Tomorrow, for those of you who never turn on a television or go to a grocery store, is Halloween. Which sends some adults into a frenzy of glee about ghouls, goblins and "sexy" costumes, and others into a genuine state of wonder. We wonder what the heck those other people are all bent out of shape about.
When I was a kid I totally got Halloween. But I'll admit my focus was not exactly on the symbolism of the whole thing. I liked dressing up in some persona or another and I was especially fond of the idea that people I didn't even know would give me chocolate. Which just now typing it out sounded to me like something you should definitely teach your children not to accept.
In the neighborhood where I grew up Halloween meant we could get free bagels at Watson Bagel (still the best I've ever had in my life). We knew to go to a certain house on a certain block early because our classmate's mom would make--I'm not kidding--fresh cider doughnuts and give them out hot. That was a stop not to be missed.
Just to be clear: The dressing-up part was okay, and required a good deal of planning after I'd outgrown the just-go-to-the-store-and-buy-a-costume phase (the best of which was the Superman one and there is no arguing with that). Weeks, perhaps months would go into determining just the right persona and figuring out how it would be implemented. But if you're asking me to remember a specific costume in the way I can instantly recall the bagels and the doughnuts, you are in for a serious disappointment.
Halloween helped make me the man I am today, and not in a good way. Although one day a year can hardly be blamed.
Now we buy candy every year and often come close to handing out all of it, although recent Halloweens (since Chris Christie decided he could move it after Hurricane Sandy) have seen fewer customers. Might have something to do with our demented dog who barks whenever the doorbell is rung. Some little kids get scared even at a tiny beagle who actually loves everybody.
And that brings me to Stranger Things.
The latest binging obsession on Netflix is the second season of a show that aspires to bring back the Spielberg-ish films of the 1980s with a tale of a town beset with a lab where for some reason scientists--and you can't trust them, can you?--are striving to create or at least summon monsters. Don't ask me why. The show is seen through the eyes of (mostly) boys in the 11-13 age range. (Adults, by the way, are seen as either oblivious or powerless when they're not being evil scientists.)
It takes a fairly light tone but this is a horror show. Children are menaced, sometimes abducted. Teenagers are at least seemingly killed. Bad stuff happens to people quite a bit.
Everybody loves this show. Except me.
I went through my horror phase around the time I was the age of the kids in Stranger Things. I loved me some monsters in the classic tradition, but mostly I liked the ones who had a conscience. The Wolf Man was tortured and tried to get himself locked up every night there'd be a full moon (at which time he ended up looking nothing at all like a wolf and probably could have found himself a good place to spend those nights if he'd stopped traveling around so much). The creature in the Frankenstein movies--hardly a shadow of the same entity in the novel--didn't understand his power. He was an innocent child trapped in a massive body and had impulse control problems. The dominant vampire of my youth, Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, didn't enjoy drinking blood. He had guilt issues.
Those I could relate to. By the time horror movies had become slasher movies and the villains were just evil because they were evil (and because the emphasis was on how to show as much bloodletting as possible), I was out of the game. I'd discovered the Marx Brothers by then and who needed horror when you could laugh yourself silly?
Stranger Things doesn't overindulge in gore. I don't want to give the wrong impression. But I don't enjoy watching people suffer and I don't like watching children be frightened. So go ahead and enjoy, but count me out.
I'm an old codger now and I don't get horror movies. I don't need help being horrified; I can do that just by reading the newspaper every morning. Horror is something I actually try to avoid (except that I still read the damn paper). Go figure.
So when Halloween comes around tomorrow, I'll be glad to hand out candy to children (if you're a teenager, go buy yourself a chocolate bar, seriously). I'll admire some of the more inventive costumes. I'll try and keep the dog calm, a losing effort but a sincere one. Just don't ask me to binge on horror movies or TV shows. I don't for a second begrudge you the right to indulge if you like. I hope you enjoy it.
Don't expect me to join you, that's all. There's comedy somewhere and I'll be seeking that out.