Though I gah'd with gusto, I realized it was a gah for naught.
     I knew that fact, I knew it, and yet I was powerless not to gah, loud and long, out of frustration, temper, and the knowledge that I was completely right and the people sprinting away from me were completely not.
     “No, no, no, no! Yo! Hey! HEY! I saw you! I can identify you! Get BACK here! Right now! Gah!”
     Dudes were long gone and there was no way in hell me bellowing “get BACK here,” with BACK in all scary serious-bizness capital letters, was going to make them return. Not happening. Nope nope. I knew this, I KNEW, but I kept on shouting, out of mild anger or dismay or possibly some deep down desire to be running out with them, in the soft Los Angeles fall night. “Dudes! Awwww, c’mon, I got advice for you! Helpful! Damn you, helpful, I say!”
     “It isn’t often that ‘damn you’ proceeds ‘helpful,’” observed Gomery. He took a contemplative bite of his sandwich, then walked over to motel's lobby door and flipped the cardboard skeleton so it again faced out, the proper direction. He fixed one of its jointed elbows, then the other. “What happened?”
     “Fricka ggggg. Hooligans. Hooligans!”
      “Hooligans happened?” He took another bite, and a piece of avocado fell out the bottom.
     “Check it,” I pointed at the pool. Taking two strides at a time, I barely paused long enough to grab the scoop on the way. “Gah. Give me a break!” Dipping the scoop, I netted the two purple cubes floating in the dark water.
     “What are those?” Gomery ate the final bit of crust, then dusted his fingertips lightly against each other over the trash bin nearest the Fairwil's lobby.
     “Failure, is what they are. Pure failure, in convenient, easy-to-use detergent form.”
     “Laundry cubes? Huh.”
     “Yes, laundry cubes, Mr. Observation. Ack! I’m so disgusted I’m giving you formal titles like ‘Mr. Observation.’ That’s how bad this situation’s become. It's propering me up.”
     My cousin placed his hands on his hips and walked to the western edge of the property line, where the Motel Fairwil parking lot met the pool deck. Staring into the low, horizon-touching sun, the direction the miscreants had fled, he paused and scratched his head. “They wanted to foam the pool.”
     “I mean. Fraaaaaa!” I threw the scoop at the nearest lounger in disgust, then picked up again, and began scooping random leaves in anger.
       Leaf-scoopery, a typically calm-minded chore, had never met such a wound-up participant. “If you’re going to foam a pool, you’re going to, what? Gaaaaaah.” Tossing the scoop again, I marched to the diving board and sat down so hard a crack sounded from below. Another shift of my hips produced the same noise: crrrrrrrrrrk.
     “Don’t break the diving board,” advised Gomery.
     I stewed, grimaced, and glowered, in that order, then started over again at stewed.
     “Diving board. Diving board!” It was more mutter than response, and without sense. Still, I wanted to underline and asterisk my unhappiness, so I plunked my elbows on my knees and plunked my chin atop my fists, the portrait of a petulant 20-year-old child if there ever was one. I cared not. “I care not!” I shouted at no one. “I care not!” I shouted at The Wilfair Hotel, as hulking and grand as ever.
     “About the diving board? I kind of have a soft spot for it.” Gomery rehung the scooper.
     “About kids trying to foam a pool with two measly miniature laundry cubes. I. Care. Not. It’s wrong. Wrong! If you’re going to foam a pool, then a) don’t use those little detergent cubes, and a) number two, use liquid detergent and a lot of it.”
     “Isn’t ‘a) number two’ actually b)?” asked Gomery.
      “If you’re going to use those pre-formed detergent cubes, then you need to use a damn boatload of ‘em to foam a 24,500-gallon monster like this bad boy.” I swept my hand across the pool, then return to my petulant position.
     My cousin thought, in the way he often thought: with too much ponder and not enough pounce. “If each detergent cube has, say, a half cup of powdered soap, it would take, oh. Three hundred cubes, all told? To make a significant top layer of bubble. And there’s no churn.” He knelt on a single knee and dipped his hand in the water. “You need churn, like an agitator. In a washing machine. So, three hundred detergent cubes plus, er. Three swimmers? Powerful swimmers, creating the needed pre-bubble momentum in the water. They’ll need to push the detergent cubes beneath the water line to create pressure, and in turn foaming action. For, hmm. Forty minutes?”
     “That!” I shouted, standing. “That is what I wanted to tell those hooligans. Vandals! If you’re going to foam a pool, think. THINK!” I tapped my temple with emphasis. “Is that so much to ask? Think it through. Don’t just throw a couple of measly detergent cubes and run like scared wussy wuss wusses. See your plan through! Complete, complete! Where’s my white board? I want to make a graph.” I raised my hands, palms forward, to simulate a phantom board. “Over here, on the low end of the graph? A person’s wussiness versus their willingness to see a task through. It’s almost a numbers game, really, wussiness versus willingness.”
     “Following through is a positive.”
     I hit my palm to my forehead. “Mer. I’ve got it!”
     “So you hitting your palm against your forehead revealed,” said Gomery. “That was pretty classic, as far as, er, traditional telegraphing devices go. What do you got?”
      “How many swimming pools do you think are in this neighborhood? One square mile? Starting at Wilshire and going north?”
      My cousin rubbed his elbow, an act of contemplation, and considered quietly and at length, a length I would have lopped in half if I’d been in possession of a length-lopper. “Thirty houses per block, and maybe thirty blocks total, before Third Street? Nine hundred houses, older houses, so pools were rarer when they were built.”
      “Exhibit A on old buildings hating on pools.” I stuck out my tongue, grown-up adult-style, at the large, lit-windowed tower across the way. As if to counter my sneer, full-throated laughter clinkled from The Wilfair’s lobby.
      Typical. I taunt, they flaunt.
     “So… a hundred pools in the immediate vicinity? That’s generous. Maybe eighty,” guessed Gomery.
     “Those miscreants aren’t done. It’s early yet. They’ve got a tub of laundry cubes in tow and they’re planning on striking yet another hapless pool owner. Hapless! A) We can stop the vandals or b) we can advise them on the proper way to foam a pool. I vote b), because that’s important science knowledge.”
     “All right,” shrugged Gomery. “But there'll be trick-or-treaters out. Do we need costumes?”
     He smoothed his necktie, something he often did without thinking, and I considered that neckties might be the official anti-costume of Halloween. He had to ditch those things, BIG TIME, because they were not helping him in the romance department, or any of the divisions adjacent to the romance department, including the getting-out-more department, the getting-it-on division, and the aisle of having a life.
      “Nah,” I waved, not fully convinced that our lack of outlandish outfits would be a plus but wanting to split. “But we do need a bucket!” Bounding for the motel lobby, I yanked the door wide, grabbed the plastic orange pumpkin on the front desk, dumped the discounted individually wrapped caramels inside, and walked out, pleased beyond reason. “We’re scoring candy. We are scoring candied candy, hardcore up and down and sideways and sprinkled with sugar. CANDY.”
     “That’s what people want to see at their door. Two 20-year-old fools, no costumes, asking for miniature chocolate bars.” Gomery thumbs-up’d my plan and nodded with equal amounts of sageness and sarcasm. “We do have a vending machine next to the diner. Perhaps you've seen it? Eight dimes’ll net you a nougat chew way past its expiration date. That is, if you want to break your teeth, of course.”
