Best Little Horror House in Sonoma

Given the annual rate of attrition of the kids who trick or treat my house, this year I expect, at most, two – the one’s from next door whose parents make them come over for the sake of being polite.

The low turnout baffles my wife who thrills at the sight of little one’s garbed as ghouls, scampering willy-nilly over the landscaping. But I know why we yearly loose a handful of trick-or-treaters. It’s not because they’re matriculating into more mature activities like egging cars or strafing houses with toilet paper. It’s because my wife is the brand manager of a natural foods company and subsequently loads up the kids’ sundry pillowcases, plastic jack-o-lanterns and the occasional Timbuktu bag with “healthy” snacks from her company. I can already hear the sigh(s) of disappointment. Halloween is the one time of year kids are permitted to take candy from strangers and my wife has to go on her one-women crusade to prevent cavities and childhood diabetes. What a witch.

I know, I know – kids should be so lucky. Back in my day, the healthy stuff was where the loonies did their dirty work. Remember the apple chock full of razor blades shown in X-ray on the evening news?

Those were the days, when madmen tried to kill you outright whilst the Mad Men sold us confectionary poisons that would take years to lethally clog our systems.

Then there was the Red No. 2 scare of 1976. Otherwise known as “amaranth,” the food dye was banned that year once it became apparent that it was a carcinogen. Thereafter, we had to get our red M&Ms on the black market of the schoolyard blacktop. Ironic that the dye, named for an imaginary, immortal flower referenced by Milton in “Paradise Lost” (Immortal amaranth, a flower which once / In paradise, fast by the tree of life…) was a suspected killer.

And to think that rock group Van Halen had a rider in its contract prohibiting brown M&Ms. Their lawyer must have been color blind.

A way to avoid M&Ms of all shades on the cheap is to window shop for one’s heebie jeebies. With my infant son, the Cannoli, strapped to me in his Bjorn, I sneaked a peek at the Sebastiani Theatre lobby which is presently in full Halloween regalia in honor of the resurrection of Witchie-Poo, the annual spectacle of spooks.

As I fogged the glass door, squinting at the entry strewn with cotton cob webs and other frights of blight, the four-month-old Cannoli expressed his approval by attempting to French kiss the glass, having just discovered his tongue, which remains too slippery for him to catch with his cocktail wiener fingers. Interestingly, if you say “horror house” while holding your tongue, “trick-or-treat” takes on a markedly different meaning.

Likewise, I’m advised by an informant that the foyer of Dr. Forsythe’s office is also done up in Halloween hues. The Cannoli and I never made it far enough down Broadway to visit (we were waylaid by a pit stop at my office, which, being a burgeoning media empire, is also a 700-square-foot diaper changing station). Consequently, I’m unsure if Forsythe’s deathly decor recalls a pet cemetery, in which case methinks the pet reaper should spell his name “For-scythe.”

And that, darling readers, is why they pay me the big bucks.

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack has also apparently undergone a Transylvanian transformation in time, I suppose, for its namesake restaurateur to cameo as a latter day Elvira when she hosts Sonoma Drive-In’s broadcast of “White Zombie” at 10 p.m., Saturday night on local Comcast channel 27 (hooray for educational programming).

Incidentally, White Zombie is also the name of a metal act which had a rider in its contract excluding all M&Ms except green ones, which allegedly have aphrodisiacal properties.

I, of course, will be home on Halloween night vainly attempting to distribute health food while slipping green M&Ms to my wife.

Trick or treat? Yes.

Zombie Survival Guide (revised and expanded)

Having grown up next door to a mortuary and across the street from Petaluma’s “cemetery row,” I was keenly aware of the possibility of a zombie attack.

