I would like to think that I've always been an ingenuous person. Chalk it up to my time in the Boy Scouts of America, my agrarian heritage, or my tenure in Future Problem Solvers (yes, that is a real program in American schools). I've always looked at problems with a technical eye, and known that there is a solution out there, one that I alone could remedy. This drive for ardent individualism has not always resulted in the most flattering of outcomes.
One October, at an age when I was probably old enough to know better, I decided that I was going to make my own costume for the Halloween season. I don't know why, but I chose to don the visage of one of the holidays' most iconic items – the pumpkin.
It would make sense that any normal child would call upon their parents to help them fashion the costume of their fancy, but not me. I built my costume in the basement, refusing my mother entry into my workshop. I began simply – with a cardboard box. Cutting asymmetrical ellipses into the appropriate faces, I created holes to extrude my appendages and create the main element of my costume. The next step was to decorate it.
I found some pale orange paint that looked to be at least a decade old, a sickly sherbet, and began slapping it onto the box. Emptying the bucket with only 2/3 of the box coated, I was forced to find an alternative source of orange to complete my task. I could have asked for a trip to the hardware store to acquire more paint, but in my attempt to keep this craft project secret, I opted for another solution. I pulled out my trusty Crayola markers, located the orange and went to work. While this seemed like a great option at the time, in retrospect, it makes me blush, even now. The shipping info from the box was still evident under the valencia scribbles, making it look as if I was on my way to FedEx. But this slight imperfection did not phase me. I pulled the black marker from its sheath and added the necessary accents to my creation – vertical stripes, and of course, the appropriate triangles and jagged lines to denote the tell tale jack-o-lantern face.
To cap off my creation, I took a smaller box, lopped off the bottom, magic marker-ed it green, and slapped it on my head. Suiting up in a blaze orange sweatshirt and viridian sweatpants, my costume was complete. I, the cubist pumpkin, was ready for the world! Picasso would be proud.
I cannot imagine my mothers internal reaction to the bizarre attire I'd created, but to her credit, she was supportive of my choice to wear homeless housing as a Halloween habit, and sent me off to my first public engagement – a Halloween dance at the Argyle school gym.
Argyle is a small town that feeds into the same community school as Donnellson. The population of this meager metropolis is well under that of even Donnellson's one thousand citizens, and that includes the farms that fall within the surrounded area. Argyle didn't have much - a gas station, a post office, and a handful of side streets. The one thing that Argyle did have was a little league baseball association that put on the best dances in the county, every month at the old Argyle high school. What was so great about these dances is that they were open to elementary students - 4th grade through 8th grade. They were amazingly well attended, with hundreds of students at each dance. And the Halloween dance was one of the most anticipated events of the year.
I entered the dance that night with a bit of trepidation. I was not self conscious, only excited to see my friends, as well as those popular students I wanted so badly to be my friends, and to finally get a non-familial reaction to my cardboard creation.
I was met with a myriad of reactions. The woman who was taking coats and money at the door reviewed my costume with a raised eyebrow, smiled and let me pass without a word. Once I entered the fog filled gym, I fumbled my way to the corner where my friends normally congregated. Along the way I got reactions ranging from laughs and smirks to glares and outright looks of disdain. I brushed them aside and found my friends. That is when I heard,
“What are you wearing?”
“Is that a joke?”
As I looked around at the store bought monsters, superheroes, and ghouls, I realized that I was a different sort of frightening. I came dressed as the embarrassing friend in the cardboard box. The comments and looks I'd gotten as I confidently strode across that gym floor suddenly came flooding back, and everyone seemed to be staring straight at me. I was mortified. Desperate to avoid any further scrutiny, I bounced my boxy self back across the crowded room, seeking asylum in the concessions area. While there were fewer of my classmates in this room, the concessions area was tiny, so it seemed even more packed, and the florescent lights focused every detail of my shoddy craftsmanship into stark clarity. At this point, I just wanted to contract my head into my box and turtle my way out of this situation. But my mom wouldn't be back for another two hours – an eternity in elementary time. I determined that the only option was to scrap the carapace of my crappy costume and try to ride out the rest of the dance in my sweatpants. Not flattering by any means, but at least I'd be inconspicuous. It was much easier to shrink into the shadows when your silhouette was not so geometric. Or three foot wide. I rushed to the coat check lady,
“I need to store my...box. With the coats?”
The lady seemed confused. She studied me a moment, then asked,
“Why would you want to do that? The costume contest is in an hour. You have to have a costume to win the prizes! Go back and dance with your little friends!”
I balked. I didn't give a scratch 'n' sniff sticker about her stupid contest. I knew I wasn't going to win squat in this box. I had to think fast to convince this PTA dropout that I had to remove the dreaded pumpkin from vision before it sabotaged the rest of my elementary school career.
“It's just really hot in there...and crowded. I don't want to ruin it before trick-or-treating tomorrow night! Can I please put my boxes in the coat check? PLEASE?”
It may have been exasperation. It may have been pity. Whatever her reason, the woman begrudgingly took my cubist costume and shoved it into the coat room. For good measure, I hollered,
“Careful with that. It's...expensive!”
Then I rejoined my friends. They seemed relieved that I'd ditched the vegetable garb, although I doubt that my pumpkin really degraded any of our chances of making contact with the feminine gender that night. I spent the rest of the night trying to convince people that I was dressed as Pete Stoyanovich, kicker for the Miami Dolphins.
After what seemed like days, my mother arrived and I was relieved of the shame of that dance. When asked why I wasn't wearing the costume I'd worked so hard on, I could only reply,
“Um...I didn't feel like it.”
The next evening was even more difficult than the dance. I knew how people would react when they saw me in the box – the same way those kids had reacted at the dance. That self awareness was brutal. But it was the day of trick-or-treating. There was no time to call an audible on the costume now. And how would I explain it to my mother – that the costume I'd worked so hard on was a scarlet letter, publicly denouncing me as a 4th grader with horrible taste in costumes? So I did what I had to do. I donned the dreaded decoration once more, and took my walk of shame – my plastic pumpkin pail in one hand, my pride in the other. We walked for blocks, my sister, my mom and I. Every look from the candy patrons we approached seemed to pity, persecute, or propagate the idea that I was a sad little man in a sad little box. The only consolation was that, despite their looks, they did not withhold any sweet delectables from my bucket. So I kept my head down, let my sister do the talking, and collected my bounty.
At the end of the night, I had survived, despite my fears and resignation. I ran into a few classmates, who may have thought nefarious things about my costume, but dared not say anything with our parents present. In the end, I made it home with my candy and my pride. I ate my fill, got ready for bed, and lived to see an new day. And from what I remember, there was little jeering the following day at school.
I can only hope that I am the only one who remembers what I wore that Halloween. Lord knows I've worn worse in recent years. But at least those costumes were bad on purpose.