On Sunday night I was cooking dinner and saw a large plastic bag on my kitchen counter. Thinking it was a food item we had forgotten to put away, I reached into the bag and suddenly I was holding a boney hand. I let out a little scream and dropped the bag. "Judy!" I called out to my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht. "What the hell is in that plastic bag?"
"Aren't they cute?" she answered. "They're skeletons I bought to put up on our door for Halloween."
"Great," I thought to myself. "One more scare like that and the skeleton she can tack up on the door next year will be mine."
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and the thought of Halloween brings me back to the first Halloween I can remember.
I was about six years old and it was a time when there were no ready-made costumes to be found anywhere. They just didn't exist.
Today kids go to elaborate stores to buy Halloween masks and costumes. This year many of them will be dressed like Barack and Michelle Obama.
In my day there were no kids walking around wearing Harry and Bess Truman masks. It was a time when we respected our President . . . but that's another story.
My first Halloween costume was a black cardboard hat that my father made for me. Then I watched him burn a cork and, when it cooled off, he used the blackened part of it to give me a black mustache and beard.
"That's it," he said. "What am I?" I asked. "You're a Puritan," he answered. "What's that?" I asked, looking at myself in a mirror. "An early American settler," he answered. "Oh," I answered, not having a clue what he meant.
The fact is, when I think back, the image of the black cardboard hat, the beard and curled black ash mustache is indelibly etched in my memory. I looked a lot more like a rabbinical student than a Puritan, but who knew in those days? Who knew?
Years later, my children were much more sophisticated about their Halloween costumes than I was when I was their age.
When my daughter Jessie was 10 years old she came out of her room wearing a black leather dress and long spiky black boots. She looked like she was going trick-or-treating as Heidi Fleiss. "Who are you?" I asked in horror.
"I'm the bad Mariah Carey," said Jessie. "And I'm the good Mariah Carey," said her friend Jessica, who wore angel's wings.
That year when I asked my son J.T. whom he was going to be dressed as, he answered, "I'm dressing up like the crazy guy Billy in the movie Scream." As he was telling me this he was putting on a scary hooded black robe and then he picked up the mask – the most frightening, horrible white face, frozen in a scream. He then made the mistake of looking at himself in the mirror. And, so help me, he scared himself. "I . . . I . . . I . . . don't want to be a bad guy," he said, ripping the mask off and getting out of the robe in record time. His face was as white as the mask. He had scared himself, and I was in danger of biting a hole in my lip to keep from laughing.
That night, after the costumes were off, we packed up and headed back to the city. When we got to Manorville the kids reminded me that they hadn't eaten anything but candy. I pulled into MacDonald's and when I walked in the sight that greeted me was right out of Kafka. The young kids who worked behind the counter were wearing their Halloween costumes. Two of them were dressed as — are you ready? — cows. Cows making hamburgers. I thought of Ray Kroc, the founder of MacDonald's, and wondered how fast he was spinning in his grave.
The sight of these guys dressed as cows making mooing sounds while they were selling hamburgers in MacDonald's topped off the night. Instead of ghosts saying "Boo!" we had MacDonald's cows saying "Moo!" But the fact is everybody seemed like they were having so much fun. And, for a second, I wished I had my cardboard hat and cork beard and mustache and was a six-year-old Puritan again.
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