trailer 2

My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

[Transcript from an interview exclusive to The Nervous Breakdown.]

Milton: Since Halloween was last night, and October 31st is his birthday, I am here talking with Satan, on Skype, from his holiday villa Pandaemonium deep in the depths of Hell. Satan, let me first wish you a Happy Birthday!

Satan: Gee-wiz, thanks, John. So kind of you to call. I am touched, really, I am. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. And may I say you look marvelous for a 400-year-old? What is your secret? Who is your surgeon? You could pass for a teenager. It must be the poetry—Paradise Regained.

From galencurry.com:

Galen Curry honed his skills as a musician in the most intuitive way: by playing music whenever and wherever possible. He [has] played in jazz combs, chamber singing groups, wedding bands, and wind ensembles. He has toured the Eastern Seaboard with a rock [outfit] and Eastern Europe with a concert choir. For years, Galen front Upstate New York alt-rock band The Beds and Virginia funk-rock ensemble Ultraviolet Ballet, and it was with these bands that he began to find his voice as a songwriter.

Galen’s musical talents are now focused on a burgeoning solo career. Based out of a vibrant Charlottesville, Virginia, music scene, Galen honors his southern heritage with unmistakably American tunes that supplement his singular tenor with clever lyricism and upbeat rootsy instrumentation, but it is his penchant for heartfelt and rollicking live performances that definitely set him apart from the crowd.

To be fair, it was dark, and he might not have been a zombie.

He lurched and lunged like a zombie, albeit a post-Romero zombie.  Herky-jerky twitching between lulls of ominous looming.  Never more than an inch from my face, he demonstrated a blatant disregard for the persnickety personal space issues of the living.

I don’t have many memories from kindergarten. I remember Paul Angelos, heavyset and Greek and the first bully our class ever encountered¹, scrawling a curse word on the side of our bright red plastic playhouse. I remember guiltily stealing an intricately-detailed toy space shuttle that had been die-cast from some kind of dense metal – I stowed it in my palm and could still hide it completely by closing my fingers, such was its size, and yet it had considerable heft, and dragged at me in my pockets as I walked out of the gate and home. I remember also a night one December when my father read Christmas stories to a group of us as we sat cross-legged in pajamas around his chair; what stands out most in my mind is that it was the first time I’d heard ‘Saint Nick’ used as a sobriquet for Santa Claus.

Kindergarten.Snack-time.Children quietly convey Chex mix softly rattling across paper plates to their desks.And the one with a wooden chair on her head, a cup half-filled with orange juice balanced on the seat, dancing the Steve Martin “wild and crazy guys” shimmy?That’d be me.Minutes before, I’d told some joke the other kids laughed at.It was all the encouragement I needed to spring my inner funny on them full tilt, let loose and be the me I was at home, the me who invented the make-the-corpse-laugh game and kept a rubber-worm fishing lure in a box with holes cut in it.What could be funnier than that?Except maybe a five-year-old shimmying with a chair on her head balancing a cup of orange juice.

On October 31, 1984, I hopped into a Datsun
with three other boys and cruised
the neighborhood next to the Country Club
just to see what the rich kids dressed like on Halloween.
No one believed I’d jump out the car window
and press the point of a dull, four-inch blade
against that chubby kid’s belly and tell him
Hand over the bag. I was a good Catholic boy;
I wanted to convert the disbelievers. So my threat to cut
that kid down was quick: I flashed a five-dollar balisong
and my best altar-boy smile. I don’t care
what you say. New Jersey is beautiful at dusk. In winter
I love the insinuation of its cities through snow,
as if the white contours can’t hold all our dangers down;
the stiff chimneys sear into the sky a hole the size
of your hand, the portal, perhaps, through which heaven
snatches up small children or sends down vivid dreams
of butterfly knives and rich boys swinging bags
full of sweets. Come on. People go missing
all the time. No one cries for them. Even if I give you
the neighborhood back, the country club, the rich fat kid
dressed like C3PO. Listen: I’ll give you the whole bloody
New Jersey sky, that night, starless, magnificent. It don’t matter,
because somewhere in the world I still brandish a knife,
though I go by another name, and with three of my friends
I’ve disappeared into the smoke of a banged up
Japanese import. I keep thinking if I just tell the story
again out loud, I could bring us all back to make things right,
but there’s no trace, no knife, no stick-up kid or three boys
shamed into silence.  I’m telling you, I hopped
into the Datsun and threw the bag of candy in the backseat
giggling. My friends said nothing. We were afraid of nothing —
for we were reared by a generation that could make
whole nations simply vanish. And like any good crew,
we kept waiting for an angel to come down through
a hole in heaven the size of a hand made in god’s forsaken
image and shackle us to each other for good. It’s no use.
You can retrace every inch of all the places I’ve ever been.
Trust me. I’ve looked. We’re nowhere to be found.

