I was never a huge fan of Halloween. I think it may have started when we lived in Queens and the kids there "celebrated" by spraying each other with Nair. Then, we moved to the suburbs, where shaving cream, eggs and the old, striped tube sock filled with flour and wielded like a medieval flail were the weapons of choice. This made Halloween scary in a different way than originally intended, I think.
Plus, the whole costume thing. What to be? For some people, i understand dressing up is liberating. For me, terrifying. What to "be"? Ugghhhh.
When I was little, maybe five or six years old, and we lived in the ex-urbs of Long Island (pre-Queens), my mom made matching bird costumes for my sister and me. I distinctly remember the scratchy paper-mache of the heads. I think the idea was that my sister would be Big Bird and, well, I was littler, so I was a little version of Big Bird. I liked that. I didn’t have to choose.
I got older and it got more difficult. There was the “go-to” bum costume: man’s flannel shirt, someone’s dad’s pants, charcoal on the cheeks, bandana tied to a stick. Done. The “old lady” was similarly easy: Salvation Army for a grandma dress and cardigan, powder in the hair. Finito.
One year, in high school or just after, inspired and cajoled into going to a party that i didn't really want to go to, I grabbed a set of bongos we had in the house, wrapped an orange-y colored sheet around myself and pulled my hair up in a ponytail, yellow stripes between my eyes. Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. That year was ok. That year, two friends went as a telephone. The old-fashioned kind. One was the handset and one was the base. They were connected all night by the curly cord. Another friend was a Hasidic jew. She wore a brown bathrobe and used telephone cord as payos. I think i left those bongoes somewhere that night. Should have connected them to myself with a telephone cord.
One year, when I was teaching, I chaperoned the middle school dance and went as myself: overalls, t-shirt and Doc Martens.
I never really liked having to dress up, I didn’t like going around begging for treats, I didn’t like those people who wore full masks or full-face make up, whose eyes and intentions I couldn’t read. When I had an apartment of my own, I kind of dreaded the knock on the door.
Today, dressed as myself circa “1999, the College Years” (old school sweatshirt, ratty shorts and sheepskin slippers), I’m sitting on the sofa in a country that’s just starting to get on this particular holiday’s bandwagon, wishing I’d given in and bought one of those weirdly thick-skinned and too-orange Italian pumpkins and tried to carve it. I’m wondering if they’re truly difficult to carve or if the Italians who’ve given it a shot are just at a disadvantage from not having grown up doing it.
I’m sitting on the couch thinking it’s a shame there are no little kids running around dressed as ghosts and goblins, hobos and grandmas or whatever it is that little kids dress up as these days, trading Baby Ruths for Almond Joys and learning how to melt the cap of their shaving cream cans to stick a pin in to make a spray hole.
Holidays are hard when you’re far from your traditions. Even the ones you don’t especially like. I’m celebrating this one by eating pseudo peanut M&Ms from Germany, watching the fog curl spookily around the hills and trying to remember what possessed me to cover my face in make up that one year….