Over the weekend, I helped my kids with their Halloween costumes. My oldest decided to deck out as a green M&M, while her younger sister opted to emulate the Black Swan.
For the former, a test run included a battery pack rehearsal, to make sure the tiny attached electric pump would adequately blow up the round body of the M&M. (Big box-store costumes have come a long way.)
For the latter, multiple stops were necessary to find sleek black feathers, a tall (but cheap) tiara and the proper ballet shoes.
Did I neglect to mention that these two daughters are 28 and 26 respectively?
Today, on Halloween, New Orleans is Neverland. A place where, just for a moment, we never have to grow up.
Isn’t it great that we live in a city where costume trunks and dressing up never go out of style?
Saturday night, Stewart and I drove along Frenchmen Street, an epicenter of local Halloween doings, to take in the crowds. (There will be more hordes tonight.)
We eyed the lighthearted (Scooby Doo), the satirical (“I am the 99 percent”), the celebrity-inspired (Larry David).
In New Orleans, costumes are meant to be expressions of individuality.
My mother was the type who made our Halloween costumes from scratch. I can remember witches and hobos and mummies – the creature itself was rarely creative – all expertly stitched into Broadway-worthy attire.
Mine was more a thrift-shop approach, as I inherited her eyes and sense of humor, but none of her craft skills. And where she put her time into the making of the costume, I spent my energy on the conception of it.
Thus my Renaissance princess outfit came complete with velvet bodice and veiled, cone-shaped hat, while Stewart’s musketeer ensemble featured leather boots and a hat with plumes. The year he decided to go as a ballerina, we found him tights and toe shoes.
Our most memorable matching Halloween ensembles are famous in family lore: My kids still roll their eyes over our Fred and Wilma Flintstone year (made even more memorable by a Jackson Square psychic I hired to read fortunes at the kids’ middle-school party; she told one 12-year-old girl she would find the man of her dreams — but then divorce him).
Over the years, Halloween behavior has ebbed and flowed with the times. Trick or treating waxed popular until a national headline or two about razors and apples sent neighborhood children into private living rooms for supervised parties. For years, I tip-toed behind my kids through Sheriff Foti’s haunted house in City Park, lurching wildly whenever an unseen assailant turned on a chain saw.
In the Garden District, where I now live, neighborhood kids are invited to trick or treat at “approved” houses, sanctioned by the neighborhood association and marked by maps passed around among homeowners. I’m sure my ghost, Henri, would be distraught, were it not for the masses of youngsters from across Magazine Street who are sure to flock to my door.
Of course, Halloween in New Orleans stands apart mostly for that momentary Neverland mentality: We adults get to play, too.
From lavish balls by the Vampire Lestat fan club to French Quarter ghost tours, the holiday gets full attention from the over-21 set. There’s even an online list of haunted bars for those who want to mix their spirits (knives fly off the counter at Alibi Bar on Iberville, a ghostly female reflection fills the mirror at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and pool balls tend to move on their own at Yo Mama’s.).
Where else but New Orleans would the local home and garden section of the paper print a recipe for fake blood? (For weeks it incurred repeated requests for copies.)
In a recent interview with Times-Picayune movie writer Mike Scott, actress Rose McGowan confessed that one reason she’s considering relocating to New Orleans is because she can wear the lavish Marie Antoinette costume created for last Halloween “on any Tuesday or Wednesday here and I’d be just fine.”
My lawyer daughter went to work this morning in Double Dare (remember the Nickelodeon show?) attire. A colleague planned to arrive as Sean Peyton, complete with leg cast. The server at CC’s on Magazine Street this morning sported a spider and web shaved into his buzz cut — his barber in Kenner, he told me, is out of town at a hair-cutting competition.
The annual Halloween Thriller flash dance will take place in front of Molly’s at the Market at 6 p.m tonight. A yoga friend is planning to go to Swan River’s Mid-City studio for a Halloween class at 6:30 today that will feature “lots of haunted singing and asana.” Costumes, of course, are encouraged.
And costumes, of course, will be de rigeur at tonight’s 10 p.m. showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at The Prytania Theater.
I do have friends who lurk in back rooms, lights out, for Halloween. But I know many others who wouldn’t miss the chance to dig through musty closets filled with velvet skirts and plastic daggers, multi-colored tutus and vampire teeth, ready to hit the streets – or work corridors or local restaurants or neighbor’s porch.
In New Orleans tonight, it won’t be the ones who are in costume who attract notice, but the ones who aren’t.
Renee Peck, editor of NolaVie, is a former feature writer and editor at The Times-Picayune.