Experiments In Terror

Decorating continues:

Sam- as you may recall- has never been afraid. Not of anything. He’ll play scared, because that is fun, but he is almost utterly fearless. Last night he was watching the hypnotic random changing of the horror-movie photos that make up my screensaver. Bill Moseley in his Day of the Dead inspired fright makeup from the finale of House of 1,000 Corpses pops up.

“Hey, is that a guy- or a bad guy?” he asks me.

“What do you think, buddy?” I ask.

“Hmm. I not sure. Maybe a good guy.”

My kind of kid.

Grace on the other hand, seems to feel that delicious frisson of fear- she shrieks with glee when startled, or when Sam makes a monster noise. She hides her eyes when watching Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin during the “scary” parts.

The Halloween decorations continue- the black raven came out next.

“Nevermore!” exclaims my wife happily.

“Ooooh, a bird! Too skeeery!” shrieked Grace.

So I whistled the bird-theme from The Magic Flute, and had the bird hop around the furniture for a few minutes. It seemed confused.

“Daddy, maybe the bird is hungry?” Sam asked.

“Good idea, it might be,” I said. The bird whistled louder and hopped on Sam’s shoulder. Sam giggled.

“Oh, here bird. I have some food in a hand!” Sam holds out his hand, palm up. I make the bird hop down his arm and peck gently at his hand.

“Oh, Bird really hungry.” He says happily.

“Oh! Dat bird is mine! I to try. I to try!” shrieks Grace, holding out her hand.

The bird pecks gently at her palm.

“Oh! Dat mine bird. Hi bird!”

Phew. So now the bird is ok.

She is great with pumpkins and black cats, bats are birds and thus ok. She loves all the owl stuff.

Years ago, Annika and I bought one of those “ground-crashed witch” decorations. Legs, hands, a hat (with wig) and cape. The idea being you plant it in your yard with plastic stakes, put a broom next to it and voila- a witch has face-planted on your property.

Well, we live in LA and have no yard, so at some point we started a-fixing it to the wall with tacks and nails- it looks like the Witch slammed into the wall and is stuck there, presumably moments before sliding down with a ‘hilarious’ noise-effect.

Grace wore that witch hat for 2 days straight “Dis is mine beyooful hat.” so Witch stuff is ok.

We’re making progress.

Shelby came over last week (wednesday AND friday- we were lucky) and congratulated us on starting Halloween early.

“Look, if Christmas decorations can go up after Thanksgiving, why the hell can’t Halloween start mid-September?”

Wise man, our Shelby.

Today we are going to hang cobwebs, and then do some October-crafts with orange construction paper.

I love this time of year.

You Cannot Cast Out the Demon- You Might As Well Dance

Only eight more days until that Time ‘O Year.

Last weekend, my lovely wife said: “I’d like to start to put up the Halloween decorations.”

“But lovely darling,” said I, “It is still only September, and Halloween falls in October. It is too early.”

“See here beast-thing,” spoke she. “I came upstairs this morning and your Christmas music playlist was on.”

I was cataloging, for the yearly Yule music mix. Regardless, we began to decorate that afternoon.

As I have said before, Halloween is a very important time of year in this house.

The Halloween playlist is all but ready for constant play- a heady mixture of movie themes, and horror-tinged rock ranging from Dickie Goodman’s upbeat ode to fright films (with the sing along chorus “my baby loves horror movies”) to the gothabilly grit of Denmark’s HorrorPops and guitar virtuosos Jessie Dayton’s seasonal side-project Captain Clegg & The Night Creatures.

Years I ago- when I was still toiling in the shallow plastic money trench of feature films- I would get home from a discouraging day of facilitating other people’s dreams and put on Jill Tracy and the Malcontent Orchestra’s lovely score for the classic silent version of Nosferatu. I did that so often that my lovely darling put a moratorium on that CD for a few years (it has since been lifted).

This year, we went to Target to check out the Halloween decorations and goodies. Low-quality junk for the most part, but some of it is pretty fun- and fun is sort of the point of Halloween for me and mine. Well, Sam was enraptured with some of the ghouls, goblins and ghosts- Grace started shivering with half real half-mock fear and squealing “too skeery!” and hiding her eyes.

My daughter. I might have looked for nearby gypsies for a moment.

We discussed this malady, lovely wife and I. We came to realize that while Sam had been indoctrinated to creepy crawlies from a very early age, G had not. Sam had his Universal Monster plush buddies in his crib- Grace had more traditional stuffed animals. Sam lay on his dad’s lap and watched Argento movies as an infant (he liked the colors and, I dare say, the Goblin soundtrack)- Gracie as an infant refused to watch ANYTHING in the wee hours except for Anthony Bourdain’s travel show.


So we began to hang the decorations early- not just for our enjoyment, but for the purpose of acclimating young Miss G.

First we hung the cut-out bats- “Too skeery!” and put out some of the hard-cell foam jack o’ lanterns.

“Oh! Punkins! Dis one mines.” Aha, ok. Good.

Then I got out (one of many) a skull desk ornament. This one wears a pirate hat and eye-patch. Grace cringed for a moment, but then my close approximation of Clancy Brown’s Mr. Krabs pirate voice reassured her.

“Oh, hi, piwate!”

Now, each skull as it came out of the box (we have 2 large and 1 small box of Christmas decorations, 3 large and 2 small for Halloween) Grace greeted them with “Oh! Hi, piwate!”

