Last year on Halloween, I made a last-minute trip to ShopKo to put together a costume. The extent of my purchases for self were a $3.99 Afro wig and two-dollar bottle of hair oil to keep the wig well-lubed. I added that drippy wig to the black pants, suspenders and blue ruffled ’70s tux shirt (which I found on eBay by searching for those exact five words) from my Meat Loaf costume. And I was off to our weekly karaoke night.
Who was I? It took me a half-dozen improvised answers before I settled on Jerry Pekin, replacement bass player for Toto on the European leg of the 1979 Hold the Line tour. My Pekin getup won first prize in the costume contest, to the chagrin of people who actually spent time and money on their Halloween rigs. Honestly, I had that contest locked down no matter what. I had a big group of friends with me, and none of them had entered the contest. Their votes were automatically going to me.
That same ShopKo trip, I bought a Silly Spider costume for Sarah, who was not quite 1 and not quite walking yet. She wore Silly Spider at home for a couple pictures but didn’t leave the house in it until this year, when it was less a full-body costume than an above-the-waist costume. Tiffany coordinated a noteworthy effort, though, dressing Sarah in purple jacket and socks, long-sleeved black shirt and gray pants. Those three colors perfectly matched the palate of the Silly Spider. Let no one say my wife’s religious viewing of all eight seasons of “Project Runway” has been for naught*.
I’ve been back home with the babies for four days now. We go to the park and hang out in the backyard, but Dad remains pretty stationary in his play efforts. Taking Silly Spider Sarah trick or treating in the neighborhood was an awfully involved walking effort for the amount of candy we got. The ratio of houses with candy to houses without candy reminded me of the old Paperboy video game right before you get kicked off the route. Dark house, dark house, dark house, dark house then finally one with the light on.
I put the busted ankle through a hell of a workout** before retreating to our house with only a few flavored mini Tootsie Rolls, some stickers and an oversized Gummie Lifesaver in Sarah’s candy bucket. Tiffany and baby Silas joined us, the latter wearing an adorable orange-and-black sleeper trumpeting the fact that it was baby’s first Halloween.
We decided to bag the neighborhood walkathon and head straight to the Trunk or Treat at a nearby church. Turned out, it was the only place to be. This was my first time doing a Trunk or Treat. I was a single, childless dude up until a couple years ago, but even if I’d had kids, I would have wanted to boycott all Trunk or Treats because of the lame-ass name alone. Little did I know a TOT is like walking among a concentrated cornucopia of stationary, decorated mini-parade floats, all bearing candy.
In the same amount of steps I’d already walked in my neighborhood, I netted — I mean, Sarah netted — 20 times the treats. All you have to do is walk up and grab. When my toddler reached into the candy cauldrons and had a hard time deciding, I plucked out one of everything for us. The owners of the tricked-out trunks were all too distracted by my super-cute kid to notice me taking triple helpings of Three Musketeers. Even if they did, what were they gonna do? They were church people, and I’m a big dude. You’ve got to let stuff like that go. God says.
On top of it, there was free cotton candy and lemonade and a weenie/marshmallow self-roast campfire. And not a single Methodist in attendance used all this generosity as leverage to invite me to church. That’s a good tactic, too — you end up thinking, Wow, if they’re so confident in their church that they don’t even invite you, it must be a great church. I’m still not gonna go, but I enjoyed the sense of community. Everyone knew everyone except us, and we managed to blend.
We skipped the “roast your own hot dog” action because we had the two babies with us but also because a dude whose house was right across the street from the church was yelling at the crowds about his free hot dogs and chili. So we wheeled the DuoGlider over to his place and finally got socially worked over in exchange for goodies. Owner of the house was sick of talking to the same old small-town folks he already knew, so while we were eating his super-greasy chili*** over by the garage, this dude was working his talk-show interview magic.
I don’t often invite sober small talk, particularly with strangers. My approach to these situations is to offer as little information as possible, dash off a good one-liner and exit while they’re laughing. We were trapped this time, but I quickly realized, when this guy asked a personal question, it was only so he could listen for the first available tidbit that would prompt him to tell a tangentially related story about himself. That I could live with. Even better, the second we were done eating his food and drinking his Crystal Light or whatever, we used the old “gotta get these precious babies to bed” excuse and darted back to civilization****.
Even that little side trip helped make 2010 the best Halloween in years. Small town, fall weather, free stuff, beautifully delighted toddler, Tiffany and I sneaking little kisses here and there. It was the kind of simple, beautiful family holiday experience I just didn’t get all those Halloweens I spent drinking, getting rowdy and staying out until damn near sunup.
The best part is, Sarah’s too little to know she earned herself a giant stash of candy that her parents are going to eat the lion’s share of while she’s asleep. Stolen Halloween candy tastes even sweeter. Especially when you’re taking church candy from a baby. Muwahahahahaha…
*One of my more reliable standup bits thus far has been mentioning how I love being married but wish someone would’ve told me beforehand that I’d have to watch reality shows on Bravo until death do us part. It’s one of the hidden wedding vows: Better. Worse. Sickness. Health. Project. Runway. Top. Chef. Real. Housewives. HOLY! CRAP!
**Oh yeah, get this — just before leaving to take Sarah out for Halloween, I realized while strapping up my Aircast boot that I’ve been putting that thing on wrong the entire time. Massive cripple fail.
***I overheard him explaining to a rather large lady how his chili meat recipe yielded the ideal combination of 50% beef, 50% grease. Indeed, the top two inches of crock pot product were composed of nothing but oily orange liquid. He had two serving spoons in the chili — one slotted, one solid. He told his oversized lady guest that the solid spoon was for those partygoers who liked their chili grease-only. America is something freaking else, man.
****I always end up chickening out, but one of these days I’m going to let loose with some outlandish, made-up stories at one of these events just to see if the other people challenge me. When I departed for my first weeklong Caribbean cruise, I told all my friends I was going to introduce myself to people as an anesthesiologist. Give them only a vague sense of the basics, then if they pressed harder to learn any details about my professional life, stop them with, “Hey, hey, come on now. I live anesthesiology day in and day out 49 weeks out of the year. I’m sick of talking anesthesiology. I’m on vacation here, I hope you can respect that. Let’s talk about you for awhile.”