Heading home on the train, rereading one of my favorite books, Dracula, I notice a boisterous presence. It distracted me—I was getting to one of the best parts where, spoilers, Jonathan makes his last journal entry before fleeing Castle Dracula—and I couldn’t help but set the book down to have a look. I felt a pang of pity for this person coming down the aisle. He was physically deformed, possessing the type of face and strange motions that often accompany a mental handicap. He sat down and stared at me fixedly.
“That’s the most controversial book ever written,” he yells.
This was news to me. I started sorting through my mental rolodex of factoids regarding the book. It has some anti-Semitic imagery, but if I’m correctly informed by Andrew Klavan, himself a Jew, this imagery was and is common to western horror stories. Some remembrance of the Author, Bram Stoker, having a pretty harsh view of homosexuals flitted through my head. Before I could make sense of what he had said, he spoke again. Now, keep in mind, his words were horribly slurred, but he seemed to be talking about a movie. Eventually I realized he was saying Blacula, not Dracula.
“Calling something Blacula, that would be offensive to blacks, right?” This poor man had a very pronounced under bite, and to punctuate his question, lifted his lower jaw high into the air, his teeth coming over his upper lip. Squinting at me, he waited for an answer.
I know nothing about this movie other than an episode of Psych where Burton Guster, dressed up as Blacula, is frustrated at being called Count Chocula. It’s hard to imagine either Gus’s character, or the show’s writers, favoring something outright racist. I had some assumption that the movie was along the lines of Blazing Saddles, though undoubtedly not as funny.
He asked me again, “Isn’t that racist?”
“I wouldn’t know,” was the only response I could think up.
He started talking about Birth of a Nation, and I think he was attempting to equate Blacula to this piece of propaganda. He was on some sort of loop, he’d talk about the peculiarities of the city we were in, then about Blacula, then Birth of a Nation, and then back to the city. It was dreadful to see, because he obviously wanted to connect with me, talk with me, but he couldn’t. When my answers didn’t fit into his ideology, he would just re-ask the question.
Eventually, I asked him if he understood the difference between Blacula and Dracula. I think he replied that, “Calling something Blacula was racist, wouldn’t you think?” I thought I would try to explain Dracula to him, so I asked if he liked Halloween.
Apparently, Halloween is controversial as well. He told me that, where he grew up, there had been a haunted house where one of the monsters was a black man. QED Halloween was racist. I asked him why he was so fixated on racism. He was as Caucasian as I—as far as I could tell—and he went into a sort of confused diatribe against white people. I asked him whether or not being against white people wasn’t just as racist as being against black people. He left the train. I seem to make people uncomfortable when I ask them questions.