Pumpkin Wine, Poltergeists, and Poltergeist: The Halloween Season Kicked [in the Ass] Off

September 13, 2017 — September 1st came exactly as September 1st should always come, but rarely does. At least here in southern New Hampshire. Outside, the air was crisp. Like a deep autumn crisp that was almost a bite. My heater actually kicked on that morning. I had to put a sweater on—“had” is the wrong word. It was an act of exultation. Meanwhile, on the socials, ripples and eddies of posts about autumn and Halloween and all its looming pleasures and terrors and terror-pleasures speckled my feeds.

The world had changed.

When my wife and I awoke that morning, we didn’t have any specific plans for the evening. But almost immediately the day demanded some. Of the orange and black sort. By the time it was lunch, we had a plan: dinner, some wine, and a movie. And by that I mean, dinner at a haunted restaurant, some pumpkin wine, and a horror movie.

That kind of transmogrification is the entire magic of this season.

So, dinner time dinner rolled by, we grandly dropped the kids off at the grandparents, and then drove without wordplay to the restaurant. The haunted restaurant.

I wrote about the Country Tavern on OTIS back in 2008. OTIS had only been up for a year at that point, and we had only been up in New England for a few months. You should read the article, which I totally didn’t just re-edit based on the perspective and aesthetic of a questionably better, but definitely older writer. But if you want to skip it, the short story is that the restaurant is in an 18th century farmhouse where a ship captain supposedly killed his unfaithful pregnant wife.

We hadn’t eaten there since that summer night nine years ago. I’m not sure why. I kind of think it’s because those days are so painfully nostalgic that it sometimes hurts to relive them. We felt no pain this time, though. But that might’ve been because of the dirty martinis.

Me and Lindsey, nine years ago vs. this month.
She...hasn't aged, has she?

One disappointment was that the ghost story wasn’t on the back of the menu. It’s why I wrote about this place originally. Why I included it in The New England Grimpendium. Because of all the bazillion haunted restaurants out there, these guys dedicated a whole page of valuable menu space to tell their ghost story. But…it wasn’t there, replaced instead by, I don’t know, a dessert menu. A wine list. Something less murderous and paranormal.

Fortunately, I had noticed on the way into the restaurant that they’d taken that story, framed it, and put it on a table in the foyer. So they were still proud, just not menu-proud. We had a fantastic meal in one of the many rooms of that old farmhouse, and then we skipped dessert. We had Halloween Oreos waiting for us back home. We checked to see if the local Spirit store had opened yet and, seeing that it hadn’t, headed for home.

There, in addition to the family-sized Halloween Oreos package that the two of us planned on devouring, we had waiting for us some pumpkin wine, some kind of seasonal scented candle, and the original 1982 version of Poltergeist queued up. The Halloween Oreos and the candle, I think, are self-explanatory, but let’s talk about the other important elements to our evening.

We found the pumpkin wine by accident on our return drive from Nova Scotia last month, after stopping at a grocery store in Maine to stretch our legs and to grab some snacks. On the way through the store, I spied this bottle of orange liquid with a pi symbol on it. It was called Pie-Eyed. All the pumpkin things I’ve consumed, I’ve never had wine. And the fact that it was locally produced in Maine, made it even better. Like I was the one who was supposed to tell the Halloween-verse about it. I bought it, not realizing it would open the season with us, but in hindsight that must have been its destiny. I feel bad now for all the bottles that we didn’t buy.

Well, I would feel bad, except that the wine was gawdawful. I can put up with a lot of bad tasting liquor if it’ll get me tipsy, but this was hard to drink. It tasted sour and bitter, but did have a pumpkin taste at least. My wife described it as cheap white wine that someone had dumped pumpkin puree and spices into. We immediately switched to red to wash out the taste.

Oh well. At least we still had Halloween Oreos and Poltergeist. And one of those things didn’t let us down.

I chose Poltergeist for a very specific reason. We’d both seen the movie before, but not in a very long time. Like decades. At my age, that’s how you measure time now. But I’ve been writing a haunted house novel for the past six months and have been consuming every book and movie in the subgenre to get my bearings.

Turns out, it was almost as unenjoyable as the pumpkin wine. And I hate saying that.

I dug every idea and story choice in the movie, but it was just a joyless slog. Like it was cobbled together without delight, either of the innocent or wicked kind. The individual scenes never drove each other. It was paced like a jalopy with bad brakes. There was a lot of dull space. The weird parts were a bit too random, like they’d pulled them off the leftovers shelf in ILM’s warehouse. It was somehow a blah experience. And I had the same reaction when we re-watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind a few years ago.

If it weren’t for Jaws and E.T. and Indiana Jones, I’d almost have to say that I don’t think I’m even an early Spielberg fan, honestly. Man, what’s happened to me.

But here’s the power of an autumn day. Or, technically, an autumn-seeming day. The facts that the restaurant ghosts had been demoted from the menus, that the pumpkin wine was bad and the horror movie blah, didn’t mean anything. Was totally irrelevant. The fact that there was a haunted restaurant to eat at and pumpkin wine to drink and a ghost movie from 1982 to watch meant everything. Everything.

I would even say that we haven’t kicked off a season that well in a long time.