A Crowd Pleasing List of Thanksgiving Dinner Topics

“The 2019 National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation” by The White House is marked with CC PDM 1.0

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No family gathering is complete without at least three political discussions so passionate they clear the room. To aid you at your forthcoming Thanksgiving feast, here is a proposed list of timely dinner topics, sure to make your evening a night to remember.

  1. Masks.
  2. Vaccines.
  3. Inflation? Yay or nay?
  4. Does Joe Biden sniff women? Or do women sniff Joe Biden?
  5. Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk?
  6. Bernie Sanders, or Elon Musk?
  7. What’s Mike Pence up to these days?
  8. Can cryptocurrency be most likened to the Holland tulip bulb mania of the 1630s?
  9. Was Aaron Rodgers immunized?
  10. Airline seats – to recline, or not to recline?
  11. Meghan Markle versus Piers Morgan.
  12. Janet Jackson versus Justin Timberlake.
  13. Britney Spears versus Justin Timberlake.
  14. Britney Spears versus Christina Aguilera.
  15. Britney Spears versus all of the other Spears.
  16. Is Benedict Cumberbatch hot?
  17. Wired headphones? Or wireless headphones? What’s cool now?
  18. Did Epstein kill himself?
  19. The ecclesiastical calendar, subdivided by the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
  20. The pros and cons of Kamala Harris’ laugh.
  21. Hepatitis A.
  22. Is Jennifer Lawrence hot?
  23. Is Justin Bieber a good singer?
  24. Turkey and gravy soda – a genius invention, or a monstrosity inflicted upon man?
  25. The First Amendment.
  26. The Second Amendment.
  27. The Third Amendment.
  28. Nicolas Cage’s acting career – please submit responses in the form of a dissertation.
  29. Why is everything so expensive?

I, for one, look forward to discussing the elusive sex appeal of Pete Davidson, whether or not Joe Biden’s neurologic exam was honest and above board, and to finally resolve, once and for all, whether aliens are invading Hawaii.            

Sarah Brown is, what her grandmother would call, an instigator. Tweet her @BrownsClose1 or email her at sarah@browns-close.com. “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. 

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 Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

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

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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

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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

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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.

Canceling Summer

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As we look forward to what promises to be an unusual back-to-school season, we can reflect on what was certainly a unique summer. 2020 proved the summer of canceling, and on both sides of the political aisle. In May, Mat-Su School District attempted (unsuccessfully) to cancel The Great Gatsby, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Things They Carried, Invisible Man, and Catch-22. Since then, progressives have taken up the canceling mantle; they attempted (successfully) to cancel Woodrow Wilson, Cops, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Teddy Roosevelt, Kriner’s Diner, and, for a hot minute, Gone with the Wind. Hamilton and Mount Rushmore still await their fates.

For the free speech advocates out there, cancel culture is a threat. For those of us harboring dictatorial tendencies, however, it’s an opportunity. I hereby participate in cancel culture, seize complete power, and you all can consider the following books, movies, and other entities officially banned:

  1. Iron Man, sometimes known as Tony Stark: He’s too beloved. I cancel him first as a show of my power.
  2. Les MisérablesThanks to Broadway and Hollywood, this story is well-known. Those of you who did not read the unabridged version in 10th grade English, however, missed all of the real misery found in “The Miserable Ones.”

The novel is overly long – nearly 1,500 pages. A significant portion of these pages bear no resemblance to a plot. For example, there is a 100-page tangent describing the Battle of Waterloo in detail. The battle takes place well before any incident in the story and has absolutely no impact on subsequent events. There is yet another 100-page tangent on the history of the Parisian sewers. The first 100 pages of the novel take a deep dive into the background of a character who appears early in the book and is never seen again. Finally, central, beloved character, Fantine, croaks on page 200, making it through just over 10 percent of the page count; realistically, Fantine has an outsized influence on pop culture, considering just how little of the story she endures.

To this day, I resent the fact that we read this particular opus, as opposed to say, a different Victor Hugo vehicle. If we really must, why couldn’t we read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, at a tightly paced 900 pages?  And why, oh why, did we have to read such a massive, meandering, French novel in a class entitled, “English Literature?”

  1. Martin Van Buren: As a gal who prefers more of a clean cut look, I find Van Buren’s choice of hair stylings personally offensive. I am triggered by all photos of his shaggy, shaggy locks.
  2. Game of Thrones: I’ve tried. I’ve tried twice. Both times I made it through Season 1, Episode 5. I’ve never felt the need to go back for Episode 6. I tuned in for the last season just to triple confirm I wasn’t missing out on anything. Confirmed.

