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The Lye-soaked Cod I Am Not Eating

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Had you been so fortunate to be a local lady friend of mine, you might have received an invitation like this:

Ladies Lefse Party
Wednesday December 12, 2012, 6:30 p – ?

Ladies hosting:
 -Robyn Parnell & Belle

Ladies Likely to be in attendance:
 -the lovely and talented you

Ladies Unlikely to make an appearance:
The Lady (and the Tramp)
Lady Marmalade
Lady Antebellum
-Michelle Obama and Nancy Reagan, or other Past and Present First Ladies
-Ladies Home Journal
The Bare Naked Ladies
-Lady Gaga

As always, your munificent, bed-bug-free hosts will provide lefse preparing accoutrements and serve lefse and Norwegian meatcakes for supper, in a festive yet pepper spray-free environment

*   *   *

I am half-Irish, tribally-speaking (as are both of my parents), but residing within approximately 25% of my genes is a lefse-loving Norwegian.  My mother’s full-blooded Irish mother married a full-blooded Norski. Perhaps it was the fabled Irish love for potatoes that was partly responsible for Bapa’s[1] love of lefse.  It certainly wasn’t her love of all things Norwegian.  Although she adored her husband, Al, she refused to allow lutefisk [2] in her house. Every December Albert J. Hole [3] succumbed to the pull of tradition and purchased a chumbucket load fragrant batch of lutefisk atthe Lutheran Ladies ® Christmas bazaar, and every December Bapa would send her husband outside, in the Northern Minnesota winter, and make him partake of the lutefisk by himself, on the back porch.

*   *   *

JR always has the best Lefse Ladies Party hat, which she custom designs for the occasion.

JR always has the best Lefse Ladies Party hat, which she custom designs for the occasion.

When I was a young–un my family’s one nod to honoring ethnicity or keeping The Olde Country Traditions ® was serving lefse and meatcakes for Christmas Eve dinner.  The feast would be prepared by Bapa and her eldest daughter, my aunt Erva,[4] who fled Spokane every year to winter in Southern California at Bapa’s house.  Although my mother loved lefse she never acquired the knack of making it.  Her children[5] have continued the lefse dinner tradition with their own families, though none with the panache and sartorial elegance as the lefse events hosted by yours truly, if I dare say so moiself.  And I just did.

*   *   *

Speaking of lutefisk and other things that stink like an eel monger’s morning breath, Oregon has once again garnered another fifteen minutes of the national news tragedy spotlight, after the mall shooting earlier this week.  TV media coverage of the tragedy saw the local stations engage in their typical, nuance-free, breathless blathering treatment (TERROR AT THE MALL!!!!) of anything they call a “breaking event.”  The news anchors’ and on-sight reporters’ desperation to fill air time, to say something (even when it’s just been a few minutes after the 911 calls came in and no one really knows what’s going on, therefore there is nothing to say) would have been comical, save for the subject matter.

An interesting sign of the times, methought:  a number of phone calls were made to TV news reporters from people who’d been inside the mall and had fled when the shooting started. Apparently, their first thought upon reaching saftey was to whip out their cell phones and share their story with the talking heads.  Several callers stated they’d seen the shooter, before they realized he was The Shooter ®.  The callers each described a young man wearing a load-bearing vest and a white mask, holding something long and rectangular (a semi-automatic rifle), running down a mall corridor.  Uh…didn’t that seem alarming, or at least noteworthy? the reporters asked the callers. “Sure, but this is Oregon,” one caller replied, “and you see a lot of strange things in Oregon.”  Another caller said he assumed the Masked Dude was running “…to join a flash mob,” or similar happening. Yep.  If you see something bizarre, assume the Portlandia crew (or Leverage or Grimm ) is filming nearby.

*   *   *

About ten years ago there was a series of events that got Oregon in the national spotlight.  There was the vacationing California family, on their way to the Oregon coast, who were stranded in the Siskiyou National Forest after the husband/father made the fatal mistake of trying to “shortcut” through a mountain range, driving a non-off road rental car on unfamiliar backcountry roads, in winter, in the snow[6]. Then there was the incident involving nine climbers on Mt. Hood who fell into a crevasse (three killed, four critically injured).  A military rescue helicopter, which had successfully plucked two of the injured climbers from the mountainside, returned for a third, tricky pickup at an altitude of over 10,000 feet.  The helicopter began wobbling – the wind had suddenly shifted, and the copter’s rotors clipped the edge of the mountain. A news crew covering the rescue operation shot spectacular the video footage, which played over and over on the national news (and which was later featured in a National Geographic Amazing Moments special), of the copter plummeting into a snow-covered ridge and tumbling down the mountainside.

