My Mind is Blown By Four Brown Paper Grocery Bags of Comic Books

I started buying comics in 1969 at a little place called “Enright’s General Store” in North Andover Massachusetts. They were 15 cents each. I bought Marvel and DC, strictly the superhero books. My best friend Mike bought the war books, the westerns and anything with a car, but not me. I wouldn’t even buy ‘Challenger’s of the Unknown” on account of their uniforms weren’t superhero-y enough.

Earlier that year I’d been introduced to the medium by Reg Aubrey, quite possibly the greatest babysitter in the history of babysitting. He was a teenager. He was the only son of the only African-American family in my lily white hometown. He had a room full of scientific junk including that thing you see in every sci-fi movie of the period with the round green screen and the glowing green dot that moves across it in a jagged line and goes ‘beep’. And Reg read comics. We were pretty much the only Jews in town, which was different enough, but not black different. The only electronic junk I had was our discarded black and white TV that took five minutes to get a picture after you turned it on, and received three stations which you needed a pair of pliers to switch between. Comics was the only thing he did I was capable of doing.

He gave me four brown paper grocery bags full of comics going back to about ’62, the year of my birth, and they BLEW MY MIND so completely it is still blown and I have continued to read superhero comics my whole life.

When I tell you what was in those bags, some of you are going to cry like the irritating little fanboys you almost certainly are since you’ve read this far. You’ll think of how much the comics I had would be worth today had I slipped them into mylar bags with acid free backing boards without ever having read them (which damages the spine, dontchaknow) and stored them in a temperature controlled locker. That is not what comics are for. They are to be read, over and over, until the staples are coming out and the corners are stained with the sweat of your little boy fingers. They are for getting chocolate on and leaving in your tree house and piling up in the bottom of your closet until your mom throws them out when you’re overnight at your best friends house. They were never meant to be fetishized like the finger bones of Catholic saints. That shit is for stamp collectors, who are called philatelists, which sounds dirty, as well it should. If I still had them, I could go read them, and the mythic status they hold for me now would whistle out making a vaguely farty sound like the air hisses out of the balloons at my kid’s birthday parties because I suck at tying knots in balloons.

THE GALACTUS TRILOGY

Fantastic Four 49-51 came out in 1966. It may be the first instance of a comic book story lasting more than a single issue. It was certainly the first such instance I’m aware of.

SPLASH PANEL: some anonymous, overweight, lonely, son of a bitch with coke bottle glasses reflecting the monitor he’s slouched in front of like a big bag of Fritos. A really big bag. The kind of bag you can only get at one of those food warehouses where you have to buy a membership. A thought bubble next to his head reads: “Oh ho! Obviously Mister Burbank is not aware that the ongoing storyline was first pioneered in 1948 by Si Grumpus during his short lived but noteworthy run on The Crimson Chigger for Tip Top Publications.” That may well be true, but shut up,fictional nerd stickler. I’m married. Try that on for size. Also, thought bubbles are no longer used in comics. Why? Because, unlike the idea that the bite of a radioactive spider gives you anything besides cancer, thought bubbles are unrealistic.

Marvel comics were already using a sort of Soap Opera approach in that each issue led into the next, and hell, I don’t know, maybe the Galactus Trilogy isn’t the first multi part story. It was for me, and the sensation of finishing that first issue and thinking “OH MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” was something I’d felt at the end of chapters in books, but never with a comic. But that was not what BLEW MY MIND!

It was a very cosmic Trilogy. It introduce Uatu, The Watcher, giant, silent, baby-looking bald dude who lived on the moon and who was just about as enigmatic as hell. It introduced The Silver Surfer, who was all silver and surfed around on a flying, silver surfboard, creating dramatic tension by juxtaposing incredible, soul-searching, angst and goofy-ass, silvery,flying surf board riding. And most of all, it introduced Galactus, Devourer of Worlds,

a purple suited, helmet wearing, giant even gianter than Uatu the Watcher! Galactus was beyond good and evil! Galactus took no more notice of the Fantastic four than you or I would pesky gnats! And Galactus was going to EAT OUR WORLD! By devouring it’s energy, not, you know, carving up chunks and eating them. That would be as stupid as a silver guy in a silver speedo flying around on a silver flying surfboard. But none of that was what BLEW MY MIND!

There’s this scene about two thirds of the way in. The FF have not been able to do squat to even get Galactus to pay attention to them, let alone stop making his earth eating machine. Reed Richards, Mister fantastic, has been up for two days straight trying to invent some shit because apart from being able to stretch like a rubber band (which it took us kids no time to realize was a sex thing, and why he was called Mr. Fantastic), he was also this big science braniac. So he’s up all night inventing. And there’s this splash panel, and there’s Reed and HE LOOKS LIKE CRAP! He looks like your dad the morning after a bender before he’s had a shower! REED RICHARDS WAS ALL SCUZZED OUT AND HE NEEDED A SHAVE!! Did Superman ever need a shave? He did not. Did Batman ever say “Excuse me old chum, but I need a Batshower.”? No. But when Reed Richards was up all night he looked like it! If he needed to shave, what else did he need to do? Did he brush his teeth, After a big bout of stretching did he STINK of FANTASTIC SWEAT, did he GO TO THE FANTASTIC BATHROOM?! SWEET JESUS, REED RICHARDS WAS REAL and that BLEW MY MIND!!

