Sunday, October 28, 2012

Promoting an upcoming project, I am one of my fellow artists were on a local radio program. We were being interviewed. One of the questions pertained to someone I knew a long time ago, a very good friend. I was asked to say a few things about them, I can't remember how this related to the subject of the interview, but I did my best to say positive, cheery things about their personality and about their work. The person being interviewed with me and the host threw in a few comments of their own which, for the purposes of humor, were even more cheeky.

After the interview I received a phone call from this person, hurt, they said, but also apparently angered by the description. This person laid out in detail all the recent work they had done (which I guess I knew about -- they had made a short film?? -- but I wasn't sure) and took particular umbrage that I had said that they had once done work as a clown.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Twenty-Thirteen


Last night we attended the second annual Talespinner Children's Theatre benefit at Mahall's in Lakewood. Theme for the evening was "Glam Rock" which for some reason the kids today confuse with Hair Metal ... my wife almost cried when we had to explain to one of our party exactly who David Bowie is.

Regardless, it was a tremendous evening. My favorite moment of the night was before we'd even left my parents' house, watching the girl spraying my wife with glitter in the driveway. Precious moments. I knew I wasn't going to swing any kind of Lou Reed look, I can't fit into those pants right now. But a headpiece in the education department rehearsal space gave me an idea, and so I cobbled together an ensemble inspired by Ming the Merciless. I am glad to say there were several on hand who didn't even recognize me at first glance.

Followers of this blog may notice a certain slacking off since Styles closed last March. Henry VIII inspired numerous entries about production, and there were the occasional events which warranted mention in a Cleveland-writing blog. But there's not much research going on, not much to share Just my day-job, and my home-life. This will all change very shortly.

Next year will be busy indeed. I have three productions in 2013, one of which was announced at the benefit last night and I am now free to discuss all of them.

"DOUBLE HEART (THE COURTSHIP OF BEATRICE AND BENEDICK)"
Every year, Great Lakes Theater offers a free play which tours 21 locations in Cuyahoga, Summit and Lorain Counties that is tied to themes represented in one of its mainstage productions. This March they will present Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Several years ago I saw a production and a certain exchange jumped out at me:
Don Pedro: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
Beatrice: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for a single one.
And their history as lovers, or one potential history, was revealed to me. I was elated when Daniel gave me the green light ... on one condition.

He asked, "Can you write it in verse?"

Uh. Sure! And that's what I have done. One hour tragic romance told in verse, including humor both high and low, a sword fight, and dancing! For those who can't get enough of me, I will be playing four different roles in this one. Sigh.

"THESE ARE THE TIMES"
Yes. At long last, the so-called "Cleveland Centennial" which inspired this blog will come to a stage near you. You have three chances, March 7, 8 & 9 to experience this fictional panorama of Cleveland during its heyday at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Ten years ago, CPT started its popular Big Box series, giving local artists the opportunity to showcase new works. That year -- 2003 -- I had the unique chance to share my first solo production, I Hate This (a play without the baby). I can't express how excited an apprehensive I am about having the chance to get a reaction to this new piece from a Cleveland audience.

"ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND"
For the 2013 Holiday Season, Talespinner Children's Theatre will present this world premiere adaptation, based upon characters created by Winsor McCay for his groundbreaking comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. For Pandemonium I developed a five-minute treatment. It was a delightful experience, and made me feel confident that I could expand it into an hour-long piece for kids.

We decided not to use the name of the main character in the title, because everyone would think it was about a fish.

Last night at the benefit I won for Best Costume: Male. It's going to be quite a year.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Have the Right to Remain Silent! (1992)

NSFW

This is what happened.

10:30 PM on Friday October 23, 1992. The Guerrillas were all prepared, we were all in the “auditorium” -- except Jelly Jam, who was off by himself somewhere in the house.

The Wheel was up and ready, with a laminated picture of each of our faces on it and one of the Guerrilla Gorilla. The Guerrilla Gorilla himself was seated in a chair on-stage, wearing a helmet and a GTC T-shirt.

A prize from Big Fun was hung behind Door #2, a free-standing door with a big, rainbow-colored, happy number two painted on it. All the props were laid out with care on a long, narrow table, made out of one by eight and some cinder blocks.

