Halloween V: Hell Train II: Redemption

We had achieved what we had set out to do, spend Halloween night in a “vampire” castle. The grand experience was over though and as we groggily got to our feet the next morning; we still had five days left in Romania. We had blown our Romanian load. How do you fill the better part of the week, when you have no idea of what to do? Well, if at first you don’t succeed, drink, drink again.

Because we are Americans, and thus perpetual eat monsters, our move was to grab some traditional Romanian cuisine. Down a narrow alley and up several flights of stairs to an establishment that promised food and drink we went. It was a lovely pub that delivered on its promise with delectable eats. The wait staff was fun and excited to talk to us foreign devils. There was still some holiday spirit left lying about the place so they decided to inject it into their serving staff, who went about their activities in costume. It was great fun getting our order taken by a skeleton, having the drinks served by a zombie, and bussing our tables was a lovely young man decked out in Rastafarian blackface. Wait what? What the what, with the blackface? Yes I’ll have the fries, but can you hold the racism? As an American who is mostly white but doesn’t think the South should rise again,

I found it infinitely perturbing watching this guy go about his business in full minstrel show attire. Not for the first time was I reminded that Central Europe just does not have a firm grasp race relations with black people. Unsurprisingly there’s not a lot of variation in melanin levels in this part of the globe, and as such they find it hard to wrap their head around racism being seen as a negative my non black people. They go about race relations like black people are from fantasy novels, somewhere between elves and cave trolls. But my friends did describe it as having the best schnitzel in the world, so at least there’s that going for it.

We took our time just exploring all that the bohemian shopping district carefully crafted to relieve wealthy foreigners of their money had to offer. We toured, funnily enough, the Black Church so named for the grand fire which blackened the walls and roof of the religious structure. Crepes of delectable nature were consumed at frightful speed. I bought a Swiss Army knife because I had very little faith in the Romanian transportation authority not trying to slow cook me again. My girlfriend purchased a beret, it’s stylish. As the day went on, the wind chill kicked up and the air went from being crisp to being almost frozen. Everyone is in winter coats and here I am wearing a button up and a t-shirt. Not to be deterred, we braved the cold to quest for liquid refreshment. We purchased a much alcohol and retired to our flat to watch 1930s Dracula in Transylvania and playing drinking games. To complete the theme, we decided that we needed to drink Bloody Marys. The cans of tomato sauce that I believed that I purchased turned out to be cans of shriveled tomatoes floating in red goo. Not to be deterred by a little thing like edibility, we mixed up cocktails that could be described as Bloody Mary adjacent. The night ended as well as expected.

The next day we had one more stop at the crepe place and went souvenir shopping for friends and family. Our time in Brasov was at an end, and it was time to get to our next location. We got on the train, and picked the first cabin that had room. After the train moved on some girls come by and said we needed to move because we had taken their seats, they then proceeded to unhelpfully block our exit thus making it more difficult to vacate their cabin. We meandered up the train to procure a new cabin. When the ticket taker comes by, he takes our tickets and mumbles in Romanian how we’re in the wrong place, however he must have decided that attempting to make us understand how foolish we were was high above his pay grade. He shrugs off the inconvenience and walks away. At speed the scenery is gorgeous. Once we pass the city limits, hills and mountains jut into the sky. The autumn colors decorate as far as the eye can see making the hills appear on fire as they pass by our window. The tall hills turn grey and then disappear into a white cap of snow which then blends into the clouded sky.

We achieved Bucharest and to save money we walked to our Airbnb. Bucharest is a city of interesting atmosphere. The majority of the buildings are of old communist design, geometric to a fault, seemingly designed to discourage individuality or excitement. Oppressively dour is a way I would describe parts of it, and what a lovely hue of depression they invented to go along with it. It felt like a place where boiled cabbage would be considered too spicy for native tastes. Perhaps it was the oppressive sensation radiating off of every concrete surface or perhaps it was the activity of the last few days but we ended up crashing hard at our flat. It was a strange sort of vacation away from our vacation, Bucharest. We would get up in the morning and like infant birds wearily clamor for sustenance. Sluggishly we ventured forth to what remained of old town where the most expensive food and drink could be obtained in tourist friendly themed establishments, being careful to avoid the strip clubs and “massage parlors” every five meters. We would consume meats, potatoes, starches, and all things fried in amounts suitable to power our languid ramblings through the few square kilometers of old town that we could muster the energy enough to peruse. The walking served only a momentary diversion for our minds and bellies, entertaining us so that a few hours hence we could devour and drink again. We didn’t so much eat, as we became one with the gorge. Three full days, this was our existence, with me leading the party out in the mornings and back to the flat ever so much heavier in the evenings.

There was this statue of a naked man holding up a dog though, so that’s nothing to scoff at.


The next day we left bright and early for Sibiu to see if we could get a little bit more historical before we had to return home. We only spent six or so hours in Sibiu, but it had an amazing old town. All signs point to Sibiu being the tourist capital of the entire country of Romania, and a city with a great deal of history behind it. We went to a Scottish Pub and later a Romanian one because food perpetuates our very existence. We took many pictures.


Our grand adventure was for all intents and purposes supposed to be over as we boarded the ten hour night train home. However, the spirits of transportation past weren’t willing to let us go without a final struggle. With long journey ahead we had made sure to get assigned beds in a sleeper car. Once boarded, we discovered we had a travelling companion who I shall henceforth refer to as Lord Bed Thief. You see, Sir Bed Thief had deprived me of my sleeping location and was rather asleep for me to make a fuss over. Ascending to the less comfortable top bunk I proceeded to become unconscious with both rapidity and efficiency for what should have been a long and enjoyable rest. What actually happened at 4:00 A.M. was commotion in the car and a conspicuous absence of motion that one would expect from a train. Over the better part of an hour commotion evolved into utter confusion, culminating in all of the passengers being told to vacate the train. Into the blistering pre-dawn frigidity we were herded to a farm cottage labeled a train station. It was very much not Budapest. We were on the Hungarian/Romanian border and replacement busses were on the way to send us on our way. Still confusing but a plan of action it was.

