Age 4 — Butterfly costume: Little children don’t have total control over their Halloween costumes; they’re sort of thrown to the winds like that. Anyway, this wasn’t just a butterfly costume, but a hand-sewn butterfly costume that my mother made for me, complete with glitter and sequins. I was very enthusiastic about this costume, in the idiotic way that very young children are enthusiastic about everything.
The butterfly costume was part of my mother’s long-term plan to turn me gay — which was a plan that didn’t work, but that only barely didn’t work. ….In addition to the costume, my mother also took me to the “Ice Capades,” which — okay, so whose idea was that, huh, Mom? …’Cause it sure wasn’t my idea. I didn’t know what the Ice Capades were, but you took me to them anyway, because you wanted a little gay child; yes you did, admit it. (…And years later, during a very long car ride, my father described the Ice Capades as being “the most boring, yet also excruciating” event that he had ever “had the displeasure of attending.” Thanks for taking one for the team, dad!)
In addition to the Capades, there is the infinitely repeated story that my mom tells at family gatherings; this story involves a stranger seeing me in my baby carriage and calling me “the most beautiful little girl.” Stop telling that story, mom, it was never funny, even if you do use it as a way to praise my “long, beautiful eyelashes,” which, come to think of it, stop doing that too. …And in addition to that, once I became a teenager, my mom would take me aside every few months and say this to me: “You know, Oliver, if you’re gay, it’s perfectly fine with us. I just want you to know that.” No, mom; no. I was not… gay. I was a nerd who couldn’t get a date with a girl, thank you for continually ramming that fact down my throat.
Anyway, my mom’s “gay” plan was kicked off by the butterfly costume, and she really put a lot of effort into the whole thing. Sometimes, in fact, I imagine her plan in movie terms, with me chained and held captive in a basement somewhere, bloodied and bruised like an action hero–
Me: It was almost a perfect scheme, Mother. (I pause and smile sardonically.) But you forgot one little detail…
(With a sudden effort, I snap the shackles around my wrists, and rise from my chair, lifting the broken chains above my head.)
Me: ...Oliver Miller… is barely straight.
And then I overpower her and steal her Uzi or something. Right; so where was I? …So a butterfly costume, okay. It was a very nice butterfly costume. Hand-stitched. I only wore it once. There are a bunch of pictures of it somewhere, which is just a shame; a shame for me.
Mighty Mouse — Ages 5 to 8: When I get with a costume, I tend to really get with a costume and stick with it. …I was Mighty Mouse for four years running, and I stand by that. It occurs to me as I write this — and I’m realizing this now for the first time ever — it occurs to me that Mighty Mouse was actually supposed to be a parody of superheroes, a sort of long-winded joke about Superman. But when I was a kid, this occurred to me not at all. Mighty Mouse was, very literally, my only hero — and I could have easily imagined him partnering up with Green Lantern or the Flash in a non-jokey way, in one of those cross-over things that cartoons are always doing.
Anyway, dressing up as Mighty Mouse involves wearing yellow-footied pajamas, a red blanket, and some black makeup, and GODDAMN I was so cute as a little kid. Running from door to door in my yellow PJs yelling “Here I came to save the day!!!” Man, you should have seen me. You really should have. You would have just died.
Werewolf Commando? — Ages 10 to 13: …Like I said, I pick one costume and I stick with it. In this case, I bought an expensive werewolf mask at a specialty store. Then I realized that I had no money left for anything else — like a wolf suit, for instance. Wearing a wolf mask with a regular shirt and jeans on Halloween just constitutes a monstrous amount of Fail. I know because I tried this look out in the mirror repeatedly. In the end, I salvaged things by carrying around a toy machine gun and wearing a camouflage jumpsuit that I had bought at an Army-Navy store. Thus, “Werewolf Commando” was born. And “Werewolf Commando” continued for years, not out of any great love for the costume, but because I am lazy and because I only did the Halloween bit to score some free candy anyway.
Towards the end of the “Werewolf Commando” cycle, I was paired up with my friend A.J., trick-or-treating-wise. It was a strange time to be alive, age thirteen was. …A strange time to venture out into the crispy fall air. You see, there was a growing feeling among my peers that Halloween was now “uncool” — this was based on the very thirteen-year-old theory that anything that you had previously liked doing was totally lame and uncool. A.J. and I were the last holdouts, because A.J. was my oldest and geekiest friend. The last year that we went trick-or-treating, he showed up at my house in a new costume, while I stuck with “Old Reliable” — Mr. Werewolf.
A.J.’s new costume was “The Button Man” — that’s what he called it. Words fail me. It was a handmade costume that his mom had made, except he was thirteen and not four like in my butterfly story. Bad, bad; this was really bad. It was… a suit, topped with a bowler hat, with hundreds of white buttons stitched into the suit and hat. I was speechless. Werewolves, machine guns, army outfits; these things still had some residual coolness at age thirteen. But nothing says “uncool” like a bowler hat that your mother has personally sewed buttons onto. The problem was that A.J. was still a Level Four nerd, whereas I had slowly and subtly moved up to Level Three. (At Level Three, the cool kids still hated you, but they sometimes acknowledged that you actually existed.)
