Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

How I Spent My Night

One of the things that I am most grateful for in my adult years is the fact that I am mellowing in a lot of ways.  Halloween has always been a big deal for me and I have always struggled not to put an extreme amount of pressure on myself to celebrate in grand style.  In the past, if I was throwing a party, it had to be the party.  If I was going to a haunted house, it had to be the best, scariest haunted house ever.  And if I was celebrating Halloween, I was celebrating Halloween.  Of course, the problem with all that is that the more you build something up the more destined it is to fail.  Cause, you know, reality.

Now I'm incredibly grateful for the fact that it doesn't take nearly as much to make me happy.  Sure, I went a little nuts baking in preparation for our Halloween potluck at work- but I like baking.  And the simple fact that there was apple pie and cupcakes was enough.  Just listening to the Monster Mash while chatting with coworkers was enough.  Just carving a simple jack-o-lantern was enough (though it certainly helped that it came out well).  Torturing my poor dog by dressing him up as a pumpkin and then cooing over how overwhelmingly adorable he is was enough.  Handing out candy to the cute kids in the neighborhood was more than enough.  And ending it all by settling on the couch to watch this year's Treehouse of Horror was all I needed to complete the perfect night.

It's been a great Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Trip: Lucky

So, having just regained power after a mere 24 hours without and having that be the worst thing we encountered in this storm that destroyed people's homes, flooded people's cars and took people's lives I have to begin this post by stating the obvious: I am really fucking lucky.  I'm lucky I'm alive.  I'm lucky my home was unscathed, especially since my in-laws had a tree fall on theirs.  I'm lucky we had no flooding when others watched their cars float down the street.  And I'm really amazingly lucky that this trip wasn't ruined a second year in a row.  I feel stupid focusing on that in the midst of so many bigger issues, but as I said, I'm really lucky.  So I'm going to talk about my wonderful Sleepy Hollow trip, cause that's the big news in my world.

Of the four events I had planned, we made it to three of them.  I'm going to skip the story of why we didn't make it to one of them and focus on what we did make it to, because they far overshadow that one miss.
Legend Celebration at Washington Irving's Sunnyside
I've been to Sunnyside before and I remember it, so that certainly wasn't the highlight of the day.  But I can't recall being to it during an event with lots of entertainment, Halloween goodies and freakishly adorable little kids in costume.  Those are the highlights.  Seeing an actor incorporate the passing train into his story of King Arthur and Sir Gawain's defeat of the Green Knight.  Hearing the balladeer play the chords from stairway to heaven during the performance of The Devil and Tom Walker.  Seeing little kids dressed up as candy corn and the Marvel superheroes- I saw Captain America pushing the Incredible Hulk around in a stroller!  Those were the highlights.  And how lucky were we to enjoy all of this rain-free the weekend before a hurricane?  It was a great day.
The Great Pumpkin Blaze
This event was definitely the best part of the weekend.  They advertise it as consisting of "over 5,000 hand-carved pumpkins" which sounds impressive, of course.  But to see it?  That's overwhelming on a level I was not prepared for.  Pumpkins as far as the eye can see arraigned in more elaborate ways than I thought physically possible.  Pumpkins covering the entirety of a tall tree- each one hand carved and lit up.  An entire graveyard with tombstones made out of the tallest pumpkins I've ever seen and skeleton hands reaching out from those graves.  Giant dinosaurs made entirely out of pumpkins- T-rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops!  Not quite life-sized but not much smaller.  A zoo complete with giraffes, gorillas, elephants and a hundred monkeys.  Big Ben with a moving clock face and working pependulum.  A seascape with all the fish, crustaceans, coral and other sea creatures you could think of.  A giant bee hive with hundreds of bees.  Giant jack-in-the-boxes made entirely of pumpkins carved with intricate geometric designs.  Celtic knots out the wazoo, an entire house made of jack-o-lanterns- I can't even remember everything we saw!  Even now I find it overwhelming to try to recount everything- it was that insane!  And so, so awesome.
Sleep Hollow Cemetery
No visit to Sleepy Hollow would be complete without a visit to the cemetery, the Old Dutch Church and the man who made the legend centered there.  Seeing Washington Irving's grave first hand seemed like an appropriate way to pay homage.  And seeing the rest of the cemetery was just cool for historical purposes.  Our walking tour was not a spooky one so there were no ghost stories.  But there was a whole lot of information about how cemeteries worked before the dawn of the industrial revolution, why certain symbols appear on grave markers, what a foot stone is, which stone wears best over time (it's not marble, fyi), how Andrew Carnegie designed his company and why William Rockefeller's estate is missing a mansion.  My inner history buff was loving the info and my inner child was just giddy from walking around in the gorgeous fall landscape complete with a cool wind blowing brightly colored leaves around spooky tombstones.  And again, how lucky were we to see all of this rain-free the day the hurricane was scheduled to hit the shore?

