Halloween ’08 Part 2 – Halloween Itself

This guy is Mister Screamy. I should point out that his sex is in question, as he has no lower body – just a head, shoulders and arms – so “Mister” is supposition on my part. I should also point out that he no longer screams – he used to scream and shiver when I first bought him, many Halloweens ago. He was, in theory, voice and motion activated, but I discovered that one had to either clap hands right in front of him, or give him a little shake, before he’d do the shiver/scream thing. So we attached a length of fishing line to the tail of his robe and ran it inside the house, where one of us would give it a yank as trick-or-treaters approached. Mister Screamy would do his thing and the kids would be suitably impressed. Over the years, we had to take more and more stringent measures to get Mister Screamy to perform, until finally it took a major whomp upside the head before he’d do his thing. Last year he refused to scream and shiver at all – no amount of coaxing or new batteries would get him to act out. In spite of this, Mister Screamy is still the centerpiece of my Halloween decorations, and his appearance in front of our picture window is the harbinger of spooky times to come.

I usually put up my decorations about a week and a half before Halloween, depending on my schedule. This Cat has occupied my stoop for many years; I also have some orange lights that go in the bushes in front of the window, a bunch of ceramic luminaria (in various spooky shapes), some black and purple plastic garland that looks like icky vines, and the bane of my existence, three sets of blood drips that stick on the front window (you can see them behind Mister Screamy in the first photo). I hate the stupid blood and wish I’d never bought it. It’s made of that gummy stuff that sticks to surfaces like glass and mirrors, and it is a royal pain in the butt to put up. It comes in stiff plastic packaging from which it must be peeled, inch by stubborn inch, in order to adhere it to the window. It takes forever and the only reason why I put it up year after year is that it looks pretty cool. But I still hate it, and taking it down and storing it for the season is every bit as tedious and annoying as putting it up.

I also put up a little side display in the garden plot where I have some ornamental grass. The grass puts out tall frond-y things about this time of year, which look suitably spooky when surrounded with some of the luminaria, a couple of plastic skulls and a few odd bones. The finishing touch is a crooked street lamp with a flickering light that adds the perfect ambience to my little graveyard.

The day before Halloween is jack o’lantern carving. The jacks go out on the front stoop Halloween afternoon; any earlier and they become a Convenient Snack for passing squirrels and chipmunks. That’s also the time I add any finishing touches and make certain all the various ceramic lightables have sufficient tea candles or votives to last them for the couple of hours we have our costumed visitors. This year, however, I had to do a lot more last-minute decorating. About three weeks ago we had our front yard leveled and re-seeded; the tender new grass just popped up last week, and I knew I would have to do something to keep our Halloween visitors on the sidewalk and off the grass. I bought about sixty feet of what looks like yellow police tape, but in fact has CAUTION! ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! printed on it in big black letters. Using lengths of rebar (recycled from this summer’s potato patch), I strung it along the front of the yard. I didn’t have enough of it to go up the sides and along the walk next to the house, so I used a sparkly orange and black tinsel garland to mark the edge of the drive and the front walk, and my neighbor Dennis loaned me about forty feet of yellow rope to mark the opposite side of the yard.

I was worried that these barriers wouldn’t show up in the dark of Halloween night, so I bought a bunch of small orange sacks, drew simple faces on them, cut out the designs and then taped the resulting paper luminaria to the barriers. I dropped a battery-operated tealight into each one and voila! a flashing, decorative (and cheap) way to point up the barrier. Driving past, my neighbors would slow down (no doubt wondering why my house was surrounded by police tape), then laugh as they realized what I was up to. The pièce de résistance for the barrier was this year’s purchase: a pair of motion-activated eyes that blink, flash and emit spooky sounds. I clamped these to the rebar that marked the entrance to our front walk, where our visitors would be sure to brush up against it as they turned into the walk from the driveway.

I finished the barrier about 4:30 PM on Halloween, and felt pleased with the results:

It looked even better when I went out and lit everything about 6:30 PM:

The only downside was that in the two hours that the jack o’lanterns had been on the front stoop, some hungry critter had snacked on the eyes of the smaller of the two jacks, giving it a very peculiar look.

I got my first dozen trick-or-treaters shortly thereafter, in two sets of six. To keep from having to open the storm door to pass out candy (thus knocking the kids off the stoop in the process), I had taken out the top half of the door, allowing me to simply lean out to hand out the goodies. It’s a trick John came up with a couple years ago and it’s been a lifesaver. I watched the kids march back down the front walk, jumping with frightened glee as the blinking, screaming eyes did their thing (some stopped to play with it). I was congratulating myself on the success of the barrier when a kid coming from my neighbor’s yard blithely ducked under the barrier and ran across the yard to the front door. Five other kids followed in rapid succession. I gave them their candy and asked them to leave via the sidewalk, and they did, but it was as if some strange, silent kid signal had passed magically up and down the block – subsequently, about every tenth kid did the same duck-and-run routine.

Our last visitors (my neighbor Dennis’ son and his children) showed up around 8 PM, and around 9 PM I went outside, blew out the candles and turned off all the lights. John and I were pleased to note that we didn’t have a lot of candy left over (I bought something like six bags of various kinds). We got more trick-or-treaters this year than we’ve ever had in the ten years we’ve lived in this house. Last year I don’t think we got more than two dozen; this year I think we had at least double that and more. It’s nice to know the demographics of our neighborhood are changing; I like having kids around, even if I don’t own any myself. It makes Halloween that much more fun.

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