October 26, 2023


It’s all coming back to me. I type about stuff that I like, and hopefully it will result in a handful of people finding some extra amusement during their lunch break. What’s in it for me? I, along with future generations, will have access to documentation of this year’s Halloween. At least until Google inevitably kills off Blogger.

For a variety of reasons it was difficult to invest much time towards spooky fun during the last couple of Halloween seasons. For a different variety of reasons this year presented more opportunities for me to engage. So that’s what I’ve been doing, in as much as reality has permitted. I’ve also decided to return to form and write about the many ways that I’ve been experiencing this Halloween season.

Some years are defined by a new, sought-after Halloween product release. A few years ago there was the twelve-foot skeleton. Last year everyone was assembling the three Boo Buckets. This year, one item was able to overshadow even the new Carmella Creeper monster cereal. At least for me it did. In early August I saw a tweet from Sammy Hain that showcased a piece of wall decor that simply says “Halloween is Skeleton.” 


I laughed out loud in a rare, literal LOL moment. These are some of my favorite words, and yet I’d never seen them arranged in this baffling and hilarious new way. My questions were answered a couple of replies later when Graves Make RosesBloom pointed out a product from a previous year that said, “Halloween is Skelefun” that featured a more appropriate image. 



The misfire of a decoration shot to the top of my want list. I recognized the logo on the nearby stuffed pumpkin's tag from the Dollar General store, so the next morning before work I raced to the nearest location. Their Halloween stuff was only half unpacked but I saw a printed schematic taped to the shelf. No space was reserved for “Halloween is Skeleton.” There are two more Dollar General stores in my town (which says a lot about my town) but neither of those had the prize either. 

A second look at the Twitter thread revealed that the decoration came from a place called Popshelf. I would later learn that this is the “upscale” version of Dollar General, and it’s pretty new. I followed a link to their site and I happily added the piece of decor to my virtual shopping cart, yet soon I realized that ‘in-store pick-up’ was the only option for anything on the site. Useless! Except for the fact that it shows the product availability at stores near me. They were plentiful, but unfortunately the “near me” was an hour and a half away. My afternoon plans changed in an instant, fueled by fear that this item would be recalled.

After my lengthy drive, on which I pondered why I’m like this, I found the Popshelf store. I trotted through the automatic doors and honed in on the Halloween section. It was soon evident that Halloween was NOT skeleton in that place. I asked an employee if they had it and she directed me right back to the shelves I had just scoured. I mentioned the “in stock” message on the web site, and sheepishly asked if I could talk to someone else who might be in the know.

A few minutes later a manager emerged. I showed her the jpeg image and laughed nervously as I tried to explain my new obsession out loud for the first time. Then to add some gravity I found myself admitting that I’d just driven ninety miles for this one and only purpose. I can’t even imagine the weirdo vibes I was giving off, but to my shock, she agreed that it was funny, and seemed to understand my fondness. 

I know the concept of locating a missing product “in the back” is practically an urban myth, but I asked anyway. Suddenly more shock as she said to me, “Would you like to go in the back and look around for yourself?” This statement defied all logic. For retail workers (and I have been one of them) the back is a privilege, a bastion, and a sanctuary. It’s one of the few things that separates them from the masses, and I had an invitation.

I rambled on about how honored I was as I crossed the threshold. My delight faded when I saw a maze of tightly-wrapped Tetris-like boxes, on dozens of pallets, all at least eight feet high. The man arranging them said there was no way that we could locate a specific anything. I knew he was right. I went ahead and explained my absurd desire. Lo and behold, he too was sympathetic! He chuckled and his hopeless demeanor shifted. He started moving pallets around while describing the type of box it would be in, but I foresaw a lengthy search ahead. And while he seemed game, I didn’t feel right putting a halt to the afternoon’s business, regardless of how Skeleton Halloween may be. I think it’s due to my experiences growing up with some people who habitually abused the the kindness of store employees. I let him off the hook and asked if they would call me if they found it. As I wrote down my number (next to which I drew a large illustration of the product) I lacked any faith that they would follow through. I was already envisioning myself traveling to the next closest location on some upcoming weekend.

