Road Rage, Or Why All Other Drivers Should Be Annihilated

[See Original Post here]

My name is Sarah, and I suffer from road rage.

You’d think living in a state with relatively little traffic, like Alaska, would have cured me of this illness. Alaska has nothing but wide-open spaces, but even this, unfortunately, has not calmed me. If anything, it may be making my road rage worse. My fellow Alaskans are, by and large, a laidback bunch. In conjunction with this laissez-faire attitude towards life, drivers do not give much thought to when they will arrive at their destination, and instead toddle along, nary a care in the world.

On the other hand, I care very much about my destination and would like to arrive there sometime this calendar year, people, please!

I wasn’t always this frustrated.

As a newly minted driver with a learner’s permit in Fairbanks, I was very intimidated by the rules of the road. All the other cars dwarfed my first car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima. It had once belonged to my grandmother, and much like my grandmother, the car offered shelter and comfort. Also much like my grandmother, the car was smaller than others of its kind in the wild.

My grandmother topped off at a whopping five feet tall and would often complain that the world was not made for people her size. An early adopter of microaggressions, she maintained her whole life that the world discriminated against short people. I would hear her small voice muttering to herself when reaching for things in the cabinets, when climbing into cars, and when sitting in chairs.

“Everyone is against us! The world hates short people!”

As I scooted around Fairbanks in my grandmother’s car as a teenager, I too adopted my grandmother’s ethos. Trucks would loom over me, vans would steam by me, and I would clutch the steering wheel in a death grip. My dad, in his designated role as driving instructor, would sit stone-faced in the passenger seat beside me. Even though I could not bring myself to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, his foot would stamp the floor where the brake pedal would be so hard the car would rock side to side.

As a baby driver, I would get lost in my miniature hometown, drive many miles under the speed limit, and freak out if I encountered a one-way street. I once took the wrong exit off the Johansen Expressway, could not figure out how to get back on the expressway, turned around, and drove the wrong way up the exit ramp. There was absolutely no traffic on the road (it was Fairbanks after all), but I was sure I would be arrested at any moment for the high crime of being a dingbat.

As we all know, however, with practice comes confidence. As I matured in my driving, I had the temerity to approach the speed limit, make left turns, and choose a lane other than the right.

Having mastered the art of the turn, my confidence blossomed into aggression. My fear of my fellow drivers had been replaced with a blind resentment. Who were these other vehicles taking over the road? This place was not big enough for me, my Nissan Maxima, and them too!

This only got worse after I started driving in major metropolitan areas outside of Fairbanks. Drivers on the East Coast are not afraid to drive 80 miles per hour, merge aggressively, or block traffic so they can cut into a long line. Boston was the first place I saw taxi drivers run red lights more often than stop. Man, did those guys have game.

I learned much from these driving giants, and my fellow Alaskans could stand some similar tutelage. For example, upon moving back to Anchorage, I was devastated by my fellow residents’ complete and utter inability to use the passing lane.

Rather than passing the car on the right, and then dutifully moving back into the right-hand lane, drivers simply treated the passing lane as another lane. Two lines of cars, equal in length, meander along together, and I am back at the end of the line calling everyone around me a deadhead.

But the crème-de-la-crème of triggering behavior: nothing sends me into a fury faster than a car which pulls into the left lane, speeds up to pass the car on the right, reaches the car, and then slows down to drive the exact same speed as the car next to it.

People! I beg of you! There is no point in getting into the left lane, speeding up to the car in front of you, and then driving the exact same speed. For crying out loud, just drive the same speed behind them in the right lane. Don’t be a monster!

I’ve spent many hours profiling my fellow drivers, trying to ascertain who amongst me is an obstacle, and who is a fellow traveler; an ally, if you will, merely trying to get to his appointed destination. For example, I always try to follow a truck; they go faster and drive with purpose. I avoid Subarus, as those drivers are nearly always overly cautious. Stay away from boats, buses, and gaggles of RVs.

The worst of the worst drivers, however, is a very specific breed of truck driver who views being passed as an afront to his manhood. This driver will go out of his way to drive slowly on one-lane streets, block the sections of road where there is a passing lane, and then saunter back to the one lane once the passing lane is dispensed with, satisfied he has ruined everyone’s day.

