Memory: Halloween

31 October 2019

Continuing my spate of memory dumps, this month has me thinking about Halloween (duh). I do love it, though I won’t be that cliché who claims it’s their favorite holiday… not that I haven’t traditionally appreciated all those spooky girls who do. I think its resonance with me personally has more to do with memories of what I’ve spent it doing than it does decorating with cardboard bats from Target. It’s a nightlife holiday, and I think the freedom and energy in that has always appealed to me more than the sequestered family time of say Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Rated PG

Somewhere, there are pictures of me as a toddler on Halloween, I don’t know, dressed as a clown or something. My sister surely guided me and showed me the ropes, with mom and/or dad pulling me around in a wagon. But my first real memories of it all, not surprisingly, begin with the candy.

We always used pillowcases to go out trick-or-treating with. Durable, ecologically-friendly, economically-friendly. They really are as suited to this purpose as they are actually encasing pillows. Of course there was the anticipation of what each house will be giving out. Aside from the standards, there were also those (cheaper?) candies you never got any other time of the year. Not just candy corn, but things like Smarties, Bottle Caps, and those knockoff M&Ms that are balls instead of oblate spheroids. Every year, some variation of the legend of the house that gave out whole full-sized Snickers. Or, if you stayed out late enough to outlast your neighborhood residents, and if you went down the right street with low trick-or-treater traffic, you might find a house that just left a bucket of candy out and hoped for the best. I’d like to say that I had the ethics even then to respect the “please only take one” sign, but I couldn’t say for sure.

And holy shit, the smell of a bag of mixed candy. There’s something unique about that vast mélange of sweets that you’d never amass on any other day of the year. Once in a while, I’ll catch some faint trace of it in a grocery store aisle, but it’s not how I remember.

Preparation for the big night would start a few weeks earlier. It was going to McWhorter’s (a local stationery store I could write a whole separate set of memories about) and loving all their ghost and pumpkin decorations (including one of the most beloved tchotchkes of my youth, a 1985 Hallmark haunted house gift box). It was planning a costume and looking so forward to getting new toy swords and props that you were so sure you needed for your costume… but would invariably come to resent having to carry around all night. I guess I leaned toward the macabre as a kid. An executioner (with hood and axe) one year, a street punk (with mohawk bald cap and stuffed plush flail) another. Probably all from McWhorter’s. It was going to the pumpkin patch, and some years, even attempting the always-disappointing mess of trying to carve it.

Elementary school for Halloween was bliss. As I recall, there was some kind of Halloween day where there was like a fair and you got to wear your costume to school. I vaguely remember there being a cakewalk. Maybe we’d make those pictures where you water color an orange and magenta sunset, paint over the whole thing in black, then scratch out a silhouette of some barren autumn trees.

And around that time of year, there was always some sort of back-to-school night. In the October twilight, my parents and I got uncharacteristically dressed up and headed to the campus. Illuminated by burning orange lights, school buildings were a welcoming and exciting oasis in the middle of a dark campus surrounded by a darkening evening. Full of anticipation, the air of something special… school, where I spent my days with other kids was now a night with adults. Different rules applied. Anything could happen. While parents schmoozed with other parents, we kids would run around the same playground we spent every day on, made exotic by the night. Eventually, we’d huddle in a classroom, now set up for conferences or a presentation. Or maybe it’s the assembly room. Maybe we’re watching a play.

Rated PG-13

As I got older and childish wonder gave way to adolescent cynicism, Halloween changed, too. It was going to haunted houses. As I reached the end of my trick-or-treating years, it was having mobility to go to any neighborhood and to reach hundreds of houses. It was that one kid in my class that got jumped Halloween night. It was getting egged not one block from my own house. It was standing up to the creepy guy revving a chain-less chainsaw at the end of a cul-de-sac and scaring kids… and him whispering to me that if I couldn’t play along, I should leave. And me realizing he was right.

Towards the end of my teens, dad carves the infamous “Smartest Man Ever” face into pumpkin. In 1997, I spend Halloween night at home, learning HTML and building my first website. In 1998, I spend it in Southern California at a campus-wide college party, making out with my sweetheart, both of us dressed as the Blues Brothers.

