Nothing to Fear

1978. I was ten years old and spending an evening at the cineplex with my sister, brother, and his girlfriend. My sis and I went to see some family-friendly picture, the name of which escapes my memory. My brother and his girlfriend went to see an R-rated feature that had just been released – a little movie called “Halloween”.

I can still see the movie’s poster in my head – an image of a jack-o-lantern with a hand holding a large knife and the tag line, “The Night He Came Home!” I had no idea what the film was about, but that tag line made me think it was about some annoying, unwelcome relative, the kind of father that ruins Christmas or birthday parties with his drunk behavior, or the uncle that everyone thinks is just a little creepy. The giant butcher knife in the poster didn’t really register with me – I’d never seen a slasher film at that point, so the idea that someone could be coming home to slaughter the family members didn’t even occur to me. I really only knew the film was about Halloween, and for a ten-year-old boy, Halloween is just about the greatest thing ever.

So it is understandable that, since the film my sister and I saw was over well before the R-rated screening was finished, we decided to sneak in to that auditorium to watch the end of “Halloween” and wait for my brother to drive us home. The only thing that occurred to me as we were walking in to that theater was that it was the first time I would be seeing an actual R-rated movie in a theater. (The concept that we were actually violating at least two laws didn’t even register.) 

So that’s how I found myself sitting in a dark movie theater at the tender young age of 10, watching Jamie Lee Curtis walk upstairs in the dark, spooky house with the suspenseful, creepy music playing, and see her discover the bodies of one, two, three people strategically displayed in a bedroom. I think the shock first set in at the body of the dead young man hanging upside down in the closet – this was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I was duly horrified.

Then the image of the truly scary man with the white mask on – my first view of Michael Myers – was seared into my brain. I watched the final 15 minutes of that movie in sheer terror, and I had lost all sense of thrill at sneaking in to my first R-rated movie. I was sorry I’d done it. This movie was scaring any bejesus I had left in me, and I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there.

That night, at home in bed, I couldn’t sleep. I had bunk beds in my room, with the bottom bunk removed and my desk in the empty space so I slept in the top bunk. All night long, I kept my eye on the open door of my room, fully expecting to see that boogeyman slowly enter the frame of my doorway, his white-masked face at eye-level with me in my top bunk as he stealthfully made his way into my room and around my bed, creeping closer and closer to me as he raised his knifing hand…. Sleep came eventually, but there were many, many more nights where I would see that image as I lie in the dark. It would haunt me for years.

Of course if you’ve read this blog before you know that I ended up becoming a big fan of horror films. I’ve seen every kind of horror movie out there, and generally speaking I’m not kept awake by them anymore. I’ve been sufficiently de-sensitized to the gruesome and the ghoulish and the gory. I find them entertaining and slightly silly, but harmless.

It is 2010. I have a son, also ten years old. He has inherited a penchant for the macabre from his father, although I want to stipulate that I did not force it upon him – he came about it organically. In fact, I’ve been hugely protective of him, not allowing him to view anything that I deemed unsuitable for a child. He was a fan of the Goosebumps books, and when he discovered The Twilight Zone he became an expert on every episode. Night Gallery and The Night Stalker were discovered on Hulu and he would watch them with rapt attention. Those shows from yesteryear were acceptable because they were made for television in another era, and so obviously fake that there was not much content to confuse a young mind, yet the few moments of genuine chills were enough to keep his interest.

He’s been pestering me to let him see some “real” scary movies. He has a curiosity about the unknown just like any healthy kid, but more to the point, he wants to know what the big deal is about these movies that his Dad forbids him to see. I keep telling him “when you’re older, when you’re older…” and bit by bit he has seen some of the edited-for-television films that are shown on Chiller or Sci-Fi or FX – monster movies, mostly. Nothing that could happen in real life.

So when he asked me the other day if he could watch “Halloween”, my first thought was, “hell no!” – because I remember my own trauma from seeing that movie and of course wanted to spare my son the same sleepless nights. But when I thought it through, I realized that even though he is the same age that I was when I saw that last 15 minutes of footage in the theater, he is not me. He is a different person, with an entirely different experience with the world of childhood than I had. 

So yesterday, I said “OK”. I had recorded AMC’s airing of the original “Halloween” film, part of their “Fear Fest” programming this month. Once we had his sister safely set up in the next room away from the television,  we started the movie. 

All the scenes with Michael Myers being spotted lurking across streets and outside windows and from a distance still had that effective sense of creepiness and unease that they were intended to have on the audience – at least for me, anyway. I kept glancing over at my son, expecting to see wide eyes and a worried crease of his brow. Instead, he looked – well, bored. He would get up and walk into the kitchen for something and I’d tell him, “Wait, you’re gonna miss something important!” and he’d come back in to see the part where Dr. Loomis tells the sheriff how he’d studied Michael for 15 years and his professional opinion is that he’s evil incarnate… and my son would say something acknowledging like ‘Huh. Okay.” and go get his snack or drink or whatever he  found more interesting than the movie.

