Trick or Beep!

So, Halloween, 2008, has come to a close.

The house is quiet, the kids have long since headed off to dreams of strange people hitting up their mom and dad for candy, and now, I’ve got to find a place to store a bulky costume that’s too good to just pitch along with the other recycling.

Another beer?
Don’t mind if I do!
*pop*, *sip*, “Ahhhhh”.

I am always grateful for good weather on Halloween. There is nothing, NOTHING, worse that having to trick or treat in a driving rain or (shudder) snow. Today, we were blessed. The temperature rose to a level just shy of t-shirt weather, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, and a light breeze did little more than annoy some loose leaves, lurking in the unmown grass. The day light hours of Halloween are always a bit frantic in our neck of the woods. Action Girl and I tend to scurry around, attempting to locate bits of decoration that was put, “some place safe”, the previous year and get it all installed before the lights go down and the sugar sucking monsters start to roam the streets.

As the two of us work away at making our house as spooky as possible, next-door is always a hive of activity. Our good neighbors are amazing artists and every year, a small army of other illustrators and artists descend on their house and transform it into… something amazing. It’s always amazing. Today, we could hear them laughing, hammering, constructing and generally being silly. On a few occasions Short Stack would raise a curious head over the tall grass and ask us, “What are they doing over there?” and we’d tell him that it was a surprise that he’d have to wait until tonight to find out. We put the final touches on our own decorations and after a quick photo shoot of the kids in costume while we still had daylight, we headed inside to get ready for Short Stacks first real Halloween night. As the sun finally set, we raced through dinner in an effort to be ready for the first knock at the door. We just made it.

Voices of excited children started to reverberate through the dimly lit streets and it was time to start things rolling. Action Girl shoehorned Lulu Belle into a ridiculously cute giraffe costume that was thoughtfully supplied by her folks and I fitted Short Stack with his own Halloween get up. He had picked the costume himself and there was none of that wavering that some kids show when it comes to difficult Halloween decisions. He wanted to be a monster truck. He was adamant on it and far be it from me to turn down a carefully made choice by a two year old. A monster truck, he would be!

In the end, it took a lot of cardboard, tape, paint, pipe insulation, four foil pie plates, two red L.E.D. jogging safety lights and two more self adhesive tap lights. Oh, and time. A heck of a lot of time. I took care of most of the actual construction, Action Girl and Short Stack did a bunch of the painting and then late the night before the project was due, Action Girl and I finished it in the basement, over some beers. The result… Well, here it is.

No one was happier with the finished product than Short Stack was. After an initial resistance to being wedged into the contraption, he absolutely loved the idea of BEING a monster truck. That, and all the, “Oohs!” and “Wow’s!” from anyone who happened to pass by at the time cemented his joy in the costume. With the headlights and taillights switched on, Short Stack and I set off to make his very first “Trick Or Treat” stop. Naturally, the first stop would be the neighbor’s. Dance music was thumping joyfully from their house as we walked to the darkened yard. What greeted us was a sight that stopped my little monster truck in his tracks. Not out of fear, so much out of pure mesmerization.


(Sorry for the lack of sound. my camera is quite elderly and did not record audio)

I do have to admit that not only did I know what was going to be there, but I actually did my little bit to contribute to the light show/ dance party, as well. I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to lend a hand in any material way, what with me building a truck in my cellar at the time, but I could supply the music. I filled up my elderly iPod shuffle with a mix of fun techno, 80’s pop and some other strangeness with a good beat and lyrics that would pass the parent test. Well… most of the lyrics did. To be fair, I don’t think anyone really picked up on some of the stuff in “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femms. Oops! The life sized, glowing stick figures grooved the night away to the tunes and dispensed candy to those brave enough to get close. It was what I’d imagine an acid trip to be like. It was great!

