Comic Books and Thanksgiving at the Hi-Way Diner

After four or five generations of togetherness, the “Family Thanksgiving” finally exploded a few years back. Nothing horrible ever happened. It was more of an old woman who lived in a shoe arrangement. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins’ spouses/significant others/crypto-others and their children. And if you’re doing math, that’s roughly two busloads full of people crammed into one three-bedroom house, where some poor woman who thought she was marrying well will try to seat and feed them all in a domestic kitchen. She will do this with less and less help, and more and more people, since not so many of the girls are learning to cook. (What? You mean I have to put my hand inside a turkey?)

Collapse was inevitable.

Even so, it somehow managed to survive for long enough that my legs and back are permanently contorted to fit at the kiddie table. (Yup. I’m the young end of the cousins.)

So, eventually, the obligatory invitation–and the equally obligatory acceptance–simply stopped coming. It would have been warmer, and fuzzier all around, if someone had had the sense to stop it years earlier (or break it down into the individual families at the generation that was doing the actual work.)

But there you go. It collapsed. It’s dead, and I’m glad it’s dead.

I took my happily child-free butt and went to the Hi-Way Diner. 24-7, and the only minor who’s gonna get near me is the one taking my order. I had a Ruben sandwich. My mother had an omelette. Nobody had to eat turkey, or Aunt Thelma’s Pinch-of-Salt Cookies. No one had to die so that I could finally inherit a big-people chair. Nobody asked me if I’d like a left-over straw of donor sperm. It was awesome.

Then, I came home and downloaded a couple of comic books. Because the sales really are amazing. And because my quest to read all of the Hugo&Nebula winning novels in the world needed another distraction.

And as soon as I’m done with the next chapter in my revision, I’ll read them. Right now… well, the scene’s perfect. Except that neither of the characters who are in it belongs there. And it’s in the wrong setting. And the motivations are completely off.

Other than that it’s perfect.

Should be done in no time.

Maybe That’s Where Trappist Monks Come From

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. I had to look that up. Not being from a liturgical background myself, Lent comes and Lent goes, and mostly what it means to me is yummy fish tacos and 40 days of my Lent-ing friends being in vile moods ranging from I gave up sugar to I gave up serial murder and cocaine. (Wait… you mean my friends didn’t give up serial murder and cocaine?!!)

In my childhood, Lent was something that just existed on TV. Something that either showed piety, or got laughs. You know, like Corporal Klinger giving up atheism for Lent? It’s not that we didn’t have Catholics and Lutherans… it’s just that they existed in their own schools over there, somewhere. And in the event that there was mixing, you were much more likely to be talking about Girl Scout cookies and camping than religious dogma.

So, I had the abridged, television explanation: Lent was the time leading up to Easter, and you gave things up for it. And then–when the Lent-ers ran out of private school in 9th grade and we wound up in school together–Maybe don’t offer to trade sandwiches, and don’t eat that chocolate in front of them. You know… it’s a tradition, and it’s good they’re doing it.

So, I was quietly supportive. You know the drill. “You can do it” and keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not doing it.

Oh, yes, I was ever so appropriate and supportive until…

One day I ran into a friend who had given up smoking for Lent, and there he was… cigarette in his teeth, doing his best imitation of a chimney.

Well, screw quiet support. I liked the guy. I liked his kids. And frankly, children deserve a father with pink lungs and an intact aorta.

What are you doing?

Well, panicking, obviously. He knew he’d been caught. And by the way, I’m not even slightly fooled by that look of confusion on his face. Cheater.

I thought you gave up smoking for Lent.

And that confused look just stays there. Like he doesn’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Lent’s over, he said.

What do you mean, Lent’s over?

To be honest, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that people gave things up for Lent temporarily. It never crossed my mind that after Easter, they all got to go back to drinking, smoking, and serial murder. I mean, if a thing’s a sin, isn’t it a sin all year around?

Nope. What they really meant was, I gave up smoking for the duration of Lent.

And fine. I admit that giving up smoking for a month is better than not giving it up at all. That probably is one to think about giving up permanently.

And maybe I really hadn’t thought much about it. I mean, if people give things up for Lent, and never go back, shouldn’t there be a bunch of really old Catholics running around living off water and oatmeal after a lifetime of Lents, and griping that this year, it’s down to the oatmeal?

So, happy Lent, everyone, and if you’re giving up something truly unhealthy, please think of your lungs and aortas–and hell, your erectile function–and maybe really do give it up confused-teenager style.

**this story may have been edited for dramatic tension and coherence.

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History of Disaster

One of the benefits of being a writer is that you wind up looking at your own culture through the eyes of your characters, and you start to see the things that are… well, a little bit weird. Valentine’s Day is… well, let’s be honest… about as weird as they come. It’s a holiday dedicated to romantic love which adults celebrate with booze and lingerie, and which is simultaneously celebrated by grade school children. This, despite very clear cultural taboos against combining romantic love of any kind with children.

Humans are weird.

Valentine’s Day has never been my holiday of choice. As an adult, it’s hard to celebrate, if I’m single, and it always gets me in trouble, if I’m not.  And as a child, mostly, I remember the general stress of finding just the right card to say “The school rules say I have to get you a card, so here.”

Actually… if I could find a card that says “The rules of dating say I have to get you a card… so here,” that would still be appreciated.

So, in honor of a weird holiday, weirdly celebrated, an overview:

  • Second Grade: First Valentine’s Day, and BEST VALENTINE’S DAY EVER: I came down with chickenpox and missed school. Missed the party. Missed the handing out of cards. When I got back, the teacher handed me an enormous bag of candy and cards from my classmates. Also, by then, most of them had already eaten their candy, so whatever I brought was really, really cool.
  • Fifth Grade: First real valentine from a real boy. It opened and closed, and had an envelope and everything. Also two sticks of gum taped very neatly inside the card. Admittedly, he was the kind of boy who got thrown out of movie theaters, and who was later seen bungee jumping his(?) bicycle off a railroad bridge, but he was a boy, and that counts, and I win.
  • Seventh Grade: First invitation to actual dance. He was a geeky friend of mine. (Yes, I do have a few friends who aren’t geeky. Not close friends, but still.) This one had all the makings of a teen movie, except that 1.) I wasn’t allowed to date until I was thirty-two, and 2.) He asked in front of a classmate who looked at him and asked “Why the hell would she want to go out with you?” Boy sinks into the ground. I assume they let him up for air and meals, but maybe they just make him eat earth worms.
  • High School: Let’s be honest… guys loved me for my mind. Yes, I know that’s supposed to be a good thing, but do you have any idea how annoying it is in real life? Most of the phone calls to my house begin with the phrase: “Hey, what did you get for problem 43?”
  • College: Oh, great. We’re moving into that phase where “Marry me and have my babies” is not just an option, it’s encouraged. Me: I got you a Hallmark Card. Him: Marry me and have my babies. Me: It’s a funny card.

So, even though there’s nowhere left to go but up, I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day locked in a convent, with ballistic missiles aimed at the local florist. One inch closer to those carnations, and it’s mutually assured destruction, baby.

Don’t think I’m serious? The last one actually mentioned his and hers matching cemetery plots. However old you have to be for that to be romantic, I’m not there, yet. Not even close.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the brave souls who are willing to risk it. To everybody else… see you when we all crawl out of our bunkers after Armageddon.