Boo Skies

Posted in Holidays, Life on October 31, 2010 by posttraumatic

For the past five seasons, my nephew, Aidan, has celebrated Halloween with a yearly jaunt to Boo at the Zoo. Each year decked out in his carefully selected costume, partially covered by a wind-breaker of course, and flanked with an alternating cast of family (his mom, aunt, uncles and sometimes granny) Aidan’s off to the zoo for a fun-filled evening of spooktacular festivities: trick or treating, animal exhibits, haunted trails, and magic shows. Over those five little outings, Boo at the Zoo has become a welcome fall tradition in a family of very non-traditional people. Enter our sixth excursion to Boo at the Zoo where, according to the website, the format had been altered to now consist of an afternoon rather than evening of activities including “many of the same great events, shows, games and candy PLUS more.” When I read the words “plus more” I assumed there would be additional Halloween attractions in comparison to the year before. No dice. To be fair, this past weekend was not the best for outdoor carousing. It had been sprinkling all morning and the weather reports had promised more of the same, but, not wanting to base any plans on fickle Texas weather or break our October ritual, we carried on not knowing the weather would be the least of our grievances. That first twinge of doubt regarding the retooled (emphasis on tool) version of Boo at the Zoo came when I realized that by holding the event during park hours they could charge zoo admission plus an additional fee per person for the boo. I see the marketing department worked overtime on this one. But what are you gonna do? We had an eager kid, looking positively adorable in his Super Mario Bros. costume.

Once inside, we noticed no distinguishing marks of anything Halloween other than the odd dazed kid in a cape or face paint. No spider webs, no smoke machine, no zoo employees dressed as koalas or tigers. Not even a sign explaining where to go. Nothing. Only after Mom asked an idling employee were we directed towards the exhibition area where the supposed onslaught of holiday fun was to commence. There, hidden away in the back trails of the park, the Boo at the Zoo pavilion could be heard long before it was seen. I’d like to say it was the sweet synthetic sounds of a creepy haunted house CD, but no, it was some pitiful “singer” working a one-off gig for which she felt she didn’t need to put forth much effort doing a painful rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” For those of us familiar with the original version of this Cyndi Lauper hit, this was the most horrifying part of the experience. After paying the additional charge and finally understanding where the “PLUS more” came in, we were each handed our trick r treat bags and candy coupons as we entered a fenced in Astroturf area with two large tents. Surrounding these tents were six candy stations, three on either side, each set no more than ten feet from each other unlike years before when the stations were actually spaced apart between animal exhibits mimicking the act of trick or treating at houses. These new convenient candy huts were more like elaborate feeding troughs than a fun family Halloween experience. Under the first tent was a series of folding chairs and a junior high pop-up stage where our featured songstress was now belting out a warped variation of “I Want Candy” with solos sung at random by unsuspecting children. I tuned out completely once the conga line broke out.

Still, it was about the kids and in an effort to keep Aidan enthusiastic about the scene, the four adults (Mom, Bridgette, Michael and I) kept a cheery demeanor as we lead him to and away from candy posts. Beneath the second, larger tent we found where the meat of this party really was…a jazz band straight out of Vaudeville, pin-striped suits and all playing a good but unwarranted rendition of “When You’re Smiling.” Along the outer rim sat a series of booths: tattoos, miniature golf, football toss, bracelet making and pumpkin decorating…the most Halloweenesque of the lot. Aidan did his best; surveying the area, adding a few decorative touches to a mini pumpkin, but never looking as though he was comfortable with being herded into the kid proof corral. Suddenly, just as prophesized a storm broke loose sending a gaggle of little kids in costume running for dear life, sequins and faux fur flying, arms flapping, screaming in panic their trick or treat bags now a pool of sugary goodness. To think, they were so terrified in such a happy holiday setting. Tragic. As the storm grew angrier, we all huddled at the center-most point of the tent in an effort to avoid being drenched. Its anchors bowed in strain against the wind and rain, water flooding the circle of kiosks that surrounded the pavilion, a heavy set woman in a penguin costume (I wish this weren’t true) waddled about barefoot and the jazz band played on. It was like Titanic (1997) but with slightly less hope. Shortly there after one of the many Boo at the Zoo personnel urged us to leave in favor of the reptile preserve as they weren’t completely sure the tent would hold. Now, properly soaked, the five us started for the exit, Michael took the lead with Aidan, ever the optimist, skipped the whole way. Turns out the most chilling draw Boo at the Zoo had to offer was one we could have enjoyed for free.

