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The House from Hell

For nine years I lived in a freak house. I'm not talking about my family, necessarily, but about the house itself. I lived in one of the most upscale suburbs and school districts in the country--but our house was a falling-down rental at the end of a long, rutted driveway. It wasn't exactly The Glass Castle, more like Grey Gardens without the money.

Today that driveway is a smoothly paved road through a development of multimillion-dollar houses in Westchester County. But in my memory it lives on as a hellish byway of broken asphalt, ancient patch jobs and loose gravel that scared away parents and children, and ruined Halloween (and many other days as well).

When the access to your house involves a quarter mile of bottoming out, you'd better believe you won't have too many visitors. Factor in darkness and you've definitely got the place to yourself. I remember when I used to be driven home by dads after a night of babysitting: they would stop their precious Benz or Caddy at the beginning of the driveway and shine their headlights to guide me as I stumbled home. Hey, thanks for the ride! By the way, your son's a pyromaniac!

Once you got all the way to the end, it was pretty spooky, even in the daylight, and even on days that weren't Halloween. The property had been a nursery, and had several leaning outbuildings--two garages and a greenhouse--as well as a rusted old gas pump. When I was younger, the acres of overgrown fields, the woods, the apple orchard and even the crumbling greenhouse held immense charm. As I hit puberty, however, I learned to be ashamed of the way we lived. Like generic rice puffs and knee socks that wouldn't stay up, our house was a mark of failure, a manifestation of how we didn't measure up to those whose driveways were short and smooth, whose houses were sturdy and professionally decorated, whose cabinets were filled with Cap'n Crunch and drawers with socks that didn't droop.

On Halloween we kids had to make our way down the driveway to join friends for trick or treating at "real" houses. No one ever trick or treated at our house. My parents thought this a benefit--imagine the savings on Fun-Size Snickers! But then they also enjoyed the beautiful setting and unavoidable privacy in a way that a self-conscious adolescent just could not fathom. My mother actually looked forward to mowing the massive yard that she personally carved out of what had looked like a wheat field when we moved in. Who could make sense of that?

After trick or treating I would return to our house, with its clawed-foot bathtubs, its extension cord running up the stairs to provide electricity to my own personal attic, its dank basement and odd layout of bedrooms. I would replay the comments I'd heard during the course of the night: "Do you live in a haunted house?" "How do you go down that driveway? Aren't you scared?" "Do you ever get any trick or treaters?" I would recall my swaggering answers, all bluff and bluster: "I hate new houses!" "There's nothing to be scared of. I feel sorry for people who live in boring houses." "We don't get trick or treaters but that just means we get to eat all the candy ourselves."

And then I would eat all the candy myself.

Halloween Is Going to the Dogs (Videos)

Peedy and the Halloween Candy Dish

It's not nice to talk back to the skull.

A Real Butthead

Boxer Seeks Gun

At what point do these people recognize animal cruelty? Even the weiner dog is laughing at the poor pumpkin-garbed boxer.

Last-Minute Mask

Too lazy, cheap, disorganized or disinterested to have your Halloween costume together? Don't be too hard on yourself - we've all been there! If you have a color printer, click here to solve your procrastinating problem. Enjoy!

Halloween Snark (Videos)

Leave it to Joe to take snark to its highest level. These costumes aren't just politically incorrect, they give bad taste a bad name.

"Halloween is not an excuse to be a slut" - WHAT?! Good thing no one told me this in my 20s.

 Is it snarky to call her out for her overplumped lips? This isn't Gawker, after all... 

Hellish Halloween House Halted

According to the Huffington Post, a "dazzling Halloween lights show" in Riverside, California has been shut down by the local Homeowners Assn.  Hard to blame those who live within 100 decibels...or 1,000 lumens...or however you want to measure the noise and light pollution. The 2,000 visitors can't have been fun to navigate  around either!

Reasons to Stay Single, Halloween Edition (Videos)

I'm going to let these speak for themselves.

I could go on and on...

The Black Friday Price Match

In response to having their stores used as showrooms by consumers who then by online for less, brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting back

Target will match online prices at Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Toys R Us. The program will run between November 1 and December 16.

Best Buy will price-match 20 online retailers this holiday season, as well as offering free shipping on items not available in stores. The new policy, likely to go into effect starting Sunday, November 4, will not be in effect the week of Black Friday through Cyber Monday. A more critical caveat: Best Buy customer service representatives are permitted to honor the policy at their discretion.

