Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Halloween Story

This story was originally written 12 years ago. Therefore, it is not only a good tale, but also an historical document. Many of the references are now downright archaic, not unlike the author. I think you'll find it enjoyable, anyway.


I'm going to go out trick-or-treating with my nieces and nephews. Problem is, what do I dress up as? Or maybe I shouldn't dress up at all? It's very confusing.

MY WIFE is dressing up as Howard Stern. When she rats out her hair, she actually looks like him to a certain extent, except she's a foot-and-a-half shorter and has boobs, not to mention a more pleasant personality. She suggests that we go as sort of an odd couple and that I dress up as Rush Limbaugh. Trouble is, I don't look anything at all like Rush Limbaugh, so I'd have to do too much explaining about my costume.

If there's anything more annoying on Halloween, than explaining to people what you're supposed to be, then you'll have to tell me what it is because I sure can't think of it. You spend all day fixing up a costume - gathering the odds and ends necessary to make it convincing, and working on your character in front of a mirror, practicing an accent or a funny walk - and you steel yourself for the inevitable staring and fingerpointing from strangers. Then, when you arrive at the party (or whatever it is that you're going to) the first thing out of someone's mouth isn't "Hello!"; it's "What are you supposed to be?", and then you have to explain that you're Rush Limbaugh. This gets one of two responses. Either, "Oh, yeah! Right...", which is totally bogus because you know that this person will stare at you all night as though you were some kind of a nut, and will not so surreptitiously point you out to people as the idiot who thinks he looks like Rush Limbaugh, or "Oh, of course! How could I be so stupid!", which is far worse because now every time that this well-meaning person introduces you to someone else, he or she will feel a need to explain your costume to the person you're now meeting, like, "Bob, this is Jim. He's dressed up as Rush Limbaugh. Isn't it an excellent costume?", to which Bob says, "Oh, yeah! Right..."

The only thing more degrading is to be dressed up in an unrecognizable costume when you're with kids. As a rule, kids will not cut you any slack. They'll tell you right off the bat that you don't look like what you're supposed to be. Or, if you're dressed up as Rush Limbaugh, they probably won't even know what you're supposed to be in the first place. And, even after you tell them, they still won't have any idea what you're talking about. So then you're stuck explaining the concept of Rush Limbaugh - which is no easy task when talking to adults, let alone a six-year old.

Well, in any case, I'm still wrestling with the dilemma of whether to even wear a costume at all. I mean, we're just going to escort the kids around the neighborhood and I probably won't get any candy anyway, so why bother? However, MY WIFE has worked really hard on her Howard Stern outfit, so I can't just leave her in the lurch. She's even gone so far as to make a mocked-up cover of Stern's book, Private Parts, and pasted it onto a copy of the Book Of Mormon which we had lying around (don't ask - that's another story) so now, as a good husband, it's my duty to come up with something at least marginally convincing.

I start looking around the house for something I can convert into a costume. I know, and you know, that I could settle for going to the store and buying a mask, or one of those make-up kits they sell around this time of year that you put on and never quite look like the person on the packaging (you always look more like Eddie Munster on a three-day bender than Dracula) but I can't do that. Too easy. To satisfy my ego, I need something at least a bit more original than that. So, I start thinking. This invariably gets me into trouble, but I do it anyway.

Let's see. I have some old golf clubs in the basement, so I could wear a sweater and some loud pants and go as a golfer. Nah. Who wants to carry around a load of golf clubs all night? Besides, it's not original enough. For the same reason (non-originality) I dismiss dressing up as a clown, although I do have the wardrobe for it. I toy with the idea of going as The Ultimate Politically Incorrect White Guy. I'll wear blackface, fix up my eyes to look slanty, put on a feathered headdress, and sashay around and lisp. I nix that idea, however, because (somewhat ironically) it would present pretty much the same set of problems as if I chose to dress as Rush Limbaugh.

