Night is falling earlier, leaves are beginning to think about eventually starting to change color down the road and skeleton memes are steadily on the rise. It must be the first day of August. Halloween is officially in full swing, and I've had an eventful year since the last. I'm finally making an income on art, I'm finally keeping up my production of art, my first steady series is exactly one year old today, and best of all, I don't live in Florida anymore, which means I'll get to see the full extent of Autumn for the first time in almost seven years.
Did I really just say seven years? How did that even happen? Florida was only supposed to be a thing until I got back on my feet and could live someplace where anything makes sense again. Instead, America's sweaty groin devoured most of my twenties seemingly overnight. I did meet my best friends in the world there, I had the best sushi I've ever eaten almost every week, one of my parents lives there and it's where my healthiest relationship started, but on the other hand, there's also a sense as though I just suddenly woke up thirty-one with a balding spot and a fuzzy recollection of having been in far too many Walgreen's.
Good thing I'm in the habit of compulsively photographing everything even remotely interesting that I run into, or I'd never be able to share...
SPOOKY LITTLE FLORIDA MEMORIES
These aren't big things. These aren't even all going to be exclusively Halloween things, but they are all going to tie loosely into what the season's all about, and many are things I've either never posted about, or only barely touched upon. Such as...
I included this shot of Bipalium kewense and a brief anecdote in my article on Platyhelminthes once before, and I already gushed about how exciting it was to first encounter such a strange organism that I'd only ever known from books. I'm still disappointed I could never get them to thrive, let alone reproduce in captivity, despite other owners having no apparent difficulty. Their appetite for live earthworms - which they melt with an enzyme secretion - is supposedly insatiable, but none of mine ever accepted any prey indoors, whatever sort of environment I tried to provide for them, and I only ever encountered at most maybe one or two of them a year.
In 2011, unbelievably, I found several of the same species at a park in Bel Air, Maryland, where I'd spent my entire childhood and teens. Did they slowly spread that far, or did they sneak in on some imported plants?
Bipalium wasn't the only genus of flatworm I found creeping around the crabgrass, either. These oily black critters were probably Geoplana, and another I kept trying and failing to nurture. Eventually, I completely gave up on my attempts to raise land-dwelling planarians, at one point passing by the largest one I'd ever seen.
At an old-fashioned ice cream shop somewhere between Melbourne and Palm Bay, you can find a whole host of unlicensed cartoon characters eternally celebrating some non-specific child's birthday, but none so intrigueing as Mikey and Raph here. What could POSSIBLY be in the box???
Mikey has a hint for you: he made it himself.
Slugs are "spooky," right? How about totally weird, pancake-like slugs? I'd never even heard of gastropods quite like these until I found some slithering around a driveway at the crack of dawn, a couple months after my move. Looking amazingly like flattened yams, these are more or less the slug equivalent of a turtle, if we pretend that's not already what a snail is. Their "actual" bodies are much smaller and thinner than they appear, completely covered over by a thick, rubbery, shell-like mantle that also works like one big, giant suction cup.
Like the planarians, I would keep finding these creatures, setting them up in a nice terrarium and doing my best to keep them happy. Unlike the planarians, I eventually found success; enough success that I've gotten a handful of babies to almost reach adult size, and I'm still getting the odd clutch of eggs.
The "Spy Source" Mascot
"Spy Source" was a store in Melbourne I never actually entered, since I never really had any use I could think of for setting up a hidden camera, but the hand-painted mascot on their front window immediately captured my heart. Not only does this figure have a camera for a face, but look at the wires. This camera was actually installed somewhere, before it became this entity's head. Why? How? Every implication is sinister, and if its head is a stolen camera, what does its body look like?
Without any solid lead, I'm going to just assume a headless corpse.
Invasive Cuban Tree Frogs
If there's just one advantage to a Halloween in eighty degree weather, it's that snakes, lizards, insects, spiders and other traditional Halloween fauna are guaranteed to still be at large, and no sweltering, sticky Florida night is complete without seeing some of these foreign devils. Here's a couple lying in ambush for insects and lizards on one Halloween night, and you have to appreciate that pallid, corpsen flesh of theirs.
