Jack-O’-Melon

On October 18, 2006, I hollowed out a watermelon to make a jack-o’-lantern, but I never got around to carving the face. It’s been 15 years, so I went ahead and finished that up. And the results are FANTASTIC!

As you’ll see in the pics below, I chose a steak knife and this weird, wire-handled scoop-shaped spatula thing as my carving tools. Of the drawers full of kitchen utensils I had at my disposal, I opted for what were pretty much the worst possible choices. What can I say? I was an amateur. As much as I love Halloween, I’ve never been a big jack-o’-lantern carver. Partly because I’ve never had what I felt were great carving skills, but partly because of an incident that occurred when I was just a little kid.

I caught the Halloween bug early, and during the October of my 4th grade year I decided my house needed to reflect that. I hauled up the biggest slabs of slate I could find from our creek to use as tombstones, and planted them in my front yard complete with painted inscriptions. I begged my mom to let me use my dad’s old work clothes and boots to make a dead body, then I learned to tie a noose to place around its neck, A leaf stuffed burlap sack served as the execution hood/head. I even convinced my mom – a notorious stickler for not wasting food – to let me use some raw rice and ketchup for maggots and blood. It all looked so good. But the crowning achievement was my seven foot tall pumpkin headed ghost.

Living on a farm, we had a lot of empty burlap feed sacks laying around our barn, so stapling together a bunch of inside out sacks to create tattered, billowing robes was a piece of cake. Rolled sacks and stuffed work gloves for the sleeves and hands. Dad saw how well it was going and put a seven foot post with a crossbar and a small plywood platform in the middle of the yard for me. The crossbar served as the ghost’s shoulders, and a few cable staples held the robes on so that even the strongest wind couldn’t budge them. And on top of that little platform, secured by baling twine, was my jack-o’-lantern.

It was glorious. The biggest pumpkin we’d ever had was mine to carve, and despite my usually inexpert attempts, I nailed this one. It was big. It was impressive. But, most importantly of all, it was scary. Not just spooky, mind you. Scary. Those were the days before it was effortless to take a picture at a whim, so I have no photos of my creation. You’ll have to just trust me when I tell you that, using the collective impression of every really great jack-o’-lantern I’d ever seen, I called upon the most deeply seated creative parts of myself and produced a goddamned masterpiece. I was so proud.

I was a hugely fat, nerdy, annoying little kid with severe ADHD and very few social skills. I didn’t understand this at the time, but I was not easy to be around, and even less easy to like. So growing up I felt like I only had one actual friend, Matt. By some miracle, Matt and I got along swimmingly, were in the same grade and class at the same time, and we liked all the same stuff: Transformers, monsters, cartoons (the weirder the better), sci-fi, scary movies, and especially Halloween. I called Matt to tell him about my epic haunted yard, and Matt’s mom agreed to bring him down to our farm to check it out. Even better, our moms agreed to make it a sleepover. FUCK YES! Matt was, and remains to this day, wildly artistic and creative; a legitimate powerhouse of imagination and talent. He arrived, marveled at my creation, and then came up with a few DIY Halloween ideas of his own. Pretty soon, he and I had the place looking like a professional haunted attraction. When it was too dark to decorate, we went inside and geeked out over cookies and robots and wonderfully cheesy, straight to VHS horror movies until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t remember many specific days of my youth, but this one has stayed with me. It was one of those days that defines childhood; an ideal memory so pure and happy that it becomes part of one’s identity. If there is such a thing as perfection, it was a perfect day. Needless to say, it was shaping up to be the best Halloween ever.

Morning arrived and brought with it the unexpected. My jack-o’-lantern, the centerpiece of my haunted yard, the very thing I had worked hardest on, was gone. Not toppled by the wind nor eaten by a deer, which I always knew were possibilities. Stolen. The baling twine had been cut, and one of the ignorant, loser rednecks by whom I was surrounded, the very people who had made so much of my youth so much harder than it should have been, had made off with the thing of which I was most proud. I was DEVASTATED. Matt’s mom wouldn’t pick him up until that afternoon, so I had no choice but to sit there, fighting – and failing – to hold back my tears in front of my only friend. It was shame on top of pain. I just wanted solitude. All the joy of what I had accomplished had been stripped away by some faceless coward.

I was a child; I had no context for the depth nor darkness of my feelings. My rage and raw, betrayed hatred were so deep and consuming that, had the thief been brought before me, I sincerely think I could have slashed their throat and watched them bleed out, and I would have felt nothing but a sense of cold, justified satisfaction. I didn’t just want my jack-o’-lantern back, I wanted retribution. As memorable as the previous day had been, the sting of that morning has been more lasting. I will never forget that feeling of emotional evisceration, nor how my perfect Halloween was taken from me. And although I didn’t stop loving Halloween, I wouldn’t carve another jack-o’-lantern until I was nearly 30 years old.

I had seen a few acorn squash and other green gourds made into jack-o’-lanterns, and I really liked the look, but there were always two problems. The first was the size. The green gourds/squash I’ve seen have always been either tiny or huge. I wanted something small enough to put on my desk at work, but large enough to be the sole jack-o’-lantern in my decorations. The second problem is the the color. Green gourds/squash tend to be either extremely dark and monotone, or a mottled green that looks more odd than menacing. I’m sure there are perfectly serviceable green gourds/squash that would do the trick, but I’m not a gardener. I don’t know what they would be. But watermelons… they come in all sizes and shades of green. They have animalistic stripes. And their guts are red. They might be exactly what I’m looking for.

