Let’s Get Scary


Sometimes, come Halloween, I ask myself: Who would I dress up as if right now today they announced an actual Halloween for grownups?

Back in the old days, little girls went out dressed as princesses or kitty-cats on Halloween; as witches or ghosts, if they could stretch far enough toward the dark side.

Little boys seemed to resist the whole dress-up thing somehow, maybe because they got stuffed into jackets and ties a lot more back then. Maybe it felt to them like yet another conspiracy on the part of the females in their lives to deck them out like fools – then go taking their pictures even. So I guess they went out dressed as hobos, most of them, borrowing outsized cast-offs from a handy male grownup, smearing their faces with charcoal.

My sister Nan and I went out as hobos ourselves, come to think of it. Nan set the whole tone for my whole childhood, with her nose for the slightly ‘transgressive’ as the saying goes. For one particularly instructive period during a certain autumn, a dead cat came to our attention in an alley we then began visiting the way pilgrims visit a shrine. “A corpse!” we exulted on first discovering it, giddy with that blended jolt of joy and revulsion. We’d have gone out that Halloween CARRYING the dead cat if we’d dared to. If we hadn’t by then taken the common childhood pledge to shelter our grownups, innocents that they were, from life’s spicier side.

Today of course males of every age are far more “plumed” than they once were, and less fixed on the need to seem macho too. It’s my sense that these days little boys’ costumes are as elaborate as little girls.  This year they will once again going out dressed to the nines, in masks portraying horror-movie villains: Jason. Chucky and the rest. Every now and then you sometimes even see old Tricky-Dick Nixon, who still enjoys a strange afterlife in the Rogue’s Gallery of your standard costume shop.

And the point will be what it’s always been: To startle. To counter expectation.

We had a good friend back in the 80’s. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Took old bikes from the dump, fixed them up good as new and gave them to kids who didn’t have bikes. On the Halloween immediately following one lunatic’s murder of several people by slipping poison into random Tylenol bottles, our friend took his kids around for Trick or Treat, himself dressed as a giant Tylenol capsule – and was actually surprised when another dad offered to punch his lights out. THAT escapade countered all our expectations.

By partying indoors on Halloween, you can cut down on offers of violence (depending on who you friends are of course) and have fun too – by seeing the dedicated beer guzzler come dressed as a Mormon elder, say, or the biggest Don Juan in the group come decked out as the Pope.

I don’t go in for much in the way of girlie stuff as a kid; never even wore makeup til I got to be 50. But one year at an adult Halloween party I dressed as Early Cher, in heavy mascara and spangly bathing suit top and hip huggers, and of course a giant wig exploding in cascades of inky curls.

I looked ridiculous. It was awesome. And my mate, Sonny to my Cher, looked even better, in the 70’s-era peasant shirt our kids found for him, and some baggy bohemian pants and a Prince Valiant wig.

Of course with his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked more like early John Denver, or actually with the wig more like Moe of the Three Stooges than either of those two, but still – he SEEMED like Sonny Bono.

That’s the fun of Halloween: getting to seem like someone else for the night.

So whatever you might be up to tonight, just be careful, like my old cat Abe here. ‘Cause you just never do know who you’re going to meet.

Don’t Be Dumb Tonight

old time halloween 2I believe in the young, who in many ways are miles ahead of the rest of us. Still, they do make some super-dumb moves at times.Below, four tales by way of illustration. Let’s call this a Halloween Night Sermon For Us All.’

EXAMPLE ONE : On a morning suddenly overcast, a young person called home from his workplace to ask his dad to put up the windows in his car, which was parked on the street. “Sure! Where are the keys?” his dad asked. “Where they always are: in the ignition,” responded the kid.“You leave your car on the street? Unlocked? With your keys in the ignition?” squeaked the dad in disbelief. “You don’t think it might get stolen?”“Oh no,” said the kid. “Who would do that?”

Let’s see, I can’t help thinking here: Maybe the person who took my neighbor’s bike right from his garage? Maybe the one who took my baby’s stroller from off my front porch and pitched it in the lake? Maybe one of the five separate individuals who stole my car on five separate occasions?

EXAMPLE TWO: A s16-year-old girl took a notion to go running. At 10 at night. On a street with narrow twisty roads. “But it’s not safe to run now, especially not there!” her mother told her. “Don’t be silly!” replied the daughter. “There aren’t even any streetlights!” (Huh?)

EXAMPLE THREE: One morning at a convenience store, a young stranger stocking shelves turned to me with a radiant smile and said this: “I get off work at 2:00 every day. Then I take a shower and go get drunk.”  “You don’t mean that,” I said. “I do. I get drunk! Every day! Right after work!” “You’ll regret that one day,” I said. “Maybe when I’m 40,” said the kid.(If you GET to be 40, I thought.)

EXAMPLE FOUR, and this by way of showing that I have been plenty dumb myself: When I was 18, I used to hitchhike. Kids did back then. Of course I always wore my good blue dress to show I was well brought up. I hitchhiked to western Massachusetts. I hitchhiked to New Haven, Connecticut. But when I hitchhiked to Cambridge to see the boy I would one day marry, he said I showed bad judgment.

It took putting my thumb out that next weekend to show me how right he was:

The man who pulled over that day had baby gear in his back seat of his car and looked a lot like Mister Rogers. When I approached his passenger-side window to find out his destination, he asked if I would do a particular thing. When I recoiled in horror, he asked if I would maybe just watch.

I hung up my thumb then and there.

And so, in this final hour before the blowout that Halloween night now is, I would say only this to the young: 

Sooner or later Time will claim your bike and your baby carriage; your brand-new car and that bright young sparkle in your eye. Earth is a beautiful place and and it’s ours to live in. But it’s also the place where we will die. It just seems foolish to invite an early departure. Other than that I say have a ball!

happy halloween


Shake Not Thy Gory Locks at Me!

