Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Stephen King is my favorite author, but that doesn't mean I don't get tired of him vacationing in my house for weeks on end.  He can afford to go anywhere he wants, but for some reason he likes it in my house.  One probable reason is that I make good cheese sandwiches. 

It's gotten to the point where he doesn't even ask nicely anymore--he just holds out his hand while watching TV or whatever, not even looking at me, and says, "Cheese sandwich."  I make the cheese sandwich, put it in his hand, and he starts eating it as though I didn't exist.  One of these days I'm going to hand him one of those microwave truck-stop cheese sandwiches just to see the look on his face when he bites into it.

He's mad at me because I don't have enough Stephen King movies on DVD.  I've tried to explain that there just aren't that many good Stephen King movies, but he thinks they're all good.  Sure, he said some of them weren't very good in "Danse Macabre."  But he keeps going through my DVD collection and whining, "How come you don't have 'Cujo'?  Where's 'Maximum Overdrive'?" 

All I have are "The Stand", "Creepshow", "The Green Mile", and "Carrie", which he's watched several dozen times.  I have a few more on videotape, but I have to run the VCR myself whenever he watches them because he thinks it has evil spirits in it.  He thinks my car has evil spirits in it, too, because it leaks oil and the radio doesn't work.  I think he's nuts, but I guess that's why he's such a good writer.

One night I fell asleep in my recliner and when I woke up, Stephen King was standing over me with that googly-eyed chipmunk grin on his face.  He pointed at me and said "I'm gonna scare the hell outta you!" and then ran off down the hallway laughing.  The next day he wrote "Delores Claiborne."  I read it but didn't think it was all that scary, and he sulked for a week.  So to get back at me, he started writing the screenplay for "Maximum Overdrive II: Second Gear" until I threatened to start buying an inferior brand of processed cheese-food slices. 

For the longest time, I was afraid to tell him that I think "The Shining" is one of the worst horror movies ever made.  We'd watch it over and over, and he'd gush "That was great, huh?" and I'd say, "Yeah, great."  Finally one night after we'd watched it for the umpteenth time he said "That was great, huh?" and I screamed "NO!  NO!  I HATE THAT MOVIE!  I HATE IT, I HATE IT, I HATE IT!!!"  He fled the house, crying, and I didn't see him again for two weeks. 

When he finally did show up again, he solemnly handed me a videotape without saying a word.  I put it in the VCR and turned it on.  A disheveled, visibly agitated Jack Nicholson glared angrily into the camera and growled, "You make me sick."  The next day, Stephen King completed his revenge against me by writing "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon."

Right now, he's up in Maine somewhere doing who knows what, but he could show up again at any time.  I never know when.  I'm kind of scared that next time, he'll bring Jack Nicholson with him.  That's the way his mind works--he knows there's no way I'm going to say I hate "The Shining" with Jack Nicholson in the same room with me. 

I just hope they don't stay very long, because you can only make so many cheese sandwiches before you start wanting to grab an axe and kill people with it.  And the only Jack Nicholson movies I have on DVD are "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Terror", which would probably make him even more pissed-off at me than he already is.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


When I was in college, one of the most unusual summer jobs I ever had was as a vampire hunter's assistant.  I didn't know what to expect when I answered the "HELP WANTED--VAMPIRE HUNTER'S ASSISTANT" ad--surely it was some kind of joke, I thought, or an amusing play on words--but during the interview I became convinced that Professor Van Helsing was indeed quite serious about the whole thing. 

A wiry, distinguished gentleman in his early 60s, with a white buzzcut and thick glasses, Professor Van Helsing looked up from my application and asked me how I felt about stakes.  "I like mine well-done!" I joked, trying to lighten the situation.  He didn't seem to get it. 
"No," he said, "I mean wooden stakes...the kind that one hammers into a vampire's chest and straight through his hideous black heart, in order to end the accursed fiend's ghastly reign of terror on Earth for all eternity."  Well, he had me there.  "Oh," I said sheepishly.  "Well, I guess I like 'em okay." 

