Who knew trick or treating could be racist?

We’re not at everyone is wearing white sheets level, but it’s ugly

The former guy, rotting.

Halloween and trick or treating – a simple childhood pleasure, right?

And yet, my neighborhood association has turned it into something racist and classist.

It’s not intentional (I don’t think). It’s not like they said, “How can we be awful people in how we do trick or treating?”

But that’s the result.

The way trick or treating works in this city is the city designates official trick or treat time, which I think is absolutely nuts – trick or treating should happen on the night of October 31. That’s not complicated. Trick or treating should happen on Halloween.

But the city decided it would be better to have trick or treating on a Sunday afternoon. So they designate the Sunday closest to Halloween as the official trick or treat time – and they make it during daylight.

Sure, it’s safer for the kids to be out during daylight, but other than that, there is no benefit to an afternoon, not usually October 31, event.

(Plus there can be a Packers game in the afternoon, which means nobody is going to answer the door.)

My neighborhood association feels the same way I do about afternoon trick or treating. So they did something about it.

Unfortunately, they did the wrong thing.

Rather than appeal to the city to right the wrong of afternoon trick or treating, they set up their own trick or treating on a specific night.

It’s a big deal – people have bonfires and parties and it looks like a lot of fun.

But to participate, you have to be a member of the neighborhood association.

Which means living here and paying a membership fee.

And you have to register your children to trick or treat, which requires (I think) more money.

The kids get little wands or glowsticks or something to show that they are paid, legitimate, One of Us trick or treaters.

People who register to give away candy (yes, you have to register to do that as well) get some sort of sticker to put in their window so kids know where to go.

In short:

  • There is a Designated Neighborhood Night of Trick or Treating
  • You have to be a paid member of the neighborhood association to participate
  • Children get a special magic decoder ring so people know it’s OK to give them candy.

When I lived in Memphis, I was surprised to see children who did not live in my neighborhood show up at my door on Halloween. I was a bit cranky about it and said something to a friend, who set me straight.

“It’s maybe not safe for them to trick or treat where they live. Why not be kind?”

I was so ashamed when I thought about what she said. She was right – I was annoyed because people weren’t playing by the rules, rules I had created in my head. What was so bad about giving candy to little children?

It’s not that the kids who don’t live in our neighborhood can’t trick or treat here – they do. Only they come on the official designated trick or treat time – the Sunday afternoon. They do not come during the neighborhood event, which is the fun one.

And they are the only ones trick or treating. All the neighborhood kids have already done their trick or treating.

Some people still give out candy to those kids, but many do not.

It’s a sad sight: only a few forlorn kids, going door to door, with many people not answering, in the middle of the afternoon.

When I suggested (on Facebook) to a member of my city council that we change how the city does Halloween, explaining that the neighborhood parties seemed exclusionary and racist, she blocked me.


Death is coming

Death is coming and it’s grim but you have to prepare

My aunts, my cousins, and my sister making rolls for my grandmother’s funeral.

Mr T’s parents died six years ago.

They made him executor.

The estate still isn’t settled.

Part of it is – and Mr T will admit this – procrastination.

But a lot of it is because his parents left a mess and it takes a long time to clean up an estate that’s been left in disarray.

I beg all of you to get your affairs in order. You are going to die. Either you take care of things or your heirs are stuck doing it for you – and it’s a jerk thing to do to leave all that work for someone else.

No, I don’t care if your parents did it to you. That doesn’t mean you should do it to your kids.

(Not that anyone reading this would be like that, but I have seen such sentiments expressed in other places. “Why should I bother? I was stuck dealing with my parents’ mess. My kids will have to deal with mine.” Don’t be that person. I know you’re not.)

My mom and I have spent hours going through her records and files. I have met with her financial advisor. I have her passwords. I have current copies of her will and long-term care policy and a key to her safe deposit box. I know where she wants to be buried and have her permission to have her cremated so it’s easier to get her remains from Colorado, where she lives, to Wisconsin, where the cemetery is. (My dad is already buried in the cemetery in their hometown and she will be next to him.)

When Mr T’s parents died, he had to hunt down records. He didn’t know if they had a safe deposit box. They had not updated their will to account for the special needs of one of their grandchildren.

