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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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09 September, 2007

A Monsterkid's Halloween Memories

When you grow up with the Universal Monsters as your best friends, and with a kindly old role model named Forry, it isn’t a surprise to anyone that Halloween is your favorite holiday. It always has been mine.

Halloween was always a major production for my brother, my cousin, and I. As the eldest of the trio, I was the de facto leader, though there may be, to this day, some argument on that point. Planning would usually begin with the return to school in early September, and would carry on with all the dedication and seriousness that attended the Normandy invasion. Routes would be discussed, which houses were generous with the loot and which were not would be determined, and, most importantly, costuming decisions would be made.

Every year I would pour over the Captain Company ads in the back of FM, drooling over the masks of Frankenstein, the Creature, and especially the Mummy. I wanted one of those masks so badly, but even a ten-year old has enough grasp of family finances to realize when certain things are simply out of the realm of possibility. The twenty to thirty dollars that those masks sold for… in 1974 dollars!!… represented a solid six months worth of my dollar a week allowance. No comic books for six months? No FM, or Creepy, or Eerie? No penny candy, or bottles of Coke, or 10¢ bags of Wise Onion & Garlic Potato Chips for 6 entire months? Could I do it? Could I save up 6 months worth of allowances?

Alas, no I couldn’t. My willpower then was no stronger than it is now, and money in my pocket, even then, seemed to have a will of it’s own. This always left me with the dilemma of what to be for Halloween. Though Mom would usually give us a few dollars for a costume, the thought that a Monster-loving, FM-reading, Halloween professional such as I would resort to wearing something that had to have the name of the monster emblazoned across the front to be recognizable was simply anathema. I had to make my own.

Now, though my monster dreams were big, my talents as a make-up artist, sadly, were not. I had read of kids who were able, with nothing more than the aid of a well-stocked kitchen, to transform themselves into creatures worthy of, if not Jack Pierce’s talent, then at least Ed Wood’s. I was not one of them. Oh, our kitchen was stocked as well as the next, but I lacked the vision to see rotted flesh and decaying skin in strawberry jam and wilted lettuce. So my first, indeed my only option, was something easy and cheap. Very cheap.

And nothing was easier, cheaper, and yet still scary, as a Vampire.

So the first purchase would be fangs… the cheap plastic kind molded in one piece. Uncomfortable, and they made talking difficult, but an absolute necessity. Then, tubes of fake blood—at least two. (My vampires were sloppy eaters…) Little more than a simple syrup with red food dye, I can still call to mind the faint medicinal taste it had… not unpleasant, really, just enough so that the truly stupid kids wouldn’t eat it.

The clothing was a little more problematic. I certainly didn’t have white tie and tails in my closet, not even a suit… at least, not one that my mother would’ve let me use. But I did have a dark long-sleeved shirt or two, and that was sufficient for the purpose. For a cape, I was lucky… my mother had a heavy, dark, hooded wool cape, one that didn’t look like I had gotten it from my mother. Sure, it was green instead of black, but I wasn’t going to quibble about my mother’s lack of foresight when it came to choosing the color. She had with that single purchase unknowingly, years before, helped guarantee the success of her son’s Halloween endeavors. And so, equally unknowingly, did my dad make his own contribution to that success.

Dad was a very handsome man, the spitting image of Clark Gable. And while no one would’ve described him as fashionable, he was always well groomed, and for men his age, that meant he wore his jet-black hair slicked back with hair crème. Top Brass was Dad’s brand of choice, and that provided the final piece in my vampire’s appearance, as I slicked back my hair, doing my best to emulate Bela’s sharp widow’s peak. Donning my cape, and grabbing the largest pillowcase I could find, we set out as soon as it was dark, determined not to return until we had conquered the neighborhood and pillaged it of its candy treasure.

The three of us were dedicated connoisseurs of candy, and Halloween was our Super Bowl. We knew which houses had the good stuff… the Reese’s Cups, the Hershey’s miniatures, the Mary Janes. We knew which houses dealt out the crap… bubble gum, pixie stix, and the worst treat you could get, raisins. Now, raisins are fine, healthy snacks, and, in the proper context, I can enjoy them as much as the next man. Halloween is not that context, unless said raisins are covered in chocolate. But surely enough, there were always a couple of tree-hugging, grape-nut chomping, ex-hippie Euell Gibbons wannabes on the block who insisted on passing out raisins for Halloween. I wonder if they ever figured out why they got toilet-papered every year.

When we were as loaded down as we were going to get, we’d head on home. Usually, one of the independent stations would be running monster movies, so we’d sit in front of the television, sorting out our candy, trading off for particular favorites. One of my personal loves was a certain brand of candy cigarettes that came in boxes stamped with a crude drawing of one of the Universal Monsters.

Too crude even to attract the attention of Universal’s cadre of lawyers, few things said “Halloween” as clearly to me as those slim little cardboard boxes. The candy was crap, with a chalky, minty taste… something like Tums. But I didn’t care. I wanted those boxes. Chick-o-Stix and Mr. Goodbar’s were for eating; those were for the art.

There were many reasons Halloween was so special to me, but I think that the main one is that, in 1974, it was still our holiday, still the province of the kids. The adult involvement usually ended with the purchase of the candy… we were on our own for the rest, and I loved it that way. We did our costumes, we made our plans, and in those innocent days, we went Trick-or-Treating—on our own. No adults telling us what to do… absolute freedom… or as close to it as we were going to get.
I loved Christmas then, and still do. I always looked forward to my birthday, and enjoyed Thanksgiving and Easter. But Halloween was special… Halloween was mine.

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