Friday, October 29, 2010

How I saved Halloween from lameness

I've been pretty bah-humbuggish about holidays ever since I was in seventh grade and realized that Christmas is a meaningless orgy of consumerism.  I vividly remember the moment it dawned on me.  I was lying on my bed in our apartment in Moscow, which smelled of gas leaks and pine-scented incense, and even the Kiss poster on my wall couldn't penetrate the funk that had set in as my parents valiantly struggled to recreate something like the Christmas we would have been experiencing were we back in the States.  This is probably the type of bleak revelation that occurs to most Muscovites in the dead of winter; but my dim view of the holiday persisted well beyond the spring thaw and our return to the U.S.

And while my humbuggery has been tempered over the years with a grudging appreciation for tradition and an ability to derive pleasure from proximity to the joy of others, all the hoopla for the big holidays seems hardly worth the hassle, and your Hallmark holidays like Valentine's day can cram it as far as I'm concerned.

But Halloween was always different for me.  It was the only rock 'n' roll holiday.  With its focus on free candy and pranks, it was unapologetically decadent.  And its decadence was not in the guise of piety, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, but decadence just for the hell of it.  I could get behind that.

In addition to the delightful depravity of Halloween, the other element that appealed to me was the masquerade.  For the same reason, I also loved Fasching when we lived in Germany, which is pretty much the same thing as Mardi Gras or Carnival: an opportunity to disguise yourself and behave in ways you normally would never consider behaving.  With impunity.

My love for dressing up persisted through college and beyond.  I never did anything very elaborate or expensive--my costumes were usually made of stuff that was lying around the house or at my local thrift store--but I came up with some pretty decent ones.  I even won valuable prizes at a few costume contests: a Miller Genuine Draft bar light for my "Jesus H. Christ on a Crutch," a VHS tape of Ghost for my "Lone Rollerblader of the Apocalypse," and a bottle of Andre and case of Kools for a group costume in which we portrayed the Village People, to the delight of the patrons of the only gay bar in Charlottesville (this was 1991-ish, when references to the Village people were still unexpected and funny.) 

Sometimes my costumes were topical: a dead stockbroker in '87, and, with my wife (then girlfriend) in '92, Woody Allen and Soon Yi Previn.  Sometimes they were pop-culture themed, like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo in '99-ish, which consisted of brown sweats, a Santa hat, white gloves, and my face covered in brown lipstick.  Unfortunately, South Park was not as well-known as it is now, as I realized by the expression on the face of the African American guy I had never met before whose party I arrived at, having been invited by a mutual friend, and who was understandably put off by what appeared to be a guy in blackface crashing his party.

One more recent costume I'm kind of proud of was a group concept that we used about five years ago when Dr. Mom, me, and a couple of our gay buddies went to San Francisco for the legendary Castro District Halloween party.  Somehow I came up with the idea of going as fireflies (or "lightning bugs," depending on where you're from) and I fashioned illuminated butt-gear for our group out of cheap plastic Ikea light fixtures.  As was the case with the Mr. Hanky debacle, my instincts were a little off the mark, since it turns out most Californians have never seen a lightning bug.  Nonetheless, people seemed to enjoy our glowing asses.  In fact, mine was violated by the dryer-vent appendage of a robot.

Lone Rollerblader of the Apocalypse (with minion), circa 1990.  Made entirely with items you would find in the home of any four college guys: rollerblades, hockey gear, chrome goalie's mask, leather shorts, fishnet stockings, dyed sheepskins, weightlifting belt, animal bones, skanky wig.  I had a broken wrist at the time, which would soon lead to my romance with Dr. Mom as I used it as an excuse to study her notes for "Faith and Doubt," the religion class we both were taking.


But since the kids were born, I haven't really been able to get in the spirit of Halloween.  Last year, when they were just barely past the fourth trimester, we stuffed them in some spooky onesies and carted them around to a couple parties, which was fine, if not particularly exciting.

