There are more than a few differences between my current hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut, and the city of New Orleans, but I don’t know that those differences are ever more pronounced than they are on Halloween night.
I was on a flight at the crack of dawn, leaving Toronto after several days spent at the International Festival of Authors. (Canada has made me feel like an honorary citizen this past year; if my arms were long enough, I’d hug the entire country.) Bleary-eyed, I scrolled through Facebook on my iPhone, checking out the photos my friends were already posting of their young children in costumes.
There were little bears and monkeys, there was a little boy dressed as a banana. From my own home Liz had sent me a short video of two and a half year old Finn, who was living out his life-long fantasy of becoming a real live pirate (with an infectious, swashbuckling glee that I imagine very few actual pirates ever possessed), and our beautiful little Lucy, dressed as a pumpkin.
New Canaan, like thousands of small towns across America, looked like a giant Anne Geddes photo shoot.
This particularly Halloween, however, Liz and I came down to New Orleans for the National Orientation Directors Association conference, where I’ll be speaking, and Halloween down here – to use a tired but apt phrase – is like visiting a parallel universe. The date is the same, the concept of dressing up is the same, but… wow.
Friendly’s has six menus, and one of those menus is dedicated to appetizers and entrees whose principle ingredient is melted cheese. Why they need the other five is beyond me, but my best guess is that we need other food items to help us understand how the absence of melted cheese can sadden and dismay a restaurant goer.
I, and I imagine many of you, struggle daily with trying to eat not-terribly-unhealthily. I tell myself that I’m not doing a bad job. I’m right in the median weight for my height, people don’t get panicky when I step onto elevators with them, their heads jerking around looking for the maximum weight capacity.
No, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a reasonably trim fellow, and when I successfully hide the fact that walking up a long flight of stairs has me breathing heavily, I can often fool people into believing I’m even in fair shape.
But then from time to time I am reminded just how far behind I am lagging.
I was in Des Moines last week (…sorry, for those who don’t speak French, you might know it as “The Moines”) as part of the Des Moines Public Library’s 2011 AViD Author Series.
I’d never been to Iowa, and I have to admit that there were only two things I knew about the state: that they were famous for their potatoes (“That’s Idaho,” sighed Liz) and that it’s the first presidential primary in the country. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m a total political junkie. Always have been.
When I was doing various interviews in Ireland and the UK, they would ask me where I was heading next.
“Amsterdam,” I’d tell them.
“Oh – behave!” they’d joke.
They said this for a couple of reasons. First of all, they don’t know me personally. My wife likes to tell the story of my bachelor night, when I went out on the town with my buddies Charlie and Kelly, and called her from my hotel room at around 11:30 p.m., a bit tipsy, to confess that I’d eaten an entire bag of Doritos and a tin of wasabi peas while watching Terminator 3.
I’ve spent a lot of time in England – really I have – and I have friends and family there. It doesn’t feel exotic; it feels more homey than anything else. I know London well.
And yet I cannot go to England and not instinctively think everybody sounds like butlers. They could be selling gum, but more often it’s the ones who are giving directions. The guys at the airport. As them where the baggage carousel is, and it’s like you’re the King of Siam.
“Right around the corner there, sir, and make a left. Did you come in from Ireland?”
I tell them I did.
“Your baggage will be on carousel one or two, then.”
How can you not love this country? And why aren’t we all talking like this? I felt like I was about to board a steamer.