Everybody knows that Halloween is a time when it’s fun to be scared, at least if it’s in that intended, playful kind of way and not the kind of fear that one feels when, say, having your car break down after getting lost in a bad neighborhood at 1:00 in the morning. But beyond the simulated haunted houses, horror movie marathons, and devilish pranks, there are other ways that Halloween can sometimes evoke that kind of harmless fear in ways that no one ever intended or even thought of. Halloween-related mishaps and unforeseen circumstances can and have been the cause of instilling a sense of benign fear that rubber spiders or fake eyeballs in the punchbowl cannot. At least in my experience.
And what experience or experiences are those, you want to know? Well, as Halloween approaches, sit back and pour yourself a cup of hot apple cider. For I will tell you.
Anyone who’s grown up in Michigan and trick-or-treated here as a kid probably remembers that, more often than not, it always seemed to be fricking freezing on Halloween night. And if it did happen to be an unusually mild year, then it was probably raining. But at least when you’re a kid, you don’t really care about the weather; all you care about on Halloween night is how big your take of candy is going to be. That is, you might not care about bad weather, but many of us had concerned parents who most definitely were. There was no way that Mom was going to let us set foot outside without a jacket or raincoat. But if you were one of the many kids who wore one of those cheap boxed Ben Cooper costumes, you know full well that a jacket or coat of any substance was not going to fit under it. There probably isn’t one among us who picked out a costume of our favorite character, looked forward to Halloween for weeks so we could show it off for that one hour or two, only to have all of that anticipation go for naught as Mom would stop us at the last second as we headed out the door and make us put our jackets on over our costumes, covering up whatever amazing character or creature we were underneath. And at that point, you were no longer a werewolf or a monster or Batman; you were just a kid in a coat wearing a cheap werewolf or monster or Batman mask. Whatever coolness we thought we evoked was instantly neutralized. It was downright disturbing how easily a parent could de-cool us. To me, the thought that our mothers could wield the kind of power that could all but undo weeks of eager anticipation for trick-or-treating? Now that’s scary.
I remember attending my school’s Halloween dance when I was in 8th grade, although the term “dance” was kind of academic; none of my friends brought a date, and as far as I can remember, none of the girls did, either. It just seemed like both the guys and gals showed up with a bunch of friends, congregated on opposite sides of the cafeteria where the band was playing, and maybe would dance together in a group setting for a few songs before returning to the sidelines. Yet somehow, it was fun. And among the other festivities that year was a pumpkin carving contest, where the contestants were drawn based on raffle tickets given to each attendee at the door. I remember, though, that when the time came and the school faculty drew the numbers, I actually prayed that my number wouldn’t be drawn, because I had never carved a pumpkin without my dad present, who would always remove the pumpkin guts for me because I was absolutely grossed out by that part of the process. I mean, it made me feel like I was going to hurl. And, I didn’t really have any of my own creative ideas for a Jack o’ Lantern face, so I feared being made fun of if my three-triangles-and-a-crescent design didn’t match up to some kid from art class who could probably carve the face of Mephistopheles in exquisite detail. As fate would have it, though, my number was called. So I quickly switched my ticket with a discarded one on the table I was sitting at, and simply sat quietly, kept my head down, and watched the staff and students vainly search for the owner of that ticket, until they gave up and just drew another number. My clever switch and stone-faced patience allowed me avert the potential twin disasters of getting sick in front of everyone at the dance and the likely ridicule over a dumb looking pumpkin. Because nearly tossing your cookies while carving a lame Jack o’ Lantern in front of everyone you go to school with? Now that’s scary.
The following year, I remember finding a really cool make-up kit at Toys ‘R Us, one that allowed you to make up a bunch of really repulsive looking scars and gashes with a compound that you’d mix with water and pour into a plastic mold. When it was ready, you had these really realistic latex-like scars that you could paste onto your face, neck, hands, whatever. I begged my mom to buy this kit for me, and she did. And I practiced with it in the weeks prior to Halloween, going into the bathroom and coming out with some hideous looking scar across my cheek and taking great delight in my mom’s horrified reaction. And my dad’s, when he got home from work. So when Halloween night came, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to get that kind of reaction from my friends. So I made up a whole array of scars, welts, and other injuries and probably spent an hour in the bathroom turning my face into a pulpy, disgusting work of art. This was going to be the best Halloween ever, I thought to myself, and since I was 14 at the time, I figured it would be my last time trick-or-treating, so I might as well go out in as disgusting a manner as I possibly could. Which is exactly what I did, but not in the way I intended. Because I quickly discovered that the aforementioned cold temperatures outside caused the scars to shrink, or the glue not to work, or something, for each one of the dozen or so artificial facial injuries soon started to peel off as I made my way down the street, after only a few minutes outside. It seemed that every time I opened my mouth to yell “Trick or Treat,” part of my face would fall off. And there I was, fruitless trying to stick it back on, in the dark, without the benefit of any glue. Or a mirror. And every time I tried to re-affix a scar or welt, I would just end up mangling it. So I could only imagine how ridiculous I must have looked as my face fell apart all over the sidewalk, as I was repeatedly stopping and trying to retrieve the pieces. Although I no longer had to imagine, once I walked by a group of older teens and one of them asked me, “Hey kid, who threw up on your face?” And word must have gotten around, because everyone in school the next day asked me if that was supposed to be vomit on my face. Every kid knows that it’s bad enough when people can’t identify who you’re supposed to be while in costume, but when they truly think you’re going out as someone who just got barfed on? Now that’s scary.
None of these were traumatic incidents or anything, and I should be thankful they occurred, giving me the subject for a lengthy column. But as a kid, you tend to be afraid of things that now carry less meaning, like being embarrassed or made fun of. And these occurrences did still a kind of fear in me that the thought of ghosts and goblins did not, but it was a fear that was quickly forgotten and eventually laughed at. Like most “scary” things on Halloween.
So may your All Hallows Eve be free from cheap costumes, poor weather, your face falling off, and only carve a pumpkin if you want to. Happy Halloween, all!