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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Column: Holiday gore

“And who are you supposed to be?” Because I don’t dress up for Halloween anymore, the woman’s question was surprising. “I’m sorry?” I said.

“Your outfit, who are you supposed to be?” she asked. I didn’t want to sound like an asshole and say, “I’m supposed to be me, this is how I dress. What’s the matter with you?” But at the same time I was wearing a sports coat, a white long-sleeved shirt and slacks. Maybe it’s just me, but however much I might’ve looked like a Mormon Missionary, I hadn’t made the conscious decision to, so her question caught me off guard.

I thought for a moment before answering. “Warm,” I said finally, putting my hands into the pockets of my jacket, “I’m supposed to be warm.”

She made a comment about not meaning anything by it, about how she thought maybe I was “one of those fancy vampires from one of those movies.” Willing myself not to cringe, I tried to laugh it off to make minor amends. But I knew the damage was done.

I was in one of those chain Halloween stores, so maybe her comment hadn’t been so off the mark. It wasn’t as if she accosted me in a supermarket and asked forcibly, “I know a normal person would never dress like this, tell me, who are you supposed to be?” But once she walked away, I wondered why she’d thought I was anything but who I am.

“What are you supposed to be?” I remember asking a girl in middle school. She’d arrived the Friday before Halloween wearing an enormous cardboard bowl around her waist. She’d painted it white and filled it with translucent balloons, and she wore a skin-colored leotard. It looked as though she was floating from the waist up in a bowl of massive tapioca balls. I guessed she was someone melting inside a pot of acid.

“I’m someone in a bubble bath!” she said happily, adjusting one of her balloons. “Oh.” I said, trying to mask my disappointment. “Well done.”

I also remember standing at my front door handing candy out to neighborhood children and asking the same question. Though none of them ever wore bathtubs or walked around in dishes of acid, as the years passed I found I had to ask for clarification more and more often.

I’d see the little girl dressed in a black and white prison suit and say, knowingly, “Zebra, right?” At which she would smile, blush, and let me know I was still young enough to catch youthful references. But then the answers started to shift and began to relate to things I know nothing about, like video games.

“Oh, of course,” I’d said, completely lost, to the boy who’d informed me he was someone called Zelda. “So you weren’t trying to satirize the consumerist culture that drives our holiday season by dressing up as one of Santa’s Elves for Halloween?”

The blank stare he gave me joined a long line of others from different children, each in response to the questions I asked, which did nothing but date me. As the stares got progressively longer, I began to feel old. But not wise or particularly learned, it was more like a feeling of exhaustion.

It became a refreshing delight to open the door and see an axe murder, or a beheaded corpse. I welcomed these things as being refreshingly old-fashioned. “A return to the holiday values I grew up with,” I often said encouragingly, to more, longer, blank stares.

As I mulled around a display of severed rubber limbs the other day, I tried to come up with an answer to the woman’s question. I’m not a Mormon, not even close, so the obvious answer was a bust. I’d been wearing clothing from Gap, Kohl’s and Ross, which, when I looked at them in a mirror and tried to make something of it, left me facing a blank stare. Only this time, it was my own.

No matter how many times I replayed the woman’s question in my mind, “And who are you supposed to be?” the only thing I heard in reply was my own voice, surrounded by the comfort of holiday gore, saying indignantly, “What, exactly, do you mean ‘supposed to be’?”

EVAN WHITE can be reached at emwhite@ucdavis.edu, though he’d also be willing to get in your van if you’ve got the right types of candy.


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