Which of course was just what Marvel had been trying to do. They were trying to make their Heroes real people with lives that you could, to some small degree, relate to. Spiderman got his ass handed to him by the Lizard because he had the FLU and that BLEW MY MIND! Captain America couldn’t make friends because he was too emotionally scarred by the death of his Teen partner, Bucky and that BLEW MY MIND! Cyclops could never admit he had the burnin’ teen hotties for Marvel Girl because he COULDN’T CONTROL the force beams that SHOT OUT OF HIS EYES and he was ashamed and afraid he might hurt her and it BLEW MY MIND! But none of it freaked out my seven year old head more than Mister Fantastic looking like a friggin’ bum. I stared at that picture for hours, I tried to explain it to my parents “Dad, look at this, Mr. Fantastic needs to SHAVE! Do you have any idea what that MEANS?!’ You kids today with your piercings, your’apps’, your bathtub methamphetamine labs, you have no damn clue what I’m talking about. For you Wolverine and Nick Fury always need Grooming tips. Gambit sometimes goes weeks without washing his filthy Cajun hair. But Reed Richards was the first superhero on whom superheroing took a toll. Did Stan Lee write “Reed stretches forward holding bizarre tech. He looks like a pile of roasted crap.” Did jack Kirby think “Well, when I stay up all night long drawing comics, the wife says my face looks like a used up welcome matt. Maybe Reed oughta look that way.” Who knows?

You know what they did in comics before this to give you something to latch on to? They gave the heroes kid sidekicks. First the dark, brooding Batman got some snot nosed circus tumbler, and then Cap got Bucky who somehow kept up with him through most of World War Two before getting blown to bits, and then almost everybody had a kid tagging along. The idea was, the reader could pretend they were the teen sidekick. Ask your Grampaw if it worked. First of all, nobody wants to be Robin. Second, nobody believes Robin can keep up. Robin is a liability in tights and everybody knows it. Third, You only played Robin if your brother was playing Batman and he was threatening to make you play Batgirl. Fourth, there is something deeply unsavory about the relationship of the Hero and the sidekick. Reed Richards unshaven mug was a quantum leap forward. It made comics seem real without making you worry about protecting your Bat Cave.

MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER BAG, DENNY O’NEIL REINVENTS PERSONALITY FOR DC

DC briefly had personality for about a year in the so-called ‘Golden Age’. Bob Kane invented it for them in the form of a Gun totin’, film noir Batman with funky ass purple gloves. Then DC de-invented it by commanding Kane to create Robin, the Boy Wonder. Now don’t get me wrong, I like tumbling, eleven year old, crime fighters in green spangly bathing suits and bare legs just as much as the next guy. Hell, if they’d gone with pederasty as an actual personality element for the Batman, that would have had lots of personality. No such luck, all the undertones were unintentional, the only point of Robin was to lighten Batman up and no costumed DC hero showed any signs of having an individual personality again until…

Justice League of America #66. At a League meeting Green Arrow… disagreed! With SUPERMAN! And it BLEW MY MIND! I know, I know, you don’t get it, because for you Green arrow is just ‘Arrow’; that buff, tormented dude on the WB who is basically just Batman with arrows, which is ironic.

See, here’s how Green Arrow started out in 1941. He was this really rich guy and he wanted to fight crime. So, since he was good at archery, he got himself an Arrow car, an Arrow Plane, an Arrow cave, and an eleven year old side kick. Hmmm, that sounds so familiar, where have I heard all that before? Wait, I know, it’s Bruce Wayne minus his parents getting killed in front of him, which makes Green Arrow sort of Batman only with NO MOTIVATION AT ALL!

I think we can all agree, Green Arrow was very, very sad. And here’s the amazing thing, he stayed that way for twenty years and people were okay with it. Why? Shamefully low readership standards. But then Marvel, the new kid on the block, upped the stakes with Reed Richards and his huge, stretchy, unshaved Kisser.

Prior to Justice League #66, the magazine was a personality free zone. If you were blind and someone was reading the comic to you (shut up, I’m moving towards a point here) the only way to tell who was who would be what the Heroes said when they were surprised. Wonder Woman said “Great Hera” cause she was Greek and Hera was a Greek Godess. Aquaman said (I’m not making this up) “Sufferin’ starfish!” on account of he lived underwater and hated to see starfish suffer. Martian Manhunter said “By the Red sands of Mars!” because he was from mars. Superman said “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” Why? Nobody has a single solitary clue. But if you took an exacto knife, sliced out a ‘sufferin starfish!’ and glued it over a ‘great Caesar’s Ghost!’ it would not make an iota of difference. Any word bubble could be coming out of any hero’s mouth because there was no more difference in personality between Batman and the Flash than there was between one Stepford Wife and another.

And so when writer Denny O’neil has Green Arrow stand up and vocally DISAGREE with Superman, it BLEW MY MIND! Less than a year later, artist Neal Adams gave GA a Goatee and some cool new duds to go along with his developing personality. And then O’neil finished erasing the clone like Batman/Green Arrow similarities by getting rid of GA’s Fortune, cave, car plane, and sidekick (more on him later).

Green arrow continued to keep it real by teaming up with Green Lantern, ‘cause, you know, he was Green too, and Kermit the Frog had yet to be invented. Little was made of the fact that Green Arrow broke up the Green lantern and Flash, his prior Super buddy, who had a whole Green/Red Christmassy thing going on. It’s possible Flash actually dumped Green Lantern first, for the Elongated Man, because he could… you know… elongate.

O’neil and   Adams brought the relevance for thirteen issues. Check what an elderly black man asks Green Lantern in issue #76, 1970: “I been readin’ about you…How you work for the blue skins.. And how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins…And you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bothered with–! The black skins! I want to know… How come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!” Now okay, there’s a little embarrassing dialect going on there, but it was 1970! Green Lantern/Green Arrow dealt with racism, poverty, whacked out Manson Style religious cults and my personal favorite, a slum lord Villain who was a dead ringer for Spiro Agnew! (If you don’t know who Spiro Agnew was, that’s an education in itself. The bare facts are, he was Vice President under Richard Nixon, and he resigned even before Nixon did, because he was such a huge a-hole. Nowadays Presidents and vice Presidents don’t have to resign when it’s discovered they are huge a-holes. They get re-elected instead. On a side note, I use the ‘a-hole’ not because I am squeamish, but because it’s a funnier word than ‘asshole’. See?)

(P.S., having to tell you who Spiro Agnew was makes me want to cry, but you’re a comic book fan so the chances of you knowing shit from Shinola are just about squat.)