But the de-horrification of Halloween is happening everywhere not just Boo at the Zoo. Target’s Halloween theme?…Children looking elated in cutesy witch, werewolf and princess getups. The books featured on the Halloween (and I use the term loosely) displays at Barnes & Noble are all distinctly more baby bumpered than last year. Even Aidan’s elementary school is now requiring their students to have a book in support of their costumes, going so far as to call the district’s Halloween celebration “Character Day.” I don’t know if this is a result of conservative grandstanding or corporate America’s guesstimation of how to please the masses, but we’re losing Halloween. These people who have such a problem with children hearing ghost stories or dressing as Jason or Freddy, are the same people who grew up with the freedom to enjoy a Halloween unmarred by bureaucratic propaganda. Obviously, they turned out alright if they now consider themselves to be a fit moral compass for the younger generation. Do as I say, not as I do, right? I get that there some aspects of Halloween that may be inappropriate for kids…just as there is with everything. Go ahead have options available for toddlers and preschoolers, but don’t dumb down an entire holiday to avoid having to actively participate in being a parent. Not everything will be doused in rainbows and glitter in order to keep it “kid friendly” for your little angel. Halloween, long believed to be a time when the barrier between the dead and the living is lifted, is now a chance to dress in costume, feast on miniature versions of your favorite candies and explore that which scares you. Part of the penance for the elaborate attire and free sweets is being a little frightened. If it’s one you’re not willing to pay, stay home. Throw on some Sponge Bob. Don’t celebrate. You can have Christmas, but leave Halloween alone.

 

 

Hallo-wean

Posted in Holidays, Life on October 25, 2010 by posttraumatic

While my cousins were settling on costumes of Monchichis, princesses, gypsies and Yoda (we did have the novelty boy amongst us) respectfully, I had my heart set on dressing as a witch. I’d never been a girlie-girl and Halloween didn’t seem the time to start, why play against type? To further complicate things for my mother, I didn’t want to go with the readily available painted acrylic mask held on by an elastic string / plastic clothes cover combo that was wildly popular in 1982. You know, the kind that had a picture on the front of the costume of who you were supposed to be thus totally taking away from the overall fantasy that you were this character. I’ve never understood that. No, I wanted a legitimate witch’s costume. After some debate, Mom finally convinced me that for a five year old such as myself, the most authentic we were going to get was to purchase some black fabric to be cut and sewn into witchesque attire…accessories from the grocery store. It wasn’t easy for me to accept that this length of cloth piled loosely on the craft store counter top would eventually be a credible witch costume, but after we’d bought my accompanying witch hat, makeup palette, stockings and coal finger nails, I was beginning to buy into Mom’s vision.

Tireless days later, Mom emerged triumphant with the finished product: miniature witch’s garb complete with jagged sleeves and hem to better communicate that gothic feel. I was ecstatic! When the big day finally arrived, we were ready. Covered neck to toe in custom attire, hair pinned back, we’d saved the makeup for last in order to keep from staining Mom’s original witch-couture gown. Once Mom had finished slathering my face in shades of green, yellow and black oil based makeup, I’d expected to look exactly like what I’d seen of witches on television and in movies…not so much. To be fair my expectations might have been a tad high for what was possible with Safeway’s Halloween makeup selection, but at the time that didn’t matter.  I wanted it changed, I wanted it corrected, I wanted to be the most bona fide witch this side of Hollywood. At five, the tone’s always the same, me me me, as is the response, take it or leave it!?! Ultimately, my desire for free candy far outweighed my artistic integrity. That Halloween, I had to accept Mom’s makeup proficiency was beyond my control, but what I wasn’t prepared to recognize was how in the years to come the meaning of Halloween would change and with it my relevance in the equation would slide from numerator to the lowest common denominator.

October 1985, I knew it was over. I already had one little sister, another on the way, my Halloween importance was bordering on nonexistent. It’s not that there was no attention coming my way, it’s just that I couldn’t procure the kind of attention I’d grown accustomed to in the previous seven years i.e. I was spoiled. That year, now a Halloween z-lister, we attended functions that were feasible for a woman 8 months into pregnancy with an 11 month old and 8 year old in tow. As you can imagine the options were limited. So, at the behest of our neighbors, that year was spent in the rec center of a local church. Bridgette, who was still hermetically sealed to her bottle, went as a hobo: light blue onesie, one of Dad’s old ties slackly around her neck, scruffy Fedora and, of course, a drawn on beard stubble and black eye. I went a tad more feminine that year as a decidedly very covered hula dancer; a loose interpretation, but still enough to merit candy. What had been made clear to Mom, that I was there of my own volition to have fun with my friends, was muddied once Bridgette saw I’d drifted from the group. “Da’wa?!?” (that was baby speak for Starla) at ever increasing volume meant I’d spend that Halloween carnival escorting Bridgette from attraction to attraction, luring magnetized plastic fish from a shallow pool and helping her decide between prizes of plastic lizards and fake tattoos.

But by 1995, I finally had this big sister, Halloween is no longer about you gig down. See, I was 18 then and no one wants to give a punky 18 year old kid candy…unless you have a punky 11, 10 and 4 year old with you. It’s amazing. Having younger siblings is like a free pass to all kinds of child amenities that most adolescents lose after thirteen. Not me, I milked that sucker. As a recent high school graduate needing a costume, I put forth the most minimal effort possible. I went in my cap and gown as a high school graduate. Bridgette, I’m told, was supposed to have been a genie, but I went ahead and touted her as a belly dancer. A fact she didn’t much appreciate, I had the bruising afterwards to prove it. Ever anxious to overdress for a casual occasion, Heidi, in a white gown, sparkling tiara and dress shoes, looked every bit the princess she was portraying. And Chase, well, what else? The red Power Ranger. I believe this was a costume prerequisite for boys of the 1990s. After explaining that Chase’s little 4 year old legs couldn’t possibly make the trek around the neighborhood and back, we setoff in the bed of Dad’s truck; he’d pull up to streets, we’d hop out “trick r’ treat” and jump right back in. This little swindle allowed for maximum candy take home with minimum physical exertion and humiliation. Genius.