We had fifty folding chairs, on loan for the weekend from Our Lady of Mercy, in four rows -- a big block of seats in the center, and two smaller sections to the right and left, which were angled slightly to better face the stage. The stage was a runway about five feet deep and thirty feet long -- one side of the room. The bathroom was clean. The coffee was brewing. There was a platter of fruit, cheese and crackers sitting on a stool in the center of the playing space, a few feet from the first row. That was for our audience. 


Geddy was our Technical Support and Sound Guy. He was in the booth, an actual little sound booth that had been built and then left behind by a previous tenant, situated at the far end of the stage, and he started the pre-show tape. We opened the door.

And a couple of friends were waiting to come in.

Upon entering, people were directed to the ticket booth, where they would be asked if they had prepared for The Theme of the Weekend. Those who were got in for five dollars, those who hadn’t, for seven.

Theme for the First Weekend was “Theatre.” Most of us simply wore T-shirts advertising other theaters (I was wearing my Karamu House shirt) and those few audience members who really understood what the whole “theme” concept was about either did the same or some of them brought scripts or ticket stubs, programs from other theaters, which were fine. Our family members and close friends sported the new Guerrilla Shirts we had extorted them to buy.

Some tried to use the word “theatre” as a password, they were not given the discount. I was appalled at all of the people who made a fuss about having to pay two extra, stinking dollars at the door. Our explanation that seven dollars was the admission, and preparing for the Theme was a discount did little to mollify their tiny, withered souls.

Wee-Bear’s husband was one of them. He was dismayed he had to pay at all. On the way past the box office he noticed a sign we had made and stuck to a wall in an obscure place, a sign we hoped we might need to put out on the door sometime soon.

It read “SOLD OUT. Please come back next week!”

“Heh,” he said, spying the sign and pointing it out to Beemer, “wishful thinking, eh?”

Around 11:15 PM we had roughly thirty people in the house, mostly friends and family. When we decided we couldn’t hold the house any longer, the Guerrillas moved through the space, turning the four bare bulbs in the ceiling off one by one. The stage lights (four flood lights, directed at the stage area, their bases screwed to the tin ceiling) were dimmed for effect.

Geddy hit the Theme Music, and we all burst onto the stage from left and right.

“Good evening!” I said, “and welcome to You Have the Right to Remain Silent! Cleveland’s own live action game show! Fraught with radical political thinking, dangerous social expression, and FABULOUS PRIZES!”

Cheers and applause.

“Thank you all for hanging on there, we wanted to wait until we had an audience. NOW --”

Chuckles.

“-- I’d like to explain the rules of the game. If you will open up your program, in the center, you will find something called a Hit List --”

I was talking very, very fast.

“What we’ll be doing for you this evening are a bunch of plays, ranging from five seconds to two minutes, that we call HITS. We’ll be doing them in a Hit and Run format, you’ll know a piece has begun because we will yell the title of the Hit, and then the word, HIT, we’ll perform the HIT, then yell the word RUN and we’ll go onto the next one.”

Oh boy, did this need to be rehearsed.

“We’ll choose the order, we, all of us, uh, of the Hits, by playing games. We’ll be playing games with you, the audience, and we’ll be picking certain members of you to decide what we will be seeing next. All right?”

No response. 


“Now we only have 27 Hits, you’ll see that there are 24 titles listed there, and that’s because three of them are what we call ‘Misses’.”

“Twenty-one,” Beemer mumbled.

“Twenty-seven Hits?” Torque asked.

“Did I say twenty-seven?” I asked. “No, we have twenty-one Hits, there are twenty-three names in the program, three of them are Misses --”

Okay, by now the audience was completely confused, and the Guerrillas were laughing at me.

“-- which are titles without any plays attached to them. If you stand up and pick a MISS, Geddy will play the theme song, and we’ll bring you up here to spin --”

Jelly Jam spun the Wheel. Click, click, click, click, click!

“-- our own Wheel of Misfortune.”

Big laugh.

“Which this weekend is sponsored by Heart of the South Side,” and I pointed out the large, round ad for that establishment that was taped to the center of the Wheel.