My friend, Melissa, and I dressed up to look silly when we went to the hospital on Halloween. We do it every year because the kids get a kick out of it and we really are up for anything to spice up the day.

(One time I really blew it dressing up on Halloween to go to the old folks home with Brooklyn, my Therapy Dog. I dressed to the nines as Raggedy Ann. I had it all, down to the red and white horizontal striped tights and red shoes. The residents at the home are four-fifths from Cuba and one fifth from Russia. Not a soul had any idea who I was supposed to be. It turns out that Raggedy Ann is an American phenomenon. It had always seemed so universal to me. They thought I was nuts, but they didn’t care, because Brooklyn was with me.)

In any case, this year Melissa and I were fancy rich ladies. My name was Miss Bling and Melissa was Miss Bling-Bling. We aren’t allowed to take pictures of anyone at the hospital, so I will just show you some of the stuff I had on.

Here are my prostitute shoes. I love them. Get a load of the size of the rhinestones on the pink flip-flop leather! And the soles! Are they beautiful, or what? I’d wear a dress made out of that fabric! It’s just a shame that you have to cover it with your feet. I actually wear them when I go out, because, when you are my age, no one pays any attention to you, so you don’t need to fret about what other people think. You can dress as crazy as you like. I think these are glorious shoes. This view is from the top.

This view is from the side, so that you can see the subtle leopard print and the lovely silver heels. My daughter, Lenore, says that they might as well be clear. She’s a snide one, Lenore is.

These are the pieces of rhinestone jewelry that I have left from my girls playing dress-up with their friends when they were little.

I wore every single piece. I was covered in rhinestones.

I have some fabulously gaudy hair clips. Here is a picture of just one of my many hair clips.

Here it is from the top.

When it comes to flashy, I do not fool around.

I wore as many ostentatious clips as I could fit on my head. Melissa even wore some, since she somehow lost her tiara between the parking lot of the hospital and the hospital itself. She was resplendent in her own jewelry, pink feather boa and long white gown.

We saw quite a few kids that day and had lots of fun with them. As we were walking into a new area, we met a mom carrying a weeping boy who appeared to be about six. The mom asked us where she could get a wagon, and she was delighted to hear she just had to go around the corner and pick one up. When they came back around with the boy riding in the wagon, he was no longer upset. He was a really beautiful child, with olive skin and stark black hair with a touch of wave. The little boy had a scar on his chest and a large, squarish lump under his skin.

We played with him for quite a while. He was smiling a lot by then. I remarked how adorable kids looked when they lose a front tooth.

“Oh he didn’t lose that tooth the regular way,” said his mom. “He lost it when he hit the sidewalk during a dropdown seizure. In fact, that’s why he was crying before. He had a seizure in bed and he doesn’t like the medicine he has to take when that happens.”

“Ah,” we said. We are not allowed to ask any questions. We just listen and play.

We had lots of puffy boy stickers for him to stick on various things like door hangars and visors. (You would be surprised the variety of stickers nowadays. There are stickers obviously meant for girls and some meant for boys. Then there are the ones for just kids in general, like zoo animals and dinosaurs. Also, stickers are made for an amazingly broad age group. There are huge, toddler stickers all the way to super cool My Little Kitty and sports and superhero stickers for the older kids. This is not even counting the scrapbooking stickers that are selling like hotcakes to adults. We all should have bought stock in the sticker companies before all our money evaporated last year. I’ll bet the sticker companies are still doing just fine.)

The particular stickers we were using this time are difficult to use for tiny fingers, since you have to peel off the paper on the back of them and it is hard to get your fingernail under the paper to get it started. I told the little boy that we could help him while we were playing with him, but when he was playing with them later, he might have to ask his mom for help peeling the paper off the backs of the stickers.

“Use your left hand,” the mom said.

“Kids don’t usually like to use the hand on which the nurses tape the board so that the IV stays in place,” explained Melissa.

“Oh, it’s not that,” said the mom. “He recently had his right brain removed, so he does not know he has a left side. I keep trying to encourage him to notice it. The doctors say it takes a long time for the left brain to begin to control the half of the body it does not ordinarily control.”

This dark, delightful boy needed the wagon because he did not know he had a left leg. He needs to learn to walk again. He needs to discover that he has a left side.

No amount of bling will teach him that.



Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-11-02 09:52:10

Could he talk?

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:16:19

Just a bit, but he could have just been shy.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:04:34

After talking to Melissa and thinking it over, we don’t remember his speaking at all, but I don’t know if that were because he had not yet learned to speak or was just being shy. He did seem very shy. He sure cheered up after the wagon and the attention and books and crafts.

