Photo by AJStream, from Flickr.
When I was a kid, I never really cared what I was for Halloween, as long as it got to kill people.
More often than not, I dressed up as the characters I thought were having a way more exciting life than me: guys in the Army.
Yeah, I know (now) that guys in the Army don’t have it all that good. It’s not all ultra-cool stuff like crouching in a rice paddy eating baked beans from a can off the end of your still-bloody bayonet. It’s, like, paperwork and saluting and stuff, and trying to get your mortgage paid on a salary that dwindles every year. It probably sucked then and it probably sucks now, but I was a kid, WTF did I know? I thought it was all John Wayne in The Longest Day and Bob Crane in Hogan’s Heroes, romancing German girls and giving Gestapo guys wedgies. That’s what war is, right?
My father is a hardcore military nerd, just like me, so he helped me hugely with his vast stores of knowledge on uniforms and gear from his eight years as a mortarman in the National Guard, an early-’40s childhood spent watching newsreels from the war, and his compulsive reading in contemporary military history. He explained to me the exact shape and configuration of a white phosphorous grenade (armed forces designation AN-M14, in case you’re wondering) and helped me figure out how a Shasta Cola can could be turned into one and exactly what it would do to the interior of a tank with a crew of Hans-es and Gunther-s in it, which I thought was friggin’ awesome. Death! Murder! Mayhem! Burn those Nazis alive! Fry up some German sausage! Freedom forever! God Bless America! All enemies, foreign and domestic! Eat lead, suckers!
What’s that, you say? Didn’t I want to be an astronaut? Sure, I would have dressed up as an astronaut…as soon as those pansies in Congress started arming NASA! Seriously, they were sending people into orbit without even sidearms? Hell, you think the Russies are that stupid? I don’t think so, hippie! What happens when the space zombies come…you gonna hit ‘em with algebra? Slap ‘em around with your Master’s degree? Only wimps dressed up as astronauts for Halloween.
Sure, year that Star Wars came out, I was Luke Skywalker. Because my family wasn’t exactly swimming in credits, I painted a stick with fluorescent paint (badly) to serve as my lightsaber. (Don’t worry — me and my sister got lightsabers for Christmas, aka “flashlights,” leading to many spirited lightsaber battles.) But I spent about a hundred times as much effort on the lightsaber and the blaster (a tracer gun with a bunch of fruity crap glued all over it) as I did on the robe and the boots.
Actually, I just threw on a bathrobe went around shooting things, which would become a running theme in my life. The galoshes were particularly fashionable, and big enough on me that I could stuff a couple boot knives and extra blasters down there. Better safe than sorry, even if I rattled when I walked. The idea wasn’t so much to “trust your feelings” or “feel the Force flowing through you” as to hack people to death with high-energy plasma and blow holes in things while making smart-assed remarks. That, too, would become a lifelong habit.
Another year, I was a detective — not a cop, mind you, I never wanted to be a cop, just a detective. But no, I wasn’t a detective with a deerstalker cap and a pipe and a magnifying glass…I had cigarettes, a fedora and about twenty revolvers stuffed into my overcoat. I was a six-year-old kid who made Mike Hammer look like “the negotiator.” I was the nightmare of jaywalkers everywhere.
Mostly, though, I wanted to be a cigar-chomping combat fighter…an Army Man. Because what red-blooded American boy in the ’70s wouldn’t like to kill people for a living?
Simmer down, Army people, I know you don’t “kill people for a living,” you “serve your country honorably.”
Just like private detectives don’t suckerpunch litterbugs; they dig through big stacks of canceled checks and dive into file cabinets looking for for birth certificates.
And Luke Skywalker never slice-and-diced any Stormtroopers with his glo-stick, at least not until I was too old to dress up like him without looking like a choad.
And by then I’d learned about Ronald Reagan, the ultimate monster, and I’d learned about nuclear war, and jobs, and how much everything sucked. I didn’t want to kill people anymore. I didn’t want to fight in the Army and I didn’t believe that the people who ran my country had the faintest clue what they were doing, and I sure as hell knew they didn’t have my best interests in mind. When Reagan made his joke about the bombing beginning in five minutes, I yelled and screamed about impeachment; I was a precocious 13-year-old. And when Ronald McReagan floated the Star Wars plan, I was disgusted that anyone even thought about giving his boneheaded ideas a fair hearing; I knew then, as I know now, that the release of nuclear weapons is not something you can beat.
But suggesting that nuclear weapons can be shot down safely? Pretending down is up, black is white, social security is an “entitlement” and nightmares are dreamscapes?
That sounds really familiar. The monsters are still telling us all about it.
I just got into a tangle on Facebook with a friend of a friend who said about the Occupy Oakland attacks, “It happens.” He said that a woman had been killed following a Red Sox game. “It happens.” “The police tell people to disperse…they don’t disperse.” “It happens.”
It doesn’t happen. Not like this, it doesn’t. In Egypt, yes. In America…no. Not now, not ever. Not without grievous consequences.
Monsters exist because the people don’t have the guts to slay them. Monsters exist ’cause “it happens.”
And it happens ’cause the monsters come out to play, people, in an ever-building loop that starts when they come for the communists, and then they come for the trade unionists, and you don’t say anything because “it happens.”
It happens because the people see crap-ass policing like what happened in Oakland and they roll their eyes and make apologies for incompetent leadership. They don’t demand Mayor Jean Quan’s immediate resignation. They don’t hear the Oakland Police claiming no rubber bullets were use, and realize that police departments that lie in public deserve to be disbanded. The citizens don’t call bullshit on assholes saying of unconscionable police tactics, “It happens.” People who don’t know what they’re talking about, incidentally, because no, it doesn’t happen.
I lived in Oakland for years, so I know what I’m talking about. That city is brutalized by its administration. Its elected officials, in my experience, are privileged idiots who walk on air above the torments of the populace, eternally in bed with developers and selling out small business for their own gain. Its police force closes ranks around revolting behavior — yes, like police forces everywhere, partially because they feel that’s what’s necessary to keep police work safe for its workers…and I don’t always even disagree with them.
But in Oakland, it’s out of control…and it’s out of control in America.
The people have spent too many years shrugging and saying “It happens.”
This is what happens when the monsters come out to play.
Happy Halloween, everybody. May Freddie, Jason, Robert Neville and my cigar-chomping white-phosphorous-tossing homicidal Army guy get you before Wall Street does.
(This article was cross-posted to The Night Bazaar)