A large luxury liner shows up, and becomes filled with miserable people immediately, filled into the aisles with standing passengers. The bus doors close and then the bus proceeds to very quickly do nothing but wait for the next hour. Continuing the theme, we have no clue as to why. By 7:00 in the morning a second bus arrives and this time my travel companion and I rush the bus to get actual seats for this journey of unspecified length. The second bus fills up quickly too, but runs into some unforeseen snags. A woman named Mustard Pants is one of the last to board the second and presumable last bus. For room reasons, she had to have her bag in the other bus which caused her to experience a luggage meltdown, a fact which she loudly and Americanly made known to the bus. Seeing the necessity for compliance and being yelled at by her friends convinced her to take the path of least resistance.

Then, lastly, to cap off this particular leg of the journey, right as the busses were readying to trundle on a louder and more wrathful yelling erupted from the front of the bus. Who decided that their needs were not being properly met in this whole bargain, why it was none other than Monseigneur Bed Thief himself. The treatment shown to him was unusual and horrifying to his refined palate. To this point, there had been two Hungarian police officers groggily looking over the proceedings, and his wrath was not to be ignored by these simpletons, a fact he made known first to the bus driver and then rather wisely to the two police officers. Proclaiming the illegality of cramming this many people onto a bus, he held on to that point like a token to ward off common sense, demanding to see managers, highers up, or any who should know that Grand Vizier Bed Thief felt such inconveniences. Around the shrieks of blind malice was the missive that if the bus did not leave in five minutes we would miss our connection and the next train to Budapest would leave in six hours. The cranky huddled masses we not willing to extend leniency towards His Excellence during his one man crusade against injustice. Cries of sit down or get out were flung, and Great Chief Bed Thief knew his mutiny had failed. He made sure to stop and take pictures of the police officers and the bus license plates, all the while promising to rain hellfire upon his persecutors. And with that he disappeared into the misty morning, presumably to kick an orphan out of bed before complaining that the comforter wasn’t down. As a nice change of pace though, it was fun to hear a disgruntled Romanian on public transportation yelling in English.

The “illegal” busses took us passengers to the first of two separate train transfers. Inconvenient, maybe, but for the first time in five hours physical progress was being made towards our final destination, I was not about to complain out loud. Seeing its other plots fail to defeat, us the vengeance demon that controls all Central European transportation returned to its old tricks. The heat was cranked to levels that would make magma ask for a fan, and windows locked tight to preserve our essences as they left our bodies. However, I held a talisman of light in this infinite darkness. Swiss army knife in hand, I opened the windows to the literal applause of my fellow travellers. Thus defeated once and for all was the Spirit of Helltrain.

A bus ride and two separate trains later, we finally arrived home at the station a mere six hours late. I complain, but later we discovered that we had actually been the lucky train. The ordeal was caused because the train ahead of us had derailed. All in all, could have been worse.

Well, that was a hell of a saga. I promise that I am finally finished and you my readers are finally free from the month of October 2016. I can proceed yet again closer towards the present. Thank you everyone for seeing this holiday recounting through to its end. Join me next week for something, anything not this. Until then, good day, good night, and good reading.


Halloween IV: Blogsurrection

A party in Dracula’s castle? How could I refuse? When I originally outsourced my fall vacation to the whims of my friends, this was the big selling point and basically the only point of the entire trip that I had any knowledge about. I had decided that a mystery vacation to a country I’d never been to would be a grand scheme. How pleasantly surprised was I when the train deposited me and my party to our first location Brasov. For the low, low price of surviving the tribulations of Hell Train, I was treated to a feast for the eyes.

Founded in the early 13th century by Teutonic Knights, the city was perfectly positioned to gain economic and political and influence, due to it being situated at the middle of trade between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. This affluence helped the city to grow into the impressive place that it is today. It is not hard to recognize the old world beauty of this town. Resting in a valley, like most cities in a mountain range, the city is overlooked on all sides by lush forested mountains.

It is a city which is proud of its heritage with a great number original medieval buildings still standing in the historical center. This medieval splendor is something that was eminently visible once we realized that our Airbnb had a rooftop terrace. Red roofed buildings radiate outwards from the center of the city, reaching outwards to the fall tinged hills overlooking the town. It was definitely something that my meager photography skills struggled to adequately represent.


After a brief period for refreshment we began to prepare ourselves for the evening’s event. Donning costumes and preparing makeup our little group became ghoulishly presentable over the course of a few hours. The evening greeted us with a fall’s expected chill as we set foot into the grand square of the city. Our destination this evening is one overpriced taxi ride further into the Carpathians. The village of Bran is a small and unassuming mountain town that looks as though it is normally home to ten shopkeeps. However, on this date, the population was bolstered by what had to be several thousand foreign merrymakers. The one main street and every store front were bursting with ghouls and ghosts. The boisterous becostumed crowd was here for the draw of the evening. The city too donned its costume for Halloween.

“I can’t believe that we’re standing where the real life Dracula lived.” I’m sure that my brain boozily muttered to itself as we turned down the walk which would lead to the famed structure Castelu Bran. Bran Castle, as it very simply translates, nestles itself picturesquely between two very large and prominent mountains in the Carpathian range. Fittingly, the castle in question is also a place that lies in between fact and fiction. The purported infamy and mystery surrounding this location has somewhat less to do with historical truth than with the power of myth and misunderstandings.