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Comment by Rob Bloom |Edit This
2009-11-02 09:53:02

I volunteered at a hospital for a while and the kids used to love Halloween. Thanks to people like you, Irene, who made the day special. I really enjoyed this piece.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:17:01

Thanks, Rob.
It’s a lot of fun to do.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-11-02 09:56:41

“He recently had his right brain removed, so he does not know he has a left side. I keep trying to encourage him to notice it. The doctors say it takes a long time for the left brain to begin to control the half of the body it does not ordinarily control.”

We go through life wanting more and more, and upset because our desires exceed our grasp. Yet others have had part of their brain removed. In this season of shopping, it is useful to keep in mind what is really important.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:19:56

Volunteering reminds us that whatever troubles we have, they fade in the shadow of those of others.
There are so many people who need attention desperately and yet at the same time there are so many people bored with their lives. If only we could get these groups of people together, both would benefit.

Comment by New Orleans Lady |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:15:48

Touched my heart. Stories like this help me to keep things in perspective when I’m otherwise falling apart. Thank you.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:21:12

I’m the same way, New Orleans Lady,
volunteering gives me the perspective I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:19:02

A Fidel Castro costume would probably be recognizable to both groups. . .

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:23:25

Brilliant as usual!
Next Halloween I will be Fidel Castro and everyone will know me.
(The only problem I foresee is those Cuban-Americans who are not quite sure of reality anymore. I don’t want them to try to assassinate me!)

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-11-02 11:44:15

Probably a bad idea (sigh).

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Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:22:12

Bless you for doing this, Irene.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:25:18

Eh, Matt,
I do it for myself.
Otherwise I’d be a puddle of angst.

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:34:38

Oh my.
Thanks for giving me some, Irene.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:41:31

we all need it, every one of us.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:05:13

I’m with the awesome Zara on this: perspective, yes. But, you know, I don’t find Lenore snide at all. And I’m with you on Raggedy Ann: who knew she was only famous in America?

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:19:59

Oh Duke,
I’m only razzing Lenore. She knows. She does the same to me. You can only do that to people you adore. It’s sort of a game between us. You don’t have to worry.

I’m really glad that you didn’t know Raggedy Ann was only American too. You can imagine how stupid I felt dressed up like a huge rag doll and no one there had any idea why. Lucky I had my trusty dog with me!

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Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:36:26

Well, I referred to Raggedy Ann in my novel by way of describing a fixed smile, and now I learn this is meaningless to everyone outside the U.S.

But I’m sure those at the home thought you were a clown — an adorable clown, as the photos prove. And it’s touching to see you clasping hands with the (presumably Russian) woman in the second of the two photos.

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-11-02 14:03:21

We have Raggedy Ann in NZ. isn’t her boyfriend Raggedy Andy?

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-11-02 14:11:57

Correct you are. But they look like twins. God, what a pair of narcissists.

Awesome comment, by the way.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:42:39

Oh, Good! Now I can wear the outfit in NZ! Duke, you can be Raggedy Andy!
(We can be narcissists if we try….)

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-11-02 16:59:31

you don’t even have to try, mom.

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-11-02 17:15:30

Yes, you can both come to NZ dressed as Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. Everyone will know you right away. How about Holly Hobby though? Do you know her??

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:28:44

Holly Hobby was just a cute figure that they sold in porcelain and pictured on greeting cards, etc, as far as I remember, but I was in Italy until I was 10 so I may not have paid attention.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:32:23

I’m sorry my reply to you is so far away from your comment!
I’m sure anyone who didn’t know a reference would google it.
That’s what I do. I think everyone does that now.
No worries.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:06:24

Oh, and Duke?
Did you see Lenore’s comment? She razzes me right back. Pay attention in the future and you’ll notice it.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:24:36

Okay, I’m sorry, but it’s really early and I haven’t eaten in two days so that’s my excuse.
(I wish we could put these replies under the comments.)
That lady was indeed Russian. She didn’t respond to anyone. I was very excited because, even though she never even noticed my dog, she would look at me and if I spoke to her long enough and held her hand and rubbed her arm, after awhile she would actually look right at me and smile. The people there said that they had never seen her smile before. It was one small triumph in a world of pain.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-11-03 14:16:47

I did, of course, notice the exchange between you and Lenore. I wasn’t trying to imply that it wasn’t a two-way street.

Your story about the Russian lady is like the one about the princess who wouldn’t smile. Thank God for small triumphs, yes?

I’m not sure about dressing like Raggedy Andy, however, though some might argue that I already do.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 17:44:32

In all the pictures I’ve seen of you, you appear to be quite dapper.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-11-04 23:29:30

Buy that woman a drink!

Comment by Melissa(Irene’s friend) |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:39:51

Miss Bling, we did good that day. Actually the week before too. We could take our show on the road.


Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:42:16


A good idea at first, but then, you know we could never leave our dogs!

