How I Ended Up in the Choir

A true story. For those not familiar with the song mentioned, here’s a link to the version we had from the Oak Ridge Boys.

How I Ended Up Singing in the Church Choir

So, how did I end up in the church choir, you ask? Not the place you’d expect to find an unabashed atheist like me. Well, I wasn’t always this secular realist. It happened like this.

            When I was 15, it was the last year I attended Vacation Bible School. The VBS is a glorified summer day care designed to spend a week ingraining Southern Baptist Christianity into defenseless children. I lived in a small community where there were only four other boys and me of similar age. Four of us were 15 and one was 14. The nearest girl to our age group was my cousin Katie, only 12, so she was in another class. Our teacher, Miss Linda, was a young mother, pretty, who we all liked. She spoke softly but we five rambunctious boys would immediately settle down to hear her. She handled us like no one else could.

            Every class had to present something at the end of the week to show what they had done. The smallest kids would show off their paintings and drawings of Noah’s Ark and Adam and Eve playing with dinosaurs. The older kids had to do harder tricks. Some would quote a Bible verse. Some classes would say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. One year I recited the books of the Old Testament. I’m not sure why that was considered a necessary skill, but I did it. It’s actually come in handy while doing crossword puzzles.

Miss Linda decided that this year we would sing a song. This was the era when Christian rock was taking off. She played for us a record that was a little rockabilly and a little gospel. It was the Oak Ridge Boys singing Jesus Is Coming Soon. We all loved it immediately. So, we got together with Miss Jean, our choir director and pianist to start working on it. After a few minutes Miss Linda was worried. All we could seem to come up with was teenage croaking. None of her boys could carry a tune. Except me. I wasn’t driving a car yet to sing along with the radio and singing in the shower wasn’t my style, so the only singing I ever did was Sunday at church. Even then, I did what all the menfolk did. I stood and swayed. I may even have mouthed the words occasionally but no actual singing. It just never occurred to me to try singing. Miss Linda and Miss Jean quickly zeroed in on me. They decided Miss Linda and I would perform a duet, with the other four boys as our backup singers. They would be the Pips to our Gladys Knight; the Four Seasons to our Frankie Valli. There was a considerable bass line for them in the chorus and croaking would be okay.

            So, performance night came, and we were ready to rock it. As I have said, it was a small church, so we had no microphone. We had to project. We were last ones up. Miss Jean played our introduction and then Miss Linda and I sang out. I quickly realized she was hanging back a bit, singing softer than usual, so I was the lead voice. It was almost like singing a solo, which would have scared the bejesus out of me. With Miss Linda’s help, the boys came in on time for the chorus. By the second verse I realized I was killing it. People were smiling, some were even swaying. My parents’ look of bewilderment had turned to pride. My boys were humming and swaying in the background, keeping up the tempo. It was going great. After the second verse, Miss Jean played a small musical interlude, giving us a lead up to the final verse. I think all five of us decided it was time to show our stuff and really rock it. I launched into the final verse and immediately detected that I was the only one singing. Miss Linda had joined the boys with their swaying and humming. I was on my own. I decided, what the heck, and gave it everything I had. My volume must have pumped my boys because they came in on the chorus like a screaming band of banshees. Still it worked. Miss Jean liked it so much she hit the notes to run the chorus twice. Not missing a beat, me and the boys brought it on home.

            Now one thing you have to understand is that Baptists are very serious about their church and their church music. Music is supposed to be godly and reverential and they never applaud in church. That is considered bad form. The most you can expect is a few fervent amens. After we had finished our rendition of Jesus Is Coming Soon, there was a kind of stunned silence for a moment. Then the whole place erupted in applause, with several shouted amens. They loved it. They loved us. It was a real showstopper, even though it was the end of the show. We all just basked like rock stars.

            After this, Miss Jean said I needed to be in the choir. Mom said I’d be honored. Apparently, I was not to be consulted on this. Still, I enjoyed the choir. We had practice on Thursday nights, and I got to sing lots of good songs. On Sundays we usually did a special song without the tired participation of the congregation. Sometimes we also did special performances in other churches. And there were often Christian rock/gospel types of songs. I found I enjoyed singing so much that I joined the school Glee Club. Anyway, that’s how I ended up in the church choir.

The Cornfield

Here’s a new story never before seen on my blog that has been published. It is in Ariel Chart Review, October 20, 2019. You can look it up if you want to. It’s free on the web. It’s easier if you google “Ariel Chart Magazine Cornfield”.

