Monday, December 27, 2010

The Breakup Breakdown

Truth be told, I'm kind of a sucky boyfriend. Try as I might, I'm terrible at relationships, and the other party usually realizes this sometime around month four of the romance. From there it's a downward spiral of passive aggression and button-pushing, until neither of us can take it anymore, and the entire thing implodes in on itself.

For me, the weeks following the dissolution of a relationship are what I call The Breakup Breakdown. A bastardization of the K├╝bler-Ross model, it consists of seven phases, and I'd like to share them with you now.

Phase One: Flat-out Denial

For one reason or another, I'm usually the one to get dumped. I tend to cling to dying relationships like a coyote gnawing on a rotting rabbit carcass, mostly because I can never find the right time to breach the subject of ending it all, so I just carry on with the crumbling affair, dying a little bit inside with each passing day. When I finally get eighty-sixed, it usually doesn't hit me at first, and on more than one occasion I didn't even register that I was being dumped at all.

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Sometimes it takes hours before the weight of the situation sinks in, and that's when I transition to phase two.

Phase Two: Bargaining

Once I realize that I have yet again destroyed a good thing, I become frantically obsessed with fixing the situation. I become a recluse, concocting wild plans to remedy my damaged relationship. Reenact the boom box scene from Say Anything...? No, too easy. Cut off my ear and send it to my ex? Bitch, please. That's been done to death. As the fantasies grow more and more outlandish in my head, I begin to lose my mind altogether, and I start having conversations with inanimate objects in my apartment.

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Several days in, I begin to realize things aren't going to get better, and I slip into the darkest phase of The Breakup Breakdown.

Phase Three: Depression

For the next week, I hole up in my bedroom watching 90's comedies streaming on Netflix, refusing to eat or bathe or even talk to anybody. I lose track of time, and the days blur into each other.

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Following a breakup in 2007, I returned home from college for Christmas vacation, and spent weeks in the basement watching old home movies, trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I stopped shaving. I couldn't bring myself to eat, save for nursing tubes of Go-Gurt, and my weight plummeted. In passing, my mom told me I looked like "Jesus with a meth addiction." I suppose that was her way of telling me she was worried about me.

The depression phase can last anywhere from a couple days to 24 years a few weeks, but it isn't the worst phase by far. No, the worst is yet to come.

Phase Four: The Jennifer Aniston Juncture

At some point, my sorrow gives way to anger, and I start to rewrite the whole relationship in my head to make myself the victim. At this point I've almost entirely lost my grip on reality. I start imagining my life as a movie where I'm a jilted martyr, and everyone in the audience is sobbing because I've been treated so poorly and unfairly. It's during this period I act the most erratically.

Case in point: years ago, an ex called me following a messy breakup, and asked if they could come by and pick up the stuff they'd left at my place. I said sure, and when they arrived I threw it all out the window at them.

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I swear it happened in slow motion, like in a Toni Braxton music video. Luckily, this stage doesn't last long, and once it's over, I start taking steps to recovery. Before long I begin to gain some clarity, and one thing becomes perfectly obvious: I am fucking hungry as hell.

Stage Five: Eat Everything In Sight

I always lose my appetite in the weeks following a traumatizing event, so when I finally start to feel better, the first thing I realize is that I can clearly see my ribcage and all my extra small t-shirts fit like muumuus. Like a human vacuum cleaner, I inhale every scrap of food I can find.

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From there, I transition to stage six of my recovery process.

Phase Six: No, Seriously, Eat Fucking EVERYTHING

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Perhaps it's because I'm engorged on snack cakes and riding a food-induced wave of euphoria, but before long something clicks and I almost instantly recover from my weeks of grief and anxiety. I do a complete 180, and emerge from my cocoon of despair as a chubby, happy butterfly.

Phase Seven: Acceptance and Closure

Colors become brighter, the air smells sweeter, and the forest animals join me for a musical number about baking pies or something.

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I don't know how my coping process relates to other people's, but the weeks following a split can be dark and dismal for me. I try to approach each breakup as a learning process, and I like to think I don't make the same mistakes more than once. I come out of the woods, take a deep breath, and remind myself that there are other fish in the sea, more relationships to screw up, more breakups to deal with, more lessons to learn. And possibly, hopefully, I'm closer to being the kind of person I want to be, and perhaps the next relationship will be the one that sticks.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Things Are Still OK

I'm a happy person. Really, I swear I am. Sometimes I feel the need to point this out, as most of the stories I tell are slightly depressing. I could write about having a badass picnic lunch in the park, but that just doesn't have the same bite as a tale about my brain dead cat, or the time I thought I was barfing earthworms in the shower.