I will be driving south this weekend for Memorial Day. May those who cross my path be speedy.

Sarah Brown takes many deep breaths. Write to her on pain of death at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Love Letter to Airplanes

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Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped traveling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space.

When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid.

I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at thirty thousand feet cruising altitude.

I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020.

Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last thirteen months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half.

One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb twenty minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another fifty-two seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence.

While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted thirty-eight seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time.

With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you!

Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

COVID Year in Review

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March marks a full year that COVID-19 has moderately to significantly impacted my life. Rather than a “Calendar Year in Review” in December, I am opting for a “COVID Year in Review” in March.

March: Anchorage is introduced to former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order which, as summarized by Andrew Jensen, is “a stay-at-home order, but if you want to take a walk, they’ll allow it.”

All of my usual activities are replaced with stockpiling paper products and canned soup, and eating chips and salsa.

April: The chips and salsa snacking is replaced with consuming family-size packages of sour gummy worms. Knowing this will all inevitably catch up with me, I start exercising furiously. I delight in building muscles from scratch.

What with all the restaurant closures, I figure now is the time to embrace learning to cook.

I confirm a long-held suspicion that I hate cooking.

I break down and order a pizza from Uncle Joe’s. It is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

May: I debut my COVID-perfected, knock you on your rear, margaritas. The recipe remains proprietary, such that I can keep friends around.

Brown’s Close launches its website. We are immediately followed by fifty magnanimous Facebook friends, and three bots.

June: I attempt to buy a new bike, as my current bike is 17 years old and wheezes whenever we round corners. Anchorage’s stores are completely sold out, as is Facebook Marketplace. I turn to Marketplace’s older, grungier associate, Craigslist. While there are bikes listed on Craigslist, they are all obviously stolen. Some of the inventory still has the broken bike locks on them in the pictures, and others, chains. One adult man is selling what he claims to be his bike. It is pink, floral, and large enough for a six-year-old girl.

July: I go camping for the holiday. On the drive home, the car more or less calls it quits on life. I grind to a halt on the highway, walk a mile to cell phone service, and find one tow company open on the Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Given how busy the road is on the holiday weekend, and what with no offers of assistance from passing motorists, I am forced to conclude that chivalry is dead.

August: The town erupts in very strong opinions on Kriner’s Diner, a restaurant that I can’t imagine has ever seen the kind of publicity that its standoff with the mayor garnered, not to mention those hefty $15,000/day fines.

September: Learning my lesson from my bike-less summer, I purchase used cross-country skis at Play It Again Sports. The lettering on the skis is electric blue, and the boots are satin red and gold. The boots prove to ultimately give me blisters, but pain is weakness leaving the body.

October: Photos of Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s pimply back appear. Though meant to be seductive, they have more of a medical quality.

November: I teach myself how to cross-country ski and become accomplished enough to participate in Alaska Ski for Women, and the Tour of Anchorage. Alas, I am dressed inappropriately for both events. My parka and snow pants are too bulky for the Tour of Anchorage, where current and former Olympians are dressed in spandex. My attire is similarly not bulky enough for Alaska Ski for Women, where participants are dressed as strawberries and blueberries, and wear neon pink wigs.

The politics of masks come to a head when Alaska State Senator, Lora Reinbold, has a midair confrontation with the “Mask Bullies,” also known as Alaska Airlines.

Senator Reinbold has not stopped there. A Google search of “Lora Reinbold masks,” yields 3,060 results as of the time of this writing.

December: Our office Christmas party takes place virtually at ten in the morning. I annoy an entire Zoom breakout room with my passion for Die Hard.

January: Capitol rioters reveal many Americans have closely held beliefs about the existence of Lizard People.

February: Two men shoot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and make off with her French bulldogs. Most media coverage, and Lady Gaga’s reward offer, focus on the safe return of the dogs, and not so much on her critically wounded employee.