Here's another, doing what Cuban tree frogs unfortunately do best, which is devour other, potentially endangered frogs as well as any members of their own species that will fit into their mouths.
Many of my shopping needs took me by the same collection of "model homes" in the Palm Bay area, which, if you're not familiar with the term, are permanently unoccupied houses built just so the upper class can walk around a simulation of a home they might want to have constructed.
I'm not sure a plywood front door is usually part of the deal, much less one that houses what I'm assuming is the soul of a dead mime's parasitic twin, but I guess I just come from a much different social background than the kind of person who can test out a house before having one built. It's their own business if they're alright with the Knotty Man peeling away from his wooden prison every time somebody invokes his true name and seeking a return to the comfort of a warm human body cavity by any means necessary. He gets bigger and bigger every time, but he'll never let that stop him from at least trying. We can all stand to be as persistent as Knotty.
This Doctor's Sense of Humor
For a brief period, there was one acquaintance I had around Florida who really just sort of needed my car-having skills to get some errands done, and one of those errands was an appointment with a gynecologist. I don't remember which gynecologist, what year it was, or even my semi-friend's name, but it was well into October, and yes, that's a garland of bloody knives and tools decorating their waiting room. Decorating a gynecologist's waiting room. The only thing that makes this better is its beautiful juxtaposition with the innocent delight of a cardboard ghost.
Terrestrial Nemertean Worms
The Amblipygid here is probably demanding the most of your attention, but take a look around her. Wrapped around the mangled remains of her prey are soil-dwelling Nemertean worms, similar in many regards to those flatworms we looked at, but in an entirely different taxonomic group.
I'd been using this tank to experiment with a number of Florida creatures before I repurposed it, and must have completely forgotten about the first of these slimy slinkers. I assumed it had simply died, but almost a year later, the tank was suddenly crawling with its offspring...and very little else. Right under my nose, these sneaks completely exterminated the isopods, amphipods, millipedes and soil roaches that once called this aquarium home, sparing only the massive arachnid, and continue to devour anything else tiny enough to get caught. The beasts actually use their own slime trails as a sort of glue trap for small arthropods, repeatedly patrolling the tank until they find something that can't get away.
It's now going on two years that I've enjoyed having these Floridian fiends in my care, and I admit, there is a special, tiny thrill in maintaining a miniature chamber of horrors shared by both a ravenous, eight-legged beast and a bevy of gut-slurping worms.
Okay, so it was actually made by my friend Kristina for her private Halloween party and I was one of only a few people who showed up while simultaneously A) wearing a serious effort at a costume and B) being a friend who was ever actually invited and didn't trash her house. It might not be a prize from a serious competition of any sort, but it's still one of my favorite belongings, both because a close friend made it and because it just looks awesome.
More than once, I actually thought of devoting an entire Halloween post to The Shack, but I was never sure I could stretch it into a whole article or not. This waterfront seafood place in Palm Bay not only serves really fresh, nice quality food, but its owners go all out for the season, decorating inside and out with their massive collection of props and costumes! What better environment for feasting upon the remains of detrivorous crustaceans?
My single favorite display, and one that seems to return year after year, is this eyeball-headed surgeon and his clawed, neckless vampire nurse on what they swear is a strictly professional dinner meeting, honestly, this is as far it goes this time. They're coworkers, for Yog's sake, and they just come from such different worlds. At least three, maybe four different worlds. It's complicated.
Jesse's Nosferatu Costume
The one highly positive thing about living in Melbourne Florida in my early 20's was making some actual, legitimate friends who understand and appreciate the important things in life, like playing pokemon well into adulthood, having almost but not quite too many cats, hunting for huge cockroaches in decomposing buildings and warding away Florida's right-wing populace by flagrantly broadcasting a casual affection for the occult. They also generally put more effort into Halloween costumes than I ever have, even when they couldn't find anywhere to properly show them off.
