Things I Learned from Barnabas Collins

As part of my neverending quest to find ways to procrastinate on my writing, I’m knee-deep in old episodes of the 1960s gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I’m on episode 448 out of more than 1,200 episodes. I’m trying not to calculate just how much time I’ll spend watching this entire show (let’s see, 21 minutes per episode times 1,245 … divided by 60 minutes … equals … oh geez, I’m doomed …). But I know it’s a boatload of time.

I console myself by saying  that at least I put it on in the background while I’m working (or writing circular blog posts about it instead of writing). Sometimes that consolation is so thin I can see right through it, but today I decided to dig deeper (yes, I know—graves, coffins, digging, ha ha … Happy Halloween! ), trying to find something of value in the ridiculous, inordinate, disturbing, amazing amount of time I’ll be spending with this television series.

And, miracle of miracles, I found something!

Two-hundred-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins is played by the scrumptious Jonathan Frid. Frid isn’t really known for anything else, but he’s left an amazing legacy with this single part—in a poorly made, haphazardly shot soap opera whose recent revitalization through Netflix and DVDs is all the more extraordinary because other soap operas from that time period are all lost, the tapes having been erased or reused as was common for the time.

And because of the insanely tight production schedules of daily episodes going on for years, minor errors in production had to be overlooked. Then again, most of us today would likely define “minor errors” differently than producer Dan Curtis did at the time.

Most of the fun of watching Dark Shadows is waiting for the constant slips by the crew, and we needn’t wait long: Boom microphones dangle onscreen from over the heads of the actors. Shadows of the cameraman and equipment loom large in every scene (which is probably where they got the name for the show). Flying rubber bats on strings attached to poles look pretty silly—especially when the strings and poles show up too, as if a stage hand is fishing for winged mammals on the set.

And then there is the house fly walking around on Frid’s forehead for an entire scene…

and Frid never misses a line.

Oh, I do love that man.

All these glitches, goofs, and bloopers make an otherwise silly, campy show a glorious treasure to behold. And it makes me feel a little less guilty for spending so much time with Mr. Frid and his minions. There are lessons to learn and wisdom to be shared.

So, what life lessons has Barnabas Collins taught me? What redeemable qualities can the strange-looking vampire with the slicked-down hair and the omnipresent onyx ring have for someone like me?

I keep coming back to that fly on Frid’s forehead. Frid not only doesn’t acknowledge it, he stays in character. He goes on with his lines. While crew members are likely just off camera (for a change), giggling like schoolgirls, Frid remains his professional actor-self.

He stays on point. He doesn’t waver. He knows there is a lot at stake here (stake, ha ha ha…). He knows they won’t have time or tape to go back and redo the episode now. He also knows there isn’t any CGI to cover up the fly in post-production. Well, he doesn’t actually know about CGI, but you know what I mean.

Mr. Frid teaches me that I must keep moving forward, keep doing my duty—ignoring all flies on the forehead of life. Seems an easy, obvious lesson to some. But I too easily get sidetracked and lose my focus, swatting at imaginary flies that drive me batty (batty, ha ha ha…).

The fact that Frid can ignore real flies on his real forehead—while the whole world watches—is inspiring in an offbeat sort of way. If he can ignore such real vexations against all odds (and some of it is pretty odd!), then how much more can I ignore every pain in the neck (pain in the neck, ha ha ha…) that threatens to keep me away from my appointed tasks?

Thank you, Mr. Frid. The production values of your show may suck (suck, ha ha ha…). Your character may suck. But you, sir, do not. You’re bloody brilliant (blo—never mind).

Happy Halloween, Mr. Frid. You’re sorely missed.


All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of … Wait, I’m Just Repeating Myself

I do some things the same way every time I do them. And, unlike the definition of insanity, I do expect the same result every time. That must be why I do it the same way: to get the same result. This does not mean I am not prone to bouts of insanity. It just means you’ll have to use a different definition to include me.

I’m as much a creature of habit as anyone else, perhaps more so. The problem is, I picked some really boneheaded habits to be a creature of. Remember, these are things I have been doing repeatedly, for years, knowing full well what the results will be. That’s probably just another definition of insanity.

Yes, I admit these are all stupid:

— I put ice cubes in a drink that’s already cold from the fridge, even when I’m going to gulp it down in the next two minutes. Then I throw the ice cubes into the sink to die.

— I won’t wear my house slippers into the dirty basement (I’ll slide into a pair of old clogs instead), but I’ll traipse out onto the dirty front porch to get the mail in those slippers. It’s not like I vacuum the porch…

— I can go a month without dusting the living room, but I’ll straighten all the throw pillows on the couch every time I walk by all day long, usually while mumbling about how careless some people are about such things.

— I keep in my office—set up and ready to use at a moment’s notice—a laptop computer, two desktop computers, a typewriter, three Alphasmarts, two printers, and enough paper and pens to fill a small pickup truck … and then I’ll complain that I have nowhere to do my writing.

— I tell myself that, if I grade three student papers a day, I won’t suffer trying to get them all in by the Tuesday midnight deadline each week … but every time Monday rolls around I haven’t touched any of them yet, and I spend the day putzing on Facebook and running errands to buy just the right lampshade, which means I spend Tuesday chained to my desk hearing the clock tick.

— I eat low-carb and jog up and down the huge staircases here, proud of myself for keeping my diabetes in check with simple changes instead of drugs or insulin… and then I stand too long at the checkout line in the grocery store and come home with a bag of Combos, which I eat all at once that same day.

— I start the day intending to finish writing that book soon, and then I find everything else on my mental to-do list (since I don’t dare actually write this stuff down) far more fascinating and fulfilling than writing. This includes, but is not limited to, washing smelly laundry, cleaning the bathroom grout around the toilet, mowing the lawn, and discussing politics with a stark raving lunatic.*

And I could go on forever, but I won’t because that lampshade still isn’t quite right.

Running the risk of confusing myself, I hope to start shaking up my routine a little bit in order to fool myself out of some of these vexing habits. Maybe I’ll give the Combos to a friend. Maybe I won’t walk by the typewriter, the laptop, and the Alphasmart as if I don’t even recognize them. Maybe I will log off this post and mark up a few student papers … on a Thursday. Maybe I’ll dust the whole first floor just because I can….

Okay, now I know I’ve gone too far. I really must be insane. And the least you could do is look surprised.



*I may or may not be referring to specific relatives.