Sunday, October 31, 2010

My problem with Halloween


Preface: This is one of those posts where I will relate bits of my personal history that unveil the workings of my mind, and as such, may be viewed as (a) self indulgent (b) pathetic (c) whiny, or (d) all of the above. I proceed apace, undeterred.

Central thesis: Halloween sucks for me.

Argument: Halloween, for me, is like almost every other holiday - front-loaded with anticipation, and rarely providing a commensurate payoff. And that stems from a series of childhood incidents that left me as unfulfilled as a trick-or-treating kid who sees a toothbrush dropped into his candy bag.

There were at least three elementary school Halloween disasters - my Halloween baggage. Being just as "actor-y" at age six as I am today, the selection of a costume was of immense importance. My mother always offered to sew up something, so we would peruse the Butterick patterns at J.C. Penney and I would usually find something super cool that I wanted to be. In disaster number one, I had chosen to be a matador, and mama had put in the hours at the sewing machine to make me the elegant, dashing character I wanted to be. The disaster ensued when I tried on the outfit for the first time, looked in the mirror, and was brutally reminded that I was a rotund little bastard and the word "dashing" was waaaaaayyyyy down there on the list of descriptors. I looked like a 6 year-old, blonde Oliver Hardy. I think I ended up being something else that year - some get up in which my lard was better disguised. And I had a bad taste in my mouth for days. But that may have been the circus peanuts.

Disaster number two came the following year - third grade, I think. Always the excitable boy, I was manic for the coming of the big day and the wonderful Halloween parade at school, which consisted of walking up the street about 200 yards and walking back. The social event of the year. Can't even recall now the costume I had come up with this time, but I remember thinking it was absolutely the best ever, and I would be widely admired. I never got to find out. Instead I was felled by an excitement-induced asthma attack and spent the entire holiday flat on my back trying to breathe. Just like in those commercials, it was like trying to breathe through a straw - and not one of those nice fat 7-11 straws but like one of those little tiny mothers that you stir your coffee with. A boy can't even work up enthusiasm for a Reese's cup in that state.

Disaster three was only 364 days away. That year I had decided to forsake the heroic costumes and go for something in which I would be totally disguised - I would leave everyone guessing for hours. "Who IS that? Is it Jimmy? Is it Frankie? Who can it be???" To achieve this goal, I talked my mom into forking out the cash to rent a gorilla suit, the full-blown, ancient, mangy gorilla suit from the costume rental shop in town. Of course, it smelled like ass (literally) and I sweated like a Swede once the head was screwed on, but I was willing to make any sacrifice for the grand theatre of mystery I was about to present. A major element of my ruse involved not speaking to anyone at the start of the day and sitting at the desk of another kid who was about my size (husky, as we liked to say) when we went into the classroom. He sat parallel to me one row away. I knew everyone would be duped by this brilliant deception. I asked to be dropped off far enough from the school so no one would see my mom's car, and the chubby, smelly, silent gorilla lumbered into the school. My masterful plan worked like a charm! Kids were pointing, talking - "Who is THAT? Who IS it?" I was monk-like in my silence, giving no clues to my identity. But my enjoyment was short-lived. With my vision obscured by the mite-infested gorilla head, I mistakenly sat in my own desk. A chorus of "Oh, it's Barry!" rang out, ending my three minutes of perfect illusion. And then I had to sit around in the stinky gorilla suit all day. An asthma attack never seemed so attractive.

Layered onto this every year was the annual let down of trick-or-treating in my rural neighborhood, which was nothing like Charlie Brown and his pals on TV, but consisted of getting in the car and being shuttled along to houses of far-flung neighbors who gave out mealy apples and inedible popcorn balls. I secretly hoped for something riddled with razor blades just for the excitement.

And to top it off, I don't like to be scared. I don't love zombies, people in Jason's hockey mask jumping out with a chainsaw. I already had an overactive imagination, for God's sake. However, I do have fond memories of the year our enthusiastic neighbor tried to fly himself off his barn on a homemade harness and wire to scare his kids, and ended up plunging into his own bonfire. That was fun.

Summation: Have a great time out there, people. I know Halloween is some folks' favorite holiday, so enjoy the shit out of it. And I will concede that it's become a better celebration since the advent of slutty costumes for women and the realization that it's a grand excuse for getting really hammered.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A cynic and his fairytales are soon parted


My uncle Rodney, the last of the three Martin brothers, died two days ago at 94. He was married for 72 years. It's hard to know if all those years were happy years because he was prototypically the man who wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful, but I think he was happy. I cite this as a pre-counterpoint - a preterpoint, if you will - to what follows.

I will now wage war with the concept of happy endings. (No, not that kind, you pervert.)

From toddler-hood we are marinated in happy endings. Wicked queens (no, not that kind, you pervert) and ugly stepsisters and predatory wolves in the woods always get what's coming to them. Handsome princes and damsels in distress find true love and always live happily ever after. We learn fast. At about age 5, my daughter whispered to her grandma during a stressful moment in a Disney movie, "Don't worry, they get married in the end." This was a movie this child had never seen before. She was already primed to believe in happy endings.

SPOILER ALERT: BELIEF IN SANTA CLAUS MAY BE VIOLATED IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

Some parents don't like to "perpetuate the Santa myth" with their children. They believe the dashing and dancering of Santa hope that inevitably happens is a scarring event that can be avoided by never buying into the scheme in the first place. Likewise, some scotch the idea of God with their progeny, having had themselves some type of existential letdown, most likely while sucking on a bong in high school. As repugnant as I find that type of painfully realistic thinking, I'm trending toward joining the band and adding the happy ending to the list of things with which we should not infest our children.

Sure, peg me with a tracking device to study the behaviors of the middle-aged cynic! But let's examine the facts, shall we?

Can you quickly name a person who's lived out the fairytale? Someone for whom true love was requited and lasting? Someone nasty who actually suffered their deserved fate? Someone brilliant who was recognized as such before suffering and ignominy?

I propose the fairytale ending in our human affairs is, in fact, "the big lie." Pots of gold don't get found at the ends of rainbows, nice guys really do finish last, and true love blinks in the glare of frailty, pragmatism and self interest.

Funny, but I only have to look as far as my list of all-time favorite movies to find a reasonable truth that makes my point. Ilsa gets on the plane with Victor and Rick is left with only memories - Rhett gives the finger to Scarlet - Charles Foster Kane dies alone and friendless dreaming about his sled, for Christ's sake. THIS, my friends, is the truth of the truth. I love Capra, but he lied.