Halloween is one of those holidays that started off as a quasi-religious holiday, All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day.
It has morphed into a joyful, secular feast day for adults who binge on their children’s trick or treat booty.
It’s a wonderful day for kids of all ages.
Because the specter of COVID has tainted this year’s celebration, I thought I would share some of my happiest memories of Halloween as a sort of tribute to better times to which we all yearn to return.
I am not sure how old I was, but my first recollection of dressing up for Halloween was a clown. I even had a red nose provided by the lipstick in my mother’s purse or maybe my sister’s? In any event, I had that red nose the rest of my life, or so it has seemed.
In my early grammar school years, dressing up as a hobo (not sure the word hobo is politically correct any longer) for which you wore ragged clothes, which was not hard to do, and a relatively complete darkening of the countenance provided by burnt cork. I can still smell the burnt cork as it was delicious.
Now, please understand this was not blackface ala minstrel shows so offensive to African Americans. If anything, we were emulating Emmett Kelly, the clown, and Freddy The Freeloader. (Look these up if you are unfamiliar with them. That’s what Google is for.)
Also, during these years, it was not uncommon to fill an old sock with flour and then use it as a weapon of sorts meant to leave a white blast of flour on your friends’ pants or jackets. Alternatively, we often bought a couple of pastel chalk sticks and put them into the sock and smash it up as fine as possible. The beautiful marks these sock bombs would leave continue to fill me with Halloween joy and bliss.
But then I matured.
Halloween 1963 arrived, and our friend Jeannie had a party.
We had a great group of eighth and seventh graders, and hormones were arriving on every corner of our neighborhood. Suddenly, the girls in our group were absolutely gorgeous, so the prospect of a party with girls was reason enough to leave the old worn out Halloween cliches behind.
I got dressed as a beatnik.
Jimmy wanted to be cool, and for that one night only, October 31, 1963, I may have, in fact, pulled it off. (It’s kind of sad realizing that one’s ultimate moment of coolness occurred when you were 13, and it was all downhill after that.)
Nevertheless, there I was in a black turtleneck sweater, black jeans, a burnt cork provided goatee (some cliches are often cliches for a reason), a pair of sunglasses, and a beret.
Trying to talk like Maynard G Krebs ( look it up) was the icing on my bohemian cake.
Nothing much happened during the next twenty-five years in the Halloween category.
My next adventure occurred when I was teaching at St. Vito’s school in Mamaroneck.
Eileen and I lived in Flushing, and one of the teachers I worked with, Ann, was hosting a Halloween party with her husband, Marty.
Ann was enthusiastic about her guests dressing up for her parties, as you will learn in a subsequent account.
For this party in 1977, I was flummoxed as to what to wear. I had the idea of wrapping myself in bandages like a mummy. I spent quite a bit on those bandages, but it went really well. So well that when I paid the toll on the White Stone Bridge, I got quite a double-take from the toll collector. The good news it was an acceptable costume, but they may have gone easy on the new teacher that year.
The following year Eileen and I got dressed up as Harpo and Grouch Marx.
We were terrific and had prepared little bits.
Groucho advises Harpo, “Young man, don’t you realize you cannot burn a candle at both ends?”
To which Harpo responds by pulling out a candle burning at both ends from underneath his coat.
We had others, and we had a great time.
If you know anything about me, you know that I am a big Superman fan. No kid who grew up in the 50s wasn’t a fan of Superman, but I am 70 years old, and I watch the Superman DVDs every Saturday.
I had left St. Vito’s and eventually teaching and started a career in higher education thanks to my great friend Mike. I was working as a Director of Financial Aid, and Anne was having another Halloween Party.
Again, I was stumped as to what kind of costume to wear.
The party’s day arrived, and Karen, another teacher from St Vito’s, asked if we would give her a lift up to Ann and Marty’s.
Ann and Marty now lived in Brewster, NY, and it got cold early there. Marty invested in a wood-burning stove to offset the ridiculous cost of oil. On any given evening, the temperature in the house could be in the 80’s. This has a bearing on later events.
I was wearing a pinstripe suit more conducive to Wall Street than Yankee Stadium. My reply to the Million Dollar Question, “What are you supposed to be?” was simple. A Director of Financial Aid.
Karen seemed to buy it but barely.
She, on the other hand, got dressed up as a ballerina, only a tutu. Karen was cold.
I have a wool suit on, and I had to have the heat in the car blasting because she was in a tutu.
We get to Anne and Marty’s, and it was a full house. Between the crowd and the stove, it felt like it was ninety degrees. I was wilting.
To make matters worse, I had to put up with Anne’s disappointment.
Halfway through the party, Anne finally confronted me and asked me what I was supposed to be. I said a Director of Financial Aid.
She Mocked me, but then I continued.
I put on a pair of glasses and said, “Or perhaps a mild-mannered reporter?”
Her eyes widened, and her voice quivered, “Y y y you d d d didn’t!!
“Oh, didn’t I!”
I then took off my glasses and took off my suit and shirt and tie to reveal a stunning Superman outfit created out of blue thermal underwear and a red cape.
I got the bottle of Champagne for the best costume five seconds later.
I sweat a lot that Halloween, but I made someone’s night, I am sure.
I guess that is what really made Halloween so special. You got to spend it with your best friends, your life’s friends. Friends you still hold dear in your seventies.
The candy is just a bonus.