Another pointless holiday rolls around, and the aging, decrepit cynic within me begins to whine like a rusty old machine being laboriously dragged from the comfort of its shaded dwelling. A machine that functions less and less efficiently with each use, but for some inexplicable reason, is forced year after year to churn out lackluster costume ideas.
As a child, a teenager, and even as a young adult human, I was enthralled by costumes. Fascinated by the concept, I was hooked by the execution.
Weeks went into planning -- sketches, doodles, swatch samples of fabric being expertly snipped from garments and upholsteries that were certainly not there to be snipped from. Scrapbooks filled with colorful, gaudy, glittery variations on my favorite fictional characters that I could magically become.
My imagination knew no limits; my commitment was militant. Like the devout little Catholic the nuns were hoping I would be, I buried myself in these wholesome Halloween costumes until those dead scraps of fabric were resurrected to new life.
However, as the years have progressed, the exertion of my effort has diminished substantially, dramatically, almost entirely.
Perhaps it’s the element of fantasy, and increasing lack thereof, that has subsequently tarnished the magic of the event. We know ghosts, ghouls and ghastly witches aren’t real, we know there’s no threat of the underworld breaking through an undiscovered hell portal and savagely tearing us limb from limb while we attempt to retrieve treats from our neighbors.
Without the threat of imminent death. Where’s the fun?
Growing up, we lived around the corner from a spooky old graveyard. Rumor has it that St. Patrick built the very church himself, now nothing more than a crumbling pile of rocks overgrown with wild, wandering foliage, but you can still just about make out the main room of the church and the archways in and out of the prayer rooms.
Surrounding that is a sea of gravestones, some as many as 300 and 400 years old, shoved haphazardly into the ground. One can only assume that many of the stones have been moved, and no longer stand near the bodies they were erected to guard.
Needless to say, this was a hot destination for any young sprog growing up in the countryside with little else but the surrounding flora and fauna for entertainment. We would push through the squeaky iron gate and gently tiptoe through the high grass, gingerly spreading it apart with our fingers to read the engraved names and calculate how old the deceased would be if they had never died. Around Halloween, we would go in the dark.
With white torch beams flickering across the trees, occasionally flashing across the marble top of one of the newer headstones, the graveyard had an even spookier vibe than on any normal day. When we were roughly 11 or 12 years old, my other neighborhood rapscallions and I ventured into the thicket to see what we could discover.
With a total lack of respect but abundance of fear, we stumbled upon a mound of turnip sized stones. Curiously, we began overturning them in our hands, convinced that we might uncover some kind of treasure hidden in the rubble.
Amidst the scraping and thudding of the tumbling rocks unfurled a blood curdling scream followed by the frantic sound of children’s feet fleeing the scene and a dozen flashlight beams racing across the sky. Someone had uncovered a hollow rock with large, cavernous holes that mysteriously resembled a face.
A skull, possibly that of a child’s, fell with a crash as we hurried back to the safety of the road, shutting the gate behind us with all the force we could muster, and vowing never to enter the graveyard again.
Events like this were what made Halloween the holiday it is supposed to be. Not the bobbing for apples, or acquiring a diabetes-inducing quantity of candy during childhood, or the typically revealing costumes and cheap alcohol during adolescence, or the late night raves and gaping holes in your memory of early adulthood.
I think I can safely summarize each phase of my life’s contribution to Halloween stereotypes in varying levels of costume commitment, and sugar or alcohol intake.
This year, I have been invited to a lazily themed “Dead ‘80s High School” Halloween party, and I know I will turn up in jeans and a shirt with some equally lazily make up to hopefully indicate that I am in fact deceased. I have two work events beforehand, and who’s got the time?!
Over the years, I’ve had such unparalleled costume extravaganzas as the renowned and award-winning 1999 Morticia and Wednesday Adams (mother daughter team extraordinaire) which was the first (and only) competition I’ve ever one.
Less impressive, but equally successful was the 2007 belly-dancer which, when paired with my pale, Irish pallor and a vintage dose of cultural appropriation, makes for the most embarrassing set of photographs known to man, pics that I will be hunting down to burn for the rest of my life.
The real winner was 2011’s Broken Dead Doll which actually scared people, myself included. Turns out horror face-paint doesn’t look so great after dancing and sweating for eight hours. It actually just melts into something so horrific, that when you see your own face in the mirror, you scream like a baby.
What I’m truly excited about this year, are some real life spooks. If you’re going to abandon your morals and invade a graveyard (really, only acceptable for small children) or attempt to open communication with the dead, when better than Halloween night? How better, than with a Ouija board?
Halloween may be New York’s favorite holiday, but the roots of this one are firmly embedded in Celtic history, and I intend to use this in my full favor for some real, old-fashioned Halloween spooks. That kind of a witching hour is a costume that I might be willing to fully commit to. Tempting fate, or tempting myself?