It didn't start raining until we were less than an hour from home so we made it with no issues and we were tucked safely inside by the time the storm started in ernest.  And on Monday when our power went out our biggest problem was boredom after we finished the fifth board game- rather than a flooded basement or a tree falling on us.  And now that Sandy has past I'm still marveling at how incredibly lucky I am to have made out so incredibly well this weekend.  And I am truly grateful.

Friday, October 26, 2012


1:45pm.  It was a good time.  It was the most logical time, he’d concluded, after several hours of debating when the best time would be.  The store should be as empty as it gets during the day and he would have the best chance of striking up a conversation with her in the most nonchalant, seemingly uncalculated way possible.  1:45pm was it.  He’d fallen asleep repeating it to himself like a mantra.

He looked at the clock. 1:38pm.  He was already sweating.  He clenched and unclenched his hands, then wiped his wet palms on his apron.  He shook them, trying to air dry them, and told himself to stop it.  This was the plan.  He would not let himself deviate from it, no matter how nauseous he got.

He’d waited so long for this, refusing to let himself make a move before he earned the promotion.  Now, newly settled in the deli department and proudly managing the responsibility of  the high-quality deli meats there was no way his inner judge could justify not making a move.  He wasn’t monstrous looking, he had a good job, he had an uncanny ability to mimic great moves from classic kung-fu movies and several other quality characteristics he’d been reminding himself of all day.  He was just as much of a catch as Charlie Gelecki if not more so because he wasn’t perpetually stoned.  Plus, they’d broken up 5 months, 21 days and 6 hours ago anyway.

He looked up over the counter and caught her arraigning a garland of brightly colored fall leaves around the salad bar.  She had a slightly far off look in her eyes and a small smile crossing her perfectly shaped lips.  He instinctively looked down to avoid her seeing him staring.  Dammit!  How had she snuck up on him without him noticing? 

“Breathe, Jeff- breathe,” he chided himself.

“Dude, you ok?” a voice came from behind him.

He jumped and let out a small, started grunt as he turned around to see Niles looking at him sideways.

“Sh-sh-shit!” he stammered.  Goddammit- he was already stuttering.  No, no, no!  This couldn’t happen, not now!  He bit his tongue and tried to breathe through the obstruction in his partially opened mouth.

“Wow- what the hell is going on?” Niles said.

Jeff looked down at his feet and reminded himself of how perfectly ordinary and not on fire they were.  They felt like they were on fire, of course.  And his stomach felt as if it was about to empty out the remainder of the breakfast he’d barely managed to choke down before coming on his shift.  And his head felt like it might fly clear off his body and rattle around the giant building like a pinball in a really big machine.  It was all he could manage to move his head in her direction.

“Oh, is it time?” Niles asked him, the dawn of understanding in his voice.

Jeff forced himself to glance up at the clock.  1:42pm.  He opened his mouth and inhaled, his tongue bouncing the way it did when his stutter was acting up.

