NOVEMBER 1999 Part 1
Halloween has been wet and cold for much of the 90s. In 1991 the snow began as the trick-or-treaters were setting out; the snow did not stop. For a day. The next morning the city was buried - the streets were impassable drifts with car-sized hillocks. Every year since then people expect the snow - like dogs who got a clout on the nose the first time they hopped up on the bed, they remember the worst and expect it again. Will anyone remember the Halloween of 99 in the same way? No. But it was just as much of an anomaly. The temperature banged its head on the rafters of the 60s today - 67,. 68. 69. It was a delight to pass some poorly-calibrated bank readout and see the temp at 71. In this part of the world, such a day is a boon, a bushel crop, a free refill, an extra frame at the bowling alley, a third trip to the buffet, one more day in Tahiti because the plane wasn’t ready.

Spent the day outside, of course - carved a pumpkin on the porch under the watchful eye of the dog, who had decided that this somehow met the absolute minimum criterion for a Potential Food Situation. It was hot on the porch; I changed into a short-sleeved summer shirt, my beloved ragged Hawaiian shirt. (Sara shrieked when she saw it: I thought it was dead! Ah, it’s Halloween; all sorts of evil things rise from the crypt of the hamper. Draped a tree with the ceremonial pumpkin lights. Drove to the store for steaks, grilled in the early dusk, then prepared for the annual onslaught.

Halloween is rough on dogs. Jasper goes bezoomy when someone shows up at the door, so we took turns restrains him while the other doled out the treats. The first wave was young, and varied between sweet and vacant - a few piping Thank Yous but mostly they just wanted to grab loot and get back to Dad on the sidewalk. Then a few older kids came, and they couldn’t use infancy as an excuse for their lack of gratitude. Grab and stuff and turn and go.

“What do you say?” I asked.

Nothing, was the general answer. Grrrr. Hey! I wanted to shout. I’m not obligated to do this, you know; I could be like the lady at the end of the block and just turn all the lights off and sit in the basement.

A kid comes to the door in a white bathrobe.

“Hey! It’s Annakin Skywalker!”


“You’re . . . a karate expert.”

He shrugs and grabs a fistful of candy. I hurled him into the bushes.

Well, I wished I had.

I handed the duty over to Sara, and took Jasper for a walk through the neighborhood. Every other house had pumpkins, lights, jostling knots of kids on the stoop. Parents shuffled through piles of leaves, talked under streetlights. There are few greater pleasures than walking through your neighborhood on a fall night when the air is warm and people are out. This is why I live here.

Talked to Ron on the corner; he was sitting on the stoop handing out candy. Walked home - saw my neighbor Jerry across the street, sitting on the stood, handing out candy; he had a cigar going and a good cold glass of beer. We talked until the next group came along. Next door, Steve came out to sit on the stoop; two doors down, Morrie came out as w

ell. We compared treats and traffic reports.
Morrie mentioned that Mark and Pam, who live to our immediate north, were moving.

To the suburbs.


Mark was just coming up with the walk with his infant son, so I went over to upbraid him, insult him, and request that he sell the house for a lot of money. I told Sara; she was crestfallen - good neighbors are rare, and now we’ll never see their little daughter grow up. (I was thinking I’d miss Maggie, their big dumb adorable dog.) Back outside - a few more neighbors had gathered. Gossip, news, stories - has XX gone inside yet? He’s the Great Pumpkin every year. We all went down to see, and sure enough he sitting immobile on the porch in a costume of green vegetation he’d bought from the Guthrie Theater. He had an enormous pumpkin-head. He looked like a statue. Kids thought he was stuffed. When he moved, they nearly died.

He’s a bolt-and-nail distributor. Fine fellow.

Back to the street, a shirt-sleeves assembly - dogs sniffing, kids circling in loose orbit. Every house bright, every stoop splashed with light, pumpkins glowing in the margins of the shadows.

This is why I am going deep into debt to remodel Lileks Manor. I’d be a fool to leave this street.

