Sunday, October 29, 2023


My entertainment choices have always tended to be science fiction and horror genres. As I was growing up in the Ohio Valley, I often struggled to stay up late for Chiller Theater hosted by "Chilly Billy" Bill Cardille on Channel 11 out of Pittsburgh, disobeying my parents' wishes by sneaking down to the den where I would adjust the tv antenna so that I could watch those glorious B-movies until the early hours of a Sunday morning.

Nowadays, countless movies are at our fingertips. We can watch anything, anytime and anywhere. And there is just so much to watch: a Golden Corral movie buffet spread over cable, satellite, and internet with slashers, zombies, vampires, robots, and children's dolls wielding knives. 

I have spent most of October dedicating every evening to a "scary" movie. I have my big glass of water, Pez dispensers locked and loaded, and an occasional bowl of popcorn all ready to go in my darkened den. Each night, I search Xfinity On Demand, Prime Video, and Hulu, hoping to discover one gem I have never watched. More often than not, I find myself disinterested in the multitude of indistinguishable choices or watching the first half an hour of a movie contemplating whether or not I had already seen this particular one. 

I just want to recapture that elusive feeling of yesteryear. I want to be that kid waiting until midnight to catch a good scary movie. I long to relive the anticipation of watching something special, a movie that will haunt me forever. And so I dug through my alphabetized boxes of DVDs in search of the one film that takes me back: The Thing from Another World!
To build my anticipation, I let the DVD wait patiently atop an end table in the den for nearly a week. In the meantime, I kept thinking about the movie, reliving all the scenes as they replayed in my memory. What is it about this seventy-year-old movie that brings me back to it year after year around this time? Many critics acknowledge its rightful place in the annals of excellent science fiction. Rotten Tomatoes critics even have The Thing at 87%, certified fresh. But what about me? What do I love about it?

The plot is classically simple. The Thing from Another World is a 1951 science-fiction movie about a research team of scientists and military personnel discovering a flying saucer and a sizeable frozen being underneath the ice in the Arctic. Of course, the ice melts, and the battle between mankind and the unfrozen "thing" ensues.

Nothing elevates the action in a movie than a setting whose presence seems to create a character unto itself. I can experience the frigid cold of Antarctica with the lights out while wrapped in a blanket. Throughout the stark black and white movie, I accompany the research team as they huddle together on a plane, trudge across the icy landscape in sub-zero temperatures, and barricade themselves against the howling winds pounding at the door. Even better, I stand with them on the frozen tundra as part of an incredibly iconic scene in which they spread out in a circle, extending their arms toward one another while crudely creating the circumference of the saucer buried under the ice.

The characters are unapologetically stereotypical. Two groups embody the research team: the scientists and the military. Leading the research team is Dr. Carrington, a pretentious fellow who cares more about protecting the alien attempting to kill them than ensuring the survival of mankind. Carrington's counterpart is Captain Patrick Hendry, the level-headed military man who wants to kill the alien as soon as he realizes it is alive. The philosophical battle is fought through some glorious, well-written dialogue by today's standards. I always found it a really cool kind of party there in Antarctica where everyone smokes and drinks coffee; if only they weren't fighting for their lives and the very survival of the world.

The legendary James Arness, who was Marshall Matt Dillon for 20 years on Gunsmoke, portrays the humanoid "thing," mutely asserting his presence on the screen. Imposing is the only word that adequately describes the alien as he towers above every human he encounters inside and outside the research facility. Doctor Carrington's scientific curiosity over the alien consumes him as he learns more and more about the creature's genetic makeup. While clearly humanoid in appearance, the alien only looks like a person. In actuality, it is more of a vegetable, one that survives on our blood the way we depend on green beans and corn on the cob. A reporter on this adventure comically refers to the "thing" as a "super carrot." 

I know what you are thinking. A carrot? The writers call their own monster a carrot? This sounds stupid. Indeed, there are countless aspects of this 1950s movie that are silly in retrospect. I don't let any of this bother me; I relish the unique quirkiness as something more endearing rather than silly. 

