Chooch is obsessed with Halloween stores. After they all closed last year, I thought we were going to have to hook him up with methadone. In his upper case voice, he’d wail, “I want to go to the ‘WEEN STORE!” and try explaining to a then-two-year old boy that ‘Ween stores are like traveling carnivals – they stink like sweat, have employees with bad attitudes (hello, I used to work at one), have at least one bearded lady, and are gone faster than you can go back to tell that one stock boy you’re having his baby. Nothing left but some fake blood on the linoleum, tumbleweed of glittered costume lashes, and the memory of overpriced graveyard sets.
But hooray, now they’re back open and we’ve delivered Chooch to at least three different chains and five different locations. Spirit seems to remain his favorite, although there’s one that has a giant jack o’lantern on its sign and that one really impressed him. I think it’s Halloween Connection. I don’t fucking know. They’re all the same to me after you go eighteen times a week.
We just let him run wild in there. He knows not to touch any of the life-sized mechanical displays and it’s really the only store we don’t have to worry about him breaking anything, since he’s mostly enamored with the table of rubber cats, rodents and reptiles. Have you ever tried to break a fake rat?
Somewhere along the way, he has learned of Jason Voorhees. Yes, I let my son watch scary movies. But we usually stick to the overly fake zombie flicks and supernatural ones. I’m saving slasher films for when he’s a LITTLE BIT older, like four. I don’t know. Maybe I’m kidding.
Now, some of the Spirit stores have a life-sized Jason in the back, machete at the ready, dead eyes that roll back and forth. It’s actually pretty frightening and I know it’s lame, but I don’t like getting too close because it feels like a set-up to a super bad movie. But Chooch LOVES THIS THING. He makes the employees laugh because he acts all brave, getting so close, but then he runs back and pulls me by the hand, telling me to come with him and that, “It’s OK, Jason’s not going to ‘killed’ us.”
So we’re at another Spirit store last night, which is actually the one I worked at three years ago and in the same shopping center as that disturbing LA Fitness shooting last month. Chooch dons a hockey mask and, I’m not joking, goes, “Ch-ch-ch, ha-ha-ha.” It sent a chill up my spine, but a good chill, like a “I’m so proud of my son” chill. Fuck the alphabet and state capitals, my boy knows his horror flicks, ya’ll. So I go to Henry, “Uh, how does he know to do that?” because I couldn’t remember if his life-sized Jason friend does that or not, and Henry goes, “All serial killers know each other.” What a douchey statement! Though, I laughed. I think it might also be time to explain the significance of Michael Myers and how Chooch might never have come to be if not for him.
Meanwhile, there’s this man walking around the store. He’s in his thirties, athletic-build, with two scary-blue super villain eyeballs, blond buzz cut. He’s wearing this tight navy blue t-shirt and walking too fast. I mean, if you’re in a store, unless you know exactly what you want and where it’s at, typically you move at a slower pace and you know, LOOK at things. There was something off about this man, like I felt he wasn’t really there for the Halloween apparel. It was like he was on a mission and not doing a very good job concealing that.
After the third time he walked past us (we hadn’t moved from the spot we were in), I noticed another man too, and they looked like they could have been brothers. He was doing the same thing, zig-zagging from one side of the store to the other, half-assedly handling masks and carelessly dropping them back down. Pretending to shop, is how it looked to me.
I”m not sure if you know this about me, but I am a super paranoid person. There are times when I won’t even leave the house because I feel weird. Just last month, Janna and I went to a late movie and as we sat in the balcony before the movie started, all I could think of was some black-masked killer bursting through the doors and spraying us with bullets. Like, I honestly could not stop thinking about that. It ruined most of the movie for me because I just wanted the lights to come on, like the fluorescents were going to cocoon me in some protective wattage that no bullet could penetrate. It just feels safer in the light, somehow.
So this is how I felt last night, next door to a scene where a bunch of women were slain by some psychopath. I started to not be able to breathe properly and my fingers were quaking. I whispered hoarsely to Henry, “I’d like to leave now.” I think he knew what was freaking me because he didn’t argue or question. Chooch of course was all, “OMG why are we leaaaavvvving” but when we told him we going to Pat Catan’s, he got happy again because what three-year-old doesn’t like a craft store? No seriously, please tell me, because when I was a child I hated being dragged to the craft store and even now as a person who has plenty of reasons to shop there, I still hate it. I hate dodging past all the scrapbookers and the crocheters and the old women who work there are so incredibly unpleasant and always look at me like I don’t belong because I’m not wearing homemade sweaters with decorative dangling balls of yarn.
Walking through the parking lot, I still felt tense. It wasn’t until we safely pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road that I started to feel better. Henry admitted that he noticed the weird behavior too and thought it was odd.
“It was probably plain-clothed security hired by the company, they just weren’t doing a very good job,” he postulated in his “I was in the Service, so I know these things” tone.
“Oh. That was completely not what I was thinking at all, and in fact, I was waiting for one of them to work up enough psychosis to pull out a gun and start spraying,” I shared.
But then I realized that if I were to walk into a store and reenact some bloodbath of a Tarantino scene, I’d wait until after the G20 Summit leaves Pittsburgh because I’ll be damned my work is going to be eclipsed by a pack of angry rioters, oh I mean “protesters.”
I understand that everyone has a right to protest and that this could have been so much worse, but can you please get the fuck out of my city now?