In Praise of Ghouls, Demons, and the Like 

In Praise of Ghouls, Demons, and the Like

The very idea of it sends shivers dancing up my spine like spiders. It's dusky, the weeping willows hang in the shadows like grappling fingers and the leaves on the sidewalk whisper warnings with each step. Somewhere a howl rings out, probably just a tape player on someoneâs front porch, but maybe not. Maybe not. It is Halloween and anything can happen. I love Halloween. It combines two of my favorite things -- playing dress up and candy -- so I'm already naturally predisposed. But I think it touches something deeper than that. As a kid, Halloween was an exercise in creativity. One year I went as a coke machine (read: spray-painted red box); the next as a piece of taffy (read: clumsy, green iridescent wrapper thing.) These days, I choose costumes with whimsy -- what I would want to wear if I could wear anything any day of the week. (I figure when I get older, and by that I mean much older, like nursing home old, I'll wander around in palatial dress, my walker matching my tiara. And this will be okay because I am old and eccentric. Now though, young and fairly able-bodied, Halloween and weekends alone in my apartment are my saving grace.) Costumes give normal, regular people, and by that I still include myself regardless of that nursing home thing, a chance to be something they're not. Once a way of avoiding the beasties of the night by tricking them into thinking you were one of them, perhaps Halloween today gives us a small respite from our more psychological demons and our everyday lives. And of course, again, when I say us, I mean me. I fear I'll always see myself as that awkward, shy girl, clad in baby fat and braces. Not to mention my eyesight -- better than a bat's, but not by much -- and the weight of glasses that went with it. When I'm dressed up as a Glenda, the good witch, or Madonna, or whatever else, none of those fears seem to apply. Like with any ritual mask used in tribal traditions, the Halloween costume strips the wearer of his real identity and gives credence to some other story, whether it be hopes for the coming season (how many little kids dress up as what they want to be when they grow up?) or figures from cultural mythology (superheros, television personalities, Zorro). The mundane becomes the exceptional. Choosing a costume also says a lot about the wearer, even if what it's saying is: I don't care about Halloween, which is why I'm wearing my regular clothes and telling people I'm an undercover detective. There's a chance to be funny or clever -- the black-eyed peas, the Freudian slips (Just in case you're interested, to become a black-eyed pea, one creates the appearance of a black eye with your everyday mascara and dark eye shadow. Worst comes to worse, you can use dirt or actually have someone hit you. Then you affix a "P" to your chest. Presto, a Black-eyed pea. The Freudian slip idea is similar, just a slip with the word "Freudian" stuck to the front.) Or a chance to be scary -- that is what the holiday is all about. Or whatever you want really. It's the one chance you really get to be anything you want, anything at all, regardless of age, race, educational background, or lack of superpowers. You just say that's what you are and people will believe you. No other holiday can do that for you. And roasted pumpkin seeds aren't bad either. (You can write Mary Cashiola at cashiola@memphisflyer.com)

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