Saints, Ghosts, and Scooby Doo, by Steve Safran

Britt’s sister (known around these parts as “Zealot Sister”) and I recently made it official– we are Facebook friends. Along with her brother, Patrick, we now form a powerful triumvirate– ready to resurrect Britt’s Middle Child Syndrome at a moment’s notice*. It is an honor to be part of the Stockton coterie. Paige and I have often traded respectful debate on matters religious. She is a faithful Catholic. I am a Jewish something or other. But, true to one of the basic tenets of this blog, we are respectful of each other’s beliefs.

A recent exchange:

PAIGE: What is the debatable topic of the day, Mr. Safran?

(I was out for dinner, but replied with the following:)

STEVE: I’d love to know why people believe in ghosts.

PAIGE: Enjoy your evening. Next time— ghosts versus saints. Are they the same?

Oooh. Love that. She turned it into a question, and Jews love questioning and debating questions rather than insisting upon answers. So let me try:

And let me begin by stipulating something I do not believe: There are saints. I will stipulate there are saints, and they are watching us, listening to our prayers and sometimes answering them in the affirmative. Again, I absolutely do not believe this, and yet, out of respect for Paige’s beliefs– so stipulated.

Ghosts, I believe, fall into a different category. Actually, four categories:

  1. A famous person, haunting a famous place (i.e., Abe Lincoln in the White House).
  1. A dead relative, sticking around to guide you from the beyond. (Booooo! Don’t marry Kevinnnnn!  He’s a jerrrrrrrrk!”)
  1. The run of the mill, sheet-covered ghost, whose only goal in the afterlife is to scare you. You know, a jerk.
  1. The ghost trying to scare people out of the old amusement park so a corrupt realtor can buy the land cheap, only to be unmasked by a group of meddling teens and their anthropomorphic dog.

Of these four, I only buy the last. At least it’s a plausible scenario. People do stupid things for greed. Faking a “haunting” is conceivable and, in fact, the basis for reality TV shows.

I am in the majority– but not by much. A HuffPost/YouGov poll  from 2013 shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in some places and situations (Think: Seances, Ouija boards, to get back at you when you lied upon their souls to get to second base with a girl, etc.).

Further, Pew Research found that 18 percent of Americans assert they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Based upon that data, my reaction was: “Sure, the highly religious people are the ones who must be most likely to believe in ghosts. Ghosts are, after all, the embodiment (as it were) of life after death.”

Not so.

The Pew study says people who go to worship services weekly are less than half as likely (11%) to see ghosts as those who attend services less frequently (23%).

So what’s the big deal? People can believe in ghosts or not, right? Well, let’s look at other things people believe, keeping in mind that 47% believe in ghosts:

A Gallup question in 2009 asked “Do you think racism against blacks is or isn’t widespread?” 49% of whites said it was not widespread.

61% of Americans still believe others beside Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

38% of Americans do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

These are our phantoms. Racism is demonstrably widespread. There is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the Kennedy assassination. (If there were, imagine what the people who knew about it would have earned in book rights, knowing about the first American coup.) And Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Therein lies the danger of believing in ghosts. The ghosts of conspiracy, the phantom lies, and the ghouls in Aunt Mable’s closet are all the same thing: desires to authenticate unreal things. They are the desires to make us think we know something other people do not. They are the desires to make us think there is a power keeping information from us. They become our folk stories and they endure, as superstitions do, no matter the evidence.

So while saints, we have stipulated, are real… ghosts are not. And yet these ghosts are dangerous and damaging and downright scary. And like all un-real things, these ghosts materialize in the darkness when we isolate ourselves from opinions that do not conform to our own. Or even when we fail to stipulate, for the sake of respect and argument and the search for truth, that saints are real.

But Scooby? That dude’s legit. Like me, he’s scared of the havoc the boogie man in the rubber mask can wreak. And he’s palpably relieved when the light of day reveals the charlatan and his fear-mongering ways. And man, can he eat.


Boooo….BOOOO! Booo, Obama! No…nooooo… there is noooo global warming…


*Editors note: No, I’m really happy you guys are all friends now. I’ll just be over here in my little corner… not listening to you craft blonde jokes or anything. Whatever.

A Halloween Story

Almost every morning I escort backpacked boys to the bus stop, and then race to ballet class. I love the effect all of that tuck, lift, stretch, and burn is having on my hormone-ravaged parts. (Tamoxifen should be every bit as delicious as a 3 Musketeers for all the damage it does to a midriff.) But, barre class begins a rather exact number of minutes after bus stop child disposal, leaving very little wiggle room to snag one of the unmetered parking spaces coveted by lululemon-clad women in legwarmers. We’re happy to shell out $20 per class for a flat belly, but it’s that much sweeter to save the buck on parking. Today I congratulated myself on my good fortune as I backed my car into the choicest spot that didn’t require quarters, then skipped into the studio, blissfully unaware that someone was trying to kill me.

On Thursdays, Leslie and I usually sneak out of barre early and race over to Bible Study. Today we decided to be late, because it feels rude to sneak out early, and Jesus appreciates a girl with a great ass. (Having established that Bible study-attending Churchy types can be irreverent as well as shapely, I’ll put in my usual plug for Thursday morning women’s Bible Study at the Redeemer.) Hopping into my SUV with my still-shaky legs, I turned the key in the ignition and… nothing. I flagged down Leslie and said within earshot of my would-be assassin that I’d leave the dead car in the lot and call AAA after circle time with Jesus.