“Now. If it lands on, say, Torque, you get to do a piece with him. We’ll give you a script and you’ll get to perform with him, for everyone. If it lands on the Gorilla, you get the shirt off the Gorilla’s back --” gesturing at the Guerrilla Gorilla “-- OR what’s behind DOOR #2!” And Jelly Jam pulled a Vanna next to The Door.

Very big laugh. And thank God for it.

“The prize behind Door #2 is brought to you by Big Fun on Coventry. But you will have to sacrifice the T-shirt to find out what it is. You don’t get to find out what is behind Door #2 without trading the shirt for it.”

Wow, that took a long time.

“Have I left anything out?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Torque said, wild-eyed.

“There will be three rounds, the first will be The Quotation Round, you all filled out cards when you came in, sharing your thoughts and your name, we’ll bring two Guerrillas up here, they’ll read the quotes and whichever gets the loudest audience response gets to pick the first Hit. Easy enough?”

No response.

“Let’s begin!”

The Guerrillas ran to me, standing center. I pulled two quotes blindly out of my Fanny Pack, handed one to Torque and one to Beemer.

“Torque!” I said, asking Torque to read the quote I given him.

Quotations. There would be over 700 quotes read during the first season, and maybe 2000 read during the second season.

Torque read the very first quote ever read in a Guerrilla show.

“Fuck off!” he said.

And off we went.

It was all very rough, but everyone, including, thank goodness, the audience, was up for it.

These were some of the other quotations that night:
  • “They say no man is an island, who are they, anyway?” 
  • “The half-life of a cheeseburger in red pumps.”
  • “I wuv you.”
  • “Fuck me like fried-potatoes on the most beautiful, hungry morning of my goddamn life.”
  • “While the juices of society flow gently into mediocrity.” 
  • “Happiness.” 
  • “It started out as a wart on my ass.” 
  • “Left turn on red.” 
  • “Bugs!”
But my, we flew through the Hits. The first two happened to carry strong feminist messages from Torque, which inspired some self-conscious giggling.

Then we got to Retro’s first piece, Short Term Memory, in which Torque and Retro beat the hell out of themselves trying to remember the name of Joyce DeWitt. Now that got applause. 


We sent up Hamlet. We made fun of Ross Perot, and the Cleveland Play House. We slammed Deadbeat Dads and Catholicism. Retro shared creepy stories from work and Mammy revealed how sexist the names of cocktails are. And of course, "Disaster Movie Theater".

By the end of the show ... well, the most important thing that night was, we reached the end of the show.

“Thanks for coming!” I called, over the applause and music, “We will continue to do this show every Friday and Saturday night at 11 PM from now until the end of time! So tell your friends, and remember --”

“You Have the Right to Remain Silent!” yelled all the Guerrillas, and we all did the Dating Game Kiss -- MMMMMWHAH!

We danced to the music and let that carry us into the audience where we shook hands, hugged our friends, and talked to as many people as we could.

As the last few people filed out, and we were cleaning up, Torque came up to me and we gave each other a big hug.

“We did it,” he said, overwhelmed. “I can’t believe we’ve actually done it.”

“Yeah, we did,” I said, laughing. “I gotta tell you, I was expecting the police or the Fire Marshall to show up any minute and shut us down. I guess they don’t care.”

“Yeah. Hope that lasts,” he said. “What I can’t figure out is ... why doesn’t everybody do this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this was easy,” he said. “Everybody talks about doing a show, everyone talks and talks about starting their own company, their own theater, and we just did it. It doesn’t make sense.”

“This wasn’t easy,” I said, finally. “We spent all summer doing this.

“All of this,” I said, and waved my hand at our space, “we put a lot of long hours into this place. The three of us have been having meetings, being serious about it, putting the time in. Nothing easy about it.”

He said, “Hmn."

Wee-Bear had tallied the box office receipts.

“Hey, everybody!” she announced to all the Guerrillas after the front door was closed and locked, “Guerrilla Theater Company made over $150 tonight!”

A hundred and fifty dollars, in admission and donations! In one night! That was truly stunning. There were cheers all around.

She went on to proclaim happily, “I think the first round at Edison’s is on Guerrilla Theater Company tonight!”

“Yee-ah!” Retro howled.

“I don’t think we should spend our profit on beer,” Torque said.