“Dude, it’s ok- seriously.  Like I said, we got the best job in the store, you got the best sense of humor and if she’s too stupid to no- yeah, sure!  I’ll go get it right now,” Niles interrupted himself, rapidly darting his eyes at Jeff.

Jeff turned and nearly swallowed his tongue at the site of Chelsea standing right in front him, her smiling eyes shining at him.

“Hey” she said, her ponytail bouncing slightly as she tilted her head at him.

“Hey Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-“ he stopped and bit his tongue, hard.  Not now!  He couldn’t choke now.  It must be 1:45pm and 1:45pm was the perfect time.  He took a breath, closed his eyes and breathed out “Hey Chelsea.”  It sounded normal if a bit a winded.  He opened his eyes, looked directly at her and said “How’s it g-going?”

“Good,” she smiled at him.  He studied her face.  Her smile hadn’t wilted at all and she seemed to be completely ignoring his stutter.  It strengthened his determination.

“List-st-sten,” he stumbled.  He bit his tongue again and tasted blood.  He swallowed, sang the sentence to himself in his head and proceeded, “I was wondering if you wanted to go that Ha-ha-ha-halloween party with me.”  It was not the way he had practiced and the ‘halloween’ had come out in a shout.  But there was nothing he could do about it now.

He was just starting to curse himself for epically screwing up when the sound of “I’d love to” slammed into his ears like a sonic boom. He blinked and looked up at her.

She was smiling, even wider than before.  She wasn’t joking.

“I was actually gonna ask if you wanted to go- I love Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday, like, ever, and I really wanted to go but I kind-of felt stupid going alone and I thought that if you wanted go then we could go together and it might cool and I-“ she stopped herself mid sentence and looked down.  Jeff waited, holding his breath.

“I’m babbling,” she said as she raised her head, her lower lip tucked firmly under her perfect top lip as she grinned at him.  He’d been studying her facial expressions since he first saw her.  He knew the look.  She was embarrassed.

He exhaled.  His tongue stopped jumping down his throat.  The room suddenly cooled and his head settled heavily onto his neck.  He smiled at her and forgot all about looking like an idiot.


He’d forget the rest of the conversation they had after that.  He’d wonder if she said yes because she liked him or just really loved Halloween.  He’d wonder if she had been nervous because it was him or because she just really hated going to parties by herself.  He’d drive himself to the brink of madness with anxiety until he’d drop her off that night after the party and she’d place a small, tentative kiss on his cheek before getting out of his car.  And after that day, whenever he doodled in his notebook at school, he’d doodle “1:45pm”.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sleepy Hollow v 2.0

I grew up in a small town in Westchester county New York, only about 20 minutes north of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, so I was familiar with the story of the headless horseman very early on in my childhood.  I recall an animated version of the story being aired on television somewhere around October 31st which stuck firmly in my memory and became inextricably linked to Halloween in my mind.

The story, whose proper title is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was written by the American author Washington Irving.  Irving, for those of you who don’t know him, was born in Manhattan.  His earliest writings, naturally, were satirical pieces about the political, social and financial issues of that city at the time.  When he was 14, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in the city so his family sent him up river to live with a family friend in Tarrytown, sister town to Sleepy Hollow.  His young imagination fell in love with the place and his experience there lead to the creation of the story.

Though he spent the bulk of his young adult life in Europe, Irving was famous for his works set in that area of New York and he ultimately returned there to live, write and die at the age of 76.  His home, Sunnyside, is now a museum and historical site where visitors go to learn about the man, his writings and the cultural legends that informed his writings.

Now, I can only image how much his story informed the town of Sleepy Hollow and placed a certain expectation on how they mark the spookier holiday of the year.  So it’s no surprise that the town tends to go all out with festivities.  Being a huge fan of the holiday and thinking of how wonderful it would be to plan a vacation around such festivities, I started to plot such a trip early last year.