After his inaugural piece of candy was stowed in the bed of his truck, we headed off to the next few houses. The best reactions to his costume came from other trick or treaters as kid after kid stopped to point out the “kid dressed as the truck!” One three year old we know even correctly identified Short Stack as a monster truck with no prompting. Short Stack was in heaven. At every stop, more candy was added to his bed until the rear wheels started to drag on the pavement behind him. It was a lot of weight for a little guy, but “determined” is not a strong enough word to describe his mindset. He was on a mission! So far as he was concerned, this was the best thing ever! We looped back to our house to unload his loot and lighten the load before continuing on. Since the house candy was almost gone, we decided to wait there a few minutes for things to wrap up. Eventually, we finally ran out and Action Girl, with our giraffe daughter strapped to her chest, switched off our porch light and joined us. My folks, as well, who also had run out of goodies at their place, showed up to see the show. Four adults and two children headed off to find more loot and entertainment as strict bedtime were tossed happily out the window. It was great fun and though we could see that Short Stack was getting tired, he steadfastly refused to be taken out of his costume in an effort to make better time to the next front door.

Our route took us to the local Lion’s Club for refreshments and a costume contest. Short Stack’s energies were momentarily revived as he mingled with friends and costumes were compared. The announcer called for kids aged one through four to make their way to the stage and Short Stack, sporting a ring of chocolate around his mouth, took second place, just edged out by Saint George, dressed in home-made tin can armor and a stuffed animal dragon. Not bad!

As we stepped out side into the very, very late night, Short Stack decided that finally, yes, he was ready to get out of his truck and, in stead, ride in the stroller that Action Girl had though to bring along. He was chipper all the way home and Lulu Belle managed to keep her good humor until it was time for jammies. Normally, getting my son to bed is not something that goes smoothly, but tonight, resistance was minimal and he was asleep in a scant few minutes.

Lulu Belle’s giraffe costume will be far to small to be used again and so will likely get handed off to some new baby, yet to be. The monster truck, though… I think we’ll hang on to that for a while. It won’t last, naturally. Eventually, it will get wet or crunched or simply fall apart, but until then I think it’s got some more good playing left in it. Besides, it’s Short Stack’s first car, and far be it from me to take that away from a guy.

Now if you will all excuse me, I believe that there is a huge demon on my roof that needs taking in for the season and a cemetery in my front yard that needs breaking down until next year.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Cardboard Trees and Vampire Memories

With my favorite holiday, Halloween, coming down the pike in a little under two weeks, It’s made me reflect on my Halloween experiences from my youth. I’m a child of the Seventies, which means that I grew up during an interesting cultural transition time. Things will never be the same, naturally, but a lot of what made up the memories of my youth have not merely morphed into something else, but disappeared all together. Some for the better… some, not. The ability to sew, comes to mind.

One of my favorite family traditions took place every year, right about this time. I would have gotten into my Mom’s powder blue, 1971 Pontiac, and we would have driven to the mill store to pick out a pattern and fabric. It was time to get the costume all worked out. The two of us would find a seat in the little alcove filled with monstrously thick books and then pour over them, looking for just the right one for Trick or Treating. The only real limiting factor was that, living in northern New England, I had to be able to fit a winter parka underneath it.

Eventually, I’d pick the design and then the two of us would set off and search the piles of colorful fabric bolts, looking for the best matches. Purchases in hand, we’d go home and start putting it together. I say “we”, but in truth, it was mostly Mom who did the work. That’s not to say I wouldn’t help if I could, but like most children who offer to “help” Mom or Dad, I tended to make things go slower, rather then faster. My end of the project usually involved standing on a stool and worrying about being stuck with straight pins.

Every year, my mother would create some amazing costume out of nothing but some bundles of cloth, a tissue paper pattern and her Singer, electric sewing machine. Over the years, I had been successfully been kitted out as a ghost, a mouse, a vampire (at least twice), a shark, the Headless Horseman and no doubt a few others that escape me, but those are the fabric based costumes that I can recall.

A few costumes however, required more than ability with sewing. It required cardboard.

