Some ’80s Halloween traditions are worth reviving

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My favorite Halloween costumes have always been inanimate objects. My friend Andy, a ringer for Pete Townshend, once came to a college costume party as laundry. He could have taken the easy way out and come as Pete with a broken guitar, while I got drunk and did Keith Moon. But laundry was resourceful: Andy cut some leg holes in a laundry basket, put his dirty clothes in and wore it around his waist.


We didn’t have many trick-or-treaters last year. The number seems to have dwindled recently, perhaps fueled by the media-perpetuated urban legend that Halloween is rife with razorblade apples and meth-infused Tootsie Rolls. A cop once told me the biggest problem on Halloween is kids who need their stomachs pumped after eating too much friggin’ candy.

Of the few trick-or-treaters who did come, my favorite by far was the highlighter pen: very clever. This gal, about 13 or so, was a blue highlighter. Maybe pink. Definitely not yellow. Anyway, her cardboard outfit consisted of an oblong pen shaft; her hat was the pen cap. Extra candy for the highlighter pen!

Other favorites over the years: My friend Jose up in Humboldt once dressed up as a pine car freshener, his mischievous face popping out just under the hook to hang it from a rearview mirror. Jose smokes a lot of Humboldt’s finest and knows a thing or two about car fresheners, house air fresheners and even patchouli, so it fit.

Speaking of weed, in grad school my friend David and I had no money, so we turned the Revereware into hats and went as potheads.

I don’t know what my favorite will be this year. Perhaps some smartass but resourceful kid dressed as one of those Godforsaken emoticons/smiley faces with “LOL” on the front if the candy is good and a frowny “TTYL” on the back if the candy sucks.

Growing up in the college town of Davis, you could have all kinds of fun on Halloween, including going “trick-or-drinking” from one student-housing project to another. Back in my day (and you know you are getting old when you say “back in my day”), helicopter parenting did not exist, save for the kids who later fell apart in college and needed therapy. For the rest of us whose own parents were glad to have us out of the house so they could party, our “pager” was the phone at The Graduate.

We went out solo, thank God, thereby allowing underage inebriation at the expense of bemused college kids, who seemed to delight in bestowing their least favorite booze to teens glad to have it. Because of all the cheap booze you got from trick-or-drinking, the venture soon became trick-or-vomiting: everything from Malibu rum to Mad Dog 20/20. Halloween in Technicolor!

Once the late high-school years rolled around—and the voices changed and whiskers and testosterone appeared and all that—we would sneak into the UC Davis Halloween Dance at Oxford Dining Commons, home mostly to naive freshmen and sophomores.

Two problems: We were not yet in college, and did not get very far with the coeds. “What’s your major?” they would demand as we tried to awkwardly cop a slow dance feel and they pulled away. “Um … driver’s ed?”

The other problem: We sneaked into these parties in our civvies. No costume. Too stupid to think that one out.

My handsome, older-looking Puerto Rican friend Ralph had a way with the ladies, however, despite being 16 years old and named Ralph.

He looked down at his desert boots and corduroy pants. “We are,” he said proudly, “dressed as People of the 1970s.”

Since it was the early 1980s, this “un-costume” worked brilliantly until, of course, the coeds started quizzing us about such mind-bending questions as our majors or which dorm we lived in.

Some cultures’ equivalent of Halloween is Day of the Dead, so I guess it is fitting that I think of Ralph around this time each year, as he died in a car wreck a few years after high school. I miss him to this day. He was smooth, could sell ice to Eskimos, the kind of kid parents loved even though they knew he was trouble.

Ralph, you were the coolest Person of the 1970s I knew.