Halloween has come and gone and I lived to tell the tale. But barely. It was pretty touch and go for a while there. Our biggest problem this year was costume confusion. No one could seem to figure out who the Horniks were supposed to be. If we had fragile egos, it could have sent us to therapy. Luckily, fragile egos are not our problem. Bad costumes, yes. Fragile egos, no.
"What do you mean 'who am I?' I'm Danny Zuko. Danny Zuko!" Apparently the only thing worse than people hating your costume is people not knowing what the heck you are. That was my 9 year old's problem this year. He went to school for the Halloween parade dressed as Danny Zuko. You know, John Travolta's character in Grease. Unfortunately, his classmates were not up on their modern musicals to quite the same extent as my son. What's more, rather than going with the classic 50's look -- rolled up jeans, white t-shirt, high tops -- my son is a purist and insisted upon going in a black t-shirt and black pants with a black belt. Why? Because that's what Danny Zuko wears. I too was a doubter once, but my son showed me the error of my ways. Through the power of the Internet, he could show me numerous pictures of Danny Zuko (not just Travolta but the many other wanna be's who've played Danny on and off broadway over the years) and they all wore black pants, black shirts and black belts. That's just what Danny Zuko wears.
The only problem is that if you are not a Danny Zuko aficionado, you look at the black pants and black t-shirt and think to yourself "Terminator?" "Matrix?" "stagehand?" I tried to explain to my son that the best way for him to combat this costume confusion was to sing "Summer Loving" or "Grease Lightning." This didn't seem like such a stretch to me. I can't tell you how many times I've had to say "enough already" in the face of yet another rendition of "Popular" at the top of my son's lungs. So, what's so hard about singing? Apparently singing is even more humiliating than appearing in a nondescript costume and having to answer the question "what are you?" over and over again. But my son is not one to be deterred that easily. He's a creative problem solver. So come Halloween night, he employed a two step plan for being recognized as Danny Zuko. First, he put on a white t-shirt. He realized that while it was not, in fact, true to the movie, people just expected (foolishly) Danny Zuko to be in a white t-shirt. So while my son is often a purist, he was willing to make a compromise this time around. Second, while he was not willing to sing for his supper (or for his candy, as the case may be), he did acknowledge that the Grease music would pretty quickly put him in context. So instead of belting out show tunes, my son and his Pink Lady friend, pushed around a stroller with a boom box playing the Grease soundtrack. Turns out that's all it took. Halloween night he was greeted with "what a cute Danny Zuko you make" rather than, "and you are?" Mission accomplished.
There were bigger problems afoot for my three year old. And they were all my fault. My 5 year old daughter reported early on that she would be dressing as a Stanford cheerleader for Halloween. It was a cute little costume and she was thrilled to carry those red pompoms. But it just didn't sit right with me. Cheerleader is such a plebeian costume. Plus, the Stanford cheerleaders hold a pretty tenuous position with the students and alumni. Stanford just isn't your classic cheerleading kind of a school. And as someone who periodically played with the Stanford Band (more years ago than I care to think about), cheerleading was a little bit like fingernails against a chalk board. So in an effort to make my daughter's costume tolerable, I decided to dress my 3 year old son as the Stanford Tree. The Stanford Tree is the greatest mascot ever. Why? Because it is a tree. Ok, it's not just a tree. It is a tree with big eyes and a smile. It is an anthropomorphic tree. It is right up there with an anthropomorphic clock or an anthropomorphic candlestick. The Stanford Tree rules. Thus, by the commutative property of rulership, a Stanford Tree costume would also rule. I got to work.
It turns out that making a Stanford Tree costume is harder than you might think. It is entirely unclear to me whether I was in fact thinking? Why would I want to make my own costume in the first place. Look at all the spectacular store bought costumes available. He could have been a Power Ranger or Spider-Man or some other over-commercialized, soulless super hero. And I would have saved countless hours and something like a hundred bucks. But, no. I couldn't do that. I was too intoxicated by the idea of a little Stanford Tree helping give some character to my over-commercialized, soulless cheerleader daughter (cute but soulless and over-commercialized).
