I like Halloween, even though these days, I don’t usually have the energy to hang tons of decorations or even dress up. My best costume of the past 10 years was an assemblage of splints and bandages wrapped around my head and inside my nose as I handed out candy to trick-or-treaters two days after nasal surgery in 2003. (The subtle streak of blood on my white T-shirt was a nice touch.) But even though my Halloween memories aren’t exactly hell-shaking (no occult rituals or major neighborhood damage to report), they give me a warm glow of contentment. Or embarrassment; take your pick. Here are seven from my youth, off the top of my no-longer-bandaged head.
1. My earliest Halloween memory is trick-or-treating in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was 1976, and I was 5 years old. I remember walking back toward our duplex after a parent-chaperoned candy-begging trip around the block, dressed (I think) as some sort of ghost, and loudly belting out my favorite song, “Sweet Caroline,” at the top of my lungs. I remember that every time my own 5-year-old walks around in public singing “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
2. It begins like this: “Night falls. The forest holds its breath. Everything is still. The blood-red moon stares through the trees. Suddenly, the wind blows. The trees shiver. A bat quivers in the night and flies away.” I’m talking about “Ghostly Sounds,” a Halloween-themed sound-effects album released on the Peter Pan label in 1975. It’s largely the work of Gershon Kingsley, the master of the Moog synthesizer. The narrator strikes the ideal balance between sinister and tongue-in-cheek, and I remember my sister and I parodying the record with a ‘performance’ for our parents in a darkened room, acting out the scenes along with the narration, complete with a Wiffle bat quivering and flying. But the record harbored some truly creepy moments as well, particularly the unforgettable moment when “goblins step. And laugh. And dance.” And make sounds you’ll never forget.
3. It was probably in the fifth grade, 1979, when I was invited to a Halloween party by a classmate I wasn’t particularly close to; I think he invited the whole group. Mom dressed me as a vampire, complete with black cape, white face, black makeup around the eyes, plastic fangs, and fake blood dripping from the corners of my mouth. The costume won me a prize, a painted-ceramic piggy bank shaped like a van. (Ceramics were big in the 1970s. So were vans.) I probably should have given it back after tripping over the host’s coffee table and breaking a serving dish, but his mom was pretty cool about it. Then again, you don’t want to piss off the Impaler.
4. Also, don’t piss off the scary guy with the chains. That would be my stepdad, who wore a rubber mask (a green-faced monster) every Halloween night and dragged chains around the front yard, lunging at kids (our dead-end street in Stratford, Connecticut was teeming with kids). My mom wore a rubber mask, too, a yellow-faced witch with a long nose. They were pretty cool about Halloween, actually, until we…
5. …found Jesus in 1984, and then all the devil’s playthings got tossed in the trash. One of the casualties was a thick, black-jacketed hardcover book about all sorts of occult topics that Mom kept on the top shelf in the living room. As a kid, I was intrigued by such things, so I’d occasionally ask her to hand me “the black book.” But as an evangelical teenager, I vehemently rejected all manner of demonry. When asked in a 10th-grade creative writing class to pen a fun essay about Halloween (you know, like the one you’re reading right now), I spent three pages railing on Halloween as an evil, horrible holiday, lacing my arguments with the kind of speciousness typical of a Bob Larson radio diatribe or a Jack Chick tract. Within a couple of years, though, I was back to realizing you could have fun on Halloween without sacrificing infants to Moloch.
6. I still sacrificed good nutrition, of course, a habit which continues today. One November afternoon in the early ’80s, Mom reamed me out about all the candy wrappers she found behind my bed, from all the nights I took handfuls of Halloween treats to bed. Kids just don’t consider the possibility that mothers sometimes change their kids’ bedsheets when they’re at school. Good thing I wasn’t stashing porno mags back there. Illicit candy seems, um, less embarrassing.
7. My 5-year-old has already dressed — impressively, I might add — as a lion, Winnie-the-Pooh, a pirate, and Batman for Halloween. But, growing up, my costumes were typically of the cheap-plastic-mask ilk, the ones that provided only a tiny slit for breathing, so the inside of the mask would get all hot and sweaty, and the costume was made from vinyl tablecloth material, only thinner and more unattractively decorated. It wasn’t until college — 1991, my last semester, to be specific — that I upped the creativity factor by attending a friend’s Halloween party dressed as a bulletin board. I gathered notices from the various boards around campus and taped them over every inch of my black shirt and pants. Not conducive to sitting down comfortably, but inspired, no?
That’s it. Have fun this Halloween, you demon-cursed infidels.