My Favorite Thing in the World

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Back when my daughter was, I think, five years old (maybe six), my wife put together this black, construction-paper house (and drew the flower on it, perhaps thinking my daughter would make a ‘cute’ haunted house).  And, while I find it completely adorable, my daughter’s version of a haunted house did her horror-fan dad proud.

house witch cat pumpkin mummy

The witch that inspired one of last year’s decorations, along with a black cat, jack-o’-lantern, and sarcophagus.

As a teen, the kid didn’t want me putting the haunted house out on display year after year, but grudgingly allowed it, so long as it went back in storage with the other Halloween decorations as soon as November hit.  Then, one year while getting out the Halloween decorations, I couldn’t find the house.  I feared that the kid had tossed it, in the same way she had gotten rid of other things she deemed embarrassing during her teen years.

house mummy drac wolf

The flowers, along with the mummy emerging from the sarcophagus, a werewolf, vampire, and a bunch of vicious little roof monsters.

As it turns out, the absence of the haunted house was merely due to the complete mess that is my workshop.  It had somehow gotten knocked to the floor and shoved up under a storage shelf, plywood blocking the house from view.  I went through two Halloweens, not realizing that it wasn’t lost forever, only misplaced.

house red guy

Another view of the witch, cat, and jack-o’-lantern, but with a spider, a version of Frankenstein’s monster peaking out the door, and what I’m assuming is some kind of murdering fiend.

When I finally found it, I was overjoyed. I ran into the house and showed my wife, telling her how I thought it had been lost forever, but it was just lost for a very long time. I’m not sure she understood how excited I was, because “overjoyed” for me is usually just mildly obnoxious–well, mildly in my book at least.  It was a little beat up, as might be obvious from the photos, but in much better shape than it might have been, given the recklessness with which I had treated it.

New Witch

The witch that the house built–or at least inspired.

I got my daughter, emerging from the height of teenage embarrassment at the time, to agree to let me keep the haunted house permanently displayed on the mantle, just to the right of the TV, so, well, it’s at least in my peripheral vision for a while each day.  And so I don’t have to worry about it getting lost in my poorly-organized workshop.

Happy Halloween!

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MY DOWN-TIME IS TOO GOAL-ORIENTED, PART I: HALLOWEEN

So, when I started this blog, the idea was that I would post a minimum of once per week, more if possible.  And I would keep the posts to roughly 500 words or less, so they’d all be punchy and fun, and not take up too much of anybody’s time.  Well, none of those goals have been achieved, but I’m okay with that.

Right now, the big obstacle to me posting anything, aside from my two jobs, the general stuff of life, and having started several posts that I couldn’t work out the way I wanted, is that I am deeply involved in my annual race to make a mess of the house and yard before Halloween.  Yes, I’m one of those people–well, one of those make-a-mess-with-a-Halloween-display people, not one of those, run-a-highly-involved-haunted-house people, although I’ve come close to that in the past.

Immediately prior to our current home, we lived in a house that was perfect for a tour around the yard, and I knew all the neighbors and most of the kids who came around.  But the first year after we moved, I tried to carry on that tradition by setting up part of our display around back in the fenced-in part of the yard.  Let’s just say that when I opened the gate to the backyard for the first two girls who came trick or treating, the fear was palpable—and not in a fun, trick-or-treat kind of way, but in an “I’m-sure-mom-told-us-not-to-follow-any-creeps-into-their-backyards-oh-god-I-hope-we-don’t-get-murdered” kind of way.  It didn’t help that my daughter had disappeared right before the girls rang the doorbell, truly making me look like some lone weirdo.  And I think I was wearing butterfly wings and antennae that year—leftovers from my wife’s costume the year before.  I didn’t, ahem, lead any more kids into the backyard that night, or ever again.

At any rate, I’ve been doing some version of Halloween mess-making since my high school years, a legacy from my older brothers, although my college and early-20s versions were a much different variety of mess.  Now, along with the help of my daughter, and the tolerance of my wife, I have been converting over to entirely homemade decorations.  And not just homemade, but old-school, paint-on-plywood, 2-D creations designed by my daughter and me.

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We’ve been angling away from the hyper-realistic latex-and-gore stuff that is everywhere these days, and toward more cartoonishly creepy decorations.  The other day I mentioned to my daughter that I was going to get rid of one of our old, store-bought decorations, “Stillborn Evil”—a weird baby-in-a-jar with horns, hair, and a tail, which we’ve had since 1996 or so.  When she asked why, I emoted, “Tracking down this kind of stuff used to MEAN something, man!  You had to know the cool stores, and the cool companies to order from!  Now any knob can walk into a Spirit Halloween Store, or go on eBay and find this kind of stuff without even trying!!”  I added that I really didn’t have anywhere to display it properly, and it didn’t fit in with the decorations we were making.

In typical fashion, my daughter nodded, continued applying primer to a sheet of plywood and said drily, “We could keep it in the kitchen.”  She also suggested leaving a latex severed head in a random person’s front yard rather than trying to unload it on Craigslist—not a bad idea, although she decided it would be better to leave it in one of her friends’ yards.  I may just give it to one of the teens who come by trick-or-treating.

As for the mental health component of this post…it’s important to have projects and traditions and things to look forward to, and to find some way to be engaged in the community.  Such elements of life can make you feel good, too, so long as you don’t get too frantic with trying to meet obligations that nobody is really putting on you but yourself.  I’d go into more detail, but I’ve got too much work to do.

So, anyway, the whole Halloween thing is just one more eternal project, never finished, always evolving, only with a built-in yearly deadline.  Every year I imagine I’m going to get out ahead of all the projects and have things done weeks in advance, as if I would ever stop tinkering with and trying to expand the display until the last minute.  And every year I mess around with trying to decide on designs until two weeks before Halloween, when I frantically try to plough through more work than I can possibly finish.  But the impending holiday forces decisions, and sets a stopping point.  Occasionally, the unfinished projects of one year yield a design that I can start with the following year…two weeks before Halloween when I finally make myself get down to it.

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