Halloween approaching, I hear that the veil between this world
and the next—or this world and the other, or whatever—is thinning.
The implication, I gather, is that the residents of one can
now pass far more easily to the other. Mostly, this is played
for laughs and clichéd thrills: Older siblings leaping out
of dark corners, bent forks for hands, and the like. But,
though I’m no great fan of the holiday itself—too labor-intensive
for me, really—I find myself thinking about these open borders,
and the undefined areas between, wistfully. I wouldn’t mind
slipping across the line into the mist myself.
The ghost stories and the horror movies portray those indeterminate
zones as pretty bleak: The Flying Dutchman’s doomed
to sail forever; Carol Ann’s trapped in the static of the
TV set, etc. But the way I’m looking at it right now, the
former is just a really long road trip, the latter an extended
snow day. They’re excursions into anarchic states, where the
old rules don’t apply. It actually sounds pretty appealing.
As adults, we get too few of these breathers from routine,
I do know grown-ups—and non-parental adults, at that—who love
Halloween; who love the dress-up and the role-playing, who
revel in the opportunity to be someone other than themselves
for the night. (As a friend of mine points out each year,
this usually entails some degree of sluttiness: the slutty
kitty, the slutty devil or, if you’re a guy, the plain ol’
slutty slut.) And that’s fine, I suppose; there’s nothing
wrong with unleashing your inner tramp and/or crossdresser.
There’s nothing wrong with sloughing off a habitual identity
for an evening—it’s probably therapeutic. But speaking for
myself—and, I would assume, for anyone else with a day job,
a romantic relationship, a family, a circle of casual acquaintance,
or an even infrequent need to interact with other humans—I
get more than my fair share of role-playing as it is, thanks
all the same. Much as I get thoroughly sick of myself at times,
borrowed thigh-highs or Adam’s-apple-concealing scarves just
don’t hold much promise of relief (nor, on me, of anything
approaching aesthetic appeal, and I am so vain).
I’m not downplaying the possibility that a costume change
can provide a sense of liberation. Clothes make the man, and
all; and if the clothes make the man look (something) like
a perky high-school cheerleader, and if looking (something)
like a perky high-school cheerleader makes said man happy,
well, hip-hip hooray.
But, for me, the tradition of Halloween hooliganism is a little
more conducive to a feeling of freedom. Note: I am not advocating
or condoning any specific Mischief Night transgressions, you
punks. But, in spirit, the implied permission to ignore convention—to
stay up late, to work under cover of darkness, to conceal
rather than alter an identity, to cut loose, to self-determine
without prohibition, to be ghostly or demonic, to egg the
hell out of Mr. Gordon’s Audi—is freeing in a way that borders
on the important. It’s not so much an escape from self, but
from self in situ.
It’s a change not of costume, but of context I crave. It’s
giving the rules the slip altogether—if only temporarily.
Now, as it happens, I’ve got no personal grudge against Mr.
Gordon. And I don’t make enough money to waste staples like
eggs, shaving cream or toilet paper for even a single evening
of scofflaw glee. So, don’t look for me—or lie in wait for
me with a garden hose—on Halloween. I don’t want to soap your
windshield. Your jack o’ lanterns have nothing to fear from
My anarchic tendencies aren’t quite so destructive. I’m less
activist than abstainer. I want to opt out.
What I want is a ride on the ghost ship.
I want the three-hour tour (a three-hour tour). I want the
field trip, the substitute teacher, the snow day. I want the
phone lines down, and the lights guttering and unreliable.
I want the extended stay in the small-town motel, where I’ve
signed in under an obvious alias.
I want the hideaway on Great Jones Street, the mountain retreat
or the vacation home in Atlantis or Brigadoon.
I want to pass between worlds at whim.
I want to go into the light.
Because the rules don’t apply there. And I have some rule-less
things I need done from time to time, some instincts to enact,
some aspects of self to uncover. Personally, I’ve got costume
I don’t begrudge anyone the dress-up, I don’t. The kids are
cute as hell, and some of the conceptual stuff you adults
work out is pretty clever: You guys dressed as “the devil
and the deep blue sea,” or as “ennui”—well, wow. I appreciate
the theater. Nice job.
But, me, I’m going to skip the parties, and once I’m done
passing out the last of the bite-sized Snickers and the Smarties
and cleaning the omelet fixings off the hood of my car and
reeling in the garden hose, I’m going to listen optimistically
for the sound of the Dutchman; I’m going to stay up
late, ’til the TV channels go dead, and press my face up to
the screen. I’m going to test the fabric on the night when
it’s supposed to be most giving, most permeable.
And given the opportunity, I’m going to duck out for a while,
under cover of the dark.
Because it’s not unusual that I’ve got something on my mind,
which is neither here nor there.