Halloween is one of my favorite holidays just because wearing costumes is officially sanctioned. You can dress up like just about anything, no matter how obscene or grotesque, and everyone just shrugs. For example, one time in the Greenwich Village Halloween parade (which is not so much a “parade” as it is a mass of random people wearing costumes walking down the street, as anyone can join), I saw a guy who was wearing a trench coat and a nude body stocking thing, upon which he had attached a generously-sized dildo that he had rigged with fishing line or something to… er… “raise” whenever he opened the coat. At least that’s what I choose to believe I saw.
The other bonus about Halloween is that copious amounts of tooth-rotting candy are involved. You see varieties of candy on Halloween that I’m fairly certain aren’t even made at any other point during the year. It’s a good thing, too, because many of these candies (“Mary Jane,” I’m talking to you specifically here; you too, vile Necco wafers… and you fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls are not far behind) taste disgusting and you wouldn’t miss them if they never surfaced ever again.
Halloween festivities are quite different from soirées held at other points throughout the year, too, generally because after people dress up like something, they congregate in a location that is decorated to look spooky. Sometimes you’ll get a real “hardcore” Halloween enthusiast planning these things who will spell it with an extra dose of punctuation marks, like “Hall-o-we’en,” and who will also insist that everyone participate in one of several festive party games—bobbing for apples is a popular one, as are costume contests, and to a lesser extent, “Spin the Bottle” or “Three Minutes in Heaven” (generally, with this last one, you should try to avoid spending your three minutes in the closet with anyone dressed as a superhero, a domestic animal or a clown—I’d pick someone dressed like a member of the clergy, such as a nun or priest, instead). This is usually where the differences end, because the main point of these parties is, just like any other good party, to drink lots of free alcoholic beverages and to go home with someone who you hope is more attractive than the rubber Bob Dole mask that he or she is wearing.
Children’s Halloween parties are a different beast altogether. Some years ago—I was probably in middle school at the time—I invited my friend William to join my siblings, my mother and I for a trip to a local science museum called Discovery Place for their Halloween party. I told him that I planned to wear my brand new Star Trek costume that I’d forced my mother to make for me . Because of this, I encouraged him to dress up as something or other, as well.
Finally, the night of the party arrived. We stopped by his house to pick him up. William stepped out of his house wearing a textured navy blazer with white lace trim, a horizontally striped ankle-length skirt, and a tag that identified him as “Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States.” Completing the look was his pair of black pantyhose—his legs looked like gangrenous sausages that were dangerously close to rupturing.
“Where did you get pantyhose that fit you?” I asked. William has always been a generously-sized guy; pantyhose for his tree trunk-esque legs couldn’t have been easy to procure.
“They’re my mom’s,” he answered, which surprised me, because his mother is a diminutive lady with very thin legs.
I had to ask: “Did you ask her if you could borrow them?”
I couldn’t help wondering why, once she found out  that he’d rummaged through her pantyhose storage area, much less dressed as Janet Reno, he hadn’t immediately been sent involuntarily to a psychiatrist for mental evaluation.
“If they rip,” I mused, “the sensation of your flesh bursting from a nylon casing probably won’t be something that you’ll care to remember.” I pictured it mentally, and then immediately wished that I hadn’t.
“Football players wear panty hose to keep warm,” he replied, and thought for a moment before concluding, “Besides, it completed the ensemble.”
* * *
An hour or so later, we arrived at the museum. To my great relief, we weren’t the only costumed individuals present, though whether or not we would blend in was subject to debate. For example, my brother, Casey, was dressed as the “Grim Reaper,” though his costume consisted of a nylon vampire cape, a black death hood, a black sports t-shirt turned inside-out, black Nike shorts and black tennis shoes—with white ankle socks. He was not carrying a scythe, either; instead, he’d borrowed a plastic battle-axe from the drama ministry’s prop closet at our church.
You could at least kind of decipher what Casey was supposed to be, but my little sister Laura’s costume was a bit more cryptic. She had paired a short polyester housecoat-type thing with a hideous floral print (I believe my grandmother had, at one time, worn it as a blouse) with gym shorts that were too tight for her, and she had pulled her hair up into what I think were supposed to be pigtails, though it looked more like her hair had exploded out of the back—like a scarecrow who had been bashed in the face with a baseball bat.
Before I reveal what exactly it is that Laura claimed to be dressed as (Could it be a… lounge singer? A cocktail waitress? Mrs. Mamie Dubcek from 3rd Rock from the Sun?), I want to point out that this was far from the first time that she’d had difficulty composing a costume. For instance, the year prior, she had taped a plastic “Mr. Potato Head” moustache to her upper lip, put on a blue terrycloth bathrobe and a gray wool driving cap, and tied a large pink ascot around her neck. Somehow she decided that this made her look like our father, post-shower .
The year prior, she had emerged from her room wearing a gray sweatsuit and a paper rabbit mask that my mom had found in an American Greetings punch-out Easter book from around 1978. Also included were paper shoe covers that were printed to supposedly resemble rabbit feet that were secured by means of an elastic band around the foot. Embarrassing as this was to the rest of us, she wore this ensemble in public in a conspicuous state of little girl oblivion.