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-11-02 10:59:28

as i always say, one man’s bling is another man’s sling.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 12:28:57


Comment by jmblaine |Edit This
2009-11-02 11:12:29

teach me
to write like this

the descriptions
were perfect
not too much
not too little
not telling
leaving the reader
to feel it
for themselves

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 12:26:13

I am no one

is no one
to teach?

I see and
I feel and
I touch and
I hear
I tell the story

no one
is a

a writer

is not

Comment by jmblaine |Edit This
2009-11-02 20:10:43

I am the
is not

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:13:23

is the

no one
to absorb
how to

2009-11-03 17:34:46

I’m nobody
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?

You guys are a pair of Somebodies.

2009-11-03 17:35:20

BTW, my daughter used to recite that poem all the livelong day the year she was 4. Do you think I should be alarmed?

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 17:45:46

You should be proud!
Knowing Emily Dickinson at 4.
Good job, mom!

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-11-02 11:42:37

From wikipedia re speech:

In most respects, the left and right sides of the brain are symmetrical in terms of function. For example, the counterpart of the left-hemisphere motor area controlling the right hand is the right-hemisphere area controlling the left hand. There are, however, several very important exceptions, involving language and spatial cognition. In most people, the left hemisphere is “dominant” for language: a stroke that damages a key language area in the left hemisphere can leave the victim unable to speak or understand, whereas equivalent damage to the right hemisphere would cause only minor impairment to language skills.

A substantial part of our current understanding of the interactions between the two hemispheres has come from the study of “split-brain patients”—people who underwent surgical transection of the corpus callosum in an attempt to reduce the severity of epileptic seizures. These patients do not show unusual behavior that is immediately obvious, but in some cases can behave almost like two different people in the same body, with the right hand taking an action and then the left hand undoing it. Most such patients, when briefly shown a picture on the right side of the point of visual fixation, are able to describe it verbally, but when the picture is shown on the left, are unable to describe it, but may be able to give an indication with the left hand of the nature of the object shown.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 12:12:51


So it was lucky that the right brain was the one excised.
I spoke with my friend Melissa. Neither of us can remember his saying anything. However, he did seem to be very, very shy. I do not know if he could not speak yet or if he was too shy to speak.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-11-02 12:46:04

I first learned about left/right brain issues in Mr. Treese’s AP psychology class. He also told us that sometimes the connection between the two sides needed to be severed.

I remember thinking it would make a good short story. Something along the lines of two inner monologues, describing their distrust of the other person in the room and their plans to escape or kill the other, and then it turns out they are just different sides of a disconnected brain. (Get on that Lenore.)

Anyway, that kid is going to have some awesome stories when he gets older, not the least of which will be his run in with the queen of the gypsies.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:02:57

YOU should write that story, Ben. You thought it up and you are a good writer!
Get on it. I’ll bet you’d find it to be fun to do.

Queen of the Gypsies – oh yeah, I like that!

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:59:28

There was an excellent House episode not dissimilar to this story idea.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:30:13

I missed that one! I love watching that show with Victor because he gets so upset about the incorrect and absurd medicine practiced on the show. Half the fun is listening to Victor rant.

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Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-11-03 12:45:59

Phillip K. Dick wrote an entire book centered around this concept, called A Scanner Darkly.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 17:47:52

Thanks, Matt,
I didn’t know that.
It goes on the next ordering list!

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-06 02:32:11

Just downloaded Dick’s novel on my kindle for our next trip.
Thanks for the suggestion, Matt!

Comment by Jessica Hand |Edit This
2009-11-02 12:53:37

That is fascinating, removing an entire half of brain. Thanks for making me ponder, Irene. )

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:15:01

Oddly enough, this is not a rare procedure.
I am surprised every day.
(I also ponder….)

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:15:37

I just quit a volunteer job this summer. More and more I find it hard to look at the burdens of others and simply say, “there but for the grace of God”. Now, I take all that suffering home with me and its too much to fit in a wagon.

I’m glad you’re a volunteer, Irene. We need folks to bring smiles and keep a positive perspective.

And I love your shoes.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:24:43

Welcome back, Josie!
Where have you been?
I confess that of the three places I volunteer, the old folks home is really a trial for me. I keep seeing me and my husband lined up in wheelchairs in front of a flat screen TV speaking in Spanish for years until we die. Scares the piss out of me. I need two of those suicide pills the spies use in movies.

The shoes! Aren’t they glorious? I can’t get enough of them. Thanks for liking my shoes, Josie!

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:32:46

i hope you took a picture of yourself before getting to the hospital because i must see you as mrs bling

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:43:41

The pictures all include the hospital smock which can’t be photographed.
You just have to use your imagination.