How long could such a practice last? Apparently, until 1998, the year I moved out aka the year I had to finally start behaving like somewhat of an adult. And Halloween morphed from being chiefly about complimentary sweets to being souly about the costume. After all, as an independent, grown woman of 21 candy was no longer this elusive item relegated to successful checkout line begging and holidays. Candy was fair game and the focus had to shift. In declaration of my sovereignty, that Halloween I combed all the area Ross’, TJ Maxxs, Walmarts and Targets (because freedom didn’t mean prosperity) in search of clothing fit for a Spice Girl, Ginger Spice to be exact. My commitment to detail spent far more money than my need to buy groceries would have liked, but I found the perfect tastefully low-cut blouse (I don’t have the Ginger Spice cleavage to boast) and the right mini to go with the exact knee high boots which all matched the ideal ankle-length, fuzzy collared coat to mimic Ginger’s 2 become 1 video look. All that was left was my hair. With Michael’s reluctant assistance, we cut my bangs bleached them and dyed the rest of my hair bright red. Viola, insta-Spice! In the subsequent Halloweens since my “adulthood” I’ve dressed as: Punky Brewster, 1980s Madonna, Reagan from The Exorcist, Samara from The Ring, and two different Living Dead Dolls to name a few all with great success…and great cost.

No matter how many paychecks I lose to hair dye and faux-blood, nothing can match what Halloween meant to me as a child; carefully selecting a costume, haggling with Mom over the ins and outs of achieving believability, running door to door with an open pillow case full of candy and spending hours sorting my bounty into piles of chocolate, fruit flavors and, of course, undesirables (I’ll have none of that orange peanut, thank you) with a poorly edited version of Halloween playing on TV. Would I ever know that Halloween again? Most would think procreation the obvious answer, but I’m not falling for that one…at least not from me. In 2003, that little hobo belly dancer Bridgette had a son, my first and only nephew, Aidan. From that moment it became my objective to acquaint him with Halloween; the tradition of playing pretend without ridicule but reward, celebrating the macabre with ghost stories and carving pumpkins for display. Every October I watch as Aidan’s costume preferences transform from Spiderman to Diego, Bumble Bee to Super Mario seeing the same enthusiasm I’d known twenty-eight years ago. Yeah, Halloween is no longer wholly about me, my costume, my candy, my unreasonable expectations, but it’s in no way lost its significance. Now, I share the torch with this young man who has his mother’s unwavering spirit, his granny’s selfless creativity and, thankfully, his aunt’s love of Halloween.

 

Haunting House

Posted in Life on October 17, 2010 by posttraumatic

As a seasoned professional in all things Halloween, I reasoned eight was the proper age for my first haunted house excursion. Since I knew there was no talking my mom into such a venture, I turned to Dad who was more “older brother” than father when a chance at scaring the hell out of me presented itself. Predictably, it was an easy sell. We settled on a mall parking lot haunted house…er…tent, for its reasonable ticket cost and close proximity to our apartment. On the ride over I was so convinced of my ability to separate make-believe from real life that I bet my Barbie dream house I’d walk coolly through less the screams or tears; a bold statement for an eight year old girl who was still working past her fear of the 2 ½ foot space beneath her bed. But as we neared the mouth of the black, tarp pergola that’d taken up most of the parking space usually allotted for the now defunct Montgomery Wards, I felt the onset of panic: intense fluttering in my chest partnered with the overwhelming urge to run. Nonetheless with Dad’s hand on my shoulder and the looming danger of losing Barbie’s dream house, I pressed on. Now, something I had not been made aware of, but should have, was the importance of haunted house viewing order. Everyone knows if you’re first, then you accept the responsibility of guiding the group while catching all the jump scares, but if you go last then you’re that person who’s shadowed by all the straggling haunted house personnel. For a first time haunted houser, neither is really ideal, but I chose the latter with the intention of cowering behind Dad, clinging to his shirt tail.

After scraping just beyond that first blind turn, to our right there was a witch stirring a smoking caldron filled with eyeballs and severed limbs. She cackled raising one green makeup slathered hand motioning for me to come closer and insuring this would be the last display I looked directly at for the duration of my haunted endeavor. Within minutes, I’d surrendered any concerns of Barbie’s impending eviction and screamed myself to the point of near hysteria without ever really shifting my gaze from the floor in front of me. The clanking chains, petrified squeals and slamming doors were plenty. Once I’d caught sight of the exit surrounded by clear asphalt, our car sitting safely in the distance, I abandoned Dad’s crumpled shirt tail and ran as fast as my squatty legs could go. Then…I heard the chainsaw. Glancing hastily over my shoulder, I saw a hideous, crudely sewn man. Jesus! What is that? Years later Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) would give my answer, Leatherface. I launched myself towards the car, the roar of the chainsaw finally growing faint. Leatherface had lost interest; though as I watched he continued to sporadically raise his chainsaw at my defiance. And, of course Dad took his time meeting me at the car; he really had no choice given that he was doubled over with laughter. Driving home we sat in silence, my ashen tear-streaked face, eyes staring blankly ahead in terror. At last, Dad pat my knee and wryly said, “So, when do I get my Barbie dream house?” Thankfully he never seized control of the prestigious Barbie estate nonetheless, since the mid-80s my prefab haunted house visits have seen a dramatic decline.

