I intended to be “productive” this past weekend. But Saturday morning I walked past the shelves outside Gourmet Heaven and spotted those $7 pumpkin-shaped squash. Then I checked my mailbox and discovered that my weird aunt in Green Bay had sent a care package containing a CD of spooky noises and dangly skeleton earrings.
These signs of the season declared I had a more pressing duty to fulfill than making time-wasting midterm study sheets. I had exactly ten days to find the perfect Halloween costume.
Growing up, Halloween was a highlight of my year. After all, Halloween is the perfect kid holiday — it makes no attempt to legitimize itself by forcing you to go to church or spend quality time with extended family. It gave me exactly what I wanted — a chance to dress up and trip my brother whenever he tried to grab candy from the neighbor’s plastic pumpkin bucket before me.
Most importantly, when the day was done I could stuff myself with confections until I lay on the living room floor, surrounded by chewed lollipop sticks and shredded Nestle wrappers like a smaller, slightly more WASPy Jabba the Hut.
The Halloween of my youth was a nougat-filled orgy of sugar highs and glow-in-the-dark monster fangs. I looked forward to it for weeks, strategically planning my trick-or-treating routes and hanging my witch outfit from my bedpost, where I could finger it longingly every night before going to sleep. Back then, finding a costume was not a chore.
Somehow now that I’m 20, I just can’t get inspired. Last weekend, I went to Salvation Army, but incredibly, they hadn’t put out the Cool, Original Costumes Rack yet. I always thought this was why the Salvation Army exists — to provide affluent, self-absorbed college kids with Halloween costumes, along with quirky retro t-shirts and polyester pants.
All I found was a red union suit on the sleepwear rack, size 24, with sweat stains on the armpits. I almost bought it, because there has to be something you can do with a red union suit. I decided to think it over, so I shoved it towards the back, safe from other costume-hunting eyes, and walked home to call my mother for suggestions.
“I know, Molly!” she cried. “How about you blow up some purple balloons, tape them all over yourself, and go as a bunch of grapes?”
My next stop was the seasonal aisle at Rite Aid. All I found there were some Frankenstein make-up kits and a giant rubber baseball mask that fits over your entire head. The mask didn’t even have any eye holes, as far as I could tell. So I guess if you wanted to go as, I don’t know — Baseball Head Johnson? –you’d have to content yourself with sitting blind on the entryway steps all night, eating Reese’s peanut butter cups very slowly and freaking people out.
On the top shelf there was also a mechanical hamster that chirped the first verse of Rapper’s Delight when you pressed its foot. The hamster was wearing a neon orange stocking cap and Ray-Bans. This item I did purchase.
That night, I e-mailed Mom, and she wrote back suggesting I wrap myself in tin foil and go as a leftover.
I felt my options dwindling. I briefly considered giving into the college female tradition of using Halloween as another excuse to dress half-naked.
But I’ve never been able to pull off the “Halloween temptress” look. Last year, I wore a big white sweatshirt, orange pants, stuck a fallen branch down the back of my shirt and went as a roasting marshmallow. Seductive, maybe, to Stay-Puff.
As I resigned myself to spending Halloween in my “big, fat, candy-eating college student,” costume, I started remembering the other traditions I miss.
I miss spending hours designing impossibly intricate jack-o-lantern faces for my father to carve and bursting into tears when he didn’t make the 14th fang pointy enough.
I miss coming home with my brother and dumping out our candy on the living room floor, then sitting cross-legged and playing “Silk Road Trader,” in which we bartered our candy back and forth and tried to persuade each other to trade rock-hard caramels from the old people next door for that full-size Butterfinger. As I was always the more astute haggler, I miss screwing him out of all his good candy.
It seems like I’ve lost the Halloween spirit. All I’m left with are the vestiges, like that dining hall bowl of candy corn — the worst candy ever invented. They taste like sugar-coated erasers, and along with miniature syrup-filled wax soda bottle candies, they make me embarrassed to be an American. I don’t want this — I want those Halloween Eve butterflies back in my stomach.
I cannot allow my failure to find a costume become a symbol of my collegiate cynicism and irretrievable youth. Halloween has got to remain a giddy time of plastic spider rings, goofy dress-up and simple greedy delight.
So does anyone want to help me blow up all these purple balloons?
Molly Worthen is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.