I used to go crazy for Halloween, planning for weeks before to have the funniest, most topical costume I could imagine.
One of my earliest costumes was a one-piece clown jumpsuit that my mother made. It was three different fabrics of blue and white, striped and polka-dotted, with red rick-rack at cuffs. I have a vague recollection of stepping into it through the neck but maybe I saw my sister put it on the same way. The costume circulated a few times through our wardrobe before we outgrew it. I don’t remember wearing the costume, but I have a sharp recollection of it because of a picture of me in the costume, legs outstretched, nose painted red. I was four.
The next year, I was a red M&M. Again, I know this from a photograph. My mother painted two large red circles of cardboard to make me an M&M sandwich board in a candy color that was outlawed at the time due to its carcinogenic nature. Or at least, that’s what I believed through my childhood.
My first memory of a costume was the one I wore when I was six. It was either a dog or a lion. The salient thing about this costume was that it was warm, and it was lent to our family after another child got sick and couldn’t trick or treat. I caught chickenpox from that jumper, but it was worth it to be warm while I trick or treated.
I lost my front tooth at a Halloween party at the roller rink when I was seven.
I need to skip ahead a few years before I remember another Halloween. I was Olive Oyl in fifth grade, a nearly perfect replica of Shelly Duvall in the role of the live-action Popeye that came out that year. Awkward, skinny, so skinny, with legs like a crane, perched somehow in oversized black boots. “Oh, Popeye,” I wailed anxiously every chance I got.
My interest in topical Halloween costumes was sparked by my aunt, who went to the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade with friends as Gladys Knight and the Pits, all sporting pit bull masks and the regalia of Motown singers. My pitbull mask wasn’t as refined as theirs, but I spent hours covering balloons in paper mache to construct it. That was 1987, and I wanted to go to Greenwich Village very badly.
When I was sixteen, I trick-or-treated for the last time. Debbie Herman was hosting a sleepover, and I wore a nun’s habit. It was barely a costume; the outfit had belonged to my great aunt Rita, also known in her Dominican convent as Sister Immaculata. We were too old to trick-or-treat, but we didn’t care, and neither did the good people of Hanover Park, where we ran from house to house, draining the candy bowls of Debbie’s extended neighbors. We were their last visitors in most cases. It was pouring rain, and we ran as fast as we could to each house that still had its porch light on. I sweated through the polyester habit, drenching it from within, but driven to extend this childhood ritual as late into the night as I could.
I was Gene Simmons the next year. I went to school with my face painted, wearing a fringe-covered leather jacket. I stuck my tongue out the entire day until it hurt. I didn’t trick or treat.
In college, I went as Cathy, the comic strip spinster, whose crush on a man named Irving only resulted in chocolate binges and perspiration flying from her head.
Another year, I was a Mumenschanz dancer. My roommate (now husband) and I went to a party sponsored by the Belgian Embassy and performed a Mumenschanz dance with rolls of toilet paper. All they served was chocolate and beer, and I smoked my first clove cigarette.
I remember the Halloweens when my costume meant something to me, or symbolized what was going on in my life. These days, I’m not really inspired to dress up as much, and I regret it. My husband is out of town, so maybe I’ll wear his Tom Brady jersey or his Carl Yastremski jersey. Or maybe I’ll tease up my hair and be the Bride of Frankenstein. Maybe I’ll pull together a suit and draw on a mustache and just go as a dude. It would be nice to have one around for a few hours.