Tag Archives: costumes

How to Ruin Halloween

We're a culture not a costume campaignA few years ago I wrote a blog post about offensive Halloween costumes and how they send the wrong message to children, mocking people who look different or who come from communities on the margins. The commercialization of Halloween, like the commercialization of every American “holiday” is so focused on profit that there is little left to authentically celebrate. But Halloween has seen a surge in popularity in pop culture and it seems like every year the offensiveness quotient is ramped up another notch or two. Despite campaigns against appropriation for Halloween, there are far more instances of using other cultures as dress up or as object of mockery than resistance against such moments.

Halloween also puts pressure on parents to buy the best, most professional costumes possible lest their class status appear too low. A casual glance at children’s costumes on the Web reveals that if one looks for something beyond a plastic costume and mask, prices start in the mid-$30s and range past $100. This puts children in the position of announcing their parents’ financial resources just to participate in the evening’s festivities (unless they’re in a very cold weather region and the costumes are tucked under coats, perhaps).

Then there’s the fear. Trick-or-treating, once the duty and delight of kids when I was a child, has declined due to concerns about tampered candy and nighttime predators. Parents who do let their kids go door to door follow them around on the sidewalk, or children are corralled into events that take place at the local YMCA or city block. And while I may love kids, I cannot handle having 3,000 small costumed children banging into each other and screaming over the last Snickers mini-bar.

There may still be some glory left in what was once a harvest holiday. If neighbors can agree to have some candy and entertain kids for a few hours, one can get to know those neighbors a little better and get to know the neighborhood more. If children are encouraged to share their candy, get out and walk around and laugh with their friends and family, I see a glimmer of fun in the experience. But certainly there is a lot to wade through to get past the hype, blinking skulls, fake spider webbing, and plush DisneyTM/Sesame Street/PowerRangers/Transformers costumes to get to the fun.

And hooray, Columbus Day is next week. Don’t get me started on that one.

Telling Lies to Our Son

I’m not sure on which particular day it occurred to us, or to which one of us, but at some point over the course of Susanne’s pregnancy somebody had the giddy-making revelation that we would soon have the opportunity to dress up our baby for Halloween. We had total control over the nature, cost, and cuteness of the outfit, because how is a 2-month-old going to stop us? It was a dizzying amount of power, really. Over the next several months, we returned to conversations about The Costume. A lion? Maybe a bumblebee. Babies dressed as bumblebees are pretty damn adorable. Or maybe a pea pod, Susanne suggested. I worried it would be too derivative of Anne Geddes’ work with infants, but it stayed in the realm of possibility, which, if I’m being honest, was about as large as half of Delaware. We considered every possible Halloween costume, even ones we’d need to craft together ourselves.

It’s not that we’re big on pagan holidays, although Christmas with the gift-giving and all is pretty spectacular. It’s more of a combination of wistfulness for our own trick-or-treating days, an excitement about the baby having his own fun, and well, costumes.

But of course, idealism quickly gives way to reality, and then crumbles into deception. Read More…

Happy Hallo-weenies

If one weekend night’s costume party was about mysteries, food, and fun, the next was its near-direct opposite. We took to creating our costumes a couple of hours before the faculty party, Susanne donning a personification of her office building’s reconstruction, and me going as the carpet a couple of offices down from hers. When this construction—a 30-foot addition to the end of the building—began at the start of last summer, several emails went out with a slew of mixed messages. This construction will be completed quickly. We didn’t expect anyone would need their offices in the summer. The noise should be minimal. We’ve discovered we need to remove asbestos. And so on.

When the jack hammering got too loud, Susanne went to work in the library, or came home. At some point the psychology lab upstairs was getting its facelift, and lo and behold, a waste pipe burst, spilling pigeon crap all over the carpet in one of Susanne’s colleagues offices. This was not the “minimal intrusion” he’d been promised. One day, while I was in the Bi-Mart, looking at canning equipment, I came across some carpet remnants. I typed into my phone:

TELL BRUCE CARPET’S ON SALE AT BIMART.

I’m sure he was pleased with my helpful suggestion, though I haven’t stopped by to see if he took me up on the idea.

I needed to figure out how to replicate bird poop without using any actual excrement. So I turned to the most logical place—our kitchen. It is with my own trial and error process that I now reveal my bird poop recipe.

Recipe for pigeon-like poop

4 packages of regular flavor instant oatmeal

1/4 cup of corn starch

6–8 drops of yellow food coloring

1/2 cup of raisins

1 T flour, unbleached if possible

1/2 to 3/4 a cup of water

Grind up the oatmeal and the raisins in a food processor. Turn out into a metal bowl and add the corn starch and flour, mixing with a fork or whisk. Add in 1/2 cup of water and stir, adding more water as desired. Add drops of food coloring, enough to give a sick-looking hue. Drop by the spoonful from about 4–6 feet away for desired splatter effect, and let dry.