Here are things you should do to make life easier for your kids (or for your spouse – Mr T’s parents died within six weeks of each other, so it was a bit of a special case) or for whomever settles your estate:

  • Have a will. I know. It seems so obvious. But there are people with minor children who do not have a will. Do you really want the courts deciding where your kids go?
  • And of course it should go without saying that if you have minor children, you have life insurance. Right? Right? I am preaching to the choir here?
  • Medical and financial powers of attorney. Designate them.
  • Living will. What do you want done and not done medically? Please do not put this decision on your children. Please.
  • Give a copy of the will to your executor. (Better yet, designate a lawyer as your executor – being an executor is a royal pain in the neck and why would you dump that on your kids?)
  • Have clearly marked files with all your financial information: mortgage, deed, bills, bank accounts, car titles, safe deposit boxes. The car title does not – and I cannot say this loudly enough – belong in a manila folder on the top shelf of the guest room closet.
  • A list of accounts and passwords. What are the passwords to your online accounts? Social security numbers?
  • If you are married, make sure your spouse is the co-owner of everything with you. Make sure your spouse is the beneficiary of your IRA and 401k.
  • What’s the plan for your pets? No, it’s not an option for your kids to take them. Figure out where your pets should go and put it in writing so your executor knows. Mr T spent months trying to re-home his parents’ cats.
  • It would be a huge kindness for your to make your wishes known with respect to your remains. Burial? Cremation? The Body Farm? Put it in writing and – yeah, I know this is going way out there – make the arrangements. Buy the plot. Decide what you want on the headstone. Pre-pay the funeral home. It’s awful enough to deal with the death of a loved one, but having to figure out and arrange a funeral on top of that? Give that gift to your spouse/children/whoever.
  • Don’t make promises to your kids that you’re not going to keep. Don’t write a letter to one kid promising a certain amount of money and then not put it in the will. Don’t suggest to another kid – the executor – that maybe you should let him decide how the money is divided between him and his two siblings. That is, unless you want to be sure that your children hate each other forever.
  • Clean your house. Throw away the junk you don’t use. If you have moved to Florida, take your winter clothes to Goodwill. You don’t need a heavy winter coat anymore.
  • Keep your bills current. Don’t keep a box with eight years’ worth of Medicare EOBs mixed with regular and junk mail. Don’t force your executor to go through all those papers looking for unpaid bills. The estate cannot be closed until all the bills are paid.

As you might guess, Mr T and I have learned all these rules through experience.

We have also learned these important things through experience:

  • If you have any nekkid photos or equipment, please figure out how to have someone who is not your child get rid of them. Your kids do not want to see you – nekkid.
  • If you disinherit someone, it’s considered tacky to make that person the executor. Just. Saying.
  • Again. Nobody wants to see your home porn. Especially not your kids.
  • If you are one of the heirs and tell the executor that you were promised some special yet unable to be defined jewelry and the executor tears the house apart looking for it and finally just sends you all the jewelry in the house, it’s probably not good form to imply that the executor is keeping the Good Jewelry for himself and you know this because you took the jewelry he sent you to an appraiser, who told you it was all costume jewelry.
  • Again as an heir – expecting the estate to reimburse you in cash for the frequent flier miles you used to attend the funeral is a little bit extra.

Representation matters

We all need to see girls and young women on the hero’s journey

I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to major in biomedical engineering, then go to med school, then design artificial body parts.

That’s how I started college – as a biomedical engineer.

I finished as an English major.

I know this is not exactly failure – so sad that I got to go to college, much less finish, but I abandoned my dreams because I didn’t think I could do it.

One of my roommates got the same grades I did freshman year in chemistry, calculus, and physics. She now has a PhD in comp sci.

I could have done it.

But I didn’t think I could.

There was nobody to tell me I could.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I should have pulled myself up by my bootstraps and all that. I should have known – I should have persisted – there are plenty of women who conquered these obstacles – etc., etc., etc.

But I didn’t.

I was weak. I was ignorant. I was scared.


My parents were first-generation college students. My grandparents didn’t go past 8th grade. Not because they didn’t want to but because their families needed them to work.

My dad was the first (and only one) of his siblings to go to college. He went on the GI Bill after enlisting in the Coast Guard. After he finished college, he joined the air force, which is where he spent his career.

That is, my dad risked his life to go to college. The military is great in peacetime (what is that these days?) but when there’s a war, being shot at is part of your job description.

Notice it’s the not the children of the affluent joining the military.

My mom was the first of her siblings (not the last) to go to college. She went to the University of Wisconsin on a full academic scholarship, but dropped out to get married. It was hard, she said, to be the poor girl in the dorm. Her roommate had a closet full of new clothes that still had all the tags. My mom sewed her own clothes and didn’t even have, she said, a dime to buy coffee.

My mom does not exaggerate. She meant that she literally did not have an extra dime to get coffee with her friends.

My parents didn’t know about the SATs or how to apply for college. I had a really good counselor my junior year of high school when we lived in the Panama Canal Zone, but we moved that summer and my new counselor was super busy and didn’t have time for me.