“Oh come on,” she said. “It’s Opening Night! I mean ... I mean -- come on!”

“I’ve got the first round,” I said. “We’ll let the company hang onto that money until we decide what to do with it.”

And we went to Edison’s, and I got the first round. I may have gotten the sixth as well, but by then I had stopped counting.

On Monday I handed in my two-weeks notice at Karamu. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Worked very hard to pry open a flashlight battery. Scooped out some of what was inside, a translucent white paste. spread it on a Ritz and ate it, and almost immediately wished I hadn't.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Harvey Pekar Memorial Desk


The boy completed his fall soccer season 5-2-1, and after the final game at Denison Field, I whisked him to the CH-UH Main Public Library just in time to catch the unveiling of the Harvey Pekar Memorial Desk Sculpture.  All of Cleveland Heights, it seemed, was on hand to celebrate the man, and this fitting tribute; an interactive art installation on the second floor of this library, which was one of Harvey's favorite places to be. 

 Joyce explains the piece.

It has been about a year since Harvey's wife, Joyce Brabner, originally announced her intentions for the sculpture. Shortly after his death, she has wistfully remarked that she wanted his grave at Lakeview Cemetery to be marked with something you could color or write on, with chalk. When Lakeview politely informed her that they have a policy of not letting anyone mark the monuments, she contacted the library. Between a successful Kickstarter campaign and positive support from, well, everybody, the piece became a reality.


Local artist Justin Coulter created the statue, which sits atop the desk. Anyone is welcome to peruse the drawers, and use the items inside, which include pens, pencils and paper, as well as copies of some of Harvey's favorite books.


You may touch the artwork.

The back of the statue features a chalk board divided into comic book panels for anyone to write or draw upon. I was about to do a little cartoon of Harvey but the boy for some reason talked me out of it. That's all right, it is there to stay and I will compose something on some ordinary day. Maybe take up the whole thing, tell a whole story!

Doughnut.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Guerrilla Theater Company


Guerrilla Theater Company debuted on "Columbus Day" twenty years ago, at the first celebration of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance.
(October 12, 1992) On this cool Monday evening, Columbus Day, a holiday which had always been celebrated unquestioningly in my youth, was under fire. In Public Square, Cleveland Public Theatre had organized the very first 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance Festival, a celebration of Native Americans. At least 500 people had come to protest, peacefully and with style.

True to his word, Jim Levin invited Guerrilla Theater Company, who hadn’t done anything to date except annoy some coffee drinkers, to participate. Seven well-intentioned, middle-class, white kids struggled mightily to produce a handful of sketches about the Native American experience.

We arrived at the Free Speech quadrant of Public Square shortly before dusk. There was a drumming circle going on, a dozen or so people of indigenous ancestry producing a slowly, steady, resonant beat with their drums, chanting beautifully. There were also a number of ragged-looking, white, crunchy-granola people in the circle with them.

As we ambled across the park, Levin walked up to us -- we were all wearing jackets, summer was fading and with encroaching night the temperature was dropping swiftly. He looked earnest as he approached. He always looked earnest.

“Hey, uh, Gorilla People,” he deadpaned. “Glad you could join us.”

“Thank you for including us in this event,” I said. “We wrote some plays just for tonight, we hope they’re appropriate.”

“Yeah,” he said, and took a brief pause. He peered into the middle distance, as though he were trying to discern what brand of jeans that guy crawling up the Terminal Tower was wearing. “You know, we’re going to finish up in an hour or so, and we’ve got a real peaceful vibe going here, if your people aren’t entirely prepared, it’s cool, if, uh ...”

“We’re prepared,” Torque said. “Say the word and we’re on.”

“Oh,” Levin said, “uh, okay, well, the stage is right over there, when the time comes.” There was a temporary platform, a surprising three feet high, complete with a rail for safety and two microphones.

“Great,” Torque said, “just say when.”

We walked over to the stage, which was unoccupied during the Drumming Circle, and dropped off our stuff.

“He doesn’t want us to go on,” I said.

“Oh well,” Torque said.

We waited around for fifteen minutes or so. The drumming continued, it was very pleasant, and moving. I wondered what it had been like earlier in the day. Probably a lot of yelling, a lot of speechifying. There were protests (in Little Italy the statue of Columbus on Mayfield Road had had red paint thrown on it) and anger, but also a lot of music and celebration.