March: Bitcoin reaches its highest value ever. I have friends who’ve sextupled their initial investment with Bitcoin. However, when the currency is explained to me, it just sounds made up. For example, there is what is called “The Halving,” which takes place at predetermined times. This ceremony “halves” the number of “Bitcoins” that “the Bitcoin Miners” receive when they “Mine a Block” after “solving a Hash Puzzle.” After that, there’s “The Reaping,” where teenagers are taken from their parents to fight to the death in service of “Bitcoin’s glorious future.” Only after both “The Halving” and “The Reaping,” can there be “The Quickening.” It is at this point that the “Final Bitcoin Miners” battle it out to ascertain who will become the “God of all Bitcoin.”

April: Next month, I’ll get to see my brother for the first time in 16 months. We will use this precious time to catch up on an entire holiday seasons’ worth of family political debates.

And thus, in the words of modern poet, Maria Athens, “Have a great Friday, you motherfu****!”

Sarah Brown is a troubadour, specializing in chronicling local political life. You can reach her at sarah@browns-close.com, or on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. 

Was Socrates a Skier?

“Socrates” by bencrowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor.

Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape.

It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides.

Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide.

By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction.

Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions.

One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were.

She flapped over.

“Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head.

I frowned, puzzled.

“No.”

Did she expect there to be?

“Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?”

Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction.

I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t.

In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way.

Like, do you see my problem?

Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.”

While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing?

The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only.

I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future.

I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis.

She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn?

“Are you taking a walk?”

She pulled the skier head cock.

“Well…yeah.”

“Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?”

I frowned.

“What do you mean I can’t walk here?”

She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working.

Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished.

“Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?”

She shook her head piously.

I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead.

After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system.

Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons.

Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at sarah@browns-close.com. Tweet her @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

2020 Redux

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It’s the end of January. I gave it some time. I, like my 7.8 billion fellow Earthlings, looked forward to 2021 with good spirits. With the turn of the calendar, we all could usher out the most outlandish year in modern history.

There’s an old Yiddish saying. It goes, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”

Once again, the joke is on us. 2021 is merely an extension of 2020.

The year started off lamely enough with the announcement of the death of Bond Girl, Tanya Roberts. Normally, there would not be anything unusual about that, except that Tanya Roberts was very much alive. Once this was established, she died for real.

Then there was the dissolution of the marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. As a lifelong follower of Kanye’s work , I was saddened, but not entirely surprised. The divorce was reported a scant two months after Kanye gave Kim a hologram of her deceased father, Robert Kardashian, as a birthday present.

Kim and Kanye, however, were promptly upstaged. The next day, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, where they broke into Statuary Hall, and proceeded to march around in neat lines within the confines of the velvet dividers. Things descended into bedlam, however, when the invaders began pooping in the hallways.

Out of this stinky rubble, we met a few characters who have since become national folk legends. Most notably, there’s “The QAnon Shaman,” (so dubbed by The Daily Mail) who after donning fur, horns, and face paint for the Capitol siege, has since refused prison food because it is not vegan. Learning this surprised me; if ever there were a group of people I assumed were big time meat eaters, it was the MAGA crowd.

And speaking of QAnon, I’ve learned a lot about this society in recent weeks. Before, I was never entirely sure what the group believed, other than that it was a “loosely organized …community… who embrace a range of unsubstantiated beliefs” (per The Wall Street Journal).

I’ve come a long way since this vague interpretation. I now know that QAnon thinks the Chinese military is massing at the Canadian border, and that furniture company Wayfair uses product listings to send secret messages concerning human trafficking. Supporters also maintain the closely held belief that Tom Hanks is a cannibal.

At a more innocent time in my life, I would have thought all of this totally bonkers. But I now have to give it pause. As of mid-January, there is a celebrity who is a confirmed cannibal, it’s just not Tom Hanks. Multiple women have come forward accusing Hollywood A-List actor, Armie Hammer, of anthropophagy. One former flame claimed he used to suck her blood, another that he branded her, and still another that he designs his own bondage attire. Other screenshots of texts to paramours, allegedly from Armie Hammer, go into detail about wanting to eat them, and not in the traditional way.

I’ve never had the pleasure of receiving a text message from Armie Hammer, or one of his famous requests to remove and barbeque my ribs. Instead, I must settle for my own peculiar correspondence. Not to be gainsaid, a stranger emailed me on Jan. 25 in response to this column, published fourteen months ago. The unsolicited message detailed the many years of life he’s spent in therapy because he likes to wear women’s underwear.