(The kids, of course, would love it. They'd think it was the funniest thing they'd seen since the last time one of their friends spit up milk through his nose. Kids don't care about politically correct, as long as it's funny. And, neither does my father-in-law. However, I digress.)

Now, I've been growing my hair long for the past year. I wear it in a ponytail in back. [Note from the future: I did say I wrote this 12 years ago, right?] So I start thinking about what sort of costume can be constructed around this already-existing prop? And it hits me! Who wore ponytails? The founding fathers of our country, of course. And who better to accompany Howard Stern than Thomas Jefferson? Free speech, and all that.

I find that it's relatively easy to put together a Thomas Jefferson costume. You just wear white knee socks outside of your pants so that they look like knickers. In strategic places, you attach a bit of lace to a white shirt. You throw on a pair of loafers and there you go. Instant Jefferson! I do up my ponytail in a ribbon, after plastering my hair down with about a gallon of hair spray, and we're on our way.

The first problem encountered by any adult who has dressed up for Halloween is this: "How do I get from the house to my car without the neighbors seeing me?" This doesn't bother MY WIFE at all, because she doesn't care what the neighbors think. It normally wouldn't bother me, either, except I'm not sure our neighbors would know the real Thomas Jefferson if he walked down our street, so I don't want them to think I've just suddenly gone fey, what with the knickers and ruffed shirt and the bow in my hair. So, I try to get to our car as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. MY WIFE, of course, thinks this is ridiculous. With a little bit of the real Howard Stern creeping into her personality, she yells, "Look everybody! It's Jim Sullivan in a costume! Look! Look!" Thoroughly embarrassed (she loves to see me blush, which I do readily) I start the car and then we're finally on the road, where nobody can get a really good look at me, thank you.

Except: We need gas.

MY WIFE, reverting to her usual self (that is, thoughtful and nice) offers to go into the store and buy the gas herself (it's one of those pay-before-you-pump self-serve places), but she doesn't know how to operate the pump, so I'm going to have to do that myself. Swell. I decide that I can rearrange part of my costume to be not overly-conspicuous. I put on a hat and a jacket. That takes care of most of the top of me, but the bottom half is much tougher. I roll down the knee-socks, untuck my pants legs, and now I don't look too bad, except that with the kind of jacket I'm wearing and the white socks with black shoes, I now look like Cliff Claven. While pumping the gas, I try to decide which is more humiliating - looking like a postal nerd, or looking like I just came running full-tilt out of the closet. I decide that I've had more experience in my life looking like a nerd than a refugee from an Adam Ant album, so pumping the gas doesn't offer me any sort of humiliation that I haven't handled up until now, so it's OK.

The gas is pumped. I get in the car and re-arrange myself back into a reasonable facsimile of a 1700's plantation owner (which, I just realize, may be even more politically incorrect than a blackfaced, slanty-eyed, lisping Native American) and we're back on the road to Duxbury.


The rest of the trip down to my in-laws is uneventful.

As we're pulling into the driveway, we're immediately greeted by our nieces; a four-year old named Alyssa and a six-year old named Caitlyn. Being an aunt and uncle without children of our own, and therefore allowed to act like children ourselves (at least part of the time) we are, of course, beloved. They have been awaiting our arrival for some time now and they no sooner saw our car than they were running to meet it.

Their Aunt, MY WIFE, dressed as Howard Stern doesn't seem to faze them. I am another story, however. Alyssa just sort of stares at me, with her big smile frozen in place. She knows that this is a joke of some sort, and she's not quite sure what, but she's willing to wait for the punch line. Caitlyn, on the other hand, being much more worldly (she is six, after all) recognizes the joke immediately. She knows that Uncle Jimmy is dressed for Halloween. She doesn't know what he's dressed as, but it is funny, so she rolls her eyes (an expression she utilizes so often it has come to be known among the family as "Caitlyn eyes") and laughs.

I tell them that I'm Thomas Jefferson. This brings two puzzled expressions. I ask them if they know who Thomas Jefferson is. Caitlyn kind of nods her head, while Alyssa, bless her little heart, says that I look like a president. Thus fortified with confidence in my disguise, I proceed with MY WIFE and the girls to the house.