Even so, my reluctance hasn’t made me a stranger to haunted houses, not at all; in fact, I’ve frequented one practically each month for thirty years…every time I stay at my grandparent’s house. Constructed in 1905, Nin and Paw’s house was originally one of two built identically for the Schneider brothers. As prominent entrepreneurs in the budding German town, the Schneider’s had made a good living running a produce store on Main . These houses were to be a show of that success. Overtime, Nin and Paw’s future home was passed down through the children of elder Schneider until eventually landing in the hands of “Pudgy” Schneider, the town drunk. On countless occasions, Pudgy was found inebriated, face-down just shy of home; time after time, the townsfolk would simply remove and deposit him to the home from wince he came. One faithful evening, like so many nights before, Pudgy had been dropped off to his own devices intoxicated and on the verge of passing out. As the story goes, he switched on the gas fire and, assuming it had lit, drifted off to drunken slumber. Unfortunately, the fire had not caught and poor Pudgy, of incapacitated stupor, was unknowingly asphyxiated. Days later, yes…days, he was discovered. Afterwards the house sat empty for seven years, until 1978 when Nin and Paw purchased the now dilapidated abode from the property caretaker for $20,000…furniture and a crawlspace of empty beer bottles included. The next two years saw Nin and Paw refurbishing the house beyond its former glory tackling everything from installing indoor plumbing to constructing an entire upstairs from the studs…all for the sake of their dream retirement home.

Over the years we’ve all joked about the house being haunted. We’ve all experienced the right-side upstairs bedroom door opening and closing at will. We’ve all had the unmistakable feeling of being watched. Perhaps that’s all just mind play encouraged by the era of the house. I wouldn’t think a place could exist for over 100 years without having a palpable history to it. Or is there more? To hear Nin and Paw tell it there’s no hauntings, there’s no ghost. Get back, there’s nothing to see, move along. You see, they’re from that generation who could have an apparition appear before them and insist it’s a result of too little fiber in their diet. Whereas the paranormal has been a passion of mine since Ray Parker Jr. first posed the question, “Who you gonna call?” And I firmly believe when it comes to feeling the presence of a remaining spirit all one need do is pay attention. They’re not always going to kidnap your children through the television or possess Whoopi Goldberg in order to dance with you; they’re more subtle than that. I suppose that’s a trapping of circumstance. Spirits are primarily measurable in relation to energy sources. They remove heat creating cold pockets, effect light and sound on a molecular level. Speculation with regards to Nin and Paw’s ghost gathered speed after I’d taken a photo of their house that revealed what appears the shadow of a man’s face in the upstairs window. Logically, I realize there also happens to be a large tree in front of this window and that this shadow could have been created through this tree, except in the numerous retakes at varying times of day and season, I’ve not been able to recreate anything close to this image.

And it just so happens that upstairs is where the paranormal occurrences seem to be focused. Just a couple weeks ago, while staying at Nin and Paw’s, Mom witnessed the pull chain light at the top of the stairs click on of its own accord. Upon mentioning this to Paw, he embarked into a lengthy explanation, complete with a diagram, of how such phenomena could occur, whereupon Mom offered to sketch Casper as a visual for her explanation. In addition prior to this, an aunt of mine claimed to have felt a shift in the bed, as if someone had joined her yet no one was there. I, myself, have felt on numerous occasions that something or someone was right beside me, or behind me, but of course no one has ever been visibly there. All unsubstantiated hauntings bear the caveat that maybe there’s nothing there, maybe it’s all a figment of an overactive, horror movie lovin’ imagination and I’ve just heard Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” one too many times…then again, it could be that maybe Pudgy is still in residence. Not on this plane of existence but another, roaming from room to room, detecting an essence of us just as we do of him and keeping watch over our beloved family home. And while I’m still more terrified of sloppily applied latex dripping with phony blood set in abandoned warehouses at $30 bucks a pop, I’ve come to realize that, thankfully, seldom are these depictions of hauntings accurate. There are those “houses” you’ll pay once a year to have hauntings enacted to fulfill a venturesome nature and then there are those houses, oblivious to agendas or holidays who haunt year-round pro bono.