That seemed to suit him, so he hired me.  My first day was sort of a training period, in which I practiced hammering stakes into watermelons.  The professor demonstrated the proper method and I emulated him as best I could.  Once, I missed the stake entirely and splattered the watermelon all over the both of us.  I felt kind of like a more serious version of Gallagher. 

The professor took out a handkerchief and wiped the dribbling juice and seeds from his face, but remained calm.  "Keep trying," he said.  So I kept at it for the rest of the day until I could whack that sucker all the way through the watermelon on the first lick. 

The professor must've deemed my progress satisfactory, because he said, "Meet me at the old Burton mill at daybreak.  Bring your hammer, stakes, and a crucifix." 

"Should I bring a sack lunch?" I asked.  "Or will we stop off at a Jack In The Box or something?"

He had never heard of Jack In The Box.  "There's a tavern nearby," he said.  "We will procure food and drink there, provided you still have an appetite come the completion of our grisly task."

"'ll stake me for dinner?" I asked whimsically.  He didn't get it.

Well, I had to set my alarm clock if I was going to be dragging my butt out of bed before sunup.  I still had trouble arriving on time, especially since the old Burton mill was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and there weren't any signs or anything. 

I found the professor waiting under a nearby chestnut tree, wrapped in a dark cloak, his features hidden under a wide-brimmed fedora as he kept a watchful eye on the old mill.

"Stake-out, eh?" I quipped. 

"Follow me," he said, oblivious to my humorous remark.  We entered the crumbling old building, which was dark and cobwebby inside. 

I was pretty creeped out already, and this whole business about vampires and stuff was starting to feel real all of a sudden.  So it was with extreme trepidation that I followed the professor through a shadowy doorway and down a creaky flight of wooden stairs into what turned out to be a vast underground chamber. 

He waved his hand to indicate something in the gloom.  Straining my eyes, I could just make out a wooden coffin lying on the dirt floor.  "There," he said in a low voice, "is the hellish embodiment of evil known as...Count Dracula." 

I gulped audibly, feeling as though I'd just swallowed a golf ball.  Suddenly I wished I'd taken that other job with the landscaping service. I also had to go to the bathroom real bad.

Professor Van Helsing crept up to the coffin and, very slowly, opened the lid.  The creaking sound seemed inordinately loud and lasted for a small eternity.  And there, before my bulging, horrified eyes, lay Count Dracula.  I assumed he was asleep--at least, I freakin' hoped so--although his eyes were wide open and seemed to be boring right into mine.  " that normal?" I whispered hoarsely.

"Nothing about this vile Hell-spawn abomination is normal," muttered the professor, taking a wooden stake from under his cloak and placing the point carefully over the vampire's chest.  "Steady now--with all your might, wield your hammer true and drive this righteous spike of God clear through its hideous heart."  He gripped it with both hands, his body tensed in grim determination.

I took a deep breath, released it slowly with a quavering "whoosh", and raised the hammer over my head.  One chance.  One blow.  All I had to do was pretend that this horrible Count Dracula was a watermelon.  A big, scary watermelon with bloody fangs and blazing red eyes that were staring straight into mine and terrifying the living crap outta me. 

I could do it, I told myself.  I was Gallagher.  A badass, vampire-killing Gallagher.  With one last drawing of breath and summoning of will, I heaved the hammer upward and then brought it down with every last ounce of strength my body could muster.

Unfortunately, I missed the head of the stake and slammed the hammer right down on Professor Van Helsing's thumb.  For one brief, awful moment, it seemed to visibly throb just like in the cartoons.  "Eeeee-YOW!!!" he cried, holding his thumb in excruciating pain and hopping around crazily as stakes, crucifixes, and big bulbs of garlic flew out of his cloak and onto the ground at his feet. 

With a sudden jolt, Dracula awakened and glared straight at me, his face contorted in a grimace of inhuman rage.  Growling like some feral beast from Hell, he sat up in his coffin and reached out for me with clutching claws.  Thinking fast, I hoisted the hammer up again and hit him over the head with it as hard as I could. 

This seemed to disorient him for a few moments, so I whacked him over the head again.  Seeing this, Professor Van Helsing overcame his pain and grabbed the stake, placing it in position over the vampire's chest once again.  "Now!" he cried.  "While there's still time!"