On the way, we're informed of the fact that Caitlyn is going to be a witch and Alyssa a devil. I ask them if they know who MY WIFE is supposed to be. "A Chinese lady?", asks Alyssa, since as part of her Howard Stern outfit, MY WIFE has chosen to wear a long, flowing robe with embroidery, a bit similar to the robe that Stern wears (somewhat) on the cover of his book. I find it gratifying to know that I look more like a president, to a four-year old, than MY WIFE looks like a geeky shock-jock. Actually, I find it not so much gratifying that I look like a president as I do that MY WIFE looks more like a woman than she does Howard Stern, no matter how much work she put into her costume.

As we enter the house, and exchange pleasantries with various relatives, I find out something curious concerning the American psyche. Each person I greet sees me as a different character from the revolution. I am variously mistaken for Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, George Washington, and Samuel Adams. I guess everybody has his or her favorite. Mine just happens to be Jefferson.

When MY WIFE announces that she's Howard Stern, there's general acceptance all around, and everybody immediately gets the connection between the two of us (the free speech bit) and nobody (as of yet, anyway) says the dreaded, "Oh, yeah! Right...", which is why I like my in-laws so much. A little bit of lunacy will not make you an outcast in their household. As a matter of fact, it may help to endear you to them.

Now we're awaiting the imminent arrival of MY WIFE's eldest sister, Luann; her husband, Charlie; and their two sons (our nephews) Michael and Joey. Michael is almost 11, and just starting to enter that phase in life where he must act cool, so sometimes he acts a bit snotty these days. He's generally a real nice kid, though, and if you find some common ground (Beavis & Butthead, baseball cards) he'll still treat you like an equal. This year, he's wearing a costume of his own devising which will give the illusion of carrying his own head in his hands. His Uncle John (MY WIFE's kid brother, and an inventive sort, himself) has helped him with this rig which, as it turns out, is really quite convincing. Joey, my Godson, is about two, and although he doesn't know it yet, he will be going as a ghost. This will be accomplished by draping a sheet of some sort over his head, while his mom and dad wheel him from house to house in a stroller - kind of like Casper on wheels.

We hear their car pull up, so MY WIFE and I decide to meet them at the door, seeing as we're the only ones in costume thus far (and the only adults who will be, for that matter.) Michael, being in the stage of life he is, just gives me the "Caitlyn eyes" as he walks by. Luann, ever-polite (but not so strong on her American history) says, "Oh, it's a... doorman?" When I inform her that I'm Thomas Jefferson, Charlie - who had been following close behind - says, "Jim, how long have you had these delusions?" Joey just smiles. When MY WIFE announces that she's Howard Stern, Michael says, "Oh, yeah! Right... NOT!!!", which is about what we expected from him.

After a nice dinner, and while the kids are getting into their costumes, talk about Thomas Jefferson, Howard Stern, and freedom of speech leads my father-in-law into a joke.

(You've got to understand - just about anything leads my father-in-law into a joke. He's got an ample supply and, notwithstanding the jeers and sour faces he sometimes receives from his immediate family, I think they're usually pretty good. Then again, I'm a relatively new relative. Maybe after hearing them for thirty or forty years, I'll have a different opinion.)

Anyway, it's a fairly new joke for him. He asks, "Why won't they be celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving in Arkansas this year?" When no one replies, he answers, "Because the witch left town and took the turkey with her!" This is fairly clever, so I get a chuckle. Most of the rest of the family (probably staunch democrats) just groan.

(Being the only Libertarian in the room - as is usually the case - I'm free to laugh at Democrats, Republicans, Prohibitionists, Anabaptists, and all manner of fringe lunatics, equally and indiscriminately. If it had been a joke about there not being any Channukah in Washington this year, since they sent the Bush back to Texas, I would have laughed at that, too - though not as hard, since it's nowhere near as good a joke. However, I digress, again.)

