Why do I hate Hallowe’en? It’s because of the Electronic Light-up Scary Yo-yo from Gealex Toys. It’s because of the Ma & Pa Bones Permaplastic Glow-in-the-Dark Skeletons. It’s because of the Sound-Activated Pumpkin Novelty from Hallmark: “It Lights Up — It Laughs!”
It’s because of the Spooky Vampire: “Light-sensor activated! Lifelike animation! Talks in a spooky voice!” Wave your hand and the plastic vampire’s eyes light up. He opens a coffin, revealing a plastic skeleton. Its eyes are blinking on and off. “Welllllllcome…” A tinny voice emanates from a hidden speaker. “We’ve been waiting for you!” Demoniacal laughter. A crash of organ chords.
That’s why I hate Hallowe’en.
Shopping at the grocery store, I immediately notice the salad bar, decked out in seasonal display. Stuffed dolls sit on all four corners: two witches, a scarecrow, a pumpkin-man. They’re made in China from “polyester and synthetic fibers.”
An inflatable ghost is suspended from the ceiling, half purple and half transparent, the word “Boo!” on its belly.
Anatomically correct skeletons swing from the orange-and-black crepe-paper entwined columns. Hanging inside the salad bar, white ghost-baggies with twist-tied necks trail ectoplasm over the lettuce. Plastic jack-o-lantern buckets contain bacon bits, croutons, napkins, and packets of House Italian Dressing (by Kraft).
The produce section is festooned with fifty-odd pumpkins. My wife swears she saw a Kroger employee commended by his superior for painting them all with happy, goofy faces. One pumpkin has a blue nose and is slobbering like a rabid idiot. Caught up in the wonder of it all, my wife puts her produce in the wrong cart. A ruckus ensues.
At the deli I spot a witch with googly eyes and flourescent green skin, wearing a fluorescent orange robe and fluorescent yellow shoes. According to the speech balloon over her head, she is saying “Eeek!” Why?
Perhaps she was frightened by that evil owl eying her from across the aisle. But wait — that owl is no Hallowe’en gimmick. It’s the Hooters Owl, gazing lecherously from a packet of Hooter’s Wing Breading.
A chill runs down my spine and between my legs. I know about Hooters. These are the people who offered to pay for my sister’s breast augmentation surgery. All she had to do was take a job waiting tables at their bar in Union Station. In the Hooter’s uniform, of course: very short shorts and a cut-away tanktop.
Scary, huh? I guess you gotta get a boob job to work a boob job. My sister turned them down. But we still tell the story on spooky autumn evenings.
And now, at last, you can do up chicken wings at home just like they make ‘em at Hooters. And if you’re lucky, you can get a girlfriend to dress up like a Hooters waitress for you. Or just rent the “Girls of Hooters” video. (Better save that cooking grease.)
A hapless 6th-grader finds a phosphorescent “Jason” hockey mask in the dairy freezer. His mom makes him put it back. He tells us that his home is decorated with strings of skeleton-lights that flash on and off. “It’s really annoying, actually.”
I wonder: what’s happened to Hallowe’en? Was it always this cheesy? Does anyone really think that day-glo witches are frightening?
I wander into the potato chip aisle. The Ruffles package sports a green- skinned witch with six warts (count ‘em — six!) on her split nose and tufts of purple facial hair sprouting on her fat chin. She’s wearing not one but two conical hats: a traditional black witch hat with belt and buckle, atop which is perched a tiny party hat, polka-dotted orange and purple.
A poster hangs from above: an ancient mummy confronting a barrel in his Egyptian tomb. Who has violated the sanctity of his sacred resting place? Grave robbers? No! Candy manufacturers! The barrel springs open to reveal a cache of glowing “fun size” Snicker bars.
The “Back To School” candy-kiosk depicts a hallucinatory panorama: a freckle-face kid peering out from behind a huge pile of books stacked with Milky Ways, giant pencils marching toward a playground where one boy hands a small packet to to another — is it a drug deal? Sure enough. M&M’s.
A lovable ghost bobs up beside me, hugging a load of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Kisses, and York Peppermint Patties in his transparent arms.
“Don’t be scared,” he says. “I’m a friendly ghost.”
I can’t help snorting: “Scared? You couldn’t scare my six-year-old niece. You couldn’t scare anybody, except maybe Ray Bradbury.”
The silly specter cocks an eyebrow. “Ray Bradbury? Who’s he?”
“A writer. He predicted a sanitized future, a time when people are no longer afraid of the dark, because all the tales of horrible wraiths and flesh-eating goblins have been suppressed, forgotten, censored.” I stare right through the amiable apparition, lost in thought. “It looks as though Ray was right. But it’s not the censors. It’s the vendors.”
“You know, the sugar-peddlers. They’re cashing in on a Hallowe’en for kids. That’s why everything’s so cute. That’s why you look so goofy.”
“Well, you look pretty goofy yourself, mister!” He floats off in a snit.
I can’t help but feel that something has been lost.
I wrote that essay twelve years ago, but it seems just as relevant today. Personally I’ve mellowed a bit. The cutesification of Hallowe’en doesn’t bother me quite so much because of, well, you know:
At the same time, my appreciation for the ancient origins of this holiday have deepened, which reinforces my aesthetic horror at the modern American spectacle. But you should see the decorations here at the office. My co-workers have really gone wild. It’s so over-the-top I had to bring this essay out of retirement.