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.