At one point, about an hour into the film, he turned to me and said, “Dad, when’s it supposed to get scary?”

On one hand, I was proud that he wasn’t easily scared by the movie, but on the other, I was sort of offended by his lack of respect for the classic horror movie I was allowing him to see. “Well, Hayden, they’re establishing mood” I told him. But I did admit to myself that the first hour of the film doesn’t really hold up well thirty-some years later. It’s kind of slow, and the style of camera work and the “startle-the-audience” moments felt limp and dated. Still, I knew the last 15 minutes of the movie were still ahead, and that, after all, is what scared the hell out of me when I was his age.

Maybe it was the sunlight coming in through the windows, or maybe it was the constant interruption by commercial breaks that broke the tension and took us out of the story every 10 minutes, but he never got worked up into anything resembling fear while watching this movie. The scene where the little boy spies the scary boogeyman across the street carrying the dead girl from the garage to the house did make my son remark, “Ooohh, that’s creepy”. And the scene at the end where he’s stealthily stalking Jamie Lee Curtis across the street while she’s screaming to wake the sleeping kids to unlock the door and let her in had my son on the edge of his seat.  But at the real heart-stopping scene –where she’s sitting in a doorway with her back to the not-really-dead psychopath as he sits up and looks at her– this is where I expected my son to gasp, to display some indicator of fear.

Instead, he turned to me and said “People in movies are so dumb. Why wouldn’t she just run out with the kids and get out of there? Or just stab him with the knife when she stepped over him?” A true statement and valid questions. We’ve all wondered the same thing, of course, but I just shrugged and shook my head and turned back to the movie. I wasn’t asking those questions at his age – I was just trying not to pee my pants.  

In the end, he said it was okay, and that it was “sorta suspenseful” and it had “a couple scary moments.” But overall I could tell he was unimpressed. I’m glad he didn’t freak out and cry and tell me to shut it off and just  completely implode upon viewing the movie. He’s clearly braver than I was at his age – wiser, more secure, more grounded. Still – he’s now likely to be wondering about his Dad, about why his father was so easily scared by such a mild film. He’s apt to question my judgment about what is scary. He may doubt my credibility in such matters.

Let’s see how he handles an uncut and unedited version of “The Exorcist”.

Gimme a Bee

The farm I grew up on had such a variety of fruit trees, it was like having our own produce section in our yard. An apple tree, a plum tree, a cherry tree, a pear tree, not to mention all the blackberries one could eat that grew wild all over the valley. We even had a grape arbor that produced both white and purple grapes. In the summer and fall, there was no shortage of fresh fruit available to anyone that wanted to pick it.

We actually had two pear trees growing on our property. One grew at the foot of the driveway, just behind the mailbox. It was easy to overlook this pear tree because it was near the edge of the property by the road, and when the fruit fell from the tree, it either landed in a ditch or in the neighbor’s field. What was memorable about this pear tree was that in the springtime we would usually find little blue eggs in the robin’s nest that was tucked in the fork of the lowest branches.

The other pear tree – the one I always think of – was right outside the side door of the house, what we referred to as the sewing room door. The driveway turned off of sixth avenue at a right angle and ran for about fifty feet before it terminated at a wooden post with a basketball hoop at the top. The driveway used to be gravel but was paved with black asphalt in 1978, and the men who paved it thought to include a little asphalt sidewalk from the driveway to the stoop outside the sewing room. It was right next to that sidewalk that the pear tree stood.

The tree was very mature and close to thirty feet tall, it’s top branches growing over the roof of the house and keeping the side yard dark with its thick branches and green leaves – and of course, its fruit. The pear tree was very fertile, and never was there a year when it did not yield hundreds of pounds of fleshy, yellow fruit.

As a young kid, I would try eating some of the low hanging pears but would find them hard to bite into and surprisingly bitter once I did. I did not know that the fruit would ripen and turn yellow to indicate it was ready for eating. When I finally did realize this, what a delight! At its ripest, the pear was soft and my incisors glided right through the skin into the wonderfully light and refreshing fruit. They were, I recognize now, very good quality pears that grew at our house, and yet I do not remember anyone ever eating them regularly.

Or even acknowledging them.

As the season evolved and more and more of the dangling orbs on the pear tree turned from light green to bright yellow, nobody in my family was ever seen with a ladder and a basket, climbing to harvest what would have cost good money to purchase in a store. I can understand that perhaps nobody in the family actually liked pears, and the tree was so old it was clearly planted by someone who lived in the house long before we did. But wouldn’t a basketful of pears have made a wonderful gift for neighbors and friends? This was free food being offered to us, and instead of eating it or harvesting it and giving it away, we just let it hang there.

