Thursday, July 7, 2011


August ~ 1978

      I'm alone in a Doughboy pool in my grandmother's back yard.  I came to visit for the summer.  The sun is partially hidden behind some trees.  This means part of the pool is in shadow.  That is the part I avoid.  I know it's silly, but it feels like something is lurking there.    I duck beneath the water.  I'm wearing goggles.  Shadows make the water on the other side of the pool look deep.  Too deep. 

     I can't tell my grandmother that I am afraid.  She didn't want to take me to see Jaws 2.  I told her that I had already seen the first movie twice.  I told her that my mother took me.  I didn't tell her about the nightmares, the dark room with the bottomless pool.  The teeth.

July ~ 1983

     My mother's new boyfriend, Ray, is a surfer.  He wants to teach me how to do it.  He thinks being afraid of sharks is silly.  "You watch too many movies," he says.

     He buys me my own board for Christmas.  I live in Southern California.  Surfing makes sense.  I have long blonde hair.  I wear Lightening Bolt, Ocean Pacific, and Vans.  I don't want to be a poser.
     We take the boards to Redondo Beach.  The waves aren't too big.  I am wearing a wet suit, so the water isn't too cold.  I don't have an excuse.  I look out at the open ocean and think about how unnatural this is.  I am a land based mammal. 

     Ray paddles out.  He calls back to me, waving.  That's how it was with the kid on the raft.  Fun, splashing, then the quick roll of fins, and the water goes red.  As Ray pushes through the break, I keep waiting for him to get pulled under.

     I wade into the water, pushing the board in front of me.  The sky is gray, overcast.  There is no wind.  I climb onto the board and paddle towards Ray.  I wonder what I look like from underneath. 

     Ray catches a wave and leaves me floating alone.  I turn to watch him.  I don't want to look out to sea.  I won't look down.  The surface of the ocean is black slate.  Of course, I make the connection to Quint's description of eyes ~ "lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes."  I'm not worried about eyes.  The ocean has teeth.

     A quick splash sounds behind me.  My heart kicks against my chest.  Ray is standing in the water close to the shore.  I can see something moving through the water.  It is only a few feet away from me.  I fold my legs up onto the board.   
     Something breaks to the surface to my right.  I pull my arms out of the water so that I am completely on the board.  I feel like I'm floating in a mouth.  It's ready to close.  I turn to see what is moving.  It is a seal.  It doesn't even look at me before it dives under.

     I can hear the blood pulsing.  I make my way back to shore.  Ray passes me on my way in.  "I'm done," I say.  I spend the rest of the time waiting in the car.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Dismember Mama

Early 80's ~ Downtown Long Beach, CA ~ The Palace Theater

     I am sitting in the Palace waiting for the house lights to come up.  My mother dropped me and my two younger sisters off for a triple feature before she went to work at the carwash. The last movie has just ended.  The credits are rolling. 

     The lumpy man who is sitting in the row just in front of us drops one last coin.  Like us, he is a regular patron.  We joke about him at home.  He must fill his pockets with coins before he comes to the theater.  He drops them one at a time.  I think he wants us to pick them up.

     My littlest sister, Sarah, has to go to the bathroom.  She won't go alone.  She is seven years old.  The bathroom in the Palace looks a lot like the bathroom from The Incubus.  She doesn't want to die in a stall.  I tell her to wait until the change creep leaves.

     As the house lights come on, we giggle over the silhouette of the dead rat in the overhead lighting.  The amber glow of the lights through the frosted panel emphasize the slender figure.  It is about the length of an infant's torso.  It has been there for months. 

     We get up.  The sticky floor of the aisle pulls at our feet until we reach the carpet.  Sarah is rushing towards the lobby.  My other sister, Rachel, stays close to my side.

      I tell Rachel to go into the bathroom with Sarah.  I stand waiting in the lobby.  There is a display board for coming attractions.  One of the posters has been up for years.  It is simple.  A painted portrait of a man with a goatee.  There is a frightened woman reflected in the knife that he holds out in front of him.  He is standing in the dark, seemingly illuminated by candle light.  The man reminds me a bit of my step-father.  This might be why the title is so jarring ~ I Dismember Mama

     The poster is not the worst I have seen.  It is a lot less threatening than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deranged.  Still, it gives me the creeps.  I can image the atrocities for which this man is responsible.  He isn't interested in killing nubile strangers.  He is ready to bring the violence home.  Shit.  Even Leatherface had a line he wouldn't cross when it came to slaughter. 