The next day “Popshelf” appeared on my phone screen. Without hesitation I repeated my journey, reveling in the absurdity of it all while trying to ignore the sheer wastefulness of the endeavor. Yet on the other hand, the physical pursuit is a big part of the fun. The hunter/gatherer lobe of my brain was more than content to see the lengthy quest to completion. Plus I knew that I was carving a new Halloween memory into my pumpkin head. 

When I barged into the store, the guy spotted me instantly and yelled “Man, we already sold out of them!” During a long, breathless pause I decided that he was joking. And he was. They were happy to deliver the goods, and I picked up a couple extras for some other Halloween-loving friends who also understand pure greatness. I was also pleased to know that at the very least I had given the Popshelf staff something interesting to talk about over the last twenty-four hours. All of this is exactly why Halloween is indeed Skeleton.




As the season approached I ebayed a few more additions to my vintage Halloween cassette collection. I’d never seen T.A. Hamilton’s Terror Treats (1988) for sale before, probably because it was only available through the magicians’ black market. Though it warns that it’s “FOR HAUNTED ATTRACTION USE ONLY” somehow this copy found its way into the private sector. Presumably, the disgraced party responsible for this has been ousted from the haunted attraction guild. 


I think the recording is better than most dollar store tapes, but some bold claims on the package set me up for disappointment. It says it’s the “single most diabolical Haunted House Soundtrack ever created,” “designed by experts in the field of Audio, Theatre and Illusion,” and contains “psychological stimulants and subliminal enhancements to produce desired effects.” Best I can tell that’s referring to some low oscillating tones throughout.

Spooky Halloween Sounds (1990) is my least favorite spooky tape approach, which is to say it strings together a series of isolated sound vignettes with pauses in between. It would be fine for an editing library, but it's not a great way to “Turn your home into a Haunted House!” I recognize some of the sound effects from other tapes, but I haven’t the will to do any cross-referencing. 

The best of the bunch is Halloween Tricks and Treats from the Madacy label. It’s a sister release to the beloved Horror at the Graveyard. My all time favorite narrator has another spooky story to tell, and I would listen to him read a multivitamin label. You can hear it here.



In the realm of vintage horror paperbacks, I had some fun finds over the summer. I managed to locate both Dark Gods and The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein in two different states within just a couple of weeks. He was once the editor for Twilight Zone Magazine which seems to have trained him in the art of originality and avoiding cliches of the genre. He spends a great deal of time fleshing out the worlds and characters before he introduces the horror. I saw a tweet by Matt Cardin that had this to say about The Ceremonies

“Did you know that Klein's classic 1984 novel not only tells a gripping horror story but gives the reader what amounts to a mini-course in the history of weird, Gothic, and supernatural horror literature? In making Jeremy, the novel's protagonist, a graduate student and college instructor who is preparing to write his dissertation on Gothic and weird literature, Klein creates a narrative vehicle for conveying insightful reflections on many classic texts, presented as entries in Jeremy’s journal. These include the likes of: • The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe • The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis • Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin • Carmilla (1872) and "Green Tea" (1872) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu • Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker • Northanger Abbey (1817) by Jane Austen • "The White People" (1904) by Arthur Machen • "Ancient Sorceries" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood • Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft These same works—especially "The White People"—also form a thematic background to the cosmic horror at the center of Klein’s novel. This clever approach makes The Ceremonies a must-read not only for its own literary and entertainment value but as an instructional and inspirational text for both students and writers of supernatural horror fiction.”


This is why I’m currently reading that one.

I also found several titles by Clive Barker at my local thrift store, which is about as unusual as finding a cloven baker, or a clove burger on the shelf. Then I stumbled upon a new-to-me used book store in the area that has somehow escaped my google map searches for years. I picked up some cool stuff there too, especially during a buy-one-get-one-free sale. I finally reclaimed the first printing of The Shining paperback, a book I had foolishly donated to some lucky thrift store years ago.




