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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween For the Purist Part Two: Adulthood

In Part One, I talked about how Halloween was a special time for me as a kid. Unfortunately, there is a definite transitional period where Halloween is left in the time of a child and a few years go by where you don’t really have a lot of exposure to it as a teenager, unless you are invited to a lot of costume parties. I only went to one, as Freddy Krueger, and it was disastrous. It will be forever known as “The Afghan Incident.” Now, I did attend a Junior High School dance in that costume which was cool. I didn’t have a green and red sweater but I had a red and white one and a fedora. I was able to construct the glove myself, using a beige glove and foil covered Popsicle sticks that were tapered off at the end to look like Freddy’s blades. I then applied make up to achieve the burned look. It was pretty cool, but still not authentic.

In high school, I had a couple of occasions and even took part in that rite of passage known as corning or tic tacking. My friends and I lived near a lot of farms and would often sneak into the fields to steal corn which prompted the farmer to brandish his shotgun and fire over our heads. Kids would then go out at night and toss loose corn kernels at cars and houses around Halloween. That was probably the least damaging thing you can do. The more serious offenses involved other food items.

Another group of friends had decided to go egging one night. I had never done something this destructive but I gave into peer pressure and we went out and wrought havoc in the neighborhood. We drove up through one neighborhood, sneaking off the back of my friend’s truck and up to people’s houses to steal the pumpkins off their porches. Once nabbed, we tossed them off the back of the truck bed, smashing them onto the road. Then, we picked the one guy who had been egged one too many times and hit his house. He got in his truck and followed us, getting the license plate number. The next day, I received a call from the police saying my friends had already rolled over on me being involved and we got cited $93 each. My parents were none too happy and it resulted in the only grounding that ever stuck in my life. Worse yet, I had already spent money on tickets to see Def Leppard in concert and wasn’t allowed to go. After that, I pretty much stuck to watching movies on television and staying home on Halloween for the next couple of years.

Now, in college, there was a renewed opportunity to engage in some Halloween fun. Aside from an unrealized idea of trick or treating throughout the dorms with alcohol shots in place of candy, there was the occasional Halloween party at one of the coolest venues on the planet. That would Evaline.

It’s hard to describe what Evaline is, at least from my perspective during the years of 1995-1998. In fact, I don’t think you can describe it. You have to experience it. For those not looking for an existential understanding, it’s rather simple. Evaline is also called Hotel Evaline. It’s a venue, of sorts, on Evaline Street in Pittsburgh, near UPMC Shadyside Hospital. Now, for a couple of years I had been in regular attendance at FNI, which stands for Friday Nite Improvs. The people behind the madness were associated with the house on Evaline street and it was commonplace for there to be a Halloween Party every year. I had been to three separate parties during my time at Pitt. Each one more surreal than the previous. Actually, it was quite simply a chance for all of us in the theatre department, or on the fringe, to be those wacky things we call ourselves.

For the first year, I accompanied two friends of mine to the party entitled, “Pimps and Johns.” You basically had two choices for costumes. I went as a Puerto Rican pimp in a skin tight shirt and chinos with a hat, although people thought I looked more like Michael Jackson. My friend, Ray managed to snag a Pope style costume, complete with miter, and went as Pope John Paul Robinovitz. He was Jewish…you see. I was very drunk and wanted to stay all night because at a party like this, someone as single and lonely as I could have managed to find someone who was as drunk or worse. Unfortunately, like most Evaline parties, they always fell on the day before a Tech Rehearsal for a Mainstage show. I needed to be in bed for the early morning call.

The second year was “The Loving Dead” and I flew solo for that party. I dressed up as the Crow, complete with makeup and fake bird on my shoulder. I actually rode a PAT bus from campus to Shadyside before walking the rest of the way. Unfortunately, it was already after Halloween since it fell on a Tuesday that year. I got more looks than I would have normally had it been on Halloween. That was the first and last time I ever drank Pure Grain alcohol. It was mixed into something called Pain Punch and had no alcoholic taste whatsoever. I had six or seven cups from the dry ice filled cooler. I didn’t even feel drunk as I walked the entire way home, escorting a friend dressed as a roller girl…not the roller girl, but a roller girl back to her apartment. I then carried on the rest of the way home and work later in time to vomit the entire contents of my stomach into the toilet across the hall from my dorm room.

The third time I was dating a girl who had a slight resemblance to Uma Thurman so we went as Mia Wallace and Vince Vega from Pulp Fiction. This time, I brought in a ringer as a date. I didn’t get nearly as inebriated as I had in the past but still had an awesome time.

Since I’ve graduated, Evaline has raised the bar in its parties. I wish I could still attend but I reached that level of adulthood, and parenthood, in suburbia that was robbed me of my adventurous nature. In all seriousness, a lot of the guys involved are older than me and they have the proximity and the lifestyles that can still run with the crowd, I just don’t have it in me anymore. I have moved onto the next level of Halloween purity, which is on the other end of the spectrum from childhood.

When I began living on my own, I really didn’t have a lot of interest in getting my bachelor pad decorated for the holidays. My wife, then girlfriend, had other ideas. She had a childhood where the holidays exploded in their home, leaving traces of decorations from ceiling to floor. She had decided to do the same with my place.