Over one hundred years ago, an Irishman with a flair for the melodramatic heard the name of a Wallachian prince with a nasty reputation. The prince’s name lent an air of mystery to the Irishman’s manuscript about malevolent supernatural beings that went bump in the night. It is also believed that said Irish author was exposed to an image of a castle in distant Romania, one whose exterior could easily instill a sense of foreboding and dread. It would be a place where readers could imagine repugnant rituals and devilish deeds being perpetrated. Thus was the most classic of horror tales penned with strange connections to the reality which inspired it.

Closer to historical record though is that various internal power struggles in medieval Central Europe led to Vlad Tepes also known as Vlad Dracul also known as Vlad the Impaler being captured by a Hungarian army because anyone who is blessed with the moniker “Impaler” probably isn’t the nicest guy. Our dear old Vlady did indeed reside in Bran Castle, but he only did so for a few months as a prisoner in transit.

Now, whether due to it resembling the descriptions of Count Dracula’s Castle or its location deep in the Carpathian Mountains or even due to the fact that encouraging the connection brings in tourism dollars, this structure has been irreparably associated with the Dracula mythos.

This string of historical research was likely lost on the line of hundreds of entrants just looking to witness Halloween glory. Fictitious or not the castle was sure outfitted to draw on the expectations. There was something awe inspiring in the way an imposing obelisk was cut into the night with Technicolor laser light shows. It sets the stage rather well. There was a kaleidoscopic light display running its way across the face of the castle. It was a feast for the eyes, crimson hues danced across the roiling beclouded sky. Blood dripped down the most prominent façade. It was very gothic in the pants with too many zippers kind of way.


We went up the hill that lead to the castle. There we traded in the trite and uninteresting activity of waiting around in a big open exterior area for the glamour of standing still in line through claustrophobic stone corridors of a castle. There was only one path to take and it corralled the drunken masses single file through the castle. My girlfriend had again taken on the persona of the undead pirate, which was something that a string of drunken Russian pirates loved to no end. I don’t speak Russian, but I do believe that they were inviting her to be their captain. She tactfully declined. Our tour proceeded under the watchful eye of “Vlad Dracul” who excitedly offered photo ops to good looking women.

Rain fell as we descended slick stones towards the last event of the evening. Down in the clearing, overlooked by the castle’s watchful gaze, a driving beat was fueling a heaving mass of becostumed bodies. This was the part of the evening I most looked forward to, an all-night dance off led by the creatures of the night, only to disperse as the dawn drove the undead to their darkened corners. As we stood in line to get into the bursting at the seams tent, the light rain became torrents of water descended upon us. What had been the polite concept of the line then decided that all life depended on entering that tent. We were swarmed as the rains pelted the cold and angry mass awaiting to gain entry to the capacity filled party. I was excited to play up my role as lord of the dance, but I could glean from the looks of my friends and the angry words from their mouths that they were unwilling to wait for the line to dissipate. So we called it there. We left the pounding beat and luminous castle behind to procure near suicidally reckless transportation back.

We were cold and tired, but since me and my miss were all dressed up we decided to give partying one last chance. We marched up the central tourist area looking for an establishment to haunt and found and Irish basement bar. In the brick vaulted basement there was joyous chaos. Dancing on the table was highly encouraged. We got some drinks and listened to Romanian punk rock music as I loosened into my groove. Before too long the DJ worked his way into 80s and 90s English hit songs. I twirled and swirled to the music, but I really came into my own as Tina Turner began to roll down the river. A circle was formed so that I could ply the wondrous wares of my motion for my growing fanbase. Camera phones came out, and I was the evening’s dancing queen. We left not long after because a flock of floozies elbow checked my Pirate Queen to get a closer look at me. Good for my ego, not so good for the happiness of my long term partner. Somewhere along the way my vest was unfortunately sacrificed to appease the deities of dance.

Thus do I wrap up my tale of Halloween havoc. Tune in next week as I finish recounting the events of fall break and finally proceed with my life. Thank you for coming along with me through this adventure, my fair listener. To all of you out there, I say good day, good night, and good reading.

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride for Fifteen Hours to a Different Country: Welcome to Hell Train Part III

Welcome back one and all to me making a month long description out of one week in October. How are you? I am currently well myself. I am feeling quite giddy in fact. Spring break is coming to my school in less than a week, and during spring break my romantically entangled person and I will be making an excursion to Lisbon Portugal. During this excursion there will be much seeing of sights and relaxing in seaside cafes or whatever it is that people actually do in Lisbon. It being a vacation to a lovely and entirely new locale I am going to do my best to explore and live life to the fullest. This does not translate into lugging around a laptop and tapping out records of the past. I am hoping to get both this post and the next one published this week, before I go yet another week without hitting my self imposed deadlines. Wish me luck. Anyway, with current events out of the way, now it is time to delve deep into the thirteen days of Halloween.

Towards the beginning of October or maybe even a little earlier, word had filtered down to us from the top that fall break was going to begin right on the orange and blackest of days. This gave us ample time plan a vacation of suitable spooktastic entertainment. Our final plan was to get together with one of our American coworkers and then travel the great land of Romania seeking sights suitable to sustain our substantial searches for strangeness. We were psyched to get on with the first leg of our adventure. Little did we know that our first bounding steps into the wild would bring us face to face with what has since lovingly been monikered as Hell Train.