“Shake Not Thy Gory Locks at Me!” That’s Macbeth, talking to the bloody ghost of Banquo who shows up at the palace just after Macbeth has ordered the death of  his old best friend. Scary, that image of a split scalp and bloodied hair..

And speaking of scary, here are some images to stop you in your tracks: Pictures of how kids used to look when they went out on Halloween. Worse than any creepshow mask you can buy today eh?

haunted 1

old time halloween 2

Hope you all got through the big night safely and are happily enjoying your loot today. Don’t forget to brush and floss after, is all! 🙂

Today is the Day

Safe through the storm is how we  prayed we would come, though it was hard to believe we would when the wind was whipping round the house like filaments of cotton candy around the paper cone.

Yikes! is all I can say.

Last year it was snow.

This is year it was rain AND snow.

Both years it was wind like you wouldn’t believe.

48 hours ago got a call from my daughter Carrie who lives 20 miles from here asking if her little family of five could come shelter at the old place where she grew up – here with us, along with their Halloween costumes just in case.

And now that great day is here.

Officials are still calculating the damage, in numbers of dollars so high I personally can’t conceive of them. Most of us can’t, is my belief , but especially those of us who remember Green Stamps, and the way you could once buy a perfectly nice dress at a good department store for just $12.

I feel a little like someone falling fast down a covered slide . Plummeting in the dark, if you can picture it. And with this painful election going on and on I feel even more dread at what bitterness may lie ahead for us.

But then I think of Jack O’Lantern mushrooms, which gather with their brethren in the woods and all by themselves in the quiet dark spring forth one day and glow like a bank of votive candles in a church.

I’m taking my comfort from them and keeping my own flame alive. I am believing, as Lincoln said in bidding farewell to the people of Springfield, that all may yet be well.

The Kids & The Animals

Here is something I wrote some good little while ago.  It’s  from my second book , that book of days Vacationing in My Driveway. Hoping it might bring people a smile in the wake of all this mess.

Oh, to be young again in autumn, I think on these windy midnights, these short sun-slanting afternoons.

The reports from First Grade come home these days all in headlines. Of course Halloween is a big part of the excitement.

“WE’RE LEARNING TO PAINT IN ART CLASS!” went the headline two weeks ago from our first-grade boy. “I PAINTED VAMPIRES THROWING UP ON EACH OTHER!”

Later there was a witch-drawing contest. “My witch is great,” he hollered that day getting off the bus. “There’s blood in her hair and her eyeball is falling out and a spider is lowering itself down from her eye socket…”

The season just seems to call for such dismantlings and such grotesqueries, though some kids take it to extremes:

“The lunch ladies were really mad today. One stood up at the front of the room and made an announcement,” he said clambering up onto a kitchen chair and imitating the sour outraged face of a disapproving grownup. “’Someone has been doing something really disgusting around here!’” he imitated, and went on to tell a dark tale involving accumulations of spit left close to the food.

Imitation is the name of one game at this season. We do on Halloween what we would like to do all year round: hide who we are; become someone other; prowl past unnoticed; and defy a few rules.

Years ago, when this child was small, I had some say in how he dressed on Halloween. One year he was a fat flannel pumpkin with an orange lid tied like a baby’s bonnet to his unprotesting head. Then, two years running, he was Dracula, with hair moussed back and a tuxedo shirt and a medallion (he really looked like Lawrence Welk.) But this year he did it all on his own; discussed his costume not at all with mom or dad, but came down the stairs sober-faced at five o’clock Halloween night in full regalia: black clothes and an eye patch; a hook hand and Creepy Teeth; scary fingernails and a woman’s wig of black shoulder-length curls. He looked like a cross between Cher and the prophet Isaiah.

“Uh, who are you supposed to be, Michael?,” some bigger boys asked, seeing him later on the moonlit streets.

“A monster!,” he called back over his shoulder, literally sprinting from house to house, his dark ringlets bouncing like Scarlett O’Hara’s.

“R-i-i-i-ght! Way to go, Mike!,” they called kindly after him.

Something big happens when the seasons turn that has nothing to do with the rule book.

Last weekend, as usual, the First Grade met on various teams to play one another in soccer. The wind was warm, yet bare tree limbs swayed like skeletal arms. In mid-game two small boys attempted some soccer moves, then fell to wrestling like puppies, then assumed classical ballroom dance positions and waltzed down the field. Two others wandered toward the sidelines where they found a book, sat down and began reading it.

“Does this mean the game has ended?” asked the perplexed coaching dad forlornly.

No, it just means that autumn is reigning. The air, having turned first to cider and then to applejack, intoxicates us with its tang, especially the more sensitive among us.

I woke to a noise one night last week: willed, not accidental, by the sound of it; unmechanical; just furtive enough to be unsettling. A thwock followed by a swish, and then silence. The same thing again. A pause, then two such sounds together. I looked through the whole house for the source if it. A silence grew as I searched; and came at last upon the cause: our black cat hard at a game of street hockey with a Tootsie Pop, her chosen booty from this pagan feast called Halloween.

It’s the season that does it. I lie on the carpet in my upstairs study and look out the just-washed windows, on the inside stripped of curtains, on the outside stripped of the framing fringe of ivy. I watch the sky go by, muscular arms of wind pulling clouds past by the handful. The world is trying to turn a new way, it feels like. Stop rotating to the right, and begin again to the left, maybe. Turn itself inside out, like a sweater pulled off over the head.

Something happens at this season of the high winds and the swirling oak leaves that makes us restless. We wake at night and ask, “What is it?”

Only the kids and the animals know. And the kids and the animals aren’t talking.