For those of you thinking of making such a costume in the future, here are the steps. First, you need to make a paper mock up of the costume. This is no small task in and of itself. I still don't think that I quite understand the geometry of a cone with the top cut off. but through trial and error I got something that was more or less cone shaped and more or less fit my son. Once you have created the paper template you march down to the House of Foam (no lie, there is literally a House of Foam in Palo Alto) and buy $50 worth of foam and $10 in adhesive spray. If you don't have a little skill-saw like the guy at House of Foam has, the best way to cut your foam to size is either an electronic carving knife (no such luck) or a Ginsu serrated knife (bingo). After cutting the pieces, you glue them together trying not to glue your fingers, deck, clothing, hair, etc. (harder than it looks). Let the glued pieces dry then pray they actually fit your child (ok, I got a little lucky here). Once the foam pieces have dried, go down to your local hardware store and buy $15 in appropriately colored spray paint. Lay out the pieces on your sidewalk and commence spray painting. Don't forget to put down paper under your costume or the sidewalk will soon take on the appearance of the South Bronx (Doh!). Let the spray paint dry. Realize that it looks like crap. Go back to the hardware store and buy $15 more spray paint for a second coat. Paint the costume again (this time with paper down, although it is way too late for that to matter). Let the spray paint dry. See some spots that could use another coat and decide how much of a perfectionist you are. Go back to the hardware store and buy $15 more spray paint for a third coat. Let the spray paint dry. Try the costume on your child. Muse at how adorable he looks in the costume you have just created and revel in the glory of it actually fitting. Declare victory. Go to bed.
Unfortunately, my victory, like George Bush's, was declared a little prematurely. First came the problem of costume identification. When the kids, Pamela and I arrived at a Halloween dinner before trick or treating, I put my son in his tree costume to shoot some pictures and take in the adulation associated with actually making my own spectacular costume. I did get the obligatory "oh, he's so cute," but it was followed quickly by "what is he, a Christmas Tree?" Are you kidding? Have you ever met me? I'm the guy who proposed naming his son Shlomo. Shlomo Hornik. Would I really dress my son as a Christmas Tree? For Christ sake. Plus, why would a Christmas Tree have big eyes and a smile? That's just silly. "He's the Stanford Tree." "The what?" "The Stanford Tree. You know, Stanford's mascot." You would think that I had dressed my son as the Stanford Tree in Chattanooga Tennessee. This was Palo Alto, California. There are more Stanford alumni per square inch in Palo Alto than there are jack asses per square inch in the White House. And so it went, person after person. "He's a tree?" "The Stanford tree?" "The what?"
Misidentification wasn't the worst of it. Even if everyone had recognized him as the Stanford Tree and been absolutely blown away by how adorable he was, and even if it had not cost me as much as an iPod to make, the costume would still have been a complete failure. It seems logical that costume design may be one of the rare instances in which it makes sense to pursue form over function. It's a costume. It is all about form. But it turns out that function stuff is pretty helpful. So here are a few additional hints when designing a costume. As a general matter, it is helpful for your child to be able to walk in the costume. And if your child can not walk in his costume, it is all but imperative that he be able to ride in a stroller in his costume. And, if your child can not walk in his costume and he can not sit in a stroller in his costume, he had better be able to ride on your shoulders in his costume. I suppose if none of these conditions apply, it would be possible to make your child a little float and wheel him up and down the parade route trick or treating. But that seems like a long way to go in the name of a cute costume that you have simply designed foolishly. My solution was to remove the costume altogether and have my son trick or treat in his sweatpants and t-shirt. He was dressed as Son-Of-Idiot-Who-Didn't-Think-About-The-Fact-That-A-Tree-Is-Actually- A-Really-Stupid-Costume-For-A-Three-Year-Old. He got lots of candy and no one asked him what he was.
In a final moment of Halloween costume confusion, my wife decided to dress up to go trick or treating as well. She put on the bright pink bridesmaid dress that had hung on the back of our closet door for a year, puffed up her hair to near wedding-like proportions and put on enough makeup that you couldn't miss it in the dark. She had on an apron and carried with her a bottle of Vicodin in a Tiffany's pouch. She had intended to be a Desperate Housewife, right out of one of our favorite new TV shows. To her great dismay, however, all Halloween night people kept telling her how great she looked. "Did you do something to your hair?" "What's different about you tonight?" "Wow, you look great with your hair like that." And on and on. I guess the irony of Pamela trick or treating in suburbia as a Desperate Housewife was lost on suburbia. But it amused me. Next year we are all going as a Power Ranger or Spider-man or some other over-commercialized, soulless super hero.