One Halloween, when I was eight or so, I was an Indian. I had a tomahawk, plus a feather on my head. My breeches were old brown corduroys with patches. And I had a really cool, mean-looking mask.
Ethnic insensitivity? Cultural appropriation? You could say so, but, after all, it was the early fifties, with insensitivity leaking from every Lone Ranger episode and every cowboys-and-Indians shoot-em-up movie.
What boy didn’t want to live in that world, at least for one night? If I can’t be an Indian, I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue, or maybe I’ll run off and join the Apaches!
What parent could withstand that? Look, he’s just a kid. Let him get it out of his system. And anyway, maybe it really is about the nobility of Indians, fighting for their land and their way of life!?
It wasn’t. It was just the excitement of violence, without the reality.
All right. Let him get it out of his system.
If there was at least a little bit of cosmic justice for my cultural myopia, it came from the mask. It was rubber and, on a warm October evening, it retained heat and sweat like a sauna. Halfway through my trick-or-treating rounds, I had to take it off.
Oh, look, it’s just Johnny from up the street. And he’s got that cute rubber tomahawk. Oooh, oooh! Don’t chop me to pieces!!! Just kidding. So, how’s your Mom and Dad? Say hi to them. And don’t forget to take an apple. Bye.
(An apple!!! Everybody else is getting candy corn and Mars Bars and Bit-O-Honeys, and I get a goddam apple, and they know who I am so I can’t refuse! What’s the point of Halloween if you can’t eat too much candy and throw up every once in a while!!??)
The following year, I made it clear I wasn’t going to wear any rubber mask. No problem, my mother said, I’ve got an idea. You know the movie we just saw downtown, “Alice in Wonderland”? Well, I was thinking you could be The Ace of Hearts.
I couldn’t quite picture it, but Mom explained that we’d make my face up with white and a red circle on each cheek. We’d get two squares of cardboard, paint them white, with a red heart in the middle, and strap them together like a sandwich-board.
I worried that the makeup might make me look girlish, but Mom assured me it wouldn’t, and I liked the playing-card part so we went ahead with it.
The results were mixed. A lot of people commented on how clever my costume was, but they also fussed over how cute I looked, with my white face and red cheeks.
The real downer was the eyelashes. Let me explain: I had unusually long eyelashes (not a good thing for a growing boy). With the white makeup, especially around my eyes, they stood out even more than usual. It seemed like, at every house, it was:
Hmmmm, now who could this be? Wait, I think I know. It must be Johnny from up the street. Of course! I’d know those eyelashes anywhere, so beautiful! So, how’s your Mom and Dad? Say hi to them. And don’t forget to take an apple. In fact, for such a great costume and those beautiful eyelashes, take two. Bye, and Happy Halloween.
Yeah, right! The following year, I went back to a mask (not rubber) that hid my eyelashes. From that anonymity, I could plead an apple allergy, beg for candy, and throw up when and where I wanted to.