Those of us who expected life to go back to normal at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1 were sorely mistaken. It’s going to be a long hard road back to sanity.

Sarah Brown resides in a bunker in Oklahoma. Only there can she find some godd*mn peace. Clearly, she is forced to check email occasionally, so, if you really must, you can reach her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Year in Cuffing Season

(Elkov Oleg/Dreamstime/TNS)

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I first heard about “Cuffing Season” a few years ago from a friend. She described it as the period during the year when singles hysterically couple because they don’t want to be alone for the holidays.

Originally, I accepted this; after all, everyone wants a date for New Year’s Eve.

On Halloween that year, I received her happy text —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Thanksgiving —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

Shortly before Christmas —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

That’s when it got excessive.

On Groundhog Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On St. Patrick’s Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Earth Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Arbor Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

When Memorial Day rolled around and it was still Cuffing Season, I began to seriously doubt the truth of this phenomenon.

According to Merriam Webster, Cuffing Season is formally defined as inclusive of most cold months, beginning in October and concluding right after Valentine’s Day. While my friend may very well be practicing Cuffing Season up through National Mahjong Day (officially August 1), most singles will have moved onto other activities.

However, I was forced to reevaluate the length of Cuffing Season this year with the onset of COVID-19. Faced with the insecurity of a pandemic, quarantine, and certain loneliness, singles were frantically trying to find mates well into April.

According to surveys conducted by UK-based company OneBuy, a full one-third of singles reported receiving texts from their exes during quarantine. It seems lockdowns were enticing singles to behave in needy ways, which they would not do under normal circumstances.

It should be noted, this phenomenon was summarized in an article published on tyla.com, a website which also features links to editorials entitled, “How to Entirely Empty Your Bowels Each Morning (1 Minute Routine).” Make of its contents what you will.

That being said, tyla.com may have a point. Anecdotally, I have indeed noticed a distinct uptick in unsolicited Facebook friend requests from unknown men, and unsolicited messages from same.

One, who dubbed himself “BananaMan,” sent me a Facebook friend request, followed by a Facebook message.

“Hello, my name is BananaMan, how are you today?”

BananaMan, I maintain a strict policy of only corresponding with people who have a space between their first and last names.

Then there was my personal favorite, James Campbell (name changed to protect the guilty). James Campbell added me on Facebook, and proceeded to flood my newsfeed with posts, as he does with all of his Facebook friends.

James Campbell would post 24 hours per day in 15-minute increments about one of five topics:

  1. His cheating, b**ch a** of a girlfriend who dumped him during COVID;
  2. His estranged relationship with his family;
  3. Photos of his tummy;
  4. His deep, personal relationship with God;
  5. Vaguely pornographic photos about how much he likes “thicc girls.”

James’ posts could take on any order in true stream of conscious fashion. Viewers were particularly prone to whiplash when the religious posts were immediately followed by the thicc girl posts.

While I never did meet James, I felt that I got to know him well through these five topics; they provided a firm window into his psyche. Thus, it was a surprisingly lonely day when James Campbell disappeared from my Facebook friends list, presumably because his minder took away his login credentials.

As we round out the holiday season in short order, be on the lookout for new relationships. The couplings may surprise and delight you.

Sarah Brown is an old romantic. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

“Thanksgiving Spread” by CarbonNYC [in SF!] is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Off the top of my head, a list of catastrophes that have occurred in 2020 include:

  1. Global pandemics;
  2. Wildfires in Australia, California, Washington, and Oregon;
  3. Tornadoes in the Southern United States. These also struck roughly one month after COVID-19, which frightened everyone away from the designated tornado shelters;
  4. An invasion of murder hornets;
  5. A jet plane collided with a bear;
  6. And, of course, the death of James Bond.

With all of this upheaval, Thanksgiving may be subdued. In such times of tribulation, will Americans feel gratitude? State and local governments might even prefer citizens not give thanks, taking it upon themselves to restrict the number of guests permitted per Thanksgiving feast. Enforcement measures remain unclear; it’s hard to imagine even the most officious mid-level bureaucrat will want to be the designated government representative to knock on neighborhood doors, verifying the number of approved party guests.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving may be raucous; perhaps Americans may count their blessings more generously than usual.

