(HIGHLIGHTS OF A LOWLIFE)
ALL HALLOW’S EVE EDITION
There was a time, not so long ago, when Halloween was a time to let the wildness inside loose for a night, and children of all ages could be out after nightfall, wandering the streets and entertaining their neighbors with their costumes and masks, and their high-pitched entreaties (or veiled threats) of "Trick or treat!" Granted, the ritual still occurs, but the innocence of yesteryear has been partially dispelled by the minority of sociopaths who lurk among the population, deriving sick thrills from insinuating harmful objects into apples or candy bars, and parents nowadays are probably well-advised to host parties, where they can control events, rather than trusting to fate to keep their children safe.
Many of my recollections of Halloweens past are jumbled together, but three stand out. In 1961, when I was 12, I was an avid reader and viewer of whatever examples of the horror genre I could locate. My costume for that year was decided by my having recently seen the Boris Karloff thriller, "The Mummy." I implored my mother to allow me the use of some old bedsheets, and I set about tearing them into strips and augmenting their yellowed condition by the judicious use of food coloring. Clad only in a pair of briefs and socks, I spent a couple of hours carefully wrapping myself in the strips of cloth and securing them with safety pins. Despite my mother’s protestations, I was determined to display to the world what an awesome costume I had created.
The temperature was dropping into the mid-forties and it was quite breezy as I stepped out into that crisp October evening with my candy bag in hand. Once the members of our little band had gathered, we began going from door to door, occasionally pausing to swap information with other groups about where the best candy might be obtained. Our subdivision consisted of two long streets, with a few extra houses at each end of my street on what were called ‘circles’, so it took awhile for us to thoroughly cover the neighborhood.
To my discomfiture, about 15 minutes after we had set out, I discovered that the acts of walking and stretching forth my arms were causing my ‘bandages’ to gradually shift and loosen, so that by the end of the evening my head was the only part of my body that retained its original wrapping. There were a few strips dangling from my shoulders, still held together with safety pins, and a few strips still attached to my scrawny torso, but my legs were completely naked and I was forced to take the excess strips and stuff them into the waistband of my briefs, so that they hung down like some sort of bizarre skirt. Of course, I was thoroughly chilled by that time and beginning to shiver and tremble. I must have looked like a complete ass. The other youngsters must have thought so too, as I heard giggles and snickers from each group that we passed. Thoroughly humiliated, I cut short my candy gathering and headed for home, where I was treated to a lengthy lecture about decency.
The second incident occurred in 1965, when I was a sophomore. I had been invited to a costume party, and, once again deciding that I would concoct a marvelous costume, I gathered together my list of appurtenances. I slathered Karo © syrup all over my face as an adhesive and plastered shredded cotton and cotton balls to it. For added gruesome effect, I took half of an eyeball from a model kit called The Visible Head (from Renwal, I think), inserted a brown iris applique, affixed it about halfway down my left cheek and shaped cotton around it to form a drooping lid. I completed the horrid mess by sponging the cotton (and my hands) with a hideous mixture of blue and green food coloring. I threw on a ratty plaid shirt and ragged jeans as an appropriate ensemble to heighten the effect. Inspecting myself in the mirror, I thought even a zombie might flee from me in fear.
The party was not due to take place for a couple of hours, so my parents prevailed upon (ordered) me to spend that time handing out candy to the neighborhood children. I eventually got into the spirit of the thing, especially after I had received more than a few compliments on my sickly, rotting countenance. I was thinking what a hit I was going to be at the party when my 7th grade math teacher, who lived on the street opposite ours, came to the door with his 1 year old daughter cradled in his arms. She opened her eyes, got a good look at me, and began to shriek and screech at the top of her tiny voice. I was startled, and even more taken aback when a torrent of righteous wrath was unleashed upon me. Mr. Parker actually shouted at me, berating me in no uncertain terms for scaring the bejabbers out of his precious baby girl, turning beet red as he did so. I mumbled a profuse apology, all the while thinking, "What kind of parent takes a 1 year old out on Halloween? What did you think she was going to see, Easter bunnies?" But, being a mere teenager compared to his 36 years, I restrained my wiseass tendencies and attempted to placate him. He eventually calmed down and apologized for his overreaction, all the while continuing to lay the majority of the blame on me, as if I should have anticipated some such occurrence.
As the party was due to begin shortly, I left off dispensing candy and asked my dad to drive me to my friend’s house. Thankfully, I had no further confrontations with Mr. Parker, and, presumably, his little girl grew to adulthood without any trace of lingering trauma. (And yes, I was a hit at the party.)
The final incident occurred sometime nearer to the first than the last, and may even have taken place earlier. For a time, I was of the opinion that since people were unwise enough to put candles in jack o’ lanterns, I and my friends were entitled to them. I can not now remember how I conceived this notion, but I do now recognize it for the act of petit thievery that it was, and this is how I was cured of the activity.
We had finished gathering candy in our own neighborhood and the night was still comparatively young, so our little band traveled to a nearby subdivision to garner as much sugary goodness as possible. Approaching one ill-lit house, we could not help but notice the brightly shining grin of the huge carved pumpkin resting on the stoop. Understanding that so much light must mean a sizable candle, I greedily reached for the lid of the pumpkin and had just touched it when it startled the daylights out of me by announcing, in a loud falsetto voice,"Hi! I’m Suzy Pumpkin!"
As it turned out, the man of the house was some sort of tech freak who had wired the pumpkin with a microphone and was waiting, crouched in the dark behind his living-room curtains, for some unsuspecting group such as ours to approach and be duped.
Needless to say, perhaps, that episode completely cured me of the urge to covet candles.