I don’t know where this story came from. Many of my stories have a background, some thing that sparks the story. If this one did, I can’t remember it. I’ve been thinking the past couple of days trying to remember what gave me the idea, and I just can’t remember anything.

Update: a reader has reminded me that I told her I got the story from a Melissa Etheridge song. It was “We Got Nowhere to Go”. I remember seeing a homoerotic music video of it on Youtube. I was touched by the hopelessness of the song and the feeling of empathy for the characters. I hoped to capture some of that in my story. Thanks, Cate.

The publication of this story was interesting also. I submitted it to Ariel Chart in September. I quickly received a message from the editor who read it that she liked it. A lot. She really wanted to publish it, but there were several changes they wanted. Without the changes they couldn’t use it. The changes were minor, so I agreed.

First, there was an overt implication that sex occurred. She asked that I take that out. I didn’t think the magazine was prudish, but what do I know. They’re Australian. So, I took it out.

Second, it didn’t have an ending that worked. It kind of just petered out. Or died. She wanted me to give it some kind of resolution. I did and it really made it a much better story.

Finally, was the length. It was somewhere under 3200 words or so. She said her managing editor would absolutely not accept anything from her over 3000 words; could I cut it back? That took a bit of work. Taking out the references to sex reduced it some, but the resolution at the end added some words back. I did a line by line edit to get it down. It’s now a very lean story. But I managed to turn it in to her at exactly 3000 words. What I’m putting here is not exactly the story that appears in Ariel Chart. I’ve added 6 more words to the last paragraph that I think gives it a nicer finish. So now, in all it’s 3006 word glory, here is The Cornfield. More to follow.

The Cornfield

            Dylan Westfield was a great guy. Everybody liked Dylan. What’s not to like? He was affable, charming, a friend to all. The girls fawned over his long, lanky frame and easy good looks. His hair shone yellow blond like newly mined gold, his blue irises had little radiating spokes of silver, making them sparkle like starlight. And his daddy being the richest man in town didn’t hurt. The girls idolized him, and the boys flocked to him.

            There were certain things everyone knew about Dylan. If you were in a jam, he’d bail you out. At the tavern he always picked up the tab. He didn’t date much, but never talked trash about the girls he went out with. And one thing everyone knew about Dylan was he hated Logan Thomas. No one knew exactly what Logan had done to draw the ire of the most popular, easiest going guy in school, but it must have been awful. If Logan even walked into the same room, Dylan’s expression would cloud. It was like shutting off the sunlight.

            Logan seemed to return the dislike tenfold. Maybe it was Dylan who had offended him. No one knew. The beginning of senior year had seen the boys thrown together in the same class and suddenly the sparks flew. The one thing everyone knew about Logan Thomas was he despised Dylan Westfield. 

***

            “Thomas!” Dylan yelled angrily. “I’m gonna kick your sorry ass back to hicktown where you came from.” School had just let out, and they were in the parking lot. Dylan and Logan were chest to chest like two bantam roosters ready to fight.

            “You and what army, you prissy little rich kid? Gonna get Daddy to fight for you?” Logan sneered. He was a couple inches shorter than Dylan’s six feet, but you had to give him credit for never backing down. Working in his father’s garage gave him the muscle to back it up. It was obvious words had been spoken before the crowd started gathering. Dylan stared at Logan with a coldness that accentuated the silver in his eyes. That iciness would make anyone shiver. Logan was red-faced with his anger. His jet-black hair was near shoulder length, almost touching the frayed edges of his denim vest with the POW and MIA patches. In his t-shirt, jeans, and ragged sneakers, he stood in stark difference to Dylan’s classic elegance. 

            “Keep your grubby hands off my car. I just had it waxed and I don’t need trailer trash like you smudging the shine. Now back off!” Several of Dylan’s larger friends loomed up beside him. Logan, realizing retreat was sometimes the better part of valor, glared at Dylan but backed away. Eventually he turned and continued through the parking lot to begin his long walk home.

            “You okay, D?” asked Big Tommy Shaw from the football team. “Me and the boys would be glad to go rough him up for you. Just say the word.”

            “No, let the little shit go. I’ve got better things to do than worry about him.”

            A girl wearing entirely too much makeup and an over the top pink cashmere sweater and wool skirt, despite the day’s heat, came gliding up to him. She laid her hand on the fender of his new sports car.

            “Ooh, I love red cars,” she purred. “Give a girl a lift home?”