I believe we continue to be blessed, despite what President-elect Biden has dubbed “a dark winter” ahead. In a quest to prove the point, I conducted some market research. Based on an anonymous survey, respondents consider themselves thankful for many items:

  1. “I’m grateful for chips.”
  2. “I’ve forgotten what work pants feel like. I’m grateful for that.”
  3. “You know what I’m grateful for? I discovered I can still somehow manage to be late for work. Even though I don’t commute. Nothing is impossible for me!”
  4. “I’m thankful that Costco installed checkout lines for shoppers with only a few items. I only ever have a few items.”
  5. “I’m grateful for Grubhub. Not even a pandemic can get me to cook apparently.”
  6. “I’m grateful I am not married. Explaining 2020 to a Quaranteen would be rough.”
  7. While limiting Thanksgiving dinner sizes struck me as churlish—“I’m thankful that I have an excuse to not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t stand listening to my family argue about the election.”
  8. “I’m thankful for masks. I like the anonymity.”
  9. “I’m grateful the toilet paper shortage is over.”
  10. “I’m grateful for the toilet paper shortage. I finally learned how to use my bidet.”

I personally have much to be thankful for. The second season of Haunting of Hill House was released on time on Netflix without incident. Also, grown adults have finally learned how to wash their hands.

I am also thankful for the endless insights into the lives of other people, which I can glean through Zoom. One particularly memorable Zoom meeting early in the pandemic featured a participant with chains hanging from his walls. He happily sat on a meeting with fifty strangers, seemingly unaware that his choice of decor could be considered a tad radical.

I am grateful that the world has finally embraced the wonders of telemedicine. I’ve been a frequent user of Teladoc ever since I discovered that I no longer have to physically go to the doctor’s office to have my rashes examined, or pervasive pink eye diagnosed. I’m pleased to welcome everyone else to this new, glorious, shame-free reality.

Finally, I am thankful for the downfall of makeup generally, and Big Lipstick specifically. I have not worn makeup in eight months, thus gaining hours cumulatively back into my life. For years I resented the extra minutes per morning I was expected to spend painting on a face. In particular, I found lipstick to be insidious in nature; the constant application causes your lips to become addicted to all of the added moisture. Without lipstick, your lips soon become egregiously chapped.

No longer will my lips be slaves to Big Lipstick! I’ve broken my addiction lo these eight months, and will never go back.

I’m not alone. A study from late July proclaimed the death of the “lipstick index,” an economics measure previously used to measure how women spend money during lean economic times. My fellow sisters in arms have also broken free.

Count your blessings folks, including what may be the most significant blessing of all –  that it is almost 2021!

Sarah Brown is a grateful person. She would be so thankful should you choose to contact her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Unmasking Halloween

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As with every other extracurricular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will assuredly be dampened this year. I am not the first person to note the irony; Halloween is a holiday based entirely on the idea that everyone should wear a mask.

Will Anchorage’s new mayor issue a municipal wide ban on live Halloween, as the old mayor did with live music?

Will anyone host Halloween parties?

Will anyone else attend?

Will families go trick-or-treating?

Is trick-or-treating a socially distanced activity?

Should I just leave a basket of candy out on the porch and call it quits when one small marauder takes it all?

Is bobbing for apples illegal?

Should it be?

Should we wear masks in the water while bobbing for apples?

Will people dress up in costume?

What will be the top costume of choice?

If we assume Halloween will not be stricken from the calendar, and that there will be costumes, and that people will dress up in them, below are the clear favorites for the Most Desirable Halloween Costume of 2020:

For those who remained single before, during, and after quarantine – 

Top Singles Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The Karen – Karen with bobbed hair, crow’s feet, and a bitter expression, has already been dubbed “the scariest Halloween costume of 2020,” by Good Morning America;
  2. Hunter Biden – all you need is a crack pipe and a wire transfer. No shirt required;
  3. Mask-ed Vigilantes – no obligation to separate along party lines here. This costume can be applied to both pro, and anti, mask vigilantes.

For those who managed to find love, despite quarantine –

Top Couples Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. Pilots and flight attendants;
  2. A pair of Sheeple;
  3. Donald Trump and Joe Biden;
  4. Amy Coney Barrett and Ruth Bader Ginsburg;
  5. Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir.