This year I wanted to do something more creative--something along the lines of my past costumes.  But unfortunately, inspiration failed me.  With two days to go before Halloween, I had nothing.

Why was it that it used to come so easily to me, and now, try as I might, I couldn't come up with any good ideas?  What was I doing in the past that I wasn't doing now?

I racked my brain for the key to my former creativity, but no answer presented itself.

In the past, I had simply surrounded myself with the tools and materials I had at hand, and it was almost as if I were possessed with the spirit of Halloween.

So I decided to try to recreate the process this afternoon while the girls napped, hoping the spirit would once again find me.  I secluded myself in the garage (with the baby monitor receiver close-by at all times, of course) and got started.

First, I assembled the raw materials:

Next, I collected the tools I thought I might need:

And then I waited.


When I regained consciousness, I had no idea what time it was.  It was dark out, and I was lying on the garage floor among the shredded remains of my material pile.  I heard the twins babbling on the monitor.  

I must have fallen into some sort of artistic reverie.  Kind of like William Blake when he had visions of angels in his back yard.  (Or was that Robert Blake?  I can never keep them straight.)  I suppose the vodka may have had something to do with my state too, but I'm pretty sure it was mostly caused by art.

When my head cleared a bit, I trudged back to the house to find that Dr. Mom had already come home from work.  And the twins?  They were happily reading books while wearing their new Halloween costumes.

It had worked!  My plan had worked!  These were perhaps the best costumes I had ever fashioned with my own hands!

They were a bit conventional, to be sure, but appropriate for the little girls, whose favorite book of the moment is about a ladybug, and features bees as supporting characters.  And the degree of detail was quite impressive for a two-hour project.  I had even attached laundry instruction tags inside!


As I admired my work, I heard Dr. Mom rustling around in the living room, breaking down some boxes to put into the recycling bin or something.  She must have come home and found the costumes and decided to try them on the kids.

"Oh, there you are," she said.  "Did you see the kids' costumes?"

"Uh, yeah.  I kind of made them, so I guess I saw them."

"Yeah, right," she said.  "You and Amazon, Daddy."  By which I'm sure she meant "You're an amazing daddy."  Her English is still a little dodgy sometimes.


  1. I love it. Your kids are adorable. And yes, I think she did mean that you are an amazing Dad. Or possibly she meant that she is an Amazon and you are merely her

  2. yeah, amazon even got the bumblebee's stripes to match throughout...they are adorable!.

  3. LOVE the costumes. I too am not the biggest Halloween fan, but now that I have a 3 year old who "gets it," it's more fun. Also, I've learned to buy a million fun-sized candy bars, and since we have approximately 4 trick-or-treaters stop by, I get to keep all that fun for myself.

  4. Mrs Jack said last year that she liked the horror mask I was wearing.

    I hadn't got changed yet...

  5. You could put those little munchkins in potato sacks and they'd still be adorable...

  6. Dang. Just adorable. I'm going to teach them both to fly on Saturday (those costumes have jet packs, right?).


  7. You know how I feel about lady bugs. Squishy adorable!

  8. How do you get them to do the RAAAAAAAA poses? It's fricking hilarious.

  9. Okay, I have come to the following conclusions:

    Your daughters are absolutely adorable
    Your wife is not a procrastinator
    You need to clean your garage

    I have two daughters who are 1 year apart. They are 17 & 18 so I don't get to have fun anymore but when they were young, I loved dressing them up. My favorite year was when I dressed them up as damsels in distress. Which meant the older one wore a pretty dress and I tied cardboard railroad tracks to her and number two (that's what I call my youngest -- she just loves that I do that) was dressed in a princess constume and I built a cardboard tower around her with holes for her arms. (I love always reminds me of Halloween)

  10. That's one fierce bumblebee in that last picture. The other bugs in the garden are going to SCREAM AND FLEE IN TERROR.