This movie did not have the extravagant multi-million dollar budget that a movie produced seventy years later would have, nor does it need it. I am not here to justify some insightful message hidden in the movie. Nor am I claiming it to be a classic.  

When I rewatch The Thing from Another World, I am simply amazed at its ability to transport me back to an early time in my life, a time when the only worry I had while watching it was whether or not Mom and Dad would flip on the light and tell me to go back to bed before the movie was even over.

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Sunday, October 15, 2023


Five plastic pumpkin heads rested precariously atop my driveway retaining wall. Their eyes squinted in the bright sun of an early October afternoon. A soft autumn breeze whipped around me as I envisioned the plan while shaking a brand-new can of metallic gold paint. With endless time at my disposal, I departed my self-imposed daily routine to recapture fall traditions I may not have ever experienced.

My memories of Halloween fun are limited. I only have two specific memories of Halloween from my childhood. That's odd, right? Neither is particularly interesting, but the spirits have left them to dwell in my mind only to resurrect every fall as the days become shorter.

I remember traipsing around Dimmeydale with my father back when I was a young pup who did not really understand what Halloween was all about. My mother had dressed me up as something, I don't know what. I just remember being so hot. She had wrapped me tight to ensure her little baby did not catch a cold. The horrific part was the cheap plastic mask, the one with two holes for my eyes and a small breathing hole around where my mouth should be. A thin piece of elastic with two metal clips at each end stretched tightly around the back of my little head, holding the smothering mask against my face. I was a mini Jason Vorhees collecting candy instead of murdering troublesome teenagers.

"Dad, I'm thirsty." My father heard my whimpering cries for water. I was so pathetic that Dad was forced to ask a candy-pushing neighbor for a glass of water to shut me up. Dad pulled the mask up atop my head so that I could chug down the refreshing, tepid water. I stood between them as they laughed, finishing the last few drops and breathing some fresh air before Dad slid that infernal mask back on my face as we continued our endless trek through the dark streets of Dimmeydale.

We moved up to Bellovedere when I was 7 or 8 years old. Dad probably wanted to make the move because Bellovedere has one road compared to the multiple interconnecting streets of Dimmeydale. The one street made Halloween so much easier for all of us. Well, except for my younger brother Jim.

My brother had a temperature. Placing the back of her hand against his forehead, Mom declared little Jim was too warm to trick or treat with us. He had cried about not being allowed to go, so I had to carry two bags around the neighborhood, asking suspecting neighbors for some candy for my poor, sick brother, who was too sick to be out on a chilly Autumn night. To this day, I remember standing in front of Mr. Mulroy and uncomfortably begging, "Can I have some candy for my sick brother?" Mr. Mulroy stared down at me like a doubting teacher listening to an errant student proffering a lame excuse about missing homework. He looked from me to my dad, who stood a comfortable distance behind me. Once he had Dad's unspoken acknowledgment that this was not some sort of shady scam, Mr. Mulroy sighed as he begrudgingly dropped an extra piece of chocolate in the second bag. The street was short, but the embarrassment was excruciatingly long.

Despite my childhood angst, I grew into a reasonably responsible adult who abides by fall traditions. When I taught, I would decorate my classroom with warm orange lights from the first of October until Thanksgiving. Every Halloween, I have candy or snacks to hand out to little visitors, insisting they say "Trick or Treat" rather than standing silently with open bags. I will admit I like to buy extra treats, not because I expect thousands of guests; I just want some for myself.

This year, I chose to do something different that takes more effort than hanging some orange lights or buying giant bags of snacks, something crafty and goofy. 

I grabbed unsuspecting pumpkins from the wall and sprayed their insides with gold metallic paint. I felt that tiny rush at the outset of a project; I knew this would be good. I took a can of rustic orange paint to the outer bright orange plastic sheen of the pumpkins and then hung each on a tree branch to dry before I used a utility knife to carve out their eyes, noses, and mouths. As the afternoon October sun slowly faded, I strung my old orange lights through the pumpkins before placing them on and around a barberry shrub near my front door, where the orange lights stuff inside would shine from the eyes of the pumpkins for any passerby to see. 

