My motto for Halloween costumes is: If it fits in the car, it’s not worth doing. I go big or go home, and it MUST be made with my own two hands.
Since I was little, I’ve loved making things. It doesn’t matter what – cookies, a sweater, a film. I was the kind of kid who spent hours alone building sandcastles on construction sites or crafting elaborate fantasy worlds inhabited by Barbies and Star Wars action figures. The kind of kid who devours a Nancy Drew in one sitting. The kind of kid you don’t realize is actually in the house until she shows up gushing blood from her head or finger. To me, these wounds were minor sacrifices in the pursuit of making stuff.
So when it comes to Halloween, I don’t bother with your gypsies Roma, your bums, your girl in a poodle skirt. I was born to eschew store-bought costumes — partly due to my creativity and partly due to my weirdness. I didn’t really fit in as a kid. I spent hours analyzing Star Wars (and the visual effects, which later became my career) or practicing pratfalls inspired by Chevy Chase (to my parents’ terror). This went well with my ability to entertain myself for hours, since my predilections didn’t win me many friends.
My parents supported my creative side; they thought I was a funny little kid, but not necessarily funny ha-ha. Funny “she has no friends,” funny “what is she talking about?” and funny “where the hell did she get this vocabulary?” No matter, I was too focused on my geeky obsessions to really notice.
But inside my solitary world, I found bliss in building large costumes. Very large costumes. Costumes that needed special transportation arrangements. Costumes you can’t not see.
For the eighth grade Halloween dance, I went as Shrubbery.
Yup, Shrubbery. As in Monty Python and the Holy Grail shrubbery. This was my first costume that wouldn’t fit in the car, and I realized…this is how it’s done. The shrubbery skeleton was crafted from chicken wire with crepe paper leaves adorning the outside. I forced my younger sister to sit in the chicken wire sub-structure and put masking tape on the inside so that I could attach four different colors of leaves. Realism is essential. The shrubbery rested on my shoulders and extended to my knees…and included a toy rabbit “with big pointy teeth!” tied to the side. No effort was spared.
When I arrived at the dance, I lifted my shrub off the roof of the car, lowered it over my head…and was fabulous — to myself.
No one knew who I was.
The sting of being misunderstood was intense. I’d just assumed they’d get it. Instead, I was weird. I didn’t care if my parents understood, but my classmates’ confusion, sideways glances, whispering…that hurt. I pretended not to notice and bopped my huge self around the edges of the dance floor.
I started to realize that my sense of humor appealed to a very narrow demographic, one not well represented in Ridgefield, Connecticut. But it didn’t matter. I’d found my people.
Then I heard a British accent utter the magical phrase, “I want…a shrubbery!” It was Jeff, an older boy and a major crush. I started to realize that my sense of humor appealed to a very narrow demographic, one not well represented in Ridgefield, Connecticut. But it didn’t matter. I’d found my people — my person. Jeff was my people. The feeling of belonging, of being in on the joke, was both unfamiliar and intoxicating.
Years later, I worked in the visual effects industry, which, as one might imagine, is chock full of nerds like me — nerds who incorporate hydraulics into their costumes. My people.
At one job’s Halloween party/costume contest, I went as a marionette from Team America: World Police — a no-brainer of nerdtastic cool. I built a finely detailed costume with a homemade, authentic insignia on a silver jacket, a self-crafted a gun and — the coup de grace — marionette strings and a controller suspended above my head.
Now, while this costume technically did fit in the car, I HAD A MARIONETTE RIG ATTACHED TO ME VIA STRINGS SUSPENDED ABOVE MY HEAD, so it definitely fit in the “bigger is better” category. I had no doubt my work would be admired, appreciated, understood. I was so ready to win the company contest. Ready to be one of the gang.
No one knew who I was.
I couldn’t believe it. I was invisible all over again. How had no one seen this movie? I started to do some serious moping next to the keg. Again, there were the perceived sidelong glances, whispering. That is, until Rosendo. From across the patio at the office, I heard gorgeous, Rosendo’s voice as he sang the movie’s theme song:
“AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!”
Be still, my heart. Here was one person who saw me, got me, and he didn’t care who knew it. The acceptance I so desperately sought since high school was mine. I was grateful, relieved, gratified. Again, I had my person.
Then, when I worked at The WB/KidsWB! On-Air Promotions, I found a place chock-full of nerds. Practically the whole building was full of my people. It was a joyous time. I made people laugh, they loved my art, they asked me Star Trek trivia questions in earnest. They saw me, KNEW me from the start. I finally really belonged.
I was invited to a WB/KidsWB! Halloween party at one of the editor’s houses. I accepted enthusiastically. My costume would be epic. My people would understand it, love it, talk about it for years to come (this actually is true, 15 years later).
Working for KidsWB! inspired my masterpiece: Jigglypuff. For the uninitiated, J-Puff is a Pokémon, a giant pink sphere whose shtick is singing lullabies and writing all over sleeping victims with a sharpie. I mean, sure, that’s insane and all, but the real selling point in my mind was that he’s a giant pink sphere.
I know. Pokémon is weird. Imagine working on it.
I assembled a structure of hula hoops, five yards of pink felt and a little Elvis curl through which I would peek. The hot pink outer covering was hand sewn, lovingly. The hula hoop inner structure was skillfully kludged with duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Once I lowered this ridiculously large semi-igloo over my head, it rested upon a pillow on top of my head (as previous shrubbery experience dictated) and ended at my knees. It would be too big to get through a door. It would have to ride in the truck bed. It wouldn’t be able to go to the little Pokemon’s room. It would be…insanely great.
Finally, my costume efforts were met with instant victory. To be sure, the party was attended by people from KidsWB! who were forced to watch Pokémon for hours on end without respite, but it felt good — fantastic, amazeballs — to be recognized, not only for my character, but for my handiwork. The hosts of the party were dressed as Ash and Misty, the Pokémon Masters (this show is so weird), so I filled out the theme! They and everyone else loved my work of oversized genius. Everyone else except my then-boyfriend.
“Everyone thinks you’re weird.”
“You keep bumping into things; you’re embarrassing me.”
“People are looking at me like I’m weird because I’m with you.”
But here’s the thing: His negativity and refusal to accept who I am didn’t matter at all that night. I fit in with a huge group of people for the first time in my life. People who genuinely liked me, took me to lunch, invited me to movies and taught me how to yo-yo in the office. I’d never yo-yo’ed!
It was a genuinely transformative experience.
To this day, Halloween is still one of my favorite holidays, a time for me to make a larger-than-life creation recognizable only to a select, wonderful few. Sure, I still have the occasional fail; no one recognized my perfect-to-the-tiniest-detail Dexter costume a few years ago.
What did I expect? It totally fit in the car.
(R-L: Courtesy of Doug Chapin, Charles Hornung )