Get ready for some hellish tales. Price-matching can be awkward, and staff training critical. Let's hope Target and Best Buy are holding classes now!

Halloween Date From Hell

It just seems wrong to complain about a Hellish Halloween. After all, isn't that the whole point? Yes, there are parades and parties and dressing up. But the holiday's very nature is to be creepy. It's about scaring small children, TPing and egging, eating too much candy, getting separated from your hard-to-recognize friends...there are so many ways this gruesome holiday can go bad. Here's one you may not have thought of before.

One October in my twenties I was single and going through a dry spell. OK, large chunks of my twenties were dry, but that's another (hellish) story. I went out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends, and one of them brought her brother, Andrew. Andrew was, like me, a writer, but unlike me he actually had published several books.

Andrew and I hit it off. Sure, he was short, pudgy and bald, but at least he was funny. Ask my friend Peter--for years my main dating credo was "Looks Don't Matter." I believe the way he put it was, "Well, no one could accuse you of having a 'type.'" Frankly, Peter was always unable to differentiate between laughing with my dates and laughing at them. But I digress.

After dinner Andrew offered to walk me to the Fifth Avenue bus. I was living in Chelsea, and as we walked we talked about our upcoming Halloween plans. I figured I would catch the infamous Halloween parade in Greenwich Village and go to a couple of nearby costume parties. He asked if he could accompany me. I figured, why not? I rarely had dates on any of the major holidays. By major I mostly mean Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, but Halloween as a party night is also pretty major. Just not ideal for a first date, as I discovered.

We had a brief discussion about what costumes we would wear. He was noncommittal. Yes, he would wear one, but he had no idea what it might be. Certainly we would not be in anything coordinated since we barely knew each other--and by the way, I dislike it when couples coordinate their costumes, so that was fine by me. I generally wore something pretty girly since, well, what the hell. (There was the year I put a box over my shoulders and went as a table with my head for a centerpiece, but I was engaged by then and had different priorities.)

At the appointed hour Andrew rang my doorbell. I opened the door in whatever mildly sexy get-up I had adlibbed for the evening. He was standing there in a loud, patterned shirt, white pants that cut off just above his ankles, and white shoes. From the neck up he had done nothing. He was still bald. Oh, and of course he was still short and chubby, too. He carried a straw hat which he put on his bald head with a flourish. (I know I seem to be stressing the "bald" part, but after all he was the one who had chosen a costume where baldness was highlighted, and not in a positive way.)

"What are you?" I asked with what I hoped did not sound too much like horror.

"An old Jew!" he proclaimed proudly. "Straight out of Miami Beach!" He spoke in a heavy Brooklyn accent.

"Wow," I said. Sort of the way people say, "That sure is something!" when what they're really thinking is "...something hideous and misguided." It felt so anti-Semitic, even though he was Jewish. It felt less Halloween, more Purim, less a costume and more an insulting impression.

"Do you like it?" he asked, with the inflection of a star of Yiddish theater.

"Wow," I repeated inanely. Just as one's life supposedly flashes before one's eyes in the moments before death, various possible exit strategies presented themselves and were instantly rejected. How could I say the parties had both been canceled? And the parade? He would never buy that! I obviously hadn't sprained my ankle. Or fallen down a flight of stairs. But it wasn't too late! I still had to get out of the building...oh, I had to face the truth: I was going to attend parties given by people I liked and respected with someone for whom I felt neither of those things.

At the last minute it occurred to me that I could wear a mask. If only I'd had the prescience to buy one.

All night, if I saw someone I knew, I veered quickly. I managed to make it through both parties without introducing Andrew to anyone. Unfortunately that meant I didn't greet or thank the hosts, but the tradeoff seemed reasonable, even for someone as hung up on etiquette as I am. The parade was a blur. A couple of times I thought about edging away and getting lost in the crowd, but that just seemed too cruel, despite the seemingly endless Jewish jokes and that nails-on-blackboard accent.

I finally came up with an alibi to cut the evening short: my dog, the shoe-eating Harley. Of course! I had to get back and walk him! It had been a whole...two hours! He could NEVER go that long without a walk. (The fact that I had a full-time job and was gone for 10 or more hours at a time wouldn't cross Andrew's mind, would it? Oh, at this point who cared!) I was looking forward to never seeing him again. As the New Yorker cartoon says, "How about never? Does never work for you?"

