When you do not know what you are doing, do it neatly

The masks scratched the corners of your eyes, your nostrils, and the sides of your mouth. Their colors were so super saturated that they would spontaneously combust if you walked under a black light.You couldn’t see through the eye holes, and if you didn’t wander into a bus or walk off a cliff, there was a good chance that the hot condensation wetting your face was going to precipitate a mild rash.Yet in spite of it all, it was an utter thrill every year to see the boxes with their clear cellophane start to appear on the shelves at Ben Franklin. I’m not quite old enough to have written, “at the Ben Franklin”, but close enough.Collegeville, Ben Cooper, Halco, Magic-Glo, and Wonderland manufactured cheap plastic and vinyl Halloween costumes from the 1950s through the late ’70s, and every kid who ever raced down the Halloween aisle of a Kmart or quietly prowled through the rows of forlorn dust covered boxes at the back of the Ben Franklin had exactly two opinions of these things.

The first was that they were contemptible; a terrible abuse of the spirit of Halloween. Why would you wear an Ultraman costume that is covered with pictures of Ultraman? It should be all silver with a picture of that blue flashy thingy on the chest, not emblazoned with Ultraman Protector of the world! I mean really! When I put on the costume, I am Ultraman, not a billboard advertising Ultraman!

As was evidenced by the cosistently large numbers of these things sold year after year, the second and possibly more dominant opinion was simply, “Hey, Ultraman. Cool!”

I fell somewhere in between.

It could be argued that one’s Halloween costume is the essence of Halloween itself. Certainly a poor choice in costume or just plain rotten luck, Charlie Brown’s muddled ghost for example, could seriously dampen spirits on halloween night, but when it really came down to it, you could put up with a lot and still have a great time. How else was it possible for companies to pawn these atrocious and yet wonderful little nightmares on kids across the US?

It boils down to one thing. They knew how crazy we were.

They could slap “flame retardant” on the cover and satisfy our parents. Everything else just sort of blended together for the most part. We were much more picky, and woe to the kid whose mom picked out his costume for him.

– Here’s your costume, Billy.
– But momm, I wanna be Ace Frehley!
– You’ll be no such thing! Don’t you know that KISS stands for Knights in Satan’s Service?
– But…but…is this Pluto? From Mickey Mouse?
– Oh, it’s cute! You’ll be just adorable!

I was sooooo lucky not to be that kid. You remember him. The quiet boy dressed as Raggedy Andy. He went through all the motions, still managed a muffled “trig-er-tree” at every house, even collected as much candy as the rest of us, but you could just tell. He was dead inside.

My costume varied over the years. I remember being Spiderman and a ghost and a crocodile ghost among other things. The store-bought costumes weren’t without their charms, but I much preferred to make my own out of this and that. Of course, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t linger at the Halloween display and gaze upon row after row of fantastic faces glaring, grinning, snearing, leering back at me. In fact, that hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

Like sex and to a lesser degree pizza, Halloween under a scratchy sweaty mask is still Halloween.

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