Monday, October 31, 2011
Halloween Time Machine
The first Halloween costume I remember wearing was Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. I was probably 4 or 5, and anybody who knows me now, would probably say that was the perfect costume for me, set in motion my demeanor from then on out.
When I was 9 I dressed up as Dracula. The black cape, face paint, and practiced Vampire voice, all in an effort to win the BIG costume contest at the ice cream parlor across the street. I was set to compete with six other boys from the neighborhood, and I was excited to win a prize for my getup, really excited. I strutted in there “Thriller” style, all the confidence in the world. This night would be my coming-out party. In the end everybody won a prize, except me. Have you ever heard of first through fifth place?
Either way, I finished sixth, and that’s when I realized I would never be someone defined by where they came from. OK, maybe they could’ve wrestled up an ice cream coupon, so that every kid in that contest, even me, would get a prize, but I wasn’t raised in the everybody-gets-a-ribbon age. Nope. But on that night everybody did get a ribbon, except me. Cue my jaded, embittered Dracula laugh.
One year I was a clown. Nobody thought I was funny. Why? Because I wasn’t funny, I suppose. I can’t remember the next several Halloweens, 6th-11th grade, I guess. Nope. The next one I remember is when I was a senior in high school, and we decided to egg our math teacher’s house on Mountain View. To this day, it is one of my biggest regrets. He was a math (and science) teacher at Averill Park, still is, and he was the first adult who was nice to me, genuinely nice. He would listen, talk about rock music with me, gave me rides home if I didn’t have one.
From the moment I met him, I respected him, liked him. He had a fun relationship with our whole class, but I always thought that me and him had a better connection. So why did I egg his house with my ‘crew’ that night? Because I was a dumb teenager, and I thought it would be funny, and I was wrong. While we were in carton-emptying launch, Mr. &^%$ opened the front door, and I saw him see me, even though I was dressed in black with my face covered. I knew he knew it was me.
The next morning we were called down to the principal’s office, all three of us, and I was forced to go after school and scrub the dried yoke off his house. I scrubbed that yoke till my fingers were numb, and for the rest of the year I tried to reestablish that relationship we had, but it wasn’t meant to be. I had burned him bad-bad, and I can’t remember him ever speaking to me again during the rest of my high school time. Years later, when I was all ‘grown up,’ I emailed him, apologized for what we had done, thanked him for being so kind. His response was obligatory at best. The truth: I had lost him forever, as a friend, adviser, teacher, on that Halloween night.
In college, and in my twenties, Halloween was about going out on the town, out to parties. There were so many great Halloweens in those eight, ten years that they all blur together in a single, grainy picture of live music and college kids dressed as Super Mario. I always loved going to New Paltz to see my friend when he went to undergraduate there. With its neo-hippie vibe and lacking street lights, I thought it was the perfect place to spend Halloween, just the right amount of creepy and dark.
One time my mother told me that your twenties are just for you, and they’d go fast. She was right on both counts. Suddenly I was too old to be spending my Halloweens that way, college/post-college parties. Suddenly all the other guys were younger, taller, better looking, and it was time for me, and mine, to move along, let the next generation have their run. So I retired my glittery Michael Jackson glove and fedora.
Today Halloween means something much different. It means the living room lights turned low, scary movies with pop corn and soda. It means walking 3 dogs, dressed as a bumble bee, turtle, and chicken, around our neighborhood, my new Halloween Crew, waving to the little kids on the trick or treat trek. Someday soon (I’m sure) it will be an actual human baby in costume, and three dogs, walking with us. But right now Halloween is a happy, relaxing time with my K9's. And sometimes I can’t believe how many Halloweens separate me now from the little kid outfitted as Oscar the Grouch.
And when I have a kid of my own, who maybe enters a neighborhood costume contest as Dracula, and that kid doesn’t come in first, second, third, or fifth, I’ll tell him not to cry the way his dad once did, because the real prize is waiting down the road, way down the road maybe. And when he or she asks how an old timer like me knows that, I’ll tell this story: “The first Halloween costume I remember wearing . . .”