The first of these rigid costumes that I remember was the year I went as Pac Man. That wasn’t too hard to work out. Two large pieces of heavy yellow card stock cut into circles, minus a wedge for the mouth and attach it all at the edge. Holes for arms and a few to spy out of and there you go! Hardly the most involved costume, but hey, we’re talking Pac Man during the early eighties, here! I thought it was awesome and I was not alone.

The next idea was a lot harder and drew heavily on her bulletin board construction skills. Luckily, as a Junior High teacher, she had a lot to draw upon.

I wanted to be a tree.

A TREE! Where did I come up with these ideas? A lot of rolled cardboard, construction paper and Sharpie markers later, I was the spitting image of a maple tree in full foliage. That is, as long as all the maple trees you had seen were about five feet tall and made of cardboard and construction paper. I remember walking down the road at a tight legged shuffle, dropping leaves as I went and trying to spot them through the slot I peeked out of and skooching down to pick up my wayward, leafy appendages. Now I knew how a tree must feel as they shed their hard made mantle each autumn.

Eventually, of course, I stopped going out Trick or Treating and moved my efforts to scaring the beegeebees out of the kids who came to our house, begging for candy. Nothing too over the top… but fun. Then, like life does, things got busy and with a move to an apartment with my then girlfriend/now wife, we simply didn’t get Trick or Treaters or didn’t participate. After a few years and a succession of moves, we wound up on our little island where Halloween is once again something to revel in. All my creative costume juices, having long since dried up and turned to powder, were reconstituted by the flood of scary fun and enjoyment that is the norm out here. I was back in the scary business!

The first year, I simply dressed up as a Mad Scientist. White lab coat, spiky hair wig, goggles and high black gloves completed the look. It was believable and easy to assemble. I took on the roll with great enjoyment and did my best to scare kids a bit. Times have changed since the 70’s though, and kids simply don’t spook as easily. Next year, I’d do better. Much better. I was into this now.

The next year I threw my self into this project. With the materials and equipment at hand, I set aside the time to craft a huge skull… thing. Made out of clay, I patterned the basic shape on a horse’s skull. With the addition of sharp, tyrannosaur-like teeth and a more menacing brow, no lower jaw and a black robe that draped over the entire shebang and I had created a large and freaky looking monster wraith. I named him Tony.

I put the robed skull on two hinged, five-foot poles, one pole in front and the other in the back of the skull. What this meant was that Tony, when worn by me, could be moved like he was on a long neck. Held straight up, I was easily nine feet tall. If I wanted to go get close to someone, all that was needed was to swing Tony forward and I could be in your face in a split second. Add some glowing eyes and I had an instant kid magnet and/or repeller.

As I wandered around the neighborhood, I noticed that I was almost irresistible specifically to young boys. They were terrified of the giant monster but couldn’t resist getting a closer look. At one point, a nine-year-old pirate decided that he needed to exhibit his bravado to me and the others in the area. As I floated along down the road, he followed at what he thought was a safe distance calling, “I’m not afraid of you! You can’t scare me!”

In one fluid motion, I swung the head around and down to within a few inches of the pirate and scraped my vocal cords to emit the best, “Depth of Hell” sound I could muster. It was hard to see out from behind the black cloth that covered me but I could just make out his ragged pirate butt as he ran in full-screaming flight, down the street. On the sidewalk, now standing alone, was his father. For a brief second, I thought I was going to be in deep trouble. Then, with both hands cupped around his mouth, the man yelled to his fleeing son, “Run, Forrest! Run!” Hey, we live on an island. How far can he go?

This year, it’s Short Stacks turn to go out and collect candy. It’s his first real Halloween experience. We didn’t know if he would quite understand the idea behind a costume, but we asked him for his pick. With out hesitation, he made his pick. We’ve asked him several other times, just to be sure. He is.

He wants to be a dump truck.

It seems that so far as costume ideas go, the apple does not fall to far from the cardboard tree. At least the dump trucks don’t. Dear Lord. I better not bring up the idea of a Dump truck Tree. He’d want that instead. Now where’s my utility knife and duct tape?

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