And it would hang there until it dropped. Once the bright, unblemished yellow skin of the pears started getting brown spots on it, it was only a matter of days before the strength of the stem waned to the point that it could no longer support the weight of the pear itself, and it would detach, sending the fruit plummeting to the ground below. The area surrounding the trunk of the tree consisted of the new black asphalt sidewalk from the driveway to the other, older concrete sidewalk that ran along the side of the house. The pears would fall on the ground immediately surrounding the trunk, and simply bounce and roll a bit before coming to a rest on the grass. Some of these “grass pears” were still edible, having just ripened a bit too much for the stem to handle, but they were not discolored or rotted and were still quite delicious. But the pears that landed on either of the paved surfaces suffered a much more violent end. The soft, pliable fruit would hit the sidewalk and simply explode, leaving the once-grocery-store-quality pear a horrible disfigured mess. The skin would split and the flesh of the pear would be exposed, and it would quickly darken to an ugly, diseased brown color that made them look less like fruit and more like the corpses of dead snowballs that were denied an afterlife as melted water and were instead doomed to a purgatory, frozen and misshapen.

Soon the ground below the tree was littered with fallen pears in various stages of decomposition. Some would still be yellow, having fallen within the last day or two, but the majority were black with decay and beginning to ferment. The roof of the house caught the ones that grew in the highest branches, and the gutters of the eaves eventually were choked with rotting fruit.

On a warm, still day, one could sit outdoors on the side of the house, or even the front porch, and hear the periodic THLOP of a pear giving up the stem and hitting the ground. On some of these days, one could hear the sound several times an hour, and the remains would pile up, yellow on brown on black.

The air on that side of the house at that time of year was redolent with fermenting pears, and occasionally was potent enough to cause nausea and dizziness to anyone who strayed too close to the fruit graveyard that was forming outside the sewing room.

But the mess and the smell were not themselves an insurmountable problem. Eventually one got used to the smell, and there was plenty of yard space in front and in back of the house so the side yard with the pear tree could be avoided easily. One really only needed to be exposed to it for the few seconds it took to get from the sewing room door to the car, and back. The only activity that could not be done anywhere else was basketball, but during the height of gravity’s pear harvest, basketball had to be avoided. No matter how much we wanted to play, basketball was just not an option.

Because of the bees.

They would come slowly at first. There might be one or two yellow jackets hovering over the mound of pear-goo that had began to look like a thick paste littered with stems and seeds and leaves, as though some giant took a dirty knife and spread pear preserves on the ground and left it there for a month or two. One or two bees would be seen stumbling around like drinking buddies after last call, maybe a third and fourth joining a day later. But apparently even among bees, a good thing can’t stay secret for long. After a few days, the pear zone would be overrun with bees gorging themselves on the fermenting sugar, and eventually it became an orgy of delirious, yellow-and-black segmented wasps that would become so drunk from their feeding that they flew around in lurching, debilitated flight patterns that suggested insects can’t say “when” any better than I could. These bees were clearly drunkards, and they obviously didn’t care who knew it.

They were also mean drunks. As long as you stayed out of their way, you were fine, but if you even came within a six foot radius of their feeding plain, they would rise nearly in unison and begin the dive bombing. How such inebriated beings could launch so deadly an attack was beyond me, but their aggression had a singleness of purpose that suggested flocks of migrating birds – they were clearly communicating with each other as they took off after a fleeing family member, and I could just imagine one of them instructing the others “head him off, he’s going around back!”

Would they display the same bickering and infighting that humans all-too-often demonstrate when they get to drinking? It would be easy to imagine that a bee hive is one big dysfunctional family when there’s an alcoholic – or several of them – in residence. And there would probably be that one wasted bee that finally crossed the line, getting all up in the queen’s face and calling her out. “Lissen, you – you ain’t no queen. Yer nothin’, y’hear me? You ain’t nothin’ but a painted housefly, you bug– no, lemme alone, I don’t care who hears me!” It’s not unthinkable – they are a society, after all, and every society has its troublemakers.

Anthropomorphizing these insects made it easier to deal with them and pretend that they were there simply by our good grace – that we could be rid of them whenever we wanted. But the truth was, the family was locked in a power struggle with the bees, and we feared for our safety on a daily basis. Due to the proximity of the pear zone to the place where we parked our cars, every day involved at least one, and likely more than one, confrontation with the hopped up yellow jackets.

Eventually, every season, there would come a time when the human inhabitants of the property would be forced to run the Bee Gauntlet when we left or arrived home. Most days we were successful, reaching the door safely and avoided any stings or horrific moments where the unseen bee’s legs could be felt crawling over our skin. But not all days. Every once in a while the drunk little fuckers would anticipate a dodge or a turn and would land on bare skin and gleefully (I always imagined them doing it gleefully) sting the shit out of us. Sometimes it would happen without the victim knowing it, and eventually they would notice an itching at an ankle or wrist or shoulder, only to find upon inspection that the area was inflamed and swollen, and in the center of the ugly red blotch, a little calling card from the culprit – the stinger, no more than a millimeter in length, sticking out like a quivering sliver of wood but a hundred times more irritating.

Other times the pain was immediate and intense and just flat out wicked. It is easy to label creatures that dispense pain as “evil”, but it is even easier when the creatures doing it are so drunk they won’t remember it in the morning. In truth, the bees were just doing what bees do (what ill-bred, emotionally starved, socially stunted bees do, anyway) and, truer still, if we didn’t like it, there was always an easy way out of the situation.

