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I'm an author, historian (Ph.D., WVU), musician, professor, and mountaineer. I have published two books, To Live Again, a classical myth set in contemporary Appalachia, and Defending the Homeland, a collection of essays on radicalism and national security. Welcome to my blog.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pass the Amontillado, I’m Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

October may very well be my favorite month of the year. Granted, I may be a bit biased since I was born on this month, but there are so many other reasons to love it. The mountains transform into rolling red, gold, and orange quilts. Leaves flutter in the air as cars breeze down solitary roads. The days are comfortable and the nights are crisp. Hunters invade the woods and cheerfully blast at everything not wearing orange. Football is in high gear. This year has been an interesting one for a Steelers and Mountaineers fan. The Steelers, coming off their Super Bowl victory have stumbled their way to a 5-2 start. They don’t look like champs, but somehow they are still in the mix. For the Mountaineers, it’s Coach Stew Year Two. Everyone talks about what a nice guy he is and the Mounties are a tolerable 6-2 but I foresee tough times ahead. Does Stew actually know what he is doing? Half the time he’s pacing back and forth on the sidelines with a confused look and grimacing teeth like he really needs to use the bathroom but can’t remember where to find the nearest toilet. And don’t even talk to me about the halftime interviews. Sometimes the rambling, smiling Stew even makes less sense than Lou Holtz dishing out those those incoherent pep talks – and before Stew did it, I thought it couldn’t be done. Meanwhile thousands of prayers go up from the mountains each day imploring God to make Rich Rodriguez fail at Michigan. Stew is still enjoying the fruits of Rodriguez’s recruiting. Unfortunately for Stew and the Mountaineer faithful, the talent well will not be as deep in the near future. But no matter what happens, it is October and each year I hate to see it go.

One of the best things about October is Halloween. Kids get candy, men get to act like kids, and ladies get to dress like tramps. Everybody is happy. For me though, this time of year is great for ghost stories and scary movies. Upon my return to the ranks of the blog world, I have decided to share a few of my favorite things to watch and/or read whenever I get the chance in late October. The first is a sentimental childhood cartoon: “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” The second is my favorite Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” and the third is, in my opinion, the best vampire movie of the past thirty years, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I will discuss them one blog at a time. For now, it’s Charlie Brown’s turn.

As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like the Great Pumpkin you must be a terrorist. I had not seen it in a few years but was lucky enough to catch it on TV last week. Having seen the cartoons my nieces and nephews watch I’m struck by how different and much more artistic cartoons used to be. The Charlie Brown special would probably not even see the light of day if it had just been introduced to television executives. It is not happy enough, they would say. It isn’t politically correct and sweet and filled with delusional positive messages about how everyone is special and things always turn out okay in the end. But that is what makes the Great Pumpkin so interesting and enduring. It isn’t a “feel good” story. In fact, the show is filled with disappointment. As usual, Charlie Brown takes it on the chin. Lucy still pulls away the football at the last moment, sending Charlie crashing into the leaves. When they go trick or treating, all the other kids get candy; Charlie Brown gets a bag of rocks. Sally doesn’t get any candy either. Because of her puppy love for Linus, she stays with him in the Pumpkin Patch and misses out on all the candy. She finally screams and shouts at Linus before storming off into the dark. She is like so many women who have blind faith in the men that they love only to wake up one morning and realize they’ve wasted a big chunk of their lives. Then there is poor, ideological Linus - ever watchful in the Pumpkin patch. As the night grew darker, he slept alone under his blanket until his sister drags him home and puts him to bed. No Great Pumpkin. How many of us have spent far too much time in our lives faithfully waiting for something that never came? I certainly have. Most tragically, of course, is that Snoopy fails in his dogfight with the Red Baron and is forced to make a crash landing somewhere in the French countryside (By the way, in the scene where Schroeder is playing the piano and Snoopy is dancing while dressed in his World War I flying gear, Schroeder is playing actual songs popular among the soldiers in the First World War – could you ever find as much depth in a cartoon today?)

Our story ends with Charlie and Linus leaning against the brick wall trying to make sense of everything that has transpired. Charlie didn’t get any candy and Linus never saw the Great Pumpkin. Linus is undaunted, however, and vows to find an even better Pumpkin patch next year. “You’ll see!” he shouts to Charlie Brown. He declares that one day he’ll be proven right. Isn't life this way? Most of the time we don’t get what we want. We wait around for things that never happen; we expect candy and instead, life gives us a rock. But like Linus we wait for next year and hope for better things. Maybe one day Charlie Brown can kick that football and maybe one day the Great Pumpkin will show up. In the meantime, we can enjoy the fact that kids can still see and learn from a cartoon that was drawn over a generation ago. Maybe we can still learn from it too. If that doesn’t make the Great Pumpkin a work of art, I don’t know what does.

Until next time...

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