Rated R

I guess at this point, we’re getting close to when I’d already started blogging, so it’s probably covered back in the archives. As an adult, I remember doing my first (and the second-to-last ever) Halloween in the Castro in 2005. The next year was when TCB played The Rockit Room, where the band dressed up like Droogs, and Sus and Shel dressed up like me. Not long after, I spent a Halloween at home with my girlfriend, catering to almost no trick-or-treaters and I believe spilling a ton of takeout ranch all over my kitchen. In 2010, I stayed home alone to watch the premiere of a new series called “Walking Dead.” In later years, I’d skip the costume and just go to nightclubs. Somewhere along the way, a nightclub character had her wedding on Halloween night at one of those clubs.

More recently, and during my hiatus from blogging, I spent a Halloween walking up and down Front Street in Maui. The next at a John Carpenter performance in L.A. Last year, it was Morrissey in Ventura. Tonight, it’s home to relax, write this blog, and eat candy meant for trick-or-treaters. Perhaps someday I’ll think back on past Halloweens again and think of this very moment. (Hi, future me!)

Sorry, these latter memories are more just a list and don’t have the same nostalgic energy the childhood ones do. Or I might just be running out of steam here. Or maybe it’s a candy coma.

Rated X

Oh, wouldn’t you like to know! Happy Halloween, everyone! And happy birthday, Johnny Marr!

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion.

— Graeme Edge, “Late Lament”

Memory: Back To School

30 September 2019

It’s September (at least for another few hours), and if you’re young or have kids that are, that means back to school. I don’t have to worry about that anymore myself, and yet I still find a way to. Though who among us doesn’t still have those occasional nightmares… the classic “showing up to school naked” or perhaps my personal fave “it’s finals day for a class you forgot to attend all semester.” We all still have those, right? No? Just me? Awesome.

A while back, I started gathering a mishmash of random memories from my school days that I wanted to put out there. Maybe not super relatable, but I don’t keep a diary, so it all goes here. Hope you enjoy. This will all be all your midterm.

Aesthetics Versus Athletics

School always felt somehow like enemy territory. I’m sure that’s mostly the anxiety I had about meeting obligations, but there was also something foreign about it. Large facilities that I only ever saw part of. Classrooms I never personally had classes in. Buildings I didn’t know the purpose of.

And then there was sports. Not that I wasn’t active as a kid. I remember that time of the early evening when the streetlights are about to come on. Playing outside, running in the cold till your gums hurt, itchy from rolling around in the grass. But I also remember passing by campus after school, looking at a jungle of fences and poles, a grass field and a labyrinth of athletics buildings and hallways and locker rooms I knew I’d never see. Shared equipment and rules and practices and competitions I didn’t understand. A club, a camaraderie I just didn’t “get.” Especially mystifying when it was for older kids. In elementary, it was the middles school. In middle school, it was the high school. In high school even, it was college. There was something exclusive about athletics. Jonah was always clued in, but not me. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t my family. And yet school spirit and uniforms and events and rallies all centered around this stuff. These were the heroes, the inner circle of the school. This is what mattered to some people, and to me it was so foreign that I just stayed away. Intimidated by that jungle, I guess. An outsider. That probably makes me sound bitter about wanting to fit in, but I don’t think I experienced it that way. At least not consciously. I got along with everyone, had friends, and generally had a reasonably trauma-free experience. I’m not going to pretend I was somehow above the desire for popularity, but I don’t think I specifically craved the approval or acceptance of people whose interests were so different from mine. (Like who cares if someone who likes shitty music thinks your music is shitty, right? Same idea.)

Anyway, I did eventually have my version of that camaraderie with martial arts in high school and later with bands, and I really appreciated it then.

Hitting The Books

In elementary school, the only books I cared about were at the Scholastic Book Fair. Reviewing each year’s catalog and negotiating a budget with mom was serious business. (That and the little “Santa’s Workshop” event where a bunch of cheap tchotchke booths were set up in the school library where you could Christmas shop for your loved ones. I vaguely remember wire-and-stone beetle jewelry and some kind of metallic angel. My first semi-independent exposure to consumerism.)

In high school, it was getting your issued textbooks each year and wondering what each one might portend for that class’ workload. The cold feel of weighted clay-coated pages. Worn covers with corny 70s city scapes on them, seeming mysterious because they predated my birth. The mandatory hassle of covering each one with a cut up grocery bag. And perhaps unofficially writing a few book reports based on Cliff’s Notes.

