Okay, youngsters. Gather 'round your old Uncle Dave, and I'll tell you the True Halloween Horror Story about the time my friend Don put his wife's tights on his head. This was my idea. It was the Halloween of 1978, and the community where I lived had decided to hold a party where the neighborhood children would have some traditional Halloween fun such as bobbing for apples, the theory being that they'd do less traditional Halloween property damage if their lungs were full of water. For the highlight of this party, I was going to tell the terrifying story of the Watermelon Baby.
I learned the Watermelon Baby story when I was a counselor at a place called Camp Sharparoon. My group, consisting of 9-year-old boys, went by the Indian name "Schaghticokes" (pronounced SCAT-a-cooks), which I believe is the Indian word for "boys who are too scared to go out to the latrine in the woods at night." On camping trips, our primary wilderness pioneer activity was hanging blankets out to dry, the result being that there was no wildlife for 200 miles downwind of our campsite.
This was my fault. Each night we'd gather around the campfire and roast marshmallows as the forest became dark and silent, except for the whisper of the wind in the majestic 200-foot pine trees and the occasional distinctive cry of a "Schaghticoke" attempting to eat a marshmallow that was still technically on fire. Then I'd tell a campfire story, which always starred some evil carnivorous nocturnal mutant creature with a name like the Snake Witch, or the Toad Man, or the Giant Fanged Pine Cone Of Death. Naturally, I'd always point out that this creature was known to stalk around in the VERY WOODS where we were camping. As I described the horrible things it did to people and their various internal organs, my voice would get quieter and quieter, until the boys were leaning forward with eyes the size of personal pan pizzas, and my voice would drop to an ominous whisper and . . . LOOK OUT!! THERE IT IS!!!
Then I'd wash up and brush my teeth while I waited for the boys to climb down from the tops of the majestic pine trees, after which they'd go to bed, although they would probably never actually sleep again for the remainder of their lives.
Anyway, the best Camp Sharparoon story of all was the one about the Watermelon Baby. This was a monster that looked semi-human except it had a huge head and went around eating everything, sort of like Sen. Edward Kennedy. For some reason this story always drove the Schaghticokes to new altitude records, and so years later I decided to tell it at the community Halloween party. To make it REALLY scary, I devised this plan wherein, at the most dramatic moment, I'd make a Secret Code Hand Gesture, and there, in the window behind me, would appear: THE ACTUAL WATERMELON BABY.
The role of the Watermelon Baby was to be played by my friend Don Macpherson, who met the two major dramatic qualifications:
1. He was around.
2. He had a few beers in him.
To give Don a giant head, I hit upon the idea of borrowing a pair of green tights from his wife, Pat, stuffing one leg with an entire wadded-up Sunday edition of The New York Times, and then pulling it over Don's head. Don's concern at this point was that he perhaps did not look like a terrifying creature of the night so much as a man with newspaper-stuffed tights on his head. Pat and I tried to reassure him that he was indeed very impressive, but this was difficult inasmuch as we were lying on the kitchen floor face-down in puddles of laughter-induced drool.
But finally I talked him into going to the Halloween party site, where he hid outside while I went in to tell the story. Many children were there, and I soon had them spellbound, ready to explode with terror. At exactly the right dramatic moment I made the Secret Code Hand Gesture, and there, in the window behind me, was: nothing.
So I made a more obvious gesture. Still nothing. I was waving my arms like a man under attack by hornets, and the children were snickering, and the window was empty, and somewhere out there, stumbling around in the night, was the Watermelon Baby, whose vision had become obscured by the Arts/Entertainment section.
So, as you youngsters can imagine, old Uncle Dave wound up looking like a total buckethead. But don't laugh too hard, youngsters. Because guess what? Halloween is almost here, and Watermelon Don is STILL OUT THERE somewhere, lurching around. He might even be RIGHT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. And I bet by now he's VERY annoyed.
The Miami Herald/Tribune Media Services