Yes folks, my bird shit was completely edible, although it didn’t taste particularly good. But it could have been helpful for a Renfield imitation, I suppose. What else is Halloween for?

I dropped the whole mess on a piece of carpet we had in the basement and let it sit for a good while, and was happy when it stayed put once I hoisted the carpet up on string so it was wearable.

I looked mostly like I was planning to jump over Niagara Falls in a dirty carpet-turned-barrel, but whatever. It was in this way that Susanne declared that we were protest art. I was my own art installation! Nifty.

We drove over to the festivities with a couple of other professors in tow, a cowgirl and a witch. Susanne had looked up the directions before we left, and then we were off into the night. The spooky night. We jumped on the highway, made a right, went over some railroad tracks, and then.

Then we drove up to the big house. Hmm. That couldn’t be right. That looked like a maximum security prison where the state of Washington executes prisoners, not a Halloween party for the local liberal arts college.

Susanne tapped her foot impatiently. I was not listening to her, clearly. I turned the car around.

And then we made it, our lives still intact from our brush with death row. Crossroads Steakhouse and Lounge overlooked a high school football game and the rest of the city. We walked in, looked around at the coworkers who were, in their costumes, one scraggly, intentionally creepy bunch, and . . .

were immediately and rudely asked to step aside for a waiter who was trying to fetch drinks from the bar. “Seriously?,” we wondered. The rest of the waitstaff were just as rude.

“Please, people, make a path here,” a woman in a white shirt and black skirt said, walking through the space and waving her arms. I thought of waving my own and saying, “Danger, Danger, Dr. Smith,” but I actually wasn’t that mobile wearing 30 pounds of carpet. In fact, I would have had a hard time making a path for the President, much less for these inconsiderate people.

Now then, I’m used to rude service, given that I lived in DC for 11 years. I’ve encountered several rude people in that town over the years. But at least they had something to back it up—terrific sushi (yes, that’s a swipe at you, Cafe Asia), comfortable seating in the cinema (Hoffman 22), or posh hotel accommodations. This place was as far from quality as a local ExxonMobile TigerMart is for quality dining fare. Yes, there was a dance floor, and yes, it was not the smallest dance floor I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the most barren. The DJ was so bad (“how bad WAS he?”), the DJ was so bad he’d start a new song, see nobody was coming to the dance floor and would then put on a new song, screech-skidilidatting the old one off the first turntable. My dead grandmother turns better tunes.

Susanne went and found the drinks, meaning, she stood at the bar, waited for a bartender, then walked to the register in our part of the building, where she was admonished for standing in the “path” the waiters needed. Several minutes later she came up to me with a martini and a beer, sighing.

There were several other twosome, coordinated costumes at the party—the usual pirate and piratess, a bloody bride and her bloody bridesmaids, a fork and a spoon, and so forth. I wondered if there wasn’t some kind of violence influencing chemical in the water around these parts, as there were a lot of murdered and murdering characters there. A “cereal” killer, with a bleeding box of Honey Nut Cheerios strapped to his back. A man killed by a shark. Maybe there’s a fake blood factory around here I don’t know about, or the K-Mart had a sale.

At any rate, it was inevitable that Susanne and I would be asked to show our costumes to the college president. Two minutes of explaining and he didn’t look like he really understood what we were trying to represent, Susanne wearing a trash bag with “Warning: Asbestos” signs taped to her, and me in a moldy, pukey-looking carpet. We were saved by the bell, also known as Beyonce’s Single Ladies song, and it was off to the dance floor to try to replicate the choreography from Glee.

Back to our spot at one of the tables, the waitstaff had cleared away Susanne’s martini, though she’d only drunk half of it. And about this time I noticed that some people who weren’t a part of the party had come into the room, taken a long table, and were watching us. A couple even got up and danced. Apparently it was also the bar’s karaoke night. No wonder they were clearing drinks, the asses. Hadn’t the college paid for this space? Were they planning on kicking us out at a certain hour?

My carpet was cutting into my shoulders, so I made a move to take it off. I set down my beer glass on the table. In two nanoseconds (or so; I wasn’t counting) a waitress was there, next to me.

“I need you to pick that up,” she said to me.

“Excuse me?”

“I need to clear this table.”

“I’m using this table.” I sound like I’m arguing in the retelling, but I really wasn’t understanding her.

“I need to clear this table.”

“I just need to put this down FOR A SECOND.” With all the music, maybe she didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish, but I also didn’t understand why it mattered to her. Was the ghost of Princess Di going to need this crepe-covered surface?

I picked up my drink. She walked away. I put down my drink and took off the carpet. A colleague of Susanne’s had overheard the exchange.

“Better watch it, Everett, or you’re gonna get kicked out of here.”

“God, no kidding!” Hey, that’s fine, I figured, I’m ready to take on the white water of Niagara in this thing.

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Boo.

On the ever-growing list of Things that Make DC and Walla Walla Different, let’s add Halloween.

