Make your infants weird this Halloween … and be proud of it.

It’s scary sometimes what the internet teaches me about myself.
When just browsing on the web, I try to resist clicking links to the teaser articles that have numbers in their headlines.
You know the types of ‘articles’ I’m talking about:
“7 Oscar-winning actors who started out as slasher movie victims”;
“The 12 greatest horror movies you’ve never seen”;
“8 words about 12 high-calorie desserts from 21 greasy spoon cafes in the American south.”
Before you even click the mouse button, you know you’re in for the old bait-and-switch.
The article will be tucked away somewhere in the middle of a page with confusing directions about how to navigate through it. And no matter where you click the page, you’re all but guaranteed to find yourself on the web site dedicated to the latest revolutionary treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
Speaking of irritations, it is a personal peeve to have to watch an ad before I can watch a movie trailer, which is also known as an ad.
I’m not sure what it says about us, or the internet, that an advertisement can market itself to advertisers. But there are plenty of times I have considered praying for one of Moses’ plagues to fall upon the person responsible for that idea — and a pox upon the Hollywood executive who dares to call that person brilliant.
I wish I could take that moral high road.
After all, this is my column, my personal soap box upon which I ascend to cast an unflattering light on these unscrupulous persons and reveal their obvious lack of shame.
Alas, I cannot walk that road.
I will give myself a bit of credit to recognize my imperfections, my own human tendency to tread the low road.
All it took to remind me of my own shamelessness is when I succumbed to temptation and clicked on a link to one of those infernal internet slideshow articles I complained about earlier: “The Most Hilariously Inappropriate Halloween Costumes for Babies” by Julia Lynn Rubin.
If you have my sick sense of humor, check out the images at blog.petflow.com/inappropriate-baby-costumes.
This article is not nearly the level of bait-and-switch that you get from the more irritating sites like Answers.com, by the way.
But the moment I read that headline, I was hooked as fast as a bass to a nightcrawler.
Oh what sights they had to show:
•A child in a strait-jacket and Hannibal Lector muzzle strapped to a two-wheeler.
• A man in a Jack Daniels bottle costume with his child dressed as a pack of Marlboro Reds.
• A baby girl in a Hooters outfit.
•A child in a Christmas Tree car air freshener costume.
•A child dressed as “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski.
As I viewed these pictures, I had to ask myself: Would I be the kind of parent who would dress my unprotesting infant in a cigarette pack costume for Halloween?
I can’t lie to myself or to you, my trusting readers.

You bet I would – in a flat New York minute.
I’d be the parent staring uncomprehendingly at the school principal while she tried to explain why my daughter’s zombie Cinderella costume probably didn’t need the pulsing veins in her neck.
If I had had four kids, I’d have talked them into dressing as The Ramones from the movie “Rock-N-Roll High School.”
It’s not an easy thing to admit to oneself. But like any good parent, I would have taken credit, and even some pride, for making my kids weird — A cool sort of weird,  mind you.
Especially on Halloween.
And on even deeper reflection, that guy who figured that there are suckers out there whose greed would lead them to drop  good money to advertise on my ads. That twisted individual — if I met him, I’d probably like him.

What’s so “pure” about obsolete?

Josh_column_pic

So last weekend, I drove eight hours north to watch movies at the drive-in.
The Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Penn. sponsors two film festivals a year: The April Ghoul’s Monster Rama and the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, which happens in September.

Click this link. for more information about Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.
I’m a fan of schlock horror movies. The worse, the better … sometimes at least. It doesn’t matter to me if the movie comes from the silent era or in this age of digital graphics – if it has a monster in it, I will find time to see it on the big screen.
And if that big screen happens to be outdoors with a food counter that serves grilled hamburgers, deep-fried dill pickles and ice cream sandwiches – all the better. But the real appeal of the Riverside Monster-Rama festivals was the chance to see several relatively “classic” horror movies including the original “Halloween,” “Carrie,” “Phantasm,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Suspiria,” “The Beast Within,” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” Given the chance to see these movies on the big screen, well, eight hours is hardly what I’d call a major sacrifice.
But there was another unique feature to this festival that made the long distance trek to the drive-in appealing.
The Riverside was one of several dozen drive-in theaters to participate in a contest sponsored by Honda Motors last summer to buy digital projection equipment. The majority of movie studios are no longer going to make 35 mm film reels of their movies. Digital projection technology has taken over the landscape.
Unfortunately, Riverside was not one of the contest winners. They had to buy their own system.
One of the selling points for the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama is the chance to see classic monster movies in their native habitat – the drive-in theater. Another selling point is that most of the movies are original 35 mm prints.
Before I go on, let me explain that there are two types of people who attend events like the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama.
I go to see horror movies projected on a giant screen. I make fun of them a bit and try to one up my friends on our knowledge of obscure trivia about the movies on-screen. I could care less about the medium in which the movie is being projected.
Others go for the nostalgia of watching a 35 mm print projected on a big screen. They like the projector hiss, the clicking sound of the gears in the sprocket holes, the scratches and edits and jumps.
Emma, one of the Riverside owners, called them “purists.”
Having just purchased a new digital projection system, The Riverside decided to show off their exciting new investment by running a high resolution version of “Carrie” and “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” rather than the faded 35 mm print.
The movies looked beautiful onscreen.
The “purists” complained.

