Originally published in Quick on October 25, 2007
When I was a boy, my elementary school had a Halloween Carnival. Not a “Fall Carnival” as certain anti-God liberals have tried to rebrand it, but a good old-fashioned Christian Halloween Carnival with blood and witches and everything.
My second-grade year, I went to the carnival as Casper the Friendly Ghost. I didn’t want to, but compromise is what you learned in families of lesser means.
Back then, you chose your costume from a small section of the “seasonal” aisle in the grocery store and the costumes got cheaper the closer you got to Halloween. I wanted to be Batman, with a fully tricked-out utility belt and a hidden past, but by the time I convinced my mother to take me to Skaggs, there were only three sad costumes with plastic masks swinging from the rack: Wonder Woman, Raggedy Ann, and Casper. Although I felt a certain “freedom” when trying on the Wonder Woman outfit, the rubber band on her mask had pulled free, eliminating it as a functioning unit. Since Raggedy Ann had always scared the hell outta me, I went with Casper.
With my small frame inside the non-breathable one piece in front of the mirror, I complained.
“This makes me look like a baby,” I said.
“You look adorable.” My mom fastened the hospital gown ties in the back. “Look at yourself,” she said. “And if any kid says anything about it, that is their problem.” The unconvincing words of a loving mother.
I sat on the backseat armrest of that big Buick Electra steaming up the inside of my mask, anxious to see the carnival, my friends, and to win things like plastic spider rings and mini-packs of “Bottlecaps.” Once there, I ran into the transformed school surprised to see that teachers existed without the sun, and took in one of the best nights of my short life.
I can still see curled masking tape on the floor for the cake walk (which I won) and the posterboard goblins and black cats taped to the chalk board. I remember my mom talking with the other moms, telling hushed stories with big punch lines as we kids ran around in flammable costumes past the tipsy fathers taking turns with a sledgehammer on an old jalopy for one dollar a hit.
So every year when the air goes crisp, and the elementary schools begin populating their marquees with Carnival dates, I get the hankering to go online and see if I can buy an adult-sized Casper outfit, if only to creep out my mom as I appear at her front door.