The plan backfired somewhat when Andrew insisted on going with me and Harley to Union Square Park. "What kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn't escort the lady on All Hallows Eve?" was how I believe he put it. I protested, but that old Jew sure was persistent and I gave in. After all, I knew his sister, and that had to count for something.

As we walked to the park I was almost lighthearted. I could see that the night would not in fact be the bottomless chasm I had previously envisioned. It would actually end at some point, although certainly not soon enough. We watched Harley do his business--always a fun way to end a date--and returned to my building without incident. I said goodbye downstairs, declining his repeated offers to "come up and see me some time." And so, finally, he walked away, telling me, "Hey babe, no promises."

Originally published October 29, 2007.

A Very Political Halloween (Videos)

"Binders Full of Women"

Candy Redistribution

Sarah Palin Halloween Costume Options

Halloween for Morons (Videos)

Duh, what kind of bowl should I put my candy in?

Seriously, X-RAY your kids' candy? Check FRUIT?? (No one gives fruit!)? Eat it all at once? Hard to identify the dumbest part of this one.

I'm all for deviled eggs, but do these looks like eyeballs to you?

Halloween: It's Not Just for Adults

Inappropriate adult costumes are a perennial. Which of these KIDS costumes seem inappropriate to you? (Courtesy of Flavorwire)

Dumb Things People Do on Halloween (Videos)

Build a Theme Bong

Don’t Play with Fire

Word to the wise: when some dude yells, “Do it again, man!” - DON'T.

Halloween Pet Costumes

New puppy training method: Dress them up as Princess Leia and Darth Vader and make them sit still while you shoot video of them.

Nutty Halloween Neighbors (Videos)

These houses make great videos, but not so great neighbors.

Perfect Theme Song

Welcome Home!

So This Is What Halloween Looks Like!

Extreme Costumes (Videos)

Sexy Halloween Costume Guide

What's the best Halloween costume for a woman to wear? Well, that depends. How sexy do you want to be? No, you're not thinking hot enough. How about asking this guy for some guidance?

Dick's Inappropriate Halloween Costume Shop

Don't you hate all those people who try to be edgy and offensive by wearing inappropriate costumes each Halloween? You know, that guy who went as Osama Bin Laden in 2001? Here's a costume shop for them!

Halloween Costume Surgery

A more permanent approach to the annual dilemma of what to wear for Halloween.

Halloween Costumes: 60s Vs. 80s

Two women with no ego problems debate the best era for Halloween costume development.

Halloween Costume Advice

A self-proclaimed Halloween expert relives some memories and offers unnecessary advice.

Politically Incorrect Halloween Costumes

French maid? Sexy nurse? Penis head? All cliche and politically incorrect, but not flat out creepy the way these 69 are. (Yes, I'm sure they chose that number with care!)

Halloween in L.A.

In Los Angeles you can celebrate Halloween all year round. There's the fabulous Hollywood Forever cemetery - home to both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Rudolph Valentino, Fay Wray and "Alfalfa" from the Our Gang comedies - which is hosting Ozomatli on Dia de los Muertos! There are plenty of other spooky spots, too: Check out this custom-designed tour.

Black Friday Sales

It's never too early to start planning for Black Friday mayhem. Believe it or not the Black Friday ads are starting to trickle out; more will be posted as they are available.

Southeastern U.S. discounter Fred's has a 45-item Fred's Super Dollar Black Friday ad along with a 4-page Fred's ad. Their Black Friday sale starts at 5am and is one-day only. The four released pages represent pages 17-20 of the Fred's advertisement. 

Let's hope when we see the word "doorbusters" it doesn't actually mean Black Friday crowds will actually be breaking down the doors to get inside. But it wouldn't be the first time Black Friday caused in-store breakage.

Harbor Freight has a 35-item Black Friday ad and a 4-page ad.

Worth noting: Harbor Freight is letting their Inside Track Club members ($30/yr for membership) enter the store a full hour before regular customers (6am vs. 7am). Hope this does not become a trend among other stores!

"It's Almost Not Quite Halloween"

It's the most wonderful time of the year: no holidays yet! Nice to know that I'm not alone in thinking Thanksgiving can be hellish. According to Christina Applegate on SNL, here are things to be happy about: "No decorations, no cards, no weird family tension. And not every single thing tastes like pumpkin." Sigh. It's bliss time!

Black Friday 2011 (Videos)

It wasn't just about one pepper spraying incident. At Walmarts around the country - and one deadly Target - Black Friday really was dark.

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