I had everything planned out, the tickets were bought, the itinerary was set, the hotel booked and the visit to my parents who still live only 20 minutes away all set up.  To say that I was excited would be a massive understatement.  And wouldn’t you know that that very weekend there was a freak snowstorm that blanketed the northeast in several inches of thick, slushy snow and shut down the whole town?  I was crushed.  And angry.  Who ever heard of a giant snowstorm in October?!? 

But the event did nothing but steel my resolve to make this trip happen.  So this year, I bought my tickets early.  I put in for my time off from work months in advance.  I printed out several pages of pictures and information about the events and made up a little booklet.  I’ve been daydreaming about it daily since at least August.  And come hell, high water or any kind of freak snowstorm, this is happening!

So tomorrow, after posting my new #fridayflash, I will be leaving for the super awesome fun-tastic mega magnificent Halloween weekend in Sleepy Hollow.  And it will be everything I’ve been hoping for all these months.  And I will write all about it all when I get back on Monday.  Stay tuned.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Review: Sinister

It’s hard to get a really good feel for exactly what this movie is about from the previews.  There are videos of rather disturbing things that are freaking Ethan Hawke out.  There’s some kind-of demon who may or may not live in the images depicting it.  There’s a little girl who sees… dead children?  And there’s a seemingly possessed child unfolding itself backwards out of a cardboard box while screaming.  Just pictures, moments and little snippets of information that don’t form any kind of story line.  This is the first step in making a great horror movie.  (Because one of the worst feelings is getting to the end of a movie and realizing that all the scary moments were in the trailer.)

The second step is mystery and Sinister starts out with a lot of that.  The very first thing you see is some old Super 8 footage of a family being murdered.  It’s disturbing enough to make you wonder what exactly happened.  Enter the main character Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) who gives my alma mater a bad name by showing up in a Bennington College t-shirt and acting like a dick.  He’s just moved his family- largely against their will- to this new house in suburban Pennsylvania so that he can write his new book.  He’s investigating the film we saw in the very beginning.  Apparently there’s a missing child in addition to the murdered family.  And no sooner does he console his wife that they’re not living a few doors down from the crime scene (“like last time”) than we see him look out the window to the backyard at the exact location from the video.

What this video was is quickly explained as no sooner does he go up to the attic to put a box away but finds another one containing a projector and reels of Super 8 film like the video we saw- seemingly home movies with harmless labels like “Pool Party ‘66” and “BBQ ’79”.  Being an investigative writer, he sets right off to find out what these movies are all about.  The first one he watches is that film from the beginning of the movie with a family being murdered. 

As he continues to watch these films (which get more and more disturbing), strange things start happening around the house.  His son who suffers from night terrors has some pretty unsettling nocturnal behaviors.  There are strange and dangerous creatures showing up.  The projector keeps turning on by itself.  True to typical horror movie style he ignores these things and moves himself- and his family- further into harm’s way.

The actual plot becomes clear by about the half way mark and even though you sort-of see the ending coming it’s still deeply, deeply satisfying.  I left the theater feeling confident that although the movie scared the piss out of me I would sleep perfectly well since usually the only things that really get me are zombies and there are none in this film.  I knew it was a good movie when I woke up at 5:30am and had to turn on the light to look around the room and make sure I was alone.  I didn’t get back to sleep that morning.

In the reviews I’ve read, many people complain that the majority of the scares are “cheap” in that they’re those classic horror movie false scares where something jumps out at you but ends up being nothing.  I’m fine with those since they usually elicit short, excited screams and jumps from me.  But by about the halfway mark, the cheap screams are replaced with distrubed gasps as the terrible truth becomes clear and the movie answers all of the questions that its main character asked when he started investigating.  In the end, you’re left with the feeling that this is the kind of thing that urban legends are based on, and possibly much older legends originally reported.