     I beamed. “You and I, my friend, are about to be the recipients of some delicious candy from kindly candy givers on this lovely Halloween night. And we shall find justice when we find and calmly reason with those detergent deviants. Don’t cross me or doubt or judge or be mean, because you'll hurt my tender feelings. So. Are you in?”


     Attempting to persuade my rule-abider of a cousin to help me find the wayward adolescents who’d attempted to foam the Motel Fairwil pool with two measly detergent cubes wouldn’t be a snap.
     I figured it would be akin to coaxing the guy at the cinema concession stand to refill my popcorn box for free. Upshot? There would be wary looks, cocked eyebrows, extravagant sighing, and a mild, pointless squabble, though maybe not in that exact order.
     “I’m in!” Gomery exclaimed. His declaration even came with an exclamation point in tow, an unusual addition I attributed to the high feeling of Halloween night.
      “I DON’T believe it. You’re not going to argue about staying here to check in non-existent guests? Where's your unflagging commitment to duty, my man?”
      “I register non-existent guests every night," he shrugged.  “Excuse me: Every damn night. A break is welcome, even twenty minutes to pursue some vandals. Plus, it’s Halloween. I’ve been meaning to walk over and check out some of the yard displays. Let me tell Mom, hang on.”
     My cousin jogged over to my aunt’s room and knocked. Clinkly laughter from the across the way caught my attention, so I ventured closer to the fruit trees near the hotel-motel property line. Two costumed clowns, who weren’t actually wearing clown costumes but rather were acting clownishly, had slipped out of The Wilfair and were currently standing beneath the trees, canoodling and cooing in equally annoying parts. One was Frankenstein’s Monster, or some approximation of the famous, bolt-necked creature, and the other reveler rocked a Marie Antoinette pompadour.
      Shouting “FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER” at the make-outers tempted me, because every but every last person calls that big-foreheaded, green-cheeked character Frankenstein, but he is NOT Frankenstein. Doctor Victor Frankenstein created him but the character is only The Monster or Frankenstein’s Monster.
      It briefly occurred to me that focusing on matters like this a) simultaneously made me feel superior and b) hollow, much like successfully negotiating for a free popcorn refill at my favorite concession counter. More a), though, especially if I shared such knowledge with someone who seemed impressed or at least gave me a “you don’t say?”
      Gomery joined me. “What’s up?”
      “Oh, people loving all over each other at the love hotel, as usual. Probably needed a break from the masquerade ball and all of the, all of the, the, chocolate goose fountains.”
      “What’s a… chocolate goose fountain?”
       “Fancy, pretentious crap! I don’t know. Whatever the Finleys spend their suites packed with mountains of cold cash on. Tickets were frickdickingdumb to that thing. Pricey beyond belief. Did you see? A billboard on Fairfax? And for what? For one night. For one goose of a party.”
       “They spend a lot of money. And they get money back. Even odds.” Gomery stared at the hotel. “We should buy a ticket one year and go.”
      “Pah! For some fingerbowl food and some expensive jerk streamers and a curtsy from Fair Finley at the end?”
       “Why are the streamers jerks?”
      “Because they are! Or, or, or... do you get a gold bar in your goodie bag? I don’t know. I don’t KNOW!” I didn’t know, and I threw my hands above my head to further telegraph the fact that I did not know.
      The canoodlers, clearly startled by my elaborate and vocal I-don’t-know-ing, scurried back inside the hotel.
      “That wasn’t nice.” Gomery crossed his arms. “You scared Frankenstein’s Monster and, er.” He peered. “Mary, Queen of Scots?”
      “I was on your side on the first one but you’re centuries wrong on the second. CENTURIES. ‘Les Miserables’? ‘A Tale of Two Cities’?” I tired of my list when I saw Gomery’s implacable face. “Be more placable when I’m schooling you!”
      “I’ve been schooled. At school. I know both.” Gomery was lightly irritated. “I didn’t get a good look at the second costume.” He removed his glasses, hot-breathed the lenses, and cleaned them on his shirt sleeve. “Anyway, stop shouting at the hotel’s guests. Shout at our guests, for their many daily infractions. Towel stealing. Night bell ringing. Not staying here in the appropriate numbers to keep us open.”
      “Don't pardon what's unpardonable. Those kissing kissers’ll be in our pool the moment we leave, guaranteed, making the water churn, and not over some laundry detergent, either. Just. Gggggffff.” I searched for the words, still heated. “Have we ever been once, to anything fun over that hotel? Or not fun? Or anything that's anything? I’ll tell you, if you’re dying to know. The answer is no. I’ve slept basically fifty feet from that ballroom for two decades and I’ve never been to a party there, ever. I’m making that my personal priority this year: Crash a Wilfair ball. Maybe the big one. New Year’s Eve! Watch me. I’m goin’ large. Do you think a top hat is too much? I can rent one from the costume shop on campus. Also, I'll need a cat to hold and stroke, as I take on a mysterious air, or, better yet, a cat doll, which is way weirder. A millionaire's affectation.”
      “Fair Finley dealing with your interloping is exactly what she needs on New Year’s Eve.” My cousin glanced at the hotel’s third floor.
      “Fair Finley, Fair Finley this, Fair Finley, that.” I cupped my hands around my mouth. “Faaaaaair Finley!” It was a shout toward her darkened window, full-throated to match the full-throated laughter clinkling from the hotel’s ballroom.
      When no light came on and no curious, slightly appalled heiress appeared at the curtains, I frowned. “Too bad. She promised to sail to the continent with me at midnight, in a private cabin lined with ermine and emeralds. Guess she found a richer beau, though what living man is richer than me I can’t imagine. Can you?”
      “Do comebacks count as currency?”
      “Shyeah they do!” I confirmed. “And mouthiness is next to moneyness, at least in my personal moral code.”
      Gomery clapped my back. “You’re the richest man I know, then. But my sympathy, to you, regarding your cancelled midnight flight.”
      “Not flight. Sail. Not cancelled. Postponed.”
       “Your postponed midnight sail with Fair Finley in a cabin lined with, er, jewels? Hmm. Now, our detergent-packing miscreants are getting away. Which direction are we headed to enact soapy justice and extract candy in gratitude for our, er. Our Halloween heroism?”
      I clapped his back back. “Aw, Mer! There's the unflagging commitment to hopeless enterprises I know and admire! Let's split, before your commitment flags.”
     And with that, we headed deep into the tree-lined historic neighborhood north of Wilshire and Fairfax, the two charter members of Unflaggability Incorporated.


     Ferreting out unpracticed Halloween pranksters intent on foaming our motel's pool with two puny detergent cubes was NOT how I thought I'd be spending the final day of the October of my 20th year.
     I thought I'd be working the front desk, or rather studying while I watched Gomery work, or rather working on my script instead of studying. But I was glad to be off our corner and out among people.
     I like people. So much. I really, really do. Sarcasm? Zilch.
     For sure, no doubt about it, and absolute truth: People are a funny thing. They all have their interior dialogue machines whirring on high at all times, and I know I'm only a passing player in their days, even if we share a friendly interaction and a meaningful moment. Then they leave, silently going over what happened between us, but that's not my style, no way, no how, nope nope.