I swung the hammer again, and again I missed the stake and smashed Professor Van Helsing's thumb.  The same one, too.  "Eeeee-YOW-OWW!!!" he cried, continuing to dance around in pain holding his throbbing thumb. 

Dracula had regained his senses by now, so I whacked him over the head a third time, and then a fourth.  He went cross-eyed for a moment, his tongue hanging limply between his fangs.  I grabbed the stake and held it in position with one hand, then rared back for another blow. 

But my hand was stayed by a quick, steely grasp.  Dracula wrested the hammer from me, flung it aside, and began to emerge from his coffin, pointing at me with a single accusatory talon as his dripping fangs gleamed in the half-light.  Before I knew it, he was looming over me with his cape swept open in both hands like huge bat wings. 

I didn't know what else to do, so I kicked him in the nuts.  "YAAARRGGHHH!!!" he shrieked, sounding similar to an enraged condor or something, and then he doubled over like a stage magician taking a bow. 
Meanwhile, Professor Van Helsing had managed to grab the stake and maneuver into position behind the vampire, holding it outstretched in both hands.  Apparently, he had lost his glasses sometime during the excitement and wasn't quite sure where Dracula's heart was at the moment.  But I didn't have time to quibble over details, so I grabbed the hammer, drew it back, and swung with all my might. 

This time my aim was true.  Striking it squarely on its head with a resounding thwack, I drove the righteous spike of God straight up Dracula's ass.

I'd never seen such a strange combination of anger, distress, and utter incredulity as I saw on Count Dracula's face at that precise moment.  The immortal Lord of Darkness had dealt with countless vampire hunters over the centuries, had endured untold stake-through-the-heart attempts, and survived to terrorize the world of the living again and again.  But judging from his reaction at this particular time, he'd never had a wooden stake driven up his ass before. 

"Gaaaa," he finally managed to gurgle as he staggered around stiffly, trying to reach behind him to remove the offending object.  He advanced upon me as before, fangs bared in slavering fury, so I kicked him in the nuts again for good measure.  This seemed to be the last straw. 
With a final cry of mortal indignation, Count Dracula turned into a bat and prepared to fly away.  Unfortunately for him, however, the wooden stake remained the same size, so now he was a tiny little bat with a regular-sized stake up his ass. 

Unable to stay aloft, he nose-dived straight for Van Helsing's big toe.  The professor yelped and hopped around holding his aching foot as a few more bulbs of garlic bounced out of his coat pockets.  I bent over and picked up the stake, which still had the bat stuck on the end like a popsicle.  I could hear a tiny little Count Dracula voice squeaking "I'll get you for this, you bastard!", but it wasn't anywhere near as terrifying as before. 

When we emerged into the daylight again, tiny Dracula-bat burst into flames.  So I used him to light a cigarette and then tossed the smoldering remains into a nearby trash barrel.  "Well," I said with a mischievous smirk, "Dracula and I have one thing in common...we both enjoy a good smoke after a juicy stake."

Van Helsing didn't get it.  I worked for him off and on for the next ten years, helping him to wipe out a massive segment of the vampire population throughout North and South America and most of Europe, and during that time I told him hundreds, maybe thousands of "stake" puns, but he never got a single one of them.  Ever. 

Finally, on my very last day as his assistant before moving on to a potentially rewarding career as a nightclub ventriloquist, the professor treated me to a steak dinner.  While we were eating, he looked at his steak, then at mine, and a sudden thought seemed to occur to him for the first time.  "Steak...stake..." he muttered.  "Why, they're homonyms.  Have you ever noticed that?"

"Yes," I said, sitting up.  This was it!  "In fact," I stated emphatically, "it would be a mis-stake...not to." 

"Yes, it would," he said.  "How's your steak?"

Saturday, October 20, 2012


The reason that I can't stand Halloween anymore doesn't have anything to do with any religious or moral objection to ghosts and goblins and stuff.  I love monsters and horror and old Britney Spears videos just as much as the next person.  No, what turned me against Halloween was what happened on the night of my very last trick-or-treat outing, when I finally discovered that the delicious Halloween candy I'd been eating all those years was really made out of...people. 
That's right!  Halloween PEOPLE!!!!!!