And while we are at it—

  1. Dragons: All images, iconography, or other interpretations of dragons must go. Their fire breathing ways are out of touch with our currently warming planet.
  2. The GatekeepersEvery year in high school, we read a requisitely depressing bit of non-fiction. The Hot Zone, Nickel and Dimed, Fast Food Nation, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air to name a few cheery tomes. The Gatekeepers was about how unlikely it is any student will be accepted into the college of his or her choice. As an anxiety prone eleventh grader who lived my life under intense self-imposed grade-related pressure, my school telling me I was never getting into college was not psychologically beneficial. Given the Great College Admissions Scandal of 2019, I hazard a guess this academic mania has only increased in the last 15 years; ambitious young zealots are being driven to further extremes by their teachers telling them they will never amount to anything.
  3. Oh, the Places You’ll GoThe fact that children are being taught they can go anywhere in life except to their first-choice college is cruel.
  4. DuneLocations are called names like, “The Minor Erg.” I’m out.
  5. Zachary Taylor: For such a tough guy, his death was unceremonious. He was taken out by food poisoning courtesy of a bunch of cherries and a glass of milk. Such a weakling must be struck from the annals of our glorious history.
  6. Puppies: The intrusive little buggers steal all of the attention at parties when people should otherwise be listening to me with rapt, undivided, attention.
  7. Romeo and Juliet: Talk about your teenage hormones. The cringe inducing moments were augmented when my teacher specifically called on me to read the sexy bits aloud during English class. We did get to watch the 1968 film version after we finished reading the play. Juliet has a topless scene. That got the ninth grade’s attention.
  8. Any book where the protagonist speaks at length about his or her changing body.

Given the oodles of media I’d leap at the chance to ban, I look forward gleefully to my career with the FCC.

Sarah Brown sometimes goes by YDL (“Your Dear Leader”). Should you care to reach her, prostrate yourself on the floor, and summon her politely at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Groundhog Days

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There is a Facebook prompt going around that brought me a welcome respite from the otherwise angry political, mask, and/or election messages.

“Can you describe your favorite movie in as boring a way as possible?”

Responses were admirable:

  1. “A group of short men spend a long time walking. They end up throwing away a piece of jewelry.” (The Lord of the Rings)
  2. “A teenage boy doesn’t want to go to school, so he picks up his girlfriend and hypochondriac friend, and they drive around Chicago.” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
  3. “A number of people go to an amusement park where the attractions are not working as intended. The power goes out, and after a day or so the people leave.” (Jurassic Park)
  4. “A woman falls for her boss and his kids. They go for a hike.” (The Sound of Music)

And my personal contribution –

“A guy drives south and is arrested for murder. He’s saved by his cousin.” (My Cousin Vinny)

This got me thinking. In a year where every day seems to be a repetition of the previous day (Groundhog Day), why don’t we reflect on our daily activities in as exciting a way as possible? For example, my days were always action packed, and COVID-19 has only heightened the mayhem.

The day starts when I bound down the hallway, fire up my computer, and glance through my work emails. There is an offer for me to appear in CEO Today Magazine, for the scant price of 1,500 British pounds. This is the fifth such offer in two weeks. I am not a CEO, and I am not British.

My gaze shifts to one of my many other browser windows currently open, where I read about the recent Twitter hackings of high-profile accounts. Such victims include former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, probable 2020 President-elect Kanye West, and likely alien Elon Musk. I am elated I have not yet fallen victim to Twitter Hacker, Cozy Bear, or his associate, Fancy Bear. Fancy Bear is now what I call my mother when I wish to annoy her.

An Outlook Calendar Reminder pops up; it’s Five-Minutes-to-Zoom. I dial in, and am admitted to a meeting with other industry professionals around the nation. One company’s representative does not realize his mic is on. He is speaking to someone off camera.

“Go in the corner and clean up that poop. That poop. That poop there in the corner. We can’t have this place looking like a garbage dump.”

His pets, presumably, were at it again.

At noon, I step onto my front porch for a breath of fresh air. My neighborhood is often a source of whimsy, and today is no different.

One of my neighbors is painting bloody handprints across the front of her house. She completes this pastiche with a giant red “X” on her front door, and then drags a seven-foot-tall red-rimmed cross for display next to the street.

A line of cars starts to congregate outside of her house. The neighbors all get out to gawk at her handywork, and whisper to each other. A middle-aged woman on a bicycle wearing a helmet and backpack begins taking frantic photos from the opposite side of the road.

The posse of neighbors confronts the woman. While her initial reaction is to shout back at them in an even louder voice, she eventually recognizes she is outnumbered. She backs down and drags the cross back into her garage. She leans it gingerly against the wall, and then hurls the entire contents of her municipal garbage can out onto her front lawn and into her driveway.

In a final crescendo, she places a giant handwritten sign in her front window. It reads, “We love.” The “o” in “love” is a smiley face.

I watch the property value of my home evaporate.

Chased away from the fresh air out front, I return to my home office, where I open my window. Perhaps I can enjoy the breeze from out back.

I am immediately treated to the high-pitched shouting of the man who lives next door.

“I am triggered whenever I watch The Shining!”

(“A family moves to a hotel in the off season, but goes back to Denver in the middle of winter.”)

“That’s when it happened! It was at the chalet in Switzerland when I was two! That’s why I stopped eating fruits and vegetables!”

Whatever made Next Door Man forever forsake plant-based food products must assuredly be traumatic. Feeling ethically compelled to respect his privacy, I begrudgingly shut the window, and finish out the day working in a stuffy, hot room.

At the close of the workday, I sit on my couch and look for something to watch on television. Crimson Peak is running (“A girl falls in love with a guy and moves to his house. The house is condemned, but she gets some help from its prior residents”).

I stare at the screen hypnotically until the credits roll. 

That night, I have a number of nightmares about living in a sinking house in the middle of nowhere. In one dream, I wander around the house, watching red matter seep out of the walls. I don’t really panic, however, until I put all of my clothes into one of the house closets. I am unable to locate the closet again, and thereby lose all of my clothes.

I wake up sweating, and turn on the fan in my room.

It was a thrilling day indeed.

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

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