Now it’s after midnight - Halloween is technically over, but it’s times like this when it seems to be just starting. It is utterly silent outside; the planes are done, the wind has dropped to a long slow sigh. Nothing moves. This is the time to go outside and stand on the sidewalk,look at the flickering faces of the pumpkins, and wonder whether they’re laughing at something you can’t quite see.

Not that they’d tell you.

Not that I’d want to know.

Will anyone remember the Halloween of 1999, when it didn’t rain, or snow, or blizzard, but when everything was just absolutely perfect in the most ordinary fashion?

Of course we will. Of course.

11-02-99 This being a Monday, it’s a 14 minute bleat. GO:

There are 14 pots of flowers still alive on the back porch. Half, or more, will be dead by tomorrow morning if the weather predictions are correct. Yesterday: 70. Tonight: 22. It’s cold out there now - just went outside, and saw the bare trees waving back and forth against the black sky as if they were attempting to remember the words for the spell that summon winter. They’ll recall the incantation eventually. Not tonight; not tomorrow. But in a week I expect cold rain, sleet, then snow; in two weeks I expect a thin skin of ice to glaze the lawn; in three I expect an inch. Sometimes you want the brutal fist to crack you in the jaw and knock some sense into you - this fall has been so pure and mild that snow will seem a shock no matter when it comes. I say bring it on. Now. All of it. Let’s go.

Jasper killed a mouse today. I came home from work and he greeted me with excitement - led me to the living room and stood over a dead mouse. It was a horrible sight - shriveled claws, mouth twisted in bitter death, eyes clamped shut. I examined it and concluded it had been licked to death. Not a cute mouse; not a fluffy little baby mouse. Damn near rat status, really. The bastard had gorged himself on our bread for weeks, and had ventured out fat and confident on the wrong day. I can only imagine the titanic struggle - dog vs. mouse, fighting in the dining room, chair legs towering like denuded oaks, the leafy pattern of the rug a mocking commentary on the age-old battle that once was played out on the forest floor. Dog: 1. Mouse: 0.

He was so happy. I think. I don’t want to project here, but he knows what the word “mouse” means (say it, and he runs to the baseboard, and sniffs.) Hearing the word “mouse” in conjunction with the odorous corpse and my glee must have assembled and equaled Joy. I took it outside, grabbing it by the tail with - O irony! - a mousetrap. Jasper trotted along side, watched me throw it into the bushes. He barked once: so there.

That was the highlight of the day, really. It’s been this and that, none of which bears repeating. Went to work. Wrote. Came home. Installed “Roller Coaster Tycoon” to review it, and spent three hours making roller coasters. Typical sim - you can’t just borrow huge sums and build a great amusement park. You have to progress through various levels to earn money, advance to higher challenges, etc. At least it allows you to rename all your rides - and the names you choose show up on the marquees. I named my kiddie ride “Krappy Krazy Kars,” which duly appeared on the marquee; it was gratifying to query a customer and learn “I didn’t like the Krappy Krazy Kars.” My Haunted House is the House of Insufficient Thrills; theunderwhelming roller-coaster is the Whoopdie-Doo. It’s really a delightful game, though. And since I have to review it - and finish my Newhouse column - AND finish the weekly site update (it’s the old bus depot this week - a classic Moderne beaut) I must now stop and return to work. More tomorrow. Sorry for the thin content, but better less than none.



11-03-99 Here’s what I’ve done to this house since we moved in. I redid the kitchen - full paint job, rehabilitation of the Hee-Haw cupboards, new light fixtures. In the adjacent hall: new paint. In the sunporch: painted all the built-ins. (They were from the 50s, featureless items that weren’t ruined by a good coat of paint.) I built a stone path in the backyard, installed a cement bench that I sit on four times a year just because I installed the damn thing. Excavated a patch of grass and built a small tiled area for the grill.

Here’s what will be destroyed in the renovation:
The kitchen.
The adjacent hall.
The sunporch built-ins.
The stone path.
The tiled area.

This weekend I finish the basement, where we will be living during much of the addition. Also destroyed at the end of the renovation:

My basement.

Reasons for doing this: well, many. But one of the big reasons is the tax advantages I’ll get from a bigger mortgage, and while I am happy to take that it