Halloween Extravaganza: Carlos Colon: Old Man Jack

Old Man Jack

One of the advantages of living in a high-rise apartment building during Halloween was efficiency. Growing up in the Bronx in the late sixties and early seventies, my family lived in one that had16 apartments on each floor. The tenement itself had 18 floors, which meant that before we trick-or-treaters would even step out into the crisp October air, we would have already visited close to 300 neighboring households offering generous amounts of sugar-loaded goodies.

The convenience of having our apartments in the same building also enabled us to go to our rooms and empty out our pillow cases before we ran back out to reload. And being that we lived near other apartment buildings, more opportunities awaited outside to add to the following day’s tummy ache.

For me, the building was enough. October days seemed colder back then and the material from those cheap costumes we used to get at Woolworth’s were about as thick as toilet paper. And let us not forget the thin elastic band that was stapled to the plastic mask that had cut-out holes for your eyes, nose, and mouth. They always broke off upon the slightest stretch which meant you’d have to walk around holding your mask up. Another thing was, that if the cold weather gave you a runny nose, that mask would collect all of your sticky muck and press it right back against your face. That’s why I didn’t mind if Halloween landed on a bad-weather day. I usually did all my one-stop trick-or-treating right there in the building where I lived. I mean, really, was there any need to go anywhere else after raiding close to 300 apartments?

Most of the tenants were tolerant of the hyped-up kids running the halls and many were generous with all the M&M’s, Sugar Babies, Tootsie Rolls and, of course, my personal favorites, the candy corn. (Man, I loved those things. Even now in my older years, if I see a dish or a bowl full of those, I leave nothing for the unfortunate person who might have wanted some after me). Of course, some tenants gave more than others. Mrs. Jack, an elderly lady on the twelfth floor, was everyone’s favorite. She would give out a bag with a variety of candies and toys that made us feel like we visited Mrs. Claus before Christmas – much better than the other lady a few floors below that only gave out a single lollipop. But Mrs. Jack, she was a must stop for every trick-or-treater in our building. We all knew that we would never be disappointed after ringing her bell, and that she never seemed to run out of goodies.

Her real name wasn’t Mrs. Jack. We actually didn’t know what her real name was. Truthfully, outside of the fact that her apartment was the go-to place for Halloween, kids our age didn’t care very much for any other details. We gave her that name because of her scary husband, who we used to call Old Man Jack. Reflecting back now as an adult, he was just a harmless, older man who was unfairly labeled by us kids, who were intimidated by his slow, hunched-over walk and the out-of-sync limp that accompanied it. He also had a unibrow that resembled a five-inch, overfed caterpillar crawling across his forehead. Jack’s head also shook continuously. The cause could have been a variety of medical conditions, but to us it resembled someone who was about to erupt in a fit of anger. But Mrs. Jack had a kind, cherub-like face under a short, silver hairdo that we always found approachable, even though we often wondered about how she paired up with the ogre that shared the apartment with her.

By the time I reached my pre-teens, I, like other kids my age, started getting lazy with the costumes; maybe a cowboy hat with a neckerchief, or perhaps a drawn-on mustache with a pair of glasses. The last year, before I finally decided I was too old to be soliciting candy with kids half my size, word got out that Mrs. Jack passed away shortly after Labor Day weekend. I would like to say that we were saddened by the loss of our kind neighbor, but the truth is that the sensitivity gene still hadn’t blossomed in me or any of my fellow apartment raiders. We were more mournful about not receiving Mrs. Jack’s treat bag that year.

Buffoons that my pack of acne-challenged delinquents were, we dared each other to knock on Old Man Jack’s door to see if he would answer. Who knows, we figured. Maybe he’d keep up the tradition. Like I said, that sensitivity gene… When none of us volunteered, we played a game of odds and evens and once-twice-three, guess who lost.

Unlike the rest of the group, I didn’t really find it to be a big deal to ring Old Man Jack’s doorbell. I figured he either wouldn’t answer the door, or if he did, he would just say he had no candy. The other kids were more skittish about it and huddled by the hallway exit a few yards away. When the first clicks and drags of his unlocking deadbolt echoed in the hall, my giggling cohorts edged the exit door open preparing for a quick escape.