Nobody made a federal case out of it. A few simply expressed their wish that that all the movies would be shown in 35 mm – as they were meant to be seen.
This is the point at which the “purists” and I part ways.
On Saturday night, we were treated to an original 35 mm print of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The film debuted in 1978 and the print was original.
Now, I love John Carpenter’s work. He was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and graduated from Western Kentucky University. As a big fan, I’ve made a personal study of his work. He works primarily in the horror and science fiction genre, nevertheless, Carpenter is an accomplished filmmaker. He intended his horror movie, which would be a ground-breaker, to be seen in stark seasonal colors of orange, black and white. Black and white, especially.
The 35 mm print, however, is over 35 years old. Color films fade over time. Halloween was also made at a time when studios used cheaper film stock The night time colors were no longer jet black. They had a reddish hue. The other colors in the movie had faded dramatically.
It looked like an aging 35 mm movie.

And where it belongs is on a shelf. What it is not is the movie Carpenter intended audiences to see.
It’s pointless to debate the subject with “purists.” They are in love with the idea of what movies used to be. But watching a gradually disintegrating image on antiquated technology for the sake of “purity” I think rather misses the point.
For me, though, the thrill of this genre is not watching a product in a sad state of decay.
The digital preserves the integrity of the director’s vision. That, for me, is a purer kind of “purity.”
Regardless of the debate, though, it was a great two nights of movie watching.

The Riverside Drive-In has only started sponsoring these festivals in the last three or four years, but it is paying off for them. People have traveled to April Ghoul’s from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska (friends of mine, actually), Michigan and Maryland (friends) hell, even New Jersey (more friends of mine.)
Emma said that each succeeding event has attracted a larger audience.

Return of the %$&# Ladybugs

We’ve Come Back

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I cannot allow the Halloween edition of this paper to pass without raising the alarm about something truly terrifying. As a horror movie fan, I am familiar with many of the things that fill us with revulsion, feed our nightmares and quite possibly originate from paid government scientists playing in God’s domain.
I had no idea what that terrible thing was until I arrived home last Monday night.
And there they were, waiting on me like the world’s most unwelcome and uninvited annual house guest, one of the things that truly fills me with irritation and dread every indian summer.

The Return of the Asian Lady Beetles.

There were hundreds on my doorframe, daring me to open the front door and allow them their winter holiday in the nooks and crannies of my home.
As a child, perhaps, I may have loved them. I cannot recall. Was there a moment in my past when I had kind thoughts about them? Referred to them with the adoring nickname of Ladybugs?
I’m sorry. I’ve been through too many years of those reddish vermin with their oh so perky little black spots invading my home every year.
Harbingers of luck, some say?
Insects of the Damned! I say.
Resistance is futile. If you don’t let them in – and I don’t – they will find their way inside. It is in this one fact that these beetles exceed even vampires in their capacity for evil.
Vampires cannot cross the threshold of your home uninvited. But these Asian Lady Beetles — Please, these beetles are no ladies — they ease  their way in as if they own the place.
I see them lounging in the warm sunlight of my windows like wintering retirees in Florida.
I am often skeptical of the accusation of government conspiracy as it is applied to, say, alien abduction or water flouridation. But I have definitive, internet-based proof that this invasion is clearly a government conspiracy.
According to the University of Kentucky’s own Department of Agriculture, “During the 1960s to 1990s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to establish the Asian lady beetle to control agricultural pests, especially of pecans and apples. Large numbers of the beetles were released in several states including Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland.”
Of course, THEY then go straight to denial after that: “No such releases were ever attempted in Kentucky, and their occurrence here is probably due to northward migration from other southern states.”
The bold print and italics is their doing, not mine. Isn’t it obvious? THEY have something to hide.
Not only do we have proof of government conspiracy, but clearly this is tampering in God’s domain.
Seriously. How many times have well-meaning agriculture “experts” caused worse havoc by importing non-native species to control other insect pests. In this matter I am prepared to unleash my inner conservative. This is a project that didn’t need to be funded!
Now we pay the price.
My cats won’t eat them. Birds don’t touch them. They’re impossible to crush and leave a foul yellow stench behind.
I called my pest exterminator and he just shrugs his shoulders.
“There’s nothing you can do but vaccuum up the bodies when they die,” he says.
And I am left to surrender my home to these invaders like unwelcome in-laws and check really closely that that little bump on my steak is only a red peppercorn.