Then in college, the books were better — hell, I even kept a few of them. And you didn’t have to cover them. But you had to buy and sell them yourself, which sucks in its own way. I wonder if that’s any easier in today’s world with Amazon and e-books and Wikipedia and piracy?

Your Problems Aren’t Problems

Those JC days are fond memories. Living at home, balancing work and school, and still plenty of time for an active social life. Had some income but still a full course load. An easy commute with easy classes. Listened to a lot of music on the road (my own CDs as well as Alice and Live 105, though remember these were the dark days of post-grunge). Even a modicum of friendship with other commuter classmates. It was like having a second job that was less stressful. I suppose that might have been in part because this is when you start getting treated like an adult. Show up if and when you want. No one on your back. Sink or swim on your own schedule risking only your own neck. It’s how I work best.

And then the later days at Cal were great, too. I had no income since I couldn’t balance it with a real job. That sounds to me now like something that would have terrified me, so maybe I’m remembering it through rose-colored lenses, but I really think that other than the given stress of classes, I felt pretty free. Spending all day on campus, hanging out in libraries, watching movies in the film department to kill time, lunch on the quad and around town. The end was in sight, and I’d put all the pieces in place. There was nothing left to do but stay the course and wait for it to all come together at graduation. Which it mostly did, and I moved on to adult life.

As nice as I seem to remember it being, I can’t even imagine having to go through school in today’s world. More expensive and less valuable. More complex and stressful. I don’t miss that shit. You’d have to literally double my salary for me to even consider going back. I obviously don’t recall it being all that awful at the time, but trying to make room for it here and now, contending with real adult responsibilities? No thanks. Those carefree days are gone. Unless I win the lottery, I don’t see myself loafing around on a campus again. I’m much happier with a steady income and a nightlife. At least I think I am.

“Every beginning is a consequence — every beginning ends some thing.”

— Paul Valéry

Memory: Freedom ’97

29 July 2012

I’m kicking off a new category of posts here.  It’s a category of Memories, and while in a way almost everything I post on this blog could be classified as memories, this category will focus on specific recollections I have that strike me and awaken a certain feeling.  You know what I’m talking about, where you smell a scent that you remember from your youth, and suddenly a ton of stuff comes flooding back.  I just feel compelled to capture those moments all of a sudden.  We’ll see how it goes in the months to come…

It’s funny how very specific (and not necessarily remarkable) moments can stick with you.  At the time I had no way of knowing that here some 15 years later I’d find myself thinking about that specific day’s mundane commute.  It was just a simple drive home from junior college, one of hundreds of identical drives I would make in my early college career.  And yet, here I am about to discuss it.

It was the fall of 1997, during my first semester of college.  I was returning from a Saturday morning event that my Native American studies class was putting on.  It was early afternoon, and I had the top down in my beat-up old Le Baron.  It had rained a little earlier, but the sky had cleared leaving crisp fresh air and my favorite kind of weather: sun shining through dark rain clouds, reflecting off wet pavement and illuminating the emerald hills of 680.

The feeling I get when I think about that drive… it really speaks to that time of my life.  These were good years for me.  Classes were easy, life was simple, responsibilities were few, and the path ahead of me in the immediate future seemed clear.  Every day, throwing my backpack in the backseat, putting the top down and driving home in the sun.  Cranking Led Zeppelin or Aimee Mann or whatever else I listened to in those days (that is if I wasn’t tuned to Live 105 or Alice@97.3 and tolerating that horrible era of post-grunge, but I digress).  To think of just the simplicity, at least in my memory.  And the hope and anticipation of it.  I was young, absorbing it all, the world laid out in front of me.  So much wonder about what that night, that year, college, love, and life might offer.  Basking in the simultaneous notions that 1) there was so much I didn’t know and that absolutely anything could happen for me in the future, and that 2) I was somehow invincible and in control of it all.  My every swing was a homerun.  And I was just biding my time and preparing for some opportunity for greatness that would reveal itself to me soon.  The memory is one of freedom.  A sense of wonder that I took for granted then, and that as an adult I don’t think I ever got back.

“What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want.”

— Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Listening to: Billy Bragg – “Volume II

[amtap amazon:asin=B000HEZ8V0]