Thursday, October 27, 2011

I don't not hate Halloween

El Dia de Los Muertos, anyone?
OK, I began badly:

I don't not hate Halloween for me alone, an empty-nester approaching geezerhood. I love it for anyone else, most of all children, to whom the holiday should be returned. We adults have co-opted it, making it into other things for ourselves — things hyper- horrific or alcoholic — and some kind of blanched community benignancy for kids.

All you have to do is get stuck watching one of those tony Giada de Laurentiis/Martha Stewart/Today Show Umpteenth Hour TV cooking-and-craft programs this time of year to see that. What these latter-day homemakers do with dried apricots, black licorice whip and bittersweet chocolate chips should convince you how Halloween has become an adult product which we reconstituted and forced upon our spawn as safe and, therefore, uninteresting. The spawn on these particular shows didn't look like they were enjoying themselves.

{As for holidays in general, to quote my son —  in turn quoting from some pop-culture phenomenon to which I'm not privy — meh! Holidays just wash over me, I'm not sure why. Maybe it's their frequency. They seem to occur every year. I could throw my limited resources behind a moratorium on holidays. Give us a chance, perhaps, to appreciate them by their absence.

My sister said Halloween is her favorite because it's the only "free" holiday — free of conflict; free of a myriad conflicting shining expectations, and the realities that inevitably desecrate them all; free from guilt; free from the tension of having and not having, and not having enough; free from the press of religion.

All you have to do on Halloween, my sister said, is be someone else for a day, get goofy, party and eat candy.

Ironically, I think religion is what I'm missing from Halloween, the suggestion of the supernatural and other-worldliness; not the horror of zombies or monsters or even ghosts, but spiritual forces making overtures to us on the periphery of our consciousness. I think I'd enjoy being part of El Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, that mixture of Catholic and Aztec ritualistic tribute to dead ancestors. Its art certainly draws me … and check this out about La Catrina.}

I wouldn't get in the way of anyone's Halloween celebration, because I loved, loved, loved Halloween as a kid, my memories still so sharp:
  • How my dad once made me a costume by painting my old toy football helmet green and turning it into a space alien's head, including scavenged tin electrical pipe through two of the vents at the top for antennae, each antenna topped with a tiny flashlight bulb that lit when I pressed a button on a battery pack hidden somewhere in the otherwise store-bought costume. Lights may also have shown through holes in the mask. That's where my memory dims, for I don't recall exactly how I turned on the lights, nor do I want to remember that I may not have asked for the costume, or appreciated all my dad's work creating it, or that he may have cussed a black cloud putting it together …
  • How my next-door neighbor, Buddy, and I decided one year to keep our costumes a secret until the moment we met up for trick-or-treating, and how he showed up at my house to reveal that we were each dressed in drag. Now that I've finished writing that sentence, I realize it takes on a diametrically opposed and unintentioned nuance than it had 39 years ago. Back then it was just hilarious to us that by coincidence we had decided to dress as women. Photos are probably extant, and will begin showing up on the Internet, scuttling my political aspirations …
  • How Halloween afternoon always felt so different than the afternoon before or after. Sometimes in Lompoc, that afternoon came dead calm on the heels of a hot Santa Ana wind, which always stirred people to restlessness. Sometimes that day instead signaled the first crispness of fall; October on the Central Coast is usually the clearest, most comfortable month.

    The evening sky, burning orange to red and purple, more intensely than other skies on other nights, held weight and foreboding. The forest of scrub oak across from my house grew blacker against the scorched sky, hinting at the sinister somethings and the finality of matters, earthquakes and tidal waves and brushfires, all my dread obsessions.
  • How I tried frightening my sister with drawings of bats and Grim Reapers and headless horsemen, until my mom caught me …
  • How each Halloween brought closer to mind Agnes. Every town, I've come to realize, has an Agnes, though she goes by different names. Commonly she's Bloody Mary, so invoked in the latest of the Paranormal Activity movie franchise.

    (A facebook fan page dedicated to the collective childhood memories of people from my hometown includes several references to Agnes. It amazes me how we share such stories, and how, without the benefit of documentation, we all know our story.)

    Our Agnes haunts Harris Grade, a pass in the range of hills between Lompoc and a "shortcut" into Santa Maria inland, serpentined with a narrow deadly road (where several high school students died in separate accidents my junior year). Long, long ago — some say nearly a century ago — as we in Lompoc know, Agnes' car (or wagon?) overshot one of the hairpin turns, and she and her baby fell to their deaths over the steep dusty white embankment and into the chaparral below. (I've always imagined it took place in the 1940s or '50s, and it was a fiery death.) Now Agnes roams the grade, keening for her baby and grasping at cars, trying to push them over the side in her vain search.

    Or maybe the baby lived and Agnes can't find her, damned to eternal vigil? I don't know if an Agnes authority exists who can settle such details.

    Like Bloody Mary, Agnes will also appear if you call her name three times aloud in front of the mirror of a pitch-black bathroom. Always a dark bathroom. Why?

    I was never to find out if it was true, for I never dared say Agnes' name aloud even once in stark daylight, let alone three times in the dark.
In plain terms, I was a wuss. Still am. The only reason I know Paranormal Activity conjures Bloody Mary is because I saw it in the trailer on TV. I scare easily enough without going to the movies and having to pay for it. A lot of people love being scared, or seeing others scared, thus the plethora of Halloween horror movies. They're welcome to it, even the torture-porn of the Saw movie empire. Just don't invite me.

You can leave a little candy, though. Or a coupla sugar skulls. The fading relic of the kid still inside me needs nourishment.

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