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Wednesday, 01 November 2006 00:00

The horrifying beauty of Halloween made simple

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“Excuse me, miss, but did you happen to see a princess and a small cow come through here a minute ago?”

 

One good thing about Halloween parties is that if you lose your kids, they are usually fairly easy to describe. You may believe your kids are the world’s most gorgeous, as I clearly do, but try listing their physical features to any objective person and within seconds you can plainly see that they have heard the exact same description — “soulful brown eyes,” “bewitching smile,” “silky, tousled hair” about 10,000 times before. They would never, ever be able to pick your kid out of a lineup based on your description. But if your kid were dressed as the Loch Ness Monster or Rush Limbaugh, well, that would be much easier. Not that we would dress either of our kids as Rush Limbaugh. We wouldn’t want them bringing home a plastic pumpkin filled with prescription drugs, now would we?

We settled on a cow and a princess after quite a bit of time mulling it over. When I say “quite a bit of time,” of course I mean several months. We have spent more time trying to decide what our kids should be for Halloween than I spent deciding on my college major, or Tammy spent deciding on me. Maybe that’s pretty normal, but it seems out of kilter somehow, like spending 85 percent of your monthly income on athletic socks or Wheat Thins.

Then again, when I look at what other kids are wearing for Halloween, I guess we’re not that far out of balance. These days, parents go to breathtaking extremes to transform their little tikes into fire-breathing dragons or little mermaids, complete with damp, scaly tails. I imagine these poor kids strapped into chairs in kitchens all across this great land of ours, their proud mamas working on them feverishly with paint, glue, and various and sundry items from the local craft shop, until, hours later, voila, they are transformed from mere children into grotesque sculptures, horrific works of art. Little Benji is the Wolf Man, Little Susie a Vegas showgirl!

These are the same parents who “help” their children with their eighth-grade science projects, parents who believe quite sincerely that their children will not only suffer from self-esteem trauma if they don’t win, they may not even get into Stanford. Someone will just have to tell Timmy that his volcano, even if it does erupt like he says it will, is not going to win out over Jenny’s project, a lunch box/laptop computer with a built-in plasma screen television, for which she hopes to procure a patent. Put that in your lava and smoke it, Timmy. Jenny is going to Stanford, damn it. And this Halloween, she is going trick or treating as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will go door to door reading her neighbors their Miranda Rights.

I’m sort of glad things were different when I was a kid. We had Halloween costumes, too, of course, but they were seldom as elaborate as those you see today. I don’t have any data to support this assertion, but I would say that roughly half the kids in the 1970s dressed up as “ghosts” for Halloween. It’s not that ghosts were particularly big in the 70s. More likely, the costume was just a frightfully easy one for parents to conjure up at the last minute. Hmmm, if we take this bed sheet, and cut two slits about where her eyes would be — voila! Little Norma is one scary ghost! Say “boo” honey bunny.

When the “Friday the 13th” movies began, parents caught another break, in the event that their kids didn’t necessarily want to go trick or treating as a ghost for the sixth consecutive year. Now all they had to do was get a hockey mask and maybe a plastic knife. Voila! Little Jermaine is suddenly one scary “Jason” serial killer of hormonally-challenged teenagers. Give him some candy or he’ll cut your throat, ha ha ha ha.

As a lifelong lover of justice, I could never cotton to the killers, ghouls, and goblins. I preferred Batman, who had an obvious dark side to his heroism that I found more fetching than Superman’s goody two shoeism, or Spiderman’s goofy shtick. The Batman costume, as I recall, consisted of a very thin and brittle plastic mask with a rubber band. I believe we used a dark and mysterious towel for my cape, and a tee shirt with a bat painted in the center with a magic marker. I thought the bat looked more like an oatmeal cookie, but I didn’t want to upset my mother, who may have still harbored illusions that I would one day be enrolled at Stanford.

(Chris Cox is a teacher and writer who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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