This was during the second, “classic” wave of classic zombie flicks, produced by George Romero and his imitators, including “Day of the Dead,” which was released on my 13th birthday (though my first – and favorite – zombie film was “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” a low-budget depiction of an insufferably pretentious theater troupe whose black magic shenanigans raise the dead with predictable results). Now, nearly a quarter century later, I find myself again surrounded by cemeteries and cinemas full of the undead. My office is situated between three cemeteries separated by mere blocks and – gasp! – it’s on a second floor. When the zombie apocalypse occurs and lurching hordes of re-animated corpses come knocking, however, I’ll be prepared.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks offers comic advice (his forthcoming graphic novel The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, is due out from Random House this October). Ditto last year’s Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry, but it’s recently released study “When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of An Outbreak of Zombie Infection,” penned by Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Imad and Robert J. Smith of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, Carleton University, that backs its plan for staving off a “doomsday scenario” with real, albeit, weird science.

From the paper’s abstract: “…We model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.”

Okay, now I feel better. This paper, of course, comes from an institution of higher learning that bills itself as “Canada’s Capital University” (I don’t feel so bad about SF State anymore – though I do believe one could minor in vampirism there).

Spend a couple of years in Sonoma and one comes to appreciate the seasonality of the Valley’s aromatic experience. Every fall, the air becomes pungent with the fragrance of grapes rent by an Armbruster RotoVibe destemmer (which sounds like it belongs in a horror film).

This musty perfume still lingered in my nostrils when I opened my office window and was met with the fearsome reek of death. It emanated from the second story window across the alley from me, which had been opened in a vain attempt to aerate the place. When I went to investigate, the police present on the ground floor outside the building were polite but couldn’t share details.

Their doleful eyes, however, indicated that Halloween had come early to the complex. The stench wasn’t some over-inquisitive rodent selected-out of the gene pool by a Darwinian drainpipe, but rather a human corpse in such a state of decomposition as to suggest it hadn’t many visitors in the previous weeks.

Needless to say, my officemates and I were well-rattled – not by this foreshadowing of Zombiegeddon that had arrived in a heap of decayed flesh not more than 15 feet away from our place of business – but by the fact someone’s last thoughts, last words and breath went unheard, in the dark and solitude of a one-bedroom apartment, and no one noticed for weeks.

I Can Read Movies

spacesick-bladerunnerUtterly smitten with the work of artist-designer-genius Mitch Ansara’s work interpreting movies for his “I Can Read Movies” mock book covers series, I was inspired to research the origin of the aesthetic he both effectively and affectionately captured for his renditions of flicks as diverse as Caddy Shack and Blade Runner. Though the films themselves obviously suggested the content for Ansara’s pop culture meditations, the form seems to derive from two distinct strands of graphical DNA: film title and poster master Saul Bass (noted for his distinctive work for Hitchcock and Kubrick) and Germano Facetti, art director at publishing house Penguin through the 60s and early 70s. Click through the links and compare the paternity tests.

Sonoma Inn (San Francisco Edition) literally bites

sonomainnGiven my never-ending crusade to preserve Sonoma’s brand equity, imagine my surprise when I discovered poachers siphoning our identity from our own backyard.

In San Francisco, at the corner of Bush and Van Ness, is a hotel named the Sonoma Inn. I initially assumed it was a residential hotel, by which I mean flophouse, of the ilk where pensioners and burnouts share quarters with romantic visions of alcoholic writers and sad-luck dames. You know, the kind of place that would boast a plaque that reads “Charles Bukowski slept here.”

Not to disparage the residents, or Bukowski, whom I’m sure don’t need some snarky media type from a tony wine country suburb making digs at their digs. But still – did they have to use the name Sonoma? Just so there’s no confusion, when I say “Sonoma Inn,” I don’t mean any place of overnight accommodation in, around or even near Sonoma, such as the Sonoma Valley Inn, the Inn at Sonoma, the Sonoma Mission Inn or even the Sonoma Creek Inn. Those we can differentiate from the pretenders by virtue of the fact that they’re actually in Sonoma and have never been listed, say, in the Bedbug Registry, where I found this post from an apparently disgruntled guest of San Francisco’s Sonoma Inn:

“Yesterday, June 18, 2009, I rented a room there. One of the residents told me they had just been inspected and were told to spray something like three times in six weeks and that they were non-compliant to that request. The bugs are alive and biting. I don’t know any details other than they bite and I have raised welts on my skin that itch terribly.”

And they dare put “Sonoma” in their name? Deplorable.

Of course, I had to call. On my second attempt a woman answered the phone with a wan “Hello?”

