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Metroland Special Section: Halloween

 

The Spirits Speak

By Chet Hardin

 

Jotting down my questions quick with a red marker on tablet paper, I shove them in my back pocket and hoof it to a psychic rendezvous. Marisha, my medium for the evening, mailed me a pamphlet earlier this week: “Hints for a Good Reading” by the Rev. Rita Faubel. There are 10 suggestions, and I skim them quick.

“Try to put your mind at ease,” No.1 advises.

Reporters and psychics by nature don’t mix, so I scold myself to dislodge my journamalistic skepticism: “You were a real person once, too, you know.”

At her doorbell, and now despite myself, I am a little excited. I have never been to a psychic before. Maybe she is the real deal. A portal to the spirit dimensions could be opened and the knowledge of the ether laid bare for me. I want to believe. Neat!

And at the very least, it will be entertaining.

No. 8: “A good reading should explain the philosophy of harmonious living.”

A long-haired cat lies supine at Marisha’s feet, basking in the even, hypnotic vibe. We are sitting in antique Indian furniture, crafted for the British plantation owners of that day. She tells me that it was in India that she learned how she would die, but the spirits are sometimes stingy with that information. So I might not get the answer to that question: It is the psychic equivalent of putting out on a first date.

I read off my other questions to her. She jots them down on her notepad. Some of them are kind of personal. It is a little odd to be asking a complete stranger things I would be embarrassed to bring up with anyone but my close friends. The questions you ask are necessarily intimate; they deal with what you suspect to be the specialty of the residents of the ether: death, passed relatives, past lives, your future. I was warned that I was supposed to meditate on these questions beforehand; as Faubel states in hint No. 9, “No spirit claims to have an answer on the spur of the moment.” But I didn’t. My spirits are getting a lead time of 20 minutes.

Marisha has always had this talent, she says. Spirits deliver her words, phrases and full sentences, sometimes images. These have meaning about the possible future and past lives, even pressing dilemmas. It can be a unsettling talent, disruptive even, and she worked to repress it as a teenager, but in college, as an art student, the cathartic process of painting resurfaced the talent and she hasn’t looked back. She clutches my wallet, my keys, my wedding ring, closes her eyes, and “gets in her zone.”

“Most of the time I won’t look at you. I need to focus on what I am hearing and seeing,” she says. “It’s pretty astounding. You will be amazed. I know this because I am amazed by it myself.”

She asks me questions in an even voice. Her ice-blue eyes shut softly. Words come out at a regular clip. If I say no to a word, she moves on. If I say yes, she builds on these words, seizing hold of synonyms that build in intensity, attempting to form a fuller image. Sometimes the words are wrong, completely. She backs off. Sometimes they are too strong, or nuanced to mean the wrong thing. She backs off from those, too, dropping through the thesaurus entry to the next applicable word. At the worst moments, she is moved by the spirits to a completely different train of questioning.

“Is there trouble in your marriage?” she asks.

I am a little affronted. It is a marriage, after all. I pause. Not because I am going through the issues of my marriage, but because I am starting to wonder why the hell I have put myself in this position.

“No,” I say with an unnerved grin.

“I am getting a phrase,” from the spirits, presumably. “What lies beneath?”

What lies beneath? It’s a marriage! An entire encyclopedia of personality conflicts and quirks lie beneath. The skeptic in me is shaking his head.

“Do you and your wife fight?” she asks.

“No. Fight is a strong word,” I say.

“Do you quarrel?”

“No.”

“Bicker?”

“Nope.”

Here she stops and looks at me for the first time in a half-hour.

“You are a writer, and I am a writer,” she admonishes. “We have too refined our words,” as though it is my pickiness that has stumped the spirits.

No. 5: “Arguing . . . makes it difficult for the medium to function effectively. . .”

“Have you both considered counseling?”

“No,” I say, now fully annoyed.

And so it goes for the next hour. The words hit or miss marks, like any word can, but when she tells me the relationship between my mother and I is calm, that’s it. Calm describes neither my mother, me, or our relationship. For real, I have to force myself to not chew on my own arm hair when I talk to her.

So, to sum up: I am neither convinced nor entertained. At the end, shaking her lithe hand, I feel violated and kinda hungry. But I’m told I am lucky, because the spirits and I went all the way: I am going to die from head trauma when I am 80. It will be a car wreck, not my fault, and it will be instantaneous.

Boring.


