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I held out my pillow case, and the old woman gripping a bag of “popcorn balls” demanded that I “show her a trick,” so I briefly considered kicking out her brittle knee and screaming “abracadabra” into her oversized hearing aid. This was not a time for nonsense. This was Halloween, and there was a simple exchange here, a transaction that both parties were privy to and I didn’t expect any delays in my busy evening out in the cold. You icy old crone! I had dressed up for this! My stocking cap ground the sharp plastic mask into my features, and to only further degrade the illusion of my costume, my puffy blue winter coat made short work of everything. What was so hard to understand here? I’m dressed like some sort of superhero—or whatever bizarre getup my mother constructed from a poorly understood lecture I’d given her on on the ins-and-outs of pastel attire. I’m about to venture into the cold night air to beg strangers for candy and hope that none of them answer the door shirtless or try to put their fingers in my mouth. Go get candy, come home not-raped. Easy stuff. Now, drop the popcorn balls into my Ghostbusters pillow case before I push you into the basement and rob your house.
Halloween isn’t a time for impressing people with a costume, no, the costumes are simply designed as brief escapism and a way to show the other children how mega super awesome you are. I didn’t give a tinker’s damn if some goat-mask-wearing member of the LIONS club thought I was a dead ringer for Spiderman, I just wanted them to drop a fistful of whatever discount candy they’d remembered to buy on 2-for-1 when picking out scratch-game lottery tickets. I’m not trying to say there weren’t rules, however. Way back in the ancient times of the 1980’s, back when dinosaurs played cassette tapes and Flight of the Navigator was giving me weird nightmares, we still had a small amount of safety training from our collective parents when it came to Halloween and the activities therein. There were the easy-to-remember dictations, like, “Don’t ring the doorbell more than once,” and “Only smoke menthols.” The stricter rules only served to hamper the experience, like, “Don’t ask for more candy,” and “No butt stuff.”
Even at our tender stupid childhood ages, we instinctively new better than to wander into a stranger’s home, but this didn’t stop roughly one in three people trying to invite us inside to drink hot cocoa or sit and watch videos of teenage girls screaming for the police. Parents hover more closely these days, and with the climate we live in, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Men are especially dangerous now though, each of us a potential deviant not to be trusted with anyone or anything, our gender now a towering phallic reminder that we are on this planet to abduct anyone and anything that doesn’t belong to us. This is why recently, when my car was approached by two little girls from the neighborhood, I locked the doors and screamed into my Burger King bag for them to please leave before I was arrested and sent to a “gonna get a shiv, gonna make a hole” prison. I was terrified of being followed to my door by these two girls, unaware that their attempts to, and I’m not making this up, “sell me a dirt cookie” was enough to get me fucking tased. When trick-or-treating, my brother and I had a pretty simple system worked out though. We’d enter the house on two conditions: 1.) The front door remained open, and 2.) “Are you crazy? I’m not going into your stupid house, now dump your whole candy dish into the pillow case or I’m going to extort you for money, you creepy shit.”
As our parents weren’t always “eyes-on,” we ate whatever we could manage to moosh into our loud-holes with reckless abandon. On reflection, however, I’m not entirely clear on how reckless we really were. Sure, the folks had to run through our stash at the end of the evening to make sure there weren’t any razor-blades hidden inside of the candy, a thing that happened absolutely never times, but this was more or less a ruse, the activity instead an excuse for Mom to sift through the hauls my brother and I brought home and deftly steal her favorite chocolate brands, storing them in the freezer for the next six years, never touching the things but refusing to let anyone else enjoy them.
The costumes these days give me pause, terrific marvels of engineering that we could only bastardize back in our candy begging days. Back then, you had to be Spiderman sans-webbing, but now toy makers have constructed actual web slingers that spray out wonderfully flammable strands of Silly String. Wolverine claws were another hopeless venture, but now toy makers sell retractable plastic blade devices, primed to make you the most badass child who ever blinded a classmate. My most perfect costume was based on the 1980’s television show Knight Rider, however, I didn’t go as Hasselhoff-ian lead hunk, Michael Knight. No friends, I went as his car. I forget what baffling and confusing age I was when I attempted to costume myself as Michael Knight’s car, “KITT,” but I couldn’t have been older than six or seven. I remember trying to explain the concept to my befuddled parents, and while they weren’t the chain-smoking television junkies that you might imagine when you hear how my costume was made, the final product did allude that I may have been picking cigarette butts out of my mac n’ cheese for some time now, and may or may not have had to drive my drunken parents home from church.
We were as poor as a shit-stain, so I don’t begrudge my parents’ costume design, but Industrial Light & Magic they surely were not. In an effort to turn me into a car, a cardboard box was obtained, and don’t you worry, there were only two more steps to the process. Step two was to cut off the top and the bottom of the box. Step three was to spray-paint the thing black. I’d imagine if there was a step four, it would’ve involved abusing cold medication, enrolling me in therapy, and then doubling down on the chances of my little brother winning the Pulitzer in thirty years. Two pieces of bailing twine were strung across the box so I could wear it like a suspender-supported hobo barrel, and when I reminded my parents that there was a moving red light in front of the car, I believe a quick red stripe was sprayed on. I spent the entire day at school explaining to everyone what I was, and for some reason, I didn’t seem to mind. The twine suspenders cut into my shoulders for the remainder of the day and on into Halloween proper, but aside from trying to explain what the chubby boy in full winter regalia with a box around his ass was trying to represent, everything went as well as could be expected.
On one hand I appreciate my parents’ dedication to the costumery, even though it was destined to fail and my mother was planning on dressing me for the Arctic tundra no matter what outfit I wore. These are learning moments as parents, I’d imagine. As I do not yet have children, I cannot imagine how these conversations are to play out in whatever fluorescent future my own offspring will inhabit. I can tell you, however, that if my son or daughter asks me to turn them into 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, I am not going to hand them an empty can of brake fluid and lazily tell them to make “vroom vroom” noises around the neighborhood. I’ll either get the ghost of George Lucas on the case, or I’ll just buy the kid a vampire outfit and take up smoking.
Music in this episode:
Hypermagic – Hey Hey Sunshine
Photo thanks to the gallery of Foxtongue.