Okay, I just made that up.  What really happened went something like this...

(hazy dissolve)

The year was nineteen-sixty or seventy-something.  Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin had just eaten the very first Hostess Ding Dong on the moon.  Teenage girls all over America were worshipping Sumo wrestlers dressed as giant hamsters because of a misprint in the latest issue of "Tiger Beat."  And Richard Nixon was still "cool."  I had just achieved my childhood dream of becoming a citywide pariah well before my 18th birthday, simply by showing up at the mayor's daughter's wedding in a gorilla suit and passing out chili dogs with sparklers in them to the guests. 

I was just in the middle of performing an impromptu ventriloquist act with my dummy, The Great Leprosini, when suddenly everyone started throwing their chili dogs at me.  Normally that would be a good thing, but in this case I could sense a certain hostility coming from the crowd--especially the bride and groom, whom I had playfully slathered in hot tar and covered with chicken and duck feathers in lieu of a traditional wedding gift. 

While making my escape, I quite understandably had to beat up a few old ladies who had gotten in my way, and as I kicked one of them face-first into the wedding cake it occurred to me that it was Halloween.  Oh, boy!  Pulling the trigger on my industrial-strength spray gun, I doused the rest of the wedding guests with several gallons of wolf urine contained in two large tanks strapped to my back.  Then I bid a fond adieu to the distinguished assemblage, released the rabid warthogs, and skipped merrily home to put on my Princess Leia costume.  It was trick-or-treat time!

"You can't be Princess Leia," Mom scolded as I got dressed.  "You're a boy."

"SHUT UP, Mom!" I eloquently replied.

Grabbing my candy bag, I skipped merrily out the door and was soon joined by my friends Tubby and Mr. Jim-Jim.  Tubby was dressed as Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew in drag, and Mr. Jim-Jim was dressed as Tubby.  So I kicked him in the balls for not paying me back the ten bucks Tubby had owed me for two weeks.  It was a merry mix-up! 

I laughed heartily at my honest mistake, but Mr. Jim-Jim continued to moan and complain so I hit him really hard a whole bunch of times until he didn't make any more noise.  Tubby backed away real scared-like, as though he'd just seen a ghost.  Wow!  It was already turning out to be one spooky Halloween!

Well, I decided that we'd knock on old Mrs. Wilson's door first.  "C'mon, Tubby!" I said cheerfully.  But Tubby had disappeared!  I got that really creepy feeling, like I did every time the police stopped in front of my house and got out of their car and told my mom that something "had to be done" about all those maniacal assaults or arsons or whatever--it all sorta gets mixed up in my head, ha ha--but, like, all the bad things that "Joe" had done and then blamed on me the way he always did. 

Sometimes I would just suddenly go to sleep, and then "Joe" would appear and do bad things, and when I woke up people would be pointing and blaming me for them!  When they did that, I would just have to hit them really hard a whole bunch of times until they stopped saying those bad things about me. 

Well, the next thing I knew, I was holding Mrs. Wilson upside-down by her feet and trying to flush her head down the toilet!  "Gimme some more of that damn candy!" I could hear myself saying in a real mean voice like The Hulk.  "Where's the rest of those f***in' popcorn balls!"  Okay, I don't even like popcorn balls, so I'll bet that was Joe who had done all that and left me to take the blame again! 

So I propped Mrs. Wilson up in her easy chair real nice in front of the TV, put her feet up on some cushions, and screamed into her face as loud as I could so she'd be sure to hear me, "THAT WAS JOE THAT DID ALL THAT STUFF, MRS. WILSON!!!  DON'T YOU GO BEING BAD AND BLAMING ME FOR IT!!!"  I think that did the trick, because as I left with my bag full of delicious candy I couldn't hear her saying anything.

As soon as I began to skip down the sidewalk again, my youthful mind aglow with happy thoughts of tricks and treats, I noticed that some police cars had pulled up just ahead and that Tubby and Mr. Jim-Jim were talking to the police and pointing at me.  I wanted to appear innocent and nonchalant, so I skipped real hard and swung my arms like I was really carefree and happy.  They stared at me with this weird look on their faces, and I think it was because they'd never seen such a cool Princess Leia costume before! 

