Sunday, November 1, 2009

Drowned in Blood: Frightening Tales of an Adirondack Halloween

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .
Passionate intensity filled the worst on a moonless Saturday night where the streets shined with the gleam of an autumn shower. There were the damned, the dead and the undead.

On the east side of Plattsburgh, New York, there was a bar -- quiet enough during the day -- which was increasingly loud and crowded as mere dark gave way to genuine night. What must surely have been the largest gay Halloween party in all of northeast New York was underway and, if everyone present was not some sort of homosexual -- well, they were queer nonethless.

How did a holiday once celebrated with childish pranks become, in our era, a lunatic adult bacchanal? When did elaborate Halloween home decorations become such a universal status-marker of membership in The Redneck Nation? Given the bizarre assortment of sexual diversity on display at this dimly-lit pub -- Satan introduced himself, but refused to smile for the photo -- what mere anarchy has been loosed up us?

There is no time now to think about such questions of cultural history. Sunday morning on the first day of November will come soon enough. Exactly how our society reached its present condition is one of those Big Picture questions that no one will ever pay me to write. My stock in trade is not depth, but speed. By midnight Sunday evening, I will have either filed a 900-world column for The American Spectator or else be on the phone making excuses to my editor as to why I'm late.

They don't call it "deadline" for nothing, you know.

Deadlines, Deadheads, death by a thousand cuts. Do our figures of speech betray an inordinate concern with death? Perish the thought!

Funny? You're killing me. I nearly died laughing.

Two of our three most recent presidents were Skull and Bones. Our current president went to Columbia and Harvard, not Yale -- and his health-care plan is dying, mainly because those with one foot in the grave don't want to be taxed to death to pay the salaries of their own "death panels."

Coincidence? I don't think so.

After a few minutes watching the transvestites dance in Plattsburgh, I was bored to death, and strolled back over to the campaign office. The thumping disco bass followed me across the parking lot. Perhaps Ross Douthat would be allowed to waste a few paragraphs contemplating the association between funky bass riffs and cultural decay, but he's a Harvard man and once swam naked with an elderly William F. Buckley who, like the Bushes, had been Skull and Bones.

But no, Douthat wouldn't be here and would never imagine (or maybe he would) that Plattsburgh was to these people kind of a regional gay mecca, the destination of a Saturday night pilgrimage, a ritual performed regularly. And this bar-shrine, where at least four of the male pilgrims dressed like Madonna, was directly across a strip-mall parking lot from the offices of the conservative campaign that has suddenly captured the spotlight in the final days before the fast-approaching Election Day of an off-off-year.

Irony? The drag queens, butch lesbians and various other costumed guests at the disco party didn't seem the least bit terrorized by their proximity to the red, white and blue presence of the phenomenon I've dubbed "Hoffmania."

Yet Frank Rich was both heebed and jeebed, his nightmares haunted by right-wing accountants and menacing women on cable news shows. Dr. Frankenrich decided that his Halloween costume would be Madame Defarge listening for the telltale rumble of tumbrel wheels over cobblestones, as Jacobinism sends an innocent Republican woman to the "guillotine." Having missed the party in Plattsburgh, Frank Rich didn't know what I knew, and probably didn't care to learn.

A few hours later, I dropped in on a quite different Halloween scene in Saranac Lake. For some reason I am sure the locals understand, Hoffman's hometown has a huge hippie scene. The Woodstock generation lives on at the Waterhole on Main Street.

Saturday night, the big upstairs room at the Waterhole hosted a blues-rock band dressed for the occasion in bright yellow-and-black bumblebee costumes. They played a 12-minute rendition of the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post" that was Fillmore-worthy. I captured most of it on video, but am now poaching the lobby computer at a hotel where I'm not a guest, so no more uploading video now.

The patrons of the Waterhole were not gay-fabulous like the Plattsburghers on the queen scene, but yet were gaily costumed. One young lady presented an impressively good imitation of the St. Pauli Girl. There were perhaps a half-dozen Satans, both male and female, and no shortage of zombies, ghouls and other horrid monsters.

There was also a 40-ish woman dressed -- tartan pleated skirt, knee socks, white blouse, blue sweater -- like a Catholic schoolgirl. She regretted her choice of shoes, having been unable to find either oxblood penny loafers or patent leather maryjanes to complete her ensemble.

Some of these Adirondack hippies are, in fact, Paulistas. There is more than one counterculture up here, and the doobie-burning anti-war free-marketeers are not really so rare. None of these dopehead peacenik capitalists seemed the least bit interested in politics. Their minds were a million miles away from anything to do with candidates and elections.

For a few moments, my thoughts were similarly remote from the story I had been chasing for days. The duel guitar solos of the bumblebee band's "Whipping Post" entranced me, and there was no deadline in my mind. They could have played all night, but I couldn't stay all night.

Here in this Sleepy Hollow land on Halloween, the resurrected Reaganite dream has disturbed the slumbers of Frank Rich many miles away in Manhattan. Is this the Second Coming? the Third? the Fourth? Goldwater to Reagan to Gingrich to . . . Doug Hoffman?

Haunted by Hoffman will never become a classic DVD in the collections of horror-movie buffs. Jason or Freddie Krueger, he ain't. And if the Nightmare On Main Street in Saranac Lake is any indication, the Left will have a hard time turning the town's native son into a Scary Right-Wing Monster.

"The Second Coming" by Yeats warns of apocalyptic consequences when the best lack all conviction -- a phrase that cannot be applied to Hoffman, whose strongest claim to the loyalty of his supporters is that he has quite strong convictions about matters economic, fiscal and monetary.

Watching while the apolitical adults of the Adirondacks reveled in childlike non-innocence on Halloween, I wondered what Judge Bork might say. Was this liberty or license? And what of Yeats, whose blood-dimmed tide has receded in cultural memory?

Questions multiply and answers are still as scarce as ever. Revelations? We've got none yet.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand . . .
The Second Coming! . . .
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


  1. Foggy recollection of the History Channel says Halloween was, at first, an adult holiday. Not until the 20th century did children join.