Freed from our scholastic bonds, we packed up our things and made our way for the international train station in the center of Budapest. The common misconception in our group was that unlike an airport, with its myriad security measures and other delays, there would be no need to arrive early to a train station. The issue with that line of thought was that buying tickets turned out to be a greater test than anticipated. We were generally unprepared for the amount of difficulty that would arise from our attempts to give money for services. The big issue was that the international ticket salespersons were not anywhere near the domestic ticket vendors. Instead they were at the opposite end of the building with a line spanning the time of two network sitcom broadcasts. Needless to say we missed the train we had planned on taking, but there was no need to begin worrying. The next train would be along in oh say four hours. Unfortunately, all of us travelers live far enough away from the center of the city to make it impractical to regroup at home and wait out the deadline. In addition, missing the first train had made us paranoid, so rather than straying in search of entertainment, we spent the entire time lounging about in the station with a bottle of wine.

Let me make special note here if I have not made this point clear in the past. The European approach to open bottles of alcohol is a beautiful thing.

Several hours and a few bottles of wine later, the general consensus was that it would behoove us to ascertain from where our means of exfiltration would depart. The optimist in me assumed that this would only require a short perusal of the arrivals/departures board. In true keeping with the adventurers’ curse, the letters and numbers on our tickets didn’t seem to coincide with anything going on across the board. Bear in mind, none of the three of us spoke more than fifteen words in Hungarian, and we likely understood fewer. Keep this in the back of your thoughts as this little linguistic fumbling point will come into play more than a few times over the course of this trip. We experienced a sarcastically joyous shift in situation from having all of the time in the world to having precious few minutes to settle the hectic confusion. The time of our departure was crawling ever closer and panic was beginning to set in for if we missed this train the party was threatening mutiny. Attempting to salvage events, we went to talk to the woman at the information desk. She was unsurprisingly somewhat less than informative. We asked what we assumed was a simple question, “What track is our train going to be on?” I believe she understood the concept of our queries, but refused to answer them in practice.  Essentially being shooed away from our last source of assistance, we proceeded to run up to every train which arrived and ask what its destination would be. Eventually we received a half hearted and mostly Hungarian answer from a tired looking porter. We boarded the locomotive and began our voyage in earnest. Having planned to leave in the afternoon, no one was more surprised than us when we actually left closer to midnight.

Next Stop, Brasov!

Fifteen hours on any means of transportation is never what you would call a comfortable experience. However, when you combine more than half a day in cramped quarters with external extenuating circumstances, the experience can turn downright heinous in nature. In an attempt to negate as many negatives as possible we did acquire comfort of a cabin. Said cabins seated six which left us sharing accommodations with two Hungarian travelers. Us Americans were in high spirits once we finally confirmed that we had boarded the correct train, and we laughed and joked with each other for the next few hours. It became apparent from the smirks on the Hungarian’s faces that they understood more than a few words of English. Conversations were struck up and wine was shared. While we didn’t exactly strike up lifelong friendships with them, it was our great fortune to pass the time with pleasant company.

As I continue to set the stage for the grand descent into suffertown, I would like to elaborate on some lovely extenuating circumstance. In our great hubris we brought something like three bottles of wine to ease the pains of travel. Water? No thank you, fish make love in it. With the foresight of a fruit fly we neglected any other form of sustenance whether solid or liquid. Either reasoning that we could purchase goods on the train or just failing to contemplate that problem at all. Autumn was upon us, and we were on track towards some pretty hefty mountains. Because of the falling temperatures some unknown hero at the train company decided that the best way to keep passengers nice and comfortable would be to lock up every single window to keep the encroaching chill out of everyone’s tootsies. Locked them up nice and tight with weird square bolts that I could in no way interact with for good measure. Don’t want any of that cold air getting into anyone’s cabins. Then just to make extra special sure that no one could even contemplate the visage of that old scamp Jack Frost the heaters were placed at our disposal. Those heaters really worked too. So prodigious were these heating apparatuses they produced a surplus of heat, so much they were just giving it away. Buy one ticket get a free case of heatstroke absolutely free. These deals are absolutely crazy and we’re just giving them away! We’re even giving you the illusion of choice by giving you a climate control knob. Try not to touch it though, because the only settings are heat and oh sweet Vishnu why is it getting hotter. Don’t sweat it, unless you have working sweat glands, in which case you are probably going to sweat over everything; just uncontrollably sweat. Sweat for your life quite literally! The evaporating skin moisture is all that prevents your body from becoming a pressure cooker and slow roasting your innards to a golden brown. You see, the name for Hell Train originated less from the minor inconveniences that arose during our journey but more from the train’s uncanny ability to replicate conditions present on most white dwarf stars. As evening pressed its sweating heaving mass into night, events took a turn for the feverish. A mixture of dehydration, the ingestion of wine, exhaustion, and the inexplicably inescapable heat sent me on a winding flight through, around, and over consciousness with nary a hint of personal control.

I finally fully returned to a state resembling sentience a little after dawn, feeling as though the Sahara had taken up residence in my throat. With spirit reuniting with body I sought refuge from the oven that had mistakenly been labeled as a passenger car. It seemed the gremlins who see to the security of all portholes peering out of Romanian locomotives did actually make a mistake and allowed the mobility of one such edifice. There seemed to be only one window in the entire car that wasn’t locked. Situated in the narrow hallway, it opened inward to allow for a total of three inches of heaven granted respite. In my best defense against boiled brain soup, I spent every hour I could stand huddled up next to the source of refreshing oxygen.