 

Dodging Icebergs

Posted in Art, Life, School on October 4, 2010 by posttraumatic

Fear is a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence of imminence of danger

Phobia is a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it

Snapple did my emotional state a huge injustice on the day I popped open a delicious bottle of diet peach tea and read Real Fact #95 “Squids can have eyeballs the size of volleyballs.” What? Think about your eye in relation to the size of your head; now imagine something swimming around the ocean with a head big enough to fit two volleyball size eyes on. As a frequent consumer of Snapple, I had learned to cope with the knowledge gifted me in Real Fact #31 “the average human will eat an average of eight spiders while sleeping”, but this squid nonsense was just a little too much. I can honestly say I will never return to the person I was before reading this fact. So, beneath that glistening lid one of my three, what I’ve been told are “unrealistic”, fears was discovered…the last being icebergs. Yes, I have seen Titanic one too many times, but not near enough to make me fear icebergs. No, like squids, icebergs can be far too robust for my comfort level. These colossal floating masses of ice that were once affixed to glaciers reveal only about ten percent of themselves above water while the rest remains neatly concealed below the ocean’s surface. That remaining ninety percent is so considerable it’s impossible to photograph the whole mass at once. Horrifyingly enough, “The Essence of Imagination” (above) by Ralph A. Clevenger is merely a composite of four different images since it is impossible to photograph such a large iceberg in reality. The essence of my imagination sees this thing sprouting legs and forcibly chasing me down the street. It’s not good.

Fortunately for me when it comes to water recreation if it doesn’t have a faux-blue tint, visible perimeter and chlorine I’m not interested, it’s that simple. Moreover given my transparent skin and humidifiable hair, I prefer being shaded and refrigerated to lazy days floating about the ocean, roasting in the sun with mystery sea life brushing past. Safe amidst the climate control, I can write and draw away the hours without a notion to aquatic happenings. I know this because it’s what I have done since my twelfth birthday in June of 1989. With my little allotment of birthday money I purchased all the essentials for a preteen self-made journalist: pastel yellow Mead spiral, Bic pens, neon markers and glitter glue. That year it took me an entire summer to finish just one journal comprised primarily of newspaper clippings, footnotes, and doodles, but by my sophomore year of high school I could easily clear twenty-five journals of straight writing. Eventually, I intermixed my 3-subject spirals with Beatlescentric artworks in pastel, pencil and marker sometimes working until my hand had retracted into a useless claw. I’d cradle my warped right hand for the thirty minutes to an hour it took to resuscitate thinking  if I were to ever lose the ability to use my dominate hand I’d be losing the one thing that matters to me. My concern grew so rapidly into fear that for a time I practiced writing with my left hand for page upon page hoping to will myself ambidextrous. In the end frustration and boredom prevailed over my one realistic fear leading me to drop the practice. I wish I hadn’t.

This custom, working until my hand buckled, rest, resume, was the way art was produced before the digital age. If you wanted something saved, you used pen instead of pencil; if you wanted to design, you used paper instead of programs. It’s a technique I’ve lived by and, despite my schooling, it’s still the only technique I’m completely comfortable with. As expected, the regrettable byproduct of having that level of comfort is that you start to exhaust your tools: scarce paper, arid markers, squatty pencils and shredded erasers…it’s all a write-off until the tools you’ve exhausted are your hands. Three weeks ago, following a two and half hour squabble with an overpriced piece of Davy board and a heavy-duty utility knife, half of my right hand went numb. At the time, this didn’t strike me as particularly odd; I’d had plenty of crammed hands and sedated fingers upon hours of writing or drawing. You wait, they come back, no big deal. Then ten days later, behind a reluctant trip to the doctor’s office I was told I have the beginnings of carpal tunnel and I should avoid using my right hand. Oh, really? That seems entirely possible given that I’m an art student. Even the doctor chuckled at that suggestion. The funny part? Turns out after years of throwing myself wholeheartedly into cherished projects, the nail in my artistic coffin came about while building a replica of a cemetery for a class I wasn’t even that enthusiastic about. Now, I’m relegated to a hand / wrist brace branded “Futuro” which just screams the irony of my “futuro” should I continue to overuse my hand. And I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

Over these never-ending few weeks, I’ve had my mopey moments, thirty minute stints of self-loathing mixed with tears that Michael has had to council me through, and I realize there are others who have it worse, of course there are, no one is going to win that contest. Who would want to anyway? But it’s the fact that there are also countless others who have it better that doesn’t stop part of me from thinking that I’ve accepted I’ll not ever be in league for America’s Next Top Model and as things stand there’s only a slim chance I’ll be honored with an Academy Award, but I can draw and I can write only now I can’t without risking I’ll never be able to again. This is a “real fact” I have to remind myself of even as I push through two and a half fingers of no feeling and intermittent tingling in my right hand just to type this blog. I’ve never had to be careful with my hand, quite the contrary, I’ve actually abused the sucker to the point it has the right to want this break. Such misguided neglect was simply a derivative of my enthusiasm over finally finding what I could do…what I was meant to do. In this respect, I finally understand the difference between my phobias and my fear. There are those phobias from which we know a getaway is evident. When it comes to icebergs and giant squids, the key is in staying on dry land. If ever they take to the shore, I’ll reassess my game plan. And then there are those fears from which we have no escape. Age happens, life happens, and sometimes the ways in which we live the fullest become the means by which we die the fastest.

