Who Wants a Mini Three Muskateers?

Paul Schrader (director/screenwriter, mastermind behind Taxi Driver and buncha other awesome movies) grew up in an extremely strict Calvinist household, one in which any form of idleness was an expressway to damnation. He wrote about going to see a film in a theatre, sweating, panicked, absolutely convinced that this simple act would send him to hell. But he was so transfixed by the experience–obviously realizing that this was his calling–that he couldn’t tear himself out of his seat.

I still get that doomed but defiant feeling whenever Halloween comes around, at once resisting its trappings and wanting to dive head first into it. Growing up, my mother was a Jehovah’s Witness. As I’m sure you know, they celebrate very few holidays for various reasons. In the case of Halloween, the reason is: They think it’s evil.

Ironically, I bet very few people who “celebrate” Halloween truly believe in demons and witches and whatnot. Witnesses do. This is odd, because they don’t believe in Hell, and they don’t have same idea of the Soul that you find in most Christian sects (it’s due to their unique interpretation of the Bible, which would take way too much time to get into). But they do believe in Satan, that he has minions at his beck and call, and that he could sic his cronies on you if you took him too lightly. “Taking him too lightly” includes dressing up as a sexy nurse, somehow.

That’s why, to this day, I have seen very few horror movies. Witnesses believe–no, for real–that anything depicting the occult, the devil, demons, etc. etc., can actually serve as a gateway for the Horned One to enter your mortal vessel. It’s almost like the DARE argument against pot. “Yeah, sure, you think A Nightmare on Elm Street is innocent enough. Then you move on to Friday the 13th. Then it’s Hellraiser. Pretty soon, you’re painting pentagrams in blood on your basement floor! And smoking crack with ghetto people!”

There is a certain age bracket during which you’re anxious to see Retarded Horror Movies. It’s more or less ages 12-16; for some people, it’s longer, and for others, it never ends. See these kinds of films at the aforementioned impressionable age, and they will imprint themselves on your psyche. But if you don’t see Retarded Horror Movies during this period, you will probably never see them, because if you watch them for the first time as an adult, you’ll realize how unbelievably stupid and poorly made most of them are.

At least that’s been my experience. Scary Movies were verboten in our household, for the same reason as Halloween itself, so I’ve always been curious about them. But for every honestly terrifying, well-done piece of Bone-Chilling Cinema, I’ve seen ten flicks that temporarily lowered my IQ 10 points and just left me laughing and scratching my head. “This is what they thought was gonna doom my Christian well being?! I could see the strings on the monster’s mask!”

Most kids have a battle plan on Halloween: what costume they’ll wear, which houses they’re gonna hit, what other kids they’re gonna go with, whose houses they’re gonna destroy with shaving cream and toilet paper, where they’re gonna hide out afterwards. Our family had a very different battle plan. It depended on whether the Evil Day fell on a weekday or a weekend. But in either case, the goal was: Get out of the house. Don’t be at home when trick or treaters arrive. Because we didn’t want to have to answer the door empty handed and face the consequences. Those consequences might be the “trick” portion of “trick or treat”. But mostly, we just didn’t want to be exposed and shamed.

I should note that this was not Standard Witness Procedure. You were all but encouraged to be home, so you could explain to the little tykes who rung your doorbell why you didn’t have any goodies for them. And if that sounds like an invitation to an egging to you, then you understand why my mother decided to skip town.

But beyond that, it wasn’t in my mother’s nature to stick out, to look odd, to not fit in with other people. Her default emotional setting was “out of place”, and she felt no need to invite further potential ridicule on herself or her family. Of course, simply being a Witness demanded of its adherents that they be “in the world but not of the world”. So the faith wasn’t particularly conducive to my mother’s desire to remain unnoticed, which should explain why she eventually fell out of The Truth (as they humbly refer to their theology).

The Family would usually go to a local mall, see a movie, then probably enjoy some fine dining like Pizza Hut or an all-you-can-eat $6.95 Chinese buffet joint. It was a treat, because these weren’t things we did with any kind of regularity. Nothing to do with religion on this front. We were just broke. For most of this period in our lives, my father was only intermittently employed, and my mother worked at a picture framing factory. An outing like this put a considerable dent in mom’s pocketbook, but the investment was worth it simply to avoid the tiny ghouls and goblins converging on our house.

Of course, we couldn’t stay away from home forever. We’d always get home after dark, which was usually late enough to avoid most of the trick-or-treaters in our scaredy cat neighborhood. But there was the occasional hardliner–either really determined kiddies or older punks looking more for trouble than treats.

So for the rest of the night, we’d hole up in the basement, watching the little TV that could only get three channels and eating ice cream in the dark. Our basement was only partially underground. Behind our house, beyond the backyard lawn, were woods that seemed to go on forever. Through a back window, you could see the moon lighting up the gnarled branches of the already bare trees, scraping the sky and bowing in the breeze.

And every few minutes, another person would ring our doorbell, looking for candy. We’d stop moving, sometimes even hold our breath. There’s no way somebody at the front door could have heard us in the basement, but we’d get as silent as if we were hiding from actual demons and goblins.

I spent most of my school life hoping not to get Found Out. There was a time when I truly believed, had faith the same way my mother did. But even so, I was afraid like her of seeming different. I was already a Fat, Weird Dork. I didn’t need to be the Fat, Weird Dork who Didn’t Celebrate Halloween For Reasons That Would Confuse The Average Junior High School Student. If asked, I never lied. But I tried to make sure I was never asked.