Wuch was the case with Jesse's Count Orlok. It remains one of the best I've seen, either in person or in internet photos, though the latter doesn't really do it justice, and with almost no local Halloween events actually happening on Halloween, all he could really do was come to my mother's house to watch me eat my birthday cake.
The smell, texture, taste and even very idea of cake frosting is positively revolting to Jesse, but Jesse is one of those people who, when repulsed by something, can't completely resist subjecting themselves to it.
Our other Friends as the Sanderson Sisters
We all agree that Hocus Pocus is one of humankind's great achievements, and Nadia, Katy and Kristina nailed its noble, heroic protagonists almost perfectly.
Katy even recreated Book, the movie's breakout star, as a box she now uses to store cigarettes. That's almost exactly like using it to store dark sorcery!
Making a Toilet Monster
It was in January 2010 that I wound up involved in a weekend-long art show, Robot Love, and had about a month to come up with something to display for it.
For whatever reason, the idea of using insulation foam to make a monster out of an old toilet hit me immediately, even having no previous experience making a sculpture out of anything, and by astonishing luck, it was only a day or two before we happened to drive by a toilet someone left out on the curb, my enthusiasm for my own trite idea just narrowly winning over my fear of Disease, which wound up being the sculpture's name. If you're going to slap together something at the last minute for an art show, you at least need to call it something pretentious.
For weeks, I came and went from the half-empty strip mall where the gallery was setting up, I used leftover material to make even more critters, I got to quasi-socialize with some entertaining art people and we even watched a few movies projected on an empty wall. It was probably one of the single most fun experiences I've ever had, and it's just too bad there wasn't anywhere to store Disease once the gallery was over. At the time of this writing, its remains are a sun-baked, deteriorated mess lying in my mother's back yard.
It's not all bad, though; having spent these last five years collecting filthy rain water, Disease is a breeding ground for a steady stream of mosquitoes. It couldn't have really asked for a more appropriate legacy.
The Lord of the Rings Mr. Chiggers
One year, our friend Dylan decided he wanted to be a "swamp monster," and he decided he would make it out of authentic Florida materials, including soft tree bark and copious amounts of Spanish moss. The LED eyes were rigged from a cheap Wal-Mart toy, and he put the whole thing on stilts for good measure.
Other Floridians were adamant that handling any of these tree materials, especially the moss, would infest Dylan with chiggers, a warning I heard dozens of times during my time in the state. None of us ever actually did get any chiggers, but they did become this monster's name, and he was even temporarily converted into a light-up statue for Robot Love.
Mr. Chiggers wound up winning a $500 prize at a massive outdoor party in down town Melbourne, but their youtube video would caption the costume as "The Lord of the Rings."
Everyone's favorite character!
The Mitch Taxi Mascot
If you've persistently read my tumblr, you probably knew this was coming...and there's honestly not a whole lot I can say that I didn't cover in my very first reaction, so, we're just going to immortalize that here.
Congratulations, Mitch. You are actually the single best thing I ever laid eyes upon in my seven years of inhabiting Florida. I truly admire the kind of person who ever decided you looked good enough to put on the side of a taxi, and I hope nobody ever feels the need to update you into anything less ghoulish. You are the kind of well-meaning, accidental nightmare that keeps me getting out of bed every morning...yet keeps me lying awake every night.
I hope someone has gotten some sort of entertainment from this ecclectic collection of very tenuously thematic items. It probably seems like I almost miss aspects of Florida, and I do, surprisingly, but don't fool yourself into thinking that actually living there is any different from living inside a giant's armpit. I can at long last say goodbye to sweaty, sun-bleached mockeries of the fall season, and look forward to the cool, dark, orange and red surroundings the good lord Skellington intended.
Halloween or not, I'm sure we're all equally relieved that Florida is finally gone now, and everyone who ever had to live there is free from from its oppression forever.