Since my blogging day falls on Halloween this year, I figured I’d put politics on hold for a week and thaw out and doctor up an old post I wrote in 2009, about my best Halloween memories and adventures. It's not as scary as having your house broken into and getting beaten with a hammer by a crazed enemy of your wife, but... oops, there's politics again.
I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, it was just the candy and costumes. As a grownup, it’s a chance to remember the candy and costumes of youth, plus stick a thumb in the eye of the religious right that thinks it has something to do with Satanism or evil doing. (Once again, “God’s Chosen” are on the lookout in case someone, somewhere, might be having fun.)
Unfortunately, the neighborhood I live in does not appear to participate in Halloween. I’ve lived in this particular apartment for 11 years (at the time of original writing, and 10 more after that) and have never had a single trick-or-treater, or seen anyone in costume in the streets. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a house decoration up either. My particular area of Baltimore is home predominantly to Orthodox Jews, but I don’t know if that’s the root cause. All I know is that Halloween is a big goose-egg here.
On the bright side, there is always a lot of good candy on sale the day after Halloween.
Back when I lived (as a grownup) in Albany NY, we had some very good years with Halloween. The best was the year I also worked at a crafts store that sold all kinds of good seasonal stuff. I did up the front of the house with spider webs, a black light, glowing red eyes in the window, and a CD player hidden under the stairs that played creepy music.
The killer, though, was the Scream Mat. You plug it in and set it in front of the door, so when someone steps on it, there’s an ear-splitting shriek. That’s a good way not to miss any trick-or-treaters because there would always be at least two screams… one from the mat plus one (or more) from whoever stepped on it.
The Scream Mat belonged to the (ex) wife. I suspect, but cannot prove, that she was also the voice model. All I can say is that it sounded awfully familiar.
It’s really too bad that kids now can’t enjoy Halloween the way so many of us used to. Once I got to be in maybe 5th or 6th grade, my friends and I would take off on our own and work the neighborhood until we dropped or everyone turned out the lights. I had the fortune of living in nice little suburban neighborhoods back then, so it was just block after block of families. We never used those plastic pumpkins to hold our goodies, either. We used pillowcases! Gotta aim high, after all. We also had to pay my dad the Milk Dud Tax. He’d always say, “Remember, your Milk Duds go to the house.”
In college, I went to a party dressed specifically as Tommy Chong. (I had a real beard, by then.) The kicker was, well, does anyone remember the Cheech and Chong album, “Big Bambu”? It came with 12” long rolling papers. I took those papers and rolled a big fat joint made of chewing tobacco and carried it around with me. You should have heard the cars beeping at me as I walked down the street to the party! In retrospect, I’m pretty lucky none of those cars had any red and blue lights on them, or I’d have had some ‘splaining to do. I'd have to hope the officer in question could tell chewing tobacky from wacky tobacky
Yes, I know that’s Cheech and not Chong, but it’s the only pic I could find with that big joint.
Remember back in the early ’80s when generic packaging was popular? They’d have these goods with white packaging and black lettering that said what the product was. Like there would be a plain white can that just said “BEER”. Or if you were minding your generic calories, you could opt for “LIGHT BEER”. Nothing like having generic options!
I went to one college party as a Generic Man. This was another easy homemade costume. I just wore plain black and white and labeled everything I wore or carried. There was SHIRT, HAT, BELT, SUSPENDERS, SNEAKERS, etc. Obviously, I brought generic BEER, which I, unfortunately, had to then drink. My favorite bit was the white jeans with a little emblem on the back pocket that said, in a fancy cursive font, “DESIGNER JEANS”.
Halloween of 1988 came with a tough choice. I was managing a record store in Cleveland at the time, and I could either go to our district Halloween party, or I could use the free tickets and backstage pass I had to see Joan Jett open for Robert Plant. That one was a no-brainer. First I went to the party, in another cheap but effective homemade costume, using nothing but the cardboard collar insert to a new dress shirt, and put it on a black button-down shirt. Shazam, I’m a priest!
Then after spending a couple hours at the party, I went to the show. (Yes, I changed first.) No way was I turning down a chance to see my queen.
I hung out with her and the band backstage, caught her set, and then dashed back for the rest of the Halloween party. Screw Robert Plant… I was never a big Zep fan and I thought his new solo album was lame.
My “Best Halloween Ever” (that doesn’t include hanging out with rock stars) was my last year of trick-or-treating when I was in 8th grade. My buddy, David, had an aunt who worked with Civil Defense. I don’t know if they do this anymore but back then, Civil Defense used to stage these elaborate mock disasters designed to test emergency readiness. They would simulate a massive car wreck, train derailment or airplane crash and have the EMTs come and do triage, “treat” us and sometimes take us in the ambulance to a hospital.
For all these exercises, they needed volunteers to be made up like accident victims. That’s where my friend and I came in. We probably did 3 or 4 of these things and while there, learned some tricks of the “horrifying makeup” trade. So for our last hurrah, his aunt got us some supplies and we both made ourselves up to be accident victims.
I used putty to build up “tissue” on my forearm and stuck a chicken bone in it, to simulate a compound fracture. My buddy spread putty over half his face, hollowed out a spot where an eye would go, and stuck a few little sticks into it. I also used rubber cement to layer on my arms, then lifted up the “skin” and stuck “bloody” cotton balls underneath it. This nicely simulated a serious burn. And of course, we covered ourselves with loads of fake blood. (Recipe: cocoa, Karo syrup, and red food coloring… we had to repeat it at every stop.)
We went out and just had a blast. Everyplace we’d go, whoever answered the door would go back and drag out anyone that was home.
"Go get Grandma to come see these boys!”
We'd have the whole family peering through the door at us like we were some kind of biological experiment gone wrong. When people asked what happened to us, we’d usually say something like, “we were chasing parked cars.” I damn near filled the pillowcase that year, boy. I think I stretched that candy out until at least December. And Dad was flush with Milk Duds.
I wasn’t allowed to go out anymore after that… I was too old for it, my parents said. So I got to stay home and hand out candy. And from my brother and sister, collect the Zagnut Tax.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention one of my favorite costume ideas I’ve seen, which was pulled off many years ago by my sister and her husband. She wore a life jacket and carried an oar. He wore thigh-high fishing boots. They went to a Halloween party as Row vs Wade. I suppose if they tried that again now, each would have to have a dagger hanging out of their backs.
When I first moved in with Sweetpea, we’d get two or three trick-or-treaters, max. Since COVID in 2020, there have been exactly zero. But that doesn’t stop Sweetpea from buying at least three bags of candy every year. I keep telling her that one bag will be more than enough, but she wants to be prepared. I’m like, “Then at least buy the good stuff, OK?”
I was hoping for Snickers and Reese’s, but she got Twix, Butterfingers, and a bag of various Tootsie items. I can live with that though, which is good because I know whose job it’s going to be to eat this stuff. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.
She’ll say, “I can always give it away…”
And I’m like, “Well, let’s not be too hasty… We don’t want to give anybody cavities…”