Countdown to Halloween (a prelude)

I don’t know when, exactly, I became a Halloween child. I don’t know how old I was when I first did a John Kassir crypt-keeper shriek. But I can still pull it off, much of the time, and sometimes (when it is very dark, and I think I am alone) I still cut loose with it.

I don’t mean the costumes and the trick r’ treatin’- I wasn’t raised by some weird splinter religion folk, we practiced standard commercialized American holidays like many did. As a precocious little shit, I’m sure I relished in the chance to disappear into a character or persona for an evening. I know that the build-up to Halloween- the planning and prepping for the grand night- took weeks, if not months.

No, what I wonder is when exactly I began to view Halloween as the pure undiluted holiday of AWESOME. I’m pretty sure it was when I was in my mid 20s, living with my post-college girlfriend (hi, baby!) when I realized that I kind of wanted Halloween to be a year round thing. Part of that comes from having “my own” (or in my case, “our own”) home. But the love goes back further.

As a teenager, when I was “too big” to trick or treat anymore, I took over the bulk of the house decorations from my mother. I made tombstones out of scrap wood for the front yard- begged her to let me dig up some fresh sod to signify a new grave. I forbad my father from oiling the front gate for months ahead of time. I got some hemp rope, made a noose, got out the extension ladder from the garage and strung it high enough that a dumbass kid (or adult) couldn’t reach it and actually throttle themselves.

Lighting in the front windows, ominous music, and dried ice behind the tombstones- yeah, we were that house. I was that guy. Not like todays houses- I had a limited budget and made pretty much everything myself. And there weren’t (or at least I wasn’t aware of) the Halloween Super Stores that seem to pop up like weeds these days in old shoe stores and discount strip malls at the end of September…

The build-up, the prep- that was actually more exciting than the actual night. I mean, Halloween is over so quickly now. And I don’t have the easy staging ground of a house.

After college, in various apartments in various states across the country, Annika and I developed our own holiday traditions. Halloween has one of our most cherished: Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, a beautiful, sweet, funny post-modern novel with a chapter for each day of the month (and a prologue).

Each year, Snuff the watchdog, Jack, The Count, Larry Talbot, the Mad Monk, The Good Doctor and his Experiment Man and The Great Detective all come and visit our house for 32 nights, and I read their story (told from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s dog). I do voices.

Somewhere along the way I married my post-college girlfriend- in October, because we love Halloween (and Thanksgiving, and Christmas) so much that we wanted to start the “Holiday Season” (as we see it) early. We live in an apartment building now, with two kids of our own. Tomorrow night we’ll pull out “The book” and start the story. On Saturday the apartment will be cleaned- at least somewhat- and the decoration boxes will come down.

Over the month the cobwebs and spiders and skulls and candelabras that Annika and I have collected over the past years will come out and find their places amidst the kid’s toys and knitting books.

And Halloween will come- and the actual night is always a bit of a disappointment for me, the way New Years Eve can be for some people. Mostly because, year after year, The Great Old Ones don’t come back and devour us all, starting with the conservatives.

But seriously, someday, I tell myself, someday I’ll have a little house somewhere to decorate properly and the local kids will know it is “the” house to hit for good candy and to see what kind of crazy shit old man Will has put up this year. Because I loved the rush of providing that thrill, and I miss it.

The odds against my having my own house to decorate get longer and longer as each year passes. And that makes me kind of sad.

But as Sam and Grace get older and more and more of Halloween is for them and for their thrills and excitement, that longing to put on a spooky show for an audience diminishes because, well hell, now I’ve got an audience.

A captive one.


Missing My Son

There is a Tom Waits song off the Orphans albums called “Missing My Son”.

I have never listened to it.

I love Tom Waits- I have since I was eight or nine years old and my mom bought a cassette tape of Swordfishtrombone to listen to on a family outing from DC to Baltimore. I know a number of his songs by heart, and several that I don’t know the lyrics to have imprinted their melodies so firmly in my subconscious that I wake up with the music in my head and new lyrics imprinted nonsensically over them…

But I have never listened to “Missing My Son”.

It is sitting right there in my media player- right after “Dog Treat” and before “Top of the Hill” from Real Gone (Windows Media Player has arranged the albums alphabetically, and I am lazy and allowed it to). I could just click on it. But I never have.

Maybe it is because the title makes me deeply sad. Maybe it is because I think of it when I am at work and I miss my son. Maybe the idea of Tom Waits- who I am pretty sure has two sons, both of who play with him- missing one of his children bothers me deeply. He is the raconteur, the balladeer, the hoarse sound of a human ratchet making music with his soul.

I am aware, intellectually, that he is a deeply private man. I had no idea what his wife, Kathleen Brennan, looked like until Waits was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they cut to her with tears in her eyes while he thanked her. (or maybe she was a double that he has for public appearances, who knows?)

But love- long lasting, suffering, difficult to articulate romantic love I can understand. I have loved my wife for more than a decade, and I still can’t always find the words to describe it.

And while I can appreciate an artist/poet/songster singing/writing/talking about romantic love… parental love is something completely different.

What if it is a worst-case scenario fantasy about losing his son? I don’t know if I can handle that.

As he has aged Waits has become more overtly political, writing songs about the horrors of politics and the futility of war (or is it the futility of politics and the horrors of war?)- could he be writing a song about a fictional counterpart who has lost a child? Do I want to hear that?

I can’t fathom the idea of losing one of my children- but especially my son, Sam. Maybe because I’ve known him longer- I certainly adore Grace, my daughter. But I am more afraid for Sam, afraid of something happening to him.

When I thought my wife was dying (she got better) I attached myself to Sam fully. I knew I would be there for him and he for me no matter what. If Annika had died, I would have become a single parent and a new father within moments- and I would have been okay. Oh, I would have been a mess- I would have mourned. But I would have had someone to focus on, to take care of, to protect and nurture.

The thought of losing him- after I made that pact with him (and yes, it was to wander both roads like outcast demons along the river Sanzu between heaven and hell) is to much.

So to think of my favorite musician, the poet who I appreciate the most, writing about “Missing My Son”. I just don’t think I’m ready to listen to that.

Hey- and maybe it isn’t so dire, maybe it is about a kid going to college. Or going to the corner store to get ice cream.

But I don’t know and I’m not going to find out anytime soon. I’m too scared.

We’re supposed to let our children blossom and grow, not shelter them but rather aid them and help them become strong and good.

Sam is only 5, and we have a long adventure ahead of us before I need to let him go.

But I dread it. I dread it so. And I am so afraid of something taking him from me.