It's rare that I actually get so bummed out that it significantly affects my life, and on the rare occasion that happens, it's not long before the universe sees fit to balance out my depression with something glorious and bizarre, reminding me that nothing's ever as bad as it seems.

I was in a funk recently, and I knew it was getting bad when even the homeless teens who hang out on the corner of my block started looking glamorous to me. Hell, their deathly cat looked like it was having a better time than I was.

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Just when I was teetering on the edge of despair, a girl I know told me a story that suddenly put everything into perspective. Let's call her Regina.

Reeling from a difficult breakup, Regina had found herself at a bar, drinking alone on a Friday night, half a block away from her work.

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Regina had been holding herself together in public, but this particular night apparently called for a bit of wallowing and self-medicating. At some point during the night, the memories got a little fuzzy, and upon leaving the bar, Regina remembered little else than having to pee. Knowing the state of most bar bathrooms, and being the dainty lady that she is, she opted to use her office bathroom instead.

And that's the last thing Regina remembered before the memories stopped for the night. Everything else was black.

Flash forward to the following Monday. Regina comes into work, and it's very clear somethingisn't right. Everyone in the building is confused and on edge, and there's talk of a disgruntled employee in the midst. Of course, Regina is as clueless as anyone. And then, suddenly, everything from Friday night comes flooding back.

Regina had peed, alright. Just not in a bathroom. She hadn't been able to find her key to the bathrooms, and in a frantic, drunken frenzy, she did the only thing she could think of. She peed in the giant water bottle her boss kept on her desk. She peed in it, and then she left it there.

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Regina admitted it was her. I guess it was a noble thing to do. I can't imagine how awkward the rest of that day must have been.

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Had it been me, I would have denied any knowledge of the incident. I've worked in offices before, and I know it's difficult to live these kinds of things down. When I was in high school, someone drew a giant penis on the soda machine in the break room (ok, ok, it was me) and it was months before people stopped talking about it.

Regina's boss laughed off the incident, but I think the memory of that pee bottle will haunt the office forever.

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My thanks goes out to Regina and her permission to tell her story. It was just the thing I needed to remind me I should never take my own trials and tribulations too seriously.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poor Stupid Cat

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This is my cat. Her name is Lola, and she's not all there.

When Lola was a kitten, she somehow got outside and drank antifreeze.

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She was never quite right after that. I decided to keep her indoors until she was an adult, because I didn't trust her to take care of herself outside.

A couple years later, I decided to see if I could expand her horizons beyond the confines of my house. I opened the front door and gave her a little nudge. Cautiously, she took a few steps across the yard, and then completely lost her shit. Apparently having never felt grass, she didn't know what to do with herself, and clumsily marched around the yard, howling in distress at the squishy, cool lawn beneath her feet.

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That was the last time I let her outdoors. She never showed any interest in exploring the outside world, so I figured it wouldn't be a problem. But as the years progressed, Lola started to lose her little mind completely.

Like a lot of cats, Lola liked to sleep in the sink. Unlike other cats, Lola didn't seem to notice when the faucet was running, and would plop her fat self down in the sink regardless. One night I was brushing my teeth before bed, and the phone rang in the other room. I went to answer it, and by the time I came back a few minutes later, Lola was nearly submerged in a sink full of water, almost defiant in her determination to stay put.

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As time progressed, Lola developed a sort of guard dog mentality, growling quietly at company and stalking them as they moved from room to room. Unfortunately, she had a hard time differentiating between strangers and myself, and on occasion she'd attack me. Sometimes when I'd get out of the shower, she'd snap into wildcat mode. I figure it's because I didn't smell like someone she knew, which caused her to view me as prey.

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Back when she was a kitten, unfettered by the sweet allure of engine coolant, Lola's hunter instincts served her well. If she spotted a bug or moth on the ceiling, she'd rapidly climb the nearest bookshelf or floor lamp to get closer to it–or if it was more convenient, she'd dig in her claws and climb the nearest human.

She still does this from time to time, always suddenly and without warning. Sadly, she's too dumb and too fat to climb very high, so she just launches herself partway up my back and then hangs there, exhausted, like a lump of furry bread dough.