     If I narrate or observe the moment as it happening, either to them or Gomery later on or I write about it, it doesn't clog up my interior dialogue machine too much, and keeping that all-important head device ungunked up by baseless worrying is job #1 for this guy.
     My mom says I've always done this, put everything I've got on the outside, a show of easy amity and easier confidence. Gomery has called me the human equivalent of the old-time magician's promise to his audience, the one that goes “I've got nothing up my sleeves.”
     I don't. Any person interacting with me is going to immediately see up my sleeves and inside my jacket and inside my heart, for that matter, pretty damn quickly. Call it honesty or candor or putting everything I've got on the outside.
     Whether people accept that part of me is up to them. I expect they'll feed all of my data and statistics into their own whirring interior dialogue machines and find out if the person who is me delivers a positive read-out to the person who is them.
    Whether I accept the person who is them isn't ever a question, because I always do. Even the ones who drive me squirrelly. Maybe especially the ones who drive me squirrelly.
    Because I like people, even the ones I don't.
    But while I've got nothing up this sleeve, and nothing up that sleeve, I do actually happen to have a rabbit in my hat.
    The rabbit isn't a rabbit, of course. It represents surprise. It's how keyed up and bowled over and pulled round I get by it all, by life, how charged up and hung out. It's the exact bottom-dropping-out-feeling of the swing you're on nearly going over the top of the swing set.
    By “it all” I just mean how a certain shade of green and a certain line in a song and the way a car tire hits a puddle can all come together and seem SO damn cinematic. So cinematic it sets my typically dormant interior dialogue machine whirring.
    That happened now, as my cousin and I walked up Fairfax Avenue. I noted how a beer sign in a tavern doorway and the wind-flapping holiday decorations and the soft street lights created a sudden shimmery tableau that set my internal rabbit leaping out its hat and ALL over the crown of my head.
     “Mer, do you think we all have a rabbit in our hat?” I asked as we passed the tavern, glancing inside at the place we'd likely start visiting next year. "The rabbit being the sort of ability to admire intangibles as they come together, randomly, and you get randomly filled with this amazing but just insane crapload of connection? For an instant?”
     We walked in silence for a half block, as the person who puts everything on the outside awaited his inside-dwelling cousin's response.
     “The question isn't whether we have a rabbit in our hat,” observed Gomery. “It's how many hats we have. Maybe, even, how many hat racks.”
      “I hate to brag, but some days I own a whole hat shop, and. And. It sits over a warren full of rabbits and they're all ideas and things I'm seeing and it's like pow pow pow, all over my mind.”
      “You never hate to brag,” he said. He was right.
      Then we turned onto Drexel Avenue, but whether our detergent-wielding hooligans were still in the vicinity was a sticky wicket of a twizzle, as far as unknowns go.
     The block was cordoned off to let trick-or-treaters roam in the middle of the street, a new addition from when me and Mer were boys. We had to dodge city traffic, basically, to get ANY quality trick-or-treating in, and even then we hated being away from the motel for any length of time, in case some jokesters decided to hit our swimming pool for a lame-o, Halloween-style shenanigan.
     “They’re gone, the detergent throwers, I bet. Long, long gone,” guessed Gomery. “But check it out, over there. That spiderweb between two palm trees. Nice. Why do we only hang up that cardboard skeleton, year after year? We could go bigger. Scarier. Scaaaarier.”  His second “scarier,” which was scarier than the first, revealed he was feeling lighter, away from work.
     “Scarier? Who for? We don’t get any kids coming by the motel. Only the kids from The Wilfair, and they want to lift our entire vending machine in the night just to score the cookies in slot C4 or, or steal the van for a joy ride.”
    “Fair Finley wants to steal our van?”
     “Her brothers. The hotel’s little kids. Not the big girl kid.”
     He knew what I meant. “I know what you meant,” he said, irritated.
     “You’re kind of kicking it super sour tonight. All…” I made a face. I’d made it my silent mission to irritate Gomery on smaller matters, then incrementally bigger matters, for a few months now. Irritability, I found, was ESSENTIAL for creating greater discontentment. And discontentment was SO important for casting off the life stuff that was not working anymore. And if there was someone who hoarded stuff that absolutely wasn't working anymore, out of a desire to not create waves in our already overloaded lives, and not for any love of the stuff itself, it was the person who was more brother to me than cousin. “Getting fed up has its pluses, but… You’re being kind of a jackass.”
     He gazed at the over-sized rope tangle between the palms, ignoring me in all the ways he could. “That is a very fine web. Strong center, excellent octagonal form. And don’t you get sick of it, sometimes?”
     “Halloween decorations? Totally. Hate. They deliver awful, awful mirth to joyful children every autumn. Horrible happy laughter.” I shrugged as a group of children skipped by us. Four of them were dressed as superheroes, and the kid at the rear was a cloud, or maybe cotton candy.
      Gomery’s forehead lined. “The web. The one we’re in, not this one. I’m sick of it. We’re not the spiders, either. We’re the flies.” My cousin pointed at the rope web, where a fake insect sat looking fairly dead beside the deadly but decorative spider. “Another Halloween chasing people away from the pool. Same as last year. Same as the year before. Same as next year, which hasn't even happened yet, but it might as well could have.”
     “It's not exactly the same every year. Last year some roving band of teenagers attempted, SADLY attempted, to t.p. the motel sign,” I recalled. “Failure. Remember? Not enough toilet paper. Plus, a roving band. That was their first mistake. The roving. Who roves these days? Damn youngsters.”
     My cousin returned to his thinking tic, a hand placed on the back of his neck. “Monty, why didn’t you just let them try to foam the pool? Why are we even out here?”
     “Uh-oh, I’m getting Monty’d! Look, I WANTED those hooligans to foam our pool, but if they’re going to do something, they’ve got to do it correctly. Two detergent cubes! No planning. No foresight.”
     “It’s not even that nothing ever happens, it’s that the same damn thing happens over and over and over…” Gomery waved his hand in front of his chest, a perpetual wave maker, the kind that surfers use in artificial ocean tanks. “Zero percent of anything ever changes on that corner. Zero equals nothing, though not always, but in this case, majorly. It’s Halloween night and we’re back on the same street we were on when we were barely out of diapers.”
      “Wait. You're already out of diapers? You didn't tell me! Congrats!”
      He continued. “How many people tonight, people our age, Monty, are back on the same damn street they were on when they were five or six?”
     “Well, her.” I pointed at a house across the street.
     A sparkly orange dress and long white gloves, the kind of gloves women wore to the opera in old movies, gleamed beneath a porchlight.
     My cousin hipped his hands. “What were you saying about a 'crapload of connection' before?”
     “Hats, rabbits, something, something,” I said, madly pumping the brake on my interior dialogue machine as it attempted to whir to life.
     And then she turned and saw us.


     Fair Finley of The Wilfair Hotel Finleys wore a lot of orange.
     I’d found this near-constant sartorial choice to be VERY affected. So affected it bordered on annoying and flirted with infuriating, principally because it was the color found throughout her family’s hotel and hotel-related marketing materials. Brochures, postcards, billboards, advertising? They all contained that special Finley hue. The whole citrus-California-fruit-sunshine connection was a hand they played too hard, I'd always said, when anyone would listen, and by anyone I mean Gomery and occasionally our moms.