(P.P.S. ‘Shinola’ was a shoe polish. See, folks used to wear leather shoes, and they’d get scuffed up and… ah, screw it. Goddamn whippersnappers.)

O’neil and Adams put the Cherry on the personality cake in their final two issues by taking Green Arrows forgotten Robin Substitute Speedy, and making him a Smack addict.

The title of the story arc, and I wish to god I was making this up, was ‘Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” The idea of a teen sidekick riding the white horse went over so well that DC abandoned the idea of Superheroes having personalities for another decade.

But it wasn’t Speedy’s heroin addiction that blew My Mind. It wasn’t GA’s hipster beard or the time he convinced Green Lantern to take off his power ring so they could punch the living crap out of each other. It wasn’t even the way Neal Adams drew GA’s girlfriend Black Canary in leather and fishnets. Okay, that did blow my mind, but in a whole different way that belongs in another article that discusses things like Zatanna and whatever material they made the Catwoman and Batgirl costumes out of on the Batman TV show, and is frankly none of your damn business. It was Green Arrow standing up to Superman that BLEW MY MIND almost as much as Mr. Fantastic’s five o’clock shadow. It was those four grocery bags full of comics that if my mother hadn’t thrown away and if I’d kept in pristine, near mint, completely anal condition, I could now sell to pay my daughters tuition. Except I’d never sell them and my daughters would tell their boyfriends and therapists about how their crazy ass dad was sitting on a friggin’ gold mine they’d never get their hands on ‘till he died! Yes, died! Alone and broken in a YMCA with nothing but a stack of well protected comic books to love him! Comic books that had once and forever BLOWN HIS MIND!

Now get the hell away from me. I have something in my eye.

Advertisements

Your Anger Management FAQ

Anger is everywhere these days. Who hasn’t been the object of or even experienced road rage? Is there a co-worker everyone tip-toes around at your office? Might you be that person?

Here’s a joke that’s making the rounds: “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out!” It’s hilarious, because it’s so true, or it would be if Hockey weren’t only marginally more popular than Curling. Besides, if you’re anything like me, you certainly don’t need a sporting event as an excuse for brawling. You can get a good punch up going at church if you know what you’re doing!

But what if your anger isn’t there when you need it? How are you going to respond to the wife’s needless provocation regarding your failure to pick up sour cream on the way home having barked yourself hoarse at commuters you don’t even know who can’t hear what you’re saying anyway? What will you do when your Boss blames you for his own lack of preparation at the 10:15 meeting if you totally blew your entire rage wad at the kid when she refused to leave for school on time because her socks ‘felt funny’?

Properly managed, anger is the ultimate clean burning, renewable fuel. The following AMFAQ, or Anger Management Frequently Asked Questions, should keep you from the face blistering you’ll get by asking me just about anything directly. See? I’m managing my anger right now by not wasting it on the likes of you. Read on and pretty soon you’ll be able to coast through your day on a fine cushion of near constant rage.

WHAT IS ANGER?

SCREW YOU, YOU USELESS BAG OF CRAP! I’m kidding of course. I’m hardly angry at all right now, just sort of the idling level of general irritation I use to keep myself from passing out. Simply put, anger is response to stimuli. You wake to the alarm going off, get angry. A coworker says ‘good morning’, get angry. See a pretty sunset, get angry. While it’s true there are many, many other reactions to stimuli a human being can experience, they are all a complete waste of time. Time you could be spending angry.

Try this: Think of a cute puppy. Did that make you angry? Probably not. That’s something you need to work on.

YEAH, BUT SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS ANGER?

You’re starting to piss me off. If that makes you mad, great, we’re getting somewhere.

Anger has three components.

Psychological. This is the emotional component of anger, and it’s a really good emotion with a nice meaty taste. It’s not a weak emotion like fear or happiness and research shows it is far less girly than love. Not that there’s anything wrong with the fairer sex. I know a lot of very angry women. It might be me.

Physiological. This is how your body responds to anger. Muscle tension, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as your body releases adrenaline. Mmmmmm-Doggy! FEEL that! It’s like a WOOD STOVE on a WINTER DAY!

Cognitive. This is what you think about while you experience anger. Your stultifyingly cretinous boss, your deeply unappreciative family, Dave in the cube next to yours who everybody knows would best serve humanity as a systems analyst sized heap of ground meat, the great big shaft that God thinks it’s funny to give you every damn time you look for an even break, whatever! It’s all BUTANE, baby! And this weenie roast is WAY behind schedule!

OKAY, YOU’RE STARTING TO SCARE ME NOW.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, that’s just where I want you, and anger management did it for me. The bad news is, people who are scared of me are less likely to have the sack to do something that might piss me off, which means the fire of my rage is banking. But wait! MORE good news! Telling me I’m scaring you IS NOT A DAMN QUESTION, IS IT?! DID THEY TEACH YOU WHAT A FAQ WAS IN MORON SCHOOL?! NEWSFLASH! THE ‘Q’ STANDS FOR ‘QUESTIONS’!! Mama! THAT’s some good anger!

SO, IT’S NOT ‘BAD’ TO FEEL ANGRY?

No, being angry isn’t negative or positive. It’s a perfectly natural emotion, and nothing to be ashamed of. Being angry can make people aware of your valid emotional concerns. It can prevent others from walking all over you. It can motivate people to change larger societal issues. It’s anger management that can be a problem. Because should you ever run out of anger, even for an instant, you will never again get a single thing you want. Plus, people will probably use the moment of your weakness to kill you on account of what a dick you’ve been.

OKAY, SO NOW I UNDERSTAND ANGER MANAGEMENT. WHY DON’T I FEEL BETTER?

I don’t think you’re getting this. Would feeling better make you more or less angry? Have you even been listening?

I’M NOT ‘LISTENING’ YOU DINK! I’M READING THIS!

