Note: I was digging through old drafts last night, and found these song lyrics in an untitled document from January 2014. I’m not sure what exactly inspired these words, but at that time I was in my third month of unemployment after being laid off from a dream job. Safe to say I wasn’t feeling great about the world.
Moon is high, mercury low
Cars fly by the end of my nose
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
Heard a noise somebody made
Nowhere to hide, feeling afraid
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
I only look like roadkill
In fact I’m feeling quite well
But I’m gonna stay oh so very still
While hoping you go along to hell
Biding my time, biting my tongue
Don’t want to fight, no strength to run
I’m playing possum in the middle of the road
Last night’s garlic
Lingers on my fingers
Along with the ginger
I minced without a care
I knew that the morning
Would find a reminder
Of the garlicky meal
Together made and shared
Now it’s tomorrow
And I recall it all
Content, but not as sated
As I was by last night’s fare
The boring, unglamorous work of screenwriting
Seems, to me, a fitting metaphor for being human.
The bits and pieces of ideas, snippets of dialogue,
Coalesce into a rough draft. Notes from trusted eyes
Clean up the zealous, adolescent narrative
And over time we’re ready to present the “White Draft.”
Decisive black letters on crisp white paper.
But as the demands of production come in,
As roles are cast and locations secured,
As the dialogue between writer and director continues,
Pages are rewritten.
To make things easier, only the edited pages are replaced.
As this process continues, if you follow the WGA pattern,
You wind up with a sheaf of rainbow-colored pages
(At least metaphorically, since no one prints on cherry-red paper)
Clunky dialogue is replaced.
Leaps of logic, cleaned up.
Plot holes, filled.
Extraneous nonsense, removed, replaced by all-caps OMITTED.
But many early words are retained. The heart of the story, retained.
Every now and then, you see a finished movie
That clearly needed another draft.
Every now and then, a page-one rewrite is called for.
Sometimes a screenplay goes into turnaround,
And new partners are found to work with.
But here’s where the metaphor breaks down:
Most screenplays don’t benefit from change.
They gather dust in a pile of other abandoned screenplays
Or worse, are tossed in the trash, forgotten, irrelevant.
While the ones that get made are forever fixed in one form.
That’s not you. That’s not me.
There are further revisions to be made.
Further revisions are being made, all the time.
What pages are you on?
When you look back along
The road from which you came
To glance back at the fork
Where once you made a choice
And then continued on
What do you hope to see?
An echo of yourself
A distant shadow there
Or just your footprints etched
Silent, stopped in place
As once you were yourself
Considering your choice
Perhaps there’s nothing there
The fork lost in the mist
As lost as you feel now
But didn’t feel back then
As you made up your mind
And onward, took a step
It follows me, a reeking shadow full of blight
I feel it as it skirts around just out of sight
Its disconcerting footfalls echo without rest
In syncopation with the pounding ‘neath my chest
Forever taunting, haunting me, close in its chase
I try to face it but I cannot see its face
When darkness comes and I retire to my room
In shadowed corners, lingering, I feel it loom
A quiv’ring fear gives way to reckless courage drawn
My eyes spring open–turn to face it–find it gone
Its shallow, rattled breathing I can still discern
And lay awake all night lamenting its return
My constant dark companion gives me no reprieve
Refusing to be seen, persistently to cleave
I cannot know its true form nor can trace its frame
I know nothing about it but its wicked name
And ‘til it leaves me terror-stricken, lying prone
What endless horror stalks me so, but the UNKNOWN
Lie to me
So I can vote for you
Make your plea
Why should I follow you?
It’s your choice
What do you want to do?
Shut me up
Or open up my view?
Tell me straight
Just what you’ll do to me
Lock me up
Or dare to set me free
If you lie
Please make it sound so sweet
I can feel
I’ve won, though in defeat
Winter with her lonely air
Coldly scolding us inside
Sighs her last as Spring so fair
Hints arrival by and by
Warmly whispers, “it is nigh”
Soon the flowers, soon the rain
Mossy earth, and trees redressed
Longer days to Summer train
Hatchlings singing in their nest
Life’s green glory full expressed
Whispers fade, and cold winds blow
Winter still, her claim in hand
In her threadbare shrug of snow
Makes a final stoic stand
O’er the frigid, sleeping land
The Old Junk Room
Grandpa closed the door,
and shooing me away
said, “Stay away from there.
“That room’s no place to play.”
Musty, junk-filled room,
where dusty webs and grime
and shapeless piles loomed,
just begging to be climbed.
“There are snakes in there,”
he said, and he would know.
He smiled, roughed my hair,
“Now off to bed you go.”
Scrambling into bed,
mere feet away from it,
that room so filled with dread,
I hid ‘neath Grandma’s quilt.