     It was brand gone mad.
     But my neighbor's particular shade of orange on this night, whether worn as a tribute to Halloween or as a way to stand out in the dark, a full-body flashlight, was more noticeable than usual. Then I knew who she was: Her hotel’s famous, get-more-guests ghost, the Lady in Sequins.
     Most ghost sightings were the products of jumpy, jonesing-for-fantasy imaginations, but not The Wilfair Hotel's ghost. This otherworldly Lady was no more than a brilliant stroke on the part of the Finley family. I'm not saying the Lady in Sequins isn't real -- I keep a mind as open as two ginormous barn doors with well-oiled hinges -- but far realer than the ghost herself was the business-minded hotel firm that promoted her as a mysterious and elegant symbol.
     “Yo, Lady in Sequins!” I shouted at my neighbor, shouted without an iota of forethought or consultation with my cousin.
      Everyone on the block turned in my direction, including the portrayer of the Lady in Sequins herself. She briefly stepped behind a large oleander bush, then, three seconds later, stepped out and smiled a smile that didn’t have a shade of naturalness or warmth to it.
     Those Finleys are so FAKE. Their fakeness is so fake it is almost authentic, meaning they’ve come all the way 'round from their fake starting place to almost being bearable in their unfettered fake-a-tude.
     It looked as if she might step behind the shrub again, but she instead waved. Her wave, a stiff-palmed royal wave of sorts, contained no trace of fluttery finger action or natural wrist rotation. Her wave, in fact, was no warmer than her smile, which was as warm as the motel swimming pool on the frostiest December morning.
     Still, her apple cheeks were the pretty counterweight in the checks and balance system of her full and often flushed face. Then her wide-cheeked grin suddenly outdid her cold-swivel hand wave by a mile, and I determined, then and there, to recant my wrong-headed opinion about her beams. The smile she smiled now was more sunshine than snow, for once.
      Breaking her hesitant hello with haste, she yelled after her brothers. “Boys. Boys! Wil! Wil, tell Bo to stop. Boysssss! Listen to me, please! You know how much I hate yelling!”
     The two smaller male Finleys were halfway up the block and deep in the midst of a costumed gaggle when they halted with apparent unwillingness.
     “Hey Ladyyyyyyy. Can we go to that house?” Bo, the weirder of the two weird boys, started up the walkway of a high-hedged corner duplex.
     “Stop calling me ‘Lady,’” she yelled at her brother.
     “It’s your first name, Lady in Sequins,” he shouted back. “Your middle name is ‘of,’ too!” The gaggle burst into giggles. “And your last name is--”
     “Sequins. Got it.” The puff of smoke above her heavily sprayed updo was nearly visible. “Fine, fine. One more house.” She up-palmed her hands in our direction, a feeble “sorry I gotta go what can ya do Happy Halloween” shrug, then royal-waved us with a heaping dose of insincerity.
     “Wait, please,” shouted my cousin.
     “Later,” she shouted at her brother Wil, who’d begun to consume candy bars by the greedy fistful. “We’ll go through the whole bucket at home, later on. Go keep an eye on your brother, please.” She swiveled and again faced us. “Did you need, like... me?”
    “I want to show you something,” called Gomery. He beckoned.
     The apple-cheeked sequin-wearing fake fake ghost gave another worried glance to the group of children down the block, then a group of parents nearby, then lifted her skirt an inch, the better to expedite fast walking and show off her orange-as-her-dress high heels.
     Stepping off the sidewalk, she glanced right, for cars, forgetting that the block at been cordoned off, and my cousin checked left. Almost simultaneously and in near perfect unison, they swung their heads in the opposite directions, my cousin watching right and Fair Finley left.
     My friends in my film classes talk a lot about the hard-to-nail concept of simpatico, at least when it comes to writing on-screen lovers. Simpatico is what gives a twosome their sticky can-do glue. Simpatico means the lovers are not only on the same page, but they own the exact same book and maybe the same library.
     Simpatico makes the heart go pat-i-co.
     But I'm NEVER sure how exactly to convey that feeling in my own scripts. Is it all-out swoon I want to show in my scenes? Those scenes that aren't all car chases and heavy-browed dramas? Or maybe coyness makes a couple? Flirting? Sexy sex-o-sity? And how does one best fold that special magic into the everyday world that characters actually occupy?
    Then I saw it, at least briefly: Maybe the idea of “simpatico” has a hundred roads, or a thousand, and they're all roads that seem fairly unimportant at first look, but taken as a whole all the roads form a vast and complex map.
    And maybe one of those roads can be as simple as two people standing on the opposite sides of an avenue looking in one direction, for traffic, at the very same time, and then swinging their heads, in perfect precision, to check down the other end of the street.
     The moment this realization alighted upon my head, another feisty rabbit springing from a magician's top hat, it was gone, because my attractive and affected neighbor stood before me, out of breath and sequin-shiny.
     Gah. Damn it! What was it? The idea? Simpatico IS simple? Opposite sides of the road? Love maps? Damn.

      Fair Finley's Lady in Sequins get-up was the sexiest thing she’d ever worn. It was not the hottest outfit I’d ever seen on a human being, nope nope, but for a fussy heiress who only ever wore shoulder pads and hid inside retro blazers and fussbudget capes, it was a choice she could clearly only make on the dressiest dress-up play pretend day of the year.
     But I had to enjoy this rare look now. Her complaint-riddled, up-in-our-failing-business visits to the Fairwil were brief, and I guessed this interaction would be even briefer, and, in fact, fully over before I knew it had begun.
     “Motel,” she breathed, lifting her dress hem and stepping up on our sidewalk. She then rolled her eyes a little.
     “Hotel,” I answered, rolling my eyes in response, then stopped when I realized she likely had rolled her eyes at herself, for her strange single-word arrival greeting, and not at us.
     “How are you?” Fair asked.
     “Me?” I pointed at myself, then waved my thumb at my cousin. “Or both of us? Is that a catch-all question, or specifically about me? Because that might change the shading and content of my answer.”
     “Um. Let’s start with you.” She picked a stray sequin off her bare shoulder and flicked it to the ground.
     “Oh, school’s great, life’s great, great’s great, what’s not great isn’t great. I’m writing a film, stuff.”
     She nodded and turned to my cousin. “How are you?” It was a polite question, so stiff it sounded as if she'd soaked it in dry-cleaning starch and steam-ironed it for extra measure. It was also a query delivered more to his necktie knot than the tie wearer himself.
     “Good,” said Gomery. “Things good your way?” He picked up a pebble from the sidewalk and tossed it into the nearest flowerbed.
     “Sure. Good,” Fair answered. “You?”
     “Good,” Gomery confirmed. He stared down the block while Fair glanced at the spot on the sidewalk where the pebble had very recently sat.
     “Riveting,” I said, mostly not under my breath.
     She caught my cousin’s eye. “Sorry, just, like. It seems like I repeated myself, asking you twice, if you were good, but my first ‘how are you’ was about, like, you, and then the later ‘you?’ was about things your way, things in your life, uh, work and classes and the, like, events going on. Just, two separate questions.”
     I folded both of my hands atop my chest, relieved. “That was going to keep us up fretting through the wee smalls. Thanks for clarifying, Fair.”