Fortunately, I had already taken my SATs and had already identified the college I wanted to attend, but a little more guidance would have been nice, such as when the recruiter from Princeton came to my high school and urged me to apply. I didn’t bother because I knew there was no way my parents could pay for Princeton and I didn’t want to pay the application fee. That’s where a counselor telling me about financial aid and the waiving of application fees might have been useful.

I started school as an engineer, taking the basic calculus, chemistry, and physics as a freshman.

All my professors were male.

Most of the other students were male. At the time, the male-female ratio at my college was about two to one.

If there were career support activities just for women, I didn’t know about them.

(Now, there is fabulous support for women at Rice, which makes me happy.)

I was too scared to ask for help because I didn’t know that was a thing. I didn’t know I was allowed to do that. I didn’t know that’s what office hours were. I thought office hours were the hours that professors worked, which made me think that being a college professor was a super-sweet gig: You work only a few hours a day!

Then there was that D in freshman calculus.

But an A in physics.

Physics was logical.

Calculus was not.

But still – a D.

I had always been an A student. Then I got to college and everyone around me was also an A student and I was no longer the smartest person in the class, which was so, so weird, but then I accepted that I was not the smartest person in the world and it was liberating.

But having been the smartest person in high school meant I had never had to study or ask for help and I didn’t know how to do so and I didn’t think that people who got a D in calculus could be engineers or doctors and I didn’t ask anyone and nobody told me otherwise so I just – quit.

Yes, I know a better woman than I would have persisted. I know better women did, including my roommate, the one who is now a college professor.

What was the difference between the two of us? Why did she keep going despite the bad grades? Why did I give up at the first sign of trouble? What does she have that I didn’t?

I honestly don’t know, but I was very alone on my college journey and she was not. Her parents were both teachers and knew how to encourage her in ways that my parents simply did not, just because of their backgrounds.

And I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the places I wanted to be. I didn’t see female professors. I didn’t see female doctors. I didn’t know about other female students failing and then overcoming their failures and succeeding in the end.

Maybe I could have done it if I had persisted. I don’t know. Maybe I am just not smart or persistent enough to have succeeded in my desired career. I will never know now.

But for the girls and young women behind us: We can help them. If you know a girl or a young woman who is struggling or who is trying to do something hard, tell her she can do it. Help her find resources, like the Women in Tech groups. Show her the stories of Katherine Johnson and the codebreakers in WWII and Katalin Karikó and Rosalind Franklin.

They can do it.

A World War II color poster depicting ‘Rosie the Riveter’ encourages American women to show their strength and go to work for the war effort by J. Howard Miller in circa 1940. (Photo courtesy National Archives/Getty Images)

Leave Britney alone. Leave all of us alone.

Pro tip for men: If the only female humans who will pay attention to you are underage, you’re the problem. Lolita is not a guidebook.

I know I keep using this image of ‘Medusa With the Head of Perseus’, by artist Luciano Garbati, but it’s so appropriate for so many things.

A grown man (loud, obnoxious, entitled) was hassling a teenager in the coffee shop where Mr T and I were ordering our cafecitos to go.

(We were the only ones masked, including the person preparing the coffee. Not relevant to this story, but noteworthy considering we were in northern Wisconsin, in the area with the lowest vax rates in the state.)

The five of us – barista, grown man, teenage girl, Mr T and I – were the only ones in the shop.

As we walked in, the man was asking the barista if the girl could pose with the sweatshirts he had brought in. (My guess is he is a vendor to the shop, maybe selling on consignment?)

Man: I want her to pose with them and then post the photos. Is that OK?

Barista (shrugging): OK.

That’s a little weird. I get using youth and beauty to sell stuff. It works. But it’s still gross when and when you don’t even know the person, it’s worse.

Man: Would you hold these while I take some photos?

Say no! Say no!

Girl: OK.

He finishes and she returns to her table, where she is doing homework.

The man sits at the table with her.

There are a million empty tables around her.

Man: How old are you? Fifteen?

If you have to ask how old she is and your first guess is 15, then you shouldn’t be asking.

Girl (head down, looking at book, still writing): Sixteen.

This is where the man should laugh in embarrassment and leave. Yet that is not what happens.

Man: Sweet sixteen! Did you have a sweet sixteen party? I bet you did!

Girl (still not making eye contact, still writing): No.

Man: Hey! Do you want to come to this harvest festival?

Me to Mr T and barista: Did that grown man just ask out that underage girl?

Barista: He wouldn’t. She’s my sister.

Me (and you are OK pimping her out for him to take photos of her?): UM, OK.

Man: What’s your profile name? I can send you an invitation.

Girl (still not making eye contact, still writing): Yeah I’ll have to check my work schedule.

First, you shouldn’t be asking underage girls on a date.