2009-11-02 13:37:18

Oh, Irene. You have lifetimes of good karma, buckets of it… forever and ever. Your story reminded me of something my grandmother used to say to get me out of a self-indulgent rant: Is anyone sick? Is anyone suffering? Is anyone dying? If not. You’ll survive.
What a necessary and moving perspective your piece offered.
I cannot imagine what a fine line it is to bring joy and not pity to this heartbreaking situation. You achieved this and then some, Irene.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:45:27

You get older, you get perspective.
I had NONE when I was young.
Absolutely none.
I’d love your grandmother!

Comment by Frank |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:52:25


Short and sweet, or maybe not so sweet, per se… but good. I’ll add my kudos for compassion, and your gracious good works.

But who gives a crap about whether or not you were recognized as Ms. Ragged Ann? You showed up colorfully (sp?) dressed to the nines with Faithful Fun Dog in Tow, and as usual, dispensed understanding (tho’ you may not have understood) and cheer in copious abound. You made people smile, maybe even ask a question of two when otherwise they’d’ve just sat there another day… Who could ask for anything more?

And this year -where is the picture of U2 in the parking lot, pre-Tiara termination??? Would that we could see the fabulous you! Nobody but the two of you would have been photographed, and we’d be far richer (um -how’s THAT for a euphemism?) for the experience.

The shoes, as fabulous as they were (are still, I imagine) were wonderful, save one small thing: I may quibble, but it’s an important one! They were pictured downside up. Try as I might (and I’m mighty trying, just ask Victor) I couldn’t get past the font to decipher what was writ not quite large. I copied the shot and inverted it -and it was good, Irene, good… And fit Ms Bling & Ms Bling Bling to a T.

As for your young friend, it’s interesting -that we can have so much excised, and still function with some help to start so amazingly well, all things considered… I recall reading about corpus callosum clips and what they can lead to, as Ben alludes and Marcia reports, in terms of, literally, left hand not knowing what the right hand’s doing… One “side” -and it’s sensory apparatus, in a person with a ’separated brain’ can often feel an object, like a sphere or cube -a small ball or a kid’s block, and know what the wto are and know their similarities and differences by touch, but with hands figuratively tied behind one’s back, they eyes do not recognize those differences, nor, sometimes, the names associated with each.

Let us hope that the marvel that is the brain will begin its internal reeducation with that small boy ‘in mind’, and may he, in the not too awfully distant future, learn to pull that wagon, instead.


Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:41:12

Yet another person weighing in on the fabulousness of my prostitute shoes! Hooray!
I noticed that was upside-down, too, but since I have my colonoscopy this morning, I was on a two day prep and had only short spurts of time (excuse the pun,) to put the whole thing up. I thought it would only bother me. It says “TOO MUCH” on the arches and “ENOUGH” on the toes.
We had on our official smocks in addition to the costumes, so we couldn’t photograph it.
I guess I sort of looked like a clown to the old folks. They seemed pretty confused by it all, though.
When a brain is young it heals itself pretty quickly, I hear.
Even as an adult, if someone loses, say, an arm, the part of the brain that controls that arm morphs into controlling something else.
If I had another life, I’d’ve loved to be a brain researcher.

Comment by Frank |Edit This
2009-11-02 13:54:41

Oh -and no, do NOT go as Fidel. The old folks wouldn’t like it, methinks, and the young ones probably wouldn’t care. Besides, I’m sure you don’t look good in a red-white-and-blue oversized running suit…

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:44:37

There are no young ones at the old-folks home, with the exception of the unfortunate young people who stroked out.
You’re right, of course, the Cuban-Americans hate Fidel with a passion, second only to Jimmy Carter for his behavior there, championing the human rights there. Everyone he was speaking about was put in prison after he left, but he never said a word about it when he came home.

2009-11-02 14:00:59

Dang, Irene. Those are some stylin’ prostitute shoes! I wanna go shoe shopping with you the next time you’re here in LA.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:45:11

Oh, Honey,

Comment by Pamela Norinsky |Edit This
2009-11-02 14:39:18

Sure makes you realize that we really should’nt complain. Bless you for bringing some happiness into other peoples lives. You are a good soul !!! You do make a cute raggedy ann.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:46:32

I looked ENORMOUS! It’s a HUGE white tent-like thing over the red stuff, I looked like a manatee in drag!

2009-11-02 15:11:11

As Zara and Duke have both said, yep, talk about perspective…

And, of course, the realisation that if I’m ever to out-bling you, I need to bring it.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:47:37

Oh Lordy but you do, Simon!
I’ve got the corner on bling here.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:20:00

you could make a picture board photo or painting for the kids that can not or are relearning speech.. with your eye, relearning would be magical.. Please do not take the bling and bling-bling- on the road retro is in even in well seasoned ladies caw

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:49:58

That’s a really good idea, but it’s a rare and VERY ill kid who stays more than a couple of weeks in the hospital now. If you see one several weeks in a row, that is not a good sign.

