One of my earliest recollections in life is related to Halloween—and you have no idea how much I would pay a shrink to expunge it from my memory. I was 4 years old, maybe 5, and my mother—though I don’t recall for certain, I have to assume my father had no say in this—dressed me in a homemade black-cat costume. The getup included a long tail and pointy ears … and a black leotard … and whiskers and a nose … drawn with black mascara.
To this day, my mother swears this is the costume I asked for. And yet, some 40 years later, she still refuses to submit to a polygraph.
Of course, I long ago realized that, as embarrassing as it was when the photo albums got passed around later in life, the whole thing was completely innocent—just like Halloween.
Check that: just like Halloween used to be.
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When you sign up for raising kids in Las Vegas, you summarily accept the terms and conditions that come with living in a community where adult-oriented entertainment provides a lot of the oil that fuels the economic engine. You don’t complain about what you cannot control, but rather learn how to adapt to—and constantly be aware of—your surroundings. (To that end, if diverting a kid’s attention from risqué billboards were an Olympic event, my wife would have a gold medal hanging around her neck.)
In other words, I’m the last person who would ever play the morality card—and the first person to say, “If you don’t like what Vegas is selling, exit stage right to Utah.”
That said, I never figured I’d see the day when I’d have to use my wife’s billboard-diversion tactics in a strip-mall Halloween store. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this month when I went costume shopping with my 11-year-old daughter. There, on a rack right across from your run-of-the-mill witches’ hats and tubes of fake blood, was a plastic package with a picture of a balding, heavy-set man slipping a rubber glove onto one hand. The contents included only a white lab coat with two lines stitched on the left breast: Dr. Seymour Bush, GYNOCOLOGIST.
To the right of that was Skeleboner, a costume that featured a skeleton jumpsuit, mask, printed skeleton gloves and an attached faux phallus … with a handheld air pump. Around the corner—and opposite a rack that featured very wholesome Fred Flintstone, Popeye, Gumby and Captain America costumes—was one simply called “Wet T-Shirt Winner.” Next to that: a costume showing a man in an orange prison jumpsuit—a very aroused man. Name on the costume bag (in big capital letters): Department of Erections.
Now, as someone who met his future spouse at a college Halloween party dressed as a flasher, I have to admit the 20-year-old immature kid in me appreciated this creativity. However, the 42-year-old dad with an 11-year-old daughter in tow didn’t appreciate that such costumes were conspicuously displayed, let alone sold, in a so-called family-friendly Halloween store.
Which brings me to the larger question: How did Halloween come to be hijacked by adults? In this city, Oct. 31 (and the days that surround it) has become a huge moneymaker, so much so that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has designated the holiday as one of its “branded” weekends, marketing Las Vegas as the go-to destination for Halloween (just like New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day and the Super Bowl). There’s a reason why, despite the brutal economic climate, Eli Roth sunk a small fortune into the Goretorium, his year-round fright fest on Las Vegas Boulevard. Hell, there’s a reason the magazine you’re holding right now has a “hair mummy”—whatever that is—on the cover and displays a bunch of advertisements for Halloween parties at nightclubs and bars all over town. (Hint: The target audience isn’t Johnny and Janie canvassing the neighborhood for Milky Ways.)
Look, I understand that Halloween has always had appeal for adults. When I was a tot, I remember my parents went to a Halloween party, my dad dressed as a boxer, my mom as his trainer. And about a dozen years ago, the wife and I arrived at a friend’s shindig as the spitting image of Peg and Al Bundy. But those were private house parties, not multimillion-dollar, multiday public extravaganzas hosted by DJs or reality-TV stars taking home six figures for a night’s work. And I can promise you I never attended a Halloween house party where cash awards were given for “sexiest costume.”
Surely I can’t be the only one who waxes nostalgic for the time when Halloween was mostly about kids taking over neighborhood streets, filling pumpkin buckets and pillowcases with candy until they tore a rotator cuff. I can’t be the only one disturbed by the over-commercialization of yet another holiday. I can’t be the only one who finds a Popeye costume 10 feet away from Skeleboner a bit troubling.
At the same time, I know the pendulum isn’t about to swing back the other way anytime soon, not as long as Generation Y continues to make the Halloween cash registers sing. My only hope is that before you adults play dress-up and head out to the club on Oct. 31, you do the little ones a solid and leave the porch light on and a bowl of candy by the front door—and maybe a little something extra for the 4-year-old boy whose mom decided it would be “so adorable” to dress him as a black cat.