Okay, better, but ‘Dink’? Seriously? What’s the matter, is your cub scout uniform chaffing?

SHUT UP!

No, you shut up.

I WILL SHATTER YOUR KNEES! I WILL DANCE THE LINDY ON YOUR GRAVE!

There you go! Now just remember, you need to be a steam engine, not an explosion. Keep the pressure on, but the escape valve should be miniscule, violently pinched and brutally focused.

OH!… OH, OKAY, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE. I GET IT. THANKS.

Jesus. Just forget it. You are the worst FAQ ever.

50 Thing To Do To Make This Halloween a Surprising Departure From Previous Halloweens

1) Don’t go with your first costume idea! You might be surprised with how unusual your next idea turns out to be!

2) Instead of treats, collect money for your favorite charity!

3) Trick or treating at night can be dangerous! Trick or treating before the sun goes down can be a surprising change, AND you can see everybody’s costume better! It doesn’t take all the fun out of it at all!

4) Hand out healthy treats instead of candy!

5) Run from house to house and get a cardio workout!

6) Don’t dress up as you being someone! Dress up as your Mom being someone else! Neat!

7) Instead of saying “Trick or Treat” when the neighbors open their door, feign an attack of narcolepsy!

8) Don’t trick or treat in the same old Neighborhood! Trick or treat in that neighborhood Dad goes to when he says he is working late!

9) Trick or Treating with the same old gang is fun, but predictable! Why not pretend to be part of a group of kids who don’t even know you!

10) Screw reflective tape! Reflective Tape says “I’m not spooky at all, I’m a little crybaby!” Instead, paint your naked body black and lie in the road!

11) Make a costume out of butterfly wings, dreams, rainbows and that damn neighbor’s dog’s vocal cords!

12) Trick or treat the day AFTER Halloween! When folks mention this to you, drop to your knees and howl like a monkey with it’s nuts under a truck wheel until they call the police! Be sure you’re dressed as a Power Ranger or this might not work!

13) Shave off all your hair including eyebrows, underarms and pubes. Then forget what you thought that would make you look like, go slowly into shock and lie on the floor of your room in the fetal position instead of Trick or Treating!

14) Everybody carves pumpkins! Carve your neighbor’s damn barky dog instead!

15) Hide in the bushes near your Jack-o-lantern. When some neighborhood teen comes by to smash it, crush his windpipe shut with a tire iron! Then carve off his face and wear it as a mask. When you trick or treat your neighbors house, be sure to ask where their dog is!

16) Make a friend wait for the Great Pumpkin with you by nailing them to a large plywood plank you left in the pumpkin patch earlier that day. Be sure to plan ahead and bring plenty of plastic tarps!

17) Instead of dressing up and going out, Dress up as your Mom in her room! Put on plenty of Mascarra, ‘cause it looks real spooky when you cry and cry and cry!

18) Start Trick or treating when the sun goes down and JUST KEEP GOING! ‘Round about Ten O’clock, people will start to be very annoyed and by Eleven they may even call the Police but only because they’re jealous you got the most candy and that makes you the Candy King!

19) Don’t hand out candy! Hand out bees!

20) When Trick or Treaters come to the door, give ‘em the old “I got candy Corn in my pocket.” Line! But when they reach in, all that’s there is a mouse trap! That’ll show them for owning a Dog!

21) Instead of Trick or Treating, dognap your neighbors neighbor’s dog and release them in a faraway state forest!

22) Draw Pirate faces on your knees and crab walk through the neighborhood saying “Arrrr, Tricks or Treats, matey, we are Knee Pirates!”

23) Get a giant horn, some lederhosen, a Tirolian hat, unzip your fly and go as that Riccola guy who had his crank hanging out!

24) T.P. your neighbors house and then kidnap their damn barky dog of and see if his bark is still so annoying when it’s coming from a faraway state forest!

25) Trick or treat as usual until the very last house! When Mrs. Johnson answers, tear off the top of your head and let the demon Kolas Dogkiller leap out and devour her!

26) The first time you get a Reeses product, unwrap it it and bite in right on the doorstep! Then say “Oh my God! I’m allergic to peanuts!” unless you really are allergic to peanuts, in which case you’ll have to ice their dog but good.

27) Dress as a giant, ferocious cat or a maniacal, ax wielding, Animal Control Officer.

28) Barking, barking, incessant barking! They’re like Rats with collars! It’s intolerable!

29) Don’t Bob for Apples! Make Fluffy bob for apples until that DAMN BARKY-ASS POODLE NEVER BOBS AGAIN!

30) THERE’S ONE! GET IT! PUT IT IN THE TRUNK! WHO IS BARKING NOW? DO THEY LET YOU BARK IN DOGGY HELL OR DOES THE DEVIL FREEZE YOUR LARYNX OUT OF SPITE!?

31) Why not have a party instead of Trick Or Treating? That way your ankle bracelet won’t make that damn barking noise!

32) Do something that has nothing at all to do with your paralyzing fear of dogs! Hah! Just kidding! Who could do that?

33) You want to give me one damn reason why anyone should be allowed to keep a damn liar dog as a pet with all those dog lies they tell? What the hell, why don’t you just give a sewer rat steroids and have that fetch your damn paper?! You’re lucky I don’t stuff you in the trunk and drive you to a faraway state forest!

34) AAAAAAGHHHH!!! Oh, I’m sorry. I thought #34 was a #34 shaped dog.

35) Pop corn balls are a great teat, and making them is a fun activity for the whole family!

36) You know that print, “Dogs Playing Poker”? What the hell, right? Who wishes they could go back in time and beat the crap out of the guy that came up with that? I DO!!

37) Be sure to cut spooky ghost eye holes in your plastic tarp to that you can claim it’s your costume if nosy police officers happen to ask!

38) Don’t think about dogs, don’t think about dogs. Don’t think about dogs!

39) I HATE YOU MOMMY! I HATE YOU! I WAS YOUR OWN FLESH AND BLOOD BUT REX GOT ALL YOUR LOVE!