I tried to confirm that I had reached the venerable Sonoma Inn and after a moment – a rather long moment – she decided that I had. I asked if she had any vacancy.

After another long pause, I realized it was incumbent upon me to define “vacancy.” I asked if there were “rooms available.” She said no. I asked when she might have a room and she said “Maybe tomorrow.” The rate? $50 plus tax.

By comparison, a real Sonoma room is anywhere between $134.99 for a king bed and complementary continental breakfast to $255 for a non-smoking room with a queen bed at the winter discount.

Just for kicks, I checked Craigslist and found a “LOVELY Sonoma Studio approximately six blocks from Historic Sonoma Plaza” with “ample parking” and a “queen feather bed, twin bed, flat screen TV, kitchen bath with shower and tub, WI-FI” with a bonus “bottle of wine, coffee, tea and of course chocolate with your room.” $160, no tax. It seems we pay a premium for bedbug abatement here in the real Sonoma.

Let me needlessly add that if you stay at my house, it’s free, but it means you’ll probably have a hangover.

I first became acquainted with Sonoma while covering the then-Sonoma Valley Film festival for the San Francisco Chronicle.

These were the days of heightened festival largesse when media, as well as filmmakers, were put up in guest rooms throughout town.

I arrived weary from the drive up from LA and followed the directions as best I could, unaware at the time that the city once had a crisis of creativity when naming its streets and doubled up the numbered streets emanating from the Plaza.

I had already unpacked and was disrobing for bed when the homeowner kindly asked why I was decamping in their guest quarters. I introduced myself, which only confused matters further.

Mercifully, Sonoma is a very hospitable town and the inadvertent host very generously directed me to the correct address without so much as calling the police to report a half-naked trespasser squatting in their granny unit.

Of course, a night in jail would have been cheaper than all the above and also comes with a complementary continental breakfast, but in this instance, one might come to miss the bedbugs.

Codling’s Walken Exhibit Cues the Muse

walken1Matisse had his Odalisque ?? painter John W. Codling has Christopher Walken.

(“And now, little man, I give the watch to you.”)

Codling?s series, ?Sundays with Chris,? a study of the actor,? is on exhibit from October 22 through November 1 at DVF Gallery in the Meatpacking District at 444 West 14th Street, NYC). The artist, a Wall Street survivor, found his muse in the maelstrom of the the current economic crisis.

“A little over a year ago the financial markets and the economy started imploding. As someone who makes his living on wall street I was stressed to the max and my favorite day of the week was ruined. Sundays were no longer a fun day to spend with my wife, family and friends.? Sunday was now a workday. For months my ‘day of rest’ was turned into an anxiety filled mockery and the only thing missing in Manhattan was Godzilla.? Every weekend was absolute shit storm of bad news which culminated on sunday night. To cope with the stress some people ran, some?did yoga, some drowned themselves in whiskey and some ?packed up the SUV and headed back home. Being a native new yorker with a 12 year career on Wall Street I had no place to move back to. At three hundred pounds i was too fat for yoga or jogging. I yearned for calm, a? leader I could trust to guide me through the crisis.? There were none found in the financial world so I shut off CNBC and logged out of bloomberg.? I found my leader in front of me on the canvas every Sunday. I wound up painting Christopher Walken.” (

Given the puns with which Codling has named some of his canvasses (?Walken This Way,? ?Baby Walken? and ?I Can?t Stop Walken?) one might assume that “Sundays With Chris”? is an exercise in artsy irony. It?s not ??Codling consistently captures Walken in his more haunting aspect, which critic Pauline Kael once described as ??his pale, flat-faced mask of pain, his glaring eyes?? and the images effectively become a dark but transcendent tribute to the man and muse.

No word if Walken himself will attend ?Sundays with Chris.? The Oscar-winning actor is probably too busy portraying Ozzy Osborne in an upcoming biopic about Motely Crue and the 80s metal scene from whence they sprung. New York media pals interested in an invite to an October 22 private reception for Codling can tell Alexandra Baker I sent you.

Further Reading: Check out this an hour-long episode of the Daedalus Howell Show (mostly) dedicated to Walken.