By the third event, which I cannot recall, more than a few friends sent me teasing emails to the effect that my MH and I were raising our children in a hazardous territory (“what’s going on in that wacky/dangerous state of yours?”).  This prompted our son, K, to come up with a new state slogan[7]:  “Oregon – come for the thrilling recreational opportunities, stay for the rescue helicopter ride.”

*   *   *

There are several recipients deserving of the AssHat of the Week, in particular, yet another knowledge-free man in a position of power, this time a fucking judge, for the FSM’s sake.   Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson , who evidently thinks that eating paint chips is a required judicial practice, said that a rape victim whose attacker threatened to mutilate her face and genitals with a heated screwdriver didn’t put up a fight during her assault, and that if someone doesn’t want sexual intercourse, the body “will not permit that to happen.”

But all that all that lefse has put me in a more generous mood, and I’d rather salute something positive.  And so, without further ado or cursing, I promise, the Big-Hearted Big Nose Carrot Man award goes to Scarletta Press, whose awesome Director of Publicity, Desiree Bussier, is interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly about the publisher’s new emphasis on children’s literature, which will include my novel, The Mighty Quinn.

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*   *   *

The new nametag’s here!  The new nametag’s here!

Several years ago, MH received a particularly glowing annual performance review from Intel [8]. As happy as I was for him when he shared the news, it left me with a certain melancholy I couldn’t quite peg.  Until I did.

One of the many “things” about being a writer, or any occupation working freelance at/from home, is that although you avoid the petty bureaucratic policies, bungling bosses, mean girls’ and boys’ cliques, office politics and other irritations inherent in going to a workplace, you also lack the camaraderie and other social perks that come with being surrounded by your fellow homo sapiens.  No one praises me for fixing the paper jam[9] in the copy machine, or thanks me for staying late and helping the new guy with a special project, or otherwise says good on you, sister. Once I realized the source of the left-out feelings, I came up with a small way to alleviate them…sort of.

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About the nametag.  You’re at your office party, or a fund raiser for an animal rescue organization, or a neighborhood potluck, your spouse’s family reunion – you’re at an event that is primarily social and so the guest’s professions are irrelevant, and there are a bunch of people who probably aren’t acquainted with one another, so the hosts greet you with those Hello-my-name-is nametags and felt pens at the door. Summon your Andy Rooney voice for this next sentence.  Have you ever wondered, when you’re at the kind of party I just described, why some people just can’t leave their credentials behind?

Since I don’t plan on suing the guy who took the last cheese doodle from the appetizer platter, why do I need to know that you’re a lawyer?  Yes, you probably worked hard for your degree, as the other guests did for theirs, but in this venue your LL.D. is no BFD, and appending your name with those initials only serves to give the impression that your main credential is that of I.m.D. (imperious dickhead).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those attorney-haters.  Some of my best friends are lawyers.[10]  And while the legal profession is much (and often rightly) maligned and thus I chose an easy target for my example, in my experience doctors are the worst when it comes to the afore-mentioned nametag faux pas.  If the party has no relation to medicine, not even remotely, and I don’t plan on having a pap smear right here by the punchbowl, why do you think I need to know you’re a doctor?[11]

Hello, my name is

Dr. Pomp O’Ass

or

Richard Head, Ph.D.; M.D.

I custom ordered my own nametag from a local office supplies store, and it’s finally here!  As you can see, it reads Robyn Parnell, N.a.D.

As in, Not a Doctor.

Bring on the next party.  I am so ready.

Hijinka ensue.

*   *   *

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] My maternal grandmother, so nicknamed by my older sister, who couldn’t properly say “grandma” until she was in her late forties.

[2] Some ethnographers believe the preponderance of lutefish in the Norwegian diet was largely responsible for the Norwegian migration to America in the early 1800s.

[3] Yes, Hole. I wonder why my mother never considered keeping her original surname.

[4] I had an Aunt Erva.  So did you, although yours may have had a different name. Everyone has had an Aunt Erva.

[5] Her 3 daughters, at least. My brother, I dunno. Yo, bro, are you a Lefse Dude?

[6] The father died of exposure after setting out to find help. The mother and their two young girls were found alive, days later, by a helicopter pilot.