And so we all hid in the basement, the only light coming from terrible, flickering TV reception and the moon outside. Hemmed in on one side by the endless woods and on the other by hordes of sugar-jacked zombies seeking sweets. And though none of us believed in it, at that moment we all felt like we knew Hell.

The Return of the Son of the Creature’s Ghost

Wow, I knew I hadn’t update this space for quite some time, but I hadn’t the slightest idea it was six months’ worth of neglect. Shameful, considering, you know, I pay for the real estate.

I’ll be writing a lot more on this space in the future, as my other paid gig is coming to a halt. I’ll probably continue to do snotty sports-related writing here, particularly when the baseball season returns, and proceed to make highly unreliable NFL picks. But there will be my usual complaints about Life and The Human Condition. And of course, there will be lots of potty mouth.

But now, because Halloween is almost upon us, I share with you a terrifying artifact from my youth (although I think the majority of childhood is terrifying, but that’s a topic for a different post):

The Phantom Diner.

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Peanuts, Cracker Jack, Etc.

scoreboard.jpgYesterday I attended the Mets’ first ever Workout Day. Turnout was surprisingly enomrous, or perhaps not, considering the high hopes most fans have for the upcoming season. This is how bad I’ve been fiending for baseball: I took about 12 thousand pictures of absolutely nothing. Whether it was stuff I’ve seen a million times before, or guys just standing, or stretching lightly, or tossing balls slowly, or coaches I couldn’t even recognize slouching in front of the dugout–forget it, I went Japanese tourist at this event.

The links above are but a small sampling–I have a bajillion more blurry, indistinct photos on my hands. If I put them together, I could probably make a flipbook of the whole afternoon. Got a pic of Delgado taking first base for the first time, though I didn’t get any shots of the monster homers he hit off the scoreboard in BP. Got some cool pics of Mr. Wright taking BP from behind home plate, here, here, here, and here, And of course, The Wife got to fulfill a dream.

I heard nearly every fan in attendance say the same thing: “I thought it was just gonna me and like five other guys here!” It resulted in a lot of beer and hot dog consumption (for the assembled host, not for me) and some questionable fashion choices. Forgive the man, it’s been a long winter.

A Bright Big Shining Star

If you came out ot last night’s WYSIWYG Talent Show, hey, thanks dude. Truth be told, I didn’t have too many allies in the audience, but that’s okay because it gave me a truer gauge of how I did–which I believe was pretty good, if I do say so myself. I knew I wasn’t getting too many pity-inspired “we’re laughing ’cause we know him!” laughs.

So I made strangers laugh. I had a feeling I did that. Now, it’s on purpose.

The Quare Fellows

Hey, it’s time for my annual anti-St. Patrick’s Day rant!

I actually didn’t want to write anything on the subject this year. Having just returned from the Emerald Isle, I’ve had enough of pubs and shamrocks and whatnot for a while. And I really wanted to move forward with the recounting of my trip overseas. Then I heard this:

“In the Irish Times interview, [NY St. Patrick’s parade chairman John] Dunleavy said, ‘If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow Neo-Nazis into their parade? If African Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?'”

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Panic on the Streets of London

The magic of air travel meant that we would leave Newark at roughly 7pm Tuesday and arrive at 6:30am Wednesday. What hath God wrought? In order to ensure good sightseeing, I should have fallen asleep on the plane. But I can’t fall asleep on planes, not really–to paraphrase Patton Oswalt, plane sleep is sleep robbed of all its nutrition. The best I could manage was a few fitful nappy-time moments while I listened to game 5 of the 1999 NLCS on my iPod. Every few moments, I would wake up to find out that still no one had scored after 10 innings, 12 innings, 15 innings… All told, my actual asleep time totalled approximately 45 seconds.

When you get to London/Gatwick, you are faced with a number of transportation options into London herself. You can take the Gatwick Express, which runs nonstop to Victoria Station and serves overpriced snacks and drinkage. Or you can take the cheaper Southern Rail, which makes lotsa stops on its way into Blighty. Always looking to save a quick buck, I went for the latter.

What I didn’t fully realize is that Southern Rail is a commuter rail. So the seats weren’t equipped for people with baggage and carry-on items. The Wife tried to put one of her bags on rack above the seats, but it proved unsuitable for any luggage that couldn’t be carried by a Barbie doll. Not only that, but by the time we’d gone four stops, the train
was completely packed. Initially, I’d put my enormous luggage on the empty seat next to me, but before long all seats were taken. I pondered moving the bag to the floor so someone could sit, but all available floor space was taken by grim looking commuters holding on to handrails and completing the Times cryptic crossword with one hand.

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At Home He Feels Like a Tourist

I’m sorry Florida, I can’t front no more. I straight up hate you. I feel like I’ve been to enough of you, over a sufficiently long period of time, to be able to make that statement. Granted, I haven’t been to Miami, which I imagine has its own thing going on–a random person said to The Wife the other day, “I wasn’t born in America, I was born in Miami.” But me and Florida ain’t grabbing a beer together any time soon.

I had to go down to Boca Raton for bidness, which in itself was okay. The folks I dealt with were extremely nice, the working environment was pleasant, no complaints there. And even though I’m not a warm climate person, around this time of year I can appreciate the allure of 80-degree weather.

But here’s the thing: Florida has zero local culture of its own. None. Everything is a strip mall, everything is a chain store, everyone drives on horribly cluttered highways to get to and from work. Everyone lives in a pseudo-Caribbean-looking Miami Vice-colored faux terracotta condo. Everyone shops in places that look the same. It’s Everywhere, USA, except for palm trees, hurricanes, and highway snipers.

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A potentially explosive collection of verbal irritants