Halloween approaches and I am consumed with fear. Because of my damned neighbours


The countdown is on. In mere days, the biggest First World Problem will be at my doorstep. A hundred overfed, me-first middle class children extorting me: give us candy or we egg your house. And I will give them candy. Why? Because, last year, I didn’t give them candy. No one egged my house. No one left a flaming bag of dog crap on our doorstep.

But the neighbours disapproved.

We were woefully unprepared when we first moved here. We expected the traffic of children to be as light as the last townhouse complex we lived in: maybe we would see a couple dozen children. Looking back now, I laugh at my naive former self. What a rube.

There were signs that we should have been more prepared. Up and down the street, the Halloween decorations were out weeks in advance. Giant inflatable Frankensteins on the porches. Ghoulish skeletons hanging from the branches of trees. One fool even took the opportunity to get the jump on Christmas. He put up Santa on his roof, speckled in blood. Zombie Santa. Every day for two weeks, my daughter walked to school, past this psyche-strangling, childhood memory embedding, images-to-relate-to-therapists-much-later spectacle. After a few days of that, Natalie asked me if Santa was evil. This is the actual conversation:

Natalie: Is Santa going come down the chimney and eat my brains?
Me: (sensing that this is a pivotal moment in my child’s understanding of our cultural mores and subtleties) Yes.

Halloween is not a spectator sport on my block. It is a full-contact game of Keeping Up With The Joneses. Except the Joneses are undead. Sensing that, being the new people in the neighborhood, we should try and be part of the norm, my wife went out and bought a giant spider, hung it in our front window, then looked at me like she had finished painting the Sistine Chapel.

My neighbor, Herb, was unimpressed.

“I see you got a stuffed spider in your window,” he told me over the fence.

I nodded. “We bought candy, too.”

He looked wistfully in the distance, a solemn expression on his face. “The Parkers down the street, they got that damned 15 foot tall inflatable Frankenstein out again. Third year in a row.” He shook his head. “It just ain’t right.”

Sensing a chance to bond, I commiserated. “Nothing inflatable at our house,” I said, and Herb looked at me with a small bit of disdain.

“Course not,” he said. “You got a spider in your front window.” And, having pronounced complete judgement on our feeble attempt to decorate, he turned without a word and went inside.

I should have taken this as a warning. But, being partially autistic (self-diagnosed — the most reliable kind), by the time I walked back into the kitchen, I had completely forgotten the conversation. There, my wife asked me what we had been talking about.

“He’s thinking of getting an inflatable spider,” I said.

Of course, he had more than an inflatable spider. When Halloween rolled around, Herb had carved — get ready for it — 17 pumpkins. They lined the path to his front door, like an evil gauntlet. Giant cobwebs hung from the eaves. A recorded loop of howling wolves and clanking chains was hooked to a motion sensor and scared the bejeezus out of kids when they arrived at the door. He had replaced the doorbell chimes with a bloodcurdling scream.

The coup de grace was, when he opened the door, he had an actual three-headed rabid dog chained up in the hall, and from its mouth, actual demons from the fires of hell would charge the children and attempt to steal their souls. I don’t know where he got the dog. I didn’t even know we had a dog pound nearby.

Beside Herb’s house, beside his grand spectacle of Halloweirdness, sat our house, like a lump of unbuttered mash potato sitting beside Peking Duck. We had a single smiling pumpkin, beneath the window where there hung a stuffed spider from Wal Mart. And when children knocked at our door, it would be opened by either a man ghoulishly dressed like a dad trying to watch the hockey game, or a mom dressed as an overcompensating parent feigning extreme fear at every costume.

On our first Halloweeon on this street, we thought we had brought game. We thought we were ready.

When the first batch of kids arrived, we opened the door full of excitement and joy. And we came face to face with six children.

“It’s probably just the early rush,” I shrugged. We passed out candy. No sooner had we closed the door, sat down to laugh at the unexpected size of the first group of children, then the door rang again. This time, there were eight kids, with more streaming down our front path.

“That was early rush,” I corrected. “Before that, we had the early, early rush.”

But then the doorbell rang again, and we opened it to to more kids than we could quickly count. Behind them, we could hear a low buzz, like a hive filled with thousands of children bees, dressed up as wasps and caterpillars, going from comb to comb, looking for honey. The sidewalks were crawling with goblins and ghosts.

