Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Horrifying Pandemic Halloween

Pretty much how I
feel about Halloween.
I’m not a huge fan of Halloween. Oh, sure, as a kid I loved it, mostly because we focused on creating fun costumes and wandering through the neighborhood collecting candy. But as an adult – especially seeing how some of Halloween focuses on the grisly, ghoulish, and outright horrific – I have little stomach for it. I bear much of it because the holiday remains important for my wife and son; our basement storage bins of Halloween decorations and kitsch rival our boxes of decorations for the yuletide holidays; and the subject of “What costume can I demand Mommy make me this year?” remains a prominent thought for my son as soon as school begins. So I grin and bear the Halloween season and its host of required traditional activities. Yet the pandemic challenges us this year to celebrate in a different, safer way.

"Skookums" going out
to collect Halloween candy.
In the “Before Times” we maintained numerous Halloween traditions despite my general dislike for the holiday. Tubs of Halloween decorations migrated upstairs from basement storage to festoon the house with ghoulish trappings, some of which merely got in the way of what little daily routine I’m allowed to enjoy, while others proved annoying distractions (the menagerie of plastic critters on the porch which screeched and howled at the smallest bit of movement). A good deal of my dislike for all this kitsch comes from the obligation to take it all down and put it all away after the holiday, lest it remain because the folks who took all the toys out of the toy box didn’t bother to put any back. My only compromise on the decorations comes in the form of “Skookums,” the eight foot-tall plywood sasquatch I prop up somewhere in the front yard visible from but not too close to the road. I don’t always have the patience to manhandle the thing from the back of the basement through all the intervening clutter; but when he does come out, Skookums lurks in our front yard through the yuletide holiday season, often wearing a Santa hat and carrying a star or bag of presents. Each year I buy way too many cheap pumpkins knowing I’m the one who must clean them out before everyone gouges their designs on them. Of course my son’s Halloween costume forms a core part of the excitement and labor for this holiday, though that’s usually the responsibility of my sewing wife (aside from occasional props I create).

The Halloween evening festivities ultimately prove enjoyable despite all my grumbling. My wife’s co-workers have a house downtown in what’s traditionally the prime area for trick-or-treating: residential streets with quaint homes on small lots, narrow sidewalks (but sidewalks nonetheless), and slow or low vehicular traffic. The town police patrol the area and even set up floodlights at key intersections. Most homes offer candy, with many decorating for the holiday with some spooky lights to the full-on inflatable howling lawn display. My wife’s co-workers invite folks over to enjoy a hot meal and liquid refreshments, lounge on the porch, compliment the kids’ costumes, and hand out buckets of candy. My wife or I (usually in two different forays) take our son out along various routes to collect candy. I endure the night sipping from a cup of hot cider braced with liquid courage that helps maintain the smile on my face.

Alas, this year the covid-19 pandemic is impacting Halloween along with most of the other traditional events we’d normally enjoy. Oh, I expect the decorations will infest the house again (there’s already a new trick-or-treat sign on our door to give the glowing eyeball wreath a break), though I don’t have the energy to drag Skookums from his hiding place in the basement. I’m already amassing a small army of pumpkins despite the dread I feel knowing I’m required to hollow them all out. But my son’s plans for costumes seem muted this year and my wife’s enthusiasm for making one remains dampened from the weariness of the pandemic. It’s a shame Halloween finally falls on a Saturday this year, since most of the time it’s during the week, on a school night, which somewhat dampens the occasion (from my son’s perspective, anyway). Sure, I expect some folks will continue treating the pandemic as a hoax and celebrate as if nothing’s changed; but we’re erring on the side of caution. As I’ve opined in an earlier blog post, we’re playing to “win” the covid-19 game, because to lose means serious illness or death. If I’m not sending my child to school in person, I’m not letting him roam the streets with hordes of infected zombies other kids crowded around grabbing at candy.

So I’m trying to devise ways of celebrating Halloween at home with new activities in the spirit of the season. Maybe they’ll inspire other folks as they adjust to different conditions this year; and I’m certainly open to suggestions, too. Anything to bolster my limited menu of Halloween options.

Of course the first place I turn for inspiration are my shelves packed with games. Given my aversion to Halloween, horror, and zombies in general, I don’t have many appropriately themed games on hand. I long ago sold my copies of All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Vampire: The Masquerade when I realized my general distaste for the gory horror genre (Call of Cthulhu being the primary exception). That said, we’ve played Hero Kids before, so it might be worth my time to dust it off and find or devise a scenario filled with skeletons, zombies, and ghosts. A roleplaying game session might take up a nice chunk of a Saturday-long Halloween. As for board games, Horrified certainly fits the bill perfectly; we’ve played it before and enjoyed its cooperative aspects. It translates the monster movie genre perfectly to board gaming. King of Tokyo comes in a close second especially if I can find all the pieces to the Halloween expansion I got years ago (and if not, we have Cthulhu and Anubis to play with). Escape: The Curse of the Temple has some scary elements (exploring an ancient temple) with the suspense generated by the clock ticking down. Maybe I can trot out Space Marine Adventures: Labyrinth of the Necrons since Necrons seem pretty creepy and relentless in their zombie-like assault on the Space Marines. If we wanted to stick to a “contemporary real-world horror” theme we could always play Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America (which I’ve featured before).

We have other diversions to keep us busy on a weekend Halloween. Friday after dinner we traditionally retire to the basement, where I set up the large screen and projector for Family Movie Night. Maybe we’ll have a special screening Halloween afternoon or evening, if we don’t watch an appropriately themed movie Friday night. In keeping with my general aversion to horror – and my concerns about frightening my son – we might stick to something relatively tame like The House with a Clock in Its Walls or find something safe on Disney Plus or Amazon Prime Video.

Halloween wouldn’t be the same without edible treats. I’ve already been told to buy candy, even though it’s only going to one kid (and we’re going to pay for that in more ways than one...). We might try making some Halloween treats ourselves. I foiund a recipe for what I call “Frankenmuffins,” with some vegetable matter in them (spinach?) that turns them all green. We might bake Halloween cupcakes, a tradition my mom maintained for neighborhood trick-or-treaters in the early 1970s before the sickos ruined homemade Halloween treats for everyone. A local supermarket seasonal magazine featured some holiday treats I might try, notably “meatball mummies” using sliced croissant roll pastry dough to wrap up several pre-cooked meatballs. And if the weather’s cool enough I might kindle a blaze in the fire pit for sacrifices to Father Dagon some smores and hot cocoa or cider. Maybe I’ll even put a little something in mine to help me soldier on through the real-world horrors past, present, and near-future....

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