This was the last time time that I went trick-or-treating with A.J. and the last time that I ever hung out with him. It took a lot of effort to avoid him, during the long months of de-friending that followed, but the thing was this: I was an asshole. In fact, I’m still the kind of asshole who cares what the cool kids think while simultaneously despising the cool kids. …The thing was, that night, people loved A.J.’s button costume. People loved it; especially very old people, and I hated this. Old people had extended conversations with him about the making of the button costume, and A.J. would do a “button dance” that he had invented. This was awful for me.
Obi-Wan Kenobi once posed the following question, and it’s still a good question — “Who is more foolish? The fool, or the fool that follows him?” Yeah; good point. A.J. was having fun and doing exactly what he wanted. …I, on the other hand, was an idiot who was worried about the opinion of other idiots. I was worried about the opinion of high school jocks and sluts. But they weren’t there that night. My friend was there that night, but I ended up ditching him — because I was worried about being dragged back down to Level Four. I’d like to say that I learned an important lesson from this — but really, I’m not sure that I ever did.
Mr. Costume Guy! – Age 22: These were the lean years, the fallow years. And we are the hollow men, our heads stuffed with straw. …These were the post-college years for me, which started in 1997. In 1997, Halloween hadn’t yet become SlutDay!, although things were headed that way. Although really, SlutDay! became everyday, and not just for Halloween, around about 2000 or so. Really, SlutDay! became normalized around the point that teenage girls started wearing tight pink short-shorts with writing on them; writing along the lines of HEY THIS IS MY ASS, and THIS IS MY ASS, HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT? …So anyway.
So anyway, we’ve all been Mr. Costume Guy at one point or another in our lives. Mr. Costume Guy arises when you’re like, “Screw it, I’m not doing anything tonight, f–k Halloween.” And then it’s 8PM and that early evening darkness of the soul falls upon you like a shadow. Like a shadow. If you don’t do something tonight, then who are you tonight? And is tonight just going to be the same, like every night? And then you’re in your closet and rummaging. …And then you create a costume that’s not quite a costume. Awful. In my case, Mr. Costume Guy’s costume ended up being a Brooks Brothers smoking jacket that I owned, plus a dress shirt, and some vinyl pants (it was the 90s!), and then my girlfriend smeared some of her glitter makeup on my face. Then I realized that I looked insane and rubbed the makeup off my face.
…Girls have things better in this way. Girls can just wear a sultry outfit that they own and toss on some novelty angel wings that they have from a previous Halloween. But guys don’t have a fallback, hey-I-can-just-throw-this-together-thing. When you’re Mr. Costume Guy, people try to guess Who You Are, which is basically worse than if you had just sucked it up and gone to the party without wearing anything. “Who are you?” people would say. “Me? I’m no one.” That’s a very un-fun and existential sentence to have to repeat all night — especially if you’re still wearing residual glitter — and so I don’t recommend it to anyone.
Ninja — Age 26 to present: …And ever since then, I’ve just gone as a ninja. There is a reason for this. When I was ten I promised my best friend that I would get the tattoo that Storm Shadow — the evil ninja in “G.I. Joe” — had. I then promptly forgot about the promise, but when I ran into my friend at the age of 25, he was like, “Hey man, did you ever get that ninja tattoo?” “…Of course not,” I said. He then said something like, “Man, if you actually followed through with that, you’d be the coolest.” Well, I am shallow and very easily swayed, so I got the tattoo. It’s a stupid reason to get something permanently embedded into your arm, but the scary part is this: If you pause and think about it, it’s not stupider than any other reason that people get tattoos.
And so ever since then, I’ve gone as Storm Shadow, the ninja from G.I. Joe; because I already have the tat, so I’m halfway there. Being a ninja for Halloween is no fun because you’re wearing a mask that covers your mouth, so you can’t drink or make out, so you just end up taking the mask off ten minutes into the party, and then you’re just a dude with an incomplete costume. …Heh. And speaking of making out, the last time that I did the Storm Shadow thing, I ended up hooking up with some girl at the party. And then we went back to her place. …And, well. There are walks of shame and then there are walks of shame. The Halloween Walk of Shame is a uniquely odd experience, and I’ve talked to other people who have done it too.
…To wake up, stinking of tequila, next to a half-dressed witch, and then you don’t remember her name… And then, in order to leave, you have to replace your ninja costume that you chucked on the floor last night. Well, it’s like layers of Who Am I? on top of layers of Who Am I? …And then you leave and walk home, your feet crunching on the crispy leaves. You’re a ninja walking past early-morning pedestrians, and you promise yourself that you won’t do Halloween ever ever again. And you won’t; at least, not until next year.