Friday, October 29, 2004

When did Halloween Become Such a Big Deal?

Halloween was once a minor, second-tier kids holiday, but thanks to some ingenious marketers, ever ready to sell us tons of stuff we don't need, it is now mostly a big-deal grown-up holiday. It is also different from other big holidays: for Christmas, the Fourth Of July, Easter, Thanksgiving, and New Year's, you pretty much just need to show up! Not for Halloween. Not anymore. No sir-ee-bob! (What does that mean, anyway, "sir-ee-bob"??)

Sorry, sidetracked, okay, right, where was I? Back to Halloween. Halloween isn't like the other holidays. It doesn't require a casserole, some onion dip or just picking up a six-pack of your favorite beverage. It's not about a cute outfit with matching shoes or roasting a large carcass of meat. No. Halloween requires, CREATIVITY. And, if you live in Southern California, the bar is set high my friends. Some people here take this holiday very seriously. You should see my neighborhood if you have any doubts. The marketing geniuses have made a fortune here. No longer do people rummage through their garages looking for old clothing and scraps of newspaper to create a headless man to sit on the front porch in a lawn chair. No way! Now people spend hundreds of dollars turning their front porch and lawn into a scene out of a Freddy Kruger movie.

When I lived in Illinois I don't remember Halloween being a grown-up event. It was for kids. The kids dressed up and the parents put on sweaters, grabbed flashlights and walked from house to house, reminding the costumed trick-or-treaters to say "thank you," as they shoved candy in their sacks. But, not anymore. Now people have parties under tents, the kind of tent that's rented from a big time party rental store. The kind that requires professional assembly, probably only done by union labor working on double time. There is a live band when you walk in and a haunted house in the garage.

I don't know about the rest of the country but here in Southern California where there are prop houses and thousands of people working as extras who have closets filled with costumes, where every waitress or waiter is really an actor or writer - here, Halloween is serious business. When we were kids we dressed up as bums because it was a costume we could throw together in 10 minutes. The days of throwing on ripped pants and a dirty shirt, are over.

Now you get catering with tuxedoed men and women serving from a full bar that was brought in for the occasion, with hors d'oeuvres and main courses served on fine china. There is even silverware.

It's absurd. Yet, people do it. Grown people.

I had a computer instructor a few years ago who was gay and lived in North Hollywood. If you think Southern California in general is Halloween crazy, you can't imagine what North Hollywood is like. My gay friends who live there take Halloween VERY SERIOUSLY. It's like a religious experience. For the entire month of October, the question of what they will be occupies their minds. And, believe me, this isn't about dusting off an old policeman's uniform that stays in the back of the closet year after year that you hope you can still pour yourself into. This is serious business. They work for days, weeks, sometimes months to create the most elaborate costumes you could imagine. There are sketches. Drawings. Prototypes. There are multiple parties, Huge parades, contests, awards!

This isn't just about witches and spooks and goblins. This isn't about a princess here and a superhero there. This is Halloween big-time folks!

In North Hollywood musical ensembles are produced. It's not unusual to see a full cast with coordinated costumes, sets, musicians, singers and dancers parading down the street together. I don't think it's possible, even at Mardi Gras, to see more men in drag than in North Hollywood on Halloween.

As a child and as an adult, I always hated Halloween. I never knew what to be. I could never think of anything clever and often ended up making up an excuse like "Oh, geez, I'm so sorry, I had an important business dinner meeting I just HAD to attend before coming here and did not have time to go home and change into the Incredible Hulk costume that I sewed completely by hand!"

I even hated having to get my kids costumes! Of course now Halloween has become big enough business you can buy or rent costumes on every corner. Wasn't so 20 years ago when my kids where little. The best we had was a plastic molded mask with a piece of elastic that if you were lucky didn't suffocate your kid or remove their ear or nose when you took it off. The eye holes were never where the eyes were and the mouth hole was never where the mouth was. Now the costumes are so elaborate! These are expensive investments. Some people must dip into their child's college fund to make sure they win the grade school prize for most money spent on a costume.

One year, when the three boys were young, I decided to go all the way with the Halloween decorations for the house. We had fun creating spider webs and strategically placing big hairy spiders that with a flick of your hand could land on some small unassuming child as they smiled and asked for a "Trick or Treat!"

In addition to other creations that filled the yard, I made a "scary man" for the front porch. He had a hideous scary mask face with eyeballs hanging out and was dressed in tattered clothes stuffed with newspaper. I found these soft molded "limbs" that looked so realistic you'd think someone had taken a chainsaw to them less than an hour ago. One "piece" in particular was a VERY realistic. A flesh-torn bloody foot with bones and tissue hanging out - I had the "scary man" holding onto his severed foot with a look of horror on his face and covered him with fake blood so he glistened in the dark. Pretty gruesome. Just perfect.

About six months after Halloween I took my car in for a repair. When I dropped the car off I inadvertently left my wallet under the seat of the car. I called the woman at the service desk and asked her if she'd run out to my car and take a look to see if she could find my wallet. She came back to the phone, out of breath, panting, and steaming mad. "What the "h*ll is wrong with you!!?? What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack!!??"

Completely innocent of what she could be talking about and not understanding what I'd done to make her so upset, I asked concerned, "What? What's the matter - are you okay? Did you find my wallet?"

"NO!" she hissed. "I found a bloody severed foot under the seat!!" It seems "the boys" thought the realistic foot was just too good a prop to only use once a year and had placed it under the car seat just waiting for the first innocent, unsuspecting person, to reach under there for a dropped receipt or, as in this case, a lost wallet! Poor girl had reached under there and when she felt something "spongy" and large thought she might have had hold of my wallet only to pull out a bloody severed foot with bone and tissue hanging out of it. She most definitely did not find the humor in it that the three boys did when I told them what happened.

They were punished but I could clearly tell by the smirks on their faces, it was all worth it. Just the thought of that poor, innocent, unsuspecting woman reaching under there and pulling this bloody foot out was worth just about any punishment I could hand out. The only thing they regretted I'm sure was not being there when it happened.