Tee’s Review: I want to warn you Cheryl, if you should appear at my door on Halloween, I usually dress as a “cereal killer” with a super soaker!
Hello! My name is Gert and I am a former professional Las Vegas dancer. You wouldn’t know this by looking at me. I’m short and a bit chubby in the center. My dancing days predate my white hair and spindly legs and John Deere ball cap. My voice, which is a bit gruff, powers forth from my throat and out through my unfortunate dental work. I’m here to offer classes in becoming a Las Vegas showgirl. What do you mean officer, when you say I can’t use the computer in this patient’s room? Hospital policy? Wait before you throw me out, allow me to let you in on my secret.
I don’t know what other people do between last year’s Halloween and this year’s Halloween. I can only guess that they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah. They most likely ring in the New Year and then on to Memorial Day and Independence Day. They probably never give another thought to Halloween until somewhere around October 1.
I have my own mission. I cruise through the calendar of American holidays and even give a passing nod to Cinco de Mayo, a heartier effort for Día de los Muertos. Halloween is the holiday I live for, plan for, embrace like a returned long-lost lover. It comes around only once per year. I start planning for next October 31 on the first day of November.
There is a steamer trunk in my basement where I cache all my items of potential disguise. I practically invented cosplay but never shared the idea with the multitudes. My many thrift shop adventures feed my trunk treasure. I see the potential for undercover activities in an old shirt or a pair of overalls or even a hat. My Halloween costumes don’t have to be elaborate to fool even my closest associates.
When my son was in first grade, a witch arrived in his classroom one day to read some Halloween stories. She was very wicked. She cackled as she read these not-so-spooky stories to a lovely class of innocent six-year-olds. She wore a simple black dress and a pointed hat over her long white hair. Her face was a delicate shade of green. My son listened to the stories as he sat on the rug with his classmates. He did not know the witch was me. Someone had to tell him. He should not have been so surprised.
I tried to share my love of costume play with my tiny boy before he reached the age of eye-rolling disapproval and mortification of parental antics. He wanted to be a skeleton for a pre-school party. I bought the obligatory children’s costume but he hated the mask. I offered to paint his face to look like a skull. He agreed heartily. That’s my boy, I thought. After carefully applying the white make up and surrounding his eyes with black, he hurriedly ran to the mirror to assess his appearance only to burst out crying that it was too scary! Too soon? He had loved all the costumes I had previously made for him, but mom had apparently gone overboard in her zest to bond over scaring the crap out of people.
There was some prenatal exposure. I was pregnant with the kid when my husband and I hosted one of our legendary Halloween parties. The graveyard in the front yard was carefully tended by a slightly paunchy gravedigger. A full-sized coffin taking up space in the living room was sporting an open lid for the viewing of old Uncle Fountain, a long-dead relative of my husband’s family. The food on offer was not vegetarian as it had dead baby salad (doll parts, I assure you) and small mammal kabobs (sticks of fake fur scraps) on the menu. Our host was Jeffery Dahmer complete with bloody butcher’s apron. Yes, I had greatly influenced the man I married. Or did he come up with that idea on his own? Where was our sense of decorum? We were about to become parents. Did we frighten our expected offspring before he could even see what we were up to?
When he was two, we continued the reign of terror with a Psycho-themed party for which we had planned to tuck him safely into bed. He never napped, except for party day when he took a lovely, long nap which left him wide awake for the festivities. He expressed his distaste for Mrs. Bates and the bloody shower curtain, so we had to keep him out of the bedroom and bathroom which housed these themes. We sent our unsuspecting guests into those rooms to discover the scary stuff on their own while we distracted the kid with chocolate-themed items on our buffet menu.
By the time the boy reached first grade, he could still be fooled by a witch disguise, but not so frightened. I think he was getting used to my shenanigans. ← one of my favorite words!
As my costume play evolved, I became enamored of the play part more than the costume. It does not take much to throw people off in identifying individuals they know. Faking an accent, using unexpected language, wearing a wig or hat will do the trick. Even my bad acting could make folks stop and wonder who this was.
Over time I developed a stable of beloved characters no cosplay enthusiast of today would embrace. Wearing a costume to work on Halloween was my sacred duty. I would dive into the trunk and come out with items which inspired my imagination. It’s like stirring the sourdough starter for a feed and breed and firing up the oven to bake up a yeasty lump of deliciousness. The internal circus responds with an out-of-control loaf of wacky proportions. Never uniform. Never expected. Always savory and gratifying.
When putting together a costume, I prefer to choose a character of my own making. Many people like to dress as a famous person or character (per cosplay), yet some ordinary person with a strangely familiar look causes the most perplexity, which is always my goal. Most people know I am not Amy Winehouse, even though I have the proper wig for that disguise. I prefer to be someone they never heard of, appropriately named to add to the confusion. It’s most fun when they can’t quite figure it out. Who is this? Especially when the setting is not a Halloween party or when no one else is wearing a costume to work that day! Like when Gert emerged out of the darkest depths of my imagination and was threatened with eviction from the hospital where I was employed.
At the gym where I worked my last year in Houston, I entered on Halloween day dressed as a man, flirting with the front desk staff and asking for a personal trainer! Their puzzled looks were so satisfying. Remembering my near hospital eviction, I gave my true identity away to a couple of staff members. They immediately helped me with the ruse, calling down the Personal Training Manager to assist me. I introduced myself as Harold and was treated with such politeness and offers of assistance with my fitness goals (to be buff), I had to let him in on my secret. Once it was revealed to him, he ushered me into a high-activity fitness class to mess with the instructor. “Harold,” not the most fit member of the club, was politely told there was no room for him in the class. When the instructor later learned Harold was me, he shook his head and laughed every time we crossed paths. “You really got me…had me going there.” There is no higher compliment.
This Halloween I plan to stay at home and brood. I won’t be venturing out as some strangely familiar, wacky eccentric. I am not practicing a Russian accent or rooting through the trunk for a blond wig, go-go boots or ancient kerchief. My hair will not be from 1985, my mustache will remain ungroomed, my accent unwavering from the usual South Jersey/East Texas drawl. With any luck, you won’t see me at all.
Guest Editor Tee is a member of the Asheville Women Writers Cooperative. She wanted some parts of my story to be clearer for the reader—I’m not sure I can live up to that sort of pressure. We have had fun adventures together but she has never doused me with a super soaker! Yet.