So, given her historical proclivity for nonsensical costumes, it was not without precedent when she jumped out of her room wearing this old housecoat and announced, “Ta-daaa! I’m a Japanese woman!” Casey and I understandably doubled over, shrieking with laughter; I paused only long enough to state for the record that I’d never seen a portly, bespectacled Japanese woman with unkempt dirty blonde hair (she was at that age where she refused to let my mother wash it), but it didn’t matter. To Laura, she was a Japanese woman that night. And there, in a nutshell, you have pretty much an accurate picture of the kind of child that she was.
As the four of us entered the museum and approached the registration desk, the old women manning it went absolutely wild when they saw William’s outfit. I’d never seen anything like it. They peppered him with questions about where he got it. “Who made it?! It’s absolutely beautiful! I’d love one for myself!”
William, probably more shocked than any of us, finally managed to stammer something like, “Uh, I got it at the Goodwill Store… It took a while to find something that’d fit me.”
We very nearly had to beat these elderly fashionistas off William with a stick, but once they were done with their interrogation, we headed into the exhibit halls where a number of other costumed individuals were milling about. Unfortunately, mere moments later, an unfortunate-looking kid with a blond perm who was also wearing a Star Trek costume ran up to me, shrieking “Hey! Another Trekkie!” as he bodily dragged his father after him and flailed his toy tricorder about.
In his deep Janet Reno voice, William yelled “Ack! A nerd! Run!” And so we did. We managed to lose him (as well as my brother, sister and mother, coincidentally) somewhere in the collections gallery between a large stuffed water buffalo and a selection of dead caterpillars in jars.
Now that we were on the other side of the museum near the other entrance, we began to notice costumes we hadn’t yet seen. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them were conventional ready-made store-bought costumes, but you could immediately pick out the ones that were homemade. For instance, there were numerous clowns (shudder) and mimes (double shudder), all of who sported face paint that had been applied in a haphazard and unappealing manner, akin to what a multicolored eczema outbreak might look like. There was one girl who I believe was supposed to resemble someone in a shower stall. There was another child that was dressed as either a deep-fried chicken breast or a human ear—it was hard to tell. And then there was a child wearing a portion of a refrigerator box who was either supposed to be a puppet theater or a television set from the early 1950’s. His costume was short-lived, either way—he stupidly tried to use a revolving door, but succeeded only in lodging himself in the door and ripping his costume in half simultaneously. I thought it was funny and laughed a bit too loudly (I may also have pointed), but I guess his dad disagreed with me since he called me a “devil child” .
My favorite, though, was the kid dressed in a black sweat suit adorned with a variety of electronic components that included circuit boards, speakers, wires, tiny blinking light bulbs and light dimmer switches. A garbage bag was draped over his head, and from the nose/mouth area emerged a vacuum cleaner hose, presumably for breathing purposes. Janet Reno and I spotted him outside of the tropical rainforest exhibit shortly after we had endured a presentation which featured a museum employee, dressed as a mime (ugh, really?), held up various rainforest animals (a tarantula, a snake, an iguana, a bird, etc.) while gesticulating towards them and saying nothing. It was wholly unimpressive and surprisingly non-educational. It took mere moments for this circuit board-adorned child to spot us after we emerged from the rainforest theater thing. He began lumbering in our direction as quickly as he could, and without warning, Janet yelled out, “The Borg are invading! Run!” And once again, we ran, screaming like women all the while.
Just a bit later, Janet Reno had gone off to find a restroom, leaving me alone for a few minutes to check out the small aquarium area that Discovery Place features. I suddenly felt the strange sensation that I wasn’t alone. Slowly I turned around and found myself face to face with the same mime from the rain forest presentation. I did the best I could to tolerate the mime, smiling patronizingly.
What exactly does one say to a strange mime in a strange setting, or ever, for that matter? Do you even say anything at all, or do they prefer that you attempt to communicate in crude hand gestures? These are questions that I do not have answers to.
The mime, noticing my Star Trek costume, offered the Vulcan V-shaped finger salute, wherein you spread your middle and ring fingers apart, just as Janet Reno reappeared, instantly adopting an attack posture that looked to combine elements of kung fu with a severe case of constipation. “A mime! Shoot it!” she ordered, so I did, taking aim and firing with a phaser toy that I’d attached to my belt with Velcro. I did not, however, anticipate that the mime would stagger backwards, fall through a doorway, and then, consequently, down a flight of stairs. While I stood there uncertain as to whether I should be concerned for the physical well being of the mime or extremely satisfied that a mime had possibly died, Janet Reno merely screamed again, “A mime was there! Run!” And once again, we ran.
