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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Haunted by the Ghosts of Halloweens Past

October 25, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

Halloween doesn't amuse me much. It never has. Any time I want to see small people in strange costumes, all I have to do is go to Santa Anita.

As a kid, I couldn't afford to buy a costume. My mother gave me three choices--go out as a ghost, a ghost or a ghost. Since she refused to let me cut holes in a perfectly good bedsheet, I nearly suffocated and bumped into a lot of trees.

Years went by before I gave Halloween a second thought. I'm the kind of guy who has to ask, "Which day is it this year?"

If kids come by asking, "Trick or treat?" I generally take the trick. Or, because I keep no candy around, I sometimes have to treat the really cute kids with whatever I happen to have around the house. Mustard. Tube of toothpaste. A cat. Whatever's handy.

A few years ago, a date asked me to an adults-only Halloween party at a downtown L.A. nightclub called the Mayan, if I recall it correctly. We went as the Simpsons, from the cartoon show. She went as Marge, I went as Homer. We sure did look sweet. Then we walked into the club and saw costumes that would have terrified Bela Lugosi and made Elvira blush.

First time in my life the question "Trick or treat?" literally scared me.

*

I had forgotten that L.A. is a costume-wearing town, with professionals who deal daily in wardrobe and props.

At a hot Hollywood Halloween party, nobody puts on a Lone Ranger mask and calls it a costume. I saw one guy who came as Godzilla . . . 30 feet high. I don't know if he stood on stilts or on a couple of Lakers or what. I don't even know how he got through the door.

Then there were the nudes. They weren't really nude. I only thought they were nude. I told my friend in the Marge costume, "Look, those people are nude."

"They're not nude," she said.

"I know nude," I said, "and they're nude."

We took a closer look.

They weren't nude.

"Good costume," I told one of them.

"I'm not wearing a costume," he said.

I took a closer look.

He was wearing a costume.

There were topical outfits at the party, presidents and current movie stars and such, but none of them frightened me except Michael Dukakis.

I made up my mind that night that if I ever got invited to a Halloween party again, I would come up with a more inventive costume, even if I had to come as some other Simpson.

Two years ago, I got invited.

Unfortunately, it was at the last minute. I had no time to go shopping. I looked at my bedsheet. It was the only bedsheet I owned, so I hated to cut holes in it. Finally, I found an old cowboy hat, a cowboy vest and a pair of cowboy boots.

"Who are you supposed to be?" my host asked.

"Cowboy," I said.

I obviously was still an amateur. Every other guest at the party wore complicated, sophisticated costumes. I think one guy came as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was a pretty classy bunch. I remember reaching for a New Yorker magazine, only to find that it was a woman who had come disguised as a New Yorker magazine.

This year I'm taking no chances.

I drove by a "Halloween Headquarters" banner and decided to drop in, a full week before Oct. 31, just in case any last-minute invitations come this year. No ghosts or cowboys this time. I didn't care if I had to lose 200 pounds and come dressed as a supermodel.

First I checked out the wigs.

There was a "Jackie" wig, a "Marilyn," an "Audrey" (a beehive), a "Twiggy" and a "Howard," the latter modeled after the guy on the radio whose hair is longer than Jackie's, Marilyn's, Audrey's or Twiggy's. I thought of buying Howard, while wondering how many of the store's customers know who Twiggy is.

Next came the guns.

*

I should have expected Halloween toys would still include guns. What I didn't expect was the authentic-looking "8-shot detective pistol" that looked so realistic, I wouldn't give a kid candy, I'd give him my wallet.

There were also Ninja knives and a "realistic sound" Uzi machine gun. How adorable.

My last stop was the masks.

I examined all the best ones--Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Ross Perot--but couldn't make up my mind. I finally just grabbed the ugliest, meanest, slimiest, scariest mask off the shelf. "Who you going out as?" the salesclerk asked.

"The media," I said.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail mike.downey@latimes.com

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