"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."
-"The Fall of the House of Usher", Edgar Allen Poe
That may be my favorite first line of all time. Not as much for its grammatical construction or use of description, and not even because it's my favorite story (it isn't). The reason I love this line is because of the connection I have with it. I was born a week before Halloween, and the season and my imagination have always gone hand in hand over the years.
My parents introduced me to many of my most important cultural influences, one of which was the stories of Ray Bradbury. From the first collection of his short works that I read (a brief anthology entitled "Dinosaur Tales"), Bradbury's combination of the macabre and the nostalgic have always found a perfect niche in my imagination. One minute you're reading about goblins and martians, the next he's connecting it to lost loved rituals of his youth, like making Dandelion Wine. Reading "The Halloween Tree" has become somewhat of a yearly tradition for me.
While many people love Bradbury's books, rarely have they ever been translated into decent movies. The only one I sincerely enjoyed was "Something Wicked This Way Comes". So when it comes to the theatrical interpretation of "my season", the job lies squarely in the hands of Tim Burton. I'll never forget standing in line with my sister and my dad at the Villa on opening night of "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The gothic Burton crowd was out in all its glory, and as eccentric as they looked, we couldn't deny that we had something deep in common with them. Burton's melding of the bizarre and horrifying along with the innocent and childlike in films like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice" drives home his main repeated point: don't judge a book by its blood-stained, deformed, google-eyed cover. I never got into the big-time horror franchises like "Friday the 13th" or "Halloween". Even as a kid I had a sense of what made for a good story, and what was simply a gore-fest. Burton told heartfelt stories of sincerity and morality, and packaged them in the unlikeliest of wrappers.
One of the best things about Halloween is that everyone gets a socially acceptable venue to express their oddball side, consequence-free, through the hallowed costume tradition. This ritual also enabled me to connect with my love of science fiction, especially "Star Wars". As a kid at Tolman Elementary School I took full advantage of my opportunity and dressed up as a Stormtrooper in the first grade, then as Han Solo in the second grade.
"Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"
The Han Solo costume may have been my best ever. My parents added a yellow stripe on each seam of my brown church pants and had me unbutton my white button-up shirt a bit to expose the place where my Harrison Ford-esque chest hair would have grown had I been twenty years older. To this I added a custom-sewn black vest, and coordinated with some brown hairspray to give me a darker shade of coif. The final element to my genius was my official Han Solo blaster, purchased for nine dollars after earning the money by sweeping dead cherries out of my parent's driveway.
"Wait'll they get a load of me..."
Han Solo was the peak of my costume-making, but it wasn't the end. Throughout the rest of my underage years I came up with a few others, like the Punk and Zombie outfits I made for my late Elementary School celebrations.
Admirable for the effort.
There wasn't a whole lot of action to speak of in the secondary ed days. My party attendance was minimal, and I celebrated Halloween mostly through movies and books in a typically anti-social manner. From the seventh grade through the first year or two following my mission to Chicago, the sole memorable costume highlight would have been a prank I pulled with two of my friends one year as they stood behind me posing as bored older brothers and I knelt on the ground under a blanket pretending to be a sorry attempt at a ghost.
But this year I may have pulled off my second-best costume of all time, for a singles ward Halloween party last weekend. It was essentially an upgrade from the Neil Young-ish costume I put together last year (which was really just a collection of clothes I would wear around anyway if I thought I could get away with it).
I'd dress like this everyday if I could. I don't think Jared "Kip Dynamite" Adams would, though.
This years pimp costume was a detailed and crafted masterpiece assembled from the gracious contributions of several friends and the darkened corners of my own closet. The key piece was a downright diva-esque white fur coat loaned by my old friend Kimbo. That alone would have been brilliant, but I also paired it with the Chidester family's pair of brown leather pants for added effect. A straw cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses were my own, as was an obscene button-up shirt and thrifted pair of cowboy boots. I also already owned the "Praise the Lord" belt buckle. After market additions included a cane from John Bowers and a holiday goblet from Tyler Barnes. (We filled the goblet with sparkling apple cider, also acquired from Bowers). The only item I had to buy was the flaming orange wig that felt like a better choice than the massive, awkward afro wig I already owned.
Leather pants in all their glory. My sister the beatnik is at my right.
Now with posse in tow, I pose at the ward party with John Bowers (left) and Tyler Barnes (not left).
It was a team effort, good enough for second place at the party's costume competition*, and it netted me a gift card from Blockbuster Video. But more importantly, it got plenty of smiles at the party. My only true regret is that I didn't include a moonwalk as part of my costume competition dance routine.
It kind of makes you wonder whether Halloween is one of the rare holidays during the year where you get a bit of a peek behind the scenes of the inner-mental-workings of your friends and family. Given the chance to be weird in public, what would they choose to do? I guess my friend know now: I'd be a pimp.
Halloween '06, anyone?
*First place went to an elaborate multi-member scheme that paired a Willy Wonka-dressed Justin Farr with about nine Oompa-Loompa girls. I certainly had to tip my cowboy hat to that one.