2009-11-02 15:37:48

You are an amazing and great person!
I love the outfit. Love the shoes. Love that you do this.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:51:07

Jessica Anya,

I LOVE to dress up.
I might do a piece on that someday.
(Of course, I can’t hold a candle to Rich.)

Comment by Mary |Edit This
2009-11-02 15:44:54

Oh jeeze. This kills me. You are such a joy to read… Thanks for bringing this boy to us.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:53:21

The great thing is that after all this trauma, he’s really going to be alright. He just needs time and physical therapy. Isn’t that phenomenal?

Comment by Mary |Edit This
2009-11-03 10:19:57

Yeah, actually, that IS amazing. )

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Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-11-02 17:01:20

hey! that’s MY rhinestone jewelry! i want it back!

thanks for doing stuff for the kids and everything.

i want my rhinestone jewelry.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:55:01

First it was mine, then it was Sara’s, THEN it was yours.
Now it’s mine again until my first granddaughter starts to play dress-up.
I had a great deal more of it after Sara than after you. I have no idea how you lost so much.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-11-02 17:03:44

also, what the hell is “my little kitty?” isn’t it “my little pony” or “hello kitty?” i know dad calls both of them “my little pussy” but i don’t know what “my little kitty” is. i think i want one.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 00:56:24

I always make that mistake. I mix up the kitty with the pony.
It’s Hello Kitty. You’re right.
(Unfortunately, you are also right about dad’s use of “My Little Pussy.”

2009-11-04 10:47:24

My Little Pussy?

That is classic.

I love those shoes. They make me happy, you make me and a lot of other people happy.

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-04 13:43:30

Victor has an incredible ability to turn the sweetest things into tawdry things.
Always has.
Common knowledge, I’m afraid.

Thanks, Megan, those shoes make me happy too.
I plan to wear them over Thanksgiving when all my kids are here so I can offend them.
I do so get a kick out of that.

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-11-02 22:34:14

Not being able to ask questions must be exceedingly difficult. How can you hear a story like that and not probe?

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: you are incredible, Irene. The true definition of grace.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 01:00:47

It is REALLY hard not to be able to ask any questions. Inside I’m dying to investigate, but them’s the rules, whether I like them or not.
As it is, I had to alter certain identifying characteristics in this for the privacy of those involved.
(Am I supposed to say that at the beginning?)

2009-11-03 04:48:19

“You would be surprised the variety of stickers nowadays.”

No I would not!

Stickers are as valuable to a teacher as a red pen! You can bribe those little bastards with stickers and make them your slaves. “Don’t want to answer the question, Billy? Well, then, no stickers!” “Ok, teacher, I’m sorry…” Haha.

Stickers are awesome. I have a big set of “Flags of the World” stickers that my kids love. I send them home to my mum, who teaches in Scotland. (Korea has a way better selection of stickers than Scotland…)

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 08:43:22

I forgot all about their use in teaching. Way back when I was teaching I don’t think they had any stickers with the exception of those that you had to lick. They tasted awful and they didn’t stick for long. I did put stars on their papers, now that you reminded me. I guess that’s what “You get a gold star!” comes from.

What surprised me was their cost. They are REALLY expensive. The mark-up must be remarkably high. They’re probably all made in China for less than one tenth the price.

When I was visiting with Lonny and Lenore in LA, I went to a store exclusively devoted to stickers. You could buy them by the sheet or tear them off enormous rolls. The store was packed with people buying them.

Now I need to buy them for the kids at the hospital and also, naturally, for my grandkids. You could buy an actual toy by the amount you spend on these transitory things. But I guess the point is to get what makes kids happy, regardless of how senseless it seems to be.

I would like to get more educational stickers for the grandkids. It seems all I can find are goofy things that don’t teach them anything. The flag stickers sound just like the kind I’m after. You didn’t get them on line, did you?

How did you end up teaching in South Korea? If you told in a piece before, send me a link. I’d be interested to know. It’s not one’s usual spot for looking for a teaching job. I’d love to hear your Scottish accent. Do you sound like Sean Connery?

Comment by Richard Cox |Edit This
2009-11-03 15:05:55

This is a wonderful thing you do, whether you are doing it for yourself or for them or both. You could argue there are no truly altruistic acts in this world, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because the outcome is still the same.

I’m bleary-eyed and cranky from staring at the computer all day, but this made me smile.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 17:50:20

Thanks, Richard,
I count making you smile as a win for the day!