Why it never occurred to anyone to simply pick up the rotted fruit before it became a Bee Death Camp, I don’t know. Picking it up became less of an option over time, however, because by then, instead of just having some gross rotten fruit to contend with, any clean-up crew would be dealing with an army of angry junkies with weapons, and generally speaking, when you’re dealing with an armed, angry mob you call out the National Guard.

Eventually, the bees would drain all the sugar from the pears and go away – either that, or they ate themselves into oblivion and would just drop. I often saw bee carcasses amongst the ruins, so it was possible that they would overindulge to the point of no return and just decide to lie down and die. Whatever the reason, at some point the bee population would thin out, and somebody would come along with a shovel or a rake and make the mess go away, but I never saw who did it.  

Today we’re faced with the mysterious disappearance of bees across the earth. It’s a serious problem and scientists still do not all agree on the cause. I don’t know what is behind the sudden global die-off, but I’m willing to bet the cause is alcohol-related. I hope the apiculturists of the world can figure out how to save them, but they should be warned that the bees have to want help: Nothing will change until they admit they have a problem.

Same Old, Same Old

 Waiting in line at Starbucks, I decide I am going to try something new. I’m going to order something I’ve never tried before, have it prepared in a new and different way and I am going to enjoy it. Maybe I’ll get one of the seasonal fall-flavored beverages, maybe one of their teas, or something from their food case that I’ve never eaten. Perhaps I’ll ask the cheerful-looking bearded kid behind the counter for his recommendation for the day, and go with that – a sort of coffee-roulette perfectly suitable for the daring, adventurous man of mystery that I am.

“Venti coffee, with room please” I say when Beard Kid asks me what I’ll have. My reply was as automatic as the answer I give when asked my name. It was what I always say – what I always order: a regular old coffee with some room for cream, the coffeehouse equivalent of a vanilla cone.

I am a creature of habit.

I have accepted this about myself, much as I have accepted that I’m a pale, freckled redhead who will never have that all-over St. Tropez tan. It’s just how I am. I like what I like, and I want more of what I like, because ordering what I like reduces my chances of being disappointed.

When I make a return trip to a restaurant, I will look over the entire menu as though I will actually try something new, and then I’ll order what I had the last time I dined there. I do this because I enjoyed what I had last time (this is a given, because if I didn’t like what I ate last time, I would not return to the restaurant — I’m not only a creature of habit, I’m also mercilessly unforgiving of bad food).

In choosing to order the same entrée again, I am trying to repeat the enjoyment I had last time I ate it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I imagine at least one person reading this is likely saying to themselves, “So, what’s the problem with that?”, and indeed there is no problem. Or at least there wouldn’t be, if this tendency to re-create enjoyment didn’t extend into virtually every part of my life.

When I find or see or hear or do something I like, it draws my attention and holds it. A song, a book, a movie – sometimes these things can turn a ho-hum day into a celebration of good fortune. Many times I have heard a song that completely captivates me, and I must find out who the artist is at once – to hear more. If I like a book written by an author who is new to me, I’ll find another book by that writer – to read more. If I see a film I like, I’ll seek out others featuring that actor or that director or that subject – because I want more. It’s my misguided belief that, “If one is good, then a hundred is better”, so I seek out more, more, more.

Songs or movies or books are understandable. But I’ll do this with concerts, daytrips, holiday events, vacations – if I have a great experience at any of these, I’ll want to do it again. The belief is that the next time will be as good as –no, better than—the first one.

It’s human nature, I’m sure – once a toddler goes down a slide, they exclaim, “Again! Again!” over and over, and at that age they have the energy to do it again and again so they do. The difference between the three year old going down a slide and, say, me returning to the same seaside town for two consecutive summers, is that the slide experience isn’t really going to change: climb up the ladder, sit your butt down on the slide, and let gravity take care of the rest. Not much room for change there. 

But the times where I have spent much time, energy, and expense trying to re-create an experience, only to be disappointed because it didn’t turn out “the way it should” are numerous and sundry. Several vacations were spent “going back” to a place where fond memories were created, and while the second trip might have had its merit, the sense of disappointment could not be denied – because maybe the second time, we stayed in a different place than the last time, or the weather turned bad, or that cool shop had gone out of business… And instead of looking at it through fresh eyes like I did the first time I went, I looked at it through the eyes of expectation. And as a good friend of mine once summed it up, “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments”. How true this is.

It never occurred to me that what I was doing was trying to hold on to a moment that was gone as soon as it was experienced. My incessant need to possess a thing – to hold on – made it impossible for me to see that the only thing that is real is this day, this hour, this moment. The present moment is now, it is where I live in the truth and where peace and contentment are found. It is where I experience the joy of living.