     “Monty,” said Gomery.
     “Also, you dropped a sequin. Actually, you did the classic index-finger-thumb shoulder lint flick, I stood right here and watched you, which means you technically littered, knowingly. There are laws.” Squatting, I pressed my fingertip against it, and handed it back to her.
     “I didn’t think about it. We drop sequins at the hotel. The guests like it. Legend and all that.”
     “Sequin litterer,” I sighed. "Also, ‘legend’ is a pretty toity word. ‘All that’ kind of minimizes it. I'd red-pencil ‘all that’ and stick with legend. It's stronger.”
     “Thank you?” she said as her pallor deepened.
     Gomery hard-eyed me, then turned again to our fancied-up neighbor. “Don't mind him, or, better yet, do. He's so wrapped up in reading friends' scripts that he can be completely adorable and cute. Can I pet him? Is he friendly? What's his name?”
     Moments later my cousin was on the sidewalk, visiting with a passing dog rocking a surplus of gingham-checked cowboy gear. Lots of cowboy gear, in fact; the ruddy pup's costume came complete with side lasso and dog-sized ten-gallon hat. The hound's humans cooed a bit, clearly proud, then proceeded to feed Gomery a steady waterfall of factoids about their be-pawed pride and joy. "He's a super boy, he knows ten tricks, he's a fantastic guard dog, a bed-hogger, a smoocher."
     “He's a love,” Fair cooed back, petting the pooch in the places along his furry back that Gomery wasn't. If I didn't know better, I'd guess that both petters were taking special care to avoid each other's hands. Not that the dog cared. His tail thumped with such happy ferocity at having two people cuddle him that his side lasso came undone.
     Gomery rose and bid the human-animal party goodbye, then returned his hands to his pockets. “Hey Monty? Let's get one of those one day soon.”
    “Maybe when we leave,” I pondered.
    “You guys are leaving? The motel? When?” The Lady in Sequins seemed at once excited and concerned. “Not your moms, though?”
    “No, not our moms. But us?” I pointed at my cousin, then myself. "We're men now, off to see the world and be men. Men, I said! Men.” I muscled an arm, then shrugged. I didn't buy into the tried-and-true symbols of masculinity and why they supposedly conveyed all that they did. I mostly used them out of winky irony or to get a laugh.
    And it worked. My neighbor's apple cheeks broadened at the sight of my curled arm and her eyes? Merry as hell.
    “Men,” she repeated, that steam-ironed, starch-soaked note returning to her voice. The heiress then peeked over at her brothers as they tromped with a dozen other kids to the next house, treat buckets in hand. “So, like. What did you guys -- um, men? -- want to show me?”


     The neighborhood abutting the Motel Fairwil and its hulking hotel neighbor was, in no particular order, historic, quirky, picturesque, and easy to navigate.     Most of the houses were built in the 1920s and ‘30s, which counts as “forever ago” in Los Angeles terms. While LA is often said to be a city enamored of glittery and shiny and new things -- detractors might call it a magpie taken metropolis form -- it also boasted thousands of older homes and buildings croaching up to their century marks. Croaching with a surfeit of character.
     I liked it, the oldness and the quirky, detail-laden houses. It gave my neighborhood a movie feel, meaning I’d often thought that I’d like to shoot my first film in the area. Never let it be said that the good people of Southern California are against doing their own thing, even if their own thing is lavishly wacky. Especially if it is lavishly wacky, in fact. Freak-flag-flying is not only a way of life in my hometown, it is practically a mandatory civic duty.
     But not everyone was letting it all hang out in my immediate vicinity.
     Two quiet people hemmed and hawed while Halloween hubbub hubbub’d at the edge of the sidewalk where we stood.
     “So, what was it? That I needed to see?” asked Fair Finley, the heiress-cum-fake-ghost for the night.
     My cousin de-pocketed his talking-with-our-shoulder-baring-neighbor hands and pointed at the nearest house, a Storybook job that gave any ye olde fairy tale hovel a run for its turret-laden money. “The decorations, on that house.” Gomery took off his glasses, cleaned the lenses on his sleeve, and returned them to his face.
     Our sequin-bedecked neighbor appled her cheeks. “I admire people who try, really try. They just don’t coast when they should be, like. Up in life’s business, you know?”
     “Up in life’s business,” my cousin repeated, mulling.
     Fair gestured at a jack o’ lantern sitting on a bench near the edge of the property. “Too bad the three of us don’t have a front yard, right? I’d decorate the hell out of it.”
     “Right?” Gomery agreed. “Lights and fog and a castle scene, in one corner.” He stopped and laughed. “I have a thousand plans for something I don’t have.”
     “Right?” echoed our sequined neighbor.
     “Right?” I chimed in, feeling left out, but not really.
     “That witch up in that oak is pretty fierce.” Fair witched her face, complete with lip curl and furrowed brow. “Although why witches or any Halloween character always are, like, presented as so angry, or villainous, is kind of a trope that needs to go. Why do we never see witches, like, getting an email from an old friend? Or filling out their taxes? Or running to the store for a quart of, uh, potion? Where are the bored or mildly pleased witches in all of these decorations? They’re all mad or cackling.” Her face softened. “This is my witch-watching-television face. She’s watching a TV show she can’t follow but all the other witches are watching it and she doesn’t want to feel left out.”  
     “Nice witch-watching-TV face,” I agreed. “But can you cackle?”
      She cackled on cue then stopped, mid-hee-hee-hee. “You got me to cackle.”
     “And a fine cackle it was!” I grinned. It wasn’t a sarcastic appraisal. She was pretty hot when she cackled, though I wasn’t sure where the cackle ended and the hotness began.
     “Anyway. An. Y. Way. Sorry.” The heiress again looked down the street, toward her brothers.
     “It was the web you should see, actually, not the witch or pumpkins,” my cousin said quickly, drawing closer to the netting strung between the palm trees. “The best thing I’ve seen tonight. Or one of the best.”
     She approached the yard web, drawing nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with my cousin. “Agree.”
     “What are you? Here? In this scene?” Gomery gestured, then smoothed his tie.
      “What am I? I’m the email-answering witch. I thought I made that clear.”
     “In the web. What are you? Monty and I have determined that we very often feel like the flies, or whatever bug happens to be, er. Trapped and sticky.”
     “Like mastodons in the tar pits. Trapped and scrambling to get out.” She curled her fingers and clawed air.
     “And awaiting a slow death,” my cousin continued darkly.
      Damn it all. He’s reaching out to our neighbor, in an honest way, but rather than getting REAL and talking about the issues we have, especially over the hotel’s complaints and them bugging the crap out of us about our swimming pool, he’s chosen to speak in some sort of annoying code about being a fly caught in a web.
     He’s hopeless, sometimes. He’s hope-free, needing of hope, and desperately awaiting hope’s return text, which never comes.
     “Gomery’s usually not this deep. Or obvious,” I said, joining the pair.
     “I’m deep,” he protested.
     “He’s making analogies in lieu of saying we’re bored, sometimes, with life at dear ol’ Wilshire and Fairfax.” Leaning back, behind Fair, I shot him a look. “Analogy maker!” My accusation was epithet-like.