[7] Oregon’s state slogan used to be, “Things Look Different Here.” The Higher Ups ignored K’s suggestion, and in 2003 changed the slogan to, “We Love Dreamers.”

[8] He doesn’t actually work there, but they’d heard he was a good guy.

[9] Always left by the previous user, who loudly wonders who did this evil thing?!

[10] Okay, I have one lawyer friend. If only she were a lawyer-of-color, or lesbian.

[11] I like doctors, too. If only that friend of mine were a doctor, as well. A biracial, bilingual, pan-sexual, multi-cultural doctor and lawyer.

The Halloween Costume I’m Not Wearing

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What I am not wearing in this picture is the full alligator costume.  Leaving the (admittedly cute) head behind and substituting a certain distinctive black helmet, I became…I’m sorry, but there’s no turning back now…Darth Gator.

But you knew that, didn’t you?  Obi-Wan has taught you well.

You’re never too old for a good (or silly) costume. As you see, this year MH bought himself a Star Trek red shirt. What you can’t see is that he chickened out on wearing it to work.

Last year he was a pirate. My 2011 costume began with Belle doing an impressive zombie makeup job on my face and hair. With a severed limb for a prop and with notes reading Thank you,  Much obliged and I appreciate it fastened all over my blood-stained shirt and pants, I was, of course, The Grateful Undead.

MH is one handy dude with the sewing machine, and made our kids’ costumes when they were young (the itsy-bitsy spider outfit, worn by K & then Belle on their first Halloweens, was a favorite).  As the years passed Belle got into the costume-making aspect of Halloween, and used her artistic and engineering skills to collaborate with MH in producing arguably her finest costume: an ATM machine.  Belle still attends costume parties with her friends, and her fellow Oregon Zoo Teens Leadership corps throw themselves a great Halloween bash every year.  Serious Sophomore that he is, I don’t know if K participated in any of his college’s Halloween activities (and what happens in Tacoma stays in Tacoma).

Halloween, along with the Fourth of July,[1] was one of my favorite holidays when I was a child, for a simple reason. It was fun!  I eagerly awaited Wilson Elementary School’s annual Halloween carnival, even though I never won the cakewalk nor ever managed to lob the ping pong ball into one of the miniature glass bowls which housed those poor, fated-to-be-flushed goldfish. I was three times cast in key roles in the Haunted House play, won prizes for tossing the most bean bags through the ghoul’s mouth, and was awarded the Best Grade Four Costume blue ribbon when I was…wait for it…in the fourth grade.

Planning/making your costume;[2] haunted houses; trick-or-treating; feigning fondness for Butterfingers or other candy you loathed[3] so you could “reluctantly” agree to do your sister a favor and swap her in a one-for-two ratio for M & Ms…. What’s not to like?

Our neighborhood trick-or-treating was a pack affair, and traditionally began with an argument over who had to include “the little kids” (the collective pejorative for younger siblings and their posse) on their rounds.  My trick-or-treating years were way-back-when enough that you could accept homemade goods without a thought of poison candy or razor blades.  I earnestly thanked the elderly couple who gave out candy apples and the young mother who doled out popcorn balls, treats I did not care for but which made great bargaining chips for the Sweetarts I adored.  By age seven I knew who had the best candy (the people on the corner gave whole M & M bags, not the mini-size!), who had the lamest (one neighbor’s treats were orange & black pencils – okay, she was a teacher, but, pencils!?), and which house to avoid because despite the bright porch light and beckoning Jack o’ lanterns by the door, the prune-faced occupants’ response to Trick or treat! was to thrust a basket of Halloween=devil worship! Chick religious tracts in your face.

Confession: we didn’t avoid that house.  Far from it.  My T & T gang saved it for the end of our circuit, when we were tired and well-laden with candy.  Reading the unintentionally hilarious tracts — comics which looked like a collaboration between the Hagar the Horrible and Family Circus cartoonists after they’d dropped acid at a Pat Robertson rally — gave us a metabolic boost unrivaled by the most potent chocolate covered espresso bean.[4]

I don’t recall K or Belle ever receiving a religious pamphlet along with their candy; still, the barking-mad practice apparently continues.  Chick tracts are the granddaddy of religious pamphlets; you must have run across them at some point. Never had them dumped in your goody bag along with a Snickers bar? You might have noticed a pile of ’em left at a bus stop, or by the change machine in a laundromat, or planted on a dentist’s waiting room reading table, snuck in between the six months old copies of Newsweek and Good Housekeeping by a stealthy patient.

