Then there were the “theater mothers” who had attended some liberal arts school — you know, the types who were always trying to get a local book club or a yoga class up on its feet, the types who were said to cook some meals without meat. The children of these mothers had clearly spent hours in make-up until they were no longer recognizable. They looked like extras from a zombie movie, some impaled with daggers, some with an eyeball hanging out of its socket.
A few years later when I was in college, one of my classmates dressed up as Roderick and Madeline, the doomed siblings from Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” She had made a bust of Roderick’s head out of plaster and who knows what else, and then fabricated the actual house with a fissure down the middle, symbolizing the decay of both the house and the family. Lady Madeline’s head emerged through the roof of one side of the house, while Roderick’s was somehow attached to the other side, so that the twins could glance at one another with a mixture of profound dread and pity.
Theater mom, I thought to myself.
I was dressed as an accountant. Khakis, a blue shirt and red tie, and the only blazer I owned, navy with big gold buttons embossed with little anchors. I wore sensible shoes. I parted my hair on the side and popped a calculator in my front pocket. Accountant.
I hadn’t done any better as a child. Every year, it was the same routine. I would think about my costume for several days before Halloween, and then wind up going to the dime store at the last minute to buy a cheap plastic Batman mask and a crappy blue plastic cape.
A couple of years were even worse. One year, I waited too late and all that was left was a lame Casper mask and some plastic vampire teeth. I figured I could do better on my own, even if my own mother was not exactly a crafty soccer mom. I rummaged through all of the closets in the house and came up with my costume, an incoherent, random mixture of things: a camouflage shirt, corduroy pants, gym shoes, and a train engineer’s hat. When I met my friends — Spiderman, Wonder Woman, the Fonz, Frankenstein, and Joe Namath — for trick or treating, they looked at me, understandably befuddled.
“Who are you supposed to be?” said Joe Namath.
“Multiple personalities?” I said weakly.
My only consolation was that I was growing up too fast and it would soon all be over. At least, that is what all of the grown-ups said, every single one of them, dispensing this wisdom at regular intervals, and then pausing over a cigarette or a cup of coffee to peer at some distant vision of themselves in the past, when they were green as new grass and whimsical as colts and every day was completely different and distinct from every other day. Before male pattern baldness and skin tags and halitosis and tax deadlines, the real horror show.
In that particular context, adulthood didn’t seem much to envy, but at least it had one compelling advantage: I would no longer have to dress up. In those days, no grown-ups wore costumes, not even the theater moms. Of course, I could not comprehend the myriad wonders of the future. Who could? No one would have been able to convince me then that someday people would be able to watch movies on phones that they could carry around in their pockets. Or that grown-ups would dress up with their children for Halloween.
One thing that has not changed is that I am still no good at it. Last year, every other member of my family looked fantastic. I wore a black wig, a big black fedora, and big black boots. I looked like a cross between Slash, the guitar player from Guns N’ Roses, and the Undertaker, a professional wrestler.
This year, my wife had the bright idea that we would dress up as stereotypes. She would be the typical Hillary Clinton voter and I would be the typical Donald Trump voter. Her costume was magnificent, while I ended up looking like a guy auditioning for a community theater play someone wrote based on the show Duck Dynasty. She had strangers asking to take her picture. I had kids hiding behind their mothers, pointing and trembling.
Next year, it’s back to Batman, I guess. Unless I can convince my wife to play Madeline Usher and help me come up with a Roderick that does not look like a cross between Keith Richards and Newt Gingrich. The neighborhood kids might never recover from seeing that.