It’s not surprising, then, that my first experience with something – whether it be a person, a place, or an object– is usually positive. I’m an optimistic guy – I can find something good about any situation. When I’m experiencing something for the first time, I have nothing to compare that first experience to. It is new to me, and therefore I am viewing it through the lens of whatever my mood happens to be at that moment. I’m generally in a pleasant mood (except when I’m not), and so life is generally a pleasant experience for me (the year 2009 being a notable exception).

It’s when I view a thing through the lens of expectation that my experience becomes tainted, when disappointment is likely to loom around every corner. Why did it take me so long to recognize this? It probably has something to do with my belief that if I just work hard enough, plan ahead enough, and exert control enough, things will go the way I want them to – and since I want them to be “good”, then surely there can be no problem with me working, planning, and controlling my little heart out, right? Good intentions make the road easier to travel – isn’t that the saying? Oh wait, no that’s not it at all. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – that’s how it goes.

This moment will never be repeated again. It is impossible to re-create an experience exactly the way it was the first time, because there will be something different every subsequent time. Even if nothing else changes, I will be different because my awareness changes with each experience. And if I close myself off from what is currently happening because I am so attached to “how it was last time”, I will not appreciate or enjoy this time. I spend the time in my head, and not in the moment.

I can picture life as a series of moments on an ever-rolling conveyor belt. Living in the now is experiencing each moment as it is before me: in my awareness for that second and then becoming part of the past. Peace is found when I am letting these moments come and go and just letting them be what they are – “watching the blinking lights”, in other words – without trying to change them or attach anything to them. But when I am presented with a moment that I enjoy, that I want to hold onto, it’s like I reach out and grab it on the conveyor belt – and am completely knocked out of balance as I am taken out of the now and dragged into the past. That moment never looks or smells or feels as great in my mind as it did when I first experienced it, and yet I’ll hold onto it and let it pull me away from Now because I want more of it.

I recently heard a woman say, “If you spend all your time in Yesterday, or in Tomorrow, you’re in there alone. God is only in Today.” I can feel the truth in this.

I am going to challenge myself to break the habit of repeating things to try and re-create experience. I am going to let life bring me what it may, and when it brings me an opportunity for choice, I am going to choose something different, something new, something outside my comfort zone – a new food, a new artist, a new genre of book – something other than what I did yesterday or last month or last year. I have a feeling that if I keep trying the same old thing, then that is that I’ll become: an old thing.

My Weekend (As It Would Appear in Facebook Status Updates)

Terry Parker is going to the grocery store on a Friday night. Can’t say he doesn’t know how to party.

Terry Parker can’t find the soup aisle.

Terry Parker is disappointed they are out of his favorite sugar free tropical popsicles and has to content himself with a box of the regular cherry-grape-orange variety instead.

Terry Parker knows he will soon have a bunch of orange popsicles left untouched in his freezer.

Terry Parker isn’t very good at shopping and talking on the phone at the same time.

Terry Parker is renting videos from Redbox.

Terry Parker is wondering why the checkout girl and the bag girl are so surly, and wants to ask them to smile but is afraid of appearing to be the pervy old dude trying to hit on the young chicks.

Terry Parker notices that the young grocery chicks both smile at the younger man who was next in line behind him.

Terry Parker thinks those grocery bitches should get over themselves, they’re not so hot.

Terry Parker has a visitor, and is aware he can count on one hand the number of times he has had a non-family-member visitor at his home in the past year.

Terry Parker is up past his bedtime.

Terry Parker says goodbye to his friend and intends to go straight to bed.

Terry Parker doesn’t go straight to bed.

Terry Parker realizes he has to be up in four hours and goes to bed.

Terry Parker hits the snooze button four times.

Terry Parker thinks it is a crime against nature to have to get up this early on a Saturday.

Terry Parker cannot get enough coffee.

Terry Parker is driving to Pasadena.

Terry Parker witnesses remarkably beautiful acts of generosity and brotherly love.

Terry Parker is leaving Pasadena and wants a taco in the worst way.

Terry Parker begins the Couch Film Festival with “Zombieland”.

Terry Parker wishes Emma Stone was his neighbor. Also he wishes he was having sex with his neighbor.

Terry Parker thinks that the plausibility of the hero arriving just in time to save the girls from the voracious zombies was pretty thin.

Terry Parker recognizes that discussing “plausibility” in relation to a zombie film is pretty ridiculous.

Terry Parker is eating bratwurst with organic mustard and is unable to finish it while the zombie film is playing.

Terry Parker tries to write a blog entry, but is feeling uninspired and walks away from the computer without having written a word.

Terry Parker continues the film festival with “Iron Man 2”. He can’t remember how the first “Iron Man” ended. He soon realizes it doesn’t matter.

Terry Parker suddenly remembers his kids left a Snickers bar and some peanut M&Ms in the cupboard, and feels like dancing a jig.

Terry Parker naps briefly during IM2 but chooses not to rewind to see what he missed.

Terry Parker exchanges text messages with his son who has no interest in the movie his dad is watching.

Terry Parker realizes an unintended coincidence:  the next film for the afternoon – “Sherlock Holmes” – also features “Iron Man’s” Robert Downey Jr.