No attic for the junk,
no storehouse for the heaps.
Against the room I shrunk,
fearing slithering creeps.
Yellow porchlight poured,
through curtains hanging slack,
across the thin wood door
that held the serpents back.
What evil, out of view,
with belly to the floor,
would silent slither through
the gap beneath the door?
Drowsy from the day
In bed while nightmares crawled
I slept, which is to say,
I didn’t sleep at all.
I was slow to the David S. Pumpkins party. I haven’t really watched an episode of Saturday Night Live in at least a decade, finally succumbing to that stage of life where you find yourself tut-tutting, “the show isn’t as good as it used to be.” I don’t know these kids on SNL, and damn are they annoying. (I’ll be yelling at a cloud next.)
I was in a burlesque show with my wife, a tribute to the great Tom Hanks. All Tom Hanks-inspired acts. My wife and I did a little duet inspired by The ‘Burbs. This was one of the last shows we did in Los Angeles before the big move, in February, a decidedly un-Halloween time of year.
The last act of this particular show was typically an improvised striptease to a randomly chosen song. This time, they sprung David S. Pumpkins on the unsuspecting crowd. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how they pulled off a striptease version of David S. Pumpkins, and I’d hate to deny your imagination the chance to run with the concept. All I can say is, it was baffling and hilarious.
Naturally, the wife and I immediately searched out the clip of David S. Pumpkins from SNL. It was as baffling and hilarious as we could have hoped. Later that year, SNL broadcast the animated David S. Pumpkins special, and we were in stitches for days. Reviewers were not so kind to the special, but I sincerely hope it becomes a holiday staple. (Ironically, the chief complaint seemed to be that SNL went “all-in on David Pumpkins.”)
Why my devotion? Because David S. Pumpkins is the embodiment of everything wrong with Halloween. Whether intentional or not, Bobby Moynihan, Mikey Day, and Streeter Seidell created a scorching satire of the over-trendiness of Halloween. It’s always been a commercial holiday, at least as long as I’ve been alive, but sometime around the turn of the millennium, Halloween became truly manic.
Halloween became blowing out your house decorations with “Hollywood” special effects, sexy version of everything costumes, Spirit Halloween Stores popping up like toadstools after a rainstorm, and the haunted house mazes–MY GOD THE HAUNTED HOUSE MAZES!!!
And yet, with all the mania, there is a certain generic quality that has creeped in. I think it started before the 2000s. From the late 70s into the 80s, filmmakers gave us idiosyncratic icons of horror. Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Chucky, Killer Klowns. They had their own verisimilitude, and a commitment to high concept that sometimes defied any attempt at logic.
1996 rolled around, and Wes Craven, one of the great filmmakers of that movement towards whimsical horror gave us a new nightmare: Ghostface of Scream. A boogeyman born from an off-the-rack, unlicensed, generic halloween mask. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant. Scream is brilliant. But, it heralded the place we find ourselves today, where the same person who begged their parents to help them make a dinosaur costume in the 80s can casually drop $60 at Walmart for an inflatable T-rex costume.
I hope this doesn’t come off as cynical. I do adore the absolute nonsense that lines the racks this time of year. I can browse a Spirit store for hours, marveling at the quality of the wares, and the assortment of costumes and props both licensed and clearly not licensed while obviously that thing from that show everyone knows. I also never get tired of sexy version of everything costumes.
As much as I adore the novelty, it’s a mass-produced novelty. Novelty in bulk. Penn Jillette once opined that “Halloween is for amateurs.” He’s not wrong. At the same time, “amateur” literally means “someone who does something for the love of it.” Love is good, and I would never look askance at those who are enjoying themselves.
The Spirit of Party City Halloween
I do reserve the right to find Halloween mania ridiculous, however, and in David S. Pumpkins, I have a new sort of idiosyncratic icon. This icon is born of the mass-produced novelty that has sanded off Halloween’s edge. He has no carefully crafted backstory. He’s his own thing, man. His motives are inscrutable. His sidekicks are “part of it.” He is the spirit of Party City Halloween.
Pumpkins and his two skeleton friends are as off-the-rack as you can get, like amateurish, postmodern descendants of Ghostface. They fully commit to the gag in a way reminiscent of the transcendent scenery-chewing you could rely on from Robert Englund. The anti-humor of Pumpkins is an echo of the absurdity of 80s comedy horror, from the Evil Dead flicks to Killer Klowns. By somehow bridging the gap between bespoke horror and mass-produced novelty, David S. Pumpkins is also the embodiment of everything right with Halloween.
He can be enjoyed ironically and unironically at the same time. It’s a joke we’re all in on– that might not actually be a joke. It’s ephemera of substance. A straightforward paradox. I’ve gone all-in on David Pumpkins.