Eight year old boys dressed as MMA fighters.

Eight year old girls dressed as tramps.

Toddlers with wings.

They were everywhere.

We looked at the street. We looked at our already draining bowl of candy. We looked at each other with a dawning realization. We were on the Titanic, and there weren’t enough lifeboats.

We tried to ration the candy: one piece per child. But it was fruitless. And then came the moment: we ran out of candy. Yet, they were still knocking at the door. “What do we do now?” shrieked Joanna, and I rummaged through our pantry. “Kidney beans?” I offered up, half in jest, half hoping that we could finally get rid of the damned things.

That’s when Joanna panicked and suddenly turned off all the lights in the house. There was silence. We turned to each other.

“Whew,” I said, “That was close. For a moment I–”

The doorbell rang. We didn’t move. The doorbell rang again. Joanna looked at me and mouthed, what do we do?

I turned off the porch light. A few moments later, the doorbell rang. I closed the curtains. But still they came. Hands over her ears, my wife slowly slid to the floor, while outside, a scratching at the door continued, and the low muted groaning of voices, muffled by masks, ‘Triggerdreat, triggerdreat, triggerdreat …”

And then I saw it. The flickering light from the eyes of our one Jack O Lantern. It was the pumpkin, on the front porch, calling to all the Trick or Treaters like a siren. I threw Joanna aside and burst through the front door, struggling through the throngs of youngsters, their hands in the air, reaching for me, pulling on me, calling for candy. I waded through them like wading through a hip-deep marsh, as more children arrived. When I reached the pumpkin, with a last effort, pulling up the final reserves of my strength, I lifted it high in the air and, with all my might, threw it off the porch, over the front lawn, over the sidewalk and into the middle of the street where it burst open like a … well, like a pumpkin that has been thrown onto the pavement.

A mournful groan rose all around me, and the children, the shoulders slumped, their fake tails limp, their fake furry ears drooping, shuffled off of our porch and back into the night. I collapsed to the floor, utterly exhausted. From inside, I heard my wife whispering, “are they gone yet?”

It was then that I looked up and saw, next door, our neighbor Herb, who had been handing out candy. He was frozen in midair, his hand outstretched. The children were also frozen, their grasping hands motionless. They were all staring at me, staring at this weak, contemptible shell of a Halloween host.

Herb shook his head in disgust. He finished handing out the candy. Then, with hardly another glance at me, he turned and went back inside. But as he turned, I heard him mutter, under his breath.

“A spider,” he said. “A stuffed spider.”

New parents not welcome

No one wants to see parents enjoying themselves.
They want to see them haggard and gaunt, towing a screaming psychopath down the sidewalk like a husky pulling Klondike provisions. It reinforces society’s addiction to a culture of youth.
As long as parents look like they are experiencing hell, the shallow youth of today can be comfortable in their own narcissistic hedonism and go back to fuelling the economy with purchases of $6 coffees and weekend jaunts to Mexico.

The business of ignoring the children

As a parent of small children, my life is primarily occupied with finding ways to ignore the kids. Sometimes, I can distract them with a movie. Other times, I can bust out the coloring book. When all else fails, I throw an iPad at them.

Yet they always wait for an opening. If I let my guard down for a single second, the radar antennae in their heads start vibrating, and they rise like zombies, and shuffle towards me. And they speak.

THEM:  I want juice.
ME: You just had juice.
THEM: I want milk.

or, sometimes,

THEM: I want Fruit Loops
ME: It’s midnight. Why are you still up?

I described my insight – that my life is about creatively ignoring my children – to my mother not too long ago. She didn’t speak for a moment, then nodded her head.

“You always wanted a hug,” she told me. “Especially if I was busy with something else. You tugged and tugged at my sleeves and told me to hug you.”

“Did it work?” I asked.

“Of course,” she shrugged. “But that was before DVD players. The only way we could distract you was to give in. Or send you to your room to play. We did that a lot, too, when you wouldn’t leave us alone.”

“My room was in the basement,” I remembered. “I was scared to death to go to my room.”

“We told you there were monsters down there,” she admitted. “We also punished you by sending you down there alone.”

Our conversation saddened me. We live in a different age. Back then, when they had enough of me, they sent me to my room in the basement. Not to the tv. Not to the iPad. But to the basement, where I crouched on my bed, under the blankets, and trembled with fear. We don’t do things like that today. We don’t have a basement.

