Last night Sari & I dressed up Phoebe for her first Halloween and headed over to Garden Place in Brooklyn Heights. Reports that the small residential street was the Mecca of kiddie Halloween in Brooklyn were not exaggerated. We saw all kinds of amazing & amusing costumes on kids and adults alike, including a whole Superman family (Superman, Supergirl, Superboy and Superbaby), the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl, and the Dish and the Spoon (as in “the Cow Jumped Over the Moon”). And Phoebe’s Bat-Cow costume was a hit as well.
Our little three-month-old was getting cranky, however, so we headed back home. Leaving the trick-or-treating hordes, we turned on to Joralemon Street only to almost bump into what I thought was the best costumed group of the night. It was a family of three “Chassidic Jews,” with the bearded rabbi in the long black coat and high stockings, the mother in her dowdy wig, and the little nine-year-old boy in his yarmulke and payes. It was only when I saw the family’s somber (even frightened?) expressions as they passed the happy chaos of Garden Place that I realized they weren’t dressed for Halloween. They were the real deal!
Even though I grew up with Chasids all around me and see them all the time in my neighborhood, their anachronistic outfits struck me as particularly odd last night, October 31st, All Hallow’s Eve.
In honor of the upcoming baseball season, I thought it was time to dust this one off.
Seems when I was 13 or so, I felt compelled to draw the home & away uniforms of every MLB team, as well as alternate jerseys (an obscure practice in those days). I was obsessed with baseball, especially with the Giants — this was back when I lived in San Fran — and their distinctive orange & black. It was incredibly satisfying to get out the markers and fill the pages with all those colorful combinations of logos, stripes, and numerals.
My high school, Music & Art, in New York City (no, not the ” Fame school”), was well-known for the imaginative Halloween costumes of its students. After all, this was a school full of artists and creative people! I found out about M&A’s Halloween spectacular soon after I started there in 9th grade and as the holiday got closer and closer, the pressure started to mount.
I don’t know how I got the idea, but I finally decided my costume would be a school late pass. Yes, one of those little slips of paper you’d get from the principal’s office and give to your teacher when you were late for class. It had a bunch of bureaucratic jargon at the top of the slip, a large title, “LATE PASS,” some lines where the reason for your lateness was filled in, and more official language at the bottom.
At home, I took a pass and sized it up to sandwich-board size, making sure to get all the proportions right, and imitating the typeset lettering as well as I could. This was all before computers, so I really had to be inventive, using my calculator and ruler to figure out the correct multiplier to keep the dimensions consistent. Once I had created my masterpiece, I punched a couple of holes in the top, ran some string through them, and wore the pass like a sandwich board. I was a huge hit at school! It was definitely a one-of-a-kind costume and the other kids (and teachers) were bemused at my idea — and execution of it.
After that, I decided I had to be some kind of school-related card for my costume every Halloween. My sophomore year I was a Delaney card, which was a tiny card used to track students’ contact information and attendance during the school year. Pretty weird, and once again quite popular with the other kids.
Junior year I was a subway pass. That was a fun one to do, as each month’s pass was color coded (October 1983 was grey), and there was a cool water-marked code, “R-1,” stamped on each card. Not to mention the logos of the Board of Ed and the MTA. By junior year I had developed a reputation as the kid with the school card costumes, and I remember posing for a lot of pictures that Halloween as we paraded around the street in front of the school.
My senior year we moved to a new building, down at Lincoln Center, and we merged with Performing Arts (yes, the “Fame school”) to become a new entity, LaGuardia High School. But the Halloween tradition continued, and that year I was a school ID, complete with bar code, my student ID number, and the new LaGuardia logo. When we showed up at school each day the card was fed into a card reader, and it had a bunch of cool little holes in it; I duplicated those as well. Altogether, it wasn’t a bad reproduction. And with that final success I ended my high school Halloween career.