      “Oh, well, if we’re making analogies, about the web, then I’m the. I’m the…” She leaned to her left, across my cousin, peering at the decoration. “I’m the window.”
     “What window?” I stood on tiptoe, peering.
     “The house’s front window. See, you can see it perfectly through the web’s, uh. The web’s… Hmm. What are the spaces in web called that aren’t actually spider silk or, like, web material?” She rubbed her cheek.
     “I don’t know that there’s a word for the negative, er, free spaces between a web’s threads.” Gomery pondered. “The outside of a web is the frame, and then there are the web’s various spines, and center, where the spider chillaxes.”
     “Did you just say ‘chillaxes’?” I asked. He gave me a hard look.
     “I’m the window, in this case, or whatever you can see through the web.” Fair pointed. “I’m whatever’s on the web’s opposite side that you can see through it. How’s that?”
     “Odd. But interesting,” said Gomery. “Why?”
     The ghost impersonator thought. “Because if I get bogged down in sticky thoughts, then I stay sticky. But I want to be past the web, like. The spider didn’t get me. I’m on the other side. So two purposes are served. Like I didn’t get caught and, and, and I get to be whatever shows the web off, because you can’t admire a web without some object in the background as reference. Although saying I’m just the reference to the main player sounds sort of lame, too. Let’s just say my goal is to always to make it by whatever wants to drain me of my life force. I’m nobody’s dinner.”
       Something blurred by me, a streak of jeans and hair, just out of range, and a thousand rabbits started popping all over my head.
    “Hey! HEY! You! Get back here!” I ripped.
     The detergent-wielding, pool-messing-with miscreants had appeared out of the Storybook house’s backyard, fast and on the run.
       I was determined to shout them back, my voice a vandal-grabbing lasso, though a lasso far larger than the one that dressed-up dog wore on its furry hip.
     “What’s going on?” Our fancy-gowned neighbor was well startled.
     “Those guys! Get them, somebody get them, hey! Guys! Guys, I want to HELP you, not have you arrested and thrown in the pokey.”
     “Pokey?” asked an amused Gomery, who shared a look with our equally amused neighbor.
     I considered the best course of action as the detergent-throwers headed west at an impressive speed. Should I shout my head off or shout my head off and weave in a few colorful expletives or shout my head off and stomp off for home, wishing I’d shouted off my head just a little bit more?
     The vandals sprinted into the night in the manner of proverbial bats departing their proverbial hellish home address. But while the group’s swift departure was certainly attention-grabbing it was what Fair Finley had done during the pranksters' escape that had captured my full notice.
     She’d stepped out of her high heels.
     “Huh.” I stared down.
     Her face was full of heat. “Sorry, just. I had the weirdest pre-feeling we were about to run. Like, just for a second.”
     “Huh,” I repeated.
     “Do you ever get the weirdest pre-feelings? Or feelings, for that matter?” she asked us.
     “That’s kind of my factory setting,” admitted Gomery. “I only occasionally get the normalest feelings.”
     The normalest feelings. What were those, even? I didn't want to know. Others might flatline their way through existence, but not this guy. Nope nope. If my whole damn life looked like a heartbeat machine, big ups, occasional downs, well, that would be aces, real jake.
     I'd offer to teach detergent-throwers the correct pool-foaming method and I'd get flipped and blown away over by sudden cinematic moments and I'd chat with my nutty neighbor and I'd call my deep-thinky cousin out of his interior rooms whenever required.
     Everything on the outside. EVERYTHING.
     If only I could needlepoint that on a pillow.

     The failed foamers had been thoroughly and completely swallowed by the night.
     “Why didn’t we go after them? What did they do?” Fair Finley reluctantly stepped back into her high-heeled shoes.
     “Them? Not worth breaking a sweat over. If they don’t want my good and helpful and ADULT advice, then I’m not chasing after them to shout it. My vocal cords and my sprinting feet and all that is me is too valuable.” I shook my head with extra woe.
     “What advice?” she asked, pausing to greet a couple of passing adults she clearly knew, before again facing me.
     “They threw a couple of laundry detergent cubes in our pool,” said Gomery. “It would take hundreds of cubes to foam the water, which is what Monty wanted to tell them before they took off.”
     “Foam the water? I’d like to see that,” said the heiress. “But hundreds? Those detergent cubes are pricey. We use them at The Wilfair, but buy in bulk. Maybe all those kids could afford was a couple.”
     “Taking their side,” I complained.
     “You, too, though. You wanted to help them. Which is, like, kind of great and kind of strange.”
     “This is why the damn spider gets us every time, Gomery,” I clucked.  “We’re NEVER the runners but the runners-after, and not even those, because we can’t be bothered, because we’re bored and sick of it all.” I paced up the sidewalk a few feet, then back. “I wanted a resolution.”
      “Sorry, but you got it,” said my neighbor. “Resolution doesn’t always mean things get tied up neatly at the end. Or that a situation ends like you think it will. Maybe it was luck you didn’t come face-to-face with those guys. It might have turned out, like. Just badly, or something. Be grateful for what didn’t happen.”
     Being grateful for what didn’t happen seemed like the opposite of grateful, like matter and anti-matter or loudness and silence or peanut butter and jelly.
     Wait. Were peanut butter and jelly actually opposites or the best of friends? Hmm.
     Still, Fair Finley had a point: I’d pictured the miscreants as people who'd be happy to share in my knowledge of how to make a pool bubble over with foam.
     That prediction was certainly way off. Because so far, in my two decades and change on this planet, the only endings that have played out exactly as I planned have been in the screenplays I’ve written.
     But in real life? The only time things didn't turn out differently than I'd predicted is when they turned out very, very differently.

     “Fair! Fairrrrrr!” The Finley twins skipped up. “Can we do another block? Trick-or-treat? Pleeeeeeease? Fair, did you see the dog that’s a cowboy? Can we get a dog? I want him! Fair, Fair, one more street, twelve more houses, pleeeeeease?”
     “Boys. Did you say ‘good evening’ to our neighbors here? Less wheedling and more good-evening-ing, please.” She placed a hand on Wil’s hair, hair that was hardened by some sort of old-fashioned globby paste. How and why the Finleys let their children live inside some sort of cut-crystal, highly polished vintage snowglobe of a life was beyond me. I’d sit those kids right down and make ‘em play video games ten hours a day, if they were my brothers, and subsist on salty vending machine snacks.
     The Finley twins, especially Wil, looked embarrassed. “Yes, hi, hello, Gomery, Monty!”
     “They would have been much more civilized,” their sister explained. “But they’re currently…”
     “Candy crazy!” explained Bo, matter-of-factly.
     “Behaving in a manner young gentlemen normally disdain,” followed Wil.
     “These kids,” I muttered.  
     “So, trick-or-treating for another block. Hmm.” Fair counted the kids who stood nearby. “What’s the consensus, boys?”
     The twins stared at their sister.
     “Consensus,” she repeated. “What does everyone want to do? Not just you? What’s the whole group’s decision?” The heiress asked the heir pair.
     “ERERYBODY! We need a ConSenSus. One more street?” called a werewolf-costumed Bo. The question caused the children to erupt in cheers and synchronous jumping. Truth be told, they hadn’t stopped jumping, from the moment they’d arrived on our side of the street, but they jumped higher at the news that the treat-procurement would continue.
