Thursday, October 31, 2013
Just as I was driving home from an appointment last night, and as it began to rain, my car decided it did not want to any longer cooperate with the lives of men, so it killed the windshield wipers. I picked up my son, Matthew, from where he was volunteering at a local food pantry, and we made it home by the skin of our teeth. We had to pull off every couple of miles to manually brush the water off so that I wouldn’t plow into someone in front of me. This morning I woke up, and in the driving rain I checked and replaced all of the fuses and relays, that looked like they might be bad, from my supply in the garage. I went to check if that worked and then the car wouldn’t start. I thought to myself, not today of all days. It is the worst possible day to be landlocked. I love the rain but today I couldn’t have been more disappointed that it came to visit.
About midday when I was starting to feel like my day was going to be ruined, I got a call from my son, Ben, the one I call Hollywood, who lives in the city. I hadn’t talked to him in weeks. We don’t talk often. We send each other a lot of messages and things to read or look at electronically, but rarely have conversations. When we do they are epic, usually an hour or so. Today we talked about movies, about how he’s doing as a full-time city rat, and about a paper he wrote for an honors class about mixed race and culture that focused on the movie “Blade.” He got an 'A' on it when others in his seminar did not do so well. He told me about the documentary that he is serving as a student intern on. He had good observations and ideas. It was hard not to be the proudest father in America. At one point he said, “It’s Halloween, so you probably have to go. I know this is your big day. Are you going to do what you always do?” I sighed and said, “As weather permits.”
Every Halloween for several years now, I go to great extremes to decorate the outside of our house. There are lighted pumpkins in the bushes, ghosts in the trees, and a crazy animatronic spider on the lawn. I move all the lawn furniture from the backyard to the driveway and light a nice fire in the metal pit I have. I make a mix tape of oldies rock songs like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Dead Man’s Party,” and also some classics like the themes from the Munsters and the Addams Family. “Monster Mash,” is a must. I started doing this when I was working for the consulting firm. The one I had been at for nearly a decade. It all started one night when Ben was young and in grade school. I wanted to go home to see him, to walk the neighborhood with him, but my boss at the time insisted that the budget he was assigned to complete, the one he dumped in my lap as he walked out the door was "e' importante." He was always trying to practice his Italian for his biking trip in Italy. By the time I got home trick-or-treating was done. I went right from the train to pick up Ben from a friend‘s house. He was out of his costume by then. That year he went out as Benjamin Franklin. I saw the pictures and he looked fantastic, but I didn’t get to see him as a founding father in person. As he got in the backseat of the car and I asked him how his day was, he said, “It was great, Dad, I wish you could have been here and seen me.” I put my head on the steering wheel for a minute. I said, “Yeah, me too.” After that I always made sure that Halloween was a long beforehand scheduled day or afternoon off, so I could be with my wife and my children. Even though the children are now in their late teens and twenties, and have their own things to do away from home, I still stick to that. Both of my boys and my daughter have throughout their growing years always taken time to sit by the fire with me and their friends, or now to at least call me. That is why I love this holiday.
I love Halloween because it is one of the few last times before winter sets in when people are out. It is my time to get to know even better the neighbors who used to always think I was ghost because I was never around. They come by my bonfire and sit for awhile. We talk and I like that. Last year one of my neighbors commented on how much had changed in the nearly twenty years we have all lived here. There was a time when the sidewalks were fully occupied by hordes of little kids dressed up as lions, fairies, monsters and superheroes. It is not that way anymore. For the last couple of years people have felt perfectly comfortable leaving a bowl of candy on their stoop and coming down to our house. Each year it has diminished more and more as the kids on our block all grew up. “There might come a time when there is no Halloween on this street anymore,” my neighbor said. I understand the logic of what he said but I thought maybe this year the cycle would change. A lot of our long-term neighbors have retired and started moving away. Their houses are being replaced by young families. When I am working in my garage studio I see a lot people walking their dogs with kids or pushing strollers. I sometimes get visits from tots who want to bring me unusual presents like twigs. I had hope that this year would be one where I would see trick-or-treaters again. Then it rained. Not an intermittent, soft rain, either.
Although I did manage to get the decorations up, many of my neighbors did not bother. There was no fire this year because it was too wet. I found that my Halloween playlist had been blown away in transferring to a new computer. No one was out tonight. The children that are still here in my house either went off or stayed inside eating tacos. My friend, John came by and we talked about a project we’re working on together. He said, “I remember cold Halloweens and even snow, but this is pretty miserable.” I thought, the cycles of Halloween are predicated not only on demographics but I guess also on the weather. Instead of chatting with neighbors this evening, drinking wine and beer, I worked. Aside from talking to Ben, I thought this day was a total bust. Then two things happened.
The first was my new neighbors who just moved in from Seattle brought their little girl, Lockhart, to see me. Lockhart is barely two but she is already the sweetest thing and looked very cute as a bear. We like our high-fives. A little later my friend, August, from further down the street came up to the garage with his mother. August is a smiley little man that I see almost every day with either his mom or his sister when they’re out walking. We cannot talk to each other much because he only speaks Lithuanian for now. His parents are trying to help him be bilingual. They are guiding him into English before he is old enough to go to school but it will be awhile. His mother taught me around five basic things that I could practice and say to him. Every time I speak to him in his language he lights up. Tonight he was dressed as Batman. I said “Labas, August,” He haltingly said, “Hello…Tom!” I put candy in his pillowcase. He gave me a hug and another twig. This one I am keeping in my studio, because it gives me hope for next year’s Halloween, and certainly made my Halloween this year.