Who needs Halloween this year? Not me! I’ve been wearing a mask and eating candy for months now. And I definitely don’t need to watch any of those special October freak fest movies. I have more than enough reasons for recoiling in horror and wanting to run somewhere and hide just watching the nightly news.
But long before the pandemic and all the nasty, spooky stuff going on out there, I never required a holiday or anything haunted to scare the bejesus out of myself.
“You never saw Alien?” someone asked the other day. Nope. Not at the movies, not on the tube, or on the Disney World ride. Never have. Never will. When it came out in the late 70s, I was still trying to unsee the guy who got his eyes pecked out on The Birds from when I was seven years old. I’d hear everyone talking about how this alien creature “just comes busting out” of some guy’s chest and I was all set. Plus it was back when I was starting to contemplate pregnancy and childbirth. And that was all the busting out I was gonna be able to handle.
Alien and other classic creature features must pale in comparison to the high-tech horror scenes streaming into living rooms these days. I can still only imagine. Maybe I’m some sort of alien myself for avoiding the flicks, while most other folks tune in at every opportunity, choosing to make themselves sweat, shake, gasp, and fear for their lives. I guess I just don’t find cringing on my couch in gut-wrenching terror a particularly good night’s entertainment. Besides, although I spend the bulk of my time living an idyllic lakeside existence, I still suffer through my share of moments filled with dread or apprehension and, by nighttime, I’m ready to settle in with a couple mindless sitcoms.
The adrenaline rush, I suppose, is why people want to watch today’s version of Leatherface buzzing up piles of human kindling with his chainsaw. They get a cheap high when witnessing someone’s dismemberment and their adrenal glands respond by pumping out high-octane juice. But since adrenaline’s real purpose is to boost physical strength—allowing a victim to flee from or fight off an attacker—I can’t help but wonder how it gets channeled through couch potatoes who routinely OD their circuits with terror. If I did choose to watch repeated zombie, creepy crawly, or bloody massacre scenes, wouldn’t I need to put the show on pause, rush out on my porch to scream my lungs out, and come back in for another dose? Wouldn’t I get used to tolerating higher levels of terror, seeking more and more harder core scenes to give me that extra surge of secretions I’d be craving?
No thanks. I’ll be content with hypothesizing about the effects of prolonged make-believe terror. Good thing, because given my baggage and the everyday real life little shocks to my system I manage to pile on, if I watched more than a few minutes of that stuff, I’d end up looking like lakeside Chucky myself! I’m still recovering from all the times in my formative years when televisions were still a novelty and my fun-loving family made me the entertainment: “I told her the UFOs were making the rounds in the neighborhood and our house was next. That got her going!” I never even got a vacation, just a new twist: “Right before dark, I hid behind the outhouse and scratched on it like a big, ol’ bear. She was a couple feet off the ground when she came outta there!” By the time I was 20, my nickname was Fidget. And I checked under the bed a lot.
So, all things considered. I’ve had a steady enough stream of adrenaline coursing through me, thank you very much. A lifetime supply, I figure, administered in various doses by all sorts of jitters and jolts. Here are just a few:
- Motherhood. Raising two wonderful and remarkably well-adjusted daughters has brought me way more joy than trepidation. But let’s face it. From the moment the maternity nurse handed over ownership of my own new life forms—and on through the gauntlet of gruesome possibilities known as the teenage years—I’ve had some fitful nights and more than a few nail biters. Now that they’re grown women, I can breathe a bit easier. Except, of course, when Helen, who worked at the Portsmouth Music Hall, told me she had been perched on a ladder somewhere near the proscenium dome getting ready for a production. Or when Becky, an Outward Bound instructor based in Moab, Utah, reported that she’d be “entering Dark Canyon” on such and such a day, or “down in Desolation Canyon” on another.
- Blinking hard and saying: “Sorry, officer, I understand.” Hasn’t happened much, but once or twice is enough.
- Commuting down Route 128 near Boston. I only subjected myself for short spurts back when I was making a name for myself along the tech corridor, but the flashbacks still give me cold sweats.
- Being audited by the IRS. Before that, the word “fine” meant I was OK and all was right with my world. Not anymore, and certainly not in the context of a cryptic federal document.
- Snakes! The hardest part of living in the woods is that, until you get really close, all sticks look like snakes. And vice versa.
- Watching a pair of loveseats fly out of our trailer on the Maine Turnpike. They were wedged in there with all the logistical expertise that allowed Tom to successfully cart loads up here for more than 20 years. They were a matching set, carefully swathed in bubble wrap to protect their burgundy leather upholstery. Real leather, we were proud to say, to replace a gold tweed recliner and other ancient chairs we weren’t bringing back into our new living room. And they were heavy, built to last…or so we thought until a freakish wind shear reached down like the hand of God and levitated them up and out of our trailer just south of Portland. Thanks to adrenaline-induced superhuman strength, Tom was able to sprint into the center lane and haul the pair of them back over to the side of the turnpike before the next round of semis barreled past. The safety patrol guy that stopped to help said our leather furniture wasn’t the scariest thing he’d ever seen in the middle of the turnpike, but wouldn’t elaborate. When our heart rates returned to somewhere within the range of normal, I told Tom that Flying Loveseats, if nothing else, would make a great name for a punk rock band. Because weird, twisted humor is my go-to, my drug of choice for calming my nerves.
- Hearing a long-eared owl claiming its nightly kill at the end of our driveway. Before we figured out this Rangeley relative of a screech-owl wasn’t a little old lady being ax murdered, we spent some chilling moments out on the porch in our skivvies wondering what it wanted from us. Now there’s a haunting sound that would give any trick-or-treaters brave enough to come out my way a kick butt dose of natural adrenaline!
Happy Halloween! Stay safe. May your treats be abundant and your laughter louder than your screams.