40) For a real spooky treat, watch the Westminster Kennel Club Finals, but this time don’t scratch yourself raw or shriek until you pass out.

41) Dress as a transvestite Nazi, get horrifyingly drunk and throw up on the first neighbor who opens their door. That will frost Mommies social climbing, zombified, suburban book club, dog loving ass.

42) Dress up as a guy who doesn’t know the truth about dogs and all their love stealing lies. When the neighbors dog comes to the door, dognap it and release it in a far away state forest! Your neighbors will thank you and make you their king!

43) Dogs invented smoking, you know. To kill us all. That’s what they’re really like.

44) OH PLASTIC TARPS, WHY MUST YOU COST SO MUCH?!

45) Dress as the famous Hobo, Dognapin’ Cletus-Joe.

46) Why should I share my secrets with you? Has anyone ever told you, you have a very long nose?

47) Go as a guy from an alternate universe where there are no dogs.

48) A timeless Hallloween gag that has nothing to do with dognaping neighborhood dogs and ending their ceaseless bark-lies once and for all is to… is to…

49) Make kids stick their hands into a bowl of peeled grapes and tell them it is eyes! Then make them reach into another bowl and they’ll say ‘Oh, more grapes?’ but here is the twist, this bowl IS full of eyes! OH DON’T SAY YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE I GOT THEM, DOG LOVER! Be sure to have plenty of PLASTIC TARPS on hand to avoid a mess. Mommy hates a mess. Oh yes she does. Make a mess and get a punishment is what Mommy says.

50) Have fun but be safe! Do not speak of our plans for their hearing is acute! Use the secret hands signs! On Halloween the barking ends!

My Regrets

I wish I did more art. Made more things. I like to make things. I wish I made things and sold them.

I wish I sold them and folks came around and paid a lot of money for them and said “Now those are some nice things.” I oughta be up all night stripped to the waist, a brush in my hand, another in my teeth, obscure as hell modern classical music blasting out of a beat up, paint spattered, pink Hello Kitty tape deck I filched from a Walmart, making things that people would open their wallets for and say “MAN, you seen these things?”

Wish I’d kissed that girl in high school. Wish I’d been born with better cheekbones. Know what would have been good? If it turned out I’d been adopted and was the child of someone special, like royalty or aliens, and I had some sort of birth right. Wish I’d found out at some point I had a birthright to claim.

I should have bought that car when I had the money, drove cross-country with the top down. I should have driven through the desert like a madman with one hand on the wheel and some real keen shades and a killer chick laughing ‘cause we were CRAZY and we do not give a little tin crap. A real American muscle car. I should have spent the time to learn enough about cars to know what the hell a muscle car is.

If I could say, “Man, you should have seen it. Hail the size of softballs” and not be lying, that would be something, right? If someone asked me “Where’d you get that tattoo?” and I could pull on a hand rolled smoke and say “Damned if I know” between tight grit teeth? I wish Tattoo’s weren’t as common as the god damn cold. I wish I didn’t think it would hurt so much to get one. I should have squinted like a young Clint Eastwood. I should have broken that guys nose for asking. I should have been so mean I killed a guy for snoring.

Is it too late to be the kind of guy you don’t want to get mixed up with? Is it really too late for that? I could fit in those old pants again if I worked at it.

It’s not like I’m asking for a Talk show. I just think I should have been a frequent guest. The kind you go “Oh, that guy, man this show rocks whenever that guys on. And the host? Has got some CHEMISTRY with that guy. I wonder what the hell that guy has been up to since the last time he was on?”

If I’d never said I’d do half the things I said I’d do, I’d sure as hell be someone different now. Argue with that. Hell, If I did half the things I said I’d do, right? My own mother wouldn’t recognize me. Or yours.

Should have got in on the ground floor of the goddamn Dot Com and got out before it collapsed, right? Timing, you know? Don’t tell me. I’ve been there. That’s a block I’ve been all the way around and I wish like hell I hadn’t.

Wish I had a dime for every time your cake hole was catching flies. Wish I’d tied my wagon to another star, hell anything, I could have tied my wagon to a stray dog with senile dementia, I mean, Jesus Wept, wouldn’t it have been nice to have something besides a friggin’ WAGON to tie to anything at all, let alone a star? I mean, a wagon, is that dignified?

Tell you what, though. I blame you. Because you enabled the shit out of me and that is the god damn truth, that is a truth you can take to the bank and CARVE your damn signature into, because it is Granite, my friend.

Oh, yes. Granite.

I’ll tell you something else. This is not over. Not by a long shot. I’m going to do some very big things before they pull the curtain. The hell if I’m going into a box without leaving my goddamn mark. Count on it. Count to Goddamn one hundred with your eyes god damn closed and no god damn peeking. THEN look for me. Good friggin’ luck. Call ollie-ollie-oxen-free ‘till your throat is raw, I am not coming in.

Anyway, that’s what I wish I said.

When They Say Trick or Treat, You Say:

So you’re all grown up and there’s no way you can squeeze another year of trick-or-treating out without someone calling the cops. Plus, the ankle bracelet makes it impossible to go to any of the Halloween parties your restraining order doesn’t already prevent you from going to. LIKE ANYONE INVITED YOU TO A PARTY! Does all that mean Halloween can’t still be the bestest Holiday of the whole year? Well, yeah, pretty much. But it can still be pretty darn good, you big cry baby! Here’s how.