            “Marlee, you live two blocks from here.” There was only a little exasperation in his voice. “But hop in.”

            The school took up two entire city blocks of town. Dylan jack rabbited his roadster along each of the four boundary streets, circling the school, working through the gears, trying to get up to fourth before slamming on the brakes for the next stop sign. Marlee squealed her pleasure, eyes agleam at being in Dylan’s car and at being with Dylan.  With the top down, they gloried in the cool wind and afternoon sun.  He took a circuitous route through town, finally ending up in Marlee’s driveway. He turned off the car, and they sat for a minute listening to the ticking of the cooling engine. Marlee pushed her lower lip out in a pout.

            “How come you haven’t asked me to Harvest Fest yet?” He figured that was coming. Truth be told, he didn’t want to go to Harvest Fest, or anywhere, with Marlee. He wasn’t even sure what he saw in her to begin with. She acted cheap, common. All the things he despised. He’d only dated her a few times, among other girls. But she had decided that they were a ‘thing’. He’d hesitated to set her straight, knowing it would be a scene. He hated scenes.

            “Look, Marlee. I’m not even sure I will be around to go to Harvest Fest. My family has plans. If I can, I’ll get in touch with you.”

            “Promise?” she asked like a four-year-old trying to extract a guarantee for a treat from Mommy.

            “Of course,” he said. Disaster temporarily avoided, he thought.

***

            Logan walked along the state road, beside a cornfield on his way home. The stalks and leaves were turning brown. The pickers would be by any day, reducing the fields to stubble. Then the vista of sweeping plains and distant rolling hills would again be revealed. Once again everyone could see what a shit hole they lived in. Welcome to Butt Hole, Iowa.

This being a Wednesday he didn’t have to show up at Dad’s garage. He had a late study group on Wednesdays. At least, that’s what he told Dad. He was so lost in thought the loud rumble was almost upon him before he processed it. As soon as it registered, his heart was in his throat. He fought the urge to plunge into the cornfield, avoiding the bullies about to beset him, but that was the coward’s way out. The pickup with ridiculously high tires throttled down as it pulled up even to him. He continued walking, refusing to acknowledge the truck or its crew. Big Tommy Shaw was driving. Without looking, Logan knew that his right-hand man, Doug Mason would ride shotgun. Some mixture of football punks would ride in the back.

            “Hey, trailer trash. The trailer park’s the other way. You lost?” Tommy shouted, to hoots and snickers from his cronies. Logan walked on.

            “Hey, dick face. I’m talking to you.” Tommy didn’t like being ignored. Logan eyed the cornfield. If the guys jumped from the truck, he felt he could probably lose them in the field. Probably. The drying leaves rustled louder than when they were fresh and green.  He suddenly felt a thud, as someone hit him in the side with a soft drink cup, half full. Fortunately, it struck him broadside so when the plastic cap popped off, the soda splashed away from him.  He stopped and stared at the cup. There were ominous “oohs” from the truck bed as if daring him to retaliate. He bent down and found a fist-sized rock with nice jagged edges. He turned to face the truck.

            “You know, Tommy, I could probably get Dad to give you a discount on the body work your truck’s gonna need,” he said hefting the rock, and then looking at it pointedly. Tommy’s tricked out pickup was his baby. It was bright blue without a speck of dust. Logan knew just how to hurt Tommy the most.

            “You wouldn’t dare, faggot. I’ll kill you if you touch my truck.”

            “Well, I got a head start, and it’s a big cornfield. You’ll have to catch me first,” he hefted the rock again as if deciding where to start.

            “I’m warning you, Thomas. Don’t mess with my truck.” A succession of loud beeps suddenly interrupted him as Dylan’s roadster shot up into the gap between Tommy’s truck and Logan.

            “This pissant causing you trouble, Tommy?” Dylan called across to the truck.

            “Yeah, the fucker’s threatening to scratch my truck.”

            “Really!” There was the ratcheting sound of Dylan setting the emergency brake. “I think it’s time Mr. Thomas was taught to mind his manners in the presence of his betters.” He climbed out of the car and Logan took a step back.

            “Want any help, D?” Tommy asked. All the boys were getting excited now.

            “No thanks. I been wanting to kick this peckerwood’s ass for a long time. I plan to enjoy it.” As all the boys hollered, Dylan charged Logan. Logan seemingly caught Dylan’s arm unawares and swung him around. Releasing, he let Dylan stumble into a pile of kudzu in the ditch bank. And with that, Logan was off like a shot through the cornfield. The noise of the boys shouting their disappointment at losing the afternoon’s entertainment quickly faded in the background. He could still faintly hear their shouts of “Coward!”