* * *
Attending a Halloween party that someone else is throwing is usually a pleasure. Your average party-goer doesn’t have much in the way of “planning” to do, aside from maybe writing down travel instructions or going by the local drug dealer to pick up a kilo of blow at the behest of the host. But when you actually plan your own party, even if you are not the sole organizer, things never seem to go exactly the way they’re supposed to. For instance, during my middle school years my friends William (the aforementioned “Janet Reno”) and Cliff and I tried to put on Halloween parties for our friends.
Please note the word “tried.” After one ended in disaster, I told William that I would opt out of participating the following year, because I suspected that I could have more fun spending my evening in a darkened closet with a bottle of Chloraseptic, a Lite-Brite and my mom’s “Best of The Carpenters” LP’s. My excuse didn’t work, though. I was roped into it like always.
To be fair, the parties always seemed to start off well. Most everyone on the guest list would arrive wearing impressive and creative costumes (as we were the nerd group of the school, we all had much more free time to dream up such things). Socialization, which is always hard for nerds to do, would happen; mingling would occur, hors d’oeuvres would fly off plates.
And then… the doorbell would ring. Sure enough… it was none other than That Boy That No One Likes Except For William Whose Name (I Think) Is David.
Every year it was the same routine. He’d come in wearing shorts (despite the 40º temperatures), socks hiked up to his knees and some uninteresting Boy Scout-oriented t-shirt… and he’d have an enormous black garbage bag in tow. “Hi, guys!” he’d screech, in his irritatingly pre-pre-pubescent voice, before asking the Ten-Million Dollar Nerd Party-Killing Question: “Who wants to play board games?”
And every year, my hand would shoot up and I’d blurt out something like, “I would rather watch Camryn Manheim do nude aerobatics to Donna Summer songs.”
But this would not faze him. “I’ve got Yahtzee!” he’d scream, yanking the classic (and yet, incredibly boring) dice-throwing game from his garbage bag.
My alternate suggestion: “I’d rather insert a catheter into myself, and then into everyone else.”
No use. He’d be halfway inside the bag, rummaging around for some other totally uninteresting board game. The thought didn’t occur to me at the time, but I would have been doing everyone a favor if I’d shoved him the rest of the way in and left him on the curb for collection. Unfortunately, he wriggled his way out, clutching yet another worn game box held together largely with copious amounts of masking tape. “I brought Clue!”
“I would prefer to have a high colonic administered by a large hairy Bavarian woman.”
And then the three words that meant he’d won every single year: “I’ve got Monopoly!”
Every time, someone towards the back of the room would scream out “I want to be the hat!” and dive towards the bag of games, triggering a mad dash for the various pewter tokens. This was, without question, always the point where the parties fell apart.
The last time that we held one of these parties, the thing did hold together for just a tiny bit longer—we actually reached the designated point of the evening where we were to do a party “event” which had been arranged by Cliff’s mother. I use the word “event” very loosely—notice that I even put it in quotation marks two times in a row—primarily because said activity was something that I like to call “Bobbing for Oranges, Bananas and Plastic Frogs in an Unwashed Plastic Cauldron from Party City.”
As ashamed as I am to say it, I would have preferred the board games to this, but I wasn’t allowed to leave—I was one of the hosts, so I was required to endure the whole thing. So, after everyone else had “bobbed,” it was my turn. I have to tell you that even though I was dressed as a Marine that year, I would have voluntarily signed up for basic training instead of sticking my face in that slime vat.
“I’m not doing that,” I said.
“Oh, yes you are,” said all of the other guests, many of them gesticulating towards me in a menacing fashion.
Holding in the urge to vomit, I looked at the surface of the water—it was shiny with spit, mucus and some unidentifiable substance that was causing it to refract light into a rainbow pattern, something like an oil slick.
“I’m not doing that!” I said again, this time actually backing towards the door.
“Yes, you are!” they said, as they tried to force me physically to submerge my head in the cauldron, which was undoubtedly crawling with mononucleosis and a variety of strains of influenza. But someone noticed that there were no more oranges, bananas, plastic frogs or rubber snakes to be had in the spittoon, so I was saved—David (or whatever his name was) had probably screamed out “Let’s play Scrabble!” because everyone stampeded out of the garage, leaving me alone to cry for a moment.
Now that I’m older, I think I may take a stab at planning a Halloween party once again, though instead of wearing a costume I’m just going to wear my normal clothes, and instead of having guests over, I’m just going to watch a movie on my expensive high-definition television. I will have snacks and alcoholic beverages, though. That sounds like the best kind of party ever.
—Revised 2006 (original ca. 1999)
- I know, I know…
- Apparently William’s leg hair, compressed and contorted into random shapes by the hose, created some sort of moire pattern. His mother thought that he was wearing textured hose with the pattern woven in.
- Our father doesn’t even wear a bathrobe, and has never had a moustache in his life (he tried to grow a beard once, only to discover that he has a bald spot on his cheek which caused him to abort the whole project). Were he ever to emerge from a shower looking the way that she did, both he and the shower that he’d just come from would have to be destroyed.
- While this may, in fact, be true, I wasn’t the reason that the kid’s stupid costume ripped off. I was merely laughing at a public display of his child’s idiocity. Is that so wrong?