This Halloween, Read the Book Despite Its Off-putting Cover
“As I was walking down the street one dark and dreary day,
I came upon a billboard, much to my dismay.
The billboard was all tattered from the storm the night before.
The wind and rain had done their work, and this is what it bore:
‘Drink Coca-Cola cigarettes, smoke Wrigley spearmint beer,
Yukon chocolate ice cream makes your wife’s complexion clear.
Texaco is the beauty cream used by all the stars,
Simonize your baby with some Hershey candy bars.
Take your next vacation in a brand new Frigidaire,
Learn to play the piano in your winter underwear.
Doctors say that children should smoke until they’re 3,
Grown-ups over 65 should bathe in Lipton tea.’”
This variation of country duet Homer and Jethro’s silly ditty “The Billboard Song” was one of many that I committed to memory back in grade school. Incredibly, it has survived the ravages of age. The eerie, surreal imagery it evokes makes it a recollection that surfaces every Halloween.
I spent all of my “trick-or-treat” nights in a rolling subdivision carved out of a forest. The remaining trees, in varying degrees of falling fall foliage, would provide an uneven, abstract canopy of total darkness intermingled with patches of starlight and moonlight. A lack of street lights and the fact that houses sat atop acre lots made the annual sojourn for candy as dizzying an adventure as making sense of a ravaged billboard.
During that tender age, only one stimulant rivaled the effect of a sugar high; the adrenaline rush produced by the sequencing of sudden fright followed by rapid relief was equally heady. A steep roller coaster with a deep drop was the ride of choice. “Creature Features” was must-see television. Oct. 31 offered the alliterative Halloween Hershey horror trifecta.
Halloween dates back to the early first century and the Celtic new year, celebrated on Nov. 1. It was believed that ghosts of the dead would appear the night before. In retaliation, people would wear scary costumes to forestall advance.
Their exterior might be ghoulish, but the core retained its humanity. Perhaps that is why a sliver of redeeming value is found in most of Halloween’s popular masquerades.
Dracula was suave and debonair. Frankenstein’s monster had an ear for music. Lawrence Talbot, aka the Wolf Man, other than on full moons, was pure in heart. The Hulk was slow to anger. Casper was a friendly ghost. Beetlejuice possessed estimable wit. The Wicked Witch had an appreciation of eclectic footwear. Lily Munster was a devoted matriarch. Tiffany Valentine, aka the Bride of Chucky, was a nurturer.
I have donned many outfits on account of Halloween. Ironically, the character I have spent the most celebrations as is by far my least favorite. Since my diagnosis, I have portrayed an ALS goblin to honor the day.
To spice things up, over the years I’ve accessorized from a growing collection of props. Whereas my early wardrobe choices only depicted a few of the demon’s characteristic traits, now I’m able to pull off a rendering suggestive of its full horrific glory.
Only once in the ALS aftermath have I departed from that costume strategy. One year, I attended a Halloween party dressed as a hopeful candidate for office, well known by the attendees. Being a newcomer to the community, I reasoned ALS would not hamper my intent. Imagine my surprise when upon arrival, while laboring with a rollator, I overheard the comment, “Hey, that must be the guy with Lou Gehrig’s.”
My most inspired Halloween moment came as the department I began my career at was being disbanded. I decided to honor all members past and present by going to a party with a white bed sheet draped over me. On it were emblazoned the names of every organization employee, some whom I had never met. I proclaimed myself the “ghost of Reliability and Quality Engineering.”
Similarly, this year, I could shroud myself with a linen displaying all the folks suffering from ALS with whom I’ve interacted. Sadly, many would be posthumously acknowledged. However macabre, it would be consistent with Halloween’s genesis. The Celts believed that Halloween blurred the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. ALS presents a similarly slippery slope.
Instead I will opt for recent tradition. It requires no effort, and as my election year novelty demonstrated, my reputation precedes me. Picture layers of coatings from a nasty concoction, per the recipe of another memorized, slightly modified childhood ditty:
“Great green gobs of greasy, grimy, gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat,
Roasted, toasted birdie feet,
Rolling in a bowl of blood,
That’s what ALS is made of.”
The challenge becomes reminding others, and occasionally myself, that it’s just a disguise. Beneath the ALS costumery is a redeemable soul trying to ward off a monster.
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