Don’t get me wrong. The few times I was able to go trick-or-treating as a kid, I loved it. The problem is Halloween wasn’t celebrated where I grew up, in Italy, ironically the birthplace of that most ghoulish of religion sects, Roman Catholicism. The Day of the Dead on November 1st—is anyone even aware that this is what is really being celebrated?—was a somber occasion on which all of those witch-like little old ladies in black, and they were legion, went to the cemeteries and tended the graves. But the night before was bereft of kids going around knocking on doors and asking for candy. Nothing happened at all. I guess all the little old ladies just got a good night’s sleep before getting up for hours of marble tombstone scrubbing.
My sister and I were forbidden candy and granulated sugar growing up, so we found ways to procure it, usually pinching a few hundred lire here and there and buying sweets when we walked the dogs. I believe we were allowed to visit the American embassy compound once or twice after we first moved to Rome, but my parents were somewhat disdainful of lower-level embassy employees, Marine guards and the like, so the kibosh was put on that ritual as well.
Perhaps I can blame my sneering at Halloween on my upbringing and my parents’ attitude. I’m sure Mum being an Aussie didn’t help much either; whatever she was raised without was good enough for us, too.
I’ve managed to cleanse myself of most of their opinions, but not the one towards Halloween. I chalk it down to the fact I’m something of an aesthete; back when I really cared about style and fashion in my twenties, my father called me, “The Grand Arbiter of Good Taste,” despite my penchant for plaid Valentino suits. But I was thin enough and still Euro enough back then to pull that rather frightening and garish look off.
It’s the fakakta cobwebs that get me going, make my eyes twitch with psychopathic spasms. That and the cheesy illustrations of witches, the plastic goblins in a toxic shade of green unique to the season, and the skeletons that remind me of the Cambodian killing fields.
If they lacked Halloween, the Italians had Carnival, and that was much more fun and uplifting. Like everything else in the Land of Style, it became a competition among parents as to who could dress their children more fancifully, so you had these seven-year-old girls dressed in the full Marie Antoinette—powdered wigs and faces, painted-on beauty marks, hoop dresses in blue satin—swanning around with their male counterparts in velvet frock coats, matching knickerbockers and white hose.
Of course, we weren’t Italians, either, much less Catholics. My family is a mash up of Episcopalian and Presbyterian, heavily leaning towards the latter when the Catholics became particularly histrionic, as they were wont to do on holidays. So dressing up for Carnival was off limits, too. My sister and I just watched the Italians coolly from behind our barrier of British school uniforms and the language we spoke, which had an effect of awe-inspiring importance on the children of post-War locals. (Or they kept telling us it did, and Italians never shut up about things like social interactions.)
Perhaps sensing that the gore and the ghoul of Halloween leaves much to be desired aesthetically, many of the dizzy burghers of Homolandia, a.k.a. The Gheys, have willfully decided to confuse Carnival with Halloween, which is pleasant enough until you tire of the bikini briefs, glittered abs and angel wings. You would think that a red-blooded total-top Ghey like yours truly would find that sort of stripper-goes-biblical look erotic—I mean, what says willing kinky bottom bitch more than a harness with angel wings attached to it?—but I don’t. I like a little subtle with my sexy.
Okay, okay… I’m being a gratuitous bitch. Leave me alone: it’s Halloween. Aren’t we supposed to be evil?
As Tuttle pointed out when we first met at the end of last century, “Halloween is a true L.A. event. All of the costume and makeup people come out in full force.” And they set the bar, too, higher than I’ve seen elsewhere, which for me means New York, period. Perhaps New Orleans comes close. Wouldn’t know, never been, despite the fact it is the only American city I would travel to visit for non-business reasons.
Tuttle convinced me to join the festivities, and I have to admit I was impressed with what I saw on Santa Monica Boulevard in Boys Town. Both years I went it was great, un-crowded fun amidst thousands of people. But it was much more Carnival than Halloween; the ghouls, the zombies, the witches and mummies were few.
The other factor that works in L.A.’s favor is the weather. It’s easy to be partially or even entirely naked when it’s seventy-five degrees. And when you’ve worked so hard at the gym, why hide it under layers of fright drag? Leave that to those miserable, shivering east coasters.
Once Tuttle mentioned that film industry folk were involved in this, I threw myself into preparations for the one and only costume I’ve ever concocted for myself with the vigor and attention to detail of a British production designer.
I went as a samurai replicant. Using Tuttle’s exhaustive resources in this town, I got myself a silver rubber sleeveless shirt that snapped my torso into a warrior’s shape, found genuine black, billowy kendo pants from a marital arts store in east Hollywood, a silver and black wig that I teased to look like a spiked crown, and a curved Asian sword to hang across my back. My makeup was, of course, Daryl Hannah’s when she spray paints that black band across her eyes in Blade Runner.
After the few minutes it took to get used to the get-up, I felt amazing, like this is who I should have always been. It was elegant, even somewhat fashionable in a look-of-tomorrow sort of way, certainly worthy of a Grand Arbiter of Good Taste who’d been convinced by a friend to venture into Boys Town for the Halloween madness. If there was a problem, it was that it was too un-costume-like; the most common reaction I got from people in the street was they’d bow slightly with their hands clasped together as I passed, but not at all ironically or teasingly, like they weren’t sure if I might have been from some Shaolin Buddhist order. It must have felt like the respectful thing to do, and I am always down with being respected.
Tuttle usually wore drag because, let’s face it, he makes a gorgeous woman. But the problem with being with men who aren’t used to heels is the night gets cut short, or quickly confined to bar stools. (I wore appropriate Asian-ish sandals.)
I loved my costume so much, I wore it for two years running. I couldn’t bear to wear anything else— that costume was too perfectly representative of who I am inside—but I also couldn’t bear be repetitious and boring, so I retired it and have never dressed as something other than myself since. I have also never been back to West Hollywood for a Halloween party or parade.
Speaking to another friend today about my “bah, humbug” attitude, he mentioned his fond memories of trick-or-treating as a kid, of a suburban sprawl filled with kids going from door to door. That’s just not the Ameropean experience, I guess, and for that reason the aesthetics become important; they aren’t mnemonics of great times had just before the onset of winter.
As for costumes, I’m still too much of an extrovert individualist ever to feel I need a day in the year when I can express myself as something other than who I really am.