-- Anna Karenina: Winter vegetable edition
From the winter vegetable archives:It's not the economy so much as the pull-up bar
What bothers me most is the look of pride on my face.
My mother had clearly phoned it in that Halloween and I was oblivious to the fact that I was wearing a slip over my head and carrying an Easter basket. What could she have possibly said to convince me to appear in public like this?
To this day, she refuses to acknowledge that this ensemble can in no way be said to represent a "costume." And irony was still decades away from having a foothold in the suburbs.
Then again, my mother has always been a little bit ahead of the curve.
Further reading from the costume bin: Tinkerbelle is so last week
It seems like only yesterday, but in fact it was almost three weeks ago.
She gave me the news on Halloween morning. No one was dressing up this year. Not even the sixth graders who insisted on matching shoes and hair accessories.
Welcome to the first edition of "Suburban Overachievers," - a new SK feature, where we will
mock profile the efforts of the suburban denizens who make the rest of us look bad with their oh really it was nothing efforts.
We begin with E, a woman who makes everything from haute cuisine to algebra look so easy that you will either want to be her best friend or run her over with your minivan.
E is the kind of suburban mommy whose classroom cupcakes are baked from scratch using ingredients she grows in her backyard. Before I met E, I didn't even know you could grow cupcakes in your backyard.
When E's little boy decided he wanted to be a knight for Halloween, she did what any overachieving suburban mommy would do - she started shopping for chain mail.
Meanwhile, E's husband began the process of smelting iron ore, or maybe it was cardboard, into a realistic blade that would later be attached to a jewel-studded hilt and scabbard in a piece of Medieval craftsmanship that might have earned him a knighthood in another time and cul-de-sac.
Mr. E is the kind of guy who walks into your house with a couple of nails in his mouth and a few minutes later he has renovated your bathroom. "It was nothing," he will say, brushing the sawdust from a window frame that he has just resized after discovering a tiny flaw in the alignment.
E graciously agreed to share the step by step process of creating this Broadway-quality knight costume for the SK audience. She also graciously pretended not to recognize that SK readers were about as likely to cut their own hair as to attempt a project like this.
And so I pretended to take down the instructions as she explained how she converted $10 worth of thrift store finds into a Camelot worthy ensemble.
First, a woman's green velvet shirt (Goodwill, $4.99) was converted into a tunic with chain mail cuffs attached to the t-shirt sleeves underneath. Cutting carefully along the ... and um, sewing?
Then a sheet of something was attached to something else to make a shield and a chain mail helmet was fashioned in a series of steps I would not be able to duplicate if I had two months and a lifetime subscription to Better Moats and Castles.
A realistic crest was copied from somewhere and reproduced on the face of the shield using something. Black tape maybe? I'm not certain. I spilled a pretty good red wine on my notes.
"I'm not laughing at you," I said, wiping tears from my eyes and Claret from my pages.
Here is what I was writing in my notebook:
Chain mail!!!! ? sewn onto t-shirt?! $2.99 pants? Goodwill? Woman's belt converted to scabbard?!!! OMG! chain mail!
So, anyway. That's all there is to it.
I will be middle-aged Hannah Montana. Didn't I already shell out some ridiculous amount of money for the wig that my 10-year-old daughter wouldn't be caught dead in today? She is so over that. "Oh my God," she says with an eye roll when passing the racks of sparkly Hannah-wear she once coveted.
Hannah Montana, it seems, is so last week. So the wig is all mine. My children, who are going way out on a creative limb as a dark angel and a teenager in a rubber skeleton mask, cannot get their brains around my inspired idea.
"I need bifocals," I say to them in the costume shop. "Help me find a pair a fake bifocals."
"Mom," says my daughter, who has agreed to act as my Hannah Montana consultant. "I am pretty sure that Hannah Montana would get contacts."
"Yes," I say. "But I've already explained this to you. I am going as middle-aged Hannah Montana. I need to be visibly middle-aged."
"Um, Mom," says my son. "You already are visibly middle-aged."
Hah! So funny. Now I am the one rolling my eyes. How did I raise such irony-challenged children?
