Satan’s Playhouse and the Pig’s Head

From “18 Terrifying Old Costumes You Can’t Unsee” on Click on the image to see the other 17, if you dare…

I have a knee-jerk fear reaction to realistic (or real!) pig costumes.  Here’s why:

As an undergrad, I was involved with the Yale Children’s Theater as an actor, director, producer, costume designer, and probably other positions that I can’t remember right now.  They did tons of productions every year for the local kids. Every Halloween, however, the group put on a haunted house that was most definitely NOT for children.  Satan’s Playhouse was an opportunity for us all to shed our wholesomeness and indulge in some hardcore depravity.  And oh boy, did we come up with some disturbing stuff.

The Satan’s Playhouse my freshman year had a Christmas theme.  It was arranged in a series of tableaus, including a family dinner where the main course was a trussed naked woman, and a Christmas tree where the presents looked normal until lights went on inside them and revealed the cellophane boxes contained twisted, struggling and bleeding people (also naked…there was a lot of nudity…).  But the most disturbing thing was the rotting Santa Claus.  That image alone is disturbing, but what really got me was the pig’s head he would pull out of his sack, stick on a pike, and use to chase the spectators.  It was the first and last thing the spectators saw: they were chased into and out of the house by a cackling Jolly Old Saint Nick.

What pushed that from disturbing to horrifying for me was that the pig’s head was real.  They kept it in a large cooler between performances to keep it fresh, but the smell was still repulsive: raw meat, swine, an insidious whiff of decay.  The rotten Santa “accidentally” touched me with the cold, slimy, bristly snout once, and after five minutes in the bathroom frantically scrubbing my skin, I spent the rest of the performances staying as far away from the guy and the horrible thing.

I think the pig’s head terrified me most because it was the one thing in the whole performance that broke the fourth wall, that could not be safely categorized as fiction.  The flesh that was cut off the roasted woman and gobbled up by a ravenous family?  Cold cuts.  The blood that wept from the flailing half-dead human presents? Corn syrup dyed with food coloring.  But that head, with its rictus grin, lolling tongue, clouded eyes?  A day earlier that was a living animal that was brutally slaughtered.  Its horror could not be denied.  It was True.

What about you, dear readers?  What sort of Halloween costume are you reflexively repulsed by, and why?

Moonlight Sonata in the Key of G(ravity)






When I was a sophomore at Yale, I lived in a three story apartment building across from my residential college that was owned by the school for the purpose of overflow housing.  The drawbacks of not living in the same space as the rest of my classmates were more than made up for by the fact that the apartment had a kitchen.  And cable TV (which the dorms did not have at the time.  God how things have changed).  And a bathroom.  With a shower that wasn’t a stall used daily by a dozen people.  And a bathtub.

It was awesome.

One night I was up late working on a paper (on The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov) when I heard a strange sound from the hallway: hushed excited voices and half-suppressed giggles along with a heavy scraping sound.  The best I could figure was that somebody had decided to get a bunch of friends together to help them move furniture.  At 2 a.m.. Weird, but hey, it was college.  College kids do lots of things in the very, very wee hours of the morning.  And we were on the top floor of the building, so any furniture moving would require a lot of help.  The sound went past my door and faded down the hall, and I shook my head and went back to my paper.

Then I heard unhushed voices and giggling from outside.  My first thought was that the party had moved onto one of the fire escapes.  But there was something odd about the sounds that I couldn’t place.  Curiosity got the best of me, and I went into the bedroom to take a look out that window.

Now, the building was configured in a U shape.  The front facade was the bottom of the U, while the open top faced the back.  The inside of the U was part of the parking lot, but since keeping a car in New Haven is a pain in the neck, butt, and all other parts of the body, very few students have vehicles, so the parking lot was almost always empty, as it was that night.  My bedroom window was on the right hand side of the U, which meant I had a perfect view of the bottom of the U, where the fire escapes were.

I left the bedroom light off, and when I got to the window, I checked out the fire escapes.  They were empty, and I frowned, confused.  Then I heard the sound again, a burst of furtive giggles, and realized that the voices were coming from the roof of the side of the U directly across the parking lot from where I was.  There was a cluster of people up there, maybe seven or so, and they were talking and laughing and peering over the edge of the roof at the three story drop.

Then there was that heavy scraping sound.

And they pushed a piano up to the ledge.

My eyes went wide.