WHEN THEY SAY ‘TRICK-OR-TREAT’, YOU SAY:

  • WOW! Great costumes!
  • OH! You scared me! Hey, dig in!
  • Oh! Oh my goodness, what cute costumes! Honey, come and take a look at these adorable trick-or-treaters!
  • Spooky! You guys really went all out! Here, have some treats!
  • Look what we have here! A ghost, a witch, a fairy princess, a pirate, another witch, and what are you, what is that, some sort of store bought ‘Scream’ costume? Where you even born when that came out? Oh well.
  • Candy’s in the bowl. See you next year.
  • So, what are you supposed to be?
  • OH! HOLY CRAP! Woah! Sorry. You just sacred the crap out of me, man. Here, have some candy.
  • You kids like smokes? ‘Cause that’s all I got.
  • Sorry, sorry, I got his collar, don’t worry, just take some candy, quick for Christ sake, this dog is STRONG!
  • Oh, look, a Pirate! … Well, you sure look like a Pirate. What? A clown? What’s the friggin’ patch for? Yes it’s a patch. It IS! Okay, okay, have it your way, but that’s the crapiest make up job I have ever seen.
  • Know what? Why don’t you trick me this year? Seriously. ‘Cause I don’t think you have the sack to back that ‘sh*t’ up. Stop it. Stop crying.
  • AAAAAAAAAAAHH! AAAAAAAAAAGH! SWEET frikkin’ CHRIST, my HEART! Sh*t, man. SH*T! That is the &#!@$%in’ scariest costume I have ever seen in my life, I thought you were gonna &#!@$%in’ murder me. I’m just kidding. You look like crap.
  • Great costume. Seriously.
  • Uhm, okay, you’re what now? Seriously? I don’t see it.
  • Awesome costumes! A Witch, a Ghost and a Pirate! Know what I got in this bowl, kids? Macarthur Genius Grants. I sh*t you not.
  • Let see now, store bought, store bought, store bought, store bought. What, are all your Moms, like, drunks, or do they just not love you?
  • WOAH! That is AWESOME! Did you make that yourself? That is Amazing! I have absolutely NO clue what you’re supposed to be. No, no, don’t explain it to me, don’t, look, shut up, okay, don’t… Okay, you &#!@$%in’ ruined it. DO NOT go into that damn spiel at the next house. Just let your costume speak for itself. You ruined it. By explaining it, you ruined it. It’s like you pissed on it. Seriously. I could not be more offended if you actually pissed all over it. I can’t give you any candy for that sh*t. Just go. Jerk.
  • Oh, geeze, I’m sorry, I’m all out of candy. I had, like, all these full size bars, I really went all out this year, like full size Hershey Bars, Snickers, Butterfingers, not that ‘fun size’ sh*t, what the hell is fun about that, am I right? I’m all out now though. I should have bought more. Sorry. I’m kidding, I was never going to give you any candy.
  • No.
  • Is it Halloween? Again? &#!@$% me.
  • Oh, hey, a store bought costume. Know what? How about you get the &#!@$% off my porch?
  • IT’S OKAY, IT’S OKAY, I GOT HIM BY THE CHOKE COLLAR! STOP THAT MOTHER &#!@$%ING BARKING! Sorry, sorry, just reach in the bowl, I got him. SHUT THAT BARKING! I WILL BEAT YOUR ASS!
  • Okay, I have not got one clue what you’re supposed to be. Not… one… clue.
  • AAAAGH!!! OH GOOD SWEET MOTHER OF PEARL I’M GOING TO DIE, SAVE ME, SAVE ME, &#!@$%, &#!@$%, &#!@$%, OH, &#!@$%i-SH*T, BASTARD, GRANDMA MOSES!… Oh. Oh, thank Christ; you’re just a kid in a costume. &#!@$%. I almost shot you.
  • I don’t understand what your costume is supposed to be.
  • No. No. I can’t give you any candy for that.
  • So, what, you’re what, a Zombie, a Hobo, a Drunk? Sh*t. No, put your hand back, you don’t get sh*t.
  • No. No. That costume isn’t anything. That’s just a bunch of sh*t you had laying around.
  • It’s okay, it’s okay, I got him by the collar, he won’t hurt you, he’s just curious. Plus, like, he’s probably hungry ‘cause I haven’t fed him in, like, a week. Oh, and I put on a power ranger costume and poke him with a barbecue fork, and he’s all chained up and he can’t do a thing about it, it makes him frikkin’ nuts, right? So what are you supposed to be, like some kind of Green Ninja?
  • What are you supposed to be now?
  • I GOT ‘FUN SIZE’! IT’S FUN ‘CAUSE IT’S SMALL! ISN’T THAT JUST LIKE LIFE?? ANYTHING THAT’S SWEET IS JUST BITE SIZE AND IT’S OVER IN A SECOND! BUT THE PAIN GOES ON AND ON AND ON!
  • OH!… Oh… I’m… I’m sorry, kids, just, just… give me a second here… it’s just… your costume young lady, it’s like the one my own daughter wore on her… her last Halloween… I… I… No, I’m kidding, she’s just with her Mom, I get her next weekend. Gotcha, though, right?
  • What the HELL are you supposed to be? Know what, take it, just take it, just take the &#!@$%in’ bowl. ‘Cause I’m done.

Halloween Memories

1968; BATGIRL

I tell my Mother I want to be Captain America for Halloween. She returns with a Batgirl Costume, the only superhero costume our grocery store had left. I explain to her that Captain America and Batgirl are two different characters and that I am a boy. She tells me again it’s all they had left and suggests I don’t wear the mask, people will think I’m Batman. I tell her Batman has a mask, and does not have the word “Batgirl” written on his chest. She colors over the word “Batgirl” and the masks’ bright orange hair with a black marker. No one will see the hair part of the mask in the dark. Humiliated but desperate, it does not occur to me until too late that porches have lights.

1970; SNOOPY

I dress as Snoopy being a World War One Flying Ace. In a lackluster nod toward appearing dog like, I black my nose with shoe polish. It doesn’t matter, as the costume is built around the authentic cloth flying helmet and goggles I purchased at the huge Army Navy store in Provincetown, a tourist community on Cape Cod best known for promiscuous homosexual activity. I have to explain to every adult who’s doorbell I ring that I’m Snoopy being a World War One Flying Ace. I say the words “Sopwith Camel” way too many times for a nine-year-old.

