Halloween has never been my thing, but I gave it a shot back in the day when I stood armpit high to an upright meerkat, or if you prefer, when I was short and six. My mother suffered the migraine headache of a lifetime, more specifically one that spanned eleven minutes, deciding how to dress me. My first grade class peers in San Francisco circa 1965, were girls eager to be Cinderella, Snow White, Suzy Homemaker or a ballerina; the more demented ones, all four combined. Mom knew if she forced girly-girl garb on me, my reaction would be on par with starting a holy war. I wanted to be Superman, Zorro or a Beatle, even Ringo. None of these guys rated Mom’s seal of approval.
So hand in hand, Mom and I entered Woolworth’s where we reached a compromise solution: an urban caveman in a dress, Fred Flintstone.
My Fred costume was the cheap Ben Cooper brand made from flame retardant vinyl. It was comprised of a screen printed Fred tie and a smattering of black spots signifying either a pre-historic animal pelt or some scary melanoma. But the pièce de résistance was an allegedly ventilated plastic mask shaped like Fred’s smiling mug. The mask was held in place with a narrow elastic band that hugged the back of the head. Holes were cut in Fred’s eyes and in the vicinity of the nostrils guaranteeing that at precisely thirty-eight seconds of wear alleged ventilation would give way to minor asphyxiation and a face soaked in sweat.
At this juncture I should mention that not only was I short but I was slight in build. Or as my reliably image deflating mother was quick to say to anyone from my father to the butcher:
Mom: She’s forty-two pounds soaking wet!
Mom alternated this observation about my slender physical presence with another dose of confidence implosion.
Mom: She turns sideways and she disappears.
It never occurred to Mom to pad me to look more Fred-like. We just accepted the fact that I resembled Hunger Strike Fred. After completing her role in costuming me, Mom passed the baton to my father. It was Dad’s job to take me out trick or treating. Since most nights it was chilly in the City by the Bay and a damp foggy mist often hung in the air, Mom bundled me in my dark red corduroy coat, a coat that completely hid my costume prompting candy givers to ask:
Candy Giver: And who are you supposed to be?
Even at that tender age, I found it astounding how many people failed to recognize Fred from my mask. I wondered how culturally vapid were these folks? Looking back, this initial glimpse of cluelessness was good preparation for insights about the human race, offering hints that we descended from rocks.
Together, Dad and I trolled our neighborhood. I appeared on doorsteps in exchange for candy that would be inhaled back home by my two salivating older siblings, Dovima and Axel. They had stopped trick or treating years earlier so it was my job to take one for the team. I was grateful that they ate the candy. Born sweet tooth deficient, my snacks of choice were fistfuls of dry Cheerios, lightly buttered rye toast or if I was really lucky, a dish of boiled spinach drizzled with olive oil. My sister, Dovima, who to this day could still easily eat herself sick on milk chocolate if she did not keep both hands in restraints, often said to me:
Dovima: God, you’re weird.
If my mother had issues with my slight stature, Dad, in Mama Rose-style, was quick to stage direct my projection of the phrase, “Trick or treat.” This was a phrase I tended to mumble in a near inaudible whisper. To this day, I remain soft spoken. My Ethel Merman-esque father is a guy who was born to shout from the rafters, “Sing out Louise!” On that brisk Halloween night, he groused at me.
Dad: What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you shout out ‘trick or treat’ so people can hear you?
As we bickered on an elderly widow’s doorstep, I insisted that was exactly what I was doing, but he disagreed. I knocked feebly on the lady’s door and said the go-to phrase in an anemic whisper. Dad resisted the urge to smash his head against a wall. We stood for a three count outside the lady’s closed door, waiting. Another three count passed. The response was the same, continued silence. Exasperated, Dad bellowed in a demanding 38-year-old male bass baritone that resonated throughout the entire neighborhood and possibly crossed the California state line deep into Nevada:
Dad: Trick or treat goddamn it!
The elderly widow’s porch light shut off. Dad and I were left standing in the dark.
Dad (with renewed calm): Let’s go to another house.
Back on the sidewalk he urged:
Dad: Don’t mention this to your mother.
Note: I wrote this post as a contribution to the series Remember the Time, a dumping ground for old school stories co-hosted by Emily at The Waiting, who has been very supportive of Lame Adventures, and Kelly of Are You Finished Yet?