Not so goody bags

From today’s Baltimore Sun  Note: See end of story for the latest Boo update.,0,7923313.story

Can we please say ‘Good riddance’ to goody bags?

By Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

October 28, 2009

Today’s Not-So-Great-Depression has claimed a new victim: children’s birthday party goody bags.

And good riddance, too.

I despise those little crinkly plastic bags full of $3-a-piece junk: the oddly fluorescent lizard made in China, the fake garnet ring with the finger-pinching gap in the back (isn’t real garnet ugly enough?) or the ubiquitous rectangles of stickers, stickers, and more stickers.

Yes, it’s all junk that gets lost or tossed into piles in kids’ bedrooms. Junk that is nonetheless a costly burden and time-stealer for overwhelmed birthday party parents. (Not to appear cheap or thoughtless, such parent might stock up on items costing $15 per partygoer – all of which adds $150-plus to the $250 or more already paid for the birthday affair at a Penultimate Play Coliseum or a Princesses at Tea/Juice Party).

Not that I’m against party favors, per se. Or a killjoy. And I know everybody loves swag.

But since when do kids who go to other kids’ birthday parties need to indulge their coveting of another’s good fortune – and special day – by getting handfuls of little cheap plastic presents in little cheap plastic wrappers, which they tear open on the sugared-up drive home in the car (usually complaining about the color, carat, or character they got anyway)?

Children’s Birthday Party Goody Bags, defined: the epitome of greed and consumerism gone awry, the worst of Christmas year-round, imbued with all the pressure of implied tradition and wasteful spending.

And I’m not alone. Lately, I’ve noticed more mothers and fathers standing up to the madness, going back to basics because of the worrisome economy and forgoing excess.

Let’s spread a new tradition: At the party giver’s door – after a good time for all and lots of birthday cake – just hand the young guests a lollipop, or a slender watercolor palette, or a single package of M&Ms or Crazy Bones, or even a round of applause and a hearty “Thank you for coming.” And be done with it.

By the way, the day after I wrote the above plea, I almost tripped over a paper bag on the front stoop of our house. An anonymous, kindly neighbor – who I’m sure has no idea about my opinion on this matter – left an elaborate orange-and-black goody bag. A rather spooky apparition. Inside, an Internet-downloaded flier informed me:

“You have been BOO-ed!”

There were chain-letter style instructions, which included: 1) “Within the next two days, make two copies of this note and two more BOO signs. 2) Make two treat bags or BOO baskets.” All to spread cheer.

Of course, no one would know that my kids are sick and cranky (i.e. lunatic) today, and that I can’t even make it to the grocery store for essentials we’ve actually run out of: bread and peanut butter and toothpaste and toilet paper and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. So, fashioning a creative goody bag full of Halloween candy (which I haven’t bought yet, and which we’ll be drowning in soon) isn’t on the agenda.

Still, if I ignore the “Boos” tenets, will I be tempting a jinx?

While I appreciate the sweets and the gesture, no one could know that the only thing I fear more than Goody Bag Peer Pressure is Chain Letter Voodoo.

Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, author of “Literature on Deadline,” is a lecturer at The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and Advanced Academic Programs. She blogs weekly at

Not So Goody Bag Postscript: By the way, soon after I sent this essay to The Baltimore Sun, the proverbial plot got a bit gooey-er.

On receipt of the first Boo! bag, I hunkered down and went into avoidance mode. I didn’t put up the “We’ve Been Boo-ed” print-out that signals participation in the fun.

I blithely went to the office on a Sunday, and then got a call from my husband.

“You won’t believe this,” he said. “We’ve been Boo-ed again!

A silver van had pulled up, and someone jumped out and dropped off another package. This time a black bag.

I knew then that we had to make a preemptive strike:

“PUT UP THE SIGN!” I shouted.


The thing was obviously going viral. Five houses on the block sported Boo-ed signs (which bore images of ghosts) much like markers on the doors of victims of the Black Plague during the Middle Ages.

And so, trying to isolate ourselves by refusing to participate, we nonetheless felt compelled to indicate that we had—just to avoid everyone in the neighborhood thinking our house was an untouched target and bringing a nonstop string of goody bags to our front door, again, and again, and again.

My husband, who recently took a Public Health biology class, likened it all to viral infection “attack rates.” As I understand the phenom: Two hits spread to four, spread to eight, spread to 16, spread to 32, spread to (I’m not very good at math) a big number . . . .

Though, of course, it’s all a happy distraction to a much scarier virus going around this 2009 Halloween season.



H1N1 One

It’s a phrase that has entered our cultural vernacular this H1N1 flu season. And, as such things go, it would make a great name for a band: Hey dudes, here they are, in their 2009 debut:

The Flu-like Symptoms.


I hereby predict the next big infomercial craze: Mindflex.

Just check out the commercials. People wearing headsets stand around a table, furrowing their brows and concentrating really hard to power a fan that floats a ball through some hoops. Fun for the young. The old. Well, maybe more in sync with the young.

As Mattel’s own site notes: “Utilizing advanced Mindflex technology, the wireless headset reads your brainwave activity. Concentrate … and the ball rises on a cushion of air! Relax … and the ball descends. It’s literally mind over matter!

I was right, btw, about the Snuggie. In-on-the-ground-floor, you could say, telling my family last year, “It’s just a robe worn backward!”

“Hey, Jay Leno said the same thing,” my nephew said.

Sham Wow!

Overheard at the Washington Mall

A boy was flying a kite with his mother in the shade of the Washington Monument.

“Mommy, do you like me calling you Mommy?” the boy asked.

“What else would you call me?” she said, as she tried to keep up with him.

Later, I called home on my cell phone.

My husband answered: “J Dog!”

(In a nod to street culture he calls me J Dog and I call him B Dog. He started it.)

In the background, I heard my son chattering away.

Then, my four-year-old called out: “J Dog Mama!”

Cigarettes and Aftershave

I walked into the elevator at work the other day and it smelled like cigarettes and aftershave.

It brought tears to my eyes.

It wasn’t the sensory overload. I just hadn’t smelled that particular blend in a long time, and it reminded me of my father.

Then I realized that the tenth anniversary of his death was last April, and that I didn’t even stop to remember him. Then.