How Not To Go To Punkin Chunkin

… and generally shirk your duties.

You’re dreaming this morning of being at an REM concert. You know it’s morning because you went to bed at 2:40 a.m. Not because you had anything to do. Not because you had insomnia like you did all this past week. Not because you’re worried. It was the night wind — how calm it sounded, like a child rustling in its blankets as he dreams of driving an ice cream truck. It was that feeling of peace you wanted to prolong.

Sure, nothing got accomplished accomplished at the party you threw last night, and two days later, you’ll be hard put to come up with stories worth relating to any audience, Internet or otherwise. Well, that isn’t totally true …

I. The story of the nervous Catholic school girl

“I’m really nervous,” your co-worker says. She only knows two people at this party, including you.

For some reason, it strikes you as a terribly brave thing to say. You’ve thought this so many times before at parties — that weird, gut-wrenching feeling you get when you walk into a room full of people you’ve never seen before in your life — but never said it. How funny it is that she’d be the person to say it and not you.

“Let me get you a drink,” you say.

II. The tale of the Viking helmet

It was an excellent idea to be a Viking for Halloween. Somehow it’s a perfect match for your personality — you know, mellow, considerate, mostly rational. And getting the costume together wasn’t hard for the most part. Buy some faux fur from Jo-Ann Fabrics (how the middle-aged women looked at you while you waited in line to have it cut — strange how much distrust can be distilled into a single look), grow a semblance of a beard over a week. But the helmet isn’t totally working out.

CLONK!

This is the sound that the plastic helmet, bought for you by a friend from Target, makes when it smacks against the top of your kitchen doorway. Oh yes. It isn’t personality that makes being a Viking suit you so well. It’s the part where you’re so tall and imposing. Well, tall anyway. So tall you can’t even walk around your apartment successfully with this Viking helmet on.

What is the moral of this story? That it’s impossible to be a true Viking in this day and age, and modern architectural design is the reason why.

III. The story of the reluctant dancer

“The trick is that you have to stop caring what people think,” you explain.

“You can’t just stop,” she replies. “It’s not something you have a choice about.”

But you do, you want to say. But you have to. Except the explanation you’d use right now — you know the kind, the one that typically comes when there’s 12 minutes left in a romantic comedy and it’s high time for a good old monologue — is jammed between two crinkly bits of your brain. You’d think alcohol would help you out in this regard, but as always, it doesn’t.

IV. The mystery of the ambiguous costume

80s hair band member?

Hooker?

Julia Roberts from “Pretty Woman”?

You turn out to be right with your first guess. Halloween’s interesting that way.

V. A tale of two liquor stores

One liquor store is narrow as a gate. It has a good wine selection, which would count for something if you actually drank wine on a regular basis. The beer selection is alright, but they don’t have many cases of anything beyond Miller Lite (you are a level 1 beer snob, after all, and have a reputation to uphold).

There’s a middle-aged woman playing a slot machine in the back. Is she winning? Is she losing? Probably even she doesn’t know. She stares at you as you consider the beer in the refrigerator cases.

One of the customers in front of you in line is a jerk. He just got off work and has no idea what he’s doing. He’s got a keg already, but trying to decide exactly what else to get is a task too large for his mind to consider in its entirety. So he’s issuing questions (“Do you have any ice?”) as they occur to him, which would be alright except for all the people packed in line behind him.

The woman working the register is in her mid-50s, probably. She doesn’t call you “hon,” even though she has the accent for it. With a glance at her face, you can tell she’s been working here — or somewhere exactly like here — for a very long time, and probably will be for even longer.

A different liquor store feels tawdry, start to finish. There’s a man in a dirty wife-beater circulating around with a half-vacant look on his face. Eventually you discover that he’s here to buy lottery tickets. While you wait in line, he recites the numbers he wants without looking at the cashier, as if they’re being whispered into his ear by an stagehand.

There’s also a girl who’s probably only 14 years old but whose body is shaped like a tiny mountain. Thick all around. Her hair is braided immaculately, and she doesn’t smile when she talks to her friends. She just looks at the beer selection along with you.

The set of customers in front of you in line are jerks. You don’t think they’re drunk, but they’re amazingly loud and confusing for just three people. They’ve got two bottles of something you’re not quite sure what it is — it’s pink, so wine coolers you guess — and they want to get four in all. Or is it four more than they’ve already got? Then one of them leaves with one bottle without paying. Is it some weird Halloween form of petty larceny? Even they might not be able to tell you.

The man at the register is pale, tall, thin, wears glasses, and calls you sir in an even tone, as if nothing else is happening in the store at all. You sort of wonder if you’re the most honest-looking customer he’ll have tonight.

So you guess it did turn out all right, after all. Now Michael Stipe has stopped singing in your dream and has come into the crowd to meet people. You reach your hand out and he grasps in it an oddly warm handshake. He’s really pleased to see you.

“I love your music,” you tell him, even though you aren’t that huge of a fan when you’re awake.

“Thanks,” he says, and then something happens outside your body that makes you start to realize it’s just a dream and it’s morning outside again. And that you were supposed to go somewhere and have an adventure today. It was something you were supposed to write about for Crunchable.

But you don’t need to wake up just yet. You don’t need to have an adventure this weekend. Adventures are for unhappy people. People who need to get from one point to another. People who lay out the plotlines of their stories on five hundred three-by-five index cards.

It’s going to feel like summer for a few days now. Take it slow and sweet.

Article © 2003 by Chris Klimas