Now, however, it was peaceful, no one here but a hard-core band of thirty or forty fans of CPT and their Native American comrades.

“Greetings again, folks,” Levin said, speaking on the mic. We hung back against the rear railing of the stage. All seven of us were wearing our new, soon-to-be-immortal GTC T-shirts -- the logo was now a seated gorilla wearing a helmet that covered his eyes, with the word “THEATER” running cryptically beneath him.

“We’ve had a great day here celebrating 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance. That was a great drum circle.” Pause. We wait. “We have just a few more events lined up before we call it a night.” Another pause. Levin smirked.

“We at Cleveland Public Thee-ay-ter ... are dedicated to presenting new, young, street artists. So it’s only fitting that here, making their stage debut as part of our festival, are Guerrilla Thee-ay-ter Company.”

“Good evening!” I said into the mic. A surprising and hearty “good evening!” was their response. “We are Guerrilla Theater Company and we are proud to be participating in the 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance!”

Smattering of applause. As I peered out at them in the diminishing twilight I saw a lot of Indians. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many real Indians in one place. And I was keenly aware that our little band of white kids was about to do some plays addressing the Native American Question. Jesus.

“We are going to present a short selection of plays for your enjoyment. The first is called Tourist Trade.”

Jelly Jam joined me at the mic. This one was written by Mammy -- I was a White tourist, asking the price of lots of native hoo-hah (a shawl, a tom-tom) from Jelly Jam, an Indian. Then I ask how much it would cost to buy everything -- Nature. The Native American does not understand what I could possibly mean, and so tells the White Man no one could buy the air we breathe. The White Man is pleased to deduce that it’s free and takes it.

“I hope you enjoy it,” is Jelly Jam’s polite reply.

Polite silence as we set up our next piece, a thoroughly confusing piece of work I wrote that employed the entire six member ensemble.

In this one we presented a series of sequels to the 1982 movie E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. In these follow-up films, E.T. returns with more and more friends and they eventually over-run the planet.

Get it?

Polite applause for the effort, as we set up for another play.

Levin leans his head through the railing in the rear. “How many more are you doing?” he asked, politely.

“Just one,” Wee-Bear told him, “it’s all we’ve got.”

We concluded with a piece written by Torque, thankfully not the one he had developed in rehearsal about the Native American who attempts to maintain his dignity while getting hit in the face with a number of cream pies, but instead a straight-forward, didactic piece arguing the offensive nature of the Cleveland Indian’s mascot.

Suddenly Torque dumped the script and hollered out, “DUMP CHIEF WAHOO!” with his fist in the air. This was greeted by enormous hoots and the strongest applause we'd received. We retreated in triumph. Levin took the stage.

“Guerrilla Theater Company, folks!” he said, “When does your show open?” he called to us as we picked up our jackets to go.

“Next week!"

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Kardiac Kid


Eric Schmiedl got me my first professional theater-related job. It wasn't really his doing, he was slated to remain with the education department of Karamu Theatre for a second year, but decided in stead to go off and get married or get another graduate degree or something and there was need for a tall, thin, guitar-playing white guy for their touring production My World If ... Someone else in the company knew my name, I got the call, and could stop waiting tables at Friday's.

I also needed to learn to play the guitar in 24 hours. Three chords. Who can't play three chords?

My World If ...

Eric and I first worked together when he directed Sarah Morton's Night Bloomers in 2006. That's an interesting story unto itself, for another time, perhaps. He also directed me in Eric Coble's The Velocity of Autumn at Beck Center last spring. But most of our time together is at the Playwrights' Unit, where I am constantly delighted by the pages he brings in from whatever he is currently working on.

Last summer, the boy and I saw Singin' On the Ohio, Schmiedl's two-hander about the Ohio & Erie Canal presented at the Big Red Barn Theatre. He wrote and was one of the performers in it, and spend the entire summer -- two performances every Saturday and Sunday -- spinning this historical yarn about an Irish-born canal boat captain and the once-enslaved young woman who came on board as his assistant. After the show I asked if these were real, historical people. He said, no, he'd made up the whole thing. But the Ohio & Erie Canal is real, the setting, the history is real. I wanted to believe.