Oh, the Horror

Posted in Life, Movies on September 26, 2010 by posttraumatic

Other than the fifteen minutes it took my parents to realize that perhaps a near-porn drive-in movie called Blood Sucking Freaks (renamed fromThe Incredible Torture Show for it’s 1980s rerelease) wasn’t the best choice for an evening of fine family fun, my first horror movie was 1983’s Dennis Quaid classic Jaws 3D. Sitting just a few rows back against the far left wall of the theater, Mom’s hand resting on the corner of my seat to keep it from folding up suddenly, I munched away on popcorn in anticipation of my first scary movie, let alone in 3D! With the opening sequence, as I struggled to see over the seats in front of me, white cardboard 3D glasses hanging low on my nose, digging into the back of my ears, I took in all of the deep Sea World goodness. In no time I had the drill down, when you hear the Jaws theme, rip the glasses from your face and look away…put them back on when the music stops. Repeat. Did no one make it clear closing my eyes would accomplish the same thing? So much easier and, more importantly, it would have saved precious snack time. Nonetheless by the last wilted kernel, being a six year old without a finely honed sense of horror, I might have been the only one leaving the theater who viewed Jaws 3D as promised: “Reaching new depths of terror.” With that summer evening, amongst the rubble left adrift inJaws 3D’s wake, surfaced a lifelong horror movie enthusiast.

As a pre-teen horror film aficionado, what I considered to be scary was all relative to what I was allowed to watch, aka what Mom would rent. Staunchly against anything “that could really happen”, she was fond of pushing monster movies, supernatural thrillers, and ghost stories on this burgeoning heathen. Poltergeist (1982), The Stuff (1985), Troll (1986), and Dolls (1987) were among the “Kid tested, Mother approved” horror pile while popular slasher flix of the 1980s would have to wait…that is until A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), my preamble to Freddy Krueger. Yes, some friends of mine were allowed to rent Freddy’s latest installment so, after an hour of begging interspersed with promises I’d sleep in my own room no matter what, my parents finally relented. Of course, afterward I was terrified and cried to sleep in my parent’s room insisting my doll house was just a little too reminiscent of Freddy’s, to no avail. Behind an hour of whimpering, I finally fell asleep only to be awoken by heavy breathing and the low hum of my name being whispered. I freaked! Apparently, Dad had moved the stereo speakers just outside my bedroom door using a mic to amplify his voice. I wasn’t amused. Still, it was all part of the experience; the thrills that linger, that make you look over your shoulder and laugh later, much, much, later, at your paranoia.

But loving horror movies and being technically a kid were difficult to rectify in the cinematic world run by ratings. Regardless of what the Motion Picture Association deemed acceptable, by my estimation twelve was plenty old enough to pass for the seventeen required for an R movie. With that in mind, I set my sites on the theatrical release of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. My hair in the patented late-80s poof and a coat of high-gloss makeup, I gallantly strolled to the ticket booth, “One for Pet Sematary” to which the attendant wisely asked “What year were you born?” Damn. I can’t help feeling if I were faster at math the embarrassment of that moment could have been avoided. Perhaps even as a mature twelve the baby face was a tell and, for the moment, I’d have to accept R movies weren’t yet feasible…at least in the theater. In the meantime I opted to get my horror fix the old fashioned way, on the rental circuit, which, by thirteen, was open to anything save for gratuitous nudity. That same year, I ventured into the realm psychological thrillers with the VHS release of Flatliners (1990). During the hours I spent watching that video Mom would periodically stroll through muttering, “You know this isn’t real, right? I don’t want to see you trying to kill yourself thinking you’ll be brought back.” With increasing frustration and a tiny-eyed scowl I’d grumble, “God, I know Mom.”

What was so wearisome then has developed into the memories that sustain my love for the horror genre. Even though I’m now comfortably settled into my early thirties, wistfully free of Mom’s daily commentary, I’ve managed to incorporate horror movie components wherever they fit like…a poster of the little-know slasher flick Happy Birthday to Me (1981) in the kitchen. Where else would you put a poster of a skewer through someone’s face? It’s just common sense. And including horror films as required viewing throughout the year, not just a Halloween tradition though I love me some Halloween (1978), Trick or Treats (1982) and Trick or Treat (2007)…yes, they are two distinct movies. For Christmas, the family gathers for Black Christmas (the 1974 original, I don’t even want to hear about the 2006 remake, bleh), Christmas Evil (1980) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) movie marathon. Of course, Mom has to walk in just as the half-naked girl is being impaled on a deer head, “Nice. That’s really in keeping with the holiday spirit.” On New Year’s Eve, it’s time for our yearly presentation of New Year’s Evil (1980) featuring the only slasher conscientious enough to share his keen knowledge of time zones. Then, instead of chocolates, roses and expensive restaurants, Michael and I opt for My Bloody Valentine (1981) (here the 2009 remake is allowable though never a substitute) and Valentine (2001) for our Valentine’s Day celebration.