And for the rarest life form of all, those who managed to maintain friendships despite quarantine, and subsequent highly charged political events–

Top Group Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The cast of Tiger King:
    • Joe Exotic;
    • Carole Baskin;
    • Fraudster Jeff Lowe;
    • Pony-tailed polygamist Bhagavan Antle;
    • Stool pigeon Howard Baskin;
    • Victim and tiger feed, Don Lewis.
  2. The cast of General Hospital:
    • Doctors;
    • Nurses;
    • COVID virus;
    • COVID vaccinations;
    • Ventilators;
    • N-95 Masks.
  3. The cast of former Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s sex scandal:
    • Ethan Berkowitz dressed in a backless suit and carrying a selfie stick;
    • Maria Athens;
    • Molly Blakey, intermittently dispensing booze and cookies;
    • The escort known as Rae – She’s mysterious, so costumes are open to interpretation.
  4. The cast of Current Events, not to exclude:
    • Plague;
    • Pestilence;
    • Exodus (sometimes known as Brexit);
    • The Apocalypse – This can be subdivided into the Four Horsemen, and One Woman, of the Apocalypse:
      1. Scott Atlas;
      2. Alex Azar;
      3. Deborah Birx;
      4. Anthony Fauci;
      5. Mike Pence.
  5. The cast of a Zoom meeting:
    • A baby;
    • A pet;
    • A bra;
    • A toilet;
    • A thermos of vodka;
    • The Mute Button.
  6. The cast of Cancel Culture:
    • Woodrow Wilson;
    • Teddy Roosevelt;
    • J.K. Rowling;
    • The New York Times;
    • Mount Rushmore;
    • Broadway show, Hamilton;
    • And, of course, The Founders.

I myself choose not to rank costumes, but shall instead dress up as everything. On Halloween, you will find me isolated indoors eating cookies and drinking vodka out of my favorite tiger mug. Photos of Mount Rushmore will cycle repeatedly on the television, and I will don my beloved pair of fluffy sheep slippers. I will then promptly miss the mute button as I talk on the phone while doing a highly personal activity.

Every year, Sarah Brown celebrates Halloween with maximum enthusiasm. This year, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Birthday Battle Royale

“Quidditch” by John-Morgan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Back at a time in the distant past of October 2019, my friend’s son turned eight. He and I share a special bond; I once spent an afternoon helping him fold paper airplanes. At his instruction, I then threw said airplanes at him; he wanted to practice his ducking skills.

We’ve been friends ever since.

During that time, the citizens of Anchorage could mark such an occasion with a celebration. Thus, my friend threw him a “Harry Potter” themed birthday party, held at The Dome; she magnanimously offered me my pick of activities. I could make pizza, make butterbeer, make a pinata, make a cake, or referee Quidditch.

Refereeing was most in line with my life goal of bullying humanity. I volunteered for this, under the condition that I could use a loud, high-pitched whistle.

On the day of the party, I set out for The Dome for the first time in the history of my Anchorage residency. I drove around the neighborhood three times looking for the entrance, consistently getting pulled into that vortex known as the Changepoint parking lot.

Once inside, it was obvious which section of The Dome was designated for the Harry Potter party. One of the soccer fields was cordoned off, with three Quidditch goal rings erected on either side.

I walked over to my friend, easily spotted as a tall thin woman dressed as the Golden Snitch in a glittery jacket.

“Can you round up the kids and start Quidditch?” she squawked by way of, “Hello.”

“They need to burn off some energy,” she continued. “I’ve got a dad refereeing with you.”

I bristled at relinquishing any portion of my power, and grumpily walked flat-footed over to The Dad. He smiled at me bemusedly.

“Uh, you know the rules?”

“Nope,” he grinned. “No idea!”

My mood lifted.

Now I had an adult to push around, in addition to thirty children.

We strolled to the middle of the Quidditch pitch, where I picked up a white volleyball, and blew my whistle.

Children looked up from wrestling matches, punching matches, and other rudely energetic forms of aggression.

“Anyone who wants to play Quidditch, come to the middle of the field NOW!” I barked.

Twenty-nine small people scampered to my side.

“I need you to break into two teams!”

Instead, everyone went back to wrestling a neighbor.