From that flaunted vantage point I made my survey of the world passing by. It may just have been my life flashing before my eyes, who knows. The flatlands gained a sway, decorated with villages no greater than farms every few kilometers. The villages grow in size to small towns radiating outwards from the white church spires reaching heavenward along verdant backgrounds. The farther east we travel the more the hills roll and rise to meet then overtake the train on either side. The land became more generous with its hues. The fall crisp of air has cut into the trees that populate this land. At speed the dead and dying leaves blend to blood red and vibrant orange waves moving as the tides.  We are being flanked by nature’s splendor. The hills crest into mountains before we spill out into the waiting valley. The land is tall and grand. We have breached the Carpathian Mountains.


I have one last episode of note before we leave the train behind. A few hours after we had arisen from our broiling slumber, so did a man of mythical anger. He was a soul of such constant agitation that his angered cries were clearly perceptible from the end of the train car to the other. We were nearly five cabins away from him, but his voice managed to sound as though it emanated from inside my own head. To be fair to this man, he did seem to have legitimate grievances to air. A bellowing voice, howling out at the world in Romanian, he alternatively yelled at his phone, at his cabinmate, or at the uncaring fates in the air about how he needed to get a lawyer. The Hungarian in our cabin was relatively versed in the language which filled the air, and she was kind enough to inform us of the madness which would have otherwise passed us by. It seems that the angry Romanian had been arrested for some offense. It is hard to think how a man who could be heard clearly from twenty meters away at five in the morning could possibly run into issues with the law, but stranger things have happened. To add a cherry of madness to the unending cacophony that this interloper presented, he kept going on and on about how he was either beaten or bitten and so he had some kind of legal case to be argued. Yes, bitten or beaten, our impromptu translator was at a loss as to which, and really at this point the mystique is too great for me to choose. To really belabor the point, this man began screaming about his many troubles as the sun graced us with its loving presence and finally decided that he had adequately made his point when the train arrived at Brasov no less than six hours later.

There weren’t really any surprises that Hell Train had left for us. We had but to endure the tests that had been pressed upon us. Beset through all senses, we awaited our salvation. Time alternately slowed or quickened in an attempt to greater disorient me. But, like that we were released. We had reached the promised land of not being on a train. As the train slowed to a rest at our destination the cabins emptied of their weary wards. We were released from the sauna and everyone who stepped down from the train breathed many an audible sigh of relief at their liberation.

Thanks for sticking with me; these posts seem to be dragging longer and longer each week. There’s a lot to say, but I am also populating these posts with extraneous chaff. I’ll see what can be done about this as I move forward with this blog. Tune in next week folks to bear witness to how Halloween happens in Transylvania. Until we digitally meet again, good day, good night, and good reading.

Spookiness in Schools: Halloween Part Dos

Welcome back to a visual record of me slowly coalescing a cohesive style from a variety of bad writing habits, let’s slow things down for a moment as I shoehorn in a stupid joke…. Scooby Doo reference, meddling kids, cue the laughs. Give me your adoration; my words of forced introspection surely deserve it.

I said last week that I wasn’t done obsessing about the holiday of Halloween, and guess what? I’m not done obsessing about the holiday. I believe it deserves a special mention that this Halloween was the first holiday that I spent away from my family in my entire life. I know, there’s a big family component to sexy demons handing out candy. There is a deeper meaning than just the holiday itself sans familial relations though; small milestones like holidays abroad serve to highlight the ways in which my life continues to change from what it once was. It denotes a sense of growth into a new person. We all live in a constant state of flux, but it is something to be noted when you can so encapsulate such moments of change. The second that never have becomes the first time provides a recognizable milestone to examine far into your personal future. It also makes great fodder for those with journalistic intentions like me.

I do have a little more to say about the lead up to the annual gathering of ghouls. We still held onto the desire to wear costumes for the season. However we did want to do so without returning to that strange fever dream of a costume shop that ejected us so abruptly. With the full scope of time and experience in me, I do recognize that there were other places where we could have conceivable gone to outright purchase a costume. The rough ejection gave me the impetus I needed to pursue that creative spark I had wanted to express through action. It was decided, we would create our costumes from disparate parts.

Beginning with the conceptualization, we each came up with a few moderately reasonable ideas to in turn ultimately choose from. Somewhat early on in the month she was able to decide on a direction for her costume. Her costume was to be a skeleton/undead pirate. Utilizing some clothing which she already possessed, she started with a poufy purple blouse, over the top of which she would wear a black corset. She purchased some black boots with flared tops to really accentuate the pirate angle. Lastly she found a wide brimmed purple felt hat which she pinned together into a convincing looking tricorner hat. This wardrobing was finished halfway through the month which allowed her nearly two weeks in which to plan out and then practice her makeup to fully complete her look. In the end she painted what looked like half of a skull across her face. The look was quite impressive and effective.

I on the other hand have a brain made of scattered marbles. Consequently I found it impossible to make up my mind on what I was going to do. I had many possibilities rolling around with the only constant being that I wanted to use paper mache. I knew that I wanted to put my creativity to use and involve a buildable aspect to my costume. The big reason, besides the readily available nature of the materials, was that I had always desired but never had the drive to experiment with it. There was one issue that arose though. I had never even attempted to build anything with paper mache before. For anyone who is of the arty or the crafty persuasion it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that problems arose from my lack of experience. So, as I was attempting to discover both the benefits and limitations of the material, I also was unable to fully decide on what I was making. I chose a mask in an attempt to keep the scope of the build somewhat under control. By the end of October I had built the prototypes of three separate models. There were two geometric skulls designs, one of which covered only from the nose up while the other was meant to be a whole head helmet design. What I eventually chose to finish was an angular vampire inspired masquerade half mask with two long fang like projections which flank the mouth. It is painted a dark blood red. I worked on these masks almost the entire month, and in the end I am quite happy with how they turned out. I finished the costume with a pair of black slacks a white button up shirt and a black vest. I think that the red worked well with the monochromatic nature of the rest of my costume.