Nathan Lilly, Eric Schmiedl, and a complete douchebag.

The Kardiac Kid opened this weekend at CPT, ostensibly a story of the 1980 Cleveland Browns Season, but fortunately it's not. I missed his last homage to the Browns, the collaboratively conceived Browns Rules because I was under the impression that it was supposed to be a big, funny, loud pageant of Browns Fever, and if I did not care to watch football, I wouldn't really enjoy it. That, and it had Nick Koesters in it, and I hate him.

Last night I took the kids and some friends to check out this new, solo performance. Watching Eric perform his own work is something not to be missed. He's just so warm, engaging, so very, very real. More human than human. In this ninety-minute show (there is an intermission) he tells five stories of Browns fans during the entirety of that non-championship season, a reminder that it's not the game, it's how that fits into the rest of your life that's important.

As the sun will cross the sky, the Browns lost today. Score was a laughable 41-27. No idea who they played, don't imagine it makes any difference, could have been anybody. The Cleveland Browns are just awful, and I have never understood why my fellow citizens put themselves through this misery year after year for what I find to be a painfully slow, boring game. Eric didn't change my opinion of football or the Browns one bit last night. He just made me love people more.


Lombardi by Eric Simonson closed at Cleveland Play House this weekend, a play about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who -- if you can believe his pain -- went three whole years without a championship. The story tales place in 1965, as Lombardi somehow (it's not clear) guides his team back to preeminence.

It went without mention that the city they had to beat to win 1965 championship was Cleveland.  The 1964 Cleveland Browns was the last championship team Cleveland will ever have.

"The Kardiac Kid" plays through October 20.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Campaign Stop

President Obama paid a visit to CSU today.



It rained a lot.


A reported 9,000 people stood in the rain for hours to see the President.





Thanks to Deonna K. for the ticket.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On the Scary

A spider. How "Bourgeois".

When I was a child, our house had a crawlspace in the basement. It was behind a door with a simple lock, built up about three feet off the floor. There was a single bulb, the floor was rough concrete. When I was six I would hide in there, draw pictures of monsters and tack them to the beams. A gallery of monsters.

When I was around seven, my family went to a haunted house. It may have been in Avon Lake or something, like a “Haunted Fire Station” to raise money for charity.

Berea ... is so ... SCARAY ...

It was traumatizing. As is her wont, my mother to this day expresses deep, lasting regret for the decision to take me. “I guess I figured if you were too scared you could cover your eyes,” she says. Of course, hearing what you cannot see if much more terrifiying.

The pictures in the crawlspace came down, and I never went in there again, unless I had company.

Children need fear. They need to learn to enjoy chills and suspense, and to know the difference between what is fantastic and what are real life dangers to be avoided. This is why belief in the supernatural, especially mainstream beliefs such as Christianity and Islam, lead to uncertainty, confusion and life-threatening neuroses.

Your odds are not good.

The 21st century has brought with it an interesting revival in monsters. The work of Tim Burton doesn’t seem odd anymore, to anyone. The bizarre, edgy, creepy-funny Beetlejuice has evolved into the much-hated, yawn-fest Dark Shadows.

The World Famous.

The human skull is (or was) the new smiley face. My daughter has pink pj bottoms featuring skulls wearing a hair bow. Anyone who knows me knows I really enjoy wearing  all the swag my in-laws provide from The Smiling Skull Saloon, but no one would confuse me with some kind of threatening person.


There are now a swath of television programs and movies geared toward children that I would have thought unimaginable ten years ago. Disney recently debuted Gravity Falls, about two kids spending the summer in the great northwest with their grand-uncle who manages a “Mystery House”. Every episode centers around a presumed supernatural threat which turns out to be non-threatening … though still supernatural. For example, the male protagonist fears his sister is dating a zombie. In reality, the boyfriend is not a zombie, but a gang of gnomes disguised as one teenager.

Dude ... check it out ...

Anyway. It’s like a cross between Twin Peaks and The X-Files. We all think it is hilarious. However, the boy (age seven) does get increasing scared by the show, and has often had to cover his face, until the reveal, and then it’s all okay. I like that, some chills, then relief. No nightmares.


