Their psyches are pretty unstructured on an average Tuesday.
The drum of horror holds her sound,
Which will not let me sleep,
When ghastly breezes float around,
And hidden goblins creep.
—George Moses Horton,
“The Fearful Traveler in the Haunted Castle”
In order to properly carve into Halloween, to gut its innards and illuminate it, we have to flash forward to the blight on fun that is New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s, much like baby pigeons, daylight savings and currency, is a myth. It’s an artifice of renewal that does for prix fixe meals what Valentine’s Day does for Hallmark. A pressure bomb dropped on the course of an otherwise enjoyable life — and it causes a ripple effect as far back as Oct. 31.
What makes New Year’s so unpleasant is an Occam’s Razor of a reason: It’s at midnight. Midnight is a terribly inconvenient time to have a holiday in New York. Part of the magnetism of the city is the ease with which one can get from Point A to Point B and the freedom to be completely drunk when doing so. It would be so much better for everyone if we could just move New Year’s to 8 p.m. or 2 a.m. — some logical hour where the threat of being in transit at the precise moment that the next 12 months of your life are christened does not loom so large.
All holidays are measured by varying degrees of stress but New Year’s takes that stress and whittles it down to a single second. Thus we throw money, confetti, booze, anything we can think of at the problem. When that fails, we drop a 1,000-pound ball on it. And Halloween in the city — that otherwise harmless children’s holiday with its adorably occult roots — was weaned on New Year’s.
People living in New York don’t need to let loose on Halloween — their psyches are already pretty unstructured on an average Tuesday.
These sister holidays mark the beginning and the end of the holiday season in New York, with the former increasingly taking its cue from the latter. Streets are shut down for Halloween, costumes are purchased, masks abound, it’s impossible to get a cab, and people seem legitimately concerned about their whereabouts weeks in advance.
Not surprisingly, there has been a conspicuous increase in moaning about “getting out of the city” for Halloween. To be so irked by a holiday that one has to check out of it all together was the one wall separating Halloween from New Year’s. That wall is crumbing. New Yorkers have long responded to New Year’s as if a cinematic plague is about to descend and it’s time to a) leave or b) stock up on batteries/water/the-complete-first-season-of-everything.
But why the desire to physically flee from Halloween as well? In recent years Halloween, sick of dressing up as Robin to New Year’s Eve’s Batman, has taken the Most Intolerable New York Holiday crown. Perhaps it’s because this city has such a buffet of flimsily contained id to begin with. There are a whole lot of people living here who don’t need to let loose on Halloween — their psyches are pretty unstructured on an average Tuesday.
Plus it can be overwhelming to walk the streets with all those clusters of strumpety cats and drunken fairies and sexy bedbugs. And this is coming from someone who likes dressing up, someone who has always had a soft spot for Halloween. For no discernible reason, I own a pair of elbow-length green satin gloves that have carried me though several incarnations, including “peacock,” “dead peacock,” “mother nature” and “a lime.” Yet this year I find myself retiring the feathered false lashes and keeping one eye out — and I don’t mean the kind that pops out of novelty glasses — for an escape.
Just as New Year’s forces us to make a decision regarding locale, Halloween increasingly does so with fashion. The world as we know it can be divided into two kinds of people: those who dress obviously and those who make you work for it. Say what you will about the creativity-in-a-bag that is a Ricky’s costume but at least those people never get asked who they’re supposed to be. This is a question I can barely answer the other 364 days of the year so God knows why I’d be able magically self-actualize on Halloween.
Alternatively, the holiday can bring out the irritatingly clever in all of us: a friend of mine once wore dark glasses, an “I ♥ Venice” T-shirt and carried a walking stick. She was a Venetian Blind. She parted the crowds on Christopher Street by “accidentally” poking them with the stick.
O.K., so that was pretty good. Wrong. But good.
Beyond dressing-up, it’s that creeping pressure to do something insanely fun for Halloween. This is a trickle-back attitude from New Year’s. What a smack in the face of fun. Other holidays don’t have this problem. The words “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” invoke turkey, familial dysfunction and airport security. It’s a sincere question, not a fishing expedition. Never has someone said “I’m going to my aunt Hilda’s house in Wooster” and been met with a “That sounds great. When are we leaving?” No one covets your plans, no one wonders what you’re going as this year, no one comes up to you with a straight face and tells you the stuffing is brains and the cranberry sauce is blood.
Having grown up just outside the city, I used to envy the thrilling lives of “city kids.” City kids scored higher than us in both the common sense department and the cultural sense department. They were over everything by the age of 5, which left them free to spend the rest of their lives sneaking into dark bars to see bands I wouldn’t hear for another two years. But the fantasy stopped at Halloween. I am a sucker for a well-carved jack-o’-lantern and the smell of leaves underfoot. Thus I found their stories of trick-or-treating via elevator vaguely depressing. Not anymore. Now it just seems convenient, an effective candy distribution system. I long for a house party safe from the vomiting hobgoblins of Times Square.
In the end, is it such a shame if Halloween becomes ruined with overcrowding and pressure and bad costumes? It’s Halloween, not Yom Kippur. It’s a pretty fake holiday to begin with. So are the majority of our holidays, if the manner in which we celebrate them is any indication of their sincerity. What does it matter if I opt out of one Halloween in the city, grab some friends and drive away? Alternatively we can all stay in and watch scary movies, drink beer and order noodles that are supposed to represent noodles.
Either way, I’d rather save the evening of dressing up for the random formal party which ends at 5 a.m. in a greasy diner. I’d rather save it for a night less filled with fake spirits and more filled with the spontaneous spirit of the city. I can always use the idle Sunday night to figure out what I’m doing for New Year’s.