Today’s Treats, Tomorrow’s Tricks

For a kid, the scariest part of Halloween isn’t going to a haunted house or hearing a spooky story. It isn’t finding cough drops in your candy bag or learning the Great Pumpkin isn’t real. It is the realization that all those “cool” costumes you’ve worn over the years actually made you look like a dork to dozens of family members, friends and complete strangers.

“Is THAT how I looked?” I thought as I stared at the photo. When I dressed up like a Ninja Turtle for Halloween, I was certain I looked just like the ones in the movies. But in this photo, I looked like a nerd in over-sized Ninja Turtle pajamas. The costume’s built-in “six-pack” looked like a bunch of softballs nestled together. And for a “ninja throwing star,” I used my mom’s crotcheted doily. Embarrassing, to say the least.

I decided I was done with the “cute” costumes. “Cute” costumes were for babies and small dogs. I was a grown man of five years old! It was time for a gritty costume. Something so ugly and weird, people would be frightened to see me.

[This is the part where Dad turns to Mom, reads the previous paragraph, and jokes, “He could have just dressed as himself for that!”]

Mom and I went to a dollar store for a costume. What can I say, we got what we paid for. But I was excited when I saw a particular ghost costume. Truth be told, the mask looked like a cheap knockoff of Casper the Friendly Ghost, only this “Casper” didn’t look very friendly. With his face in an uncomfortable grimace, he looked like he needed anger management or a bottle of Maalox. Combining that mask, a brunette wig from the ’70s, and one of my dad’s old flannel shirts, I created the perfect costume. Goodbye, dignity; hello, candy.

The first house we visited was Grandmother Armstrong’s. She seemed very confused by my costume. She wasn’t the only one. As the evening progressed, I realized my costume was inspiring confusion rather than fear.

“So, what are you exactly?” they each asked.

Wasn’t it obvious? I was – well, uh, some sort of ghost hobo. A “ho-boo,” perhaps? Eh, something like that. At the end of the night, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. Boy, did I look stupid.

Next Halloween, I excitedly ran in circles around my yard, disguised as Robin Hood with a trick-or-treat pail I’d gotten from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. As the classic “Prince of Thieves,” I was ready to “rob from the rich to give to the poor” – the “rich” being adults with candy and the “poor” being me and my taste in costumes. Unbeknownst to me, my Robin Hood looked more like a Christmas elf or a long-lost member of the Village People. I thought I looked rugged. Then I saw the photos. Yikes.

Finally, I decided to retire from the trick-or-treating biz – until a phenomenon swept the nation and brought the ultimate costume. Certainly, this was the greatest costume ever. A costume that could only be described as “mighty”…and “morphin.”

As a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fan, I begged Mom to buy me a White Ranger costume, complete with battery-powered gloves that went “whoosh” as I moved them. She did, probably to have a good laugh. Quickly, I put on my uniform, prepared to defend the galaxy against the evil Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. Then Mom and I noticed that, thanks to the extra-thin white fabric, everyone could easily see my underwear.

“Maybe you could wear white pajama bottoms under the costume,” Mom suggested.

Pajama bottoms, under my noble uniform? No way! The White Ranger didn’t wear pajama bottoms under his uniform, and neither would I. A White Ranger costume was cool; a White Ranger costume with pajama bottoms underneath was just silly. (I was too young to see the irony in my reasoning.) Thus, I decided to ditch the White Ranger costume.

Of course, I knew my parents wouldn’t buy me two Halloween costumes in one year. I needed to look elsewhere for a disguise – like a sticker book. Yes, on the back of my Universal Monsters sticker book, there was a paper mask of Frankenstein. I cut out the mask, strapped it to my face, and pulled my jacket hood around my head. Voila! Instantly, I became the monster’s cheapstake nephew, Franknbeans. As long as it got me free candy, I didn’t care.

My parents took me to a mall, where each store was giving away candy. As I waited in line, a boy walked by, proudly dressed as the White Ranger. His boxers were red.

The next year, I finally realized the easiest way to get candy on Halloween: I went to Walmart and bought a bag of it. All of the cavities minus the humiliation.

Looking back, I suppose I appeared pretty silly during those Halloweens of my childhood. I can still see myself walking up to a stranger’s door, wearing a big, goofy grin and believing I looked exactly like my favorite heroes on TV. But if I could go back in time to avoid the costumes, I wouldn’t. They were horrible, but they were fun. Maybe I did embarrass myself a few times with my costume selection. Sometimes our most embarrassing situations result in our fondest memories.

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