Halloween in DC is hit or miss. You may get three very young trick-or-treaters in half homemade costumes with helicopter parents standing behind them, looking nervous to be out after dark with their precious ones. One gets the impression that they badgered their otherwise overprotective caretakers to let them out of the house for the promise of bite-sized waxy chocolate, and that only the most vocal, pushy kids and the most pushover adults are the ones making the trek. Or one may get no knocks at the door, even if the light is on outside, and there’s a fake ghost on the foot-wide lawn, looking especially scary next to two broken 40 ounces and one used condom—because of course context is everything. The last possibility in DC is that one will get gaggles of middle school and high school kids, all dressed in white t-shirts and torn jeans in a far reach for “zombie.” And then one has to drop the candy into their pillowcases or they’ll grab three and four bars each, causing one to run out of candy all too quickly and leaving one to cower in the corner of the kitchen, far from the front door, pretending not to be home. And that gets old fast.

In Walla Walla, trick or treating is limited to the arranged rendezvous with candy. Kids are orchestrated by well meaning adults in some central location, like a dorm on the Whitman campus, which is then decorated to communicate that for this night only, ghosts are on the prowl in the dorm that would surely, on any other day, fire up the college students’ parents to demand at least partial refunds of their room and board payments. There are also trick and treat events in some of the nursing homes in town, on a two-block strip of Main Street, etc. But house-to-house soliciting, as far as I can tell, is limited to Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they’re not seeking confections so much as offering eternal life.

To sum it up, Susanne and I got stuck with a boatload of candy last year, and she brought it to her office in hopes of limiting the damage to our pancreases and transferring the potential dental issues to the students and staff.

We bought no candy this year, expecting that once again, only two kids will show up at our house. At that rate, I can rummage through the kitchen and come up with some Orbit gum and an old Peppermint Patty from that Thai restaurant on 9th Avenue, no worries.

In the list of differences, I went to one and only one costume party in DC, but out here in Walla Walla, they seem to be a dime a dozen. However little the children dress up to gather candy from strangers, the adults go nuts pretending to be someone else. I can’t blame them—I’d like to be someone else out here, too, other than an unemployed, has-few-prospects, wanna be novelist who is tongue in cheek running for City Council, but that’s beside the point. The point is, they like a good costume party in this town.

We went to one last Saturday and have another to attend next Saturday. Last year I wore my Eeyore costume that I had purchased in 2002 for the one and only costume party I attended in DC. It is head to toe blue fleece, complete with floppy ears, depressed looking mane, and tail held on by a few strands of string. It also includes a little press pad in the top left paw (paw!) that says alternately, “Hello, I’m Eeyore,” and “Thanks for noticing me.” The thing gets so hot that I can’t wear anything underneath it other than some boxer shorts and a tank top. We’re talking stifling—the kind of heat surrounding one’s body that gives one the urge to run outside into a blizzard or make snow angels for 3o minutes, whilst banging the paws against the ground, to the beat of “Hello, I’m Eeyore,” and “Thanks for noticing me.”

I’d agreed to lend out this costume for the party this next Saturday, not realizing that I myself was obligated to attend. I’m a little bemused that anyone else would want to dress up as Eeyore, even knowing that the costume has been worn some number of times by a sweaty man in just his boxers, but whatever. What is life without risks, anyway?

This led Susanne and me to go to the K-Mart—which we affectionately call the “Sad Mart,” because it’s so dilapidated, with few customers actually shopping (as opposed to standing in front of a sales fixture, staring mindlessly, as if the nursing home dropped them off for a few hours so they could go “outside”). We looked through the costumes that they had for sale, knowing we couldn’t repeat the Magnum, P.I. and Perry Mason outfits of last weekend. It would be like wearing the same dress to two inauguration balls!

The costume perusing quickly devolved into shock as we saw what they had stocked on the shelves. An inflatable ballerina costume, because everyone loves obese ballerinas. An inflatable ninja costume, because why not mix in a little Orientalism while we’re being fat-phobic? And then, I gasped, and Susanne rushed over to look at what I was seeing.Woman/Man costume

The Woman/Man costume. Split right down the middle. Someone had watched too much Victor/Victoria. But seriously? Who would wear that, and why?

Please notice that the Woman/Man wig is sold separately. Since it can be worn for so many other occasions. If you don’t buy the wig, what else do you wear with this albatross?

“That says a lot about something,” I said.

We moved on, giggling at the human-sized whoopi cushion costume. Alas, it did not actually make a farting noise, probably because there is no left paw for a small speaker. I suppose the idea of whoopi cushions with paws is too frightening to deal with anyway.

So, I don’t have a costume for Saturday. Maybe I’ll go as a zombie councilman. Or affix several tumbleweeds to my clothing and give people small scrapes all evening. Or I could just wear a tank top and boxers and tell people I’m wearing an invisible Eeyore costume. I’m sure any of those ideas will work.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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