"Let me explain this again," I say. "If I dressed up as simply Hannah Montana, I would be a middle-aged woman dressed as Hannah Montana. I am going dressed as middle-aged Hannah Montana. Do you see the difference?"
They still don't get it. But they argue with me as if I am the one who is confused.
"Hannah Montana is never going to look middle-aged," says my daughter knowingly. "She has, like, billions of dollars."
"Yes, but I am going to portray her as if she had to go into middle age the usual way," I say. "With varicose veins, failing vision and gray roots."
"But why?" they want to know.
"Because it's funny," I say in exasperation. At least it seemed like it was before I had to explain it five times.
"No one is going to get it," says the eighth grader.
I give up. I head to the register with my sparkly fake eyelashes and a can of gray hairspray. My daughter looks at the hairspray in my hand and tries to set me straight on one last point.
"It's a wig Mom," she says. "Hannah Montana's hair is a wig, so it can't ever turn gray."
Photo: SK as HM; the best of both worlds.
I came from a place people went to escape
indictment normal, hometown-type places. Where thongs and tequila flew off the shelves like underwear and hard liquor. Where you could not step out for a latté without tripping over the players in some international intrigue involving suitcases full of cash, or body parts. Where the word "exotic" had lost its meaning.
Where were the tattooed, Margarita-swilling, motorcycle driving mommies like the ones who ran the PTA meetings back home?
Everywhere I turned I was subjected to stories extolling the character of the hard-working, unvarnished Midwestern people.
It was cloying, annoying, but taken as truth: these were the best people in the entire country.
It was going to be a long winter.
And so, though I knew it would not be easy, I had to learn to communicate with these wholesome, sincere, incorruptible people.
When I first came to be among them it was nearly Halloween. The best of the holidays. At what other time of year can you count cobwebs and dustballs as decor? Go door to door trick-or-treating for cocktails? Dig a grave in the backyard without arousing suspicion?
But alas, such traditions had not spread to this little corner of the suburban Midwest. As the day of haunting drew near, pyramids of tastefully arranged hay bales tied with orange satin bows sprouted on lawn after lawn. Does Martha Stewart have to ruin everything?
I still had my wig in my hand when the first trick-or-treaters showed up. It was 3 p.m.
"What are you doing?" I asked, squinting into the sunlight. "It's not even dark."
"There is a curfew," one of them answered politely.
"A curfew?" I said. "It's Halloween. You are teenagers. Show some self-respect."
They looked at me blankly. "Oh for the love of Satan," I said. "Do you even have any eggs?"
They did not. I sighed. It was almost certainly a hopeless case.
But, as they say, it takes a village. So I explained to them what was expected and sent them on their way with a package of toilet paper and a dozen extra-large.
It wasn't just the children who needed my help. Their mothers had knitted themselves into lives of corn-fed desperation. Their social lives were built around product parties and school fundraisers. Married to men who had their hair cut every three weeks, they avoided liquor, tattoos and high-heeled footwear as impractical, unnecessary and dangerous. Especially on ice.
They were dying on the inside, even if they didn't know it.
The first woman to confide in me said she'd stopped ordering wine in restaurants after her husband had complained about the expense.
She ran herself ragged to be the perfect mom. But she had no idea how to play the Game of Wife.
"You are doing it exactly backwards," I told her. "Order a second glass of wine. But leave it mostly untouched."
She took my advice and improved upon it; fingering the stem of her glass, sighing deeply and gazing into its overpriced depths. "The thing about a really nice Bordeaux?" she told her husband, "one is not enough and two is too many..."
But she was from the South Side, so it didn't really count. Those women take to bad like a Midwesterner to green bean casserole.
If I was going to do any good at all, I had to reach the PTA members, the tea drinkers, the Women Who Mulch Too Much.
In hindsight, the tattoo party was probably too much, too soon.
And I blew it with the Tupperware clique when I asked them what they did for fun. They were having fun, apparently, right there, surrounded by the latest in jewel-toned plastic food storage. "I mean, other than this," I said quickly. But it was too little, too late.
But I am this close to talking the book club into a two-drink minimum.
And X-rated scrapbooking? This could be my best idea yet. On paper at least.
Photo: Pssst. Over here. You know you want to...