There’s a reason Ghostface’s query “What’s your favorite scary movie?” (Scream, 1996) struck a cord. It’s because whether or not you consider yourself to be a horror fan, everyone has a favorite scary movie. Regardless of if you’re partial to slasher flicks or ghost stories, psychological thrillers or classic monsters, there’s something for everyone. No other genre can do this. No other genre transcends age, gender and sociological barriers or incites more slumber party chatter and date night embraces than horror. At their core, horror films are escapism, speculation lurking in unlikely occurrences. Of course, some scenarios could happen but you turn off the television or leave the theater and it didn’t. That’s the terror experience, sitting bundled up with my cousins, over a warm bowl of “cheese stuff” (that’s 10 year old speak for queso) Shocker (1989) blaring from the television, my sisters ripping my arms from their sockets amidst a packed theater screaming it’s way through Jurassic Park (1993) or haggling with theater personnel over allowing my then 9 year old brother to see Scream 3 (2000). Who carries guardianship papers to a movie? Some of my most cherished moments were created over a horror movie. For me, they’re not about creating panic or catering to gorehounds, obviously they can do these things, but that’s not what they’re about. They’re about tradition, creating memories. They’re the one place I’m still 6 years old, clinging to my Mom’s hand in anticipation of our next venture, always hopeful…never fearful.

Addicted to Lunch

Posted in Life on September 13, 2010 by posttraumatic

In the few times I’ve overindulged in alcohol, it didn’t take many drinks or outbursts at Pancho’s for me to learn that mine is a personality which does not flourish under the influence of wine coolers. No, I’m a blast for about 1 ¾ of a drink then I quickly become sad-drunk crying in the corner, inquiring of everyone why they don’t like me at which point they should just hold up a mirror. It’s not pretty. Luckily, since turning twenty-one some twelve years ago, I’ve had no interest in “boozing it up.” It was just another mirage of adulthood I couldn’t wait to reach that turned out to be nothing once I got there. With alcohol it’s easy, simply put, either you drink or you don’t. You’re not born needing a Daiquiri for survival, though I’m sure many would beg to differ. Everyone gets the choice of whether or not to take that first drink. If at any point you develop a problem, you can get help and never have to touch alcohol again. Not the same can be said for another consumable, food…my compulsion from necessity. There will never be a point in my life where I can say, “I’m done with the eating”, because that impossibility would just lead to an additional eating disorder. Food is my abyss from which there is no escape, so throughout the last twelve years, I’ve begun the arduous task of learning what it is to eat without regret and regret without eating.

Now here’s the point where someone will have to say, “But you don’t have an eating disorder”. And I suppose this is true if you’re thinking only in the bulimia / anorexia sense, but I do have an unhealthy relationship with food that in recent years I have finally acknowledged as an eating disorder. Growing up in a household consumed by the entertainment industry status quo, weight was never a non-issue, it was the issue. Before I’d entered kindergarten, the differential in my value as a thin person versus a chunky one had already been made clear to me, even if I didn’t quite grasp how it was applicable. Like most five year olds, I ate with reckless abandon without a thought to squeezing in my skinny jeans. I just knew I’d stay thin. But by twelve, at 4’10 94 lbs., I became keenly aware of the number adolescence was beginning to play on my now very apple-shaped body. Thus, I wound up rinsing down meals with my mom’s Slimfast thinking it would do just that. No such luck. Over the next couple years, as boys entered the equation, dieting became the answer for all mysteries of the opposite sex.  In my mind, thin equaled attractive and attractive equaled boyfriend, therefore all I need be is thin. My “achieve boyfriend” regimen consisted of refusing to eat until after school then gorging myself on fat free pretzels (fat free…they must be healthy, right?) followed by an hour jog.

This fool-proof weight loss scheme always derailed the moment I fell out of love with (name here) so, I’d mend my fickle heart with honey roasted peanuts, cheese puffs, Little Debbie snacks…anything technically vegetarian, non-perishable and self-contained for easy hiding from the parents. As a textbook emotional eater, the only thing keeping me from Guinness proportions was the knowledge Dad would be the first to alert the media. But that threat disappeared the summer of 1998 when he and Mom split and I got my first taste of true grocery freedom. The combination of poverty and loneliness is never good for someone who eats her emotions and loves Ramen noodles. In the first year after their divorce, I abandoned vegetarianism, and used my only credit card for daily trips to Whataburger, Sonic, and Taco Bell gaining expansive debt and fifty pounds. I’d like to appear noble and say that I finally turned my life around for the good of my health, but that’s not the case…at twenty-one, Michael proposed and I, out of vanity, went on a diet. Whatever the initial motivation, the change stuck. I lost some residual high school weight as well as my post-divorce pounds all through the one method I’d never tried: healthy meals coupled with exercise. Ta-da! If I felt the need to splurge, I tried to opt for fruit, veggies, and popcorn over pasta, chips, snack cakes, the menu at Olive Garden…you get the idea.

Clinically speaking, eating disorders are characterized by “abnormal eating habits that may involve insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health.” Notice there’s no expiration date. Twelve years since my buffet zenith and it’s still not easy. Each day I carefully tally meals to keep myself in check because, frankly, I can’t trust I’ll eat only when hungry. In the past, my capricious disposition has many a time duped me into believing I’m hungry when really I’m…stressed. Eat some chips. Sad. Have some ice cream. Lonely. Want spaghetti? Angry. Time for French fries? It’s startling to think how many times I’ve eaten without tasting anything or starved for attention. At the moment, most people know me as the vegan who loves grapes, tofu and green tea, who scoffs at fresh donuts, declines ordering out and, if you’re my family, is impossible to feed during the holidays. It’s an expected side effect of the parameters I have set for myself in regards to eating and I’m completely ok with that. Only I know what it was like to live obsessively on food; to eat instead of feel and refuse to eat in hopes of love. No diet is more constricting than that of sustenance as psychiatry.