1971; HALLOWEEN PARTY; GIRL

I host a Halloween party a few days before Halloween. For reasons I can no longer recall, I dress as a girl. My look is convincing enough that several of my guests don’t immediately recognize me. David Perkins comes dressed as a hockey player. I razz him about his lack of effort, since he plays hockey and all he did was put on his equipment. “Shut up, girl.” He responds. I am suddenly struck by what a bad costume choice I have made and the fact that neither my older brother nor my parents advised me to choose something else.

1973; HALLOWEEN PARTY; GUY WITH BEARD

My discovery of crepe hair and spirit gum so impresses me I decide a totally realistic looking beard is a good enough Halloween costume. My party includes a bowling trip and a costume contest. I’m certain my costume is the best, but my mother decides that as the host, I’m not eligible to win. She gives the prize, a forty-five single of “The Entertainer” featured in the movie “The Sting” to Jeffrey Leighton, who dressed as a pirate. “Hey” says Jeffrey, waving his store bought, plastic hook hand, “remember your party a couple of years ago where you dressed as a girl?”

1975; COMMUNISTS

A college friend of my Mothers, a devout communist, is living with us during a particularly rough period of her divorce and the return of her soon to be ex-husband to Albania. Her two children, Raoul and Uri are staying with us. I recall returning from Trick-or-treating with them in the dark, bitterly cold New England night, shrieking that they had totally ruined Halloween. I have no recollection of what my costume was, what they wore or what they had done to ruin Halloween. I do recall hating them intensely.

1976; THE BIRD

I have decided this will be my last year trick or treating. I’m getting too old. I want to go out with a bang and put enormous effort into my costume, a Superhero of my own invention called “The Bird.” My mother makes me a bright red half mask; (The kind that leaves the hair visible) designed to my specifications and pictures of Kid Flash I provide her with. I wear a red turtleneck with a black leather vest a hippie cousin gave me for my birthday. I design an insignia, a red circle with a black eagle’s profile, and place it on the right side of my chest. I then proceed to ruin the so far successful look I’ve created by wearing a pair of my mothers evening gloves and her black leather boots, which have heels. None of this is helped by the fact that my hair, which I consider not only my best but only good feature, is thick, wavy, and reaches my shoulders. I have to explain to every adult who’s doorbell I ring that I’m “The Bird”, a Superhero of my own invention. I run into a group of trick or treaters dressed as Hockey players. After a short exchange of ideas, during which one of the older hockey players asks me if I’m supposed to be one of the Hookers frequently seen on “Baretta”, they beat me up.

1978 HALLOWEEN PARTY; DARTH VADER

While I can no longer Trick or Treat and have given up hosting parties, I can still attend other people’s parties. I make my own Darth Vader costume using black jeans, a black turtle neck, black army boots, a black wool army surplus blanket and black leather gloves, not my mother’s this time. I spray paint my skate boarding helmet black. I wear ski goggles and a hospital mask, which I spray paint black. I use black eye shadow makeup to fill in any visible patches of skin. The make up is my mothers and I will later catch hell for using it all up. A few minutes into the party I begin to hallucinate due to concentrated spray paint fumes and soon after black out. Though I recall nothing, I am informed that I verbally assaulted someone dressed as a hockey player, demanding he ‘put his money where his mouth was’ if he was going to question my sexuality, (something I am reliably informed he did not do) and that while the hockey player tried to reason with me, he was eventually forced to smash me in the head with his stick. An Emergency room doctor comments that I was lucky to be wearing a helmet. The mask leaves a black paint line around my mouth that remains visible for days despite scrubbing that leaves the area around my mouth red and raw. This facial color combination results in the nickname “Flintstone” which I will not shake until college.

1994; POPCORN BALLS

My wife and I attempt to make old-fashioned popcorn balls. The recipe calls for melting and super heating sugar to ‘The hardball stage’ It does not mention that owing to the physical properties of sugar, reaching the ‘hardball stage’ takes about five hours. After pouring popped popcorn into the superheated melted sugar during the ‘hardball stage’; you are instructed to form the resulting mixture into balls before it cools. The recipe makes no suggestions as to how one might handle and shape a sticky, glue like mixture hotter than a branding iron. I repeat the words ‘Hardball stage’ over and over during this process, first with childish glee, then to alleviate five hours of soul crushing boredom and finally to take our minds off the pain of numerous burns.

2003; THE MOUTHS OF BABES

Standing on our front porch, my three year old daughter Cordellia shrieks at a group of trick or treaters (one of who is dressed as a Hockey player) “HEY YOU FRIGGIN’ KIDS! COME AND GET SOME OF OUR FRIGGIN’ CANDY!” My heart swells with pride. Halloween is at last redeemed.

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ‘IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN’

On October 27 1966, CBS debuted an animated family Halloween special based on Charles Schulz’s syndicated newspaper comic strip, “Peanuts”. While seemingly an innocuous children’s cartoon, the themes on display were disappointment, alienation, neurosis, delusion and despair.

 

These were concerns Schulz gnawed over daily for decades on the ‘funny’ pages of our nations leading newspapers, but here in the half hour animated ‘special’, they crystallized to a razor sharpness that 48 years later still cuts as cleanly and deeply as the first time it was unsheathed.

 

We watch it annually. We memorize it’s rhythms, we could almost chant along, and so by repetition we are desensitized to the childhood horror which is the “Great Pumpkin’s” true subject matter.

 

The story is made up of three character arcs; the events of a single Halloween night and following morning as experienced by Linus Van Pelt, Charlie Brown and the dog Snoopy. In this essay, I will examine each arc, arriving at some semblance of what Schulz intended to convey through the narrative.

