Thursday, January 13, 2011

My First Halloween

Watermelons were free in the summer of 1979. Everyone we knew seemed to have an oblong one in their refrigerator and wanted to give it to us. By July 3rd, we had eaten most of one watermelon and then got creative with a second.

What's more patriotic than spiking a watermelon to celebrate the nation's 203rd birthday?

The drinking age was 18 in 1979 and at least one in our group was old enough to purchase a fifth of vodka. We cut a hole in the dorsal side of the watermelon wide enough for the mouth of the vodka bottle and up-ended the bottle into the melon and put it into the fridge overnight.

A quick search tells me that there are 200 - 300 varieties of watermelons grown in the United States and Mexico. I do not know which have the highest vodka-absorption rate, but the one we selected for our venture would probably not have scored very high. I'm a half-full kind of guy but in this case the vodka bottle was half-empty and by early afternoon on July 4th, our watermelon had imbibed all that it was going to.

Tallahassee's Independence Day celebration had just moved from Lake Ella to the North Florida Fairgrounds, so we took our friends and the loaded watermelon to the Fairgrounds to watch the fireworks. As excited as we were to have successfully spiked a watermelon, none of us was particularly keen on partaking of the fruit of our labor. I recall a small piece I coaxed through the watermelon's blow hole tasting like red vodka.

How do you spell relief? V-O-D-K-A (with apologies to R-O-L-A-I-D-S and their fans).

Next add fireworks -- to the watermelon. We enlarged the hole in the watermelon and stuffed in as many bottle rockets (sticks removed) and M-80 variety fireworks we could fit and stood back while a brave soul ignited it.

It was dusk and it was spectacular. The image I carry in my memory to this day can only be best described as similar to what I saw when Commander Matt Decker on October 20, 1967 first piloted the USS Constellation into the Doomsday Machine on STOS (Star Trek Original Series). Like Gene Roddenberry's cosmic log, the watermelon briefly belched flame from its maw, increasing momentarily in intensity and volume until a final WHOOMP exhausted liquid and solid fuels. Tim, I know you would understand.

Our fiery watermelon attracted undesirable attention from the crowd that warns us every year not to do the kinds of things we had just done, so we abandoned it.

Days later with several friends, I brought the summer's third watermelon of note with me to a movie at the Miracle Theater on Thomasville Road, where I purchased my ticket and went to my seat with the large watermelon tucked under my arm, making no attempt to obscure it.

About half-way through the movie, I completely understood the phrase I'd heard on trailers for the Amityville Horror OV (Original Version), "For God's sake, GET OUT!" It was the worst movie that I had ever paid money to see. During a quiet point in the movie -- I believe the sludge had begun to flow -- I left my seat, still with the watermelon under my arm and proceeded to the rear of the theater and ROLLED the watermelon down the center aisle. My watermelon trundled noisily and clumsily down the aisle, glancing off a couple of seats before finally cracking up near the front. Heads turned and hoarse whispers of "My God, it's a watermelon!" reached my ears as I quietly exited the theater.

What does all this have to do with Halloween?

In the last languid days of summer before school began again in 1980, friends and I were reminiscing about our watermelon adventures during the previous summer when one of us said, "We could make a giant watermelon costume for Halloween."

And we did. I am forever grateful for Arlene letting me work in her garage after school, and Mike's paint job, and Brenda's photography. You all immeasurably enriched my life. Thank you.

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