AAA, for all its economy and convenience, isn’t always the swiftest champion for a damsel in distress. I spent three hours in a parking lot using my almost toned arms to pull on the steering wheel to get the column to unlock. Nothing. The key refused to turn for me, or for AAA hero #1–who was more interested in my ability to plié and do splits than figuring out why the car wouldn’t start. When fate requires you to depend on the kindness of burly men in vans, it’s better if your outfit leaves a bit more to the imagination. But I’d just returned from Bible Study, so in my these-people-in-my-path-for-a-reason frame of mind, I learned that his sister is battling cancer and we had a bit of prayer-share bonding before he told me to call a tow truck. It took another hour for AAA hero #2 to interrupt my shameless Facebook trolling for amusement. Four updates and fifteen comments later, adorable AAA hero #2 arrived, took my keys, and started the car on his first try.

Three hours of frustrated attempts to unlock the steering column so abruptly remedied made me go all Elaine-from-Seinfeld on him. I actually pushed him with an incredulous “how did you DO that?” Of course, having been blonde my entire life, I’m accustomed to these situations… it’s why we have such a bad rap. Proving in three minutes that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my car, he kindly suggested I get the ignition checked anyway. But as I exited the parking lot, my window wouldn’t close. The dashboard went dark. There was a weird rubbing noise that sounded like an expensive problem, so I backed up and told cute AAA boy that I was scared to drive with the noise and wonky computer. He sat down in the driver’s seat and closed the window without provocation before loading blondie’s gigantic, totally functional car onto the flat bed.

It wasn’t until we got to the garage that AAA cutie noticed one of my tires was hanging on with only one bolt. “Where are the other bolts?” he asked as if I use them for sundry art projects and forget to replace them afterwards. Unable to account for four missing bolts that require large, iron tools to remove, it was determined that this was a failed theft. But instead of leaving my Volvo propped up on milk crates, the criminal left me with a car that would have lost its tire as soon as I hit the parkway.

“God is looking out for you, Britt.”

That was the only explanation from my mechanic. He just called. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the steering column. Nothing. The only thing he’s certain about is that driving a car with one tire bolt would have spelled disaster… disaster that was diverted by a car that wouldn’t start. My completely functional car now sports four tire locks, and I’m safe at home in my Cinderella costume. The murderous thief is still out there… but apparently I have a guardian angel.

I've wanted this costume for years... and a failed murder attempt won't stop me from enjoying it!!

I’ve wanted this costume for years… and a failed murder attempt won’t stop me from enjoying it!!

Stay safe, friends.

The House with the Full Size Bars

We’re the house with the full size bars. Handing out gigantic wrapped chocolates is a Stockton Family tradition that is rewarded with wide-eyed appreciation of small spidermen and princesses, and keeps teenagers from egging the house. Also, stocking the home with enormous candy bars is, at least for me, an obstacle from eating them. I could easily consume my own weight in two-bite, fun size 3 Musketeers increments. Much like drinking wine at the catered party, where the glass is perpetually filled and the count becomes fuzzy, I’ll conveniently forget how many breaks I took with tiny Kit Kats. It takes an extraordinary number of bite size Snickers to satisfy me. But unwrapping a full bar? That’s too obvious a sin to commit.

Brodie has asked to be the door greeter/candy bar distributor this year. My ten year old is approaching the holiday with I’m-too-old-for-that disdain. This saddens me. Our smallish neighborhood with far too many darkened doorsteps of elderlies who don’t want to be bothered hasn’t provided the spooky fun spoils every kid deserves. I loved Halloween as a kid: forcing down Mom’s healthy meal in advance of the anticipated pillow case of junk, waiting forever and ever for Dad to get home (when did he say he’d be here, Mom? Is he coming? Did he call? IT’S GETTING DARK!!!), unsuccessfully refusing the warm coat over the plastic-y costume, and finally rushing out into the shadowy streets with the promise of free candy.

I’m fairly certain my Dad initiated the Trick or Drinking tradition in our neighborhood. He and the other un-costumed fathers stood at the curb with their clinking glasses of vodka and scotch and approached for refills at houses where I guess they knew a “Trick or Drink!” appeal would be honored. After the pillow cases were heavy, we all landed in someone’s family room to sort and swap while the grown ups drained their lowballs and forgot it was a school night. The next day, the city kids bragging about their absurdly large spoils from many floors of closely spaced apartment doors sounded like cheating to us. Halloween happens in the dark; and it’s a little tiring, a little chilly, a little scary, a little magical.

I’m hoping for an eleventh hour change of heart from Brodie—that he’ll swap his indifference for a ninja costume and head out into the night with his little brother and Bernie. I’m hoping that the whole romantic notion of unlimited sweets and a flexible bedtime is too alluring to keep a ten year old boy at home to tend a bowl of big candy bars. Though I love Brodie’s maturity and “old soul” approach to the world, I don’t want him to miss the fleeting fun of Halloween– a precious time of goofy, sugar-fueled excitement coupled to the safe feeling of Dads at curbs and neighborly fellowship. I want at least one more year for him to collect his own Halloween memories, and sort his spoils while discussing the ethics of the just-take-one bowl and why anyone gives out pretzels.

I’d like to think our address is included on the trick-or-treating route, as well as in the catalog of Halloween stories, for any number of teeny Harry Potters. We’re the house with the full size bars! And if you show up with less than two fingers in your lowball, you can totally count on the Lee house for a Trick or Drink pour. Happy Halloween, friends. Go make some memories.

Look at all of that fluffy goodness...

Look at all of that fluffy goodness…