Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

Talking Point

Boo! Don’t we have enough to be scared of already?

By Wilson

Last year for Halloween I was a mental patient that “escaped.” Dressed in a hospital gown I’d stolen from a doctor’s office, I wore an authentic, white nursing shoe on my right foot (suggesting that some sort of transgression had taken place), and a black Doc Martens on my left. But this October, you’d have to be nuts to look like a maniac, especially if you ride the subway — it’s code orange meets the Great Pumpkin throughout the Big Apple.

Recent antiterrorism public service announcements — PSA’s — such as “If you see something, say something,” tell us to report all persons dressed in an inappropriate fashion, or behaving in a suspicious manner. Exposed wires equal Al Qaeda, and it’s this warning in particular that has ruined my plans for Halloween — all year long I’d been contemplating a wonderfully sick Abu Gharib torture victim costume. Anyone named Jason, Freddy and Chucky is not to be trusted. And parents, trick or treat, don’t even think of wheeling out your toddler this year — that baby is a bomb, and you are suicidal.

(As children, my brother and I used to perform live drunk-driving and antismoking PSA’s for our totally stunned parents — while they were having martinis and smoking nonfilter Camels; imagine how our terrorism sketches would have played out.)

This year, Halloween is irrational. You’d think that terrorism, bird flu, identity theft and catastrophic climate change would be enough to satiate our draconian thirst for fear and horror, but no, we love haunted houses. In the ’50s, during the cold war, this event was for children. Adults rarely dressed up in silly and spooky outfits. Paranoid Americans (my parents included) were quietly making bomb shelters in the dark of night, and stocking them with canned food: mercury-free tuna fish, peaches and pears without high-fructose corn syrup, distilled water, Spam. The terms “adventure travel” and “thrill-seeker” were not in the vocabulary. Disaster television like “Rescue 911” and CNN did not exist. The Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibit, “Safe: Design Takes On Risk,” was unimaginable. Yet even though we’re constantly surrounded by disaster, our civil rights are under attack and the Supreme Court is a potential time bomb, we still have this crazy need to celebrate the scary and act like monsters.

Aside from a few strange phobias and your ordinary American superstitions, I’ve always been a somewhat brave person. As a stupid child, I played chicken on the railroad tracks. “Night of the Living Dead” was on TV the first night my parents left us without a babysitter. We hid behind a couch and strategically surrounded ourselves with bats, knives, golf clubs and javelins. Due to a combination of risk assessment and gentrification, I am no longer fearful of my very own neighborhood: whenever I went (ran, holding my breath) by a nearby drug laboratory (my personal Plum Island) I was convinced I’d contract bioterrorism; also, I believed it was only a matter of time before I’d get caught up in a holdup at my corner bodega due to the frequency and early hours of my visits. Fortunately, the lab was recently torn down for pricey real estate, and the corner is now filled with happy (very thirsty and hungry) young people (on Ecstasy?), vampires, dog walkers and sleep-disorder casualties.

(Speaking of superstition, after I told my Japanese roommate, an N.Y.U. student, about virtually all politically incorrect racial slurs and American superstitions, she happily reported one rainy day that her entire class, all foreign students, had their umbrellas inside, and open. Her umbrella, not causing bad luck, was outside.)

These days, though, it’s subway bag searches that terrify me. Ah, duh, if you were a terrorist/maniac, which station would you enter, the one with people getting searched, or the stop that’s barely on the map? This facade of security makes as much sense as the security checkout at the Astor Place K-Mart, where everyone exiting with a K-Mart bag is asked to dig out their receipt and the guy makes a squiggle on it, thereby accomplishing nothing. (Even more stupid is the fact that if you bought something and didn’t want to get delayed by said retardation, you can just put it in your backpack and bypass the dysfunction altogether.) We don’t live in a culture of fear; it’s a society of stupid.

Spiders used to scare me, and now it’s just spider mites that freak me out. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, yet when I was thinking about getting a pet lizard — a reptile — I couldn’t stomach the diet of worms, bugs and other gross things they required. My worst fright ever was when I was hiking by myself on a remote Greek island, had to pee, ducked behind some weeds in a pasture and proceeded to go about my business, when I looked up and saw a huge, white dog glaring at me with abject hate and territorial rage. The moment we made eye contact it lunged towards me. I was dead. But just 2 feet in front of me it suddenly stopped and jerked back. He was on a chain! Second place for terror came when I was minding my own business sitting in a forest on a windy, sunny autumn afternoon and I heard a tremendous noise. The ground shook, and then a giant deer went speeding by, practically trampling me to death (apparently, McMansions had taken over their terrain). One time, I even got surrounded by approximately 30 feral cats in Rome (they were dropping from trees)! But this Halloween, while the Polar icecaps melt and “intelligence” continues to decay, I’m wearing garlic, and eating it too. Boo!

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