 

LINUS
Is Linus clinically insane? Certainly he is neurotic. He sucks his thumb, he carries a blanket, he is sickened by the Freudian image of his sister gutting a Pumpkin. These almost Ibsen-esque weaknesses are taken as given, but does his belief in the ‘Great Pumpkin’ indicate a diagnosable delusional state? How does Schulz intend us to see this? There are several distinct possibilities. Certainly, the great Pumpkin is a parody of Santa Claus. Millions of Children believe in a magical being in a flying sled, bringing an impossible number of gifts to an impossible number of people in a single night. Since this is a culturally endorsed myth, children are encouraged to engage it, and so the question of mental health never arises. Here, though, Schultz grafts a similarly bizarre myth onto Halloween. Every year the Great Pumpkin rises out of the Pumpkin Patch he finds the most ‘sincere’ and flies through the air delivering toys to good boys and girls. But beyond removing the Santa myth from its usual context to illustrate its absurdity, what do we make of this?

 

In Schulz’s universe, has Linus created the Great Pumpkin myth himself? Does he assume that since Christmas has Santa, than Halloween must have something similar? Or are we to believe the practice of writing to and waiting for the Great Pumpkin, while rare compared with the practice of Trick-or-Treating, is recognized? Is he engaging in a culturally sponsored make believe (Like Santa) or does Schulz intend us to see him as actively delusional?

 

If yes, his need to drag others into his belief system is disturbing. Linus exploits young Sally Browns ‘crush’ on him and tries to indoctrinate her into the quasi-religious practice of ‘waiting’ for the great Pumpkin. She in turn personifies childhood’s fear of societal rejection. By believing in him, she has opened herself to ridicule, missed the group affirmation of ‘tricks or treats’. Initially She offers her love, but this is soon replaced with blame and threats. Their status roles now completely reversed, Linus’s final emasculation comes in the form of a fainting spell when he believes he is having a religious experience and is witnessing the arrival of a god, but is in fact merely looking at a dog.

He will lie on the ground, alone and unloved, convinced of his own unworthiness. The ‘Great Pumpkin’ did not come because he allowed himself an instant of doubt, saying ‘if’ the Great Pumpkin comes instead of ‘when’. This hairline crack in his perfect faith is all it takes for him to be cast out and it is here he is found and taken in late that night by his sister. This would seem comforting, but think; Where are his parents? It is Halloween night and their child has not returned home, is in fact sleeping alone outdoors. Where are the police? Where is the amber alert? No. It falls to his sibling, a child herself, to care for him. In Schulz’s universe any appeal for adult succor goes unanswered. They exist, but are always unseen and non functional. Producer Bill Melendez exploits this alienation to advantage by rendering adult ‘voices’ as unintelligible bleats on a muted trumpet.

 

CHARLIE

Charlie Brown, initially elated at having been invited to a Halloween Party is soon informed the invitation is a mistake. Not content to leave his alter ego isolated by simple exclusion, Schultz makes his singularity public through the ruse of a further ‘mistake’, his ‘costume’, a bed sheet ghost with multiple eyeholes. A self-inflicted wound, he had ‘trouble’ with the scissors. On a second level, as eyes are seen in literature as the ‘windows of the soul’, brown has externalized his vulnerability. His soul is raw, open, unprotected. Compare his shame to Pigpen. Similarly individualized by his omnipresent cloud of filth, his pride and obvious self-esteem serve to cast Brown’s self-loathing in high relief.

 

It is while Trick or Treating however, that we see the true depth of Brown’s predicament. At each stop, as the costumed children describe their ‘treats’ we learn Brown has received instead of candy, a ‘rock’.

 

What conclusions is Schultz inviting us to draw with these rocks? Are we to assume that the unseen, unreachable adults recognize Brown’s innate lack of human worth? Or is the universe itself casting him out? Does candy undergo a miracle of reverse transubstantiation, passing from food (the stuff of life) to rock (Un-life) inside his trick-or-treat bag? Where as Linus believes he is punished for sin and weakness, Brown is punished simply for existing.

 

Later, at the party, Lucy will use his head as a model for a jack-o-lantern, a concrete demonstration that Brown is a non-person. Think back to the opening scene where Lucy gutted a Pumpkin and Linus accused her of ‘Killing’ it. Is she metaphorically ‘killing’ Brown now? Or are we meant to see her use of Brown as model Pumpkin as a declaration that Linus’s moral inclinations are useless? And yet, it is Lucy, the ultimate denier of the piece, who alone demonstrates compassion when she later retrieves Linus from the Pumpkin Patch, delivering him from the place of his humiliation and failure to home and safety. Brown never even thinks to look for Linus, and perhaps this weakness is all the justification needed for his lowest of all tribal status.

 

SNOOPY

In Snoopy, Schulz presents the classic Wise Fool as alternative. With this Dog there is no line between fantasy and reality. What he imagines (in this case that he is a World War One Flying Ace) simply is for as long as the belief suits him. When the time seems right, belief is abandoned without guilt. Compare this to the agony suffered by Linus over his crisis of faith, or Brown’s utter helplessness. It is worth noting that the exact moment Snoopy abandons his hero fantasy is his kiss with Lucy, a kiss that utterly (if briefly) destroys her status mastery.

 

Snoopy is free of guilt, free from expectation, immune to claims of tribal status. But Snoopy is a Dog. He can ape humanity, but is not human. Linus and Brown are allowed to see the successful alternative he represents, but are barred from embracing it by their essential nature. Like Browns ersatz party invitation, Snoopy’s lifestyle is a reward that is never truly on offer.

 

CONCLUSION

In the universe of ‘Peanuts’ can one hope for growth or change? Sadly, no. In the closing scene, Brown assumes the experience in the pumpkin patch has caused Linus to abandon faith and embrace a more existential approach. Linus is insulted. His faith is, if anything, stronger. And why shouldn’t it be? Linus and Brown both come to the same unrewarding end. No toys for the unfaithful Linus, no Candy for the unlucky Brown. Why learn the lesson of experience if it yields us nothing? False hope trumps nihilism because false though it may be, it’s still hope. In the end, it is the struggle for sincerity and not the sincerity itself that makes the pumpkin patch truly worthy.