[Halloween is] overrun by grown-ups who claimed it as a holy rite in the church of perpetual adolescence. — Lawrence Downes
“I want to go to the party, but I don’t want to have to dress up,” David said.
“You know how it goes,” I said. “I’m sure you won’t be asked to leave if you don’t wear one, but what’s the point of going to a Halloween party if you don’t participate in the theme? That would just make you a poor sport.”
“I agree. I wouldn’t feel right showing up without participating. If we go, I’ll come up with something. It’s just that I’m not that into costumes.”
“Why? Is it too much effort?”
David, who had just spent the previous hour baking a popover from scratch and preparing homemade mochas to heighten our inaugural Sunday New York Times experience, scoffed at the notion. “If there was some kind of cooking-themed event, I could cook for three days, like I did for the mac-n-cheese party,” he said. “Effort is not the issue.”
“Then what is?” I asked.
David pondered the question, probably for the first time. “I guess I don’t like makeup,” he said.
I wondered how David’s aversion to costumes had escaped me for all these years. Now that I thought about it, we’d only celebrated Halloween a few times together. More often than not, David would stay home while I went to my sister Heather’s place in San Marcos. Halloween meant seeing my nieces and nephews in comical getups, pilfering candy from the plastic pumpkin by the front door, and participating in that age-old bartering system whereby adults exchange sugary goods for entertainment at their doorstep.
As a child, I loved devising elaborate costumes. It helped that my mother was a proficient seamstress and face-painter, as her skill led to the verisimilitude of my façade. When I became a spider web, in black clothing adorned with synthetic “webbing,” it was not the outfit so much as the makeup that made the costume. Mom had painted my entire face a silvery white; on my right cheek, she painted a lattice, and a giant black spider stretched from my brow down over my eye to my cheek.
In junior high, Mom transformed my face into that of a leopard woman. To make sure attention was directed to the craftsmanship on my face and hair (the real costume), my outfit comprised a featureless goldenrod shirt and pants. I went to school that morning thinking it was the raddest costume ever, but, apparently, I was wrong. Fellow classmates focused only on my clothing and taunted me all day by calling me names such as “banana girl.” That was the year I decided Halloween was for kids. I avoided costume parties until I turned 24 and went to Burning Man, where no ensemble was mocked, not even the enormous orange fish head I’d found at the Salvation Army and wore on my head the night of the burn.
The first time David and I dressed up for a Halloween shindig didn’t really count, as our “costume” comprised leather duds for David and a corset for me — we pretty much went as ourselves on a Saturday night on our way to a fetish-themed party. No effort was expended, and I was the only one who wore makeup.
Last year marked the second time we dressed up. The costume had been David’s idea. He’d seemed to enjoy the preparation, which is why I was surprised by his reluctance to do the same this year. Now I brought it up: “What about the liberal media elite costume from last year?”
“I wanted to go to the party more than I didn’t want to deal with a costume,” he said.
“Still, that was a great costume — no makeup and we wore regular clothes. It doesn’t get more comfortable than that.” The election had been only a few days away, and David capitalized on a political pundit buzz phrase with his conceptual idea. The only money spent was on the Harvard baseball cap he bought. I borrowed a television microphone from a newscaster friend, and David created a red, white, and blue “LME” logo to cover the station logo. I carried the mike and a clipboard, and David shouldered a large video camera he happened to have. On the clipboard was a list of “gotcha questions” David had spent hours composing. At the party, we made regular rounds so I could randomly thrust the microphone in front of someone’s face to ask questions such as “If your campaign controls the red states of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, how many houses would you own if you wanted to build hotels?” Some questions required an answer for the joke, such as, “If elected, would you support having [party host’s] home being made into an orphanage?” If the person answered yes, I’d declare them pro-communism, and if no, I’d accuse them of being anti-orphan.
“Now that I think about it, it was a lot of work,” I said. “I mean, I like that we didn’t have to wear elaborate clothing or spend time on makeup, but it’s really hard to hold a clipboard, a microphone, and a drink. Let’s think of something that leaves our hands free this time.”
“Wait a minute.” David squared his shoulders as though to brace himself against the force of my willfulness. “I didn’t say I was sure I wanted to go.” In response to my forlorn face, his body loosened and he said, “It’s just a lot of work that I don’t get that much enjoyment from.”
“Ah, so it is the effort.”
“Not effort in general,” David explained, “just effort I don’t really get anything from in return. With cooking, I enjoy the process, the challenge, the reaction to the meal, eating the meal, it’s all fun for me.”
I helped myself to a slice of popover and took my time applying jam as I considered the best approach to getting what I wanted, which was for David to agree to accompany me to the party and to invent another clever but easy costume for us both. I knew it was uncool to half-ass it, so ideally we could conceive of something that came across as awesome, regardless of how minimal the effort was to pull it off.
“Remember that couple at the party last year? Peter Pumpkin Eater? He just had his name scrawled on a white T-shirt and a pumpkin seed glued to his cheek,” I said.
“Yeah, that was vulgar — his wife was dressed as a pumpkin. It was even more Beavis than the couple that dressed as an electrical plug and socket.”
“You know how people are,” I said. “Halloween is a time for them to let their inner nasty out. I bet a lot of women would dress like Playboy Bunnies and slutty French maids throughout the year if it weren’t for the disdainful looks they know they’d get.”
“You really want to go to this party?” When I nodded, David said, “Well, I did have this one idea,” proffering an inch I hoped would lead to a mile of his giving in.