Clothes Make the Cowboy

Remembering the best—or most ill-conceived—Halloween costumes

By Shawn Stone

 

Curious (and on deadline), I queried a number of friends and colleagues about their most memorable, or infamous, Halloween costumes. I heard first from Susan, an old college pal: “I guess it would be freshman year at Fredonia, when Annie and I dressed as bananas. . . . I guess the reaction we got was one of laughter.”

I would have thought it was the time the two dressed as Adam Ant and Boy George. Or maybe I was just hallucinating; it was the 1980s, after all.

Childhood memories linger. As one colleague who had the wrong holiday in mind wrote, “I insisted on being Mrs. Santa Claus when I was 7. I was deeply hurt that I did not win a single prize in the school parade.”

Then there are the bad ideas: “When I was in third grade, my best friend and I found instructions in a brittle book in the back caverns of the library on how to make a ‘Siamese twin’ costume for two. We enthusiastically brought our genius costume idea to our incredibly sweet mothers, who were doing their best to raise us in the all-encompassing spirit of tolerance and political correctness of young liberal parents in the mid-1980s. We were told (tenderly of course) that ‘Siamese twins’ was not a funny costume. It was, in fact, a horrible and often fatal birth defect. The more appropriate term was ‘conjoined twins.’ ”

Ouch.

“What,” the moms asked, “would we like to be instead?”

“ ‘Harem dancers!’ ”

“I don’t know if they were just done fighting, or if the PC irony was truly lost on them, but our loving mothers spent many hours sewing custom-made concubine costumes for their 9-year-old daughters.”

There’s a punch line, of course: “This is the Northeast, after all. Over our billowy pants and half-shirts we were forced to layer sweaters, puffy parkas, mittens, scarves and hats. All night we heard ‘Ooh, look at the little Eskimos!’ ”

Another colleague had a more pointed memory.

“In third grade I dressed up as Al Capone. I had a nice antique suit, suspenders, bowler hat, etc. I also had my mother’s ancient violin case and it was supposed to be full of guns.”

“The teachers were not OK with that. At all.”

Skipping ahead to the college years, Ashley writes: “Two friends and I went to a series of college Halloween parties as the Beastie Boys from the ‘Sabotage’ video. This is not embarrassing in and of itself, but as the lone woman in the trio, I was dressed with a brown comb-over wig, moustache, shoulder holster, and baggy, ugly 1970s undercover cop clothes. An ex-boyfriend (dressed as C.C. DeVille from Poison) didn’t recognize me . . . not even my voice. Truthfully, his zebra spandex wasn’t doing him any favors either.”

Four years later, she notes that the “same friends and more dressed as the cast from The Royal Tenenbaums and rode all over Cambridge, Mass., to and from Halloween parties on public transit. People either loved us or didn’t seem to notice, because we blended into the tweedy, professorial, preppy background.”

Finally, an ex-Metrolander relates a heartwarming tale from the hipster capital of New York.

“I was once invited to a friend’s party in Brooklyn and was heavily leaned upon to come costumed. I relented, and went with a really lazy version of a cowboy: a pair of boots and a snap-button shirt with a slightly western vibe.”

What happened?

“Thing was no one knew I was in costume and several of the guests thought I was a hustler. Not someone dressed as a hustler, mind you, a hustler.”

“Very friendly fellas in Brooklyn.”


Raising Hell

In which we postulate the locations of local hellmouths

By David King

 

In 2003, Ann Morrow dispelled the myth that Pinewoods Cemetery in Troy is a hellmouth. And yet, it seems likely that there must be at least one hellmouth in the Capital Region.

“Albany is a hellhole!” “Troy is a hellhole!” “Schenectady is a hellhole!” These are things we, as Metroland staffers, hear far too frequently. Being the intrepid reporters that we are, we thought it only logical to attempt to locate these alleged entrances to hell, or at least humbly suggest areas in our great region where such holes could thrive. What is a hellmouth, exactly? An area so troubled by the weight of past events that supernatural activity is at a boiling point, resulting in a spot where it is possible to walk into Hades itself. So, in the spirit of Halloween and in the interest of locating the most damned places in the Capital Region, we offer you, our loyal readers, Metroland’s rundown of the top 10 places where you just might find a hellmouth in the Capital Region.

 

Areas of Interest

1. Metroland (basement)

We’ve been told by many old-timers that since Metroland’s current offices at 419 Madison Ave., Albany, once served as a police precinct, we should watch out for ghosts of departed inmates who rattle around lost, eternally looking for a reprieve. That is no real concern to most Metroland staffers, as we refer them to the current Chief of Police, James Tuffey, to plead their cases. What does concern most of us is that having a place of such extreme ectoplasmic activity in our basement means that all of our negative energy is stored there—we learned that supernatural tidbit from Ghostbusters—and as a result we are constantly on the lookout for green, ectoplasmic, floating demons who squeal out headlines like “Metroland Staffers Killed in Tragic Foam-Sword-Fighting Accident!”