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She's pretty much a worthless cat, and it sort of bums me out. Sometimes when I see her staring up at a moth on the wall, confused and forlorn, I'll lift her up so she can reach out with her fat paws and grab at it. I feel like I'm helping her maintain some sort of feline decorum in this way.

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Even then, I have to hold her right in front of the moth before she'll grab at it. More often than not she just bats at the air and yowls, but every so often she'll succeed and stuff the moth in her mouth.

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I left home when I graduated from high school, so Lola lives with my mom now. Whenever I call home, my mom always has new stories to tell me about Lola, or as my mom likes to call her, "that stupid braindead cat of yours who I'm going to murder with a steak knife if she keeps biting my ankles." My mother tells me that she can't put hand lotion on before bed anymore, because Lola panics at my mom smelling different, and has to lick off all the lotion before she'll settle down and leave my mother alone.

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I remind myself that pet ownership is for life, even when your pet is a barely functioning lump of fur and claws. You have to stick it out and take care of your stupid animal forever, or until you move away from home and pawn it off on an unsuspecting family member. Then, it's just a matter of time before your mom calls you to tell you your dumb cat wandered into a woodchipper, and that she's buying a poodle.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Little Hurdles

I've been cutting my own hair since I was 16. Not because I'm particularly good at it, or out of some DIY work ethic, but because I have trouble relinquishing control to a barber. When I went off to college, it became a matter of necessity, as a trip to the hairdresser was completely out of my meager price range. I remember one week I was so poor I had to steal dinner rolls from the school cafeteria. Yes, like Aladdin.

I became pretty good at it, and I found if I made sure to give myself a trim every couple weeks or so, I could keep my hair in check and maintain the false illusion of a halfway put-together human being. This is how it's been for the past seven years.

A couple months ago, I somehow managed to lose control of my hair completely. I waited a bit too long to cut it, and it crossed the line into unmanageable. I was afraid of cutting it myself in fear of looking like a mental patient who got his hands on a pair of scissors, so for a while I simply embraced it and let it grow–mostly out of curiosity, since my hair has never been long. But after a while, the joke that I was going for a Justin Bieber look grew stale, and my hair just started to look ratty and ridiculous. People on the street started to look at me funny.

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Seeing as the hair situation was out of my own control, I was faced with two options. I could man up and make an appointment at a salon, or I could go the easy route and simply buzz it all off. I did that once, years ago, on a whim. I was drunk, which is how all my bad decisions start.

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All I learned from that experience was that drinking scotch out of a crunk goblet was bad news, and that I had a really weird shaped head. I swore never to shave all my hair off again. Never.

I did it four more times after that.

BUT NOT THIS TIME. No, this time I was going to do the adult thing and pay a professional to take care of the situation. I made an appointment at a fancy place downtown, congratulated myself on a job well done, and took a well deserved nine hour nap as a reward to myself.

Unfortunately I didn't anticipate how stressful getting a haircut would be. It had been nearly a decade since my last real cut, and I was completely unprepared. The next day I found myself in a hydraulic barber chair, heart racing, staring down an ominous pair of silver shears, sharp and deadly as knives.

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I just couldn't handle it. For some reason putting my trust in a stranger's hands sent me into an outright conniption and I spent the next 20 minutes hyperventilating like asthmatic sea lion.

Of course, I had nothing to worry about. My hair turned out fine, despite my constant squirming and girly shrieks at watching clumps of hair fall around my shoulders. It was over before I knew it. Relieved, I paid the stylist and skipped home, positively elated at the massive life hurdle I had just overcome. I felt free. I thought, Why stop here? What else can I accomplish today?

Feeling like I was on a roll, I decided to organize my kitchen cabinets.

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Then I clipped my toenails.

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And I finally got around to finishing my Bea Arthur memorial photo collage.

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I was on top of the world. My sense of self worth soared like a comet across the night sky.

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My feeling of accomplishment carried on throughout the day. That afternoon, I strutted–nay, swaggered–down to the deli to get myself a much deserved turkey sandwich. I ordered, paid, and brought my sandwich home and unwrapped it. It flopped open on the table in front of me, and my heart sank. There it was. An olive. A fucking olive had somehow slipped into my sandwich.

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I flew into a sandwich rage.

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Everything I'd worked so hard for that day unraveled in a single moment, and all it took was a tiny black fruit to completely shatter my soul. I collapsed in a heap, surrounded by bits of turkey and spinach and onions, and bemoaned my worthless life.

