The Light Touch / My father, the Halloween monster
Published 7:07 pm, Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Two plump, saber-toothed pumpkins flanked our walkway, a warning to passers-by to enter at their own risk. As soon as dusk fell, two candles were carefully placed inside its pulpy-orange carcass illuminating the path leading to my front door. Those who dared make the short journey from the street did so with trepidation, their fear mounting as each footstep added to the macabre chill of the night. And no ordinary night it was, but what, for a young child, was fraught with foreboding made all the more ominous by the Halloween monster that dwelled inside my house.
Each year on the last day of October, the monster came to life, morphing from his human state into a character of grotesque proportions. A mere glance struck terror in the hearts of trick or treaters brave enough to include our house as part of their annual rounds.
The monster became legendary in our neighborhood not only because of his fearsome reputation, but more importantly, that he slipped into one bag a shiny silver dollar randomly handed out to a lucky child who happened to arrive at the right moment. For days following Halloween, the monster reigned supreme. Cars drove by pointing out that this was where he lived. Rumor had it that one Halloween night the dog next door, upon witnessing the monster, cowered in fear and actually lost its bark.
The fact that the monster lived in my house, by sheer association, made me the envy of all the kids, still innocent enough to believe in icons like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Knowing I had a direct link to this spectacularly horrifying miscreant was no small addition to my otherwise typically normal life.
It was I, who every Halloween afternoon ran home from school to assist in the annual creation and unveiling. Similarly, the monster took his role seriously, making sure he left his office in time to prepare for his transformation. Together we entered his private sanctuary where I sat on a high stool in front of the mirror. Standing by like a surgical assistant, I handed over the monster makeup: The accoutrements that would convert him from his daily job as a lawyer into a creature, gnarled and distorted. By the time his entire face was sculptured and molded into place -- the final wart adhered to his chin, the blood stain dripping from a false tooth that hung from his twisted lips -- I had sufficiently worked myself up into an appropriate state of Halloween frenzy. When he descended the stairs, taking his post by the door, screams reverberated so loudly that even the parents, accompanying their youngsters, backed away. My mother did not find this as amusing as we did, and in that way, the monster and I shared a unique bond of familial camaraderie that lasted throughout my childhood, and into my adolescence.
Now, in 2012, the Halloween monster has retired his post and is long gone. Those same trick or treaters are parents themselves. They've moved away to places unknown, probably accompanying their own children to neighborhood houses, showing off their creative costumes and indulging their Halloween fantasies when being scared to death was de rigueur. All over America, little ghosts and goblins still prowl the night, their tote bags bursting with candy corn and popcorn balls. But nowhere was Halloween better celebrated than at my house when terror prevailed, and one child walked away with a silver dollar clenched inside a small fist.
Halloween has never seemed the same since. Even when my own grandchildren donned their costumes, replicating their favorite action heroes, storybook heroines, witches on broomsticks and white-sheeted ghosts, it is never quite as menacing as it was when the Halloween monster lived among us.
Every Oct. 31st, these memories are ignited: The kids dressed up and nervously creeping toward our door knowing that, within moments, they would be experiencing the most delicious fright of their lives. But even more, Halloween is a reminder of how one man cared enough to make the commitment by being present in our lives, and satisfying our most anti-civilized cravings that would be talked about for days to come.
Never did I cherish my dad more than when he switched roles, putting aside his moniker of respectability, and morphed into monster mode. When, for a few hours, he hid behind another persona so different from the world he inhabited daily, emerging as the scariest man alive -- the Halloween monster, who, in the best and worst of all possible ways, haunts me still.