|Halloween 1968. Note I started the day with rabbit ears intact. |
Picture taken right before beating Frankenstein with my loot bag.
On October 31st, 1968, at the ripe old age of three, while I was going door to door around the neighborhood collecting treats, someone pulled a nasty trick on me. God as my witness, if I ever find the little bastard who did it I’ll make sure that he rues the day he was born. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
In 1968, the Halloween season didn’t begin in August. In fact, Halloween didn’t have its own season. There were the three weeks leading up to Halloween where stores stocked a portion of their aisles with candy corn, costumes, and a colorful assortment of cutouts to hang in your window—witches, skeletons, pumpkins, mummies, Frankenstein and vampires.
There was no Party City or Party Central. There was Feiler’s Five and Dime, County Discount, and Two Guys. I remember the mile-high collection of 12”x18” Halco costume boxes with transparent cellophane windows that allowed you to see the plastic mask that was attached to the costume inside. Picking a costume was easy back then. If you didn’t have a Halco, you were a Hobo—you grabbed your father’s old shirt, your mother’s old pillowcase, burnt a piece of cork, and covered your face in ash. (Where have all the hobos gone?)
I clearly remember pressing my nose against the cold glass window of Mr. Feiler’s Five and Dime on Main Street in Fort Lee carefully examining each hanging costume in an effort to determine its merit. After much consideration, I decided to be a bunny rabbit. (See above photo.) Not because bunnies were cute and fluffy, but because in addition to the pink plastic face mask, there came with it a set of plastic pointed bunny ears attached to a bonnet that tied underneath my chin. Even then, it was all about the accessories for me.
Parading around the house in the costume I soon discovered how easily those pointy ears could be turned into weapons if I bent my head and charged like a bull. Unfortunately, the two German twins who lived next door—Andy and Michael—found out the hard way. I’m pretty sure those ears drew blood after I head-butted their bellies. But I figured it was retribution for the hell my uncle said he went through when he fought Germany in WWII. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t share the enthusiasm of my subversive form of patriotism and hid the ears until Halloween. However, I did get a surreptitious pat on my shoulders from my old man.
Halloween 1968 was a magical day. It was a Thursday, a school day, and I had to wait until my brother and the other older kids on the block got home from school before the trick-or-treating could begin. I sat waiting for Halloween to start on my stoop with Christopher Martire, the slight autumn breeze mingling in the red oak trees blurred the reds, golds, and oranges of the leaves creating an impressionistic fire that burst against the cloudless blue sky.
Rupturing the silence were the shouts of the kids getting out of school and running towards home to jump into their costumes, grab their loot bags, and go. My brother dressed as Frankenstein and his mask really freaked me out. The eye-slits of my bunny mask didn’t allow peripheral vision, so I could never see him until he was in my face without any warning. The bulging lifeless plastic eyes and protruding brass-colored bolts scared the crap out of me. I swear that costume was made by Universal Studios.
Our mothers gave us two warnings: 1) Stay together, and 2) Don’t go to the creepy guy’s house. Every neighborhood had a “creepy” guy who lived alone, didn’t seem to work, didn’t say much to adults, but got along great with kids. Those guys usually wanted you to call them “Uncle.” Unfortunately, we never heeded our mom’s warning because our “creepy” guy always had the best candy. And we never went to the door alone.
As we made our way through the neighborhood, it didn’t take long for me to start to grow lightheaded because the “ventilated” plastic mask wasn’t ventilating very well. I couldn’t inhale much air through the nostril holes, and what little air I did get was tinged with the taste of sweating plastic. Whenever any of us tried to breathe through our nose it resounded in the echo chamber of the mask making us all sound like we were on life support.
We ran from door to door filling our bags as fast as we could. Around 5:30 my brother and I stopped home to lighten our loot bags before venturing back out. As our tsunami of candy crashed to the floor my mother shrieked, “What happened to your ears?” I lifted my hands to my head. Where I should have felt sharp points, I felt nothing but air. I lowered my hand until I could feel the razor straight-edge of either ear.
I ran to the mirror. My bunny ears had been sliced in half. Horrified, I was determined to seek revenge. I questioned every kid in our gang, but no one I was with saw anything. Oh, the degradation! True, people who saw me standing at their door, loot bag wide open, head bowed in shame, ears gone, pitied me and threw in a few extra Hershey Kisses. Still, the day had lost some of its luster for me. I never caught the Elmer J. Fudd who perpetrated the crime, but I know he’s still out there lurking. Every Halloween since I have kept my eyes open; I’m always on the lookout. I know he’s still out there somewhere--he’s probably the “creepy” guy in the neighborhood who hands out cheap no-brand candy.