Tuesday, October 31, 2006

This Halloween yielded moments of baleful beauty and wonder that need to be preserved and shared, not the least of which was the bright moon wreathed in swirls of cloud candy on a night so balmy that the very air was a ghost's caress against the skin. With a wide open third eye affixed to my forehead with spirit gum (my friend Mike made the eye in his Mattel "Thingmaker"), I accompanied my wife and daughter to Parrott Street in Cold Spring, where a bunch of homeowners conspired to turn an entire block into a wondrous netherplace. Front yards and front porches were transformed into elaborate graveyards and laboratories, winged demons leered from rooftops and monstrous automata lurched to life, capering and gibbering whenever someone came too near.

One driveway was a gauntlet populated with both costumed people and decorated manikins, so that it was difficult to tell which creatures would remain motionless and which would suddenly lunge toward you. A grim reaper even crouched on a nearby roof, bathed in moonlight. In the garage, a strange tableau beyond a tattered curtain beckoned us on. A tiny princess awash in black light sat motionless in a chair, surrounded by a court of monstrosities. She had a fixed gentle smile, and as my daughter walked cautiously toward her, I really grappled to discern whether she was a living child or some elaborate puppet. But then she reached out and gave my daughter a candy treat, and I almost felt foolish leaning towards her to scrutinize her, returning her smile. It was at that instant that another group of costumed creatures lurched to life, screeching and plucking at our sleeves, and we ran howling from that place, pursued by peals of laughter from that curious little child.

The streets of Cold Spring were filled with kids, pelting each other with eggs and taking liberal baths in shaving cream. We saw teens that looked like they had just been plucked from a bubble bath, with crowns of white foam standing up from their hair and covering their clothes. It was pure anarchy -- it was wonderful (especially because we glided through unscathed).

The Sunday before Halloween was Beacon's parade day, and the parade was a mix of hot rods and costumed people. Even the drivers of the cars were in costume, and it made for some great images -- like the scowling pirate storming out of his stalled 57 Chevy to throw open the hood and mutter darkly into the engine compartment. Even better was a 1934 Plymouth coated in an aging enamel paint job, with cracked and crazed windows, and an ancient coffin tied to the roof. The coffin looked like it had been stood up on end in the dirt for a good ten years, with wormy timbers and an old oil lantern with a great round bale tied on next to it. The driver of the car had deathly pale skin, a great black top hat and a gravedigger's shovel over his shoulder, as did his similarly costumed passengers. As they drove down Main Street, with shovel heads tilted out each open window, they gave jaunty waves to the onlookers.

One more story to share, this one from the Holiday House of Beacon. On the eve of Halloween, we drove over to see the house that is luxuriantly festooned with decorations at every Halloween and Christmas. Its front yard, front stoop and roof are crammed with lights, figures, animated gewgaws, sprays of fiber optics, all calculated to make the dials on electric meters spin like crazy and the local power barons count their money with glee! While we idled at the curb across the street, trying desparately to take it all in, the owner ambled from his front yard and asked us if we wouldn't like to come inside. "They probably won't kill and eat us," Jayne said, so we accepted.

Inside the house, the pleasant homeowners and their terrier presided over the largest collection of modern halloween decorations I have ever seen. The bay window in the living room must have held more than a hundred tiny halloween houses, with minature trick or treaters wandering the streets beneath the branches of spooky trees. Every horizontal surface contained decorations, animated figures, lighted sculptures, grinning jack-o-lanterns. The dining room chairs each had a fabric cosy on their backs with a stuffed ghost head sticking up. Even the bathroom had orange lights, a Halloween shower curtain, monstrous soap dispenser, seasonal hand towels, and a gibbering apparition hanging from the ceiling. Fiber optic pumpkins atop the armoire in the master bedroom pulsed with an orangey glow. Other than the fact that there were hundreds of decorations, the house was neat as a pin and its owners gracious to a fault. We left shaking our heads in wonder at this Halloween Americana.

It would have been difficult to say goodbye at midnight on the 31st, if not for the promise of the Day of the Dead to stretch out the holiday until November 2nd, and the wonderful coffin-shaped cookies from the Plaza Bakery, and their delicious Halloween bread, to be left out during dinner for the spirits of the departed, and then finally consumed along with all the other sweet plunder of the season!