     “These are all yours?” asked Gomery, perplexed. A dozen small pirates and ghosts milled in the general area.
     Fair nodded. “For tonight, yes. Their parents are working the masquerade ball.” She chin-pointed at the gaggle.
     “Employees’ kids?” Gomery asked
     “We always take out the kids of any staffer who has to work a Halloween shift. Group trick-or-treating is a Wilfair tradition. So is cider and pumpkin pretzels in the Faraway Passageway, after trick-or-treating. That is a very loud tradition, though, as the kids are pretty well human-shaped sugar jars by that point. But it’s a blast.” The heiress started to say something, then stopped, pressing her lips together and staring past our shoulders.  “Anyway, it’s a thing. You never saw me, out, when I was little, with a bunch of other trick-or-treaters?”
     “I made it a point to never know you existed,” I shrugged.
     She shrugged back. “My mom’s working the ball tonight, so I’m out here, both supervising and serving as a walking billboard for our hotel’s most famous legend.” Fair fanned her gloved hands before her dress. “We Finleys are not that benevolent or without agenda, believe it, and definitely not me. I’m pretty selfish. I cannot wait to be home in my bath, in fact.”
     “Me, too,” said Gomery.
     His short and perfectly constructed statement hung in the air, glinting in the moonlight, attracting night dew and flitting insects, while I determined what I wanted to do with it. The options were tempting and plentiful and I found myself delightfully overwhelmed with indecision. So I ultimately chose to let his response be.
     My cousin straightened his tie knot, a slightly nervous lifelong habit, and it occurred to me that he awaited whatever quadruple entendre I intended to launch.
     And was maybe a little disappointed that I didn’t.

     The evening had grown chillier and we stood before a babysitting, ghost sequin-wearing heiress who only wanted to be home at her big hotel in her big ermine-and-emerald-lined bathtub, which was likely also big.
     “Well,” she said. “Be seeing you guys. Men.”
     One of her employee’s children, a girl in fairy garb, pulled on her hand as she repeated “Miss Finley” over and over and over. The heiress smiled. “Time stands still for no fairy. Nor tired fake sequin ghost.”
     “See you.” Gomery smoothed his tie.
     “Good luck with your young charges, Fairy Poppins.”
     “Good luck with your detergent thieves. Hope you collar ‘em and show them the proper way to mess up someone’s pool.” She stopped, pursed her lips, started to speak, stopped again, and then blurted her next sentence. “And if you ever want to talk about the pool…”
     “Nope. Not on Halloween. I’m enjoying myself.” I said, a distinct note of glower in my voice.
     She nodded, a little sad.
     “Hey, your little brothers are old-school werewolves, from early movies. I approve.” I crossed my arms.
     “Vintage werewolves were so dapper,” said Fair.
     “They were still werewolves, but at least they kept it classy as they pursued a potential victim through the moors,” laughed Gomery.
     “Yeah,” she sighed. “Well. I should talk. We live in the past, pretty much, at the famous Wilfair Hotel.” She laughed again, a little sad.
     Which gave me an idea. “Say, Fair. See that kid over there, with the green head and neck bolts? Who is that?”
     Our neighbor followed my gaze. “Scott Junior. Our head chef’s son.”
     “But who is Scott Junior, at least tonight?”
     “Duh. Frankenstein’s monster! Everyone says ‘Frankenstein’ but everyone is wrong. ‘Frankenstein’ is wrong, wrong, wrong.” The heiress Frankenstein’d her arms, complete with hangy dead hands, then held up a single finger and tick-tocked it, the international sign for “nope, uh-uh.”
     I held up a high-fiving hand. “Yes. YES. Total Hollywood girl!”
     She witched-out her face. “Or, uh, a girl who loves to read. Mary Shelley, holler! Plus, I’m no girl. I’m a Lady, at least tonight.” She passed her hands stiffly before her dress, the way a car model might over a brand-new showroom convertible. “Anyway. Best get more, like, sugary hyper goo into these goblins' pails.”
     “Oh yeah,” I said, turning over our completely candy-less bucket.
     She stared at it. “Your bucket is empty because you’re not in costume. Also, you’re like a decade past trick-or-treating age, which is, uh...”
     “Creepy.” I suggested. “But I wanted some delicious confections to offset the pain of being unsuccessfully pool-foamed.”
     “Emotional eating,” she nodded, like she knew the concept all too well. “Hey!” She waved at the jumping gaggle. “Kids. Who has the fullest bucket here?”
     “I do, I do!” The small superheroes and wee ghosts bragged, all wanting to outdo each other.
     “No. That is not correct,” tsked Fair. “You all do. I see ‘em. Please reach in your buckets and locate your very worst piece of candy. I mean, the grossest, most barfy piece of candy you’ve got. The one you’ll never eat. The one that’s going to stay at the bottom of your pumpkin pail for the next year. The one you’ll find next Halloween afternoon, all crumbly and dry inside its wrapper. Once found, please donate that piece of candy to Mr. Overbove and Mr. Overbove here, who are far too old to be out with a candy bucket and far too uncostumed to be rewarded for it.”
     “Fair Finley! You are evil!” I clapped, then held out my bucket.
     “Choose the baddest stuff you got,” she advised the pail-digging gaggle while ignoring me. “Like, who has those teeth-pulling chews that claim they’re blueberry-flavored but actually taste like carpet? Those. I want those inside these guys’ bucket, pronto.”
     The kids, who initially eyed her with extreme wariness at the idea of giving up a piece of candy, each dug eagerly to find the piece of candy they’d never, ever eat, even out of sugar-seeking desperation.
     “I’ve got the awfulest!” “No, me, the worst!” “No, I found it!”
     Moments later, the bottom of the Motel Fairwil bucket held some truly objectionable sweets and the kids jumped higher, excited at the kooky competition.
     “There you go,” said the heiress with a half-twirl. “I saved these adorable children from biting into a terrible piece of candy and further tooth decay. I prevented the good homeowners of the Wilshire district from having to encounter the sight of you two showing up at their door, all full grown and without proper costumes, unless you count five o'clock shadows. And you got your candy. Everyone wins, no one is sad, happy Halloween.”
     “Happy Halloween!” I clapped. “Deviousness gets applauded in my world.”
     “In your world,” she repeated, giving me a longer look before swiveling again. “Say, Wil, sweetheart? Can I see your pail again?”
     The small Finley lifted his treat carrier and the heiress reached inside. Moments later, she’d dropped a popcorn ball, wrapped in clear cellophane, in my bucket. “That seems like something you’d like.”
     “Popcorn, the quintessential movie food,” I agreed. “What about my cousin, though? No treat chosen especially for him? That's cold, Fair.”
     She glanced in the bucket, then frowned at Gomery's tie knot. “Sorry. What sort of thing do you like?”
     “A sense of humor, an optimist...” I listed. “Oh HOLD on. Did you mean candy?”
     Gomery reached in our bucket, extracted a lollipop, unwrapped it, and stuck it in his mouth. “I actually enjoy these. They’ve got licorice root, a key ingredient in sarsaparilla and root beer.”
     I waved my palm at my cousin, in Exhibit A fashion. “Uh-oh. Your terrible candy plot didn’t work. We have a satisfied customer, Miss Finley.”
