Suits you, Mom

ITcrowdWhich is funnier and/or more indicative of suburban senescence?

A) That I like the L. L. Bean Signature catalog.
B) That my husband is cooking with Competition Charcoal.

Ha, ha, he says, of the Bean catalog. Do you think it’s edgy and urban?

But look at this gray herringbone coat.

You’re kidding, right?

This on-the-bias plaid hostess skirt.
A tweed handbag.
A duffel coat lined with brown shearling.
A blue and red duck print shirt.

What does that say about you? he asks, rhetorically.

You have to blog about that, he says. If you don’t, I will.

Those of you who know my olive green coat with the detachable green faux-fur collar will know that it was saved from his scorn by an office poll in 2008 and even if my former office mates were just being nice I thank them for it. The coat lives on to see another season. And it says, Hiyeee. (It’s from Jigsaw.) But it is not an especially warm coat.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. The weather is turning and I have a low tolerance for cold. I am tempted by the -10ºF heat rating coats in the regular Bean catalog. Ridiculous for someone who lives in Alabama of course, but not really. As my dog would say, I cold. (With a 300-word vocabulary, he says, not need auxiliary verbs.)

The problem about coats is that you have to pit fashion against function. Nowhere do these priorities more devastatingly slam up against each other than in selecting a winter coat. The one I like comes in black, brown and plum. The one in the exciting color will not be warm enough. This one is good but for the belt. Who could look good in belted down? What ever happened to Thinsulate?

(But now I get why there are car coats. It’s about not sitting on bulk, right? I used to think they were for suburban housewives to wear over their pajamas when they drove their husbands to the train station. Bedroom community and all that.)

Cold weather also heralds the costume issue, where creativity and timing jostle against opportunity. Be creative way in advance, when there is time to plan and act, or at the last moment, when it’s your only hope. The other night at dinner I asked my older daughter about her plans.

Last year she had declared she was finished with trick or treating. It was more fun to hand out candy, but as the day rolls around, she plans to head for the streets.

When, I wondered, would four high school kids dress up as the Teletubbies?

About 10 years ago, my husband says.

What about someone from Busytown, like Bananas Gorilla? I suggest.

Yes, my husband chimes in, with all the watches up your arm.

We had a Busytown computer game, where the girls honed their mouse skills before moving on to Reader Rabbit. I’m not even going to stop there. If you know Reader Rabbit, it’s over, they can read. Get those CDs out of your life. Forget the parsing of words by basketball-playing lions. If you’re young and the days of supporting your child’s literacy skills are ahead of you, don’t worry. Now there are apps. You can hand your child your phone and not have those little songs bore a hole in your brain.

Bananas Gorilla was the criminal of Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Always stealing bananas, yet you never see the criminal activity involving the watches. Just the bananas. Like a front. We never saw the Busytown pawn shop heist. Just the angry grocer walrus, the unaccountable accumulation of watches.

My older daughter says, matter-of-factly, Maybe we should have moved there instead of here.

But maybe we did. There is a certain schoolhouse orderliness about this place… only sans the all-animal citizenry, which of course would make it more amusing. Find Goldbug! Oh, no! Mr. Frumble didn’t see the ketchup truck explode. Look out, Mr. Frumble!

Pig, say dog, bad driver. Silly pig.

I’d like to be Lowly Worm in his Apple Car, she says.

Now that is edgy.

But we will go to Party City (Alabama thing or national chain? Suspect national chain), too close to the big day, and look for inspiration, which, as we all know, can’t be found in a catalog. Or in such a place two days before the day. And this, I realize, as we decide to do it anyway, is one of those parental nadirs you tumble into headlong in your pickle car.

The costume the older daughter likes is only available in a 3T. And there are 52 varieties of tart, epitomized by my friend in an email as a strapless ladybug [ladybird] dress, which even the small child for whom it was intended shies away from. Too right. These are Benny Hill costumes. Carry on trick or treating.

Store is object lesson in American ingenuity and bad parenting. Resist urge to buy large plastic “rusted” chain to drape around self as joke accessory. Resist urge to browse. Or take photos for blog. Leave. Say, we will explore costume options at home.

In the end, younger child has borrowed angel/devil costume from friend and is so delighted to wear lipstick she forgets her costume has wings. Older child wears younger one’s colonial Williamsburg dress which younger child swore she would wear for said occasion. We leave a bowl of candy out on an honor system and hit the streets with our neighbors. We walk a circuit in our neighborhood rather than drive to the high density streets a few blocks over where the girls had their first American Halloween last year.

At a few houses, they are turned away; some people are waiting with candy, but tell them they have never before had trick-or-treaters actually turn up. They ring the bells of people they know or whose dogs they know. Our friends’ next door neighbor, an old man who runs a funeral parlor, asks them to wait and goes into the house to find candy. We walk up to the dark cul-de-sac at the top of our street. Our friend points out Jupiter. We return home two hours later. The children’s legs are sore from the hills, they clutch a sack, pillowcases and an environmentally friendly grocery bag full of sweets. Low key, low budget, local.

Tonight, the night after, after slogging through two hours’ of homework, we venture out at dusk to the dog park. (I happy!) It is almost fully dark when we return and a sherrif’s car is sitting in the driveway of the undertaker’s house. As if it were waiting on us, it reverses out, silvery in the streetlight and the illuminated crepe myrtle, as if fleeing the scene. Another mystery in Busytown.

The weather cools at night and returns to the high 70s in the daytime. The coat issue is postponed, foolishly. The L.L.Bean signature catalog? It’s like a Party City for the retro-prep look, and I know better than to like it. The answer, of course, is B.

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