October 22, 2010
Ever since I was a kid Halloween has been my favorite holiday. I have a very early memory of my mother dressing me up as a little red devil. I assume this was for Halloween and not a comment on what kind of child I was, since I also remember having a plastic pumpkin and being told that it was to hold the candy I’d get. And I thought, "Wait a minute, I get to dress up like this AND I get candy?" Getting candy has always been secondary for me because, let’s face it, you can get candy at just about any time of the year, but Halloween is the only holiday that gives you an excuse to dress up, unless you’re playing Santa or the Easter Bunny, and even then you don’t have a lot of choice about what to wear. In fact the wide range of options available to me sometimes made Halloween more than a little stressful because I’d have trouble deciding what or who I wanted to be. One year I happened to tell this to the man who lived down the street and whose house regularly got egged, and not just on Halloween. He suggested that I wear a black mask, a black turtleneck, black pants, black shoes, and, for good measure, a black cape and go as the New York City blackout of 1977. He also told me half the fun of Halloween is darting in and out of oncoming traffic. I’m pretty sure that was the year I went as a ghost.
The other downside of Halloween was that sometimes it would get really cold in late October. It’s hard to be a convincing Huck Finn when you’re wearing a down coat zipped up to your neck and you can’t go barefoot–not that the weather would have stopped me. I would have gone barefoot if there’d been snow on the ground, because it was the illusion that mattered, but my parents wouldn’t have let me out of the house. As much as I loved it I did have to give up Halloween, or at least trick-or-treating, in my teen years. There were a few chances in college, but for a long stretch the thirty-first of October was, for me, just another day. Luckily I got a job in a moderately hip office where we’re encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts on selected Fridays, and a few of us dress up for Halloween, or at least the Friday that’s closest to it. The first year I worked in this office I dressed up as Groucho Marx. The next year I was Charlie Chaplin. The Chaplin costume is basically the same as Groucho–just subtract the glasses, make the greasepaint moustache smaller, and add a bowler hat and a cane. A lot of my coworkers made snide remarks about not believing I’d be silent the whole day, so the next year I was Harpo Marx. This was the end of my Marxist period. I considered dressing up as a dressmaker the next year, but decided no one would recognize Gummo. Instead I was Detective Columbo, which was appropriate because I spend a lot of time at work asking people questions, then adding, "Oh, and one more thing…" Then I was Albert Einstein, which was more than a little bit of a stretch because I’ve always been terrible at math. That’s why most of my job involves accounting, but that’s another story. Some of my costumes have been more elaborate than others. One year I was a werewolf. The next year I was a gargoyle. I wasn’t sure how I was going to top that one, and thought briefly about cutting my own head off, but since I couldn’t take a horse to work the Sleepy Hollow idea just didn’t pan out. Fortunately a group of co-workers decided to be The Addams Family, and, with my long hair and small frame, I was, naturally, asked to be Uncle Fester. Being Doctor Strangelove was fun, even though my boss didn’t care for being called "mein fuhrer", and also enlightening because I learned how hard it really is to get around in a wheelchair. The year after that it was Hannibal Lecter, then Captain Hook.
Some years I’ve just had to indulge my inner geek. One year I was Seymour Krelboin (or Krelborn, depending on your version) from Little Shop of Horrors, complete with an Audrey II. Star Trek fans will immediately know what I mean when I say I was an Andorian. Harry Potter fans will recognize Mad-Eye Moody. Last year I was Rorschach from Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen. Let me emphasize that I called it a graphic novel, not a comic book, since some people get touchy about terminology. It should be noted, though, that Neil Gaiman, who also writes graphic novels, told a story in an interview about how he once introduced himself at a party as a comic book writer. The person he said this to told him he didn’t write comic books but graphic novels, as though the distinction were important. Gaiman said, "I honestly felt like a hooker who’d just been told she was a lady of the evening." Anyway, when I decided to be Rorschach my wife, who’d read up on what sort of character he was–a sociopathic vigilante who is a one-man judge, jury, and executioner–said, "You scare me sometimes." But she didn’t understand that I didn’t really want to be Rorschach. His look just makes for a pretty cool costume. I would have preferred to be Doctor Manhattan, but, aside from the difficulty of wearing solid white contacts, I knew I’d be washing blue body paint out of where the sun don’t shine until the next Halloween. Besides, part of the appeal of Rorschach was being a character so radically different from who I really am. I don’t want to skulk around dark alleys murdering anyone I think might be a communist any more than I want to eat someone’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti or start a nuclear war or kill Peter Pan. It’s true that I did once grow carnivorous plants, but I never fed them blood. At least I never fed them anyone else’s blood, and none of them ever talked to me. The one thing that ties all my Halloween costumes together is that, like Groucho Marx, I’d never belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member. That’s why, even if it’s only one day a year, I take advantage of the chance to be someone else.