            Logan slowed down to ease his breathing. No one was giving chase. He sighed. Just another day. He rolled with the emotional punches just as he did the physical ones, whether from his classmates or his dad. It was just how things were.

            The afternoon sun could not penetrate the thick canopy of cornstalk leaves, creating an oasis of coolness in the shadow. The rows were parallel to the state road, so he continued walking in the direction he had originally been travelling. Maybe I should walk a few rows inside the field every day. Avoid unnecessary conflicts, he thought. But then, the cornfield wouldn’t be here much longer.

            It wasn’t as if everyone hated him. He had friends. But the ‘in’ crowd had made him their whipping boy. The jocks, the rich kids, the social elite. What kind of threat was he? He never bothered them; he definitely didn’t want to be one of them. He was just marking time until he could escape this hellhole. Leave Iowa far behind.

The corn field abruptly ended at a dirt path, a path tractors and other farm equipment used to maneuver between fields. He turned left to follow the path. After a few miles of twisting through the fields, he would find his house.

            And no, he was not trailer trash. The Thomas house wasn’t nice like the rich kids, but it was respectable and paid for. Dad said it was his castle and couldn’t no one throw him out. Dad frequently made such pronouncements, usually after putting away a six-pack of beer. Logan had long since figured out that Dad was what was called a ‘functional alcoholic’. He owned his own business, made it successful, never showed up to work drunk or laid out. But evenings and weekends, he was drunk more often than he wasn’t. And he was a mean drunk. Along about the fourth beer you could see a change come over his face, an ugly sneer would form. That was the time they all made themselves scarce. His rages were unpredictable, triggered by anything or nothing. He knew Dad slapped Mom around, but weirdly, he never did it in front of the kids. However, he had no qualms about knocking Logan and his siblings around while Mom watched with worry. As the oldest, Logan took the brunt of it, often putting himself at risk to protect the younger ones. He was seventeen and just beginning to realize he could take on his father and best him in a fight. But he was unsure if he could ever really raise a hand to the man. He was so conditioned to back down.

***

            Logan rounded a curve in the path, about a mile in from the state road and straight ahead he saw a gleaming red sports car. Dylan Westfield was standing beside the car, leaning against it with arms crossed, as nonchalant as if it was not odd to see a pricey sports car parked on a dusty farm path. And Dylan was staring at him. Logan felt his pulse quicken.

            He continued trudging along the path, never looking away. He slowed slightly as he neared the car but kept moving ahead. When it looked as if he might pass by, Dylan abruptly stepped forward, blocking the path. He forced Logan to stop. Dylan regarded him with his arms still crossed, a wry grin on his face.

            “They almost got you today. You need to be more careful.”

            “Yeah, thanks for the bail.”

            “Always. What would I do without you?” He opened his arms and Logan stepped into his embrace. They stood for a few minutes, as if drawing strength from each other.

            “It’s just so hard. I hate this stupid game we’re playing,” Logan mumbled into Dylan’s shoulder. “Having to act like I hate you all the time.”

            “I know, babe. It sucks. But we have our plan. It’ll work out.”

            Releasing Logan, he walked to the trunk of the little car.

            “By the way, nice ride,” Logan said. “Birthday present?”

            “Yeah, thanks, maybe I can give you a ride sometime.”

            “Not likely. What would people think?”

Opening the trunk, Dylan removed a blanket and a cooler. They walked over to a grassy spot near the edge of the field. The stalks blocked the lowering sun, casting a shadow over their little picnic area. After spreading the blanket, they both sat down.

            Dylan opened the cooler and took out a couple of beers. He also had a bag of chips.  He sat the bag between them and passed Logan a bottle.

            Logan looked at Dylan.

            “Trailer trash? Really? You called me trailer trash? I gotta admit. That stings.”

            “Well, you called me prissy.”

            They both burst out laughing at the same time. Logan held his beer out. Dylan tapped it with his and they drank.

            After the beers, and most of the chips, they laid on the blanket, Logan on his back, Dylan on his side, looking at him.

            “Hey, babe. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You know I didn’t mean any of it,” Dylan said.

            “I know. I was just razzing you.”

            “Promise?”

            “Yeah.” Logan heaved himself up on one elbow. “C’mere.” Dylan scooted closer so they could get their arms around each other and laid back in a kiss.