A spooky project I’m working on sent me down a research rabbit hole of 1970s unexplained-type documentaries. I've seen many of these and I'm extremely fond of the In Search Of television series, but I was entirely unaware of The Amazing World of Ghosts (1978) written and directed by Wheeler Dixon. It’s a scattershot masterpiece of stock footage, library music, and truly unhinged speculation. The narration by Sydney Paul is both earnest and soothing all at once. The show puts me in a wonderful headspace, scratching an itch I didn’t know I had.


At times there is a welcome contrast between the grim subject matter and the upbeat, seemingly random production music. It’s as if to say that ghosts and UFOs should be celebrated, and not feared because the possibility of their existence is exciting; not scary. It reminds me of one of my favorite recordings, the street audio from the defunct World of Illusions attraction in Gatlinburg, TN. If Amazing World of Ghosts leaves you wanting more, there’s an extremely similar “sequel” called World of Mystery (1979)


In September I finally completed The Last of Us Part II. It’s a great game that is made even greater with the inclusion of this Halloween shop environment.


Thanks to a tip from Trevor Henderson I started listening to Nightfall which is a horror radio drama that was aired between 1980 and 1983 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For the most part the writing and production value is great, and there are some truly chilling episodes. The stories are surprisingly potent considering that they were on the public airwaves. These have been my go-to for every dog walk and day trip, so I’ve now heard nearly every episode.



If there's time, I enjoy creating something Halloween-related during the spooky season. This year my friend, an artist named Rumwolf, invited me to show some of my work at a Halloween event at a nearby art gallery. This motivated me to create this new painting of a dime store display of Halloween stuff, a subject firmly wedged up my oeuvre. The rubber skeletons pictured are the first ones I ever owned. When I was a kid I won them at ski-ball at an amusement park. 



I displayed it with some older pieces and made a little sidewalk installation. The trick or treater represents my childhood fear of having to wear a winter coat over my Halloween costume.


For the last ten or so years I’ve frequented a nearby Halloween festival with various friends and family members. This year we decided to take things to the next level by driving to St. Louis to visit Creepyworld, a haunted park that boasts over 13 spooky attractions. 



The line just to enter the park was surprisingly long. It eventually rounded a corner to reveal a sea of people ahead of us, standing in the same line. This seemed to be the norm judging by the "Freakshow" production that was in place to entertain the queue. I grew concerned that we wouldn’t get to see all the spook houses during our dwindling time frame. The line finally filtered directly into the first haunted house which had a mental hospital theme. The actors, props, and environments made for a solid haunt, and as I approached the end I was eager to see what else was in store. The exit emptied directly into another line that led directly into the next walk-through. Thankfully it was much shorter. After exiting the next haunted house, the line continued into the next one, and the next! The entire park was one continuous line!

While this was a bombshell for me, it wasn’t all bad. Mainly because if you’re in that line before they close shop, you are guaranteed to see every single thing in the entire park. But I’m still perplexed. It seems like the sort of idea you’d come up with at an elementary school sleepover. “What if there was an amusement park, and it only has haunted houses, and it’s all just one giant line.” Creepyworld has been going on for twenty-five years, so I’m sure they’ve learned a lot. Still I was surprised at the lack of opportunities to buy snacks, or souvenirs, or just wander around, or go to the bathroom, or even sit down. We opted for the additional hayride package, and getting to sit was worth the price of admission. I was also surprised that there was no pre-entry mention of this whole system. (Unless somehow we missed it.) Well, consider yourself warned. 



We stopped by Half-Price Books on the way out of town, and I must give a huge shout-out of gratitude to my friend Kyle for pointing out a book that I had walked right by. Haunted Houses by Larry Kettelkamp was in my elementary school library and frightened me like no other! It has photographs of ghosts. So why do people continue to debate the issue? This is a major relic of my spooky existence.