The horror. The horror.

A Brief Eulogy for Lou Reed

I am not yet ready to accept that I am of an age where my pop music idols die of natural causes.
Monday morning, I was grieved to hear the news that Lou Reed died at age 71 from liver complications. I have been a fan of his music since high school. Though he was never a major music star, thank God, he was very influential. To hear of his “natural” death – I know, the liver damage was the price of an overly self-indulgent lifestyle – registers on me like a younger friend of mine once reacted to a high school marching band playing 90s grunge rock.
I am not that dang old, yet!
I’m not committing this entire space to a Lou Reed eulogy. I’m a fan of his work but I don’t harbor illusions that I’ll convert others to his fan base. Lou Reed is an acquired taste at best. For the curious, or those with a taste for the off-beat, here is one of my favorite songs.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Eh, we’ll be alright.

Since 2004, I have had this recurring nightmare.

'Cause every little thing ... is gonna be alright.
Family comforts an elderly man.

I am in my house and, though it is completely furnished with my belongings, it is still under construction. I can see open places in the ceiling. The roof has only half its shingles in place, the rest is thin tar paper.
It never occurs to me to question why all my stuff has been moved to this unfinished house. In fact, it’s furnished with nicer stuff than I really own, but the dream is so vivid that I am not quite aware yet that I am dreaming. I just have this mounting anxiety that everything should have been completed already.
And then it starts raining….
Water appears everywhere. It doesn’t even bother to drip. Water streams down from the ceiling, soaking the carpets. It cascades over my appliances. A gentle waterfall washes down from the attic through windowless dormers and over the stairs.
My home and all my things are gone and I experience a momentary sense of despair until my mind reminds me that I’m dreaming and I awaken in my house, which is still standing, with a peculiar sense of relief and unease.
Throughout the construction of my home, I experienced this nightmare frequently. It persisted even after my wife and I moved in. Finally, after a few years, the dream went away.
That is until last Saturday night when it came back forcefully and left me feeling uneasy at about 3 a.m. Sunday morning.
And I know the reason why.
Because of Halloween, October is easily my favorite month of the year. When I thought about what to write this week, I’d thought about sharing the fun side of the month: the haunted houses across the region, the costumes, the horror movie marathons on Turner Classic Movies. Man, I really do love me a good monster movie.
However, after enjoying the early afternoon at the Barbecue Cook Off downtown and being given a preview of Billy and Troy Roberts’ Haunted Barn, I was returning home on Millersburg Pike and came upon a terrible sight. I had admired the Thompsons’ beautiful country home from decades of driving that road, and here it was — utterly destroyed by fire. Both fire departments were parked in the yard and an ambulance was in the driveway. Thank goodness its services were not needed. WLEX-TV even had its news van on site.
Of course, one of my jobs is to cover these things and I make it a habit to have a camera available.
In the course of covering the situation, I realized that the homeowners, Anita and Terry Thompson, were on the premises. I don’t know them, but as I explained before, I had admired their home for many years.  I know that they were shaken and I wanted to express my sympathy.
I had experienced a similar thing years ago in Carrollton. On a Christmas Day, a neighboring family forgot to unplug the lights on their real Christmas tree when they went to celebrate the holiday with relatives. They returned to find their home gutted.
There were tears but the family was young, their insurance was good and it wasn’t long before they were moving on.
That Saturday afternoon was a little different.
I thought about the accumulation of memories contained in that house: the family pictures and portraits, the trinkets that may have had a special meaning for this couple. All those decades stored on shelves or in a drawer – gone. Irretrievably gone.
This was real world horror. In fact, if you read some of the stories in this week’s paper, it was a whole weekend of real world tragedy and horror. The kind of stuff that makes you sigh heavily and wonder….
So it was with some surprise when after I expressed my sympathies to Mr. Thompson, he, with a shrug of his shoulders and a slight tremble in his voice, said “Things are here today and they’re gone tomorrow. We’ll be alright.”
At the moment, I thought it a particularly brave thing to say. That moment would continue to come back to me the rest of the day and the more I thought about it, the more profoundly was I moved by the sentiment he expressed.
I know there was a certain level at which Mr. Thompson had to resign himself to that thought. After all, there was little hope of recovering much from the house.
But I do believe that the more he and his wife said it, and thought about it, the greater their conviction would grow that what he said was the truth.
As I know many people are doing, I pray for this couple to be able to get through this crisis. But within my prayers is the certainty that they have already moved past it in an important way.
There was a powerful lesson in Mr. Thompson’s determination to move beyond what I hope becomes, to them, little more than a temporary setback.
But it’s a hard lesson to learn and I am a poor student at best.
After all, I still suffered the return of that damn nightmare. And somewhere else, a camel just ambled through the eye of a needle.