But, oh, if we did …

10 ways an autistic person can be funny

With an autistic daughter, I spend a bit of time each month, checking out autism blogs, resource sites, and the like, always curious what the most recent lines of thought are.

I’ve noticed something.

There’s not a lot out there about humour by autistic people. Possibly, it’s because the people who might write about how to be humorous when you’re autistic are not themselves autistic.

Or humorous.

I came across an article at the Autism Support Network that advised people with ASD on how to be funny.
It was, indeed, ironic:

An autistic person’s sense of humour is often about things which suggest silliness, ridiculousness or which appear slightly insane.

This was the very first recommendation. I’m not sure if the author is advising autistic people to limit their comments to things that are slightly insane, or if the author is is giving a backfill analysis to help an autistic person understand why they are laughing in the first place.

It may be necessary to keep your laughter to yourself when there is something which is funny to you but not as funny to other people. Laughter is one of the best feelings in the world and to have to hold it back is a nuisance but, none the less, to laugh at the wrong times may annoy other people.

So the first bit of advice on how to be humorous is: don’t.

A non-autistic person’s sense of humour is often to do with finding clever ways of pointing out faults in other people and causing them embarrassment. … Everyone is a victim of someone else’s humour at some time or another but some people are made to suffer more than others. … Sometimes, non-autistic people can get quite ruthless with their humour. … This is especially true amongst teenagers and younger adults who are perhaps less likely to care than older people.

Good grief, this is not the Hunger Games. This humour thing sounds an awful lot like the opposite of humour.

In the eyes of many zoologists, humour is a human replacement for the violence which animals use on each other to establish an order of dominance (the pecking order).

So now we’re quoting zoologists?

No-one talks about the pecking order of which they are a part.

The first rule of Pecking Club is “don’t talk about Pecking Club.”

Many gangs or groups of people are not particularly welcoming to outsiders but some are more welcoming than others.

Gangs? We’re talking about making a pun, not getting a prison tattoo!

Often, the reason two or more people gang up on one person is because it gives them a feeling of being united together. For reasons such as this, it is often easier to talk seriously to people if you can find them on their own.

That’s just creepy. In essence, we’re advising readers to stalk someone until they are alone, then confront them. That sounds hilarious.

If you say or do something which can be misinterpreted into a sexual context then it probably will be as a joke, often at your expense.

That’s what she said.

Try not to aim your humour at people wittier or funnier than yourself because they might retaliate and will probably do better than you, causing you to lose face. It is the verbal equivalent of picking a fight with someone bigger than you.

Correct: only make fun of stupid people, because they won’t have good comebacks.

Don’t make jokes about peoples mums or dads unless everyone else is. To make jokes like these at the wrong time can make people violent towards you.

Correct again: if you crack a joke that makes someone want to hit you, only do it when everyone else is doing it, because they’ll likely be too intimidated to do anything about it.

Try to avoid laughing at your own humour.

Nobody likes that. People would rather be confused about whether or not you were serious.

Comedy is not just about playful confrontation, it is also a very clever way in which people can accept the tragedies of life without getting depressed. “If we didn’t laugh then we’d cry”.

Holy crap, this author has a way with words. In less the 500 words, I now hate – and fear – humour.

Further proof of my bad parenting skills

I need to review what I am teaching my children. I think my dining habits are starting to affect them.

My four year old just referred to McDonalds as ‘the cheeseburger store’.

He also thinks that the 7-11 is ‘the Slurpee store’.

You say tomato I say tomahtism

My marriage is like a presidential term in office. I have my high points, and I have my low points, and my constituents – meaning my wife – generally thinks I’m a fool. Usually she’s right. But there’s one thing on which we don’t agree. That’s the word autism.

Whenever I say that our daughter is autistic, my wife grits her teeth and makes a sound like someone graciously holding back violent impulses. It’s not because she is in denial. It’s because she is a term nazi.

“Stop saying she is autistic.” she told me – for the umpteenth time.

“But she is,” I said and shrugged.

“Say she is someone with autism.”

“Now it sounds she’s carrying an accessory. ”

She groaned. “It’s about how people will view her. Do they see her as autistic first, or as Natalie first?”