(From the Chick Tracts website) Make Halloween a Soul-winning event
While Christians should not celebrate Halloween, if you drop a Chick tract (and some candy) into their Trick-or-Treat bags, you can easily give hundreds of kids...

 It goes on. I kid you not.  An excerpt from one The Devil’s Night tract (their emphases):

 

Yuk!  Is that how Halloween got started?
-Yes, Buffy.[5] It wasn’t a fun time.  It was a night of horror!  Teens everywhere are going into both white and black witchcraft, and both really serve the devil.  You know God hates witchcraft…but witches don’t care. And when they die, they’ll end up in hell. Thank God my grandpa told me about Jesus, so I won’t be in hell with them.

*   *   *

Halloween is not the only target of the tracts’ rabid-dog wrath. There are dozens if not hundreds of pamphlets, arguing all manner of evangelical whackadoodledoodery, including the belief that Catholics are not Christians , “the papacy helped start Islam” and the Holocaust was in fact an Inquisition sled by Jesuits. In the World According to Chick, starting in the 1950s a (gasp) “beat” was introduced into popular music by The Devil ® : all rock ‘n roll acts, from Elvis to the Beatles to Motley Crue to contemporary Christian Rock, are Satan®’s tools to “destroy country, home and education.” So, you’re not a Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic, or even a rock ‘n roll fan? If you read a Harry Potter book, if you’re an Orthodox or  liberal or moderate Christian, even a conservative one who’s in favor of ecumenism, if you’re any kind of liberal or libertarian, or support gay/women’s/civil rights or have a basic understanding of science – if you are anything other than a card-carrying fundamentalist/young-earth creationist Christian, God has a plan for your life Chick has a condemnation tract, especially for you.

Trick or tract? The Halloween edition of Asshat of the Week goes to Jack Chick and all the would you like some candy, little girl? purveyors of inanity, fear and prejudice.

*   *   *

My Lutheran parents would have had a WTF?[6] response to people who trash-talked Halloween.  I say would have had, because, except for a Jehovah’s Witness friend of mine, we didn’t know any such folk.  It seems to the grown up, religion-free moi that a number of evangelical/conservative Christians consider the October 31 goings-on to be a celebration of evil. Although in my experience there is ultimately no comprehending the incomprehensible, several years ago I was curious about the origins of this myth-understanding of the day, and did an internet search on the subject.  Perusing several why-true-Christians-should-not-observe-Halloween websites, I saw that a common belief among fundamentalists is that Halloween originated from the worship of Samhain, the “Celtic God of the Dead.”

Minor major sticking point, fundies:  there ain’t never been no Celtic god named Samhain.

Samhain (“summer’s end”) was the name of the Celtic month equivalent to November. The “Feast of Samhain” on October 31 marked the end of summer and celebrated the last harvest of the year. The veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was said to become thinner on that day, and thus the spirits of the departed – those beloved to you, as well as the cranky neighbor who’d screamed, YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN PEATBOG!– could cross that boundary and walk among the living. The Celts left food at their doors to encourage good spirits and donned masks to scare away yucky ones.

I’ll take Holiday Histories for 500 dollars, Alex

The more fundamentalist the believer, the more ignorant they seem to be re a fundamental truth behind their religious observances: “Christian” holidays, in particular the biggies, Christmas and Easter, began as pagan festivals.

When the Roman Catholics came to power and spread north from Rome, they met pagan practices that had gone on for thousands of years before the Popes decided to claim divine authority and subdue the illiterate masses by dressing like the bastard spawn of Elton John and Lady Gaga.

 Early Catholic missionaries tried to convert northern Europeans to the RC brand of Christianity, and part of the conversion process was to alter existing religious festivals. The indigenous folk, whom the church labeled “barbarians,” quickly discovered that when it came to dealing with the missionaries, resistance is futile. The pagans intuitively grasped the concept of natural selection and converted to Christianity to avoid the pesky price of staying true to their original beliefs.[7] But they refused to totally relinquish their old celebrations, and so the church, eventually and quite effectively, simply renamed most of them.[8]

Pagan practices were given a Christian meaning to wipe out “heathen” revelry.  This was made official church policy in 601 A.D., when Pope Gregory the First issued the now infamous edict to his missionaries regarding the traditions of the peoples they wanted to convert. Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshipping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the Church.  Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that, instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshipping the rising from the dead of the Son of God.