Paranorman, however, was not a good choice. It’s a very good movie. But I fret because  to really understand it, to even think it’s funny, you need a wealth of pop culture experience that your average nine year-old just doesn’t have. A lot of the humor makes no sense without a basic familiarity with the works of George Romero and the Salem Witch Trials. The boy didn't get the funny, he just saw zombies, and had to leave partway through.

One recent development in pop culture is the ascendance of the zombie. Dracula long ago became cuddly, thanks to the likes of The Munsters, Sesame Street and Count Chocula, the same for “Frankenstein”.  Good Lord, remember Monster Squad? As what scares us becomes familiar, we must turn to what is truly scary. When I was a child it was the Devil (The Exorcist, The Omen, et al) as an adolescent it was the stalker-killer (Friday, the 13th, Halloween and all the rest.)

Monster Squad (1976)

Supernatural animals like werewolves have never been taken seriously in my lifetime -- An American Werewolf in London, the only exception. Only the once-dead remain truly horrifying. The gentleman-corpse who is the vampire has become one to admire and love, and the Creature, in his own way a zombie, can be sympathized with because he has feelings. The zombie is simply a dead thing that continues to move -- and has only one recognizeable thought, and it is to eat you. They don’t even bother killing you first.

But even the zombie is being made more accessible. Leafing through a children’s costume catalog with the boy, we found zombie versions of superheroes. What is up with that? Why would you want to be that for Halloween? Not just a zombie … Zombie Robin? Uh, okay.


The boy and I had a very interesting conversation recently about why Halloween is associated with scary things. It wasn’t easy to explain, and maybe that confuses the average person. But it helps to know these two things; he has always known about his stillborn older brother, so celebrating the dead -- and the Day of the Dead -- are not bizarre, spooky ritauls, but an annual celebration on par with birthdays and other anniversaries. Also, too, having been raised non-religious, he has no weird conception of what death is. People are born, they live, they die and return to the earth.

Death does not scare him. At least, not yet.

Tradition.

So why is All Hallow’s Eve, and the Day of the Dead, the holidays which inspired Halloween, associated with the supernatural? He still doesn’t get it. It doesn’t keep him from enjoying it.


There is a home near us with a large front yard facing a very busy street which has an annual Halloween display which is pretty creepy. This year, however, in creating their display they decided to include a hanged person. They weren’t finished with it, but apparently someone compained, presumably, that the depiction of someone hanged -- lynched -- was offensive.

How did I know this? Because, in addition to the numerous “gag” tombstones featured in the display, they included this defensive response to whom it may concern:


I found their response more unfortunate than the hanged dummy. My city is racially diverse, with the population of whites and blacks running close to 50/50. Lynching as a symbol of race terrorism existed (past tense?) through the lifetime of many of my neighbors, it’s not something abstract.

Might I also add that if the featured style of execution were something else, say another deeply symbolic form of torturous death, say crucifixion, that might also offend a lot of people.

Part of the problem was that the figure was generic, just a big stuffed head through the noose. If it had been a cartoony witch or something, that might have seemed more in the spirit of the season.


I mean, the display also features someone drawn and quartered. That freaks the girl out more than the hanged person -- which has, at last, been detailed to represent a bonnet-wearing Puritan woman. Putting it into a period well-past, and associating it with the witch trials does make it look more appropriate to the season. But the defensive-message gravestone remains today.


SPOILER ALERT: PARANORMAN

Which brings me back to Paranorman. There really was a witch hanged in this story, a young girl who had magical powers, who was condemned as a witch. The lesson is about acceptance, about tolerance. She was a little girl with special abilities -- she wasn’t evil. However, according to certain religions, which believe in witches, it doesn’t matter if she felt she was good, having these powers means that, will you, nill you, she is a product of Satan. Like the gays. For some, tolerance is not an option.

Not a witch.

But homosexuality is a real part of nature, supernatural "witchcraft" abilities are not. The Salem Witch Trial was something that actually happened, many were imprisoned, twenty were executed. None of them were actually witches. Depicting a hanged "Salem witch" troubles me, too. That's an innocent, hanging there, first terrorized and tortured and then killed. They were lynched, too.

Monsters are fun. Men are scary.