Sunday, October 12, 2008


Halloween brings out the best in eleven-year-old boys. The year Justin turned eleven -- his birthday on November 1 has always heightened our awareness of Halloween -- we stopped in to a costume shop on Moody Street in Waltham. Of the extensive display of rubber heads, his heart's delight was one called Rotting Corpse, a new addition to the collection, we were assured. It was and remains the ugliest thing I have ever seen. It was also too expensive. Presumably I had already bought him a birthday present, probably also too expensive. But you can't fight love at first sight. From the moment he saw this hideous thing he had his heart set on it and was blind to everything else in the store. We cut a deal whereby he paid for some of it himself; even the magic phrase your own money didn't deter him.

On the way home we stopped at Friendly's. Before we left the car he insisted on laying my coat on the back seat, with the mask tucked into the collar, face up. The coat must have been stuffed with something: nobody would be impressed by a dead guy in the back seat that's as flat as Judge Doom (the paper-thin evil Toon who framed Roger Rabbit).

All the way home he kept thinking of ways to improve the mask. I firmly vetoed any modifications. I know what happens if you compromise the integrity of substances like whatever kind of rubber these things are made of. I put my case as strongly as I knew how and hoped for the best.

An indeterminate while after we got home I was sitting at the computer in my office, focusing on work for a customer, when what should walk around the monitor but Justin in that grisly, overpriced mask with a steak knife protruding from one eye.

Several things were going on here. First, I was concentrating on something else and entirely unprepared. Second, the visual impact of one's child with a knife sticking out of his eye gets a parent's attention even if this can't possibly be for real. Third and perhaps most important, the mask is so distorted that it isn't obvious just where the eye holes are. I was sure he had put the knife through the fabric of the mask, in direct defiance of my firm and unambiguous orders. Not to mention that walking around with a knife in that position while wearing a mask that, as he had already told me, interferes with one's vision is a really, really bad idea. I blew my top.

To this day, Justin has a tendency to lead with the most dismaying aspect of whatever he has in mind, like the time he announced that he and Nathan were going to Connecticut for the weekend. Fine -- by then eighteen, he could go to Connecticut with Nathan with my permission or without it. But the night before they left, discussing his arrangements by telephone from Nathan's, he said nonchalantly, "Oh, by the way, we're taking your car." On that occasion, as on many others, once I stopped screaming and listened, what he was proposing wasn't as outrageous as it sounded. He and Nathan and my car went to Connecticut, after some tense after-midnight negotiation.

In re: the mask, we established (1) that the knife was in fact through a hole representing an eye that had fallen out or fallen in or whatever eyes do, i.e., there were no newly created holes; but that (2) walking around with a knife that close to your eye when you can't half see is as aforementioned very ill-advised, don't do it any more. He saw the force of my argument and didn't, nor did he mess up the mask in any other way.

He wore that ghastly thing that Halloween and from time to time since, in combination with various garments. I haven't seen it since he moved out; he must have taken with him.