Friday, October 31, 2008

A Short Halloween Story

When I was a child, my father always expressed the worry that I was too timid and too physically weak to be able to handle the slings and arrows that the world would inevitably throw my way. As such, he would often try to "toughen me up." I was enrolled in self-defense classes. He tried to teach me how to box. He told me that the only way to handle bullies was to hit them back, and harder.

But I was only interested in collecting my Smurfs in peace. I couldn't throw a punch to save my life. And I learned that the best way to handle the slings and arrows was to assiduously avoid them, and stay in Smurf Village.

Still, my father persisted. One of his tactics to toughen me was to make me watch one whole horror movie at Halloween. He would take me to our video rental store and tell me to pick a horror movie to watch. Then, when we came home, I had to watch the whole movie. No exceptions.

You must understand, merely standing in the horror section of the store scared the hell out of me. We're talking about the very start of the VHS industry, when most video tapes came in big boxes -- and, for the horror films, those boxes often had lurid, gory illustrations.

I can't even remember what movies I had picked. If it had blood or any sort of skeletons in it, it most probably did me in. I personally preferred the Universal monster cycle of the 30s and 40s, but apparently Frankenstein & Dracula didn't count as horror to my father. I could see the reasoning, I guess. Drac and Co. were positively cuddly by that point, victims of the marketing and licensing machine.

So instead I watched some modern supernatural horror and slasher films. "Watched" is not quite an accurate term, because I spent most of the movies with my hands in front of my eyes. I would make a little slot between two fingers through which I would view slivers of the horrible doings on the screen.

Then one Halloween night, when I was 12, my father died. A transit worker, he was asked to cover the body of a homeless woman who had just committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Apparently, the sight and stress was too much for him, and he died on the subway platform of a heart-attack.

My mom canceled Halloween for a couple of years after that. And even when the official cancellation was over, the holiday was a bit taboo in my family.

But one development that came about after my father died was my newfound ability to watch horror films. Now it was I who went on my own to the video rental store to find them. And they really didn't scare me anymore. I sometimes laughed at how dumb they were, how fake.

For I had seen my father in a box, mortician's makeup providing him with a pale and ashy variation of his usual olive skin tone. Even his fingernails had been meticulously clipped and polished. Nothing could really be scarier to me, than those noticed details.


  1. Anonymous12:51 PM

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. This story is testament to the fact that the scariest horror movie is real life.

    Hope you enjoy this halloween, Val! What movie will you watch?

  3. I just don't have anything to really say after reading that. If I was your dad, I'd be very proud of you and the backbone you show, and the things you've accomplished.

    Hope this year's horror movie is a good one.

  4. Crumbs, that's a worthy Halloween story to take the wind out of the sails.

    Thanks for sharing with us, though. Even though it's unsettling, one should be scared on Halloween. I'll be thinking of video cassette covers and the real scary things that make us watch scary movies.

  5. When my mother went up to England to help my grandmother after my grandfather died, two years ago, she described her feelings upon seeing him in much the same way as you did.

    I'm so sorry you had to go through that so young.
    I can't imagine what it must've been like, I have trouble relating about it with my mother too.

    permission to hug?
    *virtual hug*

  6. I too was one of those kids who needed "toughening up". I had 2 older brothers who practiced the art of "boxing" or "wrestling" on me as I was a pretty big kid for my age. When they realized how "soft" I was, this made them come at me harder. The funny thing was, I still loved them....

    They loved horror movies and were a few years older than me so they were "allowed" to watch them. I thought I would "toughen myself up" and at 10 or 11 I convinced my "baba" (grandmother in Ukrainian) to take me to the local movie house that was showing a double bill of Planet of the Apes and The Abominable Doctor Phibes.

    What a mistake! Dr. Phibes scared the sh*t outta me and I couldn't sleep for weeks with the fear that he would drill a hole in the ceiling and cover me with vegetable goo so locusts could eat away my flesh...

    Sometimes even your own experiments can go awry...


  7. dang. that's an intense story. :(

  8. You never cease to surprise me, Val, and that's a little scary.

    Two pop culture references always pop into my head whenever I attend a funeral.

    The first "Chuckles Bites the Dust", from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". When I saw that as a kid, it kind of shocked me, Mary Richards laughing out loud during the memorial service. Years later, Nick at Nite aired it during their New Year's Eve countdown (#1 of course), and I finally enjoyed the dark humor of the episode.

    The second ties in obliquely with the first (related staff, Chuckles vs Krusty). I became a big fan of Matt Groening when he drew "Life Is Hell". When he started doing the cartoons for "The Tracey Ullman Show", I started watching religiously, even taping reruns from Lifetime. (I am now also a big Ullman fan.) During the shorts, there was a storyline where one of the Simpson's relatives dies, and they have to attend the funeral. Bart, savoring the gory details, gets a rude awakening at the viewing.

    Hope you had fun last night. I left work late, so got some of the runoff from the parade. Nothing unusual, just the usual unusual.

  9. I can see why most wouldn't wanna touch this one, but I thought I'd say its interesting to see a holiday have different views and create different kind of emotions. It's more of the Day of the Dead for you. To look back and remember the good things of loved one lost. Not just costumes and candy.

    Also, the horror movie thing, I can totally relate. I remember when I was little, I'd always force my bro or sis to get me these scary movies. Chucky and Freddy topped them, of course. Toys and sleeping result in death. The Perfect Nightmare for kid, ya? I was fascinated, but, of course, at the same time irrationally afraid. I'd do the through-the-fingers view like you, or sometimes I'd do the couch-pillow-shield. Heh!

  10. I'm sorry for your loss, however long ago.