It's not enough anymore to haul out the Halloween decorations--the witch candles, the plastic skeleton with the missing arm, the ceramic pumpkins that emit eerie noises whenever somebody walks by.
It's not enough to load up on enough bubble gum, candy corn and miniature chocolate bars to keep the entire neighborhood on a sugar high for the rest of the year.
It's not enough to scour the city for the "Spiderella" costume--discontinued, every store clerk says--that my 9-year-old rejected last year but simply must have this Halloween.
No, this year, I've been notified by my kids that it's time to dump the tired witch get-up I've donned for Halloween festivities the last six years and to get myself a new costume as spiffy as theirs.
OK, so maybe my witch outfit has seen better days. Lord knows it's been through enough Halloween carnivals, trick-or-treating excursions and costume parties to make its pointy hat droop and to shred its once-glitter-covered black tulle.
But it's been me for so long. . . . I can't imagine getting through a Halloween without that long black cape trailing behind.
When I was growing up in Ohio, I don't remember grown men and women embracing this holiday with such zeal. Oh, there was the occasional costume party, but most of the adults I knew stayed home sans costume on Halloween and left the fantasizing to their kids.
Now, I find myself in conversation with grown women over which Halloween costumes we're planning to buy--for ourselves, not our children.
In fact, adult Halloween costumes have become such big business that they outsell the kiddie versions in some costume shops these days.
And while Monica and Bill may be all the rage around the country, here in Los Angeles, Hollywood still carries the day.
"People love the movie stuff, 'Scream,' Mike Myers, 'Star Wars,' " reports a clerk at Hollywood Toys and Costumes. At Party City in West Los Angeles, Zorro is a popular choice for men; Mulan is the biggest seller among women.
And at Magic World in Chatsworth--which rents versions of just about anything, from pimp suits to the vestments of the pope--there's a run on celluloid villains, like Godzilla and Spawn.
Actually, grown men and women are not that different from little boys and girls in what they choose to be for Halloween, says Rita Melesio, who has worked at her family's costume shop in East Los Angeles, Halloween Castle, for 11 years.
"The women tend to like the princesses, belly dancers . . . the glamorous, skimpy outfits." The men, she said, "are into masks . . . scary things."
My littlest wants me to be a giant pumpkin, complete with antennae-like headgear that resembles a big, green stem. But when I spot the suit in the costume shop's plus-size aisle, I can't help but shudder and recall my first Halloween in Southern California and how woefully out of step I was.
My husband and I had gone to a costume party dressed as a pair of giant M & M's. I felt cute and creative--until I realized that every other woman in the room was wearing some type of skintight suit.
There were more leotard-clad black cats than you would find in an animal shelter; half a dozen Elviras with eye-popping cleavage; and so many belly dancers and harem girls wiggling around that it made me dizzy to watch them all.
I realized that here--the home of the body beautiful--Halloween is just another opportunity to flaunt what you got.
The costume shops realize that as well.
"Every year, we try to keep [the skintight suits] in stock . . . the Playboy bunnies, black cats, French maids," said Magic World salesclerk Todd Theman. "We've got a dominatrix costume you wouldn't believe."
A dominatrix? I can only imagine how I'd explain that to the kids. . . .
And as I wander the aisles, caught between competing visions--giant orange pumpkin or whip-carrying vixen?--that tattered witch costume still stuffed in the bottom of our Halloween box seems a good fit to me this time around.
* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.