It's a half-baked theory of mine that Halloween didn't become the widespread big deal it is until relatively recently. The phenomenon of people decorating their houses with anything more than a jack-o-lantern on the front porch really didn't kick into high gear until the late 80s or early 90s, about the time the TV show Roseanne started doing elaborate Halloween-themed episodes.
Believe it, or not.
There was never much trick-or-treating at my house when I was a kid because I grew up on a farm, although we would put on our grade-school Halloween party costumes and go over to my grandparents' house, which was on the other side of the farm. There's a home movie of we three brothers when we were probably nine, seven, and three years old in Grandma's kitchen, just after she greeted us at the door wearing a Halloween mask of her own, which we thought was hilarious.
The Magic Crew will be out making deliveries in costume again this year. Before I started helping out three or four years ago, I hadn't worn a Halloween costume since sometime in the 80s, and then it was only because I lost a bet. In the late 90s, I worked in an office where Halloween was a very big deal, and where a lot of people came to work in costume. I generally did not, although one year I wore headphones and said I was a DJ.
I once read a story about a famous DJ who was walking the halls of the station one day with his headphones around his neck and the cord stuck into his back pocket. Somebody asked him, "Hey, Larry, how come you've got your headphones plugged into your backside?" He said, "Because if anything goes wrong back there I want to be the first to know."
Watch for the Magic Crew in costume on Halloween, coming to visit you with Halloween treats. I don't know what I'll be wearing, but I promise not to have anything stuck into my back pocket.
I remember when I became an uncle for the very first time. It was unexpected, in a way. One of my brothers and his wife were definitely not planning to have children; my other brother was still single. Then a medical miracle of sorts occurred, and in the summer of 1992, my nephew arrived.
My other brother and I took a ride up to Baraboo to meet our nephew. In 1992, it had been maybe 10 years since I had spent any time at all in Madison--so when we took the westbound Beltline beyond West Towne, I'd never seen any of what was new out there. (It was a little like dropping off the edge of the world into an entirely new one.) Once past the shock of that, I was eager to meet the little fella, although honesty compels me to report he slept through most of our first meeting. I remember figuring out that he'd be in the high school class of 2010, and it seemed unimaginably far away.
Flash forward to 2000. My wife and I were in the process of relocating from Iowa City to Madison. I was working here Monday through Friday and going home on weekends. My brother was kind enough to let me live with them during the week. My nephew was seven by this time, and he was a holy terror--really bright but with overflowing energy and a strong will. The quintessential handful, in other words.
We acquired lots of nephews and even some nieces in the intervening years, but my brother's kid was the one who lived closest to us, so we were able to see concerts, football games, track meets, and lots of what the kid was involved in. If I had extra Badger football or hockey tickets, he'd come along. (I am told that he still has a puck we got during pregame warmups one night. I am guessing he would have been about 11 years old.) When we watched him graduate from high school, I thought about the arithmetic I'd done the week he was born.
To make a long story short (which is what gasbags say when it's already too late), my nephew--Alex--is 21 years old now. He's out on his own in the world, just out of MATC, working his first job, and all grown up, more or less. I had dinner with him and his girlfriend the other night, sat in the bar for a couple of hours, had a couple of beers. Even though it hasn't been all that long since we rode up to Baraboo to meet him for the first time.
I was looking at our DVR list last night, and even though the new TV season is in full swing, we've got practically nothing on it. Ann and I are one of those couples who have abandoned network TV entirely for cable. I can't remember the last show on the four major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX) we watched regularly. The Kiefer Sutherland series 24, maybe? If I had to name the last network sitcom I watched, I'm not sure I could. It might have been Seinfeld, which has been off the air since 1998. The stuff we've watched in recent years has all been on cable channels--Breaking Bad and Mad Men on AMC, The Closer and Leverage on TNT, and the rather guilty pleasure Hot in Cleveland on TV Land. We catch up on HBO shows via DVD--we made our second trip through the entire Sopranos series last year, and I'm thinking about whether it's time to watch all three seasons of Deadwood for a third time.
I'm a big fan of Netflix streaming, too, although I'm sympathetic to the complaints of people who criticize the selection--if you're looking for recent, high-profile, big box-office movies, you probably won't find them, although the service is better with recent seasons of top TV show. I have been watching the original Hawaii Five-O from the 70s for about a year--at my current pace, expect to finish the 12th and final season by the end of the year.
Maybe I'd feel worse about not watching the major networks if they weren't overkilling reality and/or competition shows. Is there something new this fall that you like and you think I should try? Send me an e-mail: email@example.com -- or tweet me: @ja_bartlett.