I did do more with the entire month than just working on a costume. There was school work to be done as well. As usual I was getting better at the job by slow increments, becoming more comfortable with being in front of students every day. Because Halloween isn’t a big event in Hungary I decided that a fun way to give my lessons a sense of timeliness would be to talk about all things spooky. What this translated to in practice was me playing Monster Mash on repeat while I had the students draw ghosts and skeletons. Towards the end of the month I figured that I would step my efforts up a bit and give the students an injection of American culture by showing each of my classes the fourteen minute epic that is Michel Jackson’s Thriller. I’m not sure how much they learned from the whole experience, but what I learned was that musical tastes have changed dramatically from when I was a child, and what I think is great sounds horribly bland to fifth and sixth graders. It brought down my holiday cheer to see this campy masterpiece of pop culture glory that I love be barely tolerated by children who would otherwise be practicing grammar if not for me. I feel like this is something that I should have anticipated, but as I have tried to express in the past, I am highly disconnected with the youth of today and I feel fine about that.

Since the school I teach at is bilingual with a heavy emphasis placed on English culture, the school itself was going out of its way to get into the spirit too. The American teachers were told early on in the month that some kind of big Halloween event would be held the last day of class before fall break. Students and faculty were encouraged to get dressed and good fun would be had by all. Important of note was that me and my girlfriend, being the new teachers, would have an important role in the whole affair.

The festivities would be split into a few events. The first was that there would be a gathering of the whole school so that the new English teachers could come up to tell a few stories and get everyone into the spooky mood. Then there would be teacher led events in the classrooms of each grade. I’m a pretty talkative guy, and I’ve given a few public speaking speeches in the past. When I was approached with the opportunity to warm up the whole school with stories from America, I was confident that I would be able to carry the whole presentation myself. I was so confident that I informed the other English teachers that I had so much to say that they wouldn’t need to say anything. I was so confident that I didn’t prepare a single word for the talk I was to give.

The day of the event came round. A good number of the students were in costume the whole day through which provided a fun starting atmosphere for the classes. I and my girlfriend also wore our costumes to school to show our spirit. Because the mask I had made for my costume was limiting in its peripheral vision I decided that I would save it for the party. So when my students asked me what I was dressed up as or going to dress as I told them to just wait, I had something fun in store. Walking through the halls in between classes everyone had an immediate reaction to my girlfriend’s costume, deservedly so. It was a striking costume. The smaller children cowered in terror at her skeleton face, and the older students were in general awe of how cool it was.

For the first half of the day we had to teach classes, but they were shortened so that everyone could proceed to the party that much faster. The teaching managed to kill all of the holiday spirit that I had built up to that point, because truly the greatest terrors are children. With fall break just hours away, the students were jostling with unrest. There was great difficulty in getting them to perform even the most basic of tasks. Just as with the Thriller video, I attempted to share and explain the things that I love about Halloween. To the same result, the students were obviously disinterested.

The time of the gathering was upon us, and I had worked myself into a funk. Once all my classes were finished I donned my mask and strolled the halls with my girlfriend. Everyone was just love, love, loving the undead pirate look. Either screaming in terror of her or running up to her amazing countenance. My costume was met with what could be described as lukewarm indifference. Then we got called up on stage in front of the massed student body. We had one of the oldest students being a translator for us so that the little kids could understand. I was given the mike first because, if you remember, I had been telling everyone that this was going to be my show. It was going to be a tale of mystery and terror that I would spin, somehow, even though I had prepared not in the slightest.

Stage mounted and the attention of several hundred people focused squarely on me, the crowd was hushed in anticipation of my grand speech. My soured mood and lack of preparation came together with jolly cooperation to Voltron style combine into complete and total brain shutdown. Beads of sweat forming and a hushed expectant crowd before me I had to say something though. So I began to speak and I can only hope the things I said have been lost to the annals of history. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I am currently blocking every moment of that from memory as hard as I can. I can make a good guess though. It went something like this. “In the States you buy or make a costume. Younger kids go trick or treating, while older kids might go to parties. You can get candy, it’s pretty delicious. Alright I covered a lot of ground, don’t want to overwhelm you, any questions?” The response was glacial which is to say frigid and slow coming.

With the most silence I have ever heard in the school the students laid their glazed over gaze of indifference on me. I looked to my lifeless pirate love with pleading eyes for her to take the mark of shame away from me. Consummately professional, she took my place and addressed the whole crowd. With the aplomb of an actor assuming a role, she switched tenor into her best oratory voice.

Launching into the true stories of Halloween past, she told about the time several years ago in the states that me, her, and a bunch of friends went to a full contact haunted house. In the middle of the scares, one of our group was singled out by Mad Max reject psychos. The unlucky member of our party then got bodily lifted and placed into a refrigerator, from whence we never saw her again. Actually she was just taken out of a hidden panel in the back of the fridge and sent on the long path for the house. My bonny lass glossed over that last part though and spun a fun little tale. This story took up the rest of the speech time and won the adoration of the crowd. As we were stepping down from the platform, kids kept coming up to her and asking if the story was true, or how scared she was.

So, disappointed with myself, the English teachers all split off to take part in the Halloween events we were meant to do with our respective grades. My corsair cutie and the other teachers as it turned out, held little dance parties in their rooms. There was food and drink, and they were only required to stay for a few minutes before they were released from their responsibilities. Unfortunately for me, I had, in a continued stretch of misgiven self confidence, signed up to do a choose your own adventure card game to entertain my classroom. Then I guess I planned to entertain the students with how cool I was. Fittingly with the theme of the day, this did not go exactly to plan.

