Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Halloween

Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each one his part, until the manager waves them off the stage ? **Erasmus, "The Praise of Folly"

Rosemary: The folks at cozy library discussion group recently asked what our favorite Halloween costumes were - as kids and as adults. I don't remember dressing up that much as a kid. I must have, because I certainly remember the candy - candy corn and tootsie rolls being my favorites. And I always hated those cellophane wrapped packages with the pastel colored disks in them. Yuck. What was that stuff? I do remember dressing up as a Volkswagen once when I was a teenager - that was my only memorable costume. It probably got uncool to dress for Halloween for a while. Then in my twenties, it got cool again.

When my husband and I worked for large companies we used to have great Halloween parties, lots of people. Sometimes the parties had themes. We had a Hitchcock party once. I decorated with birds all over the house, rope hanging out of a trunk and a bloodsplattered bathroom. One clever girl came as Marian Crane (from Psycho) complete with shower curtain and hooks. For the dead celebrity party, my fave partygoer was the guy who came as Marley's Ghost - Bob Marley, that is. Dreadlocks, chains. Ingenious.

In recent years I've been Cruella de Ville, Frida Kahlo (I made my husband dress as Diego Rivera), Jim Morrison, and various ghouls. This may be my favorite though - Wilma and Fred Flintstone. I'm Wilma.

HANK: They were NECCO's, Ro. (Made by the New England Candy COmpany.) In college, one year, we were all supposed to dress as a song title. I got some RIT dye (remember that?) dyed a sheet black and went as "She's Not There." (Kind of a reverse ghost idea, see?)

I've dressed up as a tea bag--brown leotard and tights, then covered myself with a plastic dry cleaning bag I filled with torn up pieces of orange and brown construction paper. I hung a string around my neck and at the bottom was a tag that said Constant Comment.

An old boyfriend and I went as spaghetti and meatballs. We created this enormous contraption, like a table, which we then hung from our shoulders with ropes. We covered the base with a red and white checked tablecloth. We stapled a big cardboard cone on top of it to hold the spaghetti. I cooked spaghetti, and figured I could just glue it to the cardboard thing.Well of course, that was ridiculous.

So I ended up sewing the strands to the cardboard with a huge needle and heavy thread. Then we covered brown paper bags with cotton balls, and sprayed them red and brown to look like meat balls, punched holes for eyes and put them over our heads.

We could not get the thing in the car, so we had to strap in onto the top. So imagine the spaghetti table flying down the Mass Turnpike, stands coming off along the way. When we got to the party, we stepped into the table of spaghetti and put the meatballs on our heads.

It worked, but it was hard to dance.
Two years ago, Jonathan and I were the Ark Family. I was Joan of Arc, and he was Noah.

Last year, I was too busy to make new costumes. So I printed out a new flag to replace the Fleur de Lis, put on a bandana, and went as Joan of Arkansas. (Jonathan was Noah of Arkansas, which I know makes no sense.)
Those are little animals pinned to his tunic, two of each, of course.

JAN: Hey, Ro, Bill and I went as Fred and Wilma Flintstone once, too -- those styrofoam balls from the crafts store make easy Flintstone jewelry. But my favorite costume was from the college years. My roommates and I hosted a party, in our lovely but pest-ridden apartment. Bill and I went as a cockroach and a can of Raid. I was the cockroach in a dark brown body suit with lots of attached legs and cute silver antennae. Bill got inside a huge wire cylinder we covered with paper?? Paper mache? Can't remember now, except that we had an artist friend who did an awesome job of copying the RAID logo and making it look just like the real can.
I also had a room-mate who was quite funny and notoriously loud. Bill and I carved a pumpkin to look like her, gave it an enormous mouth, stuck a radio inside it and squirted with her signature perfume. She had a good sense of humor and got a kick out of it.

HALLIE: You guys are aMAzing! I'm so impressed. You could have been contestants on Project Runway. (Don't you think they should have a challenge: making Halloween costumes?) The only memorable costume I ever made was a fried egg (a white sheet with a big yellow circle of fabric quilted over my stomach. I was pregnant which helped. Jerry went as a pencil wearing a bathing cap on his head for an eraser.
My kids always made awesome costumes. (Early on they felt this was child abuse). Naomi once made a cardboard box into a milk carton with a cutout for her face and under it HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHILD. Another year she went out painted green: the state of Florida. My (now grown) daughters still get together every Halloween and make costumes to go out.
Halloween is my favorite holiday.

ROBERTA: Funny thing that I can't remember childhood Halloween costumes at all. Now if we were describing dance recital outfits, I could tell you in detail...