I blew my whistle again.

“Hey! Two teams! NOW! Let’s go!”

A handful of obliging children splintered off into a second team. Everyone else stayed put, looking at me expectantly.

“Uh, the teams need to be even. We need more of you to move.”

All twenty-nine children ran over to one side.

The Dad walked over.

“I think we should just count off, ‘One, two, one, two,’” he offered knowledgeably.

I bowed to his wisdom; reasoning with children is a perpetual struggle for me.

We counted off, and yet two-thirds of the kids were still magically on one team.

I pointed.

“You five over here. The rest of you, stay put!”

Birthday Boy sidled up to me.

“Can my mom play?”

“No kiddo, she’s doing other things.”

Birthday Boy’s lip quivered.

“Can Zed be on my team?”

No, we’ve only just got the teams even.

“No, Zed has to stay where he is.”

Birthday Boy looked completely crushed.

“Can we be Gryffindor?”

A blond boy with large eyeglasses blinked at me.

“Uh, sure,” I agreed distractedly.

“Wait, we want to be Gryffindor!” a tall gangly boy cried out, asserting his side’s rights.

“Sure, you can be Gryffindor too.”

I blew my whistle.

“Alright, listen up! I need you to pick one person to be the Beater per side.”

In Harry Potter, the Beaters have the enviable power of throwing balls at their fellow players. And, as in the books, this position proved popular amongst my twenty-nine charges. Two boys from one team both declared themselves Beaters.

“Uh, you’ll be a Beater first, and then you’ll switch,” I pronounced.

Again, I made the mistake of ascribing utter reasonableness to school children.

Beater Number Two turned an impressive shade of crimson in an even more impressively short period of time.

“BUT I WANT TO BE A BEATER!”

He threw himself onto the ground and began to pull out his hair.

I looked at him, nonplussed. Even I had to admit, I was unequipped to deal with this total meltdown.

I chose to ignore him, and turned away to blow my beloved whistle.

“The rest of you, throw this volleyball through one of the rings on the other side. If a Beater hits you with one of their red balls, drop the volleyball and run back to your team’s rings.

“On my whistle. One, two –”

I blew the whistle and tossed the volleyball directly above my head.

The outcome of the match was immediately certain. The big gangly kid scored twice in under a minute.

Both sides’ Beaters watched their fellow teammates running joyfully around the field. Seemingly regretting their positions, each started tossing their red balls through the rings.

“Goal! Goal!” they screamed helpfully.

“No goal! No goal!” I waved my arms around maniacally. “Beaters, you have to throw your red balls at the other team!”

Both Beaters ignored me, and continued to throw their balls through the rings, and not violently at their fellow players as J.K. Rowling intended.

Gangly Kid scored four more times.

My friend, the glittery Golden Snitch appeared, holding the hand of a very tiny girl dressed as Tinkerbell.

“We have another player. Can she join the melee?”

I puffed my chest out authoritatively and waved my hand dismissively. I had more important things to concern myself with than some small child dressed as a character from the wrong story.

My friend directed Tinkerbell to join the game. Alas, she appeared to have very little actual interest in playing. Instead, Tinkerbell sauntered off and began hitting a punching bag.

The volleyball fell to the ground, and was snatched up by Big Eyeglasses, who was promptly tackled by four other players.

I contemplated breaking up the fight, but decided against it. It was high time these children learned the law of natural consequences.

Gangly Kid yanked the ball away and scored three more times.

I waved to my friend. As the Golden Snitch, she was the most desirable object in Quidditch; per standard rules, the first team to catch her won one hundred fifty points.

I decided to simplify the scoring; I did not want to do complex addition.

“We have now come to the final portion of the game!” I bellowed, blowing my whistle. “I need everyone to line up over here to my left.

“This,” I gestured to my friend, who was now wiggling to and froe at the other end of the field, “is the Golden Snitch. The first player to tag her wins his team ten points.”

“She’s worth one hundred fifty points!” Birthday Boy corrected.

Outsmarted again.

“On my whistle. One, two—”

On the whistle, thirty children ran forward.

The Snitch was tagged by Gangly Kid within seconds.

I trotted over to him.

“You! Kid! Yeah, you kid! Which team were you on?”