Soon enough, out came the plush monsters- Dracula, Mummy, Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, Bride of Same, Creature (of the Black Lagoon) and The Hunchback.

“Oh! Bad guys!” shrieks Grace.

“No-no-no, not Bad-Guys!” says Sam with assurance. “They Monsters.”

Ohhhh” says Grace, nodding her head. “Monsters.”

And now, those monsters aren’t too skeery any more.


This Time Its War

I don’t really remember ever not playing role-playing games. The table-top kind, with the dice and the character sheets. Sometimes maps.

It was Shelby who first introduced me to RPGS. I’d had an invitation to play D&D with a friend in Denver when I was younger. This was in the early 80s, and the strange time of the Satanic Allegations & Moral Panic.

Heavy Metal, Dungeons & Dragons and childcare centers were singled out (and how fucking weird is that 3-hit combo?) and investigated for alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse and hidden messages and driving kids to the Devil.

Frankly, it is shocking that the far-right neo-conservative Christian extremists haven’t tried to resurrect it in today’s political climate, but I’m here to talk about gaming, not scared assholes. Which isn’t to say that gamers can’t be assholes and sometimes scared, but I digress further from my digression.

I didn’t get to play D&D when I was a wee lad- I don’t know if Mom was reacting to the Moral Panic, or if she just wasn’t a big fan of the Kid who offered to teach me to play. I do have a hazy recollection of mom sort of clutching her pearls (metaphorically) and saying something about how D&D had caused some poor sick kid to commit suicide. My mother meant well, but to my child-mind that connection was forged in solid steel: D&D lead to Bad Stuff, and I sure didn’t want to get into Bad Stuff.

Anyway, many years later I was introduced to gaming by my friend Shelby. We still game, together and regularly, and neither of us has committed suicide (and I keep my devil-worshipping life private) so obviously it worked out ok.

I’ve written in the past about how the core gaming group of my teenage years was Matty, Shelby, Podjo and myself. Marvel RPG, D&D, Paranoia- and many other long forgotten games. RPGs were also a gateway drug into table-top fantasy games, strategy games etc. I wasn’t as big on the strategy games (and I never got into the collectible card games, though Podjo definitely did as I recall).

Well, I wasn’t into the non-RPG games. I liked the character aspect- it was way more important to me (and fun) than just rolling dice.

Except for one non-RPG game.

Leading Edge put out a board game in 1989 of the James Cameron action/sci-fi Aliens. A great movie for a teenage boy. Absolutely Badass.

So this board game was simple- really simple, you could play it by yourself (the Alien attacks were randomized) and easy/quick to learn. Podjo bought it- and the Expansion Set- and we spent hours playing.

There were great optional rules- the Dietrich rule (if a Marine holding a flame unit is grabbed by an Alien roll to see if they involuntarily ignite any nearby comrades), the Frost rule (if a Marine is standing next to an airshaft when wounded, roll to see if they stumble down the shaft), and the 2nd Frost rule (in the Reactor scenario designate one Marine to carry the ammo bag, if they get hit with a flame unit, it blows up).

It was a lot of fun. Simple, mindless, exciting. And an excuse to trot out our encyclopedic recall of dialogue.

I don’t remember when I last played- I think it was in the summer of… oh man, ’95? I was twenty and crashed at Podjo’s for a 2 week period, and I’m pretty sure I dusted off the old game and played a quiet game or two.

When I started working in LA, in 2000, I “discovered” how the Internet seemingly exists to encourage nostalgia. I found some old books/old movies/old music albums that I had lost track of over the years. And I looked to see if I could find the Aliens board game. I could- but I sure couldn’t afford it. It was only published for a year or so, in 1989, expansion set in ’90.

Every so often- as late as 2005 I think- I would look at Ebay for prices on the Leading Edge games. It was always a bit dear for a paper map, some cardboard cut-outs and rubber stands.

Board games of that type still exist- I’m sure. They predate table-top RPGs (hell, thats sort of how RPGs came about- from the miniature military scenario games) and can be a blast to play.

I still play RPGs- we have a roughly bi-weekly Deadlands game that I’ve been running for a little over 6 years now. My Bettie, Shelby and Chris are the founding players.

Last night was a Deadlands night. I go down to let Chris in.

Chris is skinny again, looks a little tired, carrying a black box.

“I got this for you.”

It is a slightly battered black box. It looks familiar. I probably recognized it in less than a second.

A second can take a long, long time though. That battered black box. How many memories floated through my head in the milliseconds between recognizing it and before I said something along the lines of “Wow. Oh wow.”

I know I said that, because Sam was with me, and he told me: “Daddy! You said Wow oh wow! What is it?”

Sam was shaking with excitement. Because he could tell- sense or see- just how excited I was.

I’m pretty sure I thanked Chris profusely. I hope I did. I’m not sure. My mind was 17 or so years ago- or even further, really- sitting on the floor of my room in DC, rolling to see if Drake got splashed with acid, or if Apone involuntarily sets Hicks on fire while being dragged off to his doom by an Alien.

Sam wanted to open the box RIGHT THEN, but he managed to wait. We played Deadlands (it was a pretty excellent session, I think), and I stumbled to bed shortly after midnight.

Woke up around 5, made tea, came upstairs to do some writing. Sam clears his throat down in the living room about a quarter to six.

“Daddy. I awake. You show me game. You said wow.”

So I did. Sam thinks it is pretty cool.

So do I.