Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Memoir

Sometimes it appeared as if every day, or at least every weekend was like Halloween at the Hampton household.

Firstly there was my father's weekly visits to the local ancient warlock Lester, a warlock who lived in a trailer filled with books on Satanism and Black Magick. I was many times forced to stay out in the hot car in the Florida sun, which in November might feel like May; I never knew exactly what was going on in that trailer and somehow I felt I was better off in that car. Merely the sight of Lester's beard, which to me seemed to extend to his knees, was enough to frighten me.

Indeed the whole environment could be quite a scare. All of the colors of shag carpeting and all of those cheap and wretched slick oil paintings of sad clowns at George's house, especially bathrooms in bright shades of peach and bubble gum pink and maroon and rust, and lime and aqua blue and so on were enough to frighten. I had forgotten all of the many thick oil paintings that seemed to cover every bit of wall space at the neighbors. Often at night I would imagine that the figures in the paintings could move or come to life to attack me in my bed. Especially the clowns. There was one painting of Abe Lincoln that was particularly frightful. It was velvet which always seemed to me worse than the oils. It took many decades for me to accept him as a benevolent figure after exposure to that amateur paining of Lincoln. In grade school I would argue with the teachers, "Abe Lincoln couldn't have done all that good stuff. He stares at me late at night and threatens to come out of this velvet painting and molest me".

(This brings up another issue at the time: the ever present threat of the child molester. We were told to trust no male anywhere, especially if in a car.

This warning was actually borne out when, in the middle of midtown Manhattan, an obese man in a minivan circled around me in 1980 with chant "hey little boy you are cute come here come here little boy" over and over like a mantra. I can't imagine with that kind of approach this apparent pedophile got many results. I just laughed at him while running in the other direction).

Secondly there were the cheap horror movies that played with abundance for in the buck a movie theater. All the ads you see in the blog above I probably saw.

Last, but not least, me and my best friend George, under the doubtless diabolical influence of my father, got the idea of acting out stuff. Somehow my father developed a taste for imitating the most evil figures he could come up with and playing games with us kids based on such villainy. I believe he was either a vampire of some kind, or worse a slasher serial killer. When he was the vampire he would wear fangs and a black cape and come out from behind bushes to bite our throats.

But it was when he was a killer that dad went far beyond what in our jargon addled contemporary culture we would call boundaries. He had this toy rubber knife and he would hide in the cavernous plant where our products were created and jump out at us like a crazed killer, "stabbing" us with that rubber knife. Though it was a kind of make believe, that rubber could really hurt and my father showed no mercy in his attacks. When we closed our eyes we could almost feel as if he had transformed or become possessed by the spirit of a crazed killer.
We had the perfect environment for hide and seek games because the plant and other buildings in the area were highly industrial and filled with all kinds of shadows at night. It was never clear to me then nor is it clear now what to feel about any of this acting. It seems as if our only role was to play victim and protect ourselves from getting killed which was a futile effort when faced with someone twice your size with a rubber knife.

Between all of these antics and having to perform the magic shows you can understand if my tastes now run towards, shall we say, the realistic, the less than fantastic.

It was worse after the distribution of The Shining because the Jack Nicholson character was a real inspiration and my father would basically "imitate" that character with us boys "cast" in the role of son Danny running for our lives. There was a real relish in the most macho kind of sadism here. To this day I am most sensitive to any kind of cutting imagery in cinema. I have a horror of broken glass as well.

Then there were the events in the neighborhood that seemed a kind of natural horror. There was the little girl who seized my balls forcing me to the pavement.

And then there were the stories. There was the slick used car salesman who sold my dad our beloved red thunderbird convertible with the white vinyl top: a salesman who, in his leisure time at home got mad at his television and took an imposing shotgun and essentially blew up the television set: one of those huge Magnavoxes with the knobs. His story always changed. When he was sober he would say he shot up the television because he was mad at Phil Donahue because Phil Donahue was not "family oriented". (His words). When he was drunk, which was considerably more often, he said he shot his television so as to spare his wife. His wife eventually left him for fear that she would be next. (Her words)

And of course the kinds of Christians who were always coming around to preach and tell their stories had a rather Gothic kind of Christianity as the emphasis was always on Satan and Satan's deeds, and the condition of Hell, and who was going to Hell and who wasn't and so on.

It did not help matters that my father's relatives would come over and talk of demons and demon possession. Certain rules were made very clear. Right before a visitation by a devil or demon you would hear a distinct sound like a hammer or anvil. How often I would lie sleepless in my bed listening for that sound, whether I "believed" in such things or not.

It was rumored too that the rock band that practiced across the street were devil worshippers. Everybody in the neighborhood said so. They would play all night into the night; their music was so out of tune and sluggish, so warbled and incoherent I often wondered if I would ever develop a taste for this weird kind of music called rock with which everybody around me was so enamored.

My uncle the preacher would invariably visit my father and always ask him: "have you done any more thinking about (thumb pointed downward) up there and (thumb pointed skyward) DOWN there?" with a gleeful smile, all the while tapping his foot in a most arrhythmic manner, a nervous tic, while too, his children would proceed to dismantle our house while their father complained that he could not treat those boys because "where we are we haven't got a proper Christian pediatrician." (At the time I honestly didn't know what this saying met. Up there and down there? Why, of course, it is Heaven and Hell. What else?) You will recall that in this subculture, since then now part of mainstream culture, everything had to be Christian, whatever that meant. There was Christian dentistry and Christian agriculture, and Christian music and Christian schooling, and for all I know, Christian legislature. How little I knew then that these folks would only grow in influence.

Because of all this and more, I do not remember a single Halloween.

Fear has such a bad reputation in our current cultural moment. It is viewed as an illusion, as groundless, as something to be overcome so that we may be better people. No sentiments could be further from the truth. Groundless fear may be a problem, but there are some things in life that are best to be avoided.

1 comment:

  1. Fear was a prominent feature of my childhood also and I think ultimately it helped make me stronger. Thanks for sharing your experiences.