Sunday, November 5, 2017

Halloween Scrooge

I’m relieved to have survived another Halloween. I’m a Halloween scrooge and I don’t care who knows it. Surely my quarrel with Halloween has roots in trauma I experienced as a child from this holiday; trauma that has nothing to do with the undead and everything to do with myopia. I am comically nearsighted and, as a child, wore glasses with lenses thick enough to burn bugs. I have had contact lenses since the age of 16, but during my trick-or-treating years, I wore glasses. It doesn’t require rocket science to understand that when you put a plastic Halloween mask over a pair of glasses, they fog up. For this reason, I spent many a Halloween night stumbling over lawn furniture, falling in birdbaths, arguing with garden gnomes, and attempting to hack my way out of labyrinthine hedges and shrubbery with a plastic fairy wand. As my friends with 20/20 vision leapt joyously down the street, I was left in the dust extricating myself from the obstacle course of yard accoutrements and crawling through petunia beds retrieving my candy, which had spilled.

It took me years to wise up and wear costumes that did not require a mask. I’m not sure why I bothered to trick-or-treat anyway because I got to keep very little of my candy. One of my brothers has Celiac, and in order not to traumatize him alone with the unfairness of not being able to eat most of the loot we hauled in, my mother traumatized all three of us by restricting us to the same candy that my brother could eat, namely pure chocolate. So when we got home with our bulging bags, we poured the full colorful array of candy out on the kitchen table, separated the paltry few pure chocolate items from every other blessed treat, and got to keep that and that alone. My mother took our discarded candy to the local children’s rehabilitation center and gave it to the bedridden children who couldn’t go trick-or-treating. Now, all these years later, I appreciate my mother’s beautiful altruism and her brilliant system for preventing her own children from ingesting pounds of toxic junk. But as a child, I could not get on board with the good deed of treating all the little children at the rehab center to my hard-earned candy. I wonder how the nurses felt about Mom’s kindness since they had to deal with all those children jacked up on sugar who were stuck in bed. You can only play so many games of Parcheesi.

These days, as a nutritionist, I know that sugar is the devil’s brew, one of the most toxic substances in the universe, in the same league with radioactive waste and tweets from the Tyrannosaurus in the White House. Halloween is my personal nightmare on Elm St. When my children came home with their candy, I told them to throw out everything they didn’t like. “It’s not food,” I told them. “It’s garbage, so if you don’t like that kind of candy throw it away.” They sat at the kitchen table with a trash can and discarded at least half the loot because it was stuff they didn’t like. For a few years, when they were very little, I got away with telling them to choose a small selection to keep and that the rest was going to disappear to appease the candy ghost who would come during the night and look for candy to snatch instead of snatching little children. I managed to pare the stash down to a dull roar that way. But that didn’t last long because my children quickly figured out there’s no such thing as a candy ghost. They each had a bag of goodies and every evening after dinner for weeks they chose something for dessert. I couldn’t wait for those bags to dwindle. Unfortunately nothing keeps like sugar. That’s probably why dinosaurs had such bad teeth. Thousands of years from now, when humans have become extinct, candy will rule the Earth.

For a few years I handed out toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters. They looked somewhat confused. Only I could turn Halloween into a dental holiday. One year I gave out tangerines. I have a friend who worked as a doctor in a low-income community and she told me that she gave out condoms to all the teenagers who came trick-or-treating at her house. (I hope the teens didn’t try to eat them.)

The fact that I don’t like dressing up in a costume definitely poses a serious stumbling block for me when it comes to surviving Halloween. Weird and unfamiliar clothing makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious. I can never come up with good costume ideas anyway. My costuming efforts are too obscure for others to understand. One year I dressed in green and went as chlorophyll. When I told people what I was, they looked perplexed. One guy asked me if that’s an energy drink. I told him plants use it to conduct photosynthesis. He excused himself to talk to a woman in a revealing bodice about their favorite King Kong movies. It creeps me out to see other people looking strange in their get-ups. Too hallucinogenic.

The final nail in the Halloween coffin for me is that scary things actually scare me. I can’t watch horror movies because they give me nightmares. I can’t even watch normal movies with violence and torture in them. I hid under the table whenever the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in The Wizard of Oz, until I was eleven years old. My daughter watched every minute of that film at the age of two and laughed her head off (not literally). She couldn’t figure out why her mom cowered behind the couch whenever the flying monkeys appeared. I went to see the 1978 remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers because it was filmed in San Francisco and a lot of people I knew in the tech theater biz worked on the sets. Big mistake. I spent almost the entire film hiding my face in my husband’s shoulder and asking him what was happening. Some guy behind us finally told me in exasperation, “Just look at it, lady.” I had nightmares for weeks from listening to the soundtrack.

I don’t see the humor in fake blood and gore. It looks real to me. Zombies terrify me and I can’t understand what everyone else thinks is so funny about beyond-dead creatures. Space aliens better look benign because if they look like inside-out people then I am so not watching. When someone comes to my door with a pretend axe in their skull and fake blood dripping down, I run screaming to hide under the bed, even if it’s a fourth-grader and the fake blood looks like congealed BBQ sauce. Even if it actually is BBQ sauce. Even if it’s organic BBQ sauce. I don’t mind the fairy princesses and bumblebees, but the ghouls and serial killers terrify me. Masks creep me out. So if you come to my house on Halloween, you will find all the lights out. Perhaps a small pumpkin will grace my front porch; uncarved and still edible, later to be made into a pie sweetened with honey (not the evil-demon sugar). I will be nowhere in sight. Life is already scary enough, and getting scarier by the minute, without purposely finding more ways for us to scare ourselves. My costume for this year? Bacteria. Invisible to the naked eye. (Not an energy drink FYI.)

Benign picture. Not scary.


Ann said...

I'm with you on the Wizard of Oz, I used to leave the room and go find my mom in the kitchen to chat every time the cackle started. My memories are of my older brother negotiating with us younger sisters so that we ended up with lollipops and he had all the reese peanut butter cups. As an adult, I enjoyed making costumes for the kids. It always took three or four times longer than I planned. However, the sight of Noah running around the house for weeks in his cozy golden retriever costume is a lovely memory.

Amy at Woza Books said...

I will concede that I love that you made costumes for your children and that Noah loved his so much that he wore it long afterward. I wonder how many families still make homemade costumes these days. What a sweet old-fashioned thing to do.