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Erskine: Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

I’m leaning down over my date, tempting her with a box of pumpkin spice cookies from Trader Joe’s, which, as you may know, are the potato chips of cookies. You plop them on your tongue over and over, seeking a satisfaction that never quite comes. I was doing exactly that when I drooled a tiny bit on Suzanne’s pretty forehead.
Waaa-oops. Who says romance is dead?
Anyway, I blame the pumpkin spice, a noted pagan liqueur, because this kind of behavior is unlike me. I also blame Suzanne for looking like the sum total of all the bubbles in my champagne — the sunsets that stopped me dead in my tracks.
Essentially, I blame everything but myself, which is common in these troubled times. Blame others for your shortcomings — your dry pasta, your bad bets, your idiot misdeeds, your shameful drooling.
“I had fun last night,” I assure her.
“What was last night?” she asks.
Last night was “Carved,” a Halloween pumpkin extravaganza at Descanso Gardens. It should not be ignored. Tickets are plentiful, though they must be purchased in advance. There is free and easy parking (a must for me anymore).
Once inside, you’ll find these ginormous pumpkins the size of your brother-in-law’s butt. Artists have sculpted them in extraordinary detail — takes about six hours per pump. After three days, the intricate designs start to wither and gnarl, so the pumpkin artists start all over again.
It’s pretty much a metaphor for what goes on in my refrigerator.
Honestly, jack-o’-lanterns and I have much in common. I mean, we’re both Irish. And we’ve both been gutted.
Anyway, Suzanne and I stopped off for a quick drink first, which really enhanced the “Carved” experience. There’s something about a roadhouse in autumn: the muddy boots by the fire, the big screens aglow with marching bands and insurance commercials.
Then I had a $12 Modelo while we were at “Carved.” As we walked there from home, we were listening to the universe as it bellowed at us, bossed us around and around. Tickled us in the toes.
The stars of the evening were these giant hand-carved pumpkins known as “Big Macs.” Yet, I think the ambience, the shimmer, is what makes Descanso Gardens special right now. It’s a sauna of shadows and wisps of fog. That rustle in the trees: Ghosts? Squirrels? A bobcat?
Descanso’s more-famous holiday show is good, don’t get me wrong – love it, in fact. But we kind of preferred the steamy aura of this Halloween extravaganza.
Honestly, you should go.
But what do I know? I mock all the things everybody loves: Beyonce and craft beer, Starbucks coffee and TV show reboots.
I can’t tell a butler from a valet, a goose from a moose. My tastes and interpretations rarely align with mainstream ideals. I didn’t even like “Ted Lasso” all that much; a little, not a lot.
Except that, like you, I adore Halloween, our most playful, pungent, ridiculous holiday. Gimme a grilled brat and a jelly jar Bloody Mary. Gimme a big bowl of chili, extra hot, and stand back.
As noted, Halloween is my morphine. Makes me feel 9-ish again.
FYI, I’ve always wanted to write a spooky Halloween story in honor of my dad, who was born on Oct. 31.
Here’s my latest idea: At a Halloween séance, someone summons the spirit of Marilyn Monroe, and she returns to take revenge on the kind of creeps who ruined her.
Like me, we discover that the movie legend experienced longing and lust, but never true love, which is the sort of Mary Shelley subtext everyone wants in an excellent horror story.
Plus lots of kissing … bloodshed … sexy vampires … stressy damsels … fishbowls full of blinking eyeballs.
Like pumpkin spice, Halloween stories are a stupid guilty pleasure. Remember when Agatha Christie drowned that young apple-bobber at the Halloween party?
But that’s Halloween: mischievous and scary, full of pathos. We wink at it, whistle through the graveyard and accompany the kids down the street with flashlights wallowing in the autumn chill with the laughs and the pillowcases fat with candy.
In the dark, someone trips, ganks a knee, and there’s suddenly actual blood.
By the way, that’s how I want to go — a la Agatha Christie, with my head in a bucket of bobbing apples, surrounded by close childhood friends laughing.
“Wait, he’s not coming up!!!” someone will scream.
“JUST KIDDING!” I’ll say as I whip my head out of the water.

Tickets to “Carved” at Descanso Gardens are $30-$45 depending on the night you go and whether you are a member or not; $20-$30 for kids ages 2-12. Weekends are booking up, but plenty of tickets remain during the week. It runs through Oct. 29. Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.

“Carved” at Descanso Gardens features designed “Big Mac” pumpkins.

First published Oct. 19-21 in Outlook Newspapers.


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