25 October, 2010

Halloween in the Hoosegow

[This post, as well as four others from The Pariah's Syntax, was selected by the editors of Meridian, a semi-annual literary journal from the University of Virginia, for publication in their twenty-seventh issue, in May 2011. The other posts to appear in that issue were "On the Scarcity of Toilet Paper" "Only A Fleeting Thing," "In Memory of Monuments," and "Joe." But just because you can read them here doesn't mean that you shouldn't order a copy from Meridian's website, thereby supporting the kind of publication daring enough to print such writings as these.]
There are only two things about Halloween I don't like. One is that it only gets celebrated one day each year. The other is that some people think it's acceptable to give out wax lips to trick-or-treaters — it isn't. As to the former, someone in a position of influence needs to institute Halloween as a bimonthly event. I suspect such a practice would work well for everyone. Since it is just an annual thing, though, I'm compelled to milk every minutely spooktacular moment for all it's worth. Even in prison.

Years ago, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, I made a pilgrimage to the local mega-drugstore for industrial-sized bags of generic candy corn. (As if there were such a thing as name-brand candy corn!) It seems mid-autumn is the only season US candle manufacturers see fit to add sugar to their mix and rebrand it as something edible. Yes, I realize the paradox of acknowledging the vast undesirability of candy corn while simultaneously, as I am now, salivating for it. Can anyone supply a hypothesis as to why this is? Could it be something Pavlovian about the familiar tricolor cones, conditioned within us from a young age? Or is it some deep evolutionary cause the makers of that waxy deliciousness willfully exploit? All I know is that I would eat them until my tongue was raw.

Scary movies were another tradition for me. The week before Halloween always found me screening the favorites, both creepy and corny, that I considered synonymous with the Eve of All Hallows, from The Night of the Living Dead to The Nightmare Before Christmas, from Bram Stoker's Dracula to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, from Universal Studios' masterful Frankenstein to Mel Brooks's mocking Young Frankenstein. My living room was a tomb, bathed in eerie television light, from which the most godawful sounds emerged to haunt the neighbors' dreams... like the songs of Shock Treatment, the 1981 follow-up to Rocky Horror.

On the day — or, rather, the night — itself, there was always a costume for me to don, always an event for me to attend, always a fantastic escape from the quotidian day-to-day, until dawn at last eased itself up from the horizon and drove me back to my lair, like the ghostly Count in Nosferatu.

The rising sun hasn't driven me westward in a long time, but I still make Halloween a special event. There are enough shockingly nonnutritious foodstuffs available from the prison canteen that my compatriot in Halloween fandom and I can splurge every year on milk chocolate and jellybeans. These sweets carry us through the marathons of horror flicks that air on basic cable, which we watch wide-eyed and poorly postured — zombified, if you like — on our bunks, surrounded by empty bags of M&Ms and microwave popcorn.

We don't stop at candy. Between the two us us, we split a couple of full-size bags of tortilla chips. Both get smothered by three pounds of pinto beans, a half-pound of cooked summer sausage, nearly a pound of spicy nacho cheese, liberal applications of picante sauce and ranch dressing, an entire freshly diced onion, and, not to overdo it, a gentle scattering of sliced Spanish olives.

This ghoulish helping of elaborate nacho-feasting is our consolation for missing out on all the apple-bobbing fun you people are having out there without us. When you're so full it hurts, it's hard to feel too awfully upset about life's injustices.

Of course, it is possible that even an enormous portion of spicy junk food won't eliminate the bitterness completely. For these situations we reserve the nuclear option: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. No melancholy I have yet known can withstand this tag team of simple joys.

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