The last time I threw a Halloween party I was in my mid-twenties, and it ended with a house fire. At this stage in life my entire assembly of local friends could only constitute a “gathering” at best (which is not a bad thing.) However, this year some of my former students who share my aesthetic wanted to have an old fashioned Halloween party at my place. This gave me an excuse to deck things out more than usual, and we had a great time. One of the highlights for me was getting everyone in a darkened room and putting on my Dr. Druid’s Haunted Seance album. The first side is all about unifying the group for the spiritual task ahead, so he goes through a bunch of goofy old parlor tricks that make it appear that everyone is all-knowing and powerful. The crowd totally got it. Then I played a chilling story called Mr. Fox by The Folktellers, followed by The Haunting, a short record from 1971 (which was sold through comic book ads) that’s designed to be played in the dark for a group of kids. It creates the illusion that a blood banshee is moving around the room devouring little boys. It was magical to hear these recordings played and appreciated by people in the year two thousand and twenty-three.

Other random tidbits: 

As usual, throughout the summer I started piecemealing physical media to be enjoyed in October. This year I was drawn to movies that involve haunted attractions, be it dark rides or walk-throughs. These include titles like The Funhouse, and Ghoulies II for their dark ride content and haunt-centric films like The Houses October Built, Haunt, and Hellfest. I can overlook countless cinematic shortcomings if a movie feels like Halloween

One of the movies with the strongest Halloween feels is the WNUF Halloween Special. I ordered a new version of the blu ray slip cover. This is the first time I've ever ordered a slip cover for a film I already own. What a weird phenomenon, but that art is too cool. It’s even sillier since the existing slip cover is one of my all-time favorites. 

I thrifted this Boogymen DVD, which is something I’ve been aware of for decades but had never watched. It’s exactly what I expected.

I bought one of these little skeletons at Target because they are gorgeous.

There is an odd trend this year of products breaking from the traditional Halloween color scheme with a palette that leans towards Easter. I'm not a fan of most of it, but here's another one that I liked enough to get.

Well, that’s my report so far, and there’s still some time before the big night. Sadly, I’ll be teaching a two and a half hour software class to college freshmen that evening, so it’s a good thing I’ve already been able to do so much celebrating. 

Happy Halloween!

June 28, 2021


Imagine being a painter and one day all that you've ever painted suddenly disappears. The canvases are still there but the paint has turned invisible. In a way, that's what happened to me after I deviated from traditional artistic materials and chose a new kind of "paint" called Adobe Flash.

In the year 2000 I worked for a subsidiary of Hallmark making newfangled greeting cards that could be sent and received instantaneously. And the pictures moved! And they were interactive! And they were free! We called them e-cards. All those innovative features were made possible by the program Flash.

When I was off the clock I used my knowledge of this powerful new medium to improve the rest of the internet by enhancing my website SecretFunSpot.com with image galleries of things like vintage bike decals, old Halloween photos, and a couple animated shorts. This was before "web 2.0" where everyone started contributing their own photos and memories via sites like Flickr. So for a long time if you wanted to see an image of Kenner's Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces, my site was one of like, two places to see it on the world wide web. Thanks to Flash, you could virtually disguise him right on your screen!

Then the iphone came out. In a calculated move to dethrone the format, it didn't support Adobe Flash. This kicked off a decline that eventually resulted in the total demise of Flash in early 2021. Suddenly, the Secret Fun Spot became extra secret when all the content was shrouded in error messages. (My seven hundred plus e-cards had already vanished years ago.)

Truth is, I understand the problem with one company having total control of a format. Though it's amazing that Adobe created something so advanced that practically the entire web became dependent on them. I'd say that's still the case with much of the design and publishing world's reliance on the Creative Suite. The current monopoly isn't a good thing. We have to pay their monthly subscription to maintain our livelihood. (Yes, there are alternative programs, but Adobe is still pretty universal.)
Now that we're living in the future, it's so strange that artists and designers must be cautious of overnight obsolescence. With a flip of a switch a ton of the world's most recent creations became practically inaccessible. (Oh, how I miss orisinal.com.) Meanwhile the pyramids of Giza are over there scoffing. And seriously, how long will things like JPEGs last?

