On Not Having Any Idea What To Dress As For Halloween


I stand in the midst of the Halloween store, trapped.

It’s one of those temporary stores, of course. What strip mall, however luxurious, could support having a Halloween store all the year round? With the collapse in the costume rental industry after that time in 2011 someone spread a rumor Netflix was opening a line of costume distribution by mail, anyway? OK, there was that spot in Worthington, Ohio, that had one going in May. But that was probably a fluke. They weren’t there the next year. Maybe they were just having too much fun selling fangs to stop that one time.

But what to buy? What to wear? What to go as for Halloween?

Halloween should be a great Halloween for me. There’s all kinds of things it’d be more fun to be than me. Someone who knows what to dress as for Halloween, for example. Or someone really confident wearing costumes for the sort of stuff I might be doing on a Monday, like going to the bagel place for lunch and reading the alt-weekly there.

My unsureness about what to dress as for Halloween goes way back. I think it does. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember a lot of the costumes I wore for Halloween as a kid. I don’t think we made very many of them ourselves, because there were four kids in the household and my parents had a limit to how much time they were willing to spend collecting parts and sewing stuff so that we could dress up as something called an “Artoo” for three hours. Even if they got pictures.

I should explain this was the late 70s and early 80s, when photographs were something that took effort. You had to find that weird little camera that looked like a harmonica, and find where that flash bulb plug-in was, and find that it was totally spent. Then you had to wait to get to the store and buy a replacement. That would give you four or maybe eight flashes, good for up to six pictures. And then you could get the photos developed by driving around until you saw a teeny tiny little bitty house sitting in the middle of a parking lot. Then Mom drives up next to it, gives a roll of film, and then sometime later gets back dark, blurry pictures out of focus that clearly show some figures in the state’s fourth-place finalist, Most 1974 Kitchen Ever Contest. The one wearing the worst imaginable outfit in the picture? That’s me. And then we lose the photos in a minor basement flood. So it’s hard to tell what I was wearing back then.

At least a couple years we went to the Toys R Us and bought those licensed figure packages. You know the ones. You get a plastic face mask with eyes that don’t line up for some figure like The Incredible Hulk and then a T-shirt showing The Incredible Hulk going off and lacking credibility. It’s a surprisingly old model of costume, going back to the ancient Greeks and the year everyone went as Narcissus. People loved that outfit, especially Narcissus. But the costume industry learned the wrong lesson from that and figured we wanted to go as people who were fans of themselves. That breaks down when you’re someone like me who isn’t sure he can even be a fan of someone with enough self-esteem to be a fan of themselves. What you’d get is maybe me going out as The Incredible Hulk I Guess, if he wanted people to think he was always thinking about The Incredible Hulk while being confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing. I’m confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing all year anyway, so the costume always felt a bit hollow.

One year we got a new washing machine, and I seized on my rights as the eldest to claim it for myself. And I also grabbed as much aluminum foil as I felt like I could get away with. So I know one year I went as the ever-popular Kid In A New Washing Machine’s Box Wrapped In Aluminum Foil. I think it technically qualified as a robot costume. It taught me many things, like how I should have cut arm holes, and that absolutely nobody in the neighborhood would get that they would “input” candy to the big slot labelled “input candy”.

Then we moved, to a new neighborhood where they didn’t much like kids, and even if they did the neighbors didn’t much like us. And then I got into high school and even if I were invited to costume parties it was very important I spend every night watching The Wrath of Khan on videotape. In college it was more important I write incredibly detailed reports of what the student government was up to for the unread leftist weekly paper. It’s only the last few years I’ve tried getting into costumes again.

I grab a $4 raccoon mask and hope things will work out all right.

Me, wearing a raccoon mask, standing in front of our Tri-Zone pinball machine.
The weird part is that my natural beard hair looks like the mask’s grey fur. It’s a little unsettling.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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