Halloween D-Day

September 12, 2010 — Stepping outside of my house this morning, I had the suspicion. Today might be D-Day. The weather was cool, the sky was overcast, and I might even have detected out of the corner of my eye a branch moving slightly in a breeze. I felt like Dick Van Dyke in the “Winds from the East” scene in Mary Poppins, except that my one-man-band suit was at the cleaners.

To top it all off, some long-slumbering part of my brain actually launched a thought that hadn’t moved through the morass of my gray matter in half a year. Do I need a jacket? The thought was like Noah’s dove after the flood. Do I need a jacket? That’s a magical phrase in the month of September. Way better than Open Sesame for what it uncovers or Abracadabra for what it produces from top hats.

I know Halloween is in there somewhere.
A few hourse later, when it became evident that the morning chill was going to stick around all day, that suspicion was confirmed. The weather was changing. Today was definitely D-Day. Decoration Day. It was time to make Halloween.

First, though, we had to clean. You see, we don’t so much do Spring cleaning at our house as we do Fall cleaning. For some reason, the place needs to be spotless before we clutter it. You know, knock down the real spider webs in the corner and replace them with fake ones. Chase out the bugs from under the couch and swap them with rubber ones. Pick up all the pieces of trash on the floors and counters and strew paper leaves in their place.

That done, we could switch out our Swiffers for witch’s brooms. But that takes a trip to the basement, because that’s where we keep the eyes of newts, tails of cats, and other esoteric ingredients that create the spell that magically turns four beige walls and hand-me-down couch into Halloween Shangri-la.

I live in a house that was built in 1890, and the basement still looks like it exists in that year. It’s large, has a dirt floor, and is walled with human-sized rough-hewn chunks of granite that heretofore I'd thought only ancient Egyptians had mastered. It would take merely a prisoner or two to turn the place into a dungeon. Until that kind of addition becomes a tax write-off, it’s the perfect place for storage. For the past 12 months, Halloween has been a pile of boxes in a corner, where it shared space with Christmas, my college years, and all the clean air conditioning filters that I've forgotten to use. We breath a lot of dust in my house.

But I know Halloween is in there somewhere.

I guess I should admit at this point that I'm using the term decorate extremely loosely. Mostly it just means strewing random bits of macabreness and monsterhood on whatever horizontal surfaces we have. Especially this year. It’s only our second Halloween in this house, meaning we don’t really know yet the best place for our decorations....and figuring out where to set a one-foot-tall rubber Frankenstein's monster whose brains swell from his head when you squeeze it can turn into a real metaphysical conundrum when you still haven’t gotten around to installing a mantelpiece above your fireplace.

I’m not even sure where we got half the stuff we have. Certainly it wasn’t gathered through any concerted effort on either my part or my wife's. It's a mismatched batch of gruesome, whimsical, and vintage-looking pieces that, when thrown all together, somehow make the season a real good time. I mean, if it’s pop culture related, it’s probably mine. A Jack Skellington with bendable limbs, an Ozzie Osbourne in "Bark at the Moon" costume, a box of Halloween Crunch cereal (did I mention my loose definition of the term “decoration”?). They're all our decorations, though, and that makes us dig them. Like the hand-me-down couch.
See the black cat at the top of the stairs?
Our pet matches our Halloween decorations.

Unfortunately, we’re also pretty selfish in our decorating. We only decorate the interior of our house. We've never really decorated the outside. Sure, we throw our jack-o-lanterns on the porch every October 31 to let the trick-or-treaters know we're down with this whole Halloween thing and that we'd appreciate not getting egged, if it isn't too much trouble. But no Styrofoam gravestones in our lawn, no orange and purple lights around our windows, not even a sheet ghost hanging from the porch. And certainly nothing giant and inflatable. All the things I love seeing on everybody else's house, I feel kind of silly putting on mine. Actually, silly is the wrong word. It's complete cowardice. Maybe we'll change that this year. Put out something really cool and worth stealing by the neighborhood teens. We do owe Halloween at least that.

So…the ritual of decorating completed, we are now ready for the next one. No more awkwardly reaching under lampshades, no more minutes of indecision as we try to figure out whether flicking the light switch will give us overhead candescence or turn off the ceiling fan. For the next month and a half, every night will be a ritual of replacing tea lights, lighting pumpkin-scented candles, plugging in glowing things, replenishing candy dishes. Autumn and Halloween are here again. Finally.

This is Halloween.