2009-11-03 17:37:09

This was just perfect, Irene. Just perfect. Exactly what I needed.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-03 17:53:33

I want my kids back so I can teach them Emily Dickinson too.
I feel like a failure now.
(Of course, I ALWAYS want my kids back, so it’s really not your fault.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-11-03 20:40:22

I think that, since you’re dressing up as a whore, visiting a dying sailor’s home would’ve made more sense than a dying kid one. Just sayin.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-04 04:18:20

You missed the point. The kid is going to be just fine. His brain will learn to take over the left side and he will be perfectly normal finally, whatever was wrong with him has been fixed by this. It’s about the miracle of modern medicine!

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-06 02:37:43

Oh, wait, I’m slow on the uptake here.
You, Tim, mean that since I’m dressed like a prostitute, I should go to a place where prostitutes would get the red carpet treatment, like an old sailors home.
I would have, but they ate my chickens and my bunny!
I’m afraid that I’m still holding a grudge here.

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Comment by Ed |Edit This
2009-11-05 09:51:25

Good story. Great work. Crareful about the Fidel costume. There isn’t strong sense of humor in the Cuban community about Castro. Probably be less offensive if you dressed as Jesus or the Virgin Mary.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-05 15:33:44

Yeah, Ed,
I kinda figured that out.
Better to be Jesus or Mary, though?
I don’t think they’d like that either, but Castro would undoubtedly be the worst!

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-11-05 20:21:52

Wish I could remember to always be thankful. Thank you for the reminder.

Also, those are some saucy shoes.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-06 02:38:53

oooooh, SAUCY!
I like that, Erika Rae.
I’m going to dress saucily from now on.

Comment by Ducky |Edit This
2009-11-08 17:19:15

Science is amazing. Just like that little boy. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-10 10:37:39

They are doing what amounts to miracles in the hospitals today. We were born at the right time for our children.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-11-10 09:55:22

Thank goodness for people like you. I know you’d come cheer me up with some of your stories if I needed it.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-11-10 10:38:22

You don’t need cheering up. You have the world at your feet!

I have found that it’s difficult for people to be rude to you when you’re dressed as a 5’4” hot dog.

Desperate for cash like so many others in this crap economy, I took a seasonal job this fall working as a cashier at iParty, a party supply store that sells costumes by the truckload during Halloween season. One afternoon in early October, I walked into the store looking for a costume and left with a job. The assistant manager looked over my application, saw my degrees and my years of teaching and writing experience, and said, “Yeah, you’re way overqualified. You’ll start on Thursday.”

Yes, I was overqualified. And yes, I hoped that the manager wouldn’t actually call my references, thus informing these respected individuals that I was putting my master’s degree to use as an iParty cashier.

But the thing is, I love Halloween. Love it. I love dressing in costume, I love Halloween decorations, and I love seeing other people and animals in costumes: babies, adults, dogs. Perhaps it’s the escapism from reality that I enjoy, or perhaps it’s just that I get to be a kid again and make a justified ass of myself in public, but I love walking around as a cloaked witch or a giant fairy and just tooling down the sidewalk like it’s nothing. Back home in Minnesota, only children walk around dressed up for All Hallows Eve. Here in Salem, though, tens of thousands of tourists march through the city in tens of thousands of costumes during each October’s Haunted Happenings celebration. The city even holds a pet costume contest—in the morning for cats, and in the afternoon for dogs, so as to avoid a furry bloodbath on the Common.

So that’s why I took a job that severely underpaid me: I could dress every day in a different costume and walk around showing other people cool costumes. It’d be like playtime, like I wasn’t even working.

Laura as a 5'4" hot dog.

During my five weeks’ employment at iParty, I indulged in a prolonged Halloween celebration and dressed at work as an angel, a witch, a cowgirl, a Greek goddess, a hot dog, a giant chicken, a Saturday Night Live Spartan cheerleader, the Cat in the Hat, Tinky Winky, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (complete with a stuffed Toto in a basket), the Scarecrow, Captain America, and Snow White.

Customers loved it. They joked with me. They laughed at my costumes. I flexed my foam muscles as Captain America and they giggled at my foolishness. When I rang their purchases and asked them, as instructed by my boss, “Would you like to donate a dollar to Boston Medical today to help kids in need?” they smiled congenially and said, “Oh, sure,” and, “Absolutely.”

The parents especially loved me. They told their children, “Look, honey: it’s Dorothy. Isn’t she pretty?” or, “See, baby, she’s an angel. She must have been very good today.” The kids dug me, too. They peeked over the countertop at me and smiled shyly when I asked them what they were going to be for Halloween. One toddler toddled up to me when I was in my velvet witch costume and started petting my dress. “You’re soft,” she said, and her mother, embarrassed, collected the little girl from my side of the counter.

But that was all while I was in costume. The glory days were soon to end.

Nov. 3: my last day at work.