For a while a laid there, drowned in silent despair, but then I got to thinking. Maybe I didn't need to let some inconsequential olive ruin my life. Maybe the world wasn't such a horrible place. I'd managed to overcome my fear of the hair salon, and that's no small feat in my book. After all, I'm the guy who breaks out in hives when it's my turn to order Chinese takeout for dinner. I realized that I get too hooked on little details, and I need to stop sweating the small stuff. And yeah, I'm sure I probably could have gathered that from a Hallmark card, but what's important is that I learned anything at all.

But I swear, if I ever find an olive in my sandwich again, I will burn this town to the ground.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloweens Gone By: A List

I was seven, and I was pumped about my wizard costume. I wore it to school. I cast imaginary spells on the teachers. Best of all, I had plans to spend the night at a friend's house after my usual round of trick-or-treating. The thing is, I'd never actually been to this kid's house before, only hung out with him at school. I knew where he lived in theory–the white house at the end of my block, so it should have been easy to find. It was literally mere feet away from my own home, so my mom sent me off that night confident her child wasn't a complete moron and wouldn't get lost somewhere between Harrison Street and the end of Harrison Street.

The dilemma arose when I discovered the white house at the end of the block was in fact a duplex. I stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do, before choosing the left half of the house and hoping for the best. The door was slightly ajar, so I simply walked in, passed the foyer, and found myself smack dab in the middle of a raging college party.

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Though completely out of place, nobody seemed to pay me much mind. One guy even complimented my costume. It didn't quite hit me that I was in the wrong house for a few minutes, but before long it became obvious I wasn't going to find my friend amidst the crowd of sloppy, flappy-tongued college kids. After narrowly dodging a falling lamp knocked over by drunk girl in a sexy Hitler costume, I hightailed it out of there. And thus was the first in a long line of shitty Halloweens.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 scary pumpkins.

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The anti-Halloween seed had been planted young, and the next year that seed took root and began to sprout. That year, my mom was out of the country and I was forced to spend the week at my grandparents' ranch out in the country. Seeing as how trick-or-treating was out of the question in the boonies, my grandmother invited over one of the other country kids so I'd have somebody to play with. Her name was Michelle, and she was fucked up.

Michelle had our evening mapped out from the start. She told me we were going to brew a magic potion out in the corn field and bring the neighbor's scarecrow to life. She warned me that the scarecrow would probably try to kill us, so I should wear sneakers with good traction. I was at that age where girls could tell me to do anything and I'd oblige, no questions asked, so I shrugged and followed Michelle out into the fields. As we walked, she explained that she knew where we could procure the perfect ingredient for our magic potion. She led me toward an old barn, and as we rounded to the back, there it was: the perfect ingredient.

A partially decomposed feral cat.

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I was positively delighted. I fell in love with Michelle right then and there.

Unfortunately, neither of us wanted to actually touch the cat, so instead we poked it with sticks for a while. After Michelle accidentally popped its eyeball, we decided our potion would have to consist of dirt, bugs, and corn husks. Using a cooking pot in place of a cauldron, we stirred together our ingredients, and Michelle began chanting under her breath. She claimed only she could cast the spell, because only she had a witch's hat, and if I wanted to cast spells too, I needed to go to Safeway and buy my own witch hat for $1.99.

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She finished her incantation and flung the ingredients up into the scarecrow's face. Nothing happened. After a few moments of silence, Michelle turned to me with her hands on her hips and declared, "This is boring. You are boring." And with that, she marched off in the direction of her own house. I never saw her again.

Over the next few days I forgot about my brief brush with witchcraft, until one morning when I went out to feed the dogs. I peered out across the fields, and noticed something peculiar. The neighbor's scarecrow, usually looming above the crops, was gone. An empty post now stood in its place. Suddenly gripped with terror, I dropped the bag of dog food and sped back into the house. I found my grandmother brewing coffee and shrieked:

"WECASTASPELLANDNOWTHESCARECROWISALIVEANDITISGOINGTOKILLMEEEEE!"

"Um. What?" My grandmother barely glanced in my direction.

"SCARECROW. ALIVE. GONNA. KILL. ME."

"Adam, don't be silly. The neighbors took down the scarecrow because the corn season is over. Now go slaughter a chicken for dinner tonight."

