With All Hallows Eve rapidly approaching, I'm excited to welcome Gareth Branwyn, senior editor of Make Magazine and sometimes contributor to BoingBoing to this series. Here's his story:
My memories of Halloween as a child are fairly mundane, cookie-cutter, with cheap dime store plastic costumes, a plastic pumpkin candy bucket, and fragmented visuals, seen from inside of a sweaty mask with ill-cut eye-holes.Thanks for the story, Gareth! I love me some high concept Halloween!
So I've tried to make up for it as an adult by going all out most years. Halloween is, by far, my favorite holiday. I love the creativity of it, the libidinal quality of adult Halloween, and the folk beliefs behind it, of veils between worlds being made permeable, spirits wandering into our realm, the raising of the dead.
I have a reputation among my friends of frequently dressing up in highly conceptual (read: incomprehensible) costumes. One year, the theme was superheroes and I went as my own made-up caped crusader called Mr. Wonderful. He was sort of Superman meets Liberace. The party was in a mechanics shop at the end of a really long driveway. I managed to convince a guy who was a limo driver to drive me to the party in his stretch. I made flags with the Mr. Wonderful logo on them and had them flapping away on the hood, like they were heralding some arriving head of state. Another year, I went as John Glenn on his third trip to space. It was 1998 and Glenn had just taken off on his second trip, aboard the Space Shuttle. I was in a wheelchair at the time, before my hip replacement, so I needed to think of costumes that made sense in a chair. I got a silver lame' flight suit at a costume shop, made suit badges with "Glenn," "Mercury," "Discovery STS-95" (his shuttle mission), and "Discovery One" (using images of the ship from 2001). I wore a skull cap and made myself up in old man makeup. I looked like the wrinkled, dying Dave Bowman from 2001. I had this whole back story about being 90 and on my third mission, to Jupiter's Io. Mostly, the whole business was an excuse to get women to sit on my lap for photos.
One of my all-time favorite, most successful, costumes was of Dr. Strangelove. It was one of those truly serendipitous costume creations. I'd waited until the last moment, and by Halloween day, I still had no costume. I hit on the idea of going as Strangelove. I needed to use the wheelchair this year too, so this character was perfect. I also thought it'd be a relatively easy costume to put together. I had the '50s slim-cut, mod suit, the glasses, the cigarette, all I really needed was the the blonde wig. The costume shop looked like it'd been blasted by a bomb. There was next-to-nothing left on the racks and shelves. No blonde wigs. My wife and I found a long blonde beard in the bargain bin. It'd have to do. We brought it home and she piled, and pinned, and trimmed, and I'll be damned if it didn't end up looking like Strangelove hair. With the suit, the glasses, the one leather glove on the dead hand, and the cigarette, I looked amazingly convincing. I also shaved my beard for the occasion, for the first time in decades (the previous time had also been for a costume). At the party, a big artists' free-for-all in downtown DC, I parked my chair at the edge of the dance floor. When a song came on that I really wanted to dance to, I'd start to shimmy and shake in my chair, like an ex-Nazi possessed. I would then feebly stand up and cry out, in a croaky German accent, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” Then I'd start dancing my ass off. People got a big kick out of it.
The above picture is from one of the years (1984?) where we were living in a group house and the whole group went as The Addams Family. That's the “real” Patch Adams as Gomez. We were a house of all impressively eccentric people, so going as the Addams Family wasn't much of a stretch. I'm Cousin It, on the left. My whole-hair body is made from a crapload of fake fur material. It was hot as hell in there and I couldn't see very well out of the eye-holes, which brings us full circle to those arrested memories of my childhood. I may still find myself in sweaty, restrictive costumes, but I can assure you that the view from my ill-cut eye-holes is far more exciting than anything that little suburban unfortunate ever could have imagined.
Other Halloween Stories:
Terry Border and the Dangerous Hombre
The Best Laid Plans, etc...
Rachel Hobson - Walk Like an Egyptian
Noah Scalin - Best/Worst Costume
Chuck Scalin (Noah's Dad) - The Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree