern – if not more enlightened – approach to such a situation if I found out one of my own children participated in a re-creation of Death Race 2000. I would look my son squarely in the eye and say, “Son, do you realize gas costs $3.00 a gallon?” Kids!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

My oldest son has a good sense of adventure, and for the past two years he’s indulged me in the Halloween costume department. The year before last, I got a large cardboard box, cut armholes in it and mocked up one of those “Hello My Name is” stickers on the outside of the box. You see, his name’s Jack, which I wrote in below “Hello My Name is”, so he went as a Jack in the Box. For those in the neighborhood who already knew his name was Jack, they thought it was funny. For the balance who were seeing this young boy for the first time, however, I believe about half thought it was creative and the other half probably thought, “That kid’s got the laziest parents in the world.”

Last year, I took a plastic garbage can, cut out the bottom and sewed a T-shirt into it to fit over Jack’s head. I then took a long piece of Velcro and made a chin strap out of it and fastened it to the lid so Jack could wear it like a hat. The stroke of genius with the T-shirt, if I do say so myself, is that Jack didn’t have to carry around a bag for candy; people could just throw it in the can, and the T-shirt sealed off the bottom so the candy could just gather around Jack’s person. Judging by the mixed looks Jack got that night as he made his Trick-or-Treating rounds, people just weren’t appreciating the creative genius that gave birth to this unique costume. We creative geniuses suffer so for our art!

With that said, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority either wait until October 30th to come up with a costume, or they have children who have no vision (like my younger son who insisted on store-bought costumes like a ninja and Batman). Take the “ghost” costume for example. How many movies have you seen (excluding Abbott & Costello or “Beetlejuice”) where the ghosts look like your Queen bed’s flat sheet took flight and decided to start chasing people? In 1937’s “Topper”, Cary Grant plays a dashing ghost. Although the ubiquitous Internet wasn’t around yet to document it (perhaps because Al Gore hadn’t been born yet to invent the Internet), I’m willing to bet that Halloween didn’t see a bunch of 9-year-old boys running around in finely tailored gray wool suits and saying, “Look, I’m a ghost.” In 1937, most people would have said, “Oh, great. The kid’s dressed as the Angel of Death, a Union negotiator.” In 1990’s “Ghost”, Patrick Swayze plays a banker who is killed and hangs around his wife as a ghost to keep her safe. That year, you didn’t see kids running around in silk shirts and poofy, blown-dry hairdos saying “Look, I’m a ghost.” In 1990, most people would have said, “Look, honey, he’s a cocaine dealer.”

Parents, you need to take a little time (read: more than the ten minutes it takes to drive to your local Target or Wal-Mart) and give the costume question some thought. While you’re brainstorming, picture the following: Melissa and Joan Rivers are at the end of your street critiquing every child’s costume. As your child nears, you hear them say, “A witch was clearly the wrong choice for this little girl. She doesn’t have the hips for it. Wait, that’s a little boy, and I believe he’s trying to look like Gandolf. His parents should have known better. He needs a longer robe.”

Here are just two timely suggestions. (1) A plain, white T-shirt with a big, black asterisk: Barry Bonds’ 756th-home-run ball. (2) A crumpled car fender with the words “Lindsay Lohan was here.” Or, you could dress your child up as a fuel-efficient family car, and you’d hear people say, “Look, honey, it’s a ghost.”