In the case of what is now called Halloween, ancestor veneration had been going on with the Celt’s Samhain festival for as long as anyone could remember, and so RC missionaries incorporated a Christian connection. The day was set aside by the church: All Hallows’ Eve, to honor the dead Saints.

Sweet baby Jeeeeysus and Isis[9] sittin’ on a Ritz® !  I am, like, so having a major duh moment.  The basic intent and result of any “successful” religious missionary endeavor is in succinctly expressed by the Borg manifesto. Ya think I’m kidding? Just swap “Borg” for “Missionaries for Christ/Yaweh/Allah.”

 We are the Borg.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to service us.

*   *   *

Yet again, I digress. Time to flip the page on my Demotivators calendar.  The picture for November was, I’d wager, taken at the annual Running of the Bulls (Pamplona, Spain). Its caption has become a motto of sorts for K and I.

*   *   *

But wait, there’s more!  Just when I thought Asshat of the Week was a slamdunk….

Sliding in at the last moment, leaving skidmarks on his tighty whities, we have Washington[10] state congressional candidate John Koster.  Yet another festering turd of ignorant misogyny conservative politician running on what seems to have become the hottest Republican platform: Life Begins At Rape.  This week, in response to questions asked by a liberal activist, Koster said he does not oppose abortion when the life of the mother is in danger, but would oppose it when it involves incest or “the rape thing.”

Such astonishing crap-wipery is deserving of…oh, but really. Two Asshats of the Week, in one week?  I can’t do that. Instead, a newly-created award, Bite Me, You Horseradish-and-Batshit Crazy Yap Flapper,[11] is conferred on John “the Dickhead Thing” Koster.

*   *   *

This is too depressing — an Asshat of the Week and a Bite Me, You Horseradish-and-Batshit Crazy Yap Flapper? I haven’t even mentioned the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, nor the devastatingly dim-witted pastor who blamed gays for causing the storm. There have been, of course, many good things the past seven days have brought, including encounters with intelligent, decent, witty and kind people, the crisp air and brilliant foliage of autumn, and the simple yet profound pleasure derived from watching your daughter turn a really big pumpkin into a really awesome angler fish jack o’lantern, complete with lure:

*   *   *

And so the season marches on. I’m sorry if you couldn’t find the right naughty nuclear scientist outfit for Halloween.  There’s always next year.  And there’s always some celebration going on, somewhere.  If you’re anticipating the aftermath of Election Day and looking for levity, you might want to:

– remember This Stupid Day in History, Nov. 2 1960, when a not-so-well-hung British jury determined that Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence was not obscene.[12]
– grill a BLT on Nov. 3 to mark the 1718 birthday of John Montague, Earl of Sandwich
– walk like an Egyptian on King Tut Day , Nov. 4
– do whatever is done (turn on the fan, please) on Nov. 5 to mark Panama’s Colon Day
– ditch your GPS, find your way to Nov. 6 and observe Marooned Without a Compass Day
– remember you’ve got until Nov. 7 to celebrate National Fig Week
– smack your favorite Romney supporter knucklehead on Nov. 8 for Dunce Day
– nothing.  There is nothing else to do.

Yet another reason to live: next Friday, Nov. 9, is Chaos Never Dies day.  Hilarity ensues.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Only a history geek would call it, “Independence Day.”

[2] Store-bought costumes were considered “cheating.”

[3] I prided myself for my poker face but couldn’t bring myself to pretend I liked candy corn, even if I could have gotten a barf bag load of Milky Way bars from the ruse.

[4]  At the time yet to be invented. Not much of a footnote, is it?

[5] Not making that up, either.  Buffy.  Holy mother of fornication.

[6] If they thought in those acronyms, which they didn’t. My mother would probably think it’s shorthand for, “Where’s the fire?”

[7]  Persecution, torture, death.

[8] Except, oddly enough Easter, a word found nowhere in the Bible. It comes from the many variants (Eostra, Ester, Eastra, Eastur….) of a Roman deity, goddess of the dawn “Eos” or “Easter,” whose festival was in the Spring.

[9] This Egyptian deity was queen of the multi-taskers — patron of nature, magic, slaves, sinners, artisans, the oppressed….

[10] What — mouth breathers running for office in my beloved Pacific Northwest?

[11] The horseradish is authentic (and kosher). Alas, no bats in our ‘hood. Fresh-from-the-litter contributions (thanks, Nova and/or Crow) are the stunt poo.

[12] Unless you consider “being boring” an obscenity.  Which I so fucking do.