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In Between Days

With 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 think.

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 me.

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 to shed.

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.

—John Rodat
jrodat@metroland.net


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