    Hope you guys have a good Halloween. Even though they're too young to appreciate it, will you guys do some neighborhood trick or treating? It's awesome when you go with toddlers -- their cuteness brings in the candy, which you then get to eat by yourself.

  11. I love Cobra's enthusiasm and of course, what I feel may be her signature move - the fist pump.

  12. "Amazon Dad" ~ you have your outfit now!

  13. Absolutely love the new picture.

  14. i just noticed your header.. dang, there were times where i felt like my kids were stomping around like

  15. Simply incredible. And your new banner is the definition of badass.

  16. Awesome new masthead.

    And the fact you were brave (and dumb) enough to do the Mr. Hanky outfit gives me a whole new respect for you. Just don't tell any one.

  17. Wow! How'd you do that? Cobra looks as if she's ready to take over, and Butterbean is considering whether or not to jump in. Happy Halloween!

  18. Haha! Great job on making *cough*ordering*cough* those awesome costumes!

    And let me say, your new header photo might just be the most awesome thing I've seen this week... kudos my friend, I laughed out loud at work.

  19. Love the new banner. Made me jump a little bit.

    Those are some amazing costumes, phenomenal in their attention to detail. How did you get the right size for the laundry tags, though? Or did you just make that up as you went along?

  20. You have an awesome set of tools.

  21. Hey! Pics of Woody Allen costume, please and thank you.

    Oh, and I insulted your children today. You're welcome.

  22. Seriously love the header. I wasn't expecting it and busted up laughing as soon as I saw it.

    Anyway, your girls are SO adorable in their costumes. I wish I could get as much done while I was passed on the floor.

  23. Great costumes. It's like I always say: Just give a guy some power tools & stand back & watch the magic happen.

    By the way, dude, the new header is EPIC!!!

  24. Oh the cuteness. It's just too much!
    PS- LOVE the new header.

  25. Damn, I think that blogger ate my comment.

  26. @Michelle--The latter suggestion seems more likely, actually.

    @KBF--Apparently, I am quite a tailor when extremely drunk.

    @Amber--Potato sacks are their costumes for next year!

    @Mish--Of course they have jet packs! What kind of lame-ass costume doesn't have jet packs?

    @Elly Lou--In small batches, they are quite cute, it's true. But in swarms, they are horrifying.

    @Frank--Believe me, it doesn't take much to get Cobra to go RAAAAA. For this photo, I held a book open to a picture of a doggie.

    @Nari--Your conclusions are pretty accurate. But my wife does procrastinate on some things. You should see the pile of shoes that have not yet been filed since we remodeled the house and shuffled everything around. Sheesh.

    @DiPi--She is kind of a killer bee, actually. This year we are being lame and trick-or-treating in a friends' suburban neighborhood. Less traffic to worry about, and probably fewer sex offenders.

    @HHH--Thanks! And I wish I could take credit for the banner, but I had very little to do with it.

    @Always Home & Uncool--Yeah, the Mr. Hanky seemed awesome as I walked out the door, but proved to be more of a burden than a blessing as the night wore on. I grew a lot from that experience.

    @Granny J--I did it by being nice to one of my readers who knows how to work the Photoshop! Pretty cool, no? Happy Halloween!

    Dr. C--Thanks for laughing!

    @The Brewsky--It's good to jump every once in a while. To tell you the truth, I have no recollection of how I made those costumes. It's kind of a divine mystery.

    @Whit--I'm so glad you said that, because I invented a joke for just such an occasion. Ready?...

    "That's what she said."

    HaHaHa! Get it? Because, "she" is like an unidentified woman with whom I have been or am currently being intimate with. And she might say something about my "tools" because that could be construed as a plausible euphemism for genitalia. See where I'm going with this? So, if "she" (hypothetical sex partner) said that I had "an awesome set of tools," why then, she would be complimenting my manly equipment, so to speak, and possibly implying that I have sexual prowess to spare. Hence, your innocuous comment about my woodworking tools are twisted so as to shift the focus to my masculinity and skill at lovemaking. And yet another layer of hilarity emerges as you are left looking like a bit of a rube for allowing me to use your words to promote my virility. Bam!

