Celebrating the Devil’s Birthday October 29, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, Halloween, Halloween Celebrations at School, Halloween in France, Halloween is the Devil's Birthday, Holidays, Humor, Teaching, The Devil's Birthday, Third Grade
It was just a matter of time. Sure enough, last week one of my students said, “My mom told me Halloween is the Devil’s birthday.” “Well, that can’t be,” I replied, “Because my birthday is in April.” A quizzical look. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.
I try to be hopelessly PC. “Well, we all have different ideas and opinions. That’s what makes our world so interesting!” I say through clenched teeth. At my school, we arrange for alternative activities for children whose parents don’t want them to participate in the Halloween Parade.
Several years back, I had a family who had called their daughter’s first grade teacher to suggest prayers for her. They’d also called to make sure that the teacher wasn’t planning on coming to school dressed as a witch on Halloween. I’m not going to even go THERE. I don’t have to worry ’bout stuff like that since I keep my broom parked in the corner. I tell the kids that’s my transportation. Hey, can’t you tell I’m kidding?
When I taught a bilingual second grade class, my students had no idea how much Spanish I really knew. (The answer is not much.) But one day I was sweeping up a mess and noticed two girls watching me. I said, “Una bruja, si?” (A witch, yes?) The look on their faces was priceless.
My one complaint about Halloween is that if I see one more Scream mask, I’m really going to scream. Okay, make that two. In Los Angeles, it’s usually hotter than Hades on Halloween. Herding a bunch of squirmy kids around in their itchy polyester costumes IS a devil of a job.
My school has a parade, though only children dressed as storybook characters can win a prize. So, we have a lot of grim reapers who are just plain grim, since they can’t carry their scythes, and pirates without swords. When it comes time to change into their costumes for the parade, I’m in charge of the girls. There is always a plethora of princesses. When I taught fourth grade, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the “princesses” looked more like a Vegas show girl. It was only later we learned she was actually 14! Ay carumba!
My friend Cathy sent me a link to a great story from The New York Times on how the French are starting to warm up to the idea of “Alowine.” Notice how it has “wine” in it. It’s called Pumpkin Eaters, and it’s hilarious.
The Village People Save Halloween October 18, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
Tags: Halloween, Halloween at the Hotel Chelsea, Halloween Costumes, Halloween in New York City, Halloween Nostalgia, Halloween Parties, Parenting, Trick-or-Treating
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?
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
Halloween for Queen Porcine October 7, 2008Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Pets.
Tags: Halloween, Life, Pets, Pigs, Trick-or-Treating
Never fail, the first trick-or-treaters arrive while we’re still eating dinner. Our dogs bark wildly and have to be herded into the den. They’re convinced each time the doorbell rings, it’s just the mailman wearing a different disguise. But our pig, Maisie, springs to her feet (okay, technically they’re hooves) and actually trots over to the front door. She’s been waiting for this night all year. For Maisie, Halloween is tantamount to a walk down the red carpet on Oscar night. The pig paparazzi – dads with video cameras – vie for the best angle to capture a shot of their little princess/Transformer with a REAL pig.
Did I mention that this real pig is wearing an orange witch’s hat with a purple moon and stars on it? Yes, I’ve become one of THOSE people. People who dress their pets in costumes. The minute I strap on her hat, Maisie knows it’s show time. This will be her 12th year greeting trick-or-treaters.
You should know that our neighborhood is a throw back to times gone by, so come Halloween, busloads of extended families arrive from the Other Side of the freeway (aka barrio). Three generations holding outstretched pillow cases. There is always an adult who holds one out while motioning that it’s for the baby, who’s all of two weeks old. Yeah, right.
The first year, we had over 300 trick-or-treaters descend on our house. They chewed through the candy like a swarm of locusts in a field of spring corn. Since then, I’ve beefed up the inventory and I’ve developed a smooth slight of hand move so I can drop a lone jawbreaker into a plastic pail in such a way, that they actually think I gave them an entire handful of candy!
The first Halloween we had Maisie, she stood out on the front porch “in costume.” People walking by would suddenly stop. “What IS that?” they’d ask. We enjoyed telling people it was a dog in a pig costume. “Good costume, huh?” we’d say, relishing their confused reaction. They’d edge closer. ” Holy sh*t!”
For 11 years people have returned each Halloween asking, “Is this the house with the pig?” Maisie’s got the routine down. All I have to do is say, “Trick or Treat!” and she ambles (when you’re as big as Maisie, ambling is your peak speed) out onto the front porch, makes a very wide U-turn, plops down, and then opens her mouth. She looks like those oh-so-cute dolphins waiting to be rewarded with a fish. Maisie, though, is happy to feast on miniature Tootsie-Rolls or Now and Laters, paper and all. She hasn’t met a candy yet that she doesn’t love. Halloween means lots of photo ops and photo ops mean lots of treats. Pigs are smart – diabolically so – and this pig knows how to work a crowd.
One year it was growing late and it was obvious the trick-or-treaters had moved two blocks south to where the houses are bigger and people pass out full-sized brand name candy. Maisie had called it a night and retired to the den.
The doorbell rang and I was tempted not to answer, but I looked outside and saw a father and his little boy. I opened the door. “My little boy really just wanted to see the pig,” the father explained. When I told them Maisie was asleep, they both looked heartbroken. Sucker that I am, I offered to usher the little boy back to the den, so he could take a quick peek at the pig. His father nodded approvingly.
But when I opened the den door, there was our fox terrier, Wily, wildly humping Maisie, who was laying sound asleep with a big grin on her face. The little boy’s eyes grew large as I mumbled something about them “playing.” I grabbed the boy’s hand and took him back to his father. “Did you see the pig?” his dad asked. I didn’t wait for the kid to answer. I dumped all the remaining candy in his bucket and cheerily waved them off. “Happy Halloween!” Once they’d stepped off the front porch, I quickly locked the front door and turned off all the lights. Only then did I burst out laughing. Geez!
Last weekend, I lugged down the box of Halloween decorations and unpacked the plug-in foam jack-o-lantern that we set next to the front door. Maisie’s ears twitched and she stuck her nose into the air and snorted. She knows it won’t be long now. Halloween is in the air. She can almost smell the Tootsie Rolls.