When I walked into the store that Monday, I found that the weekend crew had gutted the place. The shelves and lowboys in the large aisle just inside the door were empty. The Halloween makeup and costumes had been put away or re-shelved in a smaller aisle to make room for Christmas décor. The glow-in-the-dark fangs, the false boobs, the trick-or-treat buckets, the sickles and swords, the naughty nurse kits, the Chuckey masks—all of it had been put away. Banished until next fall.

This devil can't afford to wear Prada.

The reason I had taken the job in the first place was gone. No more costumes = no more fun. Now it was just an $8-an-hour job bagging paper goods and shower favors for people who were too busy or self-important to hang up their cell phones during checkout.

That last morning, I donned my purple iParty t-shirt and pinned the yellow “Laura” nametag over my left breast. I felt nude. I had always been in costume at this job, so without an alter identity, I was out of place. Devoid of personality.

On my way to the cash registers from the back room, I took a police hat off the shelf and slid it down over my ponytail. It was only a halfhearted gesture, though; fifteen minutes later, I took the hat off and put it over my register’s broken credit card machine. I would live out my last day at iParty costumeless.

Not long after I let go of my costumed identity, a blonde-haired woman with a doo-rag, cloth purse, and flowy cotton skirt stepped up to the check-out counter. She looked like a hippy, so I (mistakenly) assumed she’d be friendly. I was straightening out the front displays, so I had to walk around the middle bank of registers to get to my register in Aisle One.

I gestured to the check-out counter closest to the front door. “I can help you over here if you’re all set.”

The woman rolled her eyes, annoyed that she had to walk further to pay for her paper plates. She pushed her cart over to me, a scowl set firmly in her jaw. Only slightly miffed by her rudeness, I smiled at the woman and revised my first impression: she’s not a hippy at all, but a yuppie “slumming it” in a doo-rag on her day off. I, in my purple iParty t-shirt, am apparently beneath her.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” I asked, still smiling.

She looked back at me like I was a spiteful spouse, taunting her with Round Two of an argument. She held my eyes but didn’t respond. She said nothing.

Now I was irritated.

“Your total today is $22.47.”

The woman sighed and raised an eyebrow. Were the plates too expensive? Was she bothered that she had to flip through her wallet for her credit card? Did my breath smell?

I took her Visa, slipped it through the computer, and snapped the receipt off before it stopped printing. I handed her her bag.

“And here’s your receipt,” I said. “Have a great day.”

She scowled at me one final time, took her purchases without any thanks or mutual well-wishes for my day, and stalked off through the front door, leaving her cart right in front of my register where it was blocking the next customer. Right there in front of me. It’s like when your dog craps on the carpet while looking you in the face.

When the other customers left, I stomped over to my shift manager, Tricia.

“No costume!” I said. “That’s why she was rude to me.”

Tricia looked up from her paperwork.

“This woman was totally just rude to me for no reason, and do you know why? It’s because I wasn’t wearing a costume!”

I knew my theory was right. I recounted to Tricia the yuppie/hippy woman’s scowls, her refusals to respond, and her crap-on-my-carpet final gesture of abandoning her cart in front of me, when the cart corral was only eight feet away.

“And do you know what?” I asked, not leaving Tricia time to answer. “That never happened to me once when I was in costume. Not once. I saw customers be rude to every single other cashier around me who wasn’t dressed up—even to Georgine” (who has the kindest grandmotherly demeanor and smile). “But no one was rude to me when I was dressed up. But now? I’m crap to them.”

“Jerks,” I added.

The good old days of being a giant chicken and the Cat in the Hat were gone. I was a lowly plebian again. Another cog in the service industry.

I finished out my shift halfheartedly, my ego slightly bruised, then turned in my purple t-shirt and nametag and punched out for the last time.

“You know,” I said later to a friend, still mulling over the woman’s rudeness, “I think we’d all be a lot nicer to each other if we walked around in costumes all the time. It’s like, who can be a jerk to a giant bunny?”

Many truths about human behavior elude me, but of this I am fairly certain.

Tinky Winky evoked the most laughs from co-workers.

Don your own costume and try it out. Go about your daily activities dressed as a hot dog or bumblebee, and just see how much levity you bring to the room, and how much kindness flows out from neighbors and strangers. Maybe it’s just a little dose of what we need during this tanking economy and the post-Christmas bleakness of winter.

And if you ever make your way to Salem and see a full-grown woman walking around as Super Woman when it’s not even Halloween, it just might be me. And you’ll probably see everyone around me laughing and smiling and sharing their nachos with strangers. Or finding homes for orphaned puppies. Or ending homelessness.

One can at least hope that a giant wiener could accomplish so much.

I have always loved Halloween.

There are the visuals: monster movies, baskets of brightly colored candy bars, costumes that amaze, confuse, and seduce, a full moon that shines like a spotlight upon tiny towns with gothic spires and picket fences, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns.