I had never been to a Halloween party; and the days of dressing up in more or less fancy costumes lay well behind me. It was with some reluctance and considerable misgivings that I accepted the invitation. Back where and when I grew up, there was no such blood red letter day as Halloween. Your parents might take you to the cemetery to see the candles lit for All Hallows’; but you could not expect to have a ghoulish old time. Such levity was unheard of even among those not attending church services (yet still paying their automatically deduced church tax in fear of social stigma or unemployment).
When first I saw the title character of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. being both concealed and paraded around with a sheet over his head, I had no idea how clever this disguise was; nor did I what “trick or treat” meant. And what about all those carved pumpkins! To me, dressing up was reserved for Carnival, the late winter revels preceding Ash Wednesday, while going from door to door, lantern in hand, caroling and asking for candy was a treat reserved for the feast of St. Martin’s. Who knew you could combine both festivities, have your candy and dress up to boot!
Your costume tells people what you really want to be, one of my school teachers told us. That may very well be true; but, as a pre-adolescent boy, you get uneasy when you look at yourself and others looking at you while dressed in skirt your sister , having raided the closets and not found anything resembling a costume, insisted you wear instead. It was my sister’s choice, not mine, I pointed out; but my teacher’s argument seemed more compelling to those around you (and, you secretly admit, even to yourself). It was this moment of public shaming that took the carefree joy out of fancy dress parties.
Fast forward to Halloween 2008. I am once again in costume. No wigs or dresses, if you please. There are plenty of ill-fitting garments; but little befitting the occasion. What to do? I certainly did not want to go to any great expense; being a good sport could come dear enough. To appear as my favorite comic strip character was a last minute decision, one for which my none-too-sharp pencil mustache had to be sacrificed.
And for what? Only very few people at the party guessed whom I was trying to impersonate, even though the by now nearly eighty year old boy reporter proved highly popular again when, last year, he toured Britain in a colorful stage production. It might have been the lack of preparation or my abject failure to capture this much traveled hero of my youth; and yet, I suspect that such a general shrugging of shoulders is just the kind of response that made it difficult for Spielberg to convince Paramount to green-light his latest project.