     I have come to associate this face with the gritty, grimy Palace.  He is the creep dropping change, the dead rat, and the dart in the silver screen.  His knife holds the stories of blood on the walls, killers, creatures, and that terrible high-pitched screaming. 

     I don't realize it, but the film was released in 1974.  It has come and gone.  The poster shouldn't be here.  I won't figure this out until well after the Palace has closed for good.

     I also don't realize that I will never watch the film because I am afraid that it cannot live up to my expectations.  I will justify this choice through research and by reading about its short comings. 

     I will learn that the man's name is Albert.  The poster is not a good representation of him.  Albert is clean shaven.  Despite the fucked up juxtaposition of words, Albert does not dismember his mama.  He doesn't even kill her.

     Despite all of this, I will remember standing in the once glamorous lobby now caught in the grind.  I will remember the cold stare and the wrinkles in his skin. 

     I will hold the image in my mind's eye like a splinter.  It is a talisman filled with sleazy magic, a memento of trauma, an icon of filth.  It is daddy putting a blade to the tit where this grindhouse baby will suckle until it withers and dies.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Night of the Living Dead

January ~ 1969

     My mother is in labor at Long Beach Community Hospital.  She is twenty one years old.  The contractions are getting stronger.  Painful.  She needs a distraction.  Through the open window, she can see the Circle Drive-In.  The movie has started.

     On the screen, Barbara has just crashed her car.  She is being chased.  Her brother is probably dead.  She needs to get away.  She is not interested in pain.  Unlike the woman in the hospital bed, she will do whatever it takes to escape it. She runs to an old house.  It is dark and empty.  Barbara is hopeful until she finds the corpse at the head of the stairs.

     Screams carry from the cars up to the hospital room where the contractions have taken over.  The baby is coming.  It is time for the new mother, my mother, to scream.  

October ~ 1977

     I am in the fifth grade.  Debbie, Kathy, and I have barricaded ourselves in their bedroom.  It is late.  Their mother has gone to the bar.  Night of the Living Dead is on the television.  We clump together at the foot of the bed.  

     On the screen, Barbara has met the others.  They are securing the windows.  Some of them are in the basement.  A little girl is sick.

     When Debbie gets up to go to the bathroom, she has to move two chairs away from the door.  The house has an attic, but no basement.  We found paperback porno up there at the beginning of the summer.

     The dead are pushing in.  The sick little girl is up.  Her father is dead.  Her mother finds out that some zombies use tools. 

     Kathy moves closer to me and squeezes my arm.  I pet her head.  She will be my first girlfriend.  

October ~ 2009

     I am home alone with my oldest son.  It is Halloween.  He is eleven years old.  He knows about zombies.  He says he is ready.  I'm not so sure.  He once had a nightmare after watching Goosebumps.  A bad attitude kept him from Trick or Treating with his little brother, so I give in.  How about Night of the Living Dead?  He likes the sound of it.  

     On the screen, Barbara is back in the cemetery.  Her brother is teasing her, "They're coming to get you, Barbara."

     My son scoffs.  It is black and white.  He lives in color.  His perspective holds until the film reveals that shadows are black.  Corpses are white.  Death is color blind.

     Barbara and the others grow increasingly desperate.  They lose hope when the truck catches fire and the dead feast on their friends. 

     "Turn it off."  My son hands me the remote.  "Why would you let me watch that?"

     This is a good question.  It is a question that I could have asked my mother every time that she took my two younger sisters and me downtown to the Palace Theater for triple scoops of grind, grind, grind.  Horror.  Sci-fi.  Exploitation.  Martial arts.  Roller skates.  Vengeance.

     I have the images stockpiled.  I can see the potential for violence in most situations.  I interpret experience through a distorted lens.  A filter of filth.  I'm like little Alex lying on his bed with the loops of ultra violence running in high speed except I'm watering the lawn in suburbia, shopping at Whole Foods, and playing dual roles in the PTA.

     I've learned to love being scared.  As the world goes to shit, this might ensure my survival.  Adaptation through a fascination with exploitation.  Evolution through horror. 

     I'll pass it on to my children when the time is right.  There is a difference between being scared and being scarred.  I'm planting seeds.  Ghost stories around the campfire.  Hide and Seek in the cemetery.  Grandma's ashes on the shelf with the action figures.

     My son may not be ready for Romero's barbecue, but he does understand that there is poetry in a dead possum clutching a dandelion.