In the past two years I have run around campus dressed as Leif Ericson, Queen Victoria, Madonna, Richard Levin, Bigfoot, a clown, green paint, a nudist, any combination of the previous and more. In fact, I love any excuse to put on a costume … except Halloween. I simply have never mastered the appropriate intensity for the holiday. I was the kid in eighth grade who got invited to Miss Popular’s co-ed party and spent a month putting together a Broadway-worthy Ophelia costume complete with Elizabethan gown, bloated blue face and tangled leaves-in-hair only to arrive and find all the other girls in tight jeans, belly-baring tank tops and cat ear headbands. I think that night ended with Mom, tears and ice cream, though I admit the memory is a little blocked.
My Halloween prejudice began when I was 10 years old. I had determined that witches and ghosts and cowgirls were sooo third grade and was looking for something that proved I was in the fifth. I needed classic yet avant-garde. Absurd but with a point. Funny but smart. Target and Wal-Mart failed me. The Disney Store made me wince. So, knowing that the prize I sought could not be found in retail, I went a-hunting through my grandmother’s garage and emerged with a gem: an unmarked cardboard box so pristine and so perfectly matched to my youthful body’s exact height and width that it brought tears to my eyes and a symphony to my ears.
My mother tried to talk me into painting it — you know, a robot or a monster or something — but I refused. I’m not sure if I wholly grasped the concept of “found art” at that age, but I did know with a fierce and furious conviction that doing anything to that box would ruin its natural perfectness. Thus, I allowed only one alteration: a tiny medieval-helmet-like slit for eyesight. My parents told me I was foolish. They said that people would laugh. They said that I wouldn’t be able to open doors or hold a rail. They said that if I made my little sister carry my candy bag, they would not stop her from eating all of my bounty. I pooh-poohed their concerns, threatened my sister with death if any of the chocolate pieces were gone, and marched boldly (or rather with small, quick, box-inhibited steps) out of my front door on Halloween. The night would be mine!
For a while, everything was just dandy. Surrounded by Power Rangers, Batmen, Simbas and Dorothys, I felt smug and superior. I was (quite literally) an anonymous genius. The common people’s costumes were mere replicas but I … I was a box. As our gaggle approached the end of the street, the last destination loomed before us. An old Southern plantation-style house with wrap-around porch, it had 10 or 15 stairs leading up to its front doors. I held back for a moment to watch the others ascend. Could I do it? My knees did not bend much, so I had to lean backwards on each step in order to allow the correct leg liftage. I went slowly and carefully, praying that no one would turn around and see me looking ridiculous. Luckily, the old lady who lived there was a talker.
Obviously, the gods of mockery could not pass up such an opportunity. As though by an act of divine intervention, I lost my balance on the very top step. A simple wave of a hand would have stabilized me, but because I had pretentiously cut no arm holes, I could only sense myself falling backwards, straight as a tree, helpless to stop the momentum or to blind the watching eyes. Had I been on the ground, I would have fallen only 90 degrees. But alas, the staircase meant a full 180. My box bumped down the stairs headfirst and landed precariously on its end, my feet straight in the air and my face full of Tootsie Rolls. My comrades were laughing so hard that it was minutes before I was extricated. I had been punished for breaking the unspoken rules of Halloween costuming and walked home in shame.
Though I am spared the agony of choosing my own Halloween costume this year because I will be performing in The Rocky Horror Picture Show next weekend, the worry and misgivings have not departed. My character in the play is a very old man with grey hair and age lines which, in itself, is not troubling. But this role marks the seventh old man I have portrayed in a Yale production in two years. That averages one old man every three months. And they’re not all comedies! What does that say about me, my youth and my femininity? Have I been stereotyped as “85 with a penis?” Do I subconsciously say to people “could you hand Grandpa my arthritis medicine, dearie?” Can my senior project be King Lear? Don’t get me wrong — I love the parts I’ve had, and I know that nobody wins an Oscar for looking young or pretty or gender-normative. I’m just slightly worried that my resume better fits Ian McKellen than myself, that I will never find a date in age make-up and a wig, and that, this year at least, the perfect Halloween costume will remain beyond my grasp.