I tried to think of a name for this display: Pumpkinhead Corner, Pumpkinville, or Land of Pumpkins. None of them worked for me and sounded juvenile. They were silly names. A thirsty little boy in Dimmeydale or even a two-bag candy scam artist may like them, but not a grown-up who is content to just hand out some candy.

Sunday, October 1, 2023


I have a hard time making up my mind. I could be shopping for deals at T.J. Maxx, believing that I have found an incredible buy on some random kitchen item, coffee mug, or, even worse, a candle, none of which I actually need. Imagine life when I have a more significant decision, like rescuing a dog, taking a vacation, or, most recently, retiring from a once-in-a-lifetime career. 

While reading the book How to Retire and Not Die, I followed Gary Sirak's friendly, at times amusing advice and constructed a bucket list. What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? All of that good stuff. At the top of my list was spending more time reading and writing, doing the creative stuff I love. 

I wanted to get back into some daily journal writing. The author of the book makes the excellent suggestion of taking stock of my life daily. I have about four or five unfinished journals in various areas around the house. A couple are standard composition books easily found at Dollar General; others are those neat leather-bound journals on display in a secluded corner of Books-a-Million.

I have a favorite leather-bound one that I had just barely started. I had written ten-fifteen pages worth of entries and then stopped. I had an inkling for over a week to start journaling daily again. The time was right. Of course, I had a dilemma: should I pick up this favorite journal where I stopped four years ago or find another new one, making this a fresh start for me? Of course, choosing a journal is not an earth-shattering dilemma, but it was a decision that prevented me from moving forward.

I remember being captivated by a video I had seen on social media. I rewatched this video countless times before I realized the message I had been formulating in my mind.

The video is simple enough. A small boat full of passengers glides down a watery passageway. A man stands at the back using a large pole to steer the boat. As the boat nears a shallow bridge, the passengers duck to make their way under the bridge while the person steering climbs out of the boat only to stride calmly over it. Once the boat moves from under the bridge, the passengers are amazed to witness the steerer jump back into the boat from the bridge. Short and straightforward. Amazing to watch over and over.

There has to be a message here, a metaphor intertwined throughout the Japanese music and beautiful locale.

In life, we find ourselves floating down our river. We know when the river runs wild and remains smooth and calm. We understand that it may run narrow and wide depending on the opportunities and choices we find in front of us. Often, an obstacle appears in front of us. In this video, it is the bridge.

The boat continues its forward progress as it rides the current. And so, in this situation, the passengers and steerer are faced with multiple choices. They can fight the current by thrusting their hands and the steering stick into the water to paddle against it, perhaps delaying the inevitable collision. They could abandon the boat by jumping into the muddy water to climb to shore. As the passengers do, they could duck down and ride the boat under the bridge. Or they could be the man with the steering stick, crawling over the bridge, walking calmly to the opposite side before jumping back upon the boat as it exits.

Regarding my journal dilemma, I settled on reading my four-year-old journal entries before making any decision. I revisited times when I had many of the same choices as the people on the boat.  

I found those instances when I wanted to prolong the inevitable, hoping that the longer I took to address it, the less sting or pain I would feel. I have had moments when I needed to abandon ship out of self-preservation; I needed a new path, a direction I had never considered. And oh! The countless stretches of my life when all I could do was duck my head and ride under the bridge, praying to God that I would be intact when I reached the other side! But I have had those times when I did what I thought was impossible. I climbed out of the boat and confidently crossed over the bridge, knowing I had what it took to jam the stick in the water and jump back onto the boat on the other side. 

We all have confronted obstacles in our lives. When we look back and consider the person who made the choices we made years ago, we should always do so with kindness and understanding. We didn't know then what we know now; we have grown from our experiences, becoming new and different people.

I left the video publisher there. Thanks, whoever you are.