            When they finally came up for air, Dylan whispered huskily, “Oh man, I needed that.”

            “Me too.” They resumed kissing and exploring each other’s bodies. After a while they simply rested in each other’s arms, relishing the quiet of nature and the simple joy of touching.

            All too soon the creeping shadows said the day was done. They both had worlds requiring their return.

            “When will this end?” Logan asked plaintively.       

            Dylan smiled at his undeclared lover. “Soon, babe. Just a few more months and we can leave this punk ass town.”

            “It’s so easy for you to dream. Any dream I’ve ever had was quickly stamped out by my bastard of a father. I don’t think I know how to dream anymore.”

            “We’ll make it. I’ll dream for both of us if I have to. I meant to tell you, I got early acceptance at Dartmouth. The letter came this weekend. You’re coming with me. We’ll use your money to enroll you in classes to become a certified mechanic. You already know all that stuff.”

            “Suppose it’s not enough?”

            “You worry too much. I’ll pay our way until you’re on your feet. If you’re too proud to let me support you, then keep track and you can pay me back. We love each other and this lets us get out of this shit hole state and be together.”

            “I’m afraid to hope for it. What’ll we tell our folks?”

            “I’d say we tell your dad nothing. That asshole doesn’t even deserve a ‘goodbye’. I think my dad’s figuring it out. He’s not going to want a fag running the company, so he’ll probably offer me a shitload of money to stay away after college. I plan to take the money and then come back and milk him for more. Surely, he can spare a few million for his least favorite son. And Mom still loves me, and she’s loaded, too. More money than Dad. Money will never be a problem for us.”

            “But I mean how much longer at school? I’m tired of pretending to hate you.”

            “Yeah, it’s getting old. But we agreed that this was the better way. The so-called popular crowd already hated you, so there was no real way we would ever be friends. But if we didn’t do something, people would figure it out just from the way I stare at you. This way, I can look at you, drink in your beauty, interact with you, even touch you, and no one’s the wiser.”

            “Yeah, but it’s killing me.”

            “I know, me too. But it’s the only way I can figure. Don’t you think we’re worth it?”

            “We are so definitely worth it. You are worth it. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you.”

            Dylan leaned in for a long, lingering kiss.

            “That’s what I need to hear. We’re strong. We will prevail.”

            After a few moments of silence, both boys stood and without words stowed the blanket and empty bottles in Dylan’s car. When everything was cleared, Dylan sat in the driver’s seat of his shiny red roadster. Logan leaned against the door, holding Dylan’s hand as if it were a lifeline. He hated the stinging of unshed tears as he kissed his lover goodbye.

            “See you tomorrow, babe. And I promise. No more trailer trash. I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

            “It’s okay. I may still call you prissy, though. This car is so prissy.”

            “Yeah, and you love it,” Dylan laughed and sped away down the dusty lane. The sky was a glory of reds and purples desperately trying to hold on to the day. Logan couldn’t take time to notice the beauty. His family expected him home soon. No, not home. Just a temporary stopping point. His real home was elsewhere, with the boy with golden hair, icy blue eyes, infectious grin and a shiny red car.

Reset

Most of the magazines I’ve been marketing my stories to say that the work shouldn’t have been published previously. They also usually add a statement that putting them up on a personal blog does not count as publishing. Some of them are now saying they also don’t want them if they are published anywhere, including a private blog. So, to keep my writings viable I’m taking down the stories that I’m marketing. I’m leaving up stories that I don’t plan to try to sell, general writing and a chapter (Best Summer Ever) from my novel in progress. As stories are published (hopefully), I’ll create a menu of published work and post those stories on my blog. I have three I can post right now, one of which has never been seen on the blog. I have another three that I need to wait until the magazines publish them. Sorry for all the confusion.

DWTS 8

OK, technical difficulties may be a thing of the past. I am typing this on my brand-new HP Pavilion 360 touch screen. Sweet. And the space key actually works.

