In a couple of hours, we will be pumpkin hunting, my girlfriend and I. They call it “pumpkin picking” for some reason, but the only “picking” that will be happening will be me pointing at a nominee and my girlfriend either shaking her head no or collecting it for us.
Like many other activities, I have not gone pumpkin collecting since childhood, a period of my life that I mostly wasted in an 18-year-long wish for it to be over. (Instead, I lingered in it and that all ended in 2010.)
My girlfriend discovered last year that she has a talent for carving the jacks o’lantern. In a remarkable coincidence, I re-established at around the same hour that I possess no such talents, that the pumpkins and I have no rapport. My sole attempt last year, my one try at even producing a traditional (in America, in the 1970s) triangle-eyed and two-toothed smile (three teeth if ambitious; see above), was hindered by my lack of patience. I would have had more of what we like to call success if I’d set out from the beginning to carve the sucker with my two thumbnails and my deep need to weep at panic boredom.
But they sell pumpkin carving kits now, collections of miniature knives and tiny saws that I would have used with malign intent if they were around when I was a kid. Instead, when I was a kid, we used huge knives to carve pumpkins, without supervision. Three stabs and you had an eye. Three more, a nose. Three stabs, et voilà!, another eye. In my world, that’s a face. (So much safer with the giant knives in the hands of eight-year-olds.) Like Michelangelo seeing his future “David” in a giant block of marble, my girlfriend sees a witch on a broomstick or a hissing cat with an arched back in a gourd on the ground.
Last year, I remembered the part that I had forcefully forgotten to like from childhood: emptying the damn thing before embarking on the sculpture. Those carving kits supply a tiny plastic spatula, too small to flip a single frying egg, much less empty a freakin’ pumpkin, for the task; my girlfriend (and every other human who carves themselves a pumpkin) found this sufficient. Not me. Working alone in an attempt to show everyone that I am a generally capable human being, I used a giant metal spoon, then a knife, and finally in desperation my hands. Pumpkin seeds landed everywhere; I found seeds in my socks when I took them off that night. After the thrashing had been administered—I think I blacked-out during this, as I do not have an active, living memory of the cleaning—I was left with a dented gourd that, when I peered in through the hole in its cranium, which I had cut too small for my hand, I discovered still held most of its seeds.
In my personal history of exclaiming “dammit!” at every slight provocation, this quickly took first place. For this particular moment. For this particular incident. (I suppose whatever made me exclaim it the next night felt far worse.)
I threw the whole thing out. The pumpkin, its skull, what seeds I could find, the kit—each knife and saw broke off or bent in my hands upon trying to penetrate that thick skin. (Remember, in my girlfriend’s hands, those same tools yielded a witch on a broomstick with an expression on her face and I think I remember that it talked, too. In my hands: orange carnage. Autumnal gore. It made for a delightful and charming Halloween murder scene: “Who Killed the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?”)
Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning humor columnist, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-second season:
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