When you hollow out a watermelon, use something reasonable like a short, thin bladed knife and an ice cream scoop. Don’t just pick up an odd, quasi-unidentifiable utensil and a steak knife because they look cool. It’s a rookie mistake, and my hand ached for three or four days from trying to grip that stupid wire handle while maneuvering that oversized scooptula thing inside the fruit. What an idiot. I don’t know what I was thinking. And make sure you have plenty of paper towels handy. As you can see in the pics above, once you remove the flesh of the melon, the rind exudes about half a cup of juice into the hollow space. After you pour it out and dry the inside, it exudes a quarter cup. Then another. I finally stuffed the thing with paper towels and let it sit for a couple of hours. I removed the paper towels then came back to find yet another quarter cup of juice. The volume of liquid in a watermelon rind is shocking. So I packed it again with what felt like about half a roll of paper towels and left it to sit overnight, hoping that would absorb anything remaining. But I would never know. That was the last I saw of my hollowed melon.

If you walked into your kitchen and saw this on the counter – a carefully opened watermelon with the flesh removed, packed with paper towels and placed on two more paper towels on top of two paper plates to absorb any possible leaks – I think you, like any reasonable human being, would understand that this is being used for something. This is obviously not an end result, nor the refuse of an earlier meal. It may not be clear what it’s meant to be, but this is very clearly part of a work in progress. No intelligent upright ape would see a watermelon rind stuffed and placed with this amount of care in an out of the way spot in a kitchen and not understand that this is intended for something more. This, in short, is someone’s shit. It belongs to somebody who is very clearly preparing it for further use.

But not so if you’re my ex-roommate. No, he walked in, took one look at it, and just threw it away. Then he smashed the trash down in the can to make more room, crushing the watermelon beyond any possible use. His story is that he thought it was garbage. BULL. FUCKING. SHIT. Not one chance in hell I was ever going to buy that. Not only did he know me well enough to know I was doing Halloween crafts, he knew me well enough to invite me to rent a room in his house. And how do I know he knew I was writing Halloween articles for the site? Simple: HE WAS ONE OF THE SCI-FI GUYS. A founding fucking member.

I never learned his actual motivation for trashing something I was very clearly using, because I was too pissed to ever ask. It was a petty, passive-aggressive, classless thing to do, and there was no justification he was ever going to give that I would have believed. So I didn’t bother asking. And it was a busy Halloween. Out of necessity I moved on to other projects. By the time I circled back to finish this article, there were no more watermelons in the stores. All I had were pics and lingering anger. Considering my history of lost jack-o’-lanterns, you’ll understand that I was Thorin Oakenshield level salty about this shit. I never forgave, and I never forgot.

So here we are, exactly 15 years later, to the day. And this day, before the sun sets, with every abomination in Hell as my witness, I will have my jack-o’-melon. They only had mini watermelons at the grocery. It isn’t nearly as big as my previous jack-o’-melon, and I’ve never had a mini watermelon before. I don’t know what they’re like inside. But this project has waited 15 years and I’m not going to wait any longer. We’re doing this thing today.

I’ve thought a lot about my jack-o’-melon over the last 15 years, and I think one way I can improve this process is by leaving a good deal of the flesh in place. In the 2006 pics you can see how scooping the flesh out close to the white rind left the interior more pink than red. Pink and green may be great colors for watermelon candy, but Halloween demands something a bit more bloody looking. So I’m only going to cut out enough of the fruit to give the facial features the appearance of depth.

That will do nicely. Now to light this bastard. It’s my hope that the water and translucent fruit will act as diffusers, while the white rind will make an effective reflector. The result should be a jack-o’-melon that will light up despite a significant portion of the flesh remaining in place. All I need is a light source powerful enough, and I think I have just the thing.

Attentive readers will note that this is not the first time one of my little blue LED flashlights/palm beacons have made an appearance on this site. I used one as a prop in a fortune cookie photo way back in 2018. The thin side of these things are a powerful enough light when used as a flashlights, but they’re nothing compared to the blinding intensity when the full LED panel is lit up. Once during a power outage, I propped just one of these up on my dresser and turned on the LED panel, bouncing the light off the mirror. It lit my bedroom up so well that I could lie in bed and read for hours until the power came back on. They’re powerfully bright, produce no noticeable heat, and can stay lighted for hours without losing their intensity. In other words, they’re ideal for lighting up a jack-o’-melon. Just cut a hole to fit, seal the light in plastic wrap to protect it from watermelon juice, and wait for it to get dark.

Oh, HELL YES! This was actually worth the wait. That flashlight trick worked even better than I’d hoped. In real life it gives the melon flesh a deep, blood red glow, like embers in a dying bonfire. On film, well you can see what that looks like for yourselves. It’s been a 15 year road getting here, but I’m glad I completed the journey. I’ve got a feeling this isn’t the last jack-o’-melon I’ll be carving. This guy just got added to my ever expanding list of Halloween must-haves.

Now get your ass in the fridge, Jack. You’re too creepy to leave out while I sleep.

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