I love this time of year. Even living in the Bay Area, where the changes of season are so subtle that they don’t seem like changes at all. I play a game in my mind: Drop me anywhere around San Francisco — blindfolded and ignorant as to the actual date on the calendar — and I seriously doubt I’d be able to divine the month to which I’ve been transported. No telltale “fall foliage” to speak of. No markedly lowered air temperatures. This could be April or August or January, really, let alone two weeks before Halloween. So over the past two decades in California, I’ve learned to mark the autumnal Halloween season by manufacturing my own signals.
The other day, I dragged out from hiding our blue plastic bins with the curled masking tape bearing “HALLOWEEN” in faded marker (written, by the way, in a hand I don’t recognize as belonging to anyone in my immediate family, which is disconcerting). These important boxes have collected only a year’s-worth of dust in the corner of our garage, but in that year I have totally forgotten the details of my Halloween Decorations Master Plan. Fortunately, I can now lean on my 12 year-old’s increasing powers of recollection when it comes to how many red-eyed ghouls are to be hung in the vines of the rose bushes in the driveway, where the styrofoam tombstone with the “RIP” fits and where the styrofoam tombstone shaped like a cross fits, and how many lengths of purple plug-in patio lights are required to generate the proper creepy hue in our upstairs patio.
We have made our annual pilgrimage up and over to the Noe Valley novelty store that stocks the ceramic Halloween Village pieces we have accumulated over the years. By now, fully three good-sized shelves in our living room and dining room feature a Witches Brew Pub, a Screamville carnival attraction with a terrifying raspy-voiced clown’s demented rants on a loop, a Road Kill Grill operated out of what appears to be a filthy, old, converted school bus, and a Hemoglobin Blood Bank. This Bank is one of the recent additions, and I just noticed that it has two 50-gallon drums positioned near the front of the stairs which purport to contain “Jumbo Leeches.” Every year when we visit, the novelty store owners make noises behind the counter about how the Halloween Village company will soon stop making all of these pieces that I count on to mark the season. The store owners will be fine (they have tons of socks with swear words and silicone kitchen gadgets and cute little dog leashes to pay their rent); I will be lost without this yearly tradition.
And I think the store owners were serious this year, too, because they had a stack of Village pieces piled on a card table on the sidewalk in front of their store. Historically during this shopping trip, my wife and I demonstrate for our children important, time-honored principles of patience and discipline. We roam the aisles and slap reaching hands, lecturing a little bit about how good things come to those who wait, and so forth. This year, however, we descended on Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles like a pack of wild dogs. We bought just about every single damned one of those Halloween Village pieces. Some of them I didn’t even really like. The “Into Our Hands” horse-drawn mortuary stage coach doesn’t even have lights that flicker or the sounds of horse hooves clomping or anything. Nevertheless, it took 3 people to schlep all the boxes to our car, and our car’s trunk gobbled them up (the boxes, not the people).
And by now we’ve sent out the Paperless Post digital invites for my, I mean, my son Everett’s annual “Backyard Graveyard” Halloween Party. The backyard is not a big one, so the guest list is severely restricted to just a handful of his classmates. But the party-set up will not be severely restricted by anything. No sir. I will spike a dozen strobe lights scattered around so that the entire yard appears to be on fire. I will plug in a fog machine, fill it with fog machine fluid, and trigger period eruptions to “oohs and aahs.” I will do this even though the dog will go crazy and try to bite the fog machine. I will assemble a 15-foot high movie screen tethered to our wooden fence, one side of which is leaning so precariously that a local fence company is on call to install some emergency fence support posts. Assuming the movie screen doesn’t catch a gust of wind and collapse our fence before it is emergency-supported, I will project on that billowing screen a movie that is suitably horrifying for a gaggle of 12 year-old boys (who think they are up for a horrifying movie and even insist that they are but I know they really aren’t).
I should add that I had planned on the traditional “Bobbing for Apples” activity (partly because the really nice silver champagne bucket we got from Pottery Barn otherwise sees pretty much zero action). But Everett — who has been studying biology at school via a unit on germs one encounters every day — put the kibosh on the bobbing this year. He pointed out that boys repeatedly plowing their heads into a bucket of water and chewing and spitting apples is probably a good way to pass germs back and forth. I can’t argue with this, so I’ll need to come up with some alternative activity to fill the gap between carving pumpkins and watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (I’m just kidding about the “Chainsaw Massacre.” I mean, I think it’s based on a true story, but we will not be watching it. At least not this year….).
I know that at some point, our still-growing Halloween Village will contract. Our faux granite tombstones will not lie scattered about our driveway bushes. The most recent edition of “Master Everett’s Backyard Graveyard Party” will be the last one. No more fog machines. The kids will lose interest. Or my wife will grow weary of playing this game with me every year when Halloween Month rolls around. Or maybe she or I won’t be able to muster the courage to ascend the step ladder and teeter on its top step in order to pull the Village pieces and hanging ghouls from the storage closet’s high shelves.
Thinking about the day when I can no longer mark the season this way is terrifying; far more frightening than any jump scares my fog machine and red-eyed driveway ghouls could deliver up. But today is not that day. So in the meantime, I’m gonna belly up to the Road Kill Grill. I hear the “Rack of Rodent” is rather fresh today.
Happy Halloween. And thanks for reading.