Now, on to more important matters. I’ve been seeing chatter online and on Facebook that people are starting to realize what I called some weeks ago. Sean Spicer is going to win DWTS unless someone does something. If the crazies can elect a nincompoop for president, they can easily elect at stumblebum as a dancer. When they get down to 4 celebrities and the bottom two are named is probably our last chance for him to be at the bottom. They will want 3 for the finale. Two will get perfect 10s and Sean will get 3 sevens. Just like Bobby Bones. Len has already said that he doesn’t belong in the competition and Carrie Ann seems to feel the same way. If only we could find a friendly producer to fudge the numbers just a bit. Or if the judges could get together and give Sean three 0s every time he’s up. I mean they say the judges’ scores count for fifty percent. Jefferson talked about this – letting the masses vote. People are stupid. You let them vote and there’s no telling what they might do. Witness Trump and Brexit. Witness Bobby Bones. If they go to the mat and let Sean take it, then that is my last day with DWTS. Someone else can write the reviews in the future. If they have a future. Allowing voting blocks with an agenda to hijack the show is making it a joke. A laughingstock. If that’s the case, why bother with the dancing? Just go right to the results. We all know what it will be. I feel they may be sealing their own doom. I have read that a lot of people are touting So You Think You Can Dance. I have a number of issues with that program starting with Nigel Lithgow. During the preliminaries a couple of years ago two men came on as what they called Male Pair Dancers. Two men, doing acrobatic and somewhat ballroom together. One said he was gay, the other said he was straight. Why a straight guy wanted to do that, I have no idea. They weren’t very good. Nigel went on a tirade and said some extremely homophobic things, being mean, and shaming them. Mary Murphy joined in. I used to respect her, seeing how she had been an abused wife and had found herself and ditched the abuser and become famous. But she showed she could be just as abusive. I was ashamed for the entire show. I think the next week Nigel came on and offered a somewhat tepid apology “if anyone was offended”. Not even owning up to what he had done. I cannot respect such a person and don’t want to watch him mouth platitudes week after week. And the try outs are annoying as hell. They bring out a couple hundred barbie dolls who come out in their Annette Funicello two piece and say “Hello, my name is Lauren and I’ve been doing tap and ballet since I was in the womb.” Apparently, she just jetéed out of Mom. Ballroom dancers rarely do well because of the screwed-up system. A ballroom dancer needs to work with a partner. SYTYCD is supposed to be all about partnering, yet all the tryouts are solos, except for the few ballroomers they let on. And then, if they have to do a dance for their life performance, it’s a solo. What the hell do they expect a ballroom dancer to do? In the past, there was a ballroom couple, husband and wife, who both made it on. When he had to do a dance for his position on one show, he got a cape and threw down a paso doble that wowed the crowd. When his wife was faced with a similar issue, she just did sets of cha cha and salsa shines. It’s kinda stacked against them. And they are always the best at partnering. And it’s reverse racist. A few years ago, a black girl who was a hip-hop dancer was on. When she flubbed the waltz, Nigel made excuses for her because she didn’t have the background. Later when a white kid had to do a krump, he was castigated because it looked “too polished”. He didn’t look “gangsta” enough. I call that reverse racism.  Or just plain old racism. It is what it is.

Maybe DTWS needs to take a page from the past. There was a dance show, Superstars of Dance. It was hosted by Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley. You may remember him from Riverdance and Feet of Flame (or as I call it Feets on Fire). What most annoyed me about the program was that as it came on, they had a metal globe turning. It faded into the background as the name of the program came up. But the globe was turning the wrong way. With the thousand and one people involved in putting on the show, no one noticed that? It went on for about five weeks. They never fixed it. But on the positive side, they had a panel of judges, there were either six or eight. And they decided who the winner was. None of this letting the unlettered public decide. People who knew what it was supposed to look like did the deciding. Maybe DWTS needs to go back to that.

And speaking of TV gaffs, I remember another back in the late 70s, circa 1979. I was at the fraternity house preparing to go to a football game on a Saturday. The TV was on for ambience. And of course, Saturday morning cartoons were on. By the late 70s, animation had gone to the dogs. I grew up on the classic animation of Hanna Barberra, Wiley Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Huckleberry Hound. Not the wooden animation that was to come. I saw the writing on the wall with Johnny Quest. They went for realism with the characters, but the animation was atrocious. And looking back, the race baiting of Hadji was terrible, and what exactly was the relationship between Dr. Quest and Race Bannon? But by 1979 diversity was coming along and we had the first black superheroes. The cartoon I remember being on that morning was Superstretch, Microwoman and Baby Plaz. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. But every time there was a station break and they showed the title, they misspelled microwoman. They had MIRCOWOMAN. Once again, how had no one noticed that? But I have digressed far afield. Bottom line: DWTS is in trouble and I’m prepared to abandon ship.

