By Lang Whitaker
Illustration by Tara Jacoby
My ringtail lemur costume arrived in the mail the other day. Considering my wife ordered it from what is basically the dark web — adult-sized animal costumes skeeve me out — the fit was actually pretty good. Perhaps a bit too long but nice and roomy through the thighs. The tail drags when I walk, but I suppose a $15 costume should not be expected to have prehensile capabilities.
Dressing as a lemur for Halloween was not my idea, the same as it was not my idea last year to squeeze my head into fuzzy bird hat and be a blue Spix's macaw. But having a child changes your life in fundamental ways, and Halloween is a perfect example. After a childhood spent gobbling candy, stealing neighborhood pumpkins, and hoping someone went out of town and left a gigantic unattended bowl of candy on their doorstep, as a father my Halloweens are different. A holiday that I used to look forward to as a kid, a day filled with frights then glazed with sugar, no longer exists in that form. As a parent, Halloween is a day taut with stress and emotional land mines. You can keep your treat, because the trick has been played on me.
Halloween should course through my veins. When I was growing up, my grandfather embraced the holiday in ways that are today almost unthinkable. He lived on a farm in Alabama, and reaching his house required driving several hundred yards in the dark down a gravel driveway. If that wasn't foreboding enough to trick or treaters, each year he greeted those who put in the effort to get to his house by dressing in a full-body gorilla costume, hiding below the porch, then screaming and grabbing the ankles of his victims. I’m sort of amazed he never got shot by some frightened neighbor.
To me, Halloween seemed mostly diversionary. It was a fun day, but it was just a day, something that came and went and we all moved on with a sack of candy to remember it by. Here in New York City, Halloween seems to last a month, as specialty stores pop up weeks ahead of time. People begin decorating their brownstones weeks in advance, often in ways that are genuinely terrifying for my 4-year-old son: bloody zombies climb from windows; giant spiders dangle over the sidewalk; grim reapers stand guard outside doorways. “That’s not real, Dad, right?” my son will ask, his little eyes stretched wide as I try to block his view while hustling him along.
Last year, one particularly enterprising street in our neighborhood set up roadblocks on Halloween to become something of a centralized candy superhub. This seemed like a revolutionary idea, as it would presumably allow us to condense hours of zig-zagging around the neighborhood into a ten-minute stroll up and down both sides of the block. No more ringing random doorbells, then waiting for a while to see if anyone was home. This was one-stop shopping.
We met up with a friend of my son’s whose father had wisely traveled out of town for the holiday. Like a dope, I volunteered to chaperone both boys. What could go wrong? Two kids, one block, can’t lose.
My first clue that trouble was ahead came when we turned the corner onto the street, and we were confronted with a heaving mass of humanity. You remember that scene in the World War Z trailer where the bodies of undead try and scramble over one another to climb a wall? That was what we’d stumbled into, although replicated by children. Costumed kids were climbing over each other, going from stoop to stoop, where homeowners were sort of loosely governing the distribution of candy.
I took a deep breath, grabbed each boy by a wrist and waded into the fray. Utilizing my adult size advantage and recently discovered Dad-strength, we bullied our way to the nearest candy bowl, where I grabbed a handful of Now & Later minipacks and doled them out to my guys. Another neighbor thought things weren’t hectic enough, so they were blasting a CD of creepy noises — screams, doors slamming, etc. We covered our ears and hustled past, just as a “ghost” on a string swooped down on us, knocking the dumb bird hat off my head, as the two boys screamed and tears welled in their eyes. They weren’t spooked, they were terrified.
Mostly, I was just mad. I’d volunteered for Halloween duty hoping to ensure the kids came home with a bounty harvest of candy, but instead found myself battling to ensure they didn’t have any lasting emotional scars.
For many, blurring the line between fact and fiction is the entire point of Halloween, which is great unless you’re a child. Maybe the same should go for adults, also. The older I get, the more certain I become that Halloween is just not for me. I spend most of my days working toward a place of calm. Isn’t life scary enough without intentionally adding fright?
And so this Halloween I will dress up like a ringtail lemur, and I will take my son by the hand and lead the way and do my best to mitigate the scary stuff while maximizing the sugary stuff. My days of celebrating Halloween appear to be finished, or at least on hold for a few years.
Until then, I’ll just try to avoid stepping on my tail.