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Haunted by Ghosts of Past and Present

October 29, 1992|JIM WASHBURN

Not that we have a pumpkin for vice president or anything, but has anyone ever noticed that Election Day falls just a mite too close to Halloween? It could explain a few of the problems we have.

For instance, suppose a friend--let's call him Carpet Chewin' Chuck--comes to your Halloween bash in a Ronald Reagan mask and, as the party gets a little out of hand, begins to trade hostages for tequila shooters. When you come around days later in a voting booth, you remember Carpet Chewin' Chuck's decisive action and naturally vote for him. But when the President displays few Chuck-like traits in office--such as when he exits the U.N. building, there are no tufts of beige carpet in his mouth--you begin to suspect you've sent the real Ronald Reagan to the White House, a man who never even gave you bean dip.

Speaking of bean dip, the proximity to Halloween may also explain why we nominate so many substantially ugly candidates, as if the contest were for Creepiest Makeup. We haven't exactly been electing philosopher-kings lately, so why not vote for someone who at least doesn't frighten pets and children when he comes on TV? This is an issue that cuts across political borders: Bob Dornan's oft-televised "Exorcist" imitations (why use vomit when hate spews farther?) may get the creepy award, but I wouldn't exactly want Tip O'Neill lumbering after me through the dark woods either.

Actually, I don't know what scares kids these days. It used to be that the unholy trinity of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man were sufficient (I'll also admit to being flat-out terrified of the Singing Nun, whom I used to imagine coming at me through the fog--singing "Dominique"--as I showered). Dracula probably did more for cross sales than any evangelist ever did. I recall a fourth-grade field trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano, where my classmates and I stocked up on crucifixes and St. Christophers, not out of fear of God but of vampires and big surf.

In the '60s there was a new generation of horror films from Britain's Hammer studios, whose modest bloodletting and impalings kept many parents, including mine, from permitting kids to see them. In movies now when you see the flesh boiling off a head right before it explodes in a zesty display of brains and maggots (a la the "Indiana Jones" flicks) they call it "fun for the entire family."

Maybe it's part of the defense children need to have against an adult world where horrors in the news beggar any fiction, but today they seem to take their goop and gore in stride. For example, in a recent jaunt to Toys R Strewn All Over the Place, the centerpiece of the Halloween section was Monster Face, a $29.95 plastic head that looked like rotting rigatoni, with holes for inserting worms and spikes all included. The box also promised Nasal Drip Monster Glop! and Pulsating Blister!, and gave parents the helpful guide that Monster Face was intended for ages 5 and up. I wish I was making this up.

The store still had a reassuring number of traditional Halloween garb, including witches, firemen, Milli Vanilli members and riot cops. (There do seem to be a few sex-role problems to be ironed out: There was a proliferation of tot-sized wedding gowns, cheerleader outfits and, no kidding, "deluxe slave girl" costumes.)

Last year I had little terrors showing up at the door wearing hockey masks, emitting "grrrrr"ing noises and making chopping motions with their hands as they lunged forward. The good thing about hockey masks is they hide the bitter disappointment written on little faces when their parents lack the wherewithal to supply them with working chain saws.

Also dropping by for a spot of Snickers were blast-faced Terminator cyborgs, radiation victims and such. Given the minimum-wage service-sector economic prospects facing kids now, maybe the only really scary costume left is a Burger King uniform.

I made a number of poor costume choices in my youth. Those were far less politically correct times, the late '60s, and it was in the "aren't those Nazis a lark" spirit of "Hogan's Heroes" that I once for lack of a real costume drew on a toothbrush mustache and went trick-or-treating as Hitler. Fortunately, instead of being offended, people mistook me for Charlie Chaplin, and I did my best to amble off with the Little Tramp's shuffling walk.

Once my sister and I thought we might get a better haul by going to a rich neighborhood and went trick-or-treating with friends in Beverly Hills. What we got were mostly rock-hard unwrapped Italian candies with a tangy layer of dust that suggested the rich had first gotten years of decorative service out of these candies before unloading them on us.

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