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Thursday, 17 November 2011

How to Ruin Thanksgiving and Annoy People

Last year I worked on Thanskgiving Day morning, then returned for a midnight start to coincide with the official "doors opening" at WalMart for their Black Friday sale, officially called "The Event" at WalMart. I posted about last year's experiences, so you can refer back to that post on 11/30/10 if you wish to refresh your memory.

This year Target, a competing department store right across the main road, have announced a Midnight start on their their sale, and WalMart is starting their sale at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day. This of course means that anyone wishing to shop for a bargain is going to have to cut short their Thanksgiving evening celebrations and get along to the shops. It also means that some staff are working that evening, then returning for more madness on the Friday. I'm lucky this year, I'm working 7 to 4 on the Thursday, setting up for but not involved in the sale, then back for 2pm on the Friday, by which time the red-eyed glaze of bargain-maddened shoppers will have mostly worn off.

The 10pm start is allegedly in response to customer request, but it feels that the sales start earlier each year. Thanksgiving used to be a bookend that kept Christmas from interfering with the rest of the year, but this year sales of Christmas ornaments and Christmas-targeted gifts started before we had celebrated Halloween.

So for most of the WalMart staff, at least at my store, this year is going to be even more unpleasant than last.  I shall be giving thanks that due to a good schedule (and a considerate Manager), I shall be able to have a joyously unhurried Thanksgiving dinner with my wife and neighbors, a full night's sleep, and a relatively quiet shift on Black Friday afternoon. I shall also be giving thanks for three healthy contented cats, generous neighbors who are hosting and feeding us, everything going well with all the projects that Beth and I are working on, and being happy very with my life as a whole.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Halloween 2011

For Halloween 2010 we kept things very simple, but for 2011 now we were fully settled in the house I was determined to do something bigger. My original concept (which I had in 2010 but had not the means to create) was a maze, with spooky things you have to go past, before coming out the other end to a candy reward. The maze concept transformed into a Haunted Castle, when I discovered a folding castle at Toys 'R' Us. I bought two sets of this castle, which formed the frame for my 2011 Halloween experience.



Here's the castle assembled to test for size. It didn't completely fill the garage, but it was good to have some space round the edges anyway. My idea was that kids would go in the front door, wander around a bit spooking themselves, until the found the back door and exited, where I would be sitting (in last year's Grim Reaper costume) with a bowl of candy. Then they would exit the side door to the garage and head back to the street. It didn't quite work that way on the night (I think I got one child to follow correct procedure).


During construction I came up with the idea of filling the castle with dry leaves. Free stage dressing, better than the bare concrete floor, and they added smell, sound  and texture to the experience. We gathered up fallen leaves (which had helpfully already been swept into piles) in a tarpaulin, and it took a lot to cover the floor.


Stage dressing included this ex-trick-or-treater, complete with candy bowl with last year's candy still in it. The bones got somewhat lost in the leaves, and many kids on seeing the candy bowl helped themselves from it. That's OK, Halloween candy lasts forever anyway.


I also had this "ground rising" ghoul, colored lightball (not switched on here), and a few mini-pumpkins to add atmosphere, plus a couple of bats hanging on wires.


I also got a fog machine this year, and attempted to chill the fog to have it hug the ground, with mixed results. The problem with fake fog is that it has to be heated to start with, but then chilled if it is to stay low to the ground as intended. The chilling was attempted with a cooler box full of ice, with the fog blowing through it in a metal tube (with holes spiked in it).


Initial fog tests were encouraging, but the fog soon started rising and drifting. Well, it all added to the atmosphere, and it was definitely worth the $25 or so it cost. I'll be playing around with it to see if I can improve it for next year.


For spooky lighting, in addition to the colored spinning ball at ground level, I had a mirrorball hung from the ceiling, with a green-filtered light shining on it. Ball, light and four different filters (green, red, blue, yellow) all came as a kit. I chose green for ghastly ghostliness.


We had three artificial pumpkins in the front window, survivors from last year, but I wanted to carve my own too. This big pumpkin was remarkably empty inside, so there wasn't too much scraping to do.



Set and ready to go. The hanging ghost caused me a lot of trouble, as it was designed to rise up and down on a fishing line, making creepy howlings, when a sensor was tripped. The first time it rose it stuck at the top, and I had to disassemble it and fix the cogwheel which had broken. The sounds were far too loud, so I stuck tape over the speaker holes which muted it to acceptable levels. In my mind the ghost is the spirit of last year's trick-or-treater, but I don't know of anyone caught that subtlety. I can be vaguely seen in this picture in my grim reaper get up. I got a new mask this year, a Ghostface from the Scream movies, but it was very hot under the extra hood so I soon went back to the old one that only covered the front of my head. It worked well enough. The solid plastic chestplate of bones had a habit of bashing me on the chin, and next year I'll get something more flexible to replace it.


Finally set up and everything running. I had to keep adjusting the hanging ghost who insisted on turning to face the wrong way, and used a remote control tucked into my glove to puff extra fog when it got too thin. I dropped the remote in the leaves a couple of times, which was fun to try to find with a mask on. I also had ghostly noises playing from a CD I bought (and edited out the annoying or inappropriate sounds before putting the tracks on my mp3 player), so the visitor got the full range of senses.


One stage dressing I had intended for inside the castle was a big hairy spider, but in a flash of genius (that's mine used for this year) I decided to strap it to one of our RC trucks with elastic bands. Beth drove this round the circle of our road throughout the evening, to great effect. The truck has headlights, which worked well to draw attention before people realised it was actually a spider.


The full ensemble, RC spider, jack'o'lantern, castle, Ghost, Mirrorball, old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. The lights to either side of the garage door are only 4 watts each, and the lantern has just one tealight inside, so you can see that the camera has adjusted for poor lighting and made this scene much brighter than it appeared to the human eye.



Curious heads peering into the Haunted Castle. We had around 50 children visit, most with an adult or teenage chaparone, and the word "awesome" was used several times, if I may say so without appearing boastful. I was inside or behind the castle much of the time so didn't get to hear all the comments, but Beth as Front of House Manager had a few chats with parents and visitors. In addition to working the spider and encouraging people to go in, she was also handing out glowsticks to any children who were too scared to enter the castle alone or without company. We had maybe three or four who wouldn't brave the Castle even with a glowstick, and got their candy at the Castle Gates instead. It's as well that the castle was under cover, as we had a smattering of rain during the evening, with a consequent dropoff of visitors until it stopped. This also enabled me to close the garage door and leave packing away until today. 


Altogether a fun evening was had by all, over a period of two to three hours between dusk and 8:30pm. I probably spent $250 on new stuff this year, but apart from fog liquid, candy, and ice, it'll alll last for years to come, and I'll add a new thing ot two each year to keep things fresh.  

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