    @Sarah P.--I don't know if any pics of the Woody costume exist. It was really just one of those floppy fishing hats he used to wear, a tweed jacket, and horn rim glasses. And Dr. Mom dressed like a little tramp. Also, how dare you insult my children.

    @Karen--You'll be surprised what you can achieve while unconscious in the garage. I just realized that I also changed the sparkplugs in the mini-van while I was making the costumes.

    @Vinny--I always say the same thing! (But sometimes dudes lose digits after I say it.) I agree about the header. All credit goes to Peter Vincent.

    @Robin--Thank you! Happy Halloween!

  27. @Jack--Dammit! That happened to somebody on my last post too. Maybe it happens when we are both trying to post at the same time. I have no reason to believe that, but it's what my superstitious caveman brainstem is telling me.

  28. Damn, I guess the new banner got the seal of approval. I think that's the biggest reaction I ever got on a project. Guess all those hours and dollars spent on college finally paid off. ha.

  29. You should totally open your own costume shop. Genius. Genius! Sleep sewing. I'm going to go try that right now.

  30. Those costumes are adorable. The new header rocks. And I wouldn't worry about clueless Californians too much. I once went to work as the Headless Horseman with a plastic pumpkin for a head. That was fun to explain about 500 times. To be fair, a lot of people I worked with were originally from South America, so it would have been a whole new cultural experience for them.

  31. Hahaha! "christmas is an orgy of comsumerism" so true! you're hilarious! :)

  32. I'm bad at all holidays. I'm a bah-humbug at Christmas especially, and I'm terrible at Halloween. In fact, as a kid I had two costumes: bum and hooker,(why my mom let me dress as a hooker, I'll never know, but it seemed like fun at the time). My husband keeps coming up with all kinds of costumes for me, but they're all variations on the hooker theme: nurse, Catholic schoolgirl, etc. I guess dressing as me is scary enough most days.

  33. What you need is for your girls to go to my son's school. These people LOSE THEIR EVER LOVING MINDS over Halloween. Dads spend months in their garages building, building, building. It's pretty amazing. There's a big Halloween parade and then they give our prized. And I'm telling you, nothing stirs up the creative impulses like knowing your child could win a prize. Last year, I spent 3 days building a light-weight coffin out of cardboard, which I lined with red-satin, then dressed my son as a vampire, and rigged the coffin so he could carry it on his back and dramatically open it at will. WINNER! This year, I spent a mere 2 days making a chicken costume out of an old hoody and 6 feather boas. WINNER AGAIN!Oh good Lord, I guess I should be writing this as a post in my own blog. Off I go...

  34. I am still trying to recover from the hysterical laughter induced by your firefly costume... oh, GEEZ!!

    Those are truly amazing costumes, and the level of detail you managed to achieve with a circular saw, an extension cord, and a Red Ryder wagon wheel. Dude, you seriously rock.

  35. I see your bumblebee and ladybug, and I raise you Strawberry Shortcake and Thomas the Tank engine.

    Suck it.

  36. Nice. I'm loving the new picture at the top of the page.

  37. lightning bugs down here, big daddy. great banner. i love it. the twins are adorable. (we ougtta have a multiple-kids-of-dads-over-40 adorable fest sometime. happy halloween, brother.

  38. CUTE! The effort you went to. Just admirable! :)
    OOH! I had a bee costume when I was little, it was for a tap dancing resital, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do, I was only three. All I knew is that I had to sniff a giant flower, do some twirls and look cute, then pretend to sleep while some fairies twittered around.
    You should check out my Pinata..

  39. Haven't passed through for a week or two but OH MY GOD! Awesome banner picture! Otherwise, I suspect I have a similar language barrier to your wife in this particular case.


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