“One!” they cheered.



They wouldn’t!


And in a surge of motion, they pushed the piano over the ledge.

There was a moment, one silent, crystal clear and surreal moment, where the piano fell through space, weightlessly graceful.

A concussive CRASHSPROING!!!  Wood and wire and metal SMASHED to bits on asphalt!

The vandals cheered!

I stared at the annihilated instrument in disbelief.  When I looked back up at the roof, the crowd had vanished.

Stunned, I went back to my desk.  Went back to writing about Chekhov’s work, with the image of a falling piano in the back of my mind.  In the morning I would go out to the parking lot to see in daylight the hulking corpse, long splinters of wood and coils of wire thrust to the sky.  But for the night my mind was caught up in it all, in the impossibility, and the inevitability, of watching a piano fall.

The Band Always Wins

I was in the Yale Precision Marching Band (YPMB for short) when I was an undergrad. I was one of the Squids: basically an auxiliary, but a hundred times more awesome. We create props, perform in the halftime shows, and dance in the stands. And blow things up. Can’t forget that. (The origin of the name Squids is somewhat contested, but the predominant story is that once upon a time somebody called the auxiliary the “Tactical Death Squad,” which someone misheard as “Tactical Death Squids.” We have had ten tentacles ever since.)

Yale’s major rival is Harvard. (We have a saying: “Harvard sucks, Princeton doesn’t matter.” Which is sort of sad for Princeton, since they think Yale is their rival!) The biggest football game of the year is the Yale/Harvard game (also known as The Game), the last game of the season, played the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The Squids pull out all the stops and design a halftime show centered on an Uber Prop. One year it was a fire-breathing dragon. Another year it was a shark that actually ate people.

And then, of course, there are the pranks. The video above is my favorite. Enjoy!

Me vs. Technology



My hard drive recently crashed and crashed hard.  One minute it was fine, the next there wasn’t even enough of it left to give me a Blue Screen of Death.  All my stories, all my work for my recent book blog tour, all of it was on that drive.  I (foolishly) had very little of it backed up.

If I had been on my own, I would have thought it all irrevocable…or, at least, only revocable if I was willing to shell out a lot of money that I don’t have to a data recovery service.  Thank goodness I was not on my own.  My husband Pete is far more knowledgeable than I about pretty much everything technology-based.  He was able to put my hard drive on life support with a flash drive of Ubuntu, and extracted all my files.  I ordered a new hard drive on Amazon, and while I breathlessly awaited its arrival, I worked on my book tour materials as my computer ran off of Ubuntu on a flash drive sticking out of one side, and saved on a second flash drive sticking out from the other.  Fine for documents, not enough for internet.

When my hard drive arrived, Pete spent several hours installing it, installing Ubuntu, and troubleshooting it when the operating system refused to play ball with my WiFi.  The fact that I am posting this right now is testament to his time and abilities.  I still periodically call him over when Ubuntu confounds me.

 “Pete, how do I restart?”

“Pete, how do I install software?”  

“Pete, why is my screen dark?”

I swear, the man has the patience of a thousand saints.

I’ve never been particularly good at computers.  I took two computer courses at Yale: EE 101, which is the gut to end all guts, and a java class, which I took credit/D/fail, and which I am still convinced I didn’t utterly fail only because one of the TAs was a friend of mine.  And it’s gotten worse as computers have developed and my knowledge of them has not.  I can do a very basic HTML, enough that if I was writing this post in text only, I would know how to insert that picture of a keyboard out there with an img src= .  But modifying my blog on WordPress?  Figuring out how to use Hootsuite?  Trying to set up my gmail so that I don’t have to log out and log back in whenever I want to switch between my main account and my Apex Magazine account?  I’m shocked I still have hair left!

Thank God for Pete, patron saint of the technologically clueless.

The Guggenheim, NYC

The Guggenheim, NYC

One of the benefits of going to Yale was that New York City was a two hour train ride away. I saw Rent and Stomp!, went to a Moxy Fruvous concert, marched in the Greenwich Village Halloween parade with the Yale Precision Marching Band. And went to museums! One day I was meeting friends at the Guggenheim, and I was running late. By the time I got there, they had already started winding their way up that iconic spiral. This was well before cell phones were ubiquitous. So I went into the middle, and sang up toward the skylight: “Once I was the king of Spain!” (The first line of King of Spain by Moxy Fruvous.) Worked rather well!