This week’s question comes from The A.V. Club editorial staff, who are curious to hear your answers:
What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve worn?
I’ve only done the adult Halloween costume thing once, during one of the bleakest periods of my life. Maybe that’s why I gravitated to one of television’s purest avatars of “my life is going nowhere” despair: Coach John McGuirk from Home Movies. Arguably the greatest (or at least the funniest) of H. Jon Benjamin’s cartoon creations, McGuirk’s amused nihilism and love for swords and spaghetti spoke to me, so I asked my sewing-obsessed mom if she wouldn’t mind making me a McGuirk costume for that year’s festivities. (It was an easy request to submit, because I was living at home at the time. Like I said, bleak days.) Because my mom is awesome, the costume itself turned out great; the worst thing about my pictures of it in action are my own attempts to replicate McGuirk’s bleary-eyed expression. Apparently I hadn’t hit rock bottom with sufficient force yet to really capture the look.
I’d like to start things off with a controversial statement: I love my wife, and she is the absolute best. One of the things that makes her the absolute best is the passion and imagination with which she throws herself into Halloween, a favored holiday in our house that also factors into the backstory of our relationship: Dressed, respectively, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and “The Lincoln Continental” (Christopher Walken’s classic SNL creep, but Abraham Lincoln—great work, 21-year-old me) she and I failed to connect at a Halloween party in 2006. A few days later, on actual Halloween, she kicked off the Facebook conversation that led to our first date and a decade (and counting) of couple’s costumes running the pop-culture gamut from cultishly adored HBO comedies to classic Muppet routines and Must-See TV favorites. But our finest showing comes from the intersection of cinematic satire and absurdist literary tangents: Patrick Bateman and the cat-hungry ATM from American Psycho. As individual pieces, the costumes aren’t immediately identifiable, but together, it’s an unmistakable combo with some clever grace notes. (Bank machines tend not to have faces, a conundrum my wife solved by copying Reese Witherspoon’s swoopy yuppie look from the movie.) And unlike that long ago Halloween that we spent together yet apart, I didn’t have to spend the entire night explaining that I wasn’t Willy Wonka or the guy from Panic! At The Disco.
The Poseidon Adventure is one of my favorite movies ever for a lot of reasons. It’s about leadership. It’s about religion. It’s about survival. And most importantly: It’s about a cruise ship that flips upside down in the middle of the ocean. My husband and I throw a Dead Celebrity Halloween party every year in our wood-paneled basement rumpus room, so the year Shelley Winters died, I dressed up as her Poseidon Adventure character, Mrs. Rosen. Gray hair, dark nondescript dress, some makeshift seaweed (the movie features one of Winters’ three underwater movie deaths), and most importantly, Mrs. Rosen’s swimming medal, which helps her reveal the deep-sea diving skills that help save the day. It was one of those costumes you have to explain to everyone, but as I got to spend the night rattling off her Poseidon Adventure quotes like “Mrs. Peter Pan, I’m not” and “In the water, I’m a very skinny lady,” I loved it.
What is there to say? When I was in fourth grade I told my mom I wanted to be an eyeball for Halloween, and she obliged me. In the weeks leading up to our school party (and parade?), she, working in our not entirely inviting basement, covered a giant inflated balloon in glue-soaked newspaper, let the paper dry, spray-painted the whole thing white, let that dry, then painted the eye details over it. The iris would be blue, like my own. I don’t know where the idea came from, though it follows my pattern of never wearing blatantly “scary” costumes (a few Halloweens before, I was a TV). Years later, reading Emerson in an American lit class in college, I would spark to his idea of the great transparent eye—the eye that absorbs rather than reflects, the eye that takes everything in, bringing one closer to nature and the divine. Of course, I didn’t know any of that when I was 9. Perhaps I just liked the idea of looking, of observing the things around me, which, actually, maybe is a little scary.
My love of Halloween is spurred on largely by my obsession with horror and the supernatural, which is a simple way of predicating my confession that I hate dressing up in costumes in order to still properly convey my belief that it is the number-one-awesome holiday. (Seriously, putting me in goofy outfits is the fucking worst, which is why I suspect my coworkers regularly force me to do it.) So my favorite costume has much less to do with coolness or “wow” factor or even the way in which it’s associated with positive memories in my mind. No, to me there is one thing that makes a costume great, and that’s the ability to put it on and take it off with minimal effort—and no burden on mobility while wearing it. Better still if it attracts the absolute minimum of attention, which is why for almost seven years running I would go to costume-required events dressed as a nurse who just got off-duty. Meaning, I would put on an OR scrub top that I found somewhere and head off for the evening. It’s basically just a normal shirt, but with the requisite signifiers conveying it as hospital-wear, thereby fulfilling the “costume” requirement. And even though my significant other has gotten me to wear one or two other costumes in the years since, I still have it, lovingly folded away in a drawer, for the next occasion where I am forced to don comical threads in the name of “fun.”
I love Halloween, but I’m fucking terrible at it. I just don’t have the proper kind of creativity for thinking up costumes, and I just make things harder by getting weirdly hung up on the idea that whatever I pick has to make sense for a dude with a beard. Luckily, my partner is way more clever and talented than I am, and a few years ago she channeled her love of The Hunger Games into a fun couple’s costume that satisfied all my boneheaded stipulations. She was Katniss, of course, and I was Seneca Crane, the dastardly designer of the games. I am a coward, so I didn’t commit to shaving my beard into the same whimsical pattern he rocks in the movies, but my partner did the next best thing and used some of her makeup expertise to draw all the devilish peaks of his beard onto my face. It was simple and silly and made so much more special by the fact that it was something we did together.
I went to a college where Halloween was an endless, orgiastic ordeal, a violent and overstuffed hellscape of drunken shitheads and at least a dozen newfound “acquaintances” from high school or elsewhere showing up to uninvited to stay on your couch for the weekend. Everyone loved it; I fucking hated it. My costumes followed suite, progressing from an earnest Terrance and Phillip joint costume my freshman year to my self-loathing nadir my senior year, when I went as a douchebag. I borrowed some suede boots from a friend, wore my most aggressively shredded jeans, put on a few hundred Livestrong bracelets and layered as many popped-collar shirts as I possibly could over one another. I used about a quart of gel spiking my hair behind a visor, too. But the real masterstroke was the application of a full bottle of Curve cologne I’d had sitting in a drawer since high school. If I was going to endure one final Halloween, I surmised, I’d turn myself into a noxious, poisonous cloud that everyone else would have to endure. No photographic proof of this night exists, but then, no photograph could possibly have captured my aura that evening.
It would’ve been a way better costume when we were kids, but in college, my twin and I finally went as the creepy little girls from The Shining (commonly referred to as twins but in reality played by sisters in the film). In an incredible moment of hubris, I decided to make the dresses myself: It seemed a simple task to sew a few pieces of blue cloth together, throw on some white lace, and tie it all up with a pink ribbon. I was wrong, and have never attempted anything so foolish as playing seamstress again. The other visual element of the costume was to cover the front of the dresses with blood. Some corn syrup, red food dye, and a whole lot of hot air from a blowdryer later and the shoddily made dresses were ready to go. My twin and I walked around together hand in hand, pausing in front of people to say softly and in unison, “Play with us… forever.” I had the sense that a lot of people didn’t get the reference, but were nevertheless a little freaked out to see twins behaving so creepily, especially as the night went on and people got more and more drunk. And isn’t that what Halloween is all about?