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The Village People Save Halloween October 18, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Halloween in New York City in the 1980s was a tough call.  The big draw was the Village Halloween Parade. But how many gay guys can you watch prancing around dressed as poodles in costumes made from pink plastic bags? (The answer is quite a few!)

The trouble was that my sons, Taylor, who was in third grade, and Ian, who was in Kindergarten, were eager to go through that American rite of passage called trick-or-treating. In Manhattan, that meant going from deli to deli and getting a piece of candy or maybe having a slice of cheesy pizza dropped into your bag at the local pizza parlor.  Not quite the Halloween of my childhood.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a pretty simple affair.  You carved a real pumpkin and it always had triangle eyes.  None of that artsy stuff you see nowadays.  If you were hard up for a costume, being a hobo was always an option, but that was before there were homeless people.  You could wear your dad’s shirt and carry a stick with a bandana tied to it. Now those same bandanas signal gang affiliations.  Sigh.  Word traveled quickly as to which families were handing out the “good stuff.”  I’m talking homemade popcorn balls and caramel apples (before they had razor blade fillings).

Fast forward.  We were living at the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street.  Built in 1883, the hotel is 10 stories tall and has an ornate wrought iron staircase winding through its center.  The residents were mostly “artists,” (code word for eccentrics).  We moved in the year after Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy. There were residents who swore the elevator always stopped at the first floor, even when no one had pressed the button, because that’s where Sid had lived.

At the Hotel Chelsea, it was pretty much Halloween year round.  We once walked into the wrong apartment once and found ourselves in a casino.   It’s not like the boys could go from apartment to apartment trick-or-treating. No, we would have to bite the bullet (the silver one intended for werewolves) and throw a Halloween Party.

Other parents, who were equally desperate for something to do on Halloween, quickly RSVP’d.  We enlisted the help of some of the hotel’s residents, some who we only knew in passing.  I was willing to buy the candy for them to hand out, but they insisted they would to do it. But what it they flaked – or OD’d?

That's Taylor, the mad scientist, out front wielding a the pliers.

Mad scientist Taylor wielding pliers.

I ordered a sh*tload of plasticky crap from the Oriental Trading Company.  Skulls, spiders – Typical boy stuff.

I made a huge platter of spaghetti with eyeball meatballs (olives) along with vampire repelling garlic bread.  Jake’s mom, Arlene, who was a caterer, arrived bearing the most incredible cupcakes I’d ever seen. They had black frosting and a green plastic witch’s finger protruded from each one.

We set up games out in the hallway.  Stick a skewer into a bowl of flour and try to hit the lady apple. (What a mess that was!)  There was a little fishing rod with hook on the end of it so kids could try to snag a skull ring out of a jar. This was all time filler until the main event. Finally, it was time to go trick-or-treating.

I shouted out an apartment number and a dozen children raced up the stairs with parents trailing behind.  From floor to floor they raced, maybe ten apartments in all.  The last stop was at our friend Susan’s.  She was a teacher and lived in the penthouse.  I expected candy.  Instead she’d gone all out with spooky lighting and a scary soundtrack. Her apartment was already a jungle filled with terrariums of exotic animals. When she had the tarantula walk across her shoulder, the kids were mesmerized.  But then, so was I. This was the grand finale.  But wait, there’s more!

My husband’s office was across the hall from where we lived.  It had a wrought iron balcony that overlooked 23rd Street.  Flying high on sugar, the kids tied rubber bugs to fish lines then dropped them down to street level. When someone walked by, they’d jerk the line to make the bug jump.  When unsuspecting people were startled, they laughed hysterically.

Everyone swore it was the best Halloween ever.  And it was.  A motley crew of people who wanted to create a lasting memory for children made it happen.  Yes, it takes a village – Or in this case, the Village People.

Moxey, whose blog Middleground is on my blogroll, wrote a hilarious post about her own ambivalence about Halloween and the inevitable  Costume Drama in outfitting her eight-year-old son, Spawn.  It’s a fun read.  This year, the party is at her house!

Photo Credit:  Spooky Spinner by Mark Williams at markrosswilliams.com


1. Elisse Stuart - October 19, 2009

I love your NYC stories.
Great one.



2. Catherine Sherman - October 19, 2009

Those were great times at the Chelsea, although I only experienced them through your letters (which I still have!) except my one visit there. What a wonderful visit! I’ll post the photo I took from Richard’s office balcony. When we walked around the neighborhood, you knew everyone! It was like a small town, except with piles of garbage bags sitting on every corner. (Garbage collection is better now, I think….) This year I might open my boxes of Halloween decor and display for the first time in years! Or again, maybe not….Our neighborhood is so tiny, I think, who cares, no one will see it. What is Maisie wearing this year?


3. Janelle - October 19, 2009

I love it! I can just picture it. One of my best Halloweens was watching the “drag” races in Georgetown. I think I have a picture with a queen dressed as Cinderella buried somewhere in my closet. I was so jealous of “her” legs. Eccentrics just make Halloween the best holiday there is (at least in my book).

Last year a group of teachers went to a Halloween drag show – ON A SCHOOL NIGHT! Some of the drag queens looked better than I could ever hope to. I’d settle for make-up tips from them. In NYC, my sons’ school urged parents of young children to avoid the Village Halloween Parade as it was R-rated. There are people who work 364 days on a costume for this night alone. What better night to come out of the closet than Halloween? Be all that you can be. Jan


4. Lesley - October 20, 2009

Wow it all sounds wonderful, but in England and the rest of The UK we do not celebrate Halloween very much. I think it must be because so many people here are not sure about the origins of Halloween and if you do decide you would like to dress up and knock on doors, it is very unlikely that anyone will answer and if they do sweets (candy) will not be available. Roll on Guy Faukes and Bonfire Night!!! Another Pagan festival!!!


5. Catherine Sherman - October 20, 2009

Janelle’s account and your reply made me think of the time Mike and I stumbled onto the Halloween Parade in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of Cape Cod. We were the token straight people there, looking very dowdy in our ordinary duds.


6. Wendy - October 21, 2009

This shows you how long we’ve been friends: I’m sure I was one of the people handing out candy that night and have no recollection of it. I hope you didn’t send the kids down to the front desk and have Jerome the bellman hand out nickel bags for a treat!!

Those were great times.

Wendy – Yes, you did hand out treats. OMG Jerome the bellman. There’s a costume idea. LOL Jan


7. Christine - October 21, 2009

I’m all for children seeng gays in Halloween costume–up to a point. I was on Santa Monica Blvd., in West Hollywood, one Halloween night. The costumes were fantastic. I was disturbed, however, to see parents bringing their young children to view the spectacle after trick-or-treating. This was about 10:00 on a school night, which was bad enough. But seeing bare butt cheeks in chaps, at eye level, was eye expanding for these shocked tykes. I felt traumatized for them.

Christine – That’s exactly why my sons’ school encouraged parents NOT to take young children to the Village Halloween Parade. It is great fun for adults (unless you’re a major homophone, er I mean homophobe), but it was very confusing for children. Jan


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