I blinked in great surprise. “I never knew that. I never knew that we’re the ones in control of how other people see things? All we have to do is make a couple of grammatical backflips with our sentences, and whammo, they see Natalie different?”

“It’s about how you frame it.”

“I don’t want to frame it,” I huffed. “Why do I have to accommodate  the world? Why can’t it accommodate me?”

That’s when a light went off in her head. “You’re arguing with me so you can have material. You’re going to blog about this. Aren’t you?”

I shrugged. “It’s tough to come up with fresh stuff.”

“Especially if you’re an idiot,” she said.

“Don’t say I’m an idiot. Say I’m someone with idiocy.”

“No,” she corrected. “I’m someone with an idiot. You are an idiot.” Then her eyes narrowed. “You’re going to make me look like the screwball, aren’t you?”

“We’ll see who has the last laugh, when I make three cents on Google ad views,” I offered, and ducked out.

I’m not trying to trivialize autism, and this may be nothing more than an internal defense mechanism kicking in, but what else should I do about it? My daughter is autistic, and we’re going to carry on living our lives with it always being with us. Why not laugh about it?

And who knows. Maybe laughing about it is the right message to send to Natalie. It might actually be the thing that makes the difference.

When a six year old gets her first camera

We gave our daughter a digital camera for her first major road trip, because we hoped it would keep her calm, and help her deal with so much change. Every night, she would be sleeping in a different bed, and that’s quite a bit for a six year old with autism to handle.

But she took to the camera like a duck to water:

Our summer vacation, in haiku form

I swear I asked you
Before we got in the van
Do you have to go?
* * *
For the one hundred
And fifty second damned time
We are not there yet
* * *
No. No. No. No. NO.
No. No. NO. No. NO. NOOO. NOOO
Oh for fucks sake FINE
* * *
WHY did you DO that?
What do you MEAN you don’t know?
Oh My *#!@* GOD!
* * *
Give me the ketchup
I said give me ketchup
Fine keep the damned thing
* * *
Two hundred DOLLARS??
For ONE night in a hotel?
We’re camping right here
* * *
Back away slowly
Hamsters are smaller than that
And they don’t have fangs
* * *
I said go to sleep
That noise you hear is the wind
Most likely anyway
* * *
The kids love road trips
We should do this next year
Crap Bennett just barfed

The day my three year old son forgave me

My son may grow up to enter the priesthood. This is good news, actually. Until recently, I was sure he was the antichrist.

Lately, when I leave for work in the morning, he will give me a hug and a kiss, and say, “I forgive you.”

“Well, that’s very nice of you,” I reply.

But then he says, “Now say you forgive me.”

“Uh,” I say.

“Say it,” he growls.

“I forgive you.”

“Damned right you do.”

I made that last part up. But it was a natural extrapolation. My son can’t be enlightened. He’s three years old. Just last week, he was clobbering his sister over the head with the iPad. In that short time, it’s hard to believe he has become virtuous.

Three year old boys are the children of Sisyphus, underfoot, making the old man lose his balance, sending the rock crashing to the valley floor. Three year old boys are the reason Jonah stayed in the stomach of the whale — to get some peace and quiet. Three year old boys don’t forgive. They condemn.

Nevertheless, one morning my three year old started forgiving us. That has led to a series of theological debates between my wife and me.

“Do you think he’s Jesus?” she asked.

“He’s got red hair and a temper,” I replied. “He’s the opposite of Jesus. He’s Susej.”

“I think you’re cynical.”

“Fine,” I shrugged. “Let’s go with the more logical reason: our son is the Messiah.”

“Because that would be cool,” she said. “We’d be on Oprah.”

“Oprah is off the air.”

“But she’ll come back for Jesus.”

“Yet another reason why I don’t want him to be Jesus.”

But there is an angle: every time he forgives us. he demands that we forgive him. If we don’t forgive him, he gets irate. And redheads can get quite irate.

I quickly figured out what his game was. Before too long, Bennett was Bennett, which means that he tried our patience once too many and was promptly carried to his timeout chair.

He glared at me. He stomped his foot. He slowly raised his hand, cocked his thumb, and pointed a finger at me.

“Peww, Peww,” he said, and his hand fell to his side.

“Did you just shoot me?” I demanded.

“You forgived me Daddy,” he said. Then he shot me again.

He wasn’t being virtuous.

He was buying indulgences.