Jean and I saw Skyfall on Friday night, and it was amazing. Beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, filled with lovely touches of nostalgia for the former Bond films but clearly written as a naturalistic answer to those movies. It immediately became my favorite of the series.
But something happened this same weekend after I saw it. Like any geek worth his comic book collection, I usually have a moment where I indulge in the wish-fulfillment inherent in the James Bond franchise: when I imagine myself as the sleek, well-tailored killing machine hopping the globe in pursuit of international madmen of villainy and the sultry, magnificent women all around them. (Even John F. Kennedy wasn’t immune to the lure; the Bond books were his favorite reading in the White House, and were reportedly on his nightstand during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
Only this time, it didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself holding my youngest daughter after her morning nap. She was in the middle of a cold, and her voice and breathing were thick with snot, and she was warm and still drowsy in my arms.
She used my forearm as a shelf for her head. She said, “Tired,” and “Good nap” and then “Cuddle.” She stayed there, totally relaxed and trusting, for five minutes without moving.
I was smiling so hard I felt tears come to my eyes. At that moment, I realized, I wouldn’t trade places with James Bond for anything. Not for anything in the world.
This is it. Election Day. One of my favorite secular holidays. I believe everyone should get the day off, and the bars should serve free drinks and ice cream after the polls close. Even my daughters seem excited: our youngest was up at 3:00 AM and our four-year-old cheerfully informed me she hopes Mitt Romney wins because “he wore a red-and-purple tie, and those are my favorite colors.”
I covered a few elections when I was a reporter and I still get infected by the excitement. For all my talk about being sick of the campaigning, there’s really nothing like the kind of charge you can get on Election Day. Sports fans, I know you think you’ve got the lock on intensity when it comes to game day, but trust me. Watch a bunch of former debate geeks, policy wonks, and political junkies waiting for the returns; it’s like a pack of werewolves taking over the local Holiday Inn. By the time the bartender finally escapes, there are claw marks in the drywall and someone’s eaten the carpet.
No matter who wins, I enjoy this part, with everybody equal parts exhausted and exhilarated and anxious. By tomorrow morning, you’re going to hear wails of despair and rage. There might be recounts, lawsuits, and the inevitable disappointment when the story doesn’t end cleanly and crisply, with a winner over here and a loser over there.
But right now, everyone is filled with a kind of savage joy, waiting for the moment when we all get to find out what happens. For all the misinformation, hype, spin, partisan hackery and outright lying, I’m always glad to see this day come. For a few hours, at least, millions of people all give a collective damn about what happens to our country and our future. As flawed and imperfect as the process is, it reflects our own flaws and imperfections, and our hopes to make something better on the next go-round.
If that’s not worth free beer and ice cream, then I don’t know what qualifies.
Jean and I have been touring schools lately, looking for the right place for our older daughter. In between the smart-boards and the iPads and the progressive learning methods, it’s been one punch of nostalgia after another: the smell of modeling clay mixed with sack lunches; the same posters that were up on the walls of my own elementary school, the same cursive writing charts, and, in one library, the same books.
Specifically, the Crestwood House Monster Series of books.
I’d almost written these off to faulty memory until I saw this one in a Halloween display: The Wolf Man.
And then it all came flooding back. The Monster Series was a line of books that gathered up a bunch of (surprisingly accurate) monster lore and then included (surprisingly detailed) plot summaries of the great monster movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The Collister Elementary library had the entire set, and since I wasn’t allowed to read comic books in class, I checked out every one of them. To this day, there are some horror films I haven’t seen — for instance, I’ve never seen Universal’s original Mummy series — but I know how they ended, because I read the Crestwood House books. This was the Internet before the Internet: a corner of the library filled with specialized knowledge, just waiting there for someone willing to seek it out. My path to writing The President’s Vampire started right there.
(You can read an excellent history of the books here.)
As soon as I knew the proper name for the series, I went to Amazon and got some copies of my own, in order to keep wallowing in the resurfaced memories. One old favorite holds up very well: Mad Scientists.
It includes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Fu Manchu, The Invisible Man, and The Fly. It’s a treasure trove of very smart guys with really bad ideas. And it’s got some lovely still pictures from all of those horror flicks.
I’m still sort of amazed that no horrified parents’ groups ever rallied against these books, since they include murder, mayhem, occult practices, and all kinds of other crimes that kids are supposed to be sheltered from.
But then, as now, kids are tougher and smarter than we think — I don’t remember a single nightmare from one of these books, or, for that matter, from Channel 12′s month-long Halloween movie marathon. Instead, I think I began to realize that these were all stories — that there were common threads of legend and pure nonsense running through them, and if I worked at it, I might be able to unravel them and find the secrets for myself.
I’m thrilled to see that these books are still out there in the wild. The copies I picked up were discards from the Fergus Falls library, probably salvaged for less than a buck each, which seems like a shame.
Hopefully someone will buy up the rights to the Crestwood House series and bring them all back into print. I think there are a lot of kids who would appreciate this kind of field guide to the world of monsters; who might really be able to use books that explain away some of the mystery, and shed a little light in the dark.
• Cracked.com has five examples of stories from history that are just as frightening as any horror movie. Doesn’t include my favorite, but the one about a real-life Chucky doll makes up for it. There’s also this piece from Cracked about the creepiest stories in the history of war.(Spoilers: it includes eating human flesh.)
• Paranormal author Brad Steiger gives his picks for the most authentic ghost films at UFO Digest. Or you can check out his picks for scariest UFO movies, in case you’re looking for something to watch on Halloween.
• And speaking of real-life horror stories, try to wrap your mind around this concept: “Planetary Chemotherapy.”
Just in case the decomposing flesh and the eating people doesn’t clue you in, here’s how you diagnose what’s wrong with a zombie.