Likelihood of hellmouth: 7 out of 10

2. The Empire State plaza (all of it)

This monstrosity has caused more static for New York’s capital city than Roger Stone at a Spitzer family picnic. Plopped down in the center of a lively neighborhood, designed without considering the impact on the rest of downtown Albany at the behest of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, this monstrous totem to all that is bloated and corrupt in New York politics draws evil into it. It is home to the ghastly hordes that make the gears of our monstrous state government churn. (No, state workers, we don’t me you; you guys are a-OK in our book!) This thing has so many tunnels and winding corridors that we are fairly certain if you walk down the wrong one you may end up pressed against the dark lord’s bosom.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 9 out of 10

3. Joseph L. Bruno Stadium

Legend has it that Joltin’ Joe Bruno went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to be a famous boxer, but he signed the devil’s contract without reading the fine print. Instead of the life of a famous pugilist, the dark one traded Bruno a life as a political party boss and tough-guy state senator. Joe has never since forgotten to read the fine print. “The Joe” is just one of the spoils of Bruno’s long reign as Republican power broker. As legend has it, the stadium was built on top of the grounds where Bruno first met the devil himself, and if you are quiet and approach the stadium just past midnight during a full moon, you can catch Bruno meeting with Lucifer in the baseball field, trading information, bashing Spitzer and making deals to get pesky investigations and allegations swept under the rug.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 8 out of 10

4. Albany City Hall

Albany City Hall has produced a long line of obscenely powerful mayors who rule with little regard to the populace of the city. They hoard and build political power that they use only to further the interests of their political allies, friends and family. If you believe the stories, there is an elevator in the mayor’s chambers that allows Albany’s patriarch to pay visits to his dark master. Word is that mouthy council people sometimes find themselves fed to the hounds of hell—or at least at the wrong end of a pitchfork. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

Likelihood of hellmouth: 10 out of 10

5. Crossgates Mall

Built on top of the Pine Bush, Albany’s unique, endangered habitat, the buildings shift in the sand they were built on, this consumer paradise swaying to the revolt of Mother Nature. The mindless hordes driven there to spend leave soulless and barren. Their spirits haunt the place, moaning through Hooters, wailing past Victoria’s Secret, rattling their chains as they lament their loss of humanity.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 5 out of 10

6. Clifton Park

A strip-mall, suburban hell on earth. Soccer moms beware. Drive your oversized SUV with care. There is no escape from this hollow landscape once you become part of it.

Likelihood of hellmouth: No question about it!

7. Home Depot

Corporate America’s fly-trap for Johnny Q. Suburbia, staffed by hordes of drones who “are here to help!” and guarded by a “private security force,” these do-it-yourself armories are now positioned strategically around the region, driving independent stores into bankruptcy, and waiting to lead Satan’s charge against heaven. Haunted by the ghosts of taste and banshees of gaudiness, Home Depot is undeniably a form of hell, but a manmade one.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 1 out of 10.

8. The Times Union Headquarters

We hear that those unfortunate enough to poke their heads into this guarded fortress of solitude, built with Hearst money, are rarely the same again. A chilling specter of the corporate media that controls the flow and spin of our daily news haunts Wolf Road. Nothing against the Times Union here; they do good work when Beeezelbub isn’t looking.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 1 out of 10.

9. The Remains of GE in Schenectady

Legend has it that General Electric is the private corporation of Satan himself. When locals caught on to it, the company all but abandoned the once-thriving city. Word is if you dig deep enough you can still find a back door into hell.

Likelihood of hellmouth: 9 out of 10

10. Nanotech Center at UAlbany

Man has long feared what he cannot understand, and most of us here at Metroland are totally freaked by that nanotech junk. Have you seen the building? It looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica. Anyway, we got an e-mail from the anti-technology club we belong to the other day that suggested that the good folks over there might be working on a portal to hell! That’s what smart scientists do, right? I mean, we see it everywhere in popular culture; see Doom, the videogame, for proof. So who is to say those smart folks haven’t ruptured some sort of time-space continuum and brought hell to Earth?

Likelihood of hellmouth: We don’t understand enough about this nanotechy thing to know.

dking@metroland.net


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