Arts, Column

Wading Through Ether Of All Hallows Eve

I was a few minutes early for my senior seminar on Tuesday. Most of us milled around on Twitter, passing the time before we’d avoid our professor’s eye contact after the first question. But one brave soul ventured out into the land of small talk.

“Will you get many trick-or-treaters?” he offered.

Prof. Lewis’ eyes widened with more than a hint of trepidation. He confirmed that he lives in a high-traffic neighborhood, in terms of kids dressed up hankering for some candy. It was a brief window into the looming realm of adulthood.

Indulge for 300-ish words if you will, and I promise, we’ll eventually get at the “true meaning of Halloween.”

When I was six, I was Frankenstein (more accurately, Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster) for Halloween. Our kindergarten teacher marched us out of our classroom full of blocks, trains, and single letters and paraded us around the grade school. They made a show of us, all the “older” kids “oo”ing and “ahh”ing at us, while we shouted inside our little, silly heads, “We’re human beings! I’m a human being not a dog!” Same thing when I went around the cul de sac on the big night. I’m a monster not your buddy!

I’d learned my lesson. The next year, I dressed up as Darth Vader, as I continued my quest to capture man’s goal of conquering death, all in a youth-small boy’s costume. You can mess with Frankenstein’s Monster, but no one messes with Vader unless you want a force-choke to the throat. And it sort of worked. The mask helped, but it was itchy and hot and I couldn’t see anything. Worthy trade off though.

The next few years are a blur. I was, in general order: a pirate, a classic red power ranger, a ninja turtle (we’d return over and over again to turtles), Gandalf, a geezer, and a nerd. Admittedly, I got less adventurous. It became about the candy, not having to worry about bugging mom to get dessert because you were set for three weeks if you rationed properly. As my trick-or-treating radius grew from the old cul de sac, to the neighborhood, to the suburb, to the county, it became less and less about the costume. You had to dress in something light, so you march up and down the hills with ease, so you freely whack your buddy with a full pillowcase of candy at the end of the night (that’s when the ninja turtle shell came in handy).  

We remember our firsts. We remember how we think the first band you really fall in love with will be the next Beatles. We think the first quarterback we really buy into (Sam Bradford, tragically) will be the next John Elway. We remember our first real costume.

Back at home, every trip down to the unfinished part of the basement was a chance to relive those early costumes, to try to fit into them again. I found myself skipping down to grab the next gallon of milk, but would sometimes stop to peek into the bin of costumes we’d collected over the year.

I wasn’t, obviously, able to bring that bin to college. Imagine me walking into a forced triple freshman year with a suitcase, a desk lamp, and a bin of costumes—not the most efficient first impression. And despite my insistence, my friends and I have never gone trick-or-treating. I can imagine what you’re shaking your head and saying to yourself. “Ryan! What about the parties? I like to party.”

We’re at a weird place, when it comes to experiencing Halloween. We’re not knocking on doors, and we’re not opening doors either. We’re in the ether, fenced off from the normal rituals mixing sugar and disguise. Or maybe we’re fenced in from corrupting the honest, pure youths of Chestnut Hill/Newton. But whether we trade sugar for a grain-based solution, the charm of Halloween is still the same. Despite my wayward ways through middle school of greed and reckless consumption, the charm of Halloween was and still lies in putting on a mask, and probably other stuff. And we don’t put on masks on Halloween to hide or obscure ourselves. I think we do it to present more of ourselves than we usually do—to give everybody a glimpse into our sense of humor and heroes.

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October 28, 2015