By this time, the kids are all in costume, and Michael's really is interesting to look at. He does look like someone with his head cut off carrying it in his own hands. When someone asks him how he'll collect candy, since he doesn't have the use of his arms to hold a bag, he explains that the top part of the costume is empty and he'll ask people to stuff candy down into his headless throat.

Caitlyn, ever the glamour-puss, is continually fussing with her witch's hat, trying to get it just so. Alyssa is waving her spear-shaped tail and shouting, "I'm the Queen of the Devils!" Only Joey isn't happy. For one thing, he hates having stuff on his head. If you try to put a hat on him, he'll throw it off in an instant. So he's not too thrilled with having a sheet over his head. It's also a cold and rainy sort of night, so the poor little guy has the shivers. It looks like it'll be a short night for Casper the rolling ghost.

I have a cup of coffee that I want to take with me, so I ask my father-in-law if I can borrow one of his beer steins. It just wouldn't be right for Thomas Jefferson to walk around with a Dunkin' Donuts mug. The best one he can come up with for me to stay in character is a plain clay mug, with something to the effect of "Munich - Octoberfest" on one side of it. He says that, as long as I keep that side turned towards me, it should work. John, fairly apolitical, says, "Beer Putsch; Revolution; it's all the same..."

As we make our rounds, I find out about the power of advertising. With the addition of the stein, everyone immediately takes me to be Samuel Adams. I correct the first person who thinks so, but then I decide that I might as well let it go. I mean, if what you're doing is a success, why argue that it's not?

Nobody (at least out loud) ventures a guess as to who or what MY WIFE might be. Everybody thinks that Michael's costume is inventive, but they're all a little nonplussed at having to stick their hands down his throat to give him his treats. Caitlyn's worst moment is when we all arrive at the house of a boy in her school who allegedly likes her. When this boy answers the door, Caitlyn kind of slinks into the background, but Michael being Michael says, "She likes you!" The resultant "Caitlyn eyes" can be seen even in the dark. Alyssa, the Queen of the Devils, is as she usually is - happy and oblivious. The addition of getting a bunch of free candy just makes her more so. Unfortunately, Joey/Casper is an early dropout, taken home by his father after only two or three stops.

I didn't get any candy. I did have a tube of toothpaste, which the town dentist had handed out along with his candy treats and which one of the kids had dropped, but that's hardly the same thing. When we got back to the house, though, Caitlyn gave me a Chunky, while the Queen of the Devils gave Howard Stern a Kit-Kat. Kids tend to guard their Halloween booty very jealously, so this was sweet of them. No doubt Michael would have given us something, too, but he couldn't reach up into his own neck to get anything for us (he couldn't take his costume off yet, as he still had another round of trick-or-treating to go, around his other grandmother's neighborhood.) Just seeing Joey so damned happy to get the sheet off of his head was treat enough from him.

Sometimes, as adults, we tend to forget how important Halloween is to kids. Sure, there are some of us, like MY WIFE and myself, who dress up in costume and join in, accompanying kids door-to-door, and there are others who attend parties and such, but none of us are celebrating the same thing that the kids are. Basically, it's an impossibility. They're celebrating being kids, although not consciously, of course. And consciously or unconsciously, we can't get there, really, although sometimes we can get close on a night like this.

Ah, well. You'll excuse me now, please. I'm going to kiss Howard Stern and I'd like some privacy.


Anonymous said...

well its good to be reassured that ive been able to keep up my coolness for 11 years. i really do miss that "headless man" costume however. its a shame i had such an opus of a costume early in my life. although, i am looking froward to my sleazy 80's stock broker costume. thanks for posting this Jim, it brought bad alot of memories

p.s. as soon as i can get the timing right im going to bring back "NOT." some people leave a legacy, some people revive old ones.

Suldog said...

Hey, Mike.

It's pretty amazing - you were a snotty brat for about two months total, and that was the time period I wrote this. Otherwise, you were one of the sweetest kids ever. But I won't spread that around - a guy's got a reputation to keep.