From the start, no one told me what I was to do or for how long to do it, or even when to do so. All that I did know was which room I was to go to. There was unfortunately no one in charge who was able to answer my simple questions like when I could leave. So I wandered towards my assigned room, and luckily for me all the students in attendance were my least cooperative pupils. I set about doing my part though and handed out the card game supplies. The game was a fun diversion, and it lasted five minutes. Then, again, I heard the familiar sound of silence. That vacuous absence of joy or entertainment, the room was however exuded an aura of discontent. It was me, sitting there next to a bunch of very bored students. I had finished the game, but I had no idea if I was done with them. Could I leave? Should I keep talking? None of the students were privy to that knowledge either. Through some misguided instinct to go on with the show, I put on some Halloween jams which I had already determined that the children would not enjoy. My bag of tricks had been expended hours ago, but a clown I still was to be. Minutes turned into a half hour turned into what I think was eventually an hour of rabid disappointment. My mind had essentially frozen. Whenever you are up in front of a crowd, there’s this sense that can be felt under your skin. A tingling sensation that tells you that your audience is just not feeling it and they were in no way feeling my lack of interesting things to do.

As a last ditch effort to do something, anything to make the mortification abate even slightly, I pulled up Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I began to read the stories in my best ghoulish accent. I hammed it up for those kids, and for a brief moment, I saw the faintest glimmer of interest drift across their dead beady lifeless fish eyes.

To rub final salt and lemon into my wounds like some kind of injury margarita, the door opened and all the other English teachers poked their heads in. With only the most pure and true cosmic hilarity, I was informed that I had not had to stay there so long and flounder so greatly. The other English teachers had gone to their rooms for ten or so minutes, given ghoulish greetings to their students and grabbed some snacks while walking away. Only once and not at all before the knowledge that I was a fool was imparted to me by my colleagues, a person in charge of the whole event came into the room to reiterate the point to me that I had far exceeded what was expected of me. Words do not describe my how incredibly, totally, and fully finished I was with Halloween.

Join me for the next installment when I was in actuality not finished with Halloween in the slightest. The week following the party was fall break, a week of freedom. We were slightly disappointed by the lack of holiday spirit present in Central Europe. Thus we decided that we should go somewhere more appropriately suited to the season. With that little teaser, I leave you for now. Good Day, good night, and good reading.


Doing the Time Warp Again: Part 1

Jo reggelt, or good morning as it is said in Hungarian. I hope you all slept well, we do so love it when you come over, entertaining is just so much fun, don’t you think. Do remember, Russel, you and Sheila are always welcome to stop by if you are in town. Would you care for a cup of bean tea? We have a pot on at the moment. I don’t feel fully human without a little bit of pick me up. Well, I have no idea where this intro is going. It seems to be highly pointless and not terribly entertaining. Nuts to me for deciding to leave it in anyway. Let me begin again.

Welcome back to the back in time, where I talk about events that have long past into the softening glow of memory. Right now I am wishing everyone a happy near end of to March everybody, spring is in the air and so are the birds. Their songs carry across the gentle breezes. There is a bloom budding across the hitherto barren trees casting the world in verdant tones. At least that is how it is in Hungary at the moment. Whenever I contemplate the annual revival of nature that is this summer prelude, I am filled with an appreciation of its beauty. In that spirit, there is naught that reminds me more of the renewal of life that is this sunlight embrace of spring like October.

As I continue to make note of, at this point in my blog I have begun to work through the backlog of information and shortened the gap between long ago and this moment. Brought down from seven months to six, as usual I am highly impressed with myself. At the going rate, this will mean that sometime around summer solstice will I likely be getting to my Christmas. Anyway, time threatens to march on without me and re-inflate the chronological deficit that I find myself in. This way to the futurepast fellow chronographers!

Throughout much of the month of October there really wasn’t much in the way of big notable events. It was just a slow progression of previously established themes. Work as a teacher continued to present its own brand of trials and tribulations; tribulations which I made slow concerted efforts to overcome. I had already accrued a small band of interesting persons I will hitherto regard as friends, and I was on occasion strengthening ties with these companionable cohorts with the liberal application of alcohol. However, for all intents, during the slowly growing chill of October life began to recede into a comforting customs. As a person who traversed the globe in search of the novel it may seem a little odd to say, but by this I imply no negativity. I do greatly appreciate those times of simple sanity and routine. In the solemn seconds you see the simple serenity. It is those days that make up the major share of a human life. It is the minor joys in those easily forgotten days that give life its worth, the meeting of needs, pleasant and unassuming companionship. These are the moments that truly make up the vocabulary and grammar of man’s life. The spaces between the grandiose exclamations and the poignant questions, less important than the inexorable declarations it is the intervening letters between capital and cessation which tells the tale of life. Without which there are but dots on a page.

For the purpose of this blog though, I don’t see fit to regale the audience with thirty separate stories of me catching the morning bus to work. Maybe for a different time I will delve into the minutia of existence, but for now I think there is one thread running through the month of October that I feel would make a fascinating topic for exposition. That topic is Halloween. On this subject may I begin by presenting this disclaimer, I and my girlfriend both absolutely cherish the Halloween season. With her penchant for the dramatic and my obsession with fiction of the variety of creepiness it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that we find ways to extend the day of All Hallows into a month long event. Usually we celebrate the season by visiting all attractions haunted and by putting near obsessive levels of effort into costuming. A damper on our festivities was something that we did not account for in the grand land of Hungary. There was this natural assumption I possessed born from a life of absorbing grand melodramatic horrors of literature and film. Hungary is a country directly bordering on the territory of Transylvania, the mountainous land which captures the imaginations of anyone who has ever heard the name Bram Stoker. The issue with this assumption was that Halloween isn’t really an affair of note in Hungary. It is a small holiday with minor celebrations not dissimilar in nature to Labor Day. In fact it seemed that only those of English speaking nature possessed an interest in the festival of fright. So, with matters taken firmly in hand we had a mountain of work if we wished to manufacture the spirit for ourselves.

