Imagination and fantasy are two things that I try my hardest to ensure never leave me, no matter how responsible or time consumed I seem to be getting as an adult. It keeps the boy alive and is also the main reason why I have gravitated towards the heavily celebrated custom of Halloween on my U.S travels. It leaves me googly eyed and dimple wrinkled. Although its history can be traced back to 19th Century Ireland, it’s the Americans that have turned this tradition into quite the wild trip. Where for just one weekend, a daydream, a nightmare, creative costumes and fairy land sprinkled with magical dust are all socially acceptable. How can you not love that?
Halloween is one of those rituals that has never really taken off in Australia, despite the wave of American pop culture that filters through the media screens. For children, kind of, for adults, not really. I remember ‘trick or treating’ around the neighbourhood when I was 7, burning corks on the stove top oven and rubbing it around my eyes along with applying some cheap plastic cuts onto my face. I wasn’t going to scare anyone, but in truth, I thought I looked pretty bad ass. So with my street gang dressed like ghosts and zombies, we would meet outside my dark green letterbox and embark on a free lolly campaign with nothing but alter egos and empty threats…..there were definitely no ‘tricks’ up my sleeve.
Secretly more excited about who actually lived in these houses we were knocking on than anything else, my curiosity would turn to elation when packets of smarties and skittles found their way into my bag. Jackpot! Unfortunately that smile didn’t last long as at the fifth or sixth house, a giant German Sheppard that resembled a real life Chewbacca chased me out of his driveway and out onto the street. I ran home in record time with gashes and tears flying from face. I was done. It wasn’t Halloween’s fault for the disaster but it was guilty by association. Good bye and good riddance.
As usual though, there is nothing quite like travel to change your perception, even with something as playful as Halloween. In 2009 and now a full grown adult, I visited the U.S.A for the first time with my friends. It was an eventful three week road trip around California and Las Vegas that still has me smirking and shaking my head. On our second night in Los Angeles we were lucky enough to be invited to a Halloween house party in West Hollywood. What a night.
It was hard to miss the double story home where the party was being held, all we had to do was trek towards the beats. As soon as we took our first steps onto the lawn we were greeted by our host, a very charismatic Colonel Sanders! Yep, the Colonel lives and he had tremendous hospitality. Somewhat confused I entered the house to see two men with skin heads, pink dresses and army boots dancing to ‘The Teaches of Peaches’ whilst spitting blood onto themselves and whoever else was close enough. I need a drink, I think to myself and walk towards the closest keg. On this short journey, I rub shoulders with Fozzie Bear, collide with Ace Frehley and interrupt Napoleon Dynamite at the beer station whilst he was trying to chat up cheer leaders with sharp fangs. Halloween has changed.
Whilst slurping my beer and enjoying the people watching, I realise I had attracted the attention of one fine looking Latin and scantily clad police woman. As we begin chatting, the Aussie and Puerto Rican accent seemed as far apart as the Pro Wrestler and Alice in Wonderland on the other side of the room.
After the usual pleasantries, I couldn’t help but ask…..”What’s going here? I thought Halloween was all about Monsters and Zombies?”
Her response is something I will never forget.
“When we were kids, for sure! Now it’s just an excuse for costume, and for us girls, an excuse to get slutty!”
To say I was pleasantly surprised was an understatement, but when I realised my new found saucy sergeant shared the same name as my Mother, it was time to stop talking to her. Still, it was one of the loosest parties I had ever been to and a real highlight of that travel adventure. I was now hooked on Halloween.
Since then, I have visited the U.S.A multiple times but it was on this recent trip in 2015 that my travel dates got to dance with the devilish October 31st once more, this time in New York.
Arriving in the Western World’s capital city one week before the event, I had plenty of time to let the butterflies twirl in my belly whilst being overwhelmed at the scope of Manhattan. With my jaw dropping at sights every day and adoring that overwhelming feeling of being in the biggest smoke of them all, I just couldn’t wait for the party on Saturday night.
Luckily for me I was introduced to a make-up artist during the week that offered to paint my face as the devil….my costume was set and I couldn’t be happier.
Saturday night finally arrived and the city didn’t waste any time. Catching a cab to the West Village where the face changing would soon take place, I was like an over excited dog hanging his head outside the window. The streets of New York were a buzz and looked like a classic horror movie. The subway steam rising through the gutters, the screaming sound of sirens combing well with vampires, hell raisers and blood stained punk rockers.
I arrived at the first party that felt like a seedy calm before a vicious storm. Duff Man, Big Foot and Day of the Dead Skeletons were all sitting in a circle, playing cards and drinking plenty of booze while others were getting their masks painted on…. It was quite a sight. When everyone was ready, this gang of misfits headed for the underground to catch the subway to Brooklyn for a house party….. It was no ordinary train ride.
The carriage was filled with disguise, fresh death and laughter. With hardly any room to stand, I couldn’t get enough of the smorgasbord of characters all around me. This was a portal of public transport where He-Man, Storm Troopers, Zombies, Rugby Players and a leather clad Dom could all get along just fine. It seemed to reach another level when a group of animals and over excited school girls jumped on the train, lit up multiple joints and encouraged a whole train full of personalities to sing songs from The Sound of Music! Unreal.
As the herbal swirl of smoke descended onto the masses and the inhibition free choir belted out ‘My Favourite Things,’ I turned around to see a blonde girl standing behind me, holding a plastic container. Her eyes were fixated onto the satanic face paint. I’m not sure who she was dressed as, maybe Goldie Locks, but her hair was perfectly platted into piggy tails. She was pure, classic and quiet amongst the crazy. After exchanging glares for a few seconds and noticing the raspberry glaze swimming in the white of her eyes, I leaned over and asked, “What’s in the container?”
With an embarrassed smile she first looked down, then back up and whispered..…..”Left overs”.
And with that, the sound of my stop blared from the speakers. It was time to go.
We arrived at the party at the messiest and best time. In the corner was the most serious game of beer pong I had ever seen between two frat boys…it was no joke. Not long after Duff Man and Big Foot joined in the fun and became unpopular winners. Amongst the crowd were more characters from Star Wars, Michael Jackson and Borat to name a few. The entire night really has a different edge to it as the costumes, no matter what, are the perfect ice breaker to encourage conversation.
The train ride home was doing it tough and in a world of hurt. If the earlier expedition was wild and energised, this was equally as deflated and drained. Painted faces were blemished, costumes were tucked under arms and one particular guy had his head in his hands for the entire trip before purging all over his own shoes.
As the collective disgust spread throughout the carriage, I watched the vomit slowly trickle along the floor as I breathed through my mouth. Opposite the guilty pukester was a guy dressed in drag with an off the shoulder number and smudged mascara. He just couldn’t take his eyes off what had happened. As the spew gathered pace along the floor and these former party goers stood on seats to escape the slime, he kept his gawk and yelled…… ”No way Dude! No fucking way!!”