But I'm not here to lament Flash, or even the end of Secret Fun Spot. (I stopped updating it nearly twenty years ago.) Today as I finally cancel my web hosting, I'm reflecting on the ways that silly site literally changed my life. It exemplifies how creating projects for the love of it can connect you with others, and turn into work that will feed your family. The bulk of my creative life including my books, writing gigs, art commissions, gallery shows, and film projects can be traced to the Fun Spot in some form. The culmination of these projects and personal relationships have amounted to countless life-enriching experiences. All of that helped me get into my current visual arts faculty position at a university. At last my work is no longer in danger of iphone compatibility issues or going out of print. 

The Secret Fun Spot reached over 2.5 million "sessions" since its inception in 1998. Over the years I've received hundreds of emails from people who were thrilled and touched by the journey it took them on. J.J. Abrams even mentioned it in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine! (May 15, 2008):

So now I'm going to redirect the Secretfunspot.com domain to this site. (Not that this site is seeing much attention from me these days, but still.) So I offer a hearty thank you to those of you who ever paid a visit to the Secret Fun Spot, and especially those of you who ended up sticking around with me. It's been fun and that's no secret! (ingenious!)

I'll leave you with a memorial image gallery of some of the image galleries. Don't try clicking the buttons because you shouldn't poke at dead things.

June 09, 2021





This article originally appeared on Monkey Goggles, a sadly defunct project from the gang at Archie McPhee.  Of all the things I've ever written, this is one of my favorites. So here it is, back on the internet where it belongs.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Titled Record Albums

We humans have only been able to record our music for a hundred-something years, but in that short time we’ve arrived at some standard practices. For instance, recording artists sell bundles of 10 to 15 songs at a time, and these collections are called albums. Cover artwork and a title are carefully selected and assigned to each album; in many cases this happens well before the record is leaked online.

Likewise, certain conventions have emerged in the realm of album titles. Titles are usually a short phrase or a single word that corresponds with the theme or tone of the music. They can be poetic and profound, consider: Rubber Soul, Loveless, Urban Hymns or Nevermind. Some records are named after a song that appears on the LP; examples include Pet Sounds and Thriller. Others are simply named after music in general, such as Madonna’s album Music as well as Music, the first CD from the band 311.

Many artists have chosen to name albums after themselves; these are known as self-titled or eponymous records. R.E.M. actually called their 1988 singles compilation Eponymous, which was pretty cool. (Though it should be noted that The Alarm did this five years earlier, which deducts some of that coolness.)

At its best, the self-titled record is an act of elegant simplicity; at its worst, it becomes a baffling ordeal. Let’s explore the possible scenarios of self-titling with hopes that future bands might avoid pitfalls such as Santana Syndrome or Weezeritus.


If you’re ever going to self-title, then your first album is the perfect time to do it. It makes an efficient, dignified statement: This is us and this is our music. The eponymous debut album is a respectable move that will place an artist alongside some of the most influential musicians in history. The seemingly endless list of acts who have carried on this rich tradition includes Wilson Phillips, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Doors, Rush, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Kraftwerk, Queen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, The Clash, The Smiths, The Eagles, The Cars, Duran Duran, Journey, The Ramones, The Stooges, Violent Femmes, Madonna and “Weird Al” Yankovic to name just a handful. (Sorry, I really cracked myself up starting that list off with Wilson Phillips.)

The only act who has ever made a mistake in releasing a self-titled debut is Hoobastank. That name should have been avoided entirely.


Groups like Huey Lewis and the News and the The Allman Brothers already took the easy road when they named their band, so a first album title with a little pizzazz would have been nice. (Granted, Huey gets some credit for making up a stage name; he was born Hugh Anthony Cregg III.)

As lame as it is to self-title everything, the efficiency is undeniable. There was a time when Jon Bon Jovi could answer the questions who are you, what’s the name of your band and what’s the name of your album by simply flashing his driver’s license.


Why wait until the third, eighth, or twelfth album to go eponymous? Sometimes it’s meant to indicate reinvention, like when Heart transitioned to a more pop oriented sound on their album Heart. Other times it proclaims the end of artistic integrity, as is the case of Metallica’s fifth album Metallica.

