Interview with a Haircutting Horror Buff

10 08 2010

You know what’s really great? It’s when you know you love books (or anything else for that matter) and you randomly run into someone else, a complete stranger, and you end up having this really great conversation about books and fun stuff that you had never expected.

Now, I’m ordinarily pretty sociable, but I do not have the strength for long episodes of small-talk. Going to get my hair cut, I’ll normally opt for sitting in uncomfortable silence rather than go on and on about my kids, the weather, and the 6.5 other boring things that can come up, that always seem to come up, and none of it really mattering one bit. I really, really hate it when it comes up that I speak German, because everyone has a little German in them and knows how to say something, the pronunciation of which they’ll massacre beyond recognition but I’ll smile and nod politely anyway.

This last week was really different, though. I went to a simple Great Clips (I don’t spend much on hair cuts. I get #2 clippers on the sides and back and for that I don’t expect to pay more than $15) and met Michelle, who was a little rough for the wear and in her late 50’s, but was otherwise very nice and happy. She asked what I was reading since I came in carrying my copy World War Z because I was expecting a wait (New Rule: “Always carry a book with you” – remind me to blog about that later). Michelle took one glance at it and asked if it was gross. I just explained that it’s a lot of fun and how the first night after I started reading it, I actually had a zombie nightmare (which was really awesome, by the way).

So, we got to talking about horror novels in general and about Stephen King, who is the obvious go-to person if you’re going to talk horror for many reasons, and I immediately learned that she’s been an avid reader for longer than I’ve been alive as she referenced early King more than the later. In fact, I mentioned Duma Key, which was the most recent one I had read and she hadn’t heard of it. No, Michelle’s favorites were The Shining, Christine, and Carrie. All the biggies. The only recent King she had read was his On Writing, which I also thought was very good. Her favorite, though, wasn’t fiction at all: it was King’s reflections on the genre itself in Danse Macabre.I had never heard of this one and it’s going straight onto my to-read list. She spoke for a long time with a lot of passion about how much she enjoyed it and how she wanted to be a writer. In fact, she’s even written a novel and I got the feeling that it’s been a while since she’s had a chance to talk to someone about that experience. It made me really glad to have brought that out of her.

Twilight Zone: "Time Enough at Last"

After that, and I forget exactly how we got there, but we discussed the apocalypse of a zombie invasion and how apocalyptic stories are ultimately more about the people who survive than about the event itself, and then I mentioned the episode of the Twilight Zone that I found the scariest: “Time Enough at Last.” It was the one with the bibliophile bank teller who is constantly put off by the interruptions of the practical and real world and would rather lose himself deeply in books. He also gets into a lot of trouble with his stupid, bitchy wife and boss over his book habits. Well, one day he sneaks off into the bank vault during his break to read and as the doors shut, nuclear war breaks out and he’s the only one who survives, luckily, with the books. *Stop reading and skip to the next paragraph now if you don’t want the ending spoiled* He finally has “time enough at last” to read all he wants and feels actually quite happy about the solitude. But cruel fate is cruel and he drops his glasses, shattering the lenses and he’s left crying that it’s simply “not fair.” Like everything else, it’s a replay of the Greeks (essentially Tantalus, I think?), but it was an early encounter for me and I felt sorry for the guy. I mentioned how my daughter Juliana would probably like Twilight Zone a lot. She’s a pretty dark kid sometimes and Twilight Zone is just the kind of thing that might initially come in under her radar, if she could maintain interest in it.

Michelle comes right back with, “Well, if you liked Twilight Zone, do you remember Night Gallery?” Given that the show ran from 1970 to 1973 and wasn’t quite as popular as the Twilight Zone was, I was significantly less familiar. I had heard the name before, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single episode. In fact, I didn’t know it was Rod Serling’s follow-up. The concept of the show, for those in the dark like I am, was that each episode focused on the story behind one painting in a gallery. Michelle went on to tell me about the episode “Eyes” which starred Joan Crawford acting like an evil bitch (shock!). At any rate, Michelle described the whole show in such detail that, again, she sold me on something that I had to see for myself. I now share the viewpoint of one Youtube commenter who said something to the effect of why can’t Nick at Nite show good stuff like this instead of endless episodes of Leave it to Beaver and the Cosby Show?

Now, I realize this is beginning to sound like the longest haircut ever. And, it probably was because Michelle would stop frequently and she had an endless supply of energy and opinion now that she had become animated and had a captive audience. This energy was infectious, I have to say. And still, she had one more thing to share. She mentioned being freaked out in the house where she and her sister, who passed away a few years ago, lived and was convinced that a random occurrence could have meant her sister had been present as a ghost at one point. The story was that after her sister died, she came home one day to find a knife from bottom of one of the kitchen drawers mysteriously in the middle of the kitchen floor. No one else had been in the house. It’s important that I point out that she didn’t say this in a freaky way that would make me think she’s cuckoo, but simply in a very sweet and wrapped up in the subject kind of way. She then went on to share her personal favorite scary book, Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door. Tying it to the earlier conversation, Michelle described in detail how Stephen King thought the book was particularly impressive and described it as such in Danse Macabre. The story itself is an haunted house story, where the supernatural invades on the otherwise comfortable daily life of the house’s occupants. It’s also apparently a first-person narrative, which for horror always has really good potential for scariness, in my opinion. Add another one to my to-read list.

Ultimately, I walked out of there with much more than a haircut. I got two great leads on books to add to my ever-growing reading list, plus a TV series I could look into as well. Most importantly, though, I had a really good time just sitting there listening to her. Having that kind of company with someone else who shares these interests and can speak passionately about them is so comforting, even though I may never even run into her again nor will she likely remember me either if I did. It’s those kinds of impromptu conversations that I’m really grateful for and all it took was carrying a book with me to start it off – so, like I said, new life rule: Always Carry a Book.