I have almost nothing bad to say about this film.  It worked for me on just about every level, even without the zombies.  And my boyfriend got a great movie-going experience since I screamed and flailed at every scare.  I’ve commented before on how I’m the best person to see a horror movie with.  Suffice it to say I still am.

The only thing that’s annoying is what is annoying about all horror movies- that scary, unsettling things happen and the main character ignores them, rationalizes them, excuses them until it’s too late.  But the writers of this film even address that since they create a real enough character that you can kind-of understand what would drive him to keep himself and his family in this situation that is so clearly wrong.  There’s a couple of moments where you actually feel bad for the guy cause it seems clear that he really is at the end of his rope and truly can’t help himself. 

That being said, the ending is still delicious.  And if I ever move into a house and find a box of family home movies on Super 8 film in the attic I’m converting and moving into a monastery.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Moment Before

As he made his way up the hill, two sets of very hungry eyes watched his ascent.  He was distracted from his audience by the small, flickering shadow moving about the bushes.  Was it a humming bird?  A squirrel?  A chipmunk?  He hastened to investigate, heaving his overloaded backpack further up his small back as he ran.

When he arrived at the front of the house he looked into the cluster of dying plants and twisted vines where he’d seen movement but found no furry, feathered or otherwise covered creature that might’ve attracted him.  He searched above and then got on his knees but found nothing in the underbrush aside from an earthworm and spider’s web.  And there’s wasn’t even a spider in it. 

He groaned disappointment as he straightened himself and brushed the dirt off his knees.  He noticed his sneakers light up as he moved.  He looked closer- there were small lights in the soles that twinkled and burst as he stepped.   That was so cool.  He was too excited to wonder why he’d started walking up the hill in the first place.

His eyes stayed glued to his feet as he climbed the steps to the front door, nearly colliding with the knocker as he did.  Then he looked up at the thing he’d nearly bumped his head on.  A twisted, evil-looking smirk on a bat-like gargoyle met his gaze and he stepped back.  Suddenly he was drowning in confusion.  Where was he?  Why had he come here? 

Then an overpowering urge to see what was on the other side of the door hit him and he felt himself involuntarily step forward.  His sneakers lit up as he did.  He knew with sudden clarity that the family who had given him those shoes was not on the other side of that door.  He turned and ran down the hill so fast that his backpack left bruises on his spine that lingered for weeks afterward.

“Damn it!  We had that one!  I thought you said the spell would work!”

“Sshhh- here’s comes another one!”  A long crooked finger pointed towards the small figure slowly coming up the hill.

She stepped up the long, sloping driveway with confidence.  This had to be the place.  She looked around at the dreary, neglected landscape, the broken shutters, the peeling paint.  “You’d think you’d at least try to hide what you are if you’re hunting children,” she thought to herself.  But she wasn’t here to judge, and right now she could feel the two watching her every step so she had to act the part.

She stopped and kneeled down as if to tie her shoe.  She could feel them react, their anxiety prickling along her skin like needles.  It was deliciously satisfying to toy with them and she lingered there, fumbling with the laces as a child would.  She straightened herself again and hoisted her backpack up the way she had when she was growing too quickly to carry her heavy kit comfortably.  She sensed them settle and their hunger rumbled through her like thunder on the horizon.

She projected the energy she’d knew they’d be looking for: youth, single-mindedness, ignorance and just a touch of fear.  She slowed her walk, drawing out the last few steps up to the door, meandering as if she didn’t know quite where she was or how she’d gotten there.

There were many moments in the life of a witch hunter she’d come to love over the years but none were more delectable than this one.  The moment just before the chaos, the fight, the kill.  The moment of wonder before the arsenal of magic was unleashed.  The moment of silence before the world exploded around her.  She breathed it in and then exhaled, smiling.

She pushed the door open and it groaned like an old man trying to get out bed, echoing through the large foyer.  “Hello?” she asked the empty space, and waited.