When the apartment door slowly opened, Jack looked up and down at the silly, middle-schooler out in the hall wearing a Superman t-shirt (I went all out that year). Internally, I felt ridiculous and made the decision right there that this would be the last year I would roam the halls for Halloween. Externally, I held out my almost-full pillow case and muttered a barely audible, “Trick or treat”.

Jack studied me for what was probably only a few seconds. Yet it felt like an eternity. “You want candy,” he finally said, not like he was asking, but more like he was acknowledging. I suddenly felt like an unseemly intruder (which I was), but rather than send me away, he opened the door wider and pointed to an upright piano where about two dozen of Mrs. Jack’s treat bags were placed on the bench. Beside the bench where shopping bags full of unopened packages of candy that she never got a chance to sort out.

“We never had any children,” said Jack, his head shaking as his unibrow took an upward turn. “She always liked when they came this time of year.” I stared at all the lollipops, chocolates, and jelly candies (Chuckles! Another one of my favorites! I even liked the black ones!). There was so much! She must have cleared out the supermarket shelves! “Go ahead, take it all. Share it with your friends,” he said, explaining that I was the only one to come to his door. No one else dared, or more likely, the other kids were respectful enough not to bother this man who was in mourning.

Above the piano, on the wall, were some black and white photos that appeared to be over fifty years old. There was a wedding photo of him and Mrs. Jack. They looked like they were in their teens. In the photo, since he was not hunched over, he appeared much taller than I ever pictured him to be. And since Mrs. Jack was very petite, it made him even more imposing.

My attention then shifted to a series of pictures of Jack in military uniform. “You were in the army?” Jack nodded and explained that he was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army during World War I. His hunched over back, his limp and even the constant shaking of his head were the results of a spinal injury he suffered when his plane was shot down.

The piano against the wall also seemed from another era, though it was well maintained. “You play the piano?” I asked.

Mr. Jack smiled, the first time I ever saw him do so. “A little bit. But she played much better,” he said, pointing to a youthful picture of Mrs. Jack that looked like it was taken in a studio. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, was my guess.

The old man was hurting, even at my dense young age, I was able to see it.

The doorbell rang. “Trick or treat!” It was my friends; I recognized their voices. They were probably worried, or just curious.

Jack gestured to the door. “Let them in. They can help you with the candy.”

To my friends’ surprise, I was still in one piece and not devoured by the boogie man we laughed about all those years. When I explained to them that Jack was letting us all have the candy. They joyously dashed to the piano hauled them away. As my buddies relieved Jack’s apartment of all the sweets, Jack looked longingly at his wedding photo.

In just the few minutes I was there, I learned that this man was not a caricature like we’d been making him out to be all these years. He was a man who’d had a colorful life. A man that suffered a devastating loss. A man that deserved respect. Suddenly, I recognized myself as the snot-nosed little shit that I was.

Candy? It just didn’t seem that important any more. Somehow, the excitement was gone.

Just five weeks later, with Christmas rapidly approaching, Jack followed his Mrs. into the world that comes after this one. They say it happens that way with older married couples. When one passes, the other one quickly follows. “Natural causes” is what they said, but I believe he was unable to face another holiday without his wife and just willed his body to die.

Less than a year later, puberty would arrive and my body would start the conversion process of me physically becoming a man. But there are more components to becoming a man than growing hair in new places and having your voice change. It’s also about seeing the world differently. I would like to think that I took my first step that Halloween night.

“You’re Carlos, right?” he said to me, as I left with my sack full of candy. It was unexpected. I had never imagined that he would know my name. I nodded, and then he surprised me again. “Habla español, Carlos?” The words were pronounced effortlessly without any hint of an accent.

I don’t know why I stuttered, but I did. “Uh, yeah, uh, do you?”

He smiled, “German, Italian and a little bit of French, too.”