Second, with grown women, “I’ll have to check my schedule” means “Leave me alone you creep.”

Third, if you want to ask out a grown woman, wait until she makes eye contact with you before you do. Lack of eye contact is a sign. That sign is that she does not want to talk to you.

What do we do, fellow warriors? How do we protect girls and other women from men? What do we say? What do we do?

One friend suggested asking the girl, “Is everything OK?”

Another suggested, “Is this man bothering you?”

What do we say? I like both of those ideas. I also like the idea of just sitting next to the girl and smiling at the man.

It makes me angry that I have to think of a way to protect a girl when I am scared myself. We don’t know what reaction we might get if we challenge an asshole. And it makes me even angrier at myself for putting my own worries ahead of protecting a sixteen-year-old girl.

The things I wish I could take back

They made sense at the time, which terrifies me, because what makes sense now that’s making other people shake their heads in sorrow?

It’s a good thing I didn’t have cats yet back then or I would have been really insufferable. What if I had just brought a cat into my friends’ apartment? Without asking?

The older I get, the more horrified I am at the things I did when I was younger. These things seemed fine at the time, but now I shudder.

Here’s one. I finished college a semester early (to save money, which, again, in retrospect, I am horrified at because I saved $2,000. That’s it, y’all: two thousand dollars. That is all I saved. When I could have had another semester of learning and being with my friends. I was so dumb. But $2,000 was a lot of money back then. That’s when tuition was a mere $4,000 a year. FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR! Can you imagine?)

Anyhow. I finished early and decided the best thing to do with my time was go back to school, only this time at the University of Texas in the English graduate program. I don’t know – to be a writer or something. I didn’t pick wisely, though: I enrolled in a rhetoric class and a medieval lit class, where I learned (and still know) that in Middle English, the “k” and the “gh” in words like “knight” were pronounced, so it was “Sir Gawain and the green kah-nicht.”

This knowledge has not been useful to me in my career. Or even in Trivial Pursuit.

I also took a squash class. The sport, not the food.

That was the only class I got an A in, even though I stopped going to classes in the middle of the semester. I did not formally withdraw, because I needed to be a full-time student to stay on my mom and dad’s insurance. I just stopped going to class. My squash teacher didn’t notice because she had just gotten engaged and I guess she just gave everyone an A.

This is relevant only because I had to move from Houston to Austin. I found a place to live: My friend K, with whom I worked as a lifeguard in the summers, was an undergrad at UT. She and her roommate, R, needed a third roommate – theirs had moved out after the first semester.

I moved in.

I moved in a week before classes started so I could spend time with my then-boyfriend, whose mom and dad lived in Austin.

K and R hadn’t returned to Austin yet, so I would be alone in the apartment, the dream of young people in love/lust.

(Alas, Austin had a historic ice storm that week that made the highways impassible, so not only did I not see my boyfriend, I had to trudge through snow to find an open grocery store once I had eaten all the food in the apartment, which consisted of a box of fudgesicles.)

Anyhow. In all this aloneness, I had decided – I still can’t believe I did this but it made perfect sense to me at the time – I would redecorate the apartment.

I had brought with me, from my mom and dad’s in San Antonio, a bunch of paintings.

I don’t even remember how that came to pass – if my mom offered them to me or if I asked for them.

But I had paintings my mom and dad had gotten in Spain.

And I decided these paintings – street scenes of Madrid – belonged not in my bedroom but in the living room.

So that’s where I put them.

Without asking my roommates.

One of whom I had never met.

And I used nails.

In the walls of an apartment.

Is it obvious I had never

  1. Rented an apartment before?
  2. Shared an apartment with roommates before?

When K and B returned, K saw the paintings. She, a drama major, said brightly, “Isn’t it – kind – of you to share these paintings with us!”


It gets worse.

When we moved out at the end of the semester, we still had a month left on the lease. The apartment was going to sit empty.

So I gave the key to my college friend Warren, who was starting a job at Texas Instruments or someplace like that.

Neither K nor B had ever met Warren.

I did not ask K or B if it was OK.


Oh my Lord.

When Warren moved out, I went up to Austin and cleaned the apartment again. All it needed was vacuuming – he had left it clean and tidy. But K was angry with me. She came over to my mom and dad’s house and yelled at me.

What if Warren had left the place a mess? What if he had damaged the place? What if they’d lost their deposit?

I was super defensive – and I was defensive because she was right and I was wrong.

That was the last time we spoke. In a fight. After years of being friends.

A few years ago, I found K on facebook and apologized.

She replied that she didn’t even remember the incident.

Which is the beauty of being lucky enough to have good people as friends in the first place – they will forget and forgive.

I hope my current friends are as forgetting.