I was not sad to see Kate leave the show. She had shown some capabilities, but I never warmed up to her. Don’t know why. And there was no big opening dance number. First, they’re chintzy with the Halloween dances and now no opening number. Budge must be very tight. Another sign they may be on the ropes.

Two dancers were disqualified for failing to dance ballroom. Sean proved that not only can he not dance ballroom, he can’t dance other genres either. As if there was any doubt.  All I could think of was that if you put him in Navy whites, he’d look just like the Pillsbury doughboy. AND JAZZ IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

Sad that they wasted JVDB on a pajama dance. After the judges waxed poetic about its beauty I rewound and watched again, but still didn’t see it. Carrie Ann talked about the difficult lifts that had never been executed before. WTF. We see that stuff every time they allow lifts. Yes, the lifts were nice. But we’ve seen that before. I think the judges just got 10 happy. CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

And another thing. The highest scoring couple was supposed to get immunity from the throw down and an extra two points. By my score card, Ally and Sasha scored 30 as well as JVDB and Emma. So why did JVDB get the pass? Also cool that the two pros who got perfect scores are married.

The other two disappointments were Kate and Lauren. Coincidentally, both were jives. My eyes may never recover from Kate and Pasha’s costumes. They had more and better kicks than Lauren and Gleb but were so messy. Way out of sync many times.

And Gleb, what happened? You have a possible winner on your hands, and you give us this? It was entertaining and toe tapping, but those were the wimpiest kicks I’ve seen this side of Kate Gosselin (remember she looked like she was trying to get something stuck to the bottom of her shoe to fall off?).

Kel is bringing it now they’re down the home stretch. There was a stumble at the end. Loved the Star Trek Next Generation uniform with the side apron.

Hannah and Alan. 3 jetés? Wow! Lotsa fancy footwork goin’ on. White shoes after Labor Day? Faux pas on Alan.

Ally and Sasha. She was on fire! Where’d she find all the anger she was channeling during that dance? That was the best skirt work since Julianne Hough and maybe even better than her. It was wicked. Damn, girl. Perfect score so deserved.

Throw Down

Ally and Kel. I give it to Ally by a nose. The judges disagree.

Sean and Kate. Best laugh I’ve had all day. Kate by a mile.

Hannah and Lauren. I called it a draw. Hannah looked a bit stiff, but Lauren looked ungainly with her butt rolls. Gleb and Alan had to know they were going to take off their shirts – they were waxed (boo!) So why did they skip the spray tan? The glare was killing me.

Second place is anybody’s game right now. All but one of the deadwood is gone. The five remaining dancers can duke it out and Sean can stomp to the trophy.

HALLOWEEN!

The Hell you say. What’s the big deal with Halloween? Halloween was a big deal to us kids when I was growing up. I mean, wow, an excuse to get candy from the neighbors and eat it until you threw up. Who could pass up on that? And back then you could eat the apples and oranges you got in your bag without examining them for needles and razors. And the dressing up was kinda neat. I loved trick or treating until I was about 12. After that, a Halloween dance at school was always nice. I liked school dances. I wasn’t afraid to get out on the floor and was considered a good partner by the girls. I always had dance partners. And sometimes we’d meet in the upper bleachers or behind the bleachers. But that’s a story for another day.

All the dorms and frats had big Halloween parties in college and that’s when I began seeing outlandish and frequently group costumes. It was off the hook crazy. And I loved it. I was less adventurous. Just give me a sheet and I could rig up a toga. Twine some ivy around my head and, hey, I’m an ancient Roman. Not to mention the toga parties. But again, a different issue for a different day.

            My parents never put up Halloween decorations. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody that did. I mean some people, like us, put a Jack o’Lantern on their front porch, but that was about it. This was the 1960s and 70s South. Everyone I knew was Baptist and they had decreed that Halloween was of the devil. Maybe they were right.

            What are we celebrating, anyway? All Hallows Eve. The night before All Hallows Day, the day all the saints are worshipped and any saint that doesn’t have a special day, well, this is for him or her. If it’s a Catholic thing, then Baptists are sure it’s a thing of the devil. In Mexico it is El Dia de le Morte, the Day of the Dead. It’s a particularly ghoulishly named celebration of our ancestors. While the whole shebang seems wrapped up in Christianity, somehow Halloween has taken on the trappings of the other side. Who wants to be an angel for Halloween when he can be a first class Satan?