I calmed down a bit at her explanation, but I wasn't fully convinced. To this day I still wonder if there's a killer scarecrow out there waiting for the right moment to strike.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 spooOOOooky cats.

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I didn't give Halloween another shot until I was twelve. That year, I attended a costume party at the community center at the beach. My Thundercats costume was a hit, and it might have been a turning point in my attitude toward Halloween, if not for what ensued after the party ended. I foolishly decided to take a walk on the beach while I waited for my ride to pick me up. I'd been down that beach a dozen times before, but somehow in the dark of the night I got turned around and became hopelessly lost among the sand dunes. This was years before I had a cellphone, so I was essentially on my own. It took about two seconds for panic to set in.

I am going to die out here, I thought. Far away from the city lights, I could barely see a thing. I'd round one sand dune, hear a dog growling from the bushes, and book it in the opposite direction, only to stumble upon an angry homeless dude in a ratty fur coat. At one point I found myself ankle deep in mud, surrounded by the deafening sound of a million croaking frogs. Verging on tears, I frantically climbed atop the nearest beach dune, hoping I'd be able to gather myself and get my bearings straight.

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In what seemed like a short amount of time, I'd wandered a surprising distance. I couldn't see anything. No city lights, no street lamps, no beacon of hope. Nothing at all. But then, a tiny break in the darkness. Off in the distance, a light turned on in a window. Consumed by that light, I scrambled forward through sand, mud, and bushes, finally reaching a tiny blue house in the middle of nowhere. Dirty and delirious, I flung myself against the window, startling an elderly couple in the middle of dinner.

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The woman opened the window barely an inch and said, "...yes?"

I croaked, "Where....is...the.....HIGHWAY?" The woman pointed feebly and I stumbled away like some malnourished Swamp Thing.

Verdict: 10 out of 10 candy corns (candy corn is disgusting).

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After that I swore off Halloween altogether. The next three years in a row I stayed in and watched The Craft by myself, ignoring trick-or-treaters who knocked on my door. I most likely would have resigned myself to an eternity of resentful Halloweens, but when I was fifteen I was invited to attend The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and warily accepted on the grounds that it didn't seem like typical Halloween fare.

Unfortunately I was thoroughly confused by the concept of Rocky Horror, having never seen it before. I gathered some loose concept of dressing in drag, but beyond that I was clueless, and it showed in my outfit. I bought a conservative tan dress from Goodwill, paired it with a mousy brown bobbed wig, then somehow saw fit to top it off with a giant pair of fake tits. If I remember correctly, I stuffed a couple of grapefruits into tube socks and tied them together behind my neck, effectively creating the most massively saggy breasts known to man. Nobody told me I was supposed to go the route of fishnets and trashy lingerie. As it was, I looked like an uptight librarian.

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In spite of my loser outfit, I enjoyed myself throughout most of the night. Only a few people made snarky comments about my costume, and the rest seemed to think I was making some sort of ironic hipster statement. The night unraveled when I got up to use the restroom, and barged in on a couple of goth girls who had apparently been in the grips of a pee emergency.

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The sight of a goth chick peeing in dirty sink was the final straw and I refused to acknowledge Halloween for the next five years.

Verdict: 1 out of 5 apples with razor blades in them.

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I relented one final time when I was 20, and only at the prospect of getting laid. Invited as a date to a costume party, I reluctantly obliged and threw together a cowboy costume at the last minute. However, upon arriving at the party, I received a text from my prospective date:

sry cant make it.
dont b mad @ me k?

I spent the rest of the night sulking on the porch next to what was either a girl in a Courtney Love costume and a dwarf in a Ninja Turtle outfit, or just a drunk mother and her confused son. It's so hard to tell sometimes. At least there was free booze.

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Verdict: 3 out of 5 severed heads of lost children.

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In recent years I've returned to my holiday seclusion. I noticed The Craft is on Netflix now, making it that much easier to be a bitter old curmudgeon. Maybe I'll buy a pumpkin, sit in the dark, and stab it repeatedly with a butter knife as I spitefully recount Halloweens gone by.

Or maybe I'll suck it up and give Halloween one more shot.

So keep an eye in the papers. If you read the headline, "Portland man leaps to his death from atop the John Ross Tower in a tootsie roll-fueled sugar high, mistakenly believing that he is Amelia Earheart's lost Lockheed Model 10 Electra," then you'll know I relented, and that the Halloween spirit is still alive in my heart.

Also that I am dead.