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Memory: Halloween

31 October 2019

Continuing my spate of memory dumps, this month has me thinking about Halloween (duh). I do love it, though I won’t be that cliché who claims it’s their favorite holiday… not that I haven’t traditionally appreciated all those spooky girls who do. I think its resonance with me personally has more to do with memories of what I’ve spent it doing than it does decorating with cardboard bats from Target. It’s a nightlife holiday, and I think the freedom and energy in that has always appealed to me more than the sequestered family time of say Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Rated PG

Somewhere, there are pictures of me as a toddler on Halloween, I don’t know, dressed as a clown or something. My sister surely guided me and showed me the ropes, with mom and/or dad pulling me around in a wagon. But my first real memories of it all, not surprisingly, begin with the candy.

We always used pillowcases to go out trick-or-treating with. Durable, ecologically-friendly, economically-friendly. They really are as suited to this purpose as they are actually encasing pillows. Of course there was the anticipation of what each house will be giving out. Aside from the standards, there were also those (cheaper?) candies you never got any other time of the year. Not just candy corn, but things like Smarties, Bottle Caps, and those knockoff M&Ms that are balls instead of oblate spheroids. Every year, some variation of the legend of the house that gave out whole full-sized Snickers. Or, if you stayed out late enough to outlast your neighborhood residents, and if you went down the right street with low trick-or-treater traffic, you might find a house that just left a bucket of candy out and hoped for the best. I’d like to say that I had the ethics even then to respect the “please only take one” sign, but I couldn’t say for sure.

And holy shit, the smell of a bag of mixed candy. There’s something unique about that vast melange of sweets that you’d never amass on any other day of the year. Once in a while, I’ll catch some faint trace of it in a grocery store aisle, but it’s not how I remember.

Preparation for the big night would start a few weeks earlier. It was going to McWhorter’s (a local stationery store I could write a whole separate set of memories about) and loving all their ghost and pumpkin decorations (including one of the most beloved tchotchkes of my youth, a 1985 Hallmark haunted house gift box). It was planning a costume and looking so forward to getting new toy swords and props that you were so sure you needed for your costume… but would invariably come to resent having to carry around all night. I guess I leaned toward the macabre as a kid. An executioner (with hood and axe) one year, a street punk (with mohawk bald cap and stuffed plush flail) another. Probably all from McWhorter’s. It was going to the pumpkin patch, and some years, even attempting the always-disappointing mess of trying to carve it.

Elementary school for Halloween was bliss. As I recall, there was some kind of Halloween day where there was like a fair and you got to wear your costume to school. I vaguely remember there being a cakewalk. Maybe we’d make those pictures where you water color an orange and magenta sunset, paint over the whole thing in black, then scratch out a silhouette of some barren autumn trees.

And around that time of year, there was always some sort of back-to-school night. In the October twilight, my parents and I got uncharacteristically dressed up and headed to the campus. Illuminated by burning orange lights, school buildings were a welcoming and exciting oasis in the middle of a dark campus surrounded by a darkening evening. Full of anticipation, the air of something special… school, where I spent my days with other kids was now a night with adults. Different rules applied. Anything could happen. While parents schmoozed with other parents, we kids would run around the same playground we spent every day on, made exotic by the night. Eventually, we’d huddle in a classroom, now set up for conferences or a presentation. Or maybe it’s the assembly room. Maybe we’re watching a play.

Rated PG-13

As I got older and childish wonder gave way to adolescent cynicism, Halloween changed, too. It was going to haunted houses. As I reached the end of my trick-or-treating years, it was having mobility to go to any neighborhood and to reach hundreds of houses. It was that one kid in my class that got jumped Halloween night. It was getting egged not one block from my own house. It was standing up to the creepy guy revving a chain-less chainsaw at the end of a cul-de-sac and scaring kids… and him whispering to me that if I couldn’t play along, I should leave. And me realizing he was right.

Towards the end of my teens, dad carves the infamous “Smartest Man Ever” face into pumpkin. In 1997, I spend Halloween night at home, learning HTML and building my first website. In 1998, I spend it in Southern California at a campus-wide college party, making out with my sweetheart, both of us dressed as the Blues Brothers.

Rated R

I guess at this point, we’re getting close to when I’d already started blogging, so it’s probably covered back in the archives. As an adult, I remember doing my first (and the second-to-last ever) Halloween in the Castro in 2005. The next year was when TCB played The Rockit Room, where the band dressed up like Droogs, and Sus and Shel dressed up like me. Not long after, I spent a Halloween at home with my girlfriend, catering to almost no trick-or-treaters and I believe spilling a ton of takeout ranch all over my kitchen. In 2010, I stayed home alone to watch the premiere of a new series called “Walking Dead.” In later years, I’d skip the costume and just go to nightclubs. Somewhere along the way, a nightclub character had her wedding on Halloween night at one of those clubs.

More recently, and during my hiatus from blogging, I spent a Halloween walking up and down Front Street in Maui. The next at a John Carpenter performance in L.A. Last year, it was Morrissey in Ventura. Tonight, it’s home to relax, write this blog, and eat candy meant for trick-or-treaters. Perhaps someday I’ll think back on past Halloweens again and think of this very moment. (Hi, future me!)

Sorry, these latter memories are more just a list and don’t have the same nostalgic energy the childhood ones do. Or I might just be running out of steam here. Or maybe it’s a candy coma.

Rated X

Oh, wouldn’t you like to know! Happy Halloween, everyone! And happy birthday, Johnny Marr!

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion.

— Graeme Edge, “Late Lament”

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