            These days Halloween has morphed into a major holiday. Maybe Hallmark and Hersheys  are to blame. It seems nearly every house in my neighborhood has their trees, bushes and porches wrapped in orange lights. There are larger than life blow up black cats, headless horseman on his steed, with a pumpkin as his head, ghoulish demons or is it demonic ghouls. What is a ghoul, anyway? Ghastly and ghostly heads and streamers hanging from trees. And one house has about twenty skeletons trying to get in. Or are they trying to get out?

            Hope your neighborhood is properly decorated and hope you don’t get TPed. Remember doing that? Of course you do. Happy Halloween to all. This week my story is actually a memoir. It’s about a fun time I had on a Halloween about 46 years ago. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Halloween Past

The summer after I turned sixteen I was allowed to buy a car. We lived way out in the country so becoming self-mobile was an important step. The sudden freedom to come and go as you please was wonderful. No more asking Mom or Dad to take you “to town” to buy things. No more borrowing the family sedan for dates. It was just incredible.

            It turned out one of Mom’s friends at work had a son who was entering college and couldn’t carry his car so he wanted to sell. It was a metallic blue 1966 3-speed Mustang. Probably one of the sexiest cars ever. It’s now a classic. But back in 1973 it was just a seven-year old car. I got it for $500. I was soon recognizable far and wide by my “blue ‘stang”. And it didn’t hurt that girls didn’t mind being seen riding around in such a cool car. I can’t say that I was ever cool, but my cool factor sure moved up a few notches with that purchase.

            But this story isn’t about the car, only what the car made possible.

My friend and I were casting about for something to do on a Thursday night. It happened to be Halloween night. Two sixteen-year-olds and Halloween are usually a recipe for trouble but we were (fairly) good kids. I came up with an idea.

            First you have to understand the situation out in the country where I lived. Our community was about a dozen houses stretched along a couple miles of country road on both sides of a country church. Then there were the outliers farther out or on even further back roads. Our church boasted a constant population of about 100. The local kids wanted to be part of “trick or treat” (free candy, duh) but they had to get their parents to take them to nearby villages where they really didn’t know the people. Also, the people in our community were always disappointed that we couldn’t participate in giving out goodies because no one trick-or-treats in the country. Our church came up with a nice idea. All the members of our church who wanted to give out Halloween goodies would leave their porch lights on. All interested children would meet at the church at sundown. An elder with a pickup truck would pile the kids in the back and drive to all the church member houses so the kids could do their thing. And along the way, they would pick up information about other neighbors, not members of our church, who might also have some treats. Of course, that wouldn’t work in 2019 because it’s illegal for kids to ride in the back of a pickup, but this was a simpler time.

            So, about sundown I picked up my friend and had an old white bedspread. While the kids were inside the church for a required prayer and mini-sermon before the main event, he and I pulled up behind the church. I took the spread and went out into the graveyard beside the church. I crouched down behind a tombstone and waited.

            The kids all came filing out of the church in their various costumes. There were about ten of them ranging from about 4 or five up to about 12. They climbed in the back of the truck all excited. As the driver turned on the engine, I rose up from behind a tombstone with the bedspread over my head. I raised my arms and started loudly moaning. At the squeal from the first kid who spotted me, I began moving toward the truck. Soon all the kids were screaming in fear and glee at the Halloween ghost. The driver, seeing what was happening sped off and the chorus of squeals died into the distance.

            Totally pleased with myself, I got back in the car and drove about a half mile in the opposite direction the truck had gone and pulled off into a wooded road so my car was hidden. I stood beside the road in my white disguise. Soon I heard the roar of the old pickup coming my way. I raised my arms and waved them back and forth. The truck driver began blowing his horn to get the attention of the kids in the back. As they sped by me they were all shrieking once again in glee.

            After they had passed, I drove to an old farm house and parked behind the barn. I went out into the field beside the house and hid behind a bale of peanut vines. This was one of the last stops. As the last kid was climbing into the back of the truck, I stood up and began running toward the truck waving my arms and howling. The kids all began screaming, “Go! Go!” to the driver. He timed it and pulled away just as I was getting close. I ran after the truck a little ways still carrying on. The kids were loving it.

            That was it for the night. My friend had only gone along for the company. He stayed in the car and told me alternately I was “weird” or I was “crazy”. But he had a smile when he said it.

            On Sunday there was still a little chatter among the young kids about the ghost they saw Halloween night. My friend and I never told anyone. So, if you were a kid who saw a ghost while trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1973 in eastern North Carolina, I’m the Ghost of Halloween Past.