Terry Parker makes a big-ass plate of nachos and realizes he is being an enormous pig.

Terry Parker thinks Robert Downey Jr. has a very believable British accent in this movie.

Terry Parker wishes Robert Downey Jr. was his neighbor. Also he wishes – never mind.

Terry Parker has watched three movies on a Saturday – something he hasn’t done in at least a decade. He’s also gained three pounds in one day – something he hasn’t done since Thanksgiving.

Terry Parker needs to return the movies to Redbox and wishes he had chosen a location closer to home.

Terry Parker decides to go to Blockbuster to rent additional movies.

Terry Parker thinks the “franchise reboot” of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” could have been much, much better if Freddy didn’t talk so much. He was much scarier in the original version when he barely said a word.

Terry Parker remembers the night he saw the very first “Elm Street” as a teenager and how he didn’t sleep well at all that night because the original Freddy was so utterly creepy.

Terry Parker went to bed after the movie was over, and had no trouble sleeping.

Terry Parker is grateful to be able to sleep in on a Sunday.

Terry Parker had coffee and a breakfast burrito and more coffee.

Terry Parker tries again to write an entry for his blog, but is still having trouble finding enough interest in anything to write about.

Terry Parker watched “The Crazies” and was pleasantly surprised at what a well-made film it actually is.

Terry Parker decides he should do something productive with his time, and decides to clean his office.

Terry Parker gets sidetracked looking at photos of his kids, but eventually gets the office completed.

Terry Parker folds his laundry.

Terry Parker does yoga in his living room.

Terry Parker showers and dresses and hits the couch for another movie.

Terry Parker thinks “The Hurt Locker” is unbelievably tense and can not imagine being in Iraq.

Terry Parker says a silent prayer for the men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

Terry Parker exchanges more texts with his son, who informs him that they dissected owl vomit in school on Friday.

Terry Parker wonders how the school district was able to procure owl vomit in large enough quantities to allow for student dissection.

Terry Parker prepares his breakfast, lunch, and dinner for tomorrow in an effort to mitigate the pain and hassle of Monday.

Terry Parker checks his e-mail.

Terry Parker tries again to come up with something to write for his blog entry, but is drawing a complete blank.

Terry Parker kills time perusing Facebook, looking at how his friends have spent their weekend–

Terry Parker has an idea.

Fowl Mood

The day had a ninja-sun overhead – the kind where you don’t see how hot it is until it’s too late and the sun is upon you, killing you mercilessly with silent efficiency. I had been grateful for the sunshine after the few days of cold, rainy weather earlier in the week, so it didn’t occur to me to check the forecast – or to even step outside to gauge just how hot it was getting at the time we left the house.

That is how I found myself at the Temecula Duck Pond on a Sunday afternoon, sweltering in the sun as the sweat poured down my face and the traffic screamed by, the drivers oblivious to the fact that I was melting, melting, oh what a world.

No, it wasn’t the hottest day on record, or even the hottest day within the past month. That’s not the point. The point is that I was out at a duck pond at the hottest part of the day, and all of the shade in this otherwise lovely little area was taken: occupied by the winged creatures we were there to see. Nearly every square foot of shade was taken by hordes of lazy birds that apparently didn’t realize they were perfectly equipped to float on the nice, cool water in front of them. Instead, they sat in the shade of every tree around the pond, leaving just one area free for our use.

We were there to feed these ducks. My daughter loves this park, and often when we go out to visit her grandmother, we will take some old bread to the park and feed them while my son climbs various trees. It’s usually a very peaceful and relaxing experience.

Today was different. We arrived loaded with stale bread and expectations that we would be revered as royalty by the grateful masses of ducks and geese and coots and whatever other birds were in residence. We brought a few snacks and beverages for a picnic, certain that this would be a lovely outing in nature on a beautiful October afternoon.  

Instead, we were met with oppressive heat and flocks of disinterested birds who could not have cared any less about us. The only park bench that was in the shade was occupied by some withered old ladies in track suits. All other benches were baking in the sun, and a stroll around the water soon showed us that every tree that provided shade was surrounded by birds resting on the grass. Dozens of feather balls sat immobile beneath the trees, little avian squatters that crowded the land that wasn’t being scorched by the sun. Sure, we could’ve driven the birds out of the spaces they occupied, running through the shade and causing them all to scatter in a flurry of wings and squawks – but who would want to spread a blanket amidst the feathers and other leavings of a bunch of fat city ducks? We walked on by and they cast a bored eye at me as we passed, as if to say, “That’s right, keep on walking, Breadman, nothin’ to see here.”

The only spot of grassy shade was in the very corner of the park, nearest the intersection of two major streets that drove away any hopes of a peaceful picnic. We might as well have spread a blanket out on a freeway overpass.  The pummeling heat made it look like an oasis, though, so I took it without hesitation and spread our blanket in the grass.

Not one to let me rest when I want to, my daughter immediately said, “C’mon, Dad, let’s feed the ducks!”

“Well, don’t you wanna have something to drink first?” I hinted, hoping that suggested thirst might buy me some time out of the sun. It worked, and we all sat down on the blanket.