Back in the United States our Halloween truly began with the planning of costumes, something we usually started in late September. We would ask each other what costumes would be interesting or particularly fun to do. Once a consensus was reached about a costume idea, the next step would be to surf the net in an attempt to work out the costumes feasibility. During the first few weeks of October, you could witness the inevitable flocking of the majestic Halloween seasonal stores. In any town of sufficient size you could find a good 52,000 of which to peruse through. When the goods in these stores inevitably proved too expensive we would then go to Goodwill and hardware stores to begin the actual process of cobbling together a second hand monstrosity of a costume.

Living in Budapest offers difficulties in this plan. First and foremost, a point which I have already touched on is that Halloween isn’t exactly the reason for the season in these parts. My girlfriend and I don’t have many traditions that we stick to on a yearly basis and we were unwilling to let this one pass without expending the effort. We resolved to bring this little bit of home with us. Secondly is the fact that shipping and handling is an expensive process when directed towards Central Europe as opposed to the Western United States. It soon became apparent that what we wanted would take greater effort.A brief exploratory probe of the internet informed us that the number of costume shops which lacked the adjective of “adult” was quite limited. There was one promising prospect that stood out due to its description and location. Identified as the place to go to get what we needed and conveniently located downtown we made the plan to scout the store one day after work.

On the day of the exploratory expedition we were wary upon reaching the supposed location of this store. Unlike in the states where there is a Halloween billboard every square mile and the storefronts are decorated two story tall images of ghost, Budapest does not exactly feel the need to be so obvious. Following the address on the map led us off the main street down a back alley. As we journeyed down these lesser walked avenues the bustling sounds of the metropolis died down in our ears. In the middle of this secluded alley was situated a massive baroque iron gate. It was imposing to say the least. Through the spaces between sturdy bars could be seen another internal pathway which in turn had three separate formidable gateways that led to even more alleys. It was a sight that led us to stand by in contemplation of whether we should test our resolve by venturing into so mysterious a locale. The number on the building was correct, but we didn’t see any other markings that could reassure us that we were not about to enter a portal into a labyrinthine Sub-Europe where everything is backwards and all questions are spoken in riddles.

Hailing from a land of grand open spaces, this claustrophobic atmosphere made its impression in my mind as a might unsettling. I feel as though we would have given up on the whole venture at that point if a pair of women did not brush by us to blaze a trail through the hidden paths. They had the air of people in the mood to purchase costumes and refreshingly they didn’t have the look of murderers. A creak of the hinges squealed out as the door began to swing back closed. Our decision was made for us. With native guides in view we sallied forth. Once in the inner courtyard the leftmost path was chosen and another iron doorway passed through, this time into an interior space. Following blindly those before us with ever waning confidence we gained ingress. The iron portal gave way to a long hallway with what looked to be seldom utilized doorways to the left and a railing barring off a great descent into the earth. The dimly lit hallway led to a single staircase which descended. The soot of many years obstructed the few windows not pasted over with papers. Cavelike and sinister we descended. Faded posters with fantastic garbs were the first signs we had wandered in the correct direction. All was the stairway at every floor were fewer closed and locked doors to the sides. Meandering downward into the strange new land I was sure we would be inevitable trapped in and forced to cobble shoes for its wizard mayor. One flight down, the faded postings engulfed every wall. Second flight down, masks of varying designs hung off the walls in random display. Third flight down, and sinister apparitions reached low from the rafters. Fourth flight down we reached the farthest extent of our cavernous excursion. No doubts now, this was the location we were determined to find. It was a square floor with only two directions to proceed. Ascend the stairwell or test your fate at the singular doorway overgrown with webs, the visages of the damned, and draped fabrics. A desk with a monitor and a mouse rested opposite.

As we absorbed our surroundings the two women in front of us had approached the technology and then printed off a number before being swiftly ushered through the door. Mimicry to this point had been our means of reaching this place so we continued to follow suit. On the screen was a rather large selection of moderately to greatly expensive costumes. We printed off a number to await our admission.  As we browsed the catalogue of goods the door disgorged several of its inhabitants and we were granted entry to this land of mystery. I had never seen such a densely populated display of various attires. Garb of differing nation and age were visible over every inch of the small room.

As we presented our ticket for admission to the sight some information that we did not know about subterranean back alley costume dealerships was made known to us. The most surprising of these discoveries being that subterranean back alley costume dealerships exist. More prescient to our position as potential clients at this merchant was that the employees expected all of its entrants to have a costume picked out by the time of entry. With minimal fitting and fuss you are expected to make a purchase and depart. One last little morsel of knowledge that soon came to our attention was that the employees get very angry and will kick you out if your mind is not sufficiently made up by the time you gain admission into their little hidden society of costuming. Deciding we didn’t wish to pay exorbitant quantities of cash to people who shooed us away with vehemence, we departed post haste from the surreal existence we had lived some few short minutes.  It was then that we chose to get crafty and produce our own disguises.

In the process of writing this story I had actually planned on incorporating the prior event as a minor part of my coverage of Halloween. What I have discovered is that I more to say about the tales of Halloween than I originally anticipated. I hope you enjoy hearing about said time of year because I have a lot more material to get through. Join me next week as I explore how my school decided to undertake their celebrations of a mostly American holiday. Until the next installment, I say good day, good night, and good reading.