ca. 2020

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“Voting Booth” by Sam Felder CC-BY-SA 2.0

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

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Spring Whispers

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“Deptford in the Snow: Flowers” by Caroline CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

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“Cottonmouth 1” by DMangus, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

Going All-In on David Pumpkins

David_S._Pumpkins_dance

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.”)

Mass-Produced Novelty

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.

Any questions?

The Way Things Go

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“Tetherball,” image CC0 Public Domain

Who was it that gave me the impression
That things are supposed to go a certain way?
The episodes of life, it seems, just happen
I often feel I can’t affect the day

It’s tether ball with near infinite players
I am but one, and my attempts so lame
To change the shape the path the ball follows
Won’t be missed once I have left the game

And yet I seek the solace of the tether
In metaphor as well as day to day
And to the thought remain stubbornly fettered
That things are supposed to go a certain way

Spiked and Marked

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Left behind detritus
Of an ephemeral empire
Melted into concrete
Beneath foot and tire

Scattered little crosses
Relics for the spare
Discarded and forgotten
Beneath a blinding glare

What now of the actor
Who seems lost to the void
Who once stood on that spike
Beneath super-cardioid

Melted into the city
An ephemeral bazaar
Left behind detritus
Beneath ascendant stars

What 100% Means

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Wayne Gretzky by kris krüg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Thus spaketh The Great One, an inspirational quote that holds much power in its brevity. And yet, there is a depth to Wayne Gretzky’s wisdom that we don’t often think about. Let’s look at the numbers.

894

That’s how many goals Gretzky scored over a legendary career in the NHL. 894 is a tangible number. Our evolved monkey brains have a hard time visualizing large numbers, but 894 is not so large we can’t get a sense of what it means.

No doubt about it, many of those goals approached the Platonic Ideal: clean breakaway, beating the netminder. But how many were odd bounces? The puck hitting a defenseman and slipping in? Greasy goals? Goals that were shot by another player, but just happened to deflect off of Gretzky’s stick before going in? We remember the perfection, but you don’t get to 894 by being perfect every time.

1,963

More than twice the number of goals Gretzky netted is his number of assists. Gretz could have just as easily said, “Your teammates miss 100% of the goals you don’t set them up for.”

Gretzky had a crisp pass, and the hockey IQ to know when to use it. He didn’t have to be the rockstar every time. When your entire team is working toward the same goal, you all share in the victories, even when someone else takes the ultimate credit.

17.57%

The man who, to this day, holds or shares 61 NHL records is way down at number 44 on the NHL leaderboard for shot percentage. 82.43% of the time–5,090 shots on goal–he didn’t score.

And that doesn’t take into consideration shots he took that don’t register as shots on goal: blocked by a defenseman, hit a post, went wide. If you only focused on the misses, excluding all the goals and assists, you could easily think of The Great One as The Great Loser. Crazy, right? We do it to ourselves all the time.

100%

The full quote is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, even though there is only a 1-5% chance of scoring.”

Success can be greasy or quirky; the result of error or a weird bounce. Success may not even be your own, but the “loose change” a teammate knocks in.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful 100% of the time. Your shots may be swallowed up by a threshold guardian who stands between you and success. Your shots may go wide. The fact is, you will fail more than you succeed. We all will.

That doesn’t mean stop trying.