After getting the snacks and drinks and cooler and family all settled on our little picnic carpet, I took my seat on the corner of the blanket – and immediately discovered that my spot was not actually protected by shade. I looked up and saw the sun shining through a wide gap in the branches of the tree overhead, right down into my face. I sighed, too hot and tired and annoyed to bother moving everything.

“Okay, let’s go feed the ducks,” I told my daughter, and we grabbed some bread and walked out to the water’s edge.

Normally, the ducks swarm the person bearing the bread, descending into an orgy of feathered mayhem as they fight and jockey for position to catch the crumbs flung at them from the land. Normally, I enjoy this activity. Normally, we are out of bread in minutes. Normally, it’s not hotter than the surface of the sun out there.

Today, the ducks didn’t care who we were or what we were offering. They were completely uninterested. We tossed bread out into the water, and the ducks just watched the pieces hit the surface and sink beneath it. Never did they speed to the piece of bread like they usually do. Not once did they fight over which bird would get the morsel of food. At no time did they display any hint of recognition they were being fed. They just floated there in a rain of dried bread and remained completely unphased.

A few took the food. If it didn’t land too far away from them and they didn’t have to exert too much effort to reach it, they’d stick their bills in the water and siphon up the soggy flap of dinner roll in front of them. But most couldn’t be bothered. More than one chunk of bread whacked a duck in the head. Many pieces fell on the backs of the birds and sat there like croutons until the bird moved. Most, however, just landed in the water and soaked it up, turning the dried hunks of bread into ghostly pieces of floating trash that, while biodegradable, looked like dead skin peeled off a sunburn. Our portion of the lake came to resemble a particularly unpleasant bowl of egg flower soup.

I’d eaten too many pancakes at breakfast that were sitting in my belly like a big ball of paste, the heat was making me miserable, and all I wanted to do was lie down in a cool room. The birds didn’t care we were there – why bother staying? I stuck it out as long as I could to allow the kids to get something out of the visit. I busied myself by wondering if anyone ever came here and poached these birds for their barbecue.

I don’t know how long we were there, but it felt like hours. We’d only touched a fraction of the bread we took, and only a few of our own snacks were eaten. Apparently we were as unenthusiastic about eating in the heat as the ducks were. Finally, we gathered up our stuff and headed for the car.

Walking to the parking lot, I saw another car pulling into a space across from ours. A family got out and started up the side walk to the little gate that surrounded the pond. One of them carried a plastic bread bag.

No wonder these birds didn’t eat anything. There is probably a non-stop conga line of bird watchers flowing into this park to dump their leftover bread into the gullets of these ungrateful creatures. I almost said something to the new arrivals heading in with their bread – to warn them that they were bound for disappointment – but I was hot and it would’ve taken too much energy.

In retrospect, I see that the resentment came from unfulfilled expectations – I expected to be adored by the birds, and they adored me not. I see now that it really was a perfectly fine afternoon. But I couldn’t see any of that until later. After a nap. An air conditioned nap.

Tis the Season for Horror and Madness

The lunatic on the street corner should have been the strangest sight of the evening, but he wasn’t.

The show started at 11:00 pm, and we had half an hour to kill after we found parking right on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. I needed coffee because I was out past my bedtime, but in this part of town, there were not a lot of coffee establishments within walking distance. We spotted a pizza place about half a mile down and decided to try our luck there.

Nearing the intersection of Lankershim and Vineland, we passed a bus stop where a man was bent over a bike and talking to himself. I glanced at him so briefly that I didn’t even have time to register anything about his appearance, other than he seemed young, in his twenties. But in that split second that I glanced at him, he looked at me, and I saw the insanity brewing in those eyes. As we passed the spot where he stood, I heard him say, “Don’t fuckin’ look at me.”

The bus stop where this gentleman loitered was right at the corner of an awkward intersection of three streets instead of two, which meant  that the crossing signal would take a long time to change. In other words, we were stuck standing a mere ten feet away from the charming man with the crazy eyes and sunny demeanor.

We kept our backs to him and ignored him while we waited for the light to change and allow us to cross. As we stood there, he muttered and raved and spoke in tongues – or at least it sounded like he was speaking in tongues; my hearing was never stellar, and coupled with the roar of traffic going by, it was hard to catch everything he said. I believe I heard him say something about fucking me up, which was odd because shortly afterward I heard him say something about how nice my ass looked in the jeans I was wearing. While I was prepared to fight should it become necessary, I have to admit it is flattering to be complimented by young twenty-somethings – I mean, it doesn’t happen often at my age.

He went on with lots of swearing and lots of sexual braggadocio – soon he was commenting on the attractive woman shown on the billboard across the street and what forms of sweet love he would make with her – love that involved lots of hitting, apparently. My friend just chuckled and glanced back at the man, and made a comment about demons or something – I didn’t hear what he said, exactly, as I was busy calculating all the different ways this encounter could go wrong.