These days they call some guy in a beer commercial the most interesting man in the world. Back then, I would have made a case for the piano-playing, fighter pilot that spoke five different languages that was standing before me. It then occurred to me that none of us ever bothered to learn what his real name was, so I asked. “Excuse me, sir, but what is your name.”

The unibrow rose for a moment and then he smiled again. “Jack,” he said with a wink, before slowly closing the door.

After receiving extraordinary praise from literary critics and the unexpected devotion of readers to his sullen, but oddly endearing, foul-mouthed anti-hero Nicky Negrón, Carlos Colón knew he had little choice but to begin working on a follow-up to his debut novel Sangre: The Color of Dying. Since then Carlos has been dividing time between work on the sequel, Sangre: The Wrong Side of Tomorrow, while also adapting the first book into a graphic novel for a limited-edition series. And since there has also been interest in adapting “Sangre” into a television series, Carlos has also been writing scripts for a proposed first season. Having dipped his toes into the new media, Carlos also formed Ventana Luz Productions, LLC and co-executive produced “Bite”, which won the Best Comedy Short award at the 2018 Culver City Film Festival.

Born in Spanish Harlem and raised by Puerto Rican parents in the South Bronx, Carlos began writing comic strips in his pre-teens and drew attention in school by writing dramatic short stories. His teachers quickly noticed and nicknamed him Hemingway. After graduating from Herbert H. Lehman College, CUNY in the Bronx, Carlos dabbled in screenwriting for a few years before settling into the insurance business. Several decades later, Carlos returned to the entertainment business when he formed the retro rock ‘n’ roll band, the Jersey Shore Roustabouts which produced two albums. After performing their farewell concert in July of 2018, Carlos then took a short break before returning with a new rockabilly group called the Blue Suede Quartet.

When not busy with his multiple projects, Carlos enjoys time enjoying the Jersey Shore area where he resides with his Maria, his wife of 39 years and their cat, Tuco.

Sangre: The Color of Dying

Introducing Nicky Negron, a Bronx-born, Puerto Rican salesman who has suffered enough tragedy for multiple lifetimes.After a business dinner in New York City, Nicky’s life is cut shortat the hands of a ravishing undead woman at the Ritz-Carlton, resulting in a public sex scandal that leaves a legacy of humiliation for his surviving wife and children. When herises from the dead, he becomes a night predatorthat feeds on human bloodas well. The difference is, Nicky has agenetic resistance that retains his humanity – a trait that makes him reluctant to victimize innocents. Hampered by conscience, he instead decides to feed on what he deems are the undesirables of society-prisoners, sexual predators, domestic abusers and others that lower the quality of life around him.

Sangre: The Color of Dying features rough language, jaw-dropping sex, and abhorrent acts of violence, but its real emphasis is on the human being living inside the undead night stalker. Nicky values his family, his ethnicity, and is determined to hold on to his humanity, even if it’s just by rooting for the Mets, watching old Seinfeld episodes or reminiscing about the love he once shared with his wife. Readers are already falling in love with Nicky and this thrilling tale that takes supernatural horror in a completely new direction!”

Sangre: The Wrong Side of Tomorrow

The harrowing saga of Nicky Negron’s tortured soul continues as the inner and outer demons shadowing Newark, New Jersey’s undead vigilante have no intention of letting him rest in peace. Knowing his paranormal existence can only lead to complications, Nicky tries not to draw too much attention to himself. This becomes difficult as he learns that he has captured the interest of an unrelenting federal agent. Suspected of being an assassin for a South American drug cartel, Nicky finds himself dealing with the exact kind of scrutiny he’s been trying to avoid since he was turned almost thirty years ago. It complicates matters even more when Nicky is confronted with another undead presence that is threatening to commit atrocities to the children of a friend Nicky had sworn to protect. This pits the foul-mouthed night stalker, Nicky Negron, against the most horrifying monsters – both the human and non-human variety. An absolute rollercoaster of a novel, Sangre: The Wrong Side of Tomorrow delivers even more suspense, insight, laughs, and emotional wallop than its predecessor. Nicky is back! See you on the other side…