But we had wonderful, wild parties when I was in graduate school. My very favorite costume was Wonder Woman. I wore a skimpy purple leotard, then made big felt breast plates with stars on them and sewed a short, flared skirt to match. I had a headdress of course, and knee-high maroon boots. It was the best. The next year, I sewed a Kermit the frog outfit which was technically gorgeous. The problem was no one knew who I was under all that green felt, so it got lonely. Then I ditched the frog and moved to Marilyn Monroe.

Love all these stories. We should definitely host a Jungle Red Writers Halloween party!

Ro: You're on!


  1. Our costumes were strictly off the rack until I was in middle school and dressed myself as Raggedy Ann. But my favorite packaged costume was Jeannie, from "I Dream of Jeannie." Remember how uncomfortable those molded plastic masks were and how the sound of one's own breathing in them was really creepy? But they really worked as disguises!

    One of the great pleasures for me as a parent now is helping my kids with their costumes. A couple of years ago Pom wore my millennium ball gown and scary makeup and went as Zombie Cinderella. And I tea dyed muslin one year and swathed her in strips of it to make her a mummy.

    Hope you all have a great Halloween!

  2. I've always wanted to do that mummy thing, but it seemed like so much work! I had a rented harlequin costume once. It seemed like a good idea until I started to think about how many other people had worn the damn thing...then I couldn't wait to take it off. It's homemade from now on. I was thinking of going to a party this year, but have a work thing in another state that day so it may not happen.
    Unfortunately with my hair and the glasses the easiest thing for me to be this year is Sarah Palin, but then I'd have to go spend $150,000 on my outfit...

  3. Laura,
    I always wished I liked making the kids costumes -- but I'm not crafty at all and have an outright phobia about sewing machines, so it always seemed like such a burden. Except once, I got directions from a magazine and made lamb costumes that required no sewing, but glueing a zillion cotton balls to cardboard vests. The kids were so ADORABLE. It was my only Halloween-mom acheivement.

  4. I think Jonathan is going this year as Einstein..all he needs is some hairspray. I may go as Nancy Drew.
    Bobby Sox? Loafers? What else is Nancy Drewish? (Because right now, I don't look Drewish..)

  5. Headband and plaid skirt. Oh, and a cute vintage convertible!

  6. And Titian-colored hair for Nancy Drew. I'll always remember that descriptor -- maybe a spray on/wash out hair color? (And if you can roust up a little Terrier -- stuffed, maybe? -- and call him Togo, bonus!)

    As a kid I almost always wanted to go in some sort of Colonial costume. I swear! My poor mother had to make so many ca. 18th century costumes -- those lovely gowns -- it wasn't funny, and I think even then I was channeling something, because I'm still crazy about that era, the textiles, etc.

    Last year I was a ghost in the front yard. Classic sheet ghost, only I put stage lighting gel behind the holes for eyes, so that I could see out but so they'd be truly black. I sat with candy on a big stone in the front yard, holding a little oil lamp, and I'd sit stock still (as though I were just a prop) until someone came up to take candy. I really liked to spook the adolescent boys, who'd come slouching up out of costume, trying to be all gangsta. Then I'd ratchet my head around to look at them, and they'd shriek and clutch their bladders and scream like little girls. (Who's your daddy now, homeboy? }:>)

    Woot! That was fun.

    Here's a photo from last year:

    This year I'm a ghost again, but this time it's a period affair. A 19th-century bustle-dress in all white grey, white makeup, white/grey wig, white mask (again with gel behind the eyes to make them black pools) cobwebs, and a smoke machine! I'm flying up to Minneapolis to sit in someone's very realistic front yard graveyard and get some spook on. Think Blithe Spirit with a nasty little yen to make the teenagers shriek.

    Just have to hope it doesn't rain.
    And remember to wear long johns under the tattered dress -- it's cold up there already!

    I love Halloween and would pay good money to see photos of your fried eggs, the Flintstones, She Wasn't There, et. al.

    Happy Boo! everyone.

  7. Frida Kahlo! That's a brilliant idea. All you need is an eyebrow pencil and lots of colourful Good Will stuff. I'm gonna steal it. (The idea, not the stuff.)

    I'll be dressing up as Trixie Belden next spring for Mystery-themed conference. I wonder if you can buy spray-on blonde....

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  9. Susan D--I went to your website, and oh, it sounds wonderful...can you tell us more?

    Susannah--you MUST send us a photo--it sounds perfect. (I always wanted to be in Blithe Sprirt--what's her name--Elvira Condomine? something like that? And Madame Ar--what again? My poor brain.))

    Laura--headband. Plaid skirt. Yes. Doing it. Thanks!!