The Breeding Game

Posted in Life on September 5, 2010 by posttraumatic

Recently, I heard a radio host remark that there’s no point in being married without children, that children are the purpose for marriage. Funny, up until that point I had always assumed it was love. Curious. I mean, if the motive is just to procreate, why get married? Why go through the trouble of getting to know someone if all you want is a baby? But this kind of attitude is rampant among more than just second rate shock-jocks; it’s a position that at one time even I shared. In the fifty-five journals I completed from age twelve to eighteen, I wrote of getting married and having children as an inevitability, like having your wisdom teeth removed. There wasn’t much I could do about it, it just was. And sure enough, by the time I was twenty-three, I was married so children would have been the next logical step, right? Well, not so much. At first, Michael and I said it was just a matter of money and timing. We were both looking to finish school and become more established financially before we even entertained the idea of having children. Then the story became, we are working so many hours, Michael’s drive to work is crazy, and I’m still trying to get my bachelors, sooooo having children right now is just not possible. In reality, as we near our ten year anniversary, Michael and I have begun to realize that we may not even want children.

As the oldest of four, I’m no stranger to babies, not…at…all. The first of my siblings, Bridgette, is seven years younger than me. I was over the moon when she was born: nose pressed against the nursery glass, wearing a heart covered, very 80s, “Big Sister” t-shirt.  It was like having a living baby doll… that pooped, spit up, and cried seemingly without reason. Still, I fawned over Bridgette and when Mom and Dad, apparently confused by how babies are made, announced another was on the way, I was equally excited. That winter, amidst a rocky delivery where her umbilical cord made a choker of itself, Heidi was born just four days before Bridgette turned one. Mom and I became the tag-team champions of baby care 1985. I would sterilize bottles, warm milk, and change diapers for Bridgette or Heidi, while Mom would tend to the other. At thirteen, though I was relieved “the kids” were finally old enough to feed and clothe themselves, Mom and Dad declared they were expecting another baby in the hopes of having a boy. Lucky for everyone, a sonogram still of the poor kid’s tiny manhood captioned “It’s a boy!” verified it. With the baby’s sex confirmed, we spent hours around the kitchen table tossing out name ideas: Forest, Tucker…but it was I, in the midst of my Chevy Chase infatuation, who suggested Chase. Two months after I turned fourteen, our Chase had arrived. This time around, the delivery was more difficult for Mom than baby. With Mom incapacitated, I stayed at the hospital for my crash course in motherhood: Chase cried, I jumped…for nineteen years.

I know, I know, it’s different when it’s your own children, right? Of course it is, because then there isn’t anyone you can pass the kid back to when you’ve had enough. That’s the part I’m having difficulty with. I don’t want to have a child. I don’t want to have the daily responsibility of a little person relying upon me for everything. This is a responsibility I’m wise enough to know I’m not prepared to make. And logically, yes I know that my baby havin’ instincts may have been spent by the time I turned eighteen, but I wouldn’t change that to want my own children now. Growing up amongst infants, toddlers, kids, pre-teens, and teenagers has given me the opportunity to preview parenthood in a way that few people are able to. True, it’s rich with rewards, but it is work…constant, unyielding work that doesn’t ever stop. No gold watch, no party, no retirement. Then there’s “What about Michael? You’re depriving him of being a dad.” This one I love because it assumes that I have come to this conclusion about not having children without ever discussing it with my husband. To those who’ve brought up this point time and time again, let me assure you, we live together, we’ve known each other fourteen years, we talk. And the shocker? Michael might be the only person who doesn’t want children more than me.

This is not to say that neither of us wouldn’t make great parents. Honestly, I feel a little guilty that we don’t want children because I know Michael would be a wonderful father and I’m sure I’d eventually catch on. But the biggest mistake we could ever make for our lives or our marriage would be to force a lifelong decision based on the assumption we would be good for a child because at this stage a child wouldn’t be good for us. And ultimately, it’s the “us” that truly matters within our marriage; we are the ones who took the vows after all. In the thirty-three years I’ve not been a mother, I’ve sung Bridgette to sleep, played Pat-a-Cake with Heidi, and taught Chase to tie his shoes. I held Bridgette’s hand as she delivered my nephew, Aidan. I know what it is to love a child and to be loved by a child. That knowledge isn’t dimmed in the light of having not birthed a baby. Being a parent isn’t achieved through conception or birth. Sorry gang, it’s not. Being a parent, a true parent, is a status that’s earned through years of commitment, selflessness, and love. Those who have successfully made the sacrifice of becoming a parent have my upmost respect, primarily because they don’t see it as a sacrifice; they see it as a gift. The day I see having a child as a gift I’ll seriously reconsider my position on the subject because becoming a parent should be a blessing, not a strategic obligation of marriage.