Bands deserve a pass if there is a legitimate reason behind the decision. Take The Beatles, the ninth LP by The Beatles. The record was to be named A Doll’s House until a British group called Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll’s House. Despite this effort, many listeners still struggle to tell the two bands apart.

Smash Mouth held an online contest inviting their fans to name their third album. Their followers managed to come up with the winning appellation: Smash Mouth. The disgrace was completed by the fact that more people named the album than actually bought it.

The stupidest possible time to self-title is on the second album. (Unless it’s the first release in the States, i.e. Elton John.) It gives the impression that all creativity has been depleted by round two. Prince did it, and so did Collective Soul. What a bunch of goobers.

This practice doesn’t necessarily mean that a band has declared creative bankruptcy; The Velvet Underground, ABBA, and The Carpenters all did it on third albums which weren’t too shabby. But there’s really no method to this practice. Kid Rock went eponymous on his fourth release, Echo & The Bunnymen on their fifth, and The Cult waited until their sixth. Wilco’s seventh album is called Wilco (the album). The Cure held out until album 12 for some reason, and The Beach Boys self-titled their 22nd and final studio album as if to announce that they had officially hit the bottom of the artistic barrel.


A shocking number of recording artists have decided to put out more than one, and in many cases several, self-titled albums. Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Cher and Cheap Trick are all guilty. Whether their intentions were rooted in profound artistic statement or just plain apathy, it causes grief among the fans. It makes it confusing to discuss an artist’s career and it can even make it tricky to buy their albums. The worst offenders are Seal and Weezer, each with three self-titleds apiece, and then there’s Peter Gabriel, who didn’t bother naming his first four records.

A word of warning to any artist considering mid-career and/or multiple eponymy: fans just won’t put up with that crap. Listeners refuse to go to the trouble of calling a CD “Metallica’s self-titled fifth album” and rightfully so. They avoid this rigmarole by collectively assigning their own title, like “The Black Album.” Trouble is, the public will look to the most obvious visual cues available for inspiration, and the results are predictably dull. An album’s color, for example, is a no-brainer. It started with The White Album and continued with unsanctioned names like They Might Be Giants’ Pink album, Collective Soul’s Blue album and Weezer’s Blue, Green, and Red albums.

If colors aren’t an option, then fans will go with a prominent object on the cover. When Pearl Jam didn’t come up with anything better than Pearl Jam for their eighth effort, the fans looked to the inexplicable chopped avocado featured on the cover. Voila! The Avocado album. The Cult wanted to get back to basics with a self-titled sixth album — title overruled! The Black Sheep record was also renamed for its cover art. And in what is perhaps the only clever instance of this phenomenon, the self-titled Alice In Chains was nicknamed Tripod based on a three-legged dog on its jacket.

Fans used the same technique to deal with the Peter Gabriel debacle. The cover photo on his debut shows Peter in a car. It became Car. Peter’s fingers appear to leave scratch marks on his second album cover. This became Scratch. Can you guess what they named the one where half of Mr. Gabriel’s face is melting? Mr. Melty Face? No, just Melt.

By album number four, the powers that be were through screwing around and released the record with a sticker on its cover that said Security. Gabriel seemed to take the hint and started naming his records. His lack of album-naming practice was evident in the fact that his subsequent three records were respectively named So, Us, and Up.

Some artists like Chicago, Scott Walker, and Led Zeppelin put out multiple self-titled LPs, but they had the courtesy to number them. Seal forced his appreciators to do this, and he further convoluted the situation by giving his third record a proper name. So his unofficial discography goes: Seal I, Seal II, Human Being, Seal IV and so on. It sounds like a horror movie franchise.

Fan-named titles have also spawned from year of release (Cheap Trick ’97) and song names (Genesis, the Mama album). The point is, if you don’t name your album then everyone else will, and you’re not going to like it.


It’s true: Santana released Santana in 1969 and Santana in 1971 (which was the band’s third album, no less), proving that Carlos Santana is the laziest rock star in history.