When I had moved into my townhouse and she had pretty much moved in as well, I had the opportunity to decorate outside the home. This where the man should decorate, although I do have the responsibility of decorating the tops of the entertainment center and mantle as well as the trees for Christmas. However, outside is where the man lives or dies by the decoration. My first attempt at Halloween decorations took form as a hooded ghoul made of PVC pipe and dressed in black robes hiding behind a tree. It looked to be coming straight out of the ground around the tree which had headstones placed in front of it. These headstones were made from hard polystyrene, used in floral arrangements, and spray painted gray to achieve the granite look. A green flood lamp finished off the effect. For all my work, I spent the next month putting Mr. Pipes, as I called him, back together as the wind would tear him apart. I also had no real audience for Mr. Pipes to scare because I never saw a trick or treater while I lived there.

Where I live now is ridiculous when it comes to trick or treaters. I have a great venue to display my resourcefulness in constructing a yard display. I have a huge oak tree in my front yard and it makes for a great cemetery. My original headstones ended up getting tossed out so I had to redo them. I bought fake, bendable spiders and rubber snakes and some small plastic fencing that looked like wrought iron. I bought a hanging skeleton which I had no place to hang, so I mounted it on a metal rod that was used for a Citronella torch. It was very wobbly and when the wind hit the skeleton it would sway back and forth over the graveyard. My flood lamp came back into play and it was truly an awesome sight and got a lot of comments from passersby.

That all came to an end, though with the birth of my daughter. It has for now, anyway, until she is old enough to understand that the yard isn’t scary. Now, the house needs to be decorated in a more kid friendly way. I don’t necessarily mean in the types of decorations, I mean their placement in relationship to my daughter’s height. She has a knack for grabbing anything that looks interesting. And though she’s only two, I think she is getting the idea of Halloween. She’s got two costumes this year. She went trick or treating, as a cat, at the assisted living home where my wife’s grandmother is residing and on Halloween she will be a pumpkin for trick or treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, she wants to wear her little kitten ears and tail part of her first costume with every outfit, everyday. It’s cute but continually falls off everywhere.

And that first real round of candy getting she had this year has her fully anticipating the main event on Saturday. I do not envy my wife having to bring her home after trick or treating. I will probably take some turns over the next few years but right now, I have a bigger job. I am in charge of the candy dish. We have an insane amount of kids that end up coming to my door. This is where my grumpiness takes full effect.

I like the little kids that come up with their parents, in full costume, looking so proud of themselves. I hate the older kids that wear a mask and carry a pillow case as if that qualifies as a costume. Some, don’t even bother with the mask. They paint their face or wear a football jersey and call it a costume. Some, come back more than once. The first year we gave out candy at our house we were killed with walk ups. I ended up having to scrounge for granola bars and individual Hershey’s Kisses by the end. My wife wanted to be all Martha Stewart with little treat bags and we quickly realized it was like feeding hungry wolves. You just throw the meat and run. Don’t let them see the fear in your eyes and never run out of candy. That gets you egged, corned, or worse.

In order to combat this lack of Halloween commitment, I have two candy bowls. The one for little kids has the good stuff and they each get a couple of candy bars from it. The other is the stuff my wife couldn’t get her piano students to take after a lesson and it goes to the older kids and repeaters. If I am not paying attention, they might also find a beer bottle cap snuck into their bag by my brother in law as a “trick.” As wrong as it is, it’s always funny to think of some teenager getting yelled at by their parents because of the beer cap in their pillow case. Although, I highly doubt their parents check their candy for anything sharp.

While giving out candy is part of the fun, the real fun comes from afterwards. As soon as the end of trick or treating comes, we close the door, shut out the light, and eat. In the past we’ve had hot dogs and sauerkraut in the crock pot and my Father-in-law’s famous chili for dinner. Each as equally satisfying a meal for a cold October night. It’s sad really. Most of my holidays revolve around food and eating lots of it. It’s better than them revolving around trips to the hospital, which is usually the trend.

As the night winds down and the company goes home, I settle onto the couch for watching the “recorded from television” version of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I own a copy on DVD, but there is something about seeing it on television that makes it all the more enjoyable. In fact, in 2007, when my daughter was just four months old, I propped her up next to me on the couch to watch The Great Pumpkin. She half paid attention, which is understandable for an infant, but this year she was sucked in completely. Score one for me, my kid digs Charlie Brown.

I will also flip around to see if there are any scary movies or such on the other channels while cleaning out the candy dish. Come November first it’s all over for another year. The holiday season begins in earnest around here, after Halloween, but I have seen Christmas advertisements before November. Soon it’s back to the yard with the rake for the leaves and the discarded candy wrappers, damn kids. Another year is gone and it soon becomes harder and harder to get into full commitment to Halloween festivities, but Halloween for the purist is as ageless as the faces on the plastic masks we would wear way back when. The body may grow older, but the heart stays young. Some may say we purists where it on our sleeve…. Now that would be a cool costume.

So, what are your greatest Halloween memories? Share them here.

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