Fortunately, however, the light changed and we made our way across the busy street and reached the pizza place, where they made a fresh pot of coffee just for us. On our return journey, the madman was nowhere to be found, and I was both relieved and disappointed. It is rare that I encounter actual madness these days, and I admit the thrill-seeker in me was hoping for another glimpse into it.

Our destination was Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre for the night’s showing of “Urban Death”, a performance that, as it turned out, was unlike any live performance I have seen. Entering the building, the smell of incense and candles indicated this was not going to be a typical theater-going experience (as if the name of the show did not indicate this clearly). We were near the end of the line of about forty people who were led in to a very, very small theater – the stage and seating area combined were not much bigger than my living room. We ended up in the back row, but since there were only four rows, it wasn’t really a problem.

The room was entirely black. It was filled with eerie synthesized music from a sound system that had sufficient bass to vibrate my bones but was not overpowering at all – it set the mood perfectly. The only light was a bright lamp in the corner that was positioned behind a mannequin in a red dress, standing with her head slumped to her chest and arms dangling down, her frizzy blonde hair obscuring her features. She looked like a doll waiting to be wound up. The light was filtered through her red dress, casting a bloody glow into the room.

The audience got settled, some going to the far corner of the room where the only bathroom was located. As we waited, a woman went to the four walls of the theater and appeared to be carving something into them. When she finished the wall I was sitting by, I looked at what she did – she had made a little cross in white tape. For a moment, I honestly wondered if it was to ward off evil spirits.

Something caught my attention, and I glanced back at the mannequin in the corner. There was something not right about it. The light was so dim that my eyes were having trouble adjusting, and combined with the eerie music filling the room, the cognitive dissonance was increased. The mannequin seemed like it was changed somehow. Different from when we walked in.

The eerie music continued to set a discordant mood, and the only thing that kept the energy in the room light was the casual chatter of the audience members waiting for the show to begin. I realized that the theater workers were waiting for the remaining audience members in the restroom to finish their business and take their seats.

I glanced back at the mannequin, and she moved slightly but suddenly, as though jolted by an electric shock. The effect was enough to make some goosebumps break out on my arms as I realized that this was no mannequin but a real woman who had been standing in the corner the whole time as the audience filed in. Every half minute or so, she would move in a sudden, slight jerk that seemed like she was being operated by remote control. It was sufficiently creepy to both delight and unsettle me.

As show time neared, her movements got more pronounced and more frequent, until finally, when the last audience member left the restroom and the theater manager slid the giant door closed, sealing us in the black room, the blonde woman in the red dress was standing in a pose that somehow made me think of Lady Gaga on a meat hook.

Then the lights went out, and we were plunged into darkness. For a moment the only things visible were little glowing crosses on the walls, and I realized the woman who was warding off evil spirits was actually posting glow-in-the-dark tape on the walls for the performers to use as some sort of visual guide – for with the lights out, the room was utter blackness. I mean can’t-see-hand-in-front-of-face blackness.

The next hour was filled with vignettes and images that alternated between startlingly horrific, hilariously twisted, and genuinely creepy. If I tried to describe them here, it would likely put you off your lunch, but trust me when I say that the scenes covered the full spectrum of the human horror experience: ghosts and ghouls, axe-wielding psychopaths, witches and monsters, cannibalism, genital-mutilation, things that snatch you and drag you into the darkness, and baby showers.

I found myself jolted in my seat one minute, laughing out loud the next, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up soon after that. I never knew what was coming next – whether it be a laugh or a scream – and the production kept the audience off balance that way. The sound preceding a vignette was often the only indicator of whether the scene would be of the humorous or the horrific variety – and even then, there were no guarantees.

The best moments were the ones that left the true horror to the imagination, and looking back, I realize that what we were actually shown was minimal – my mind provided the rest. In that way, the performance was brilliant. The over-the-top, shock-and-nauseate moments were fun for a Halloween-time vibe, but the moments where we were left to supply our own context were very effective in leaving fearsome images in my mind that stayed with me on the drive home. As a fan of horror movies, comedy, and all things bizarre, this show was right in my wheelhouse. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As we stepped out the theater door back onto the sidewalk, red and blue police lights flashed in the night. Two cop cars and four officers gathered across the street, their spotlights flooding the streetcorner. A bicycle lay on the sidewalk, and a shirtless man was on his knees, hands cuffed behind his back, being questioned by two officers while the other two were inspecting the contents of a backpack.

It was the young man we encountered earlier, the lunatic with the crazy eyes. He didn’t look crazy now, he looked small, and somehow broken. He looked scared.

We walked the other way, to our car. I thought about that man, and our encounter with him, and how my friend mentioned “demons” at the time. The man was troubled, obviously. I thought about the demons he is fighting – demons of addiction, demons of mental illness, demons of a wounded heart. I’ve battled those same demons in my life; I recognize the fear he must be feeling. I have faced that same fear. Maybe that’s why horror stories, movies, and plays appeal to me so much: they are all, essentially, farce. Nothing in a book, stage or screen is as terrifying as the darkness inside a man.