It’s Hallowe’en. No news to anyone, we’ve been immersed in it for weeks now. But this year I’ve been doing a lot of introspective reminiscing and I’ve come to realize that Hallowe’en should always have been my favorite festive occasion.
See, I’ve been wearing costumes all my life.
The last time I went out on a Hallowe’en night in costumes I was 14. A little old you say? I agree, but I wasn’t doing the trick’or’trreating, I was being part of the security detail accompany a group of littler kids. Nevertheless, I always liked getting into costume, into a character, and I went as a town sheriff, complete with a six-gun on my hip. That would be questionable today, especially as the weapon I wore was a Mattel Fanner Fifty, which looked real. Except for some high-end models, toy guns don’t look real anymore, and I understand the thinking behind it. Even when I was a kid there were incidents of robberies done at (toy) gun-point, because for over a decade toy companies, following the Mattel model, made more and more realistic guns. The Mattels were all like three-quarter size, but in the heat of the moment that’s not going to count for much. So gradually, authenticity yielded to social reality, and now you have all these bizarre looking things out of bad SciFi movies with tell-tale orange tips screaming TOY!
Anyway, I went out for a couple of hours, acting as protector of the smaller children, wearing a beard made from burnt cork, a dime-store Stetson, and my six-shooter slung low on the hip.
I loved it.
But you get older, some things that were adorable at eight are just weird at eighteen. Going to dress-up Hallowe’en parties in my adolescence and early adulthood were not that common. Besides I lost all my toy guns.
(I had a double-holster set of Mattel “shootin-shell” pistols, black holsters, silvered with fake ivory grips. They were wonderful! You could get bullets for them with pressure-plate releases on the back of the spring-loaded cartridges that, when the hammer struck, launched little plastic shells about five or six feet. I was rough on my toys, always was, and eventually the grips came off, they broke, they ended up neglected and one day tossed. Here’s a picture of the set:
I loved that set. Outrageously expensive now. Here is a site with all the Mattel western toys of the period.)
Even before that, though, I used to get creative. When first introduced to Hallowe’en, the costumes were less than wonderful. Basic sized pull-overs, like jump suits, tied in the back, and a molded plastic mask with large eye holes. The fabric was cheap, the costumes usually ill-fitting, and almost always ending up in the trash. The last one of those I had was a Superman costume when I was eleven—it was a little embarrassing because they insisted on tricking it out with glitter on the chest sigil and there was no symbol on the cape. No matter what, you didn’t look like Superman.
(Yes, I know—eleven? Seriously? What can I say? I prolonged childhood as long as I could. In some ways, I’m still a kid.)
Childhood for me was a series of roles in which I would immerse myself. Anything, I suppose, to escape the prison of my own self. Despite my “delicacy” I was really invested in being a soldier. One year I even had “real” fatigues. Never had a steel helmet, but I recall the Sixties being a very cool time for toys like this. I had a G.I. helmet with the mesh for stuffing camouflage in—leaves and the like—which my mother hated because I tracked debris into the house after a hard day fighting Nazis or Japanese. I had a real cartridge belt with canteen, the envy of the neighborhood, and a couple of very cool rifles. I had one of the first battery-powered M-14s in the neighborhood. This one actually made a very neat sound, a heavy thum-thum-thum as the tip of the barrel moved in and out (in what now I can see was a rather disturbing sexual motion, but then it was all about killing bad guys).
I took on a James Bond persona for a few years—my best dressed time in childhood, even my hair was perfectly groomed (lot of Brylcream) and I had a couple of automatic pistols—but never a shoulder holster. Awkward when trying to carry a replica Luger in the small inside pocket of a sport coat. It kept falling out every time I bent over.
Much of that faded through high school, but by then I was trying to write. I look at it now and I see that I never stopped putting on costumes, only now I do it in my stories. Try on a character, go through an adventure, be the cool secret agent or starship trooper or whatever.
We dabbled briefly in costuming when we started attending SF conventions, but drifted away from it fairly quickly. That wasn’t the aspect of the community that really attracted us, though I confess to a deep admiration for the skill and dedication some costumers bring to their passion.
But tonight we will sort of dress up for the kids coming to the house to receive their booty and admire and enjoy their glee in being Something Else for the night. Looking back, I admit that sometimes I got a little weird with some of it, but in the long run it did me no harm and probably a great deal of good to try out different personae. And I haven’t actually stopped. Just that the wardrobe is more expensive now—and fits better.
Have a boo-tiful evening.