Aside from mom and sis, there’s little I miss about the East Coast since leaving there 15 years ago.
Space and free time are as rare as plutonium. There’s a palpable tension and gruffness. East Coasters love to bitch about how out of touch California is with real Americans. But I defy anyone to find a state more American than California; after all, 1 out of every 8 Americans chooses to live here.
And the weather there is miserable. Trade winds may blow West to East, but hurricane winds blow in the opposite direction, straight to the East Coast. A Bronx Cheer from Mother Nature.
But the East Coast does get one thing right: All Hallows Eve. The packed-in housing is a trick-or-treaters delight. And, if it doesn’t rain, the fall air feels good when you’re wearing a latex head. I love latex heads.
My favorite, though, is headless. Just a latex mask of a neck stump — with the decapitated head attached to a fake rubber hand so you can put your own inside the skull and move the mouth. My ex-wife and I would unpack it every October for our haunted house party, which drew friends from out of state and costumed kids, literally, by the hundreds to our front door.
But we had to tone it down after one child nearly died of fright. Well, that and blunt force trauma.
It was Halloween 1998, and Spencer flew in for the annual ritual. That year, he decided to don a creepy skeleton costume and hide behind the side rails of our front porch to “greet” unsuspecting visitors. Half of which were moms, who apparently thought it hilarious to visit a haunted house that could cause their children to lose control of the bladders or bowels.
That year was our biggest Halloween turnout. At least 250 kids (we counted the scant leftover candy). At least a dozen moms drove kids from their neighborhoods to our house, which was sprinkled with Bates Motel signs, tombstones and severed limbs, all blinking and rotting to Halloween sound effects of creaks and moans and screams. I would have made a great dad.
As the night wound down, a station wagon pulled to our front curb. I peeked through the inconspicuous slits in the collar bone to find a black woman, perhaps in her mid-30’s, pulling up with her daughter, about six and in a princess costume, in the back seat.
The mother hopped out, ran back to open her daughter’s door. But the girl, seeing the grisly scene, shook her head. No way she’s risking life and limb for a goddamn mini Baby Ruth.
But mom wasn’t having it. She opened the door and physically pulled her from the car, carrying her to the foot of the porch staircase. The girl again shook her head, but mom assured everything would be all right, and pushed her toward the nine steps.
Reluctantly, girl ascended. I whispered to Spencer to not pop out from the side, that this girl was truly unnerved. She took each step deliberately, as one would take up an executioner’s gallows. When she emerged on the porch, she stretched her arm as f a r o u t as she could for the candy bowl, as if she were touching a boy with cooties. I didn’t even make the the mouth move. Just a bloody head in a candy bowl, surely a restrained touch. Like I said, dad material.
No matter. Once she got the candy bar, girl turned and ran. Fast. And leapt from the top stair. Far. Hollywood stuntmen wouldn’t make that leap without protective gear and a padded floor.
Not Princess Stuntgirl. She took off and was caught at the foot of the steps by her mom, who was in a fit of hysterical laughter. I pulled off the mask and ran to the porch edge.
“Sorry!” I called out to the woman. “Don’t worry!” the mom responded, still chuckling as she carried the girl back to the car, though she need not have carried, the girl clutched so. “She’s a little scaredy cat.”
The houses here in L.A. are too spread out to score much of a payday on Halloween. I get a dozen kids, at most. Still, I love the night, and will put the dogs in costume. Esme gets a faux leather jacket that makes her look like a gangster (or that she’s into sadomachism). Teddy gets a dunce cap.
But I always put a “Beware of Dog” sign out, so that, instead of coming to the door, kids ring the doorbell, safe outside the gated front entrance.
I wouldn’t want kids losing their heads.