     But I was satisfied, too. The night hadn't gone how I predicted it might, but it had gone much better.
     I considered pondering the surprising nature of resolution, but decided pondering was far too cerebral for an evening built on the silly, the strange, and the sugary. Instead, I scrounged for the popcorn ball, peeled off the cellophane, and bit into the chewy treat, satisfied even further.


     Pool-foamers caught: 0. Popcorn balls procured: 1. Licorice-sassafras-bark root-horrible-tongue numbing lollipops enjoyed by Gomery: 1. Number of small, costumed candy-donating good-deeders: 12. Orange sequins covering every inch of Fair Finley's Lady in Sequins gown: 2,000, give or take. A pretty satisfying Halloween night with a resolution I didn't want but now kind of like: 1.
    “Say, Fair Finley,” I started. “When are we going to get an invitation to The Wilfair’s masquerade? I’d buy a ticket but I don’t have that sort of cash. I saw your billboard. One billion dollars is a lot to charge for one party.”
     “You misread the ad. Tickets to The Wilfair Halloween Ball are only a million dollars,” she corrected. “But I’m sure I can get you in for a little less.”
     “Let’s gooooooooo.” The tiny trick-or-treating fairy had returned to pull on our neighbor’s sparkly gown.
     Fair smoothed her young charge's wings, then apple-cheeked in our direction. “Bye now. Um. Ummmm. I'm sorry, you are...” The heiress frowned, her forehead crinkling.
     “Monty,” I pointed at myself. “Gomery.” I pointed at my cousin.
     “Right! How embarrassing. You look exactly like the two guys who’ve lived next door to me forever. Awesome costumes. You could practically be them.” She witched her face and cackled a farewell. A royal, frozen-palm wave followed. The giddy group soon slipped around the corner and into the ever-gloamier LA night.
     “What just happened?” I asked as we turned for home.
     “We got bad-candied and good-neighbored,” explained my cousin.
     “That wave, though. SO fake. If only she’d fake down and, and. Wear that dress more.”
     “I agree.”
     “That she’s fake?”
     “Monty, how is someone who cackles at will and says ‘Mary Shelley, holler’ and gets a bunch of children to give up their worst pieces of candy not being authentically herself? In what way?”
     “Fair point.”
     “And she stepped out of her shoes, in order to run.” Gomery voice held a note of marvel and bewilderment. “I’m not sure I ever considered her someone who’d so readily take her runner’s mark when the moment called for it. But I will now.”
     “Still. She has to drop the swimming pool issue.”
     “That’s got to come to some sort of head, soon,” Gomery agreed. “But you, too. Move past it.” We turned back onto Fairfax Avenue and strolled south. The tavern was livelier than before, as evidenced by a long-tailed sparkle dragon and a half-and-half Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde sharing a pint on the curb.
     “You think I’m not moving past the pool?” I acted twice as indignant as I felt.
     “The next time you try and irritate me – don’t act shocked, I know what you’re up to – remember the much larger thing you yourself won’t move past. And consider why the motel and its pool are so damn important to you, even as they’re the incredibly heavy lodestone our family wears each day. Wears in the proverbial deep end of our lives.”
     “Because the Fairwil and the pool are ours, not theirs. Ours.”
     “I’m sick of it, frankly. This old argument.”
     “You’re sick of everything lately, so add it to the list,” I offered.
     “Not so much, now,” he said. “Getting bad-candied has a way of turning a day around.” He smoothed his tie. “I can’t believe I’m in my 21st year on this planet and I’m still talking about that pool. The pool, the pool, the pool, every single day the pool.”
     “WHAT. We’re in our 21st year? Not our 20th?”
     “We’re 20 now, so it's our 21st year.”
     I calculated in my head. “Huh. You’re RIGHT! Can’t argue with the gifted math student.”
     “Oh, I'm gifted in several areas,” said my cousin. “Random world knowledge, for one. Did you know, for example, that pumpkins in Australia are harder than they are here? Very difficult to carve.” He gestured at a lit gourd sitting in a shop window.
     “Show off. Math's still your stronger suit. Too bad Fair Finley didn’t give you a math candy, like me and my movie treat.”
     “What in the hell is ‘math candy’?” Gomery asked, half-testy, half-laughing.
     Ignoring him, I continued. “And since you're so big-brained at math, you can figure out how we can keep the motel without making any money on it. Is there a special algebra formula for that problem?”
     Ignoring me, he reached down and picked up an errant orange sequin. “Let’s get home and see if the pool got properly foamed in our absence. Plus, I want a bath.”      

      A firm, cousin-like door knock woke me the following morning
      “Monty. You have a present. Get up.”
     “Whaaa?” I rolled onto an empty piece of gooey cellophane, a wrapper that had held a delicious popcorn ball only hours before.
      I stood, stretched, then stepped outside in my thinnest boxers, forgetting that it was now November and the mornings were on the goosebump-making side. The motel's sole guests walked by just as I opened my door, giving me a strange once-over. “Hey, how goes it?” I waved, only barely concerned they were basically viewing me in the all-together.
     But I forgot that and the nippy temperature when I saw the gift my cousin meant. An industrial cardboard carton blocked my door, or nearly. It was large and brown and a washing machine illustration appeared on the top.
     Stranger still, though, were the handful of truly wretched Gomery-approved licorice lollipops that were taped to the sides, here and there. 
     I bent on one knee to get a closer look. “One thousand super-strength industrial detergent cubes,” I read aloud. “Cleans every stain with power zapping action.”
     “And foams every swimming pool,” Gomery added. “It doesn’t actually say that, on the box. Maybe it should, in the fine print.”
     “Wow. A)? She completely stole this from The Wilfair’s laundry room.”
     “Completely,” my cousin confirmed.
     “And b)? How’d she get it here? It weighs slightly less than that blasted Ferris wheel. I'm sure I couldn't lift it. Her brothers help?”
     “No upper body strength.”
     “Hmm. Power zapping action.” I beamed. “I do believe, my good lad, that there was an heiress huffing and puffing her heart out out here while we slept. Remind me never to get into a wrestling match with the baroness of industry next door, because she'll clearly kick my can.”
     “So, are you dumping them? Bet she’s watching.” Gomery pointed at the hotel’s third floor.
     “A foamed pool is A LOT of clean-up. Bubbles freaking everywhere. You know, I kind of want to use these to do my own laundry, for the next, uh, half century? Still, it’s a nice gift for a fakey fake person to give. I accept her gesture and these bajillion purple power zapping action detergent cubes.”
    “A fakey fake person who hollers ‘Mary Shelley’ and steps out of high heels to run,” Gomery added. “Plus, there’s this.”
    He pulled something off the opposite side of the carton. It was fancy embossed intimidating annoying Wilfair stationery, complete with raised letterhead. But far more interesting than the expensive piece of paper was the hand-penned note found just below the letterhead. It was a missive written in perfect cursive, so perfect that even the question mark boasted a curlicue flourish at its curved top.
     Are you the flies or are you the spider?
     Sincerely, The Window
      Gomery smiled, peeled a lollipop off, unwrapped it, and stuck it in his mouth.
      There was nothing else to do but follow sweet suit. The lollipop was absolutely awful, nearly inedible, but everything else could qualify, on some level, as Halloween magic.