Tricks and Treats
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Trick or treating was hugely popular in my neighbor-hood (the Elmwood Village section of Buffalo) when I was growing up. My street- Anderson Place- was a solid middle-class collection of families, many with young children. The next street over- Lexington Avenue- was more upper-middle-class and so trick-or-treating on those two streets, plus the short connector- Atlantic Avenue- brought in a large haul of quality candy. I can remember dressing up one year as Batman, another year as Superman, plus more than once I was either Dracula or Frankenstein (the classics), but perhaps my most memorable costume was the year my sister and I dressed up as punk rockers (I was around 12 and my sister 8). My mother bought a skull cap and cut a slit in the middle so that I could tease my hair through it to look like I had a mohawk, while my mother sprayed temporary green die in my sister's hair. I also wore jeans, a rock t-shirt, a jean jacket, one bandana around my neck and another around the upper sleeve of the jacket. It was pretty badass!
As I got into my later teens, the focus of Halloween shifted to horror movies. The irony is that when I was young I was hypersensitive to scary movies. Even a tame comedy such as Love at First Bite, a 1979 spoof starring George Hamilton as Count Dracula, which I saw in the theater when I was 8, caused me nightmares. So I avoided horror films thru my early childhood. But post-adolescence, I got over my fears and eventually became a fan of horror movies- although a few, especially The Exorcist and The Prince of Darkness did scare the hell out of me (perhaps it's no coincidence that both films were about the presence and evil works of Satan, and as a deeply faithful Catholic schoolboy at the time, that scared me far more than any made-up monster or serial killer). Also in my late teens and into my twenties, Stephen King was my favorite author and I read at least a dozen of his books and saw many film adaptations of his work. For the past 20 years or so, it has become my personal tradition to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I first saw on VH1) and Night of the Living Dead (first saw on WKBW-Buffalo's Off Beat Cinema) every Halloween (along with, of course, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and what-ever other horror movies may be airing on cable TV on Halloween night). I also love to watch on YouTube several horror-themed music videos e.g. Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare," Donovan's "Season of the Witch," and Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast." It just would not be Halloween without it all. Last night I took part in another ritual- the screening of the 1982 film Creepshow, written by Stephen King (who also acts in one of the movie's five short stories) and directed by the legendary horror film director George A. Romero, at Buffalo's Amherst Theater's Terror Thursdays film series. It was cool to watch the film in a theater packed with horror film afficionados. December is not exactly a scary time of year but I do plan on attending that month's Terror Thursday offering of Invasion of the Body Snatchers because I have never seen the 1978 classic.
Besides Halloween, there are a couple other topics I want to address in this week's blog post. First, as an addition to my last entry, a tribute to Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, who died of brain cancer: it is a tragedy for any person to suffer and die of cancer- not only for the patient, but also for their loved ones who suffer emotionally with them- like my mother did with lung cancer. But in Gord's case, it was particularly tragic. Not just in the fact that he was struck down at the relatively young age of 53, and that he was such a supremely talented musician and frontman, as well as beloved son, brother, father, humanitarian and Canadian icon, but that Gord's greatest gift was his uncanny ability to sculpt words into wonderfully esoteric and profound poems and lyrics. That a man so skilled in the art of manipulating words into sonic landscapes and possessed of a deeply intellectual mind be stolen of his gift by a pathological invader of his potent brain, such that on The Hip's last tour, Gord was forced to use a video monitor to recall lyrics because he could not remember all the words he had so carefully crafted, was heart-breaking. For those of you who may be reading this and are not fans of Gord Downie and The Hip, or just casual fans of their music, I highly recommend seeing Long Time Running, a documentary of The Hip's final tour in the summer of 2016. It will be shown in selected theaters in the U.S., Canada and Europe. In Buffalo, it will run at the North Park Theater from Nov. 3-9. Their entire body of work is worth listening to, but the package I'd recommend as a must-get for casual fans is The Hip's Eponymous CD/ DVD compilation. The two CDs contain a collection of the band's "greatest hits" through 2004's In Between Evolution, plus two previously unreleased bonus tracks, while one DVD is the concert film One Night in Toronto, beautifully capturing The Hip live in their prime during a 2004 tour stop in Canada's largest metropolis, while the other DVD includes a 40-minute documentary and all of The Hip's music videos up to that time (which were frequently shown on Canada's Much Music TV channel, but entirely ignored by MTV and VH1) from their earliest days as a local bar band in Kingston, Ontario to the heights of Canadian rock legends. Also by the way, I can't imagine another American city with a Gord Downie mural-turned-shrine like the one on the east-facing wall of a liquor store on Hertel Avenue between Starin and Parkside where Hip fans have paid their respects by leaving flowers, photos, painted rocks and even a concert set list from one of The Hip's many Buffalo shows. This area truly embraced the band and The Hip paid back their fans' devotion exponentially.
Well, the previous paragraph was a treat- now for a trick (on me). Last week I returned to Canisius College and U.B. to remove the posters promoting the Indie Author Day event I had posted at my alma maters. At Canisius I decided to leave up the posters specifically promoting my book because I felt that college students make up a large part of my target audience. However, when I got to U.B., I was feeling so depressed by the underwhelming turnout and utter lack of book sales (hell I could ignite a Halloween bonfire with the 20 copies I purchased from the printer to sell at the library- sort of my own personal Fahrenheit 451) that I decided to take down both posters. After removing all posters at the three locations within the medical school, I stopped last at the hallway outside the school of public health's administrative offices. There I received a profound insult- the posters were already gone. Despite handwriting next to my name that I was a 2005 graduate of U.B. School of Public health, someone unceremoniously tore down the posters and threw them away. It seemed fitting- because right then and there I felt like a worthless piece of garbage. In 2003, I had returned to grad school to learn more about public health and earn a master's degree to bolster my credential in hopes of attaining a position at the Erie County Health Department. Not only have I been screwed out of a job by the ECHD many times over the years since, but now that I finally got my book published, I had been hoping that it would launch my long sought chosen career as a public health advocate. In the year since its publication, and despite much effort to raise awareness about my work, book sales have been beyond disappointing- in fact, outside my family it has been all but a bust. Now for one of my alma maters- the place where I spent two years and $25,000 to earn a master's degree- to discard my poster like a piece of trash, and by extension, treat me so shabbily, hurts tremendously. Thanks U.B. School of Public Health for treating an alumnus with the noble goal of reducing drug & alcohol abuse, unwanted pregnancies and suicides like a useless nobody. I will never forget it.