He looked momentarily confused.

“Uh, that team!” he decided. “The team going that way!”

He pointed.

I blew my whistle.

“The team going that way wins!”

One of the moms walked up to me.

“Wow, you really had those kids in line. You really made them hop-to!”

My chest swelled with pride; kinder words were never said to me.

“It’s all in the whistle,” I mumbled humbly. “All in the whistle.”

Sarah Brown is training to be a world-class drill sergeant. In the meantime, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Love in the Time of Corona

“‘i saw you on tinder’ Trastevere 2014” by Ithmus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Dating behavior has changed due to the coronavirus. Singles are now encouraged to pursue socially distanced dating, be that virtually, or through wholesome, six foot spaced walks.  This phenomenon has been a boon to online dating platforms. Bumble, the dating app with the second highest userbase in the United States, saw more than a 20% increase in usage during the early days of the pandemic, and hit the 100 million user mark in July. The app is geared towards women, with females bearing the brunt of messaging matches first. Men have twenty-four hours to respond, or not.

I am a veteran online dater, and have used Bumble specifically. The field of candidates on the app is endlessly fascinating, and the details men choose to put in their profiles is telling. Over the years, I’ve honed a fool proof vetting method for profiles, based on several cardinal offenses. For example, you must have all of your clothes on in all of your pictures. Possible exceptions can be made for beach pictures, but in that case, you cannot have more than one beach picture.

And then there are the Selfie Sins:

  1. One must never post selfies in bed;
  2. One must never post selfies in the bathroom;
  3. One must never post selfies in the car;
  4. If all of the photos in your profile are selfies, I am forced to assume you have no friends, or anyone else in your life who could take your picture.

Bumble does appeal to female empowerment enthusiasts, and in keeping with this theme, users are encouraged to post information on their profile that traditionally would not be discussed in mixed company. Bumble asks users to disclose their political and religious affiliations, and whether or not the user votes. Singles can then filter out matches who do not conform to their preferred affiliations.

You can also filter by the most important quality of all— the astrological sign.

I’ve had dating success on Bumble, with “success” defined as dating people long term whom I met through the app. Those aren’t the fun stories, however. People just want to hear about the disasters.

Not to disappoint, some dates were resoundingly painful. For example, I went out with a college educated, six-foot-seven math major. He was a self-proclaimed Catholic opera lover and cello player, who now worked as a commercial fisherman. Reading all of these specifics in his profile piqued my curiosity; he sure seemed to have a lot going on.

We had coffee at Starbucks for the requisite forty-seven minutes. I asked questions, and he took full thirty second pauses before he would answer each. He would drag on his drink, look off ponderously at some destination just above my right shoulder, and sigh, “You know, I never thought about that.”

A few days after the date, he texted: “My brain hurts from your questioning. Are you always that intense?”

To be fair, I did ask him a lot of questions. Those questions, however, were about deep topics like, “What’s your favorite movie?”

After he sat silently for a time, and then announced he’d never thought about it, I downgraded to an easier level: “What’s your favorite color?”

That too was a head scratcher.

Among a few other life lessons, Bumble’s most persistent impact on me is to be skeptical of people I find on the Internet:

  1. People on the Internet may not be all there. I stopped seeing one man after he screamed about how much his genitalia hurt while we were at the Anchorage Symphony.
  2. People on the Internet do not waste time. Multiple men over the years have asked me to move in with them on the third date. One even asked me to move state lines.

And yet—

3. People on the Internet are flaky. I once had a guy miss our date at eleven in the morning on a Saturday because he did not set his alarm. Willing to give him a second chance, I agreed to meet him for lunch the following week. He texted to confirm lunch plans that morning, and then later that he was on his way.

The trouble was that he texted to say he was leaving his house in the suburbs ten minutes after the date had already started, and it would take him another twenty-seven minutes to arrive. Honestly, waiting around for another half hour would have been the death knell to my dignity.

4. People on the Internet are weird. One man’s profile had a photo of him completely nude, submerged in a bathtub full of royal blue paint. No other explanation or notation.

Sure, online dating can be fun. It can also be the source of a stellar headache. Good luck to all the Single Ladies.

Sarah Brown is the Love Doctor. Write to her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.