I skipped harder and harder, and looked more and more defiantly nonchalant, until finally I was screaming my head off and the candy was flying all over the place and I just wanted to hit them all really hard a whole bunch of times until they would just LEAVE ME ALONE!!!  And even Mrs. Wilson agreed, because by that time she had stuck her head out the front door and was screaming, "LEAVE ME ALONE!!!" 

I don't know why, but the police took their guns out and started coming after me.  I ran and ran, around Mr. Burton's house, up the alley behind some other people's houses, and back around to where one of the police cars was.  I hopped in and started it up, racing the engine like they did in that cool "Speed Racer" movie.  VROOOM-VROOOM!!! 

I put the police car into gear and rammed the gas pedal to the floor, and before I knew it I was chasing the police and Tubby and Mr. Jim-Jim and some other people who had come out of their houses all up and down the street and across everybody's yards and through their picket fences and everything.  It was just like "The Dukes of Hazzard" if Princess Leia was the guest star! 

"Get out of my way, bad people!" I heard Joe's voice scream.  "I'll turn you all into roadkill!"  Since he seemed to be driving the car, I just sat back and relaxed.  It was fun, zooming up people's front steps and crashing through the front walls of their houses, chasing them around for awhile, and then crashing out the back walls again.  Pretty soon there were a lot of people running for their lives as Joe and me careened all over the place with the police siren going full blast.  Policemen, neighbors, and little kids in different festive Halloween costumes all scampered and dove out of the way like insects.  Ha ha ha ha ha!  "I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!!!" I shouted triumphantly out the open window. 

And then, as suddenly as it had started, my fun came to an end when the police car finally ran out of gas.  It coasted to a stop and I got out, happier and more at peace with the world than I had been since Dr. Feldman gave me the really big pink pill that made all the TV shows a hundred times funnier.  I barely noticed the police approaching me with extreme caution, guns drawn, and then wrestling me to the ground and slapping the handcuffs on me.  I was still in a state of extreme euphoria when they fingerprinted and booked me, beat me with rubber hoses, and threw me into a cell with a bunch of drunk, hostile bikers and serial killers.  "You can't do this to me!" I heard myself shrieking through the bars.  "I'm Princess Leia, DAMMIT!" 

But it wasn't Joe's voice this time.  It was mine.  I had finally learned to stand up...for myself!
Mom showed up a few hours later to bail me out.  She didn't say anything on the way home, which was worse than if she'd chewed me out.  When we walked through the front door, Dad looked up from the TV and gave me this kind of...I don't know..."disappointed" look.  It was at that moment that I realized for the first time that, after all the trouble I'd just been through, I didn't have a single piece of candy to show for it.  I'd even lost my cool "Barney" trick-or-treat bag.  And that's probably why Dad looked so disappointed.  He'd been looking forward to eating some of my delicious Halloween candy.

"I'm sorry, Dad," I said in my most sincere voice.  "I meant to save you some gummi bears or some of those little 'fun-size' Mr. Goodbars that you like.  I really did.  But then Mrs. Wilson, and the police, and Tubby and Mr. Jim-Jim...well, they were all very bad, and--"

The thought of all these bad people and what they'd done to me started to make me madder and madder.  Suddenly I wasn't "sorry" anymore.  Bristling with anger, I straightened my Princess Leia hair buns and skipped really, really hard up the stairs to my room.  Too wired to go to bed, I skipped really, really hard around and around my room, harder and harder, my blazing nonchalance growing in intensity until I realized that I was stomping holes in the floor and the downstairs ceiling was starting to crumble.  I was still skipping, skipping like King Kong would've skipped if he were a cute little kid like me, when the whole house suddenly caved in and the ruptured gas line exploded. 

Needless to say, I heroically made my way through the flames and pulled Mom and Dad to safety.  But did anyone appreciate my heroism?  Of course not.  I was still a citywide pariah, which wasn't quite as much fun as I'd thought it would be back when I decided to be one instead of a fireman or a cowboy.  To everyone else, I was still "that bad kid."  Well, I'd show them.  I'd show them all. 

I would become...PORFLE.