Center of the Universe (12)
In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer
The kids wanted Dad in costume, and I hadn’t had a minute to think about it.
My five-year-old was a fierce pterodactyl, in an outfit of pool-table-green felt, painstakingly hand-sewn, by her mother, to save money and to ensure no nasty store-bought mask would impede our first-born’s cross-eyed vision and imperil her safety. Her brother, not quite two, was our black-and-white cat Ivy, with construction-paper ears, eyebrow-pencil whiskers and a black dime-sized spot of a nose. And if the costumes were less than convincing as impersonations, they were all the more appallingly cute for it.
The kids loved them.
More accurately, the kids thought these weren’t costumes at all, but magical transformations. Arriving at a neighbor’s doorstep, the kids believed they looked exactly like what they obviously were: a dinosaur and a housecat. (And, after, when they wanted to go back to being just kids, inviolably protected from things like pterodactyls, they abruptly snapped off that belief, didn’t want to hear a thing more about it, at dire risk of tears.)
And though one parent after another that night would greet our green-felt pterodactyl with the exclamation, “Oooh, a leprechaun!”, Josey — ferociously stubborn to this day — was never dissuaded.
I was always late for family stuff. Somehow I’d gotten a gig with a big ad agency in San Francisco, trying to climb out of the hole we’d dug working for ourselves in New York. In those days, a big agency in San Francisco didn’t give a shit about Halloween. What they gave a shit about was that their big client needed shit, asap. Needed to get it to their VPs, who’d get it to their SVPS, who’d get it to their lawyers. Who’d shit all over it. Again.
Can you hang just a few more minutes, till we get the lawyers’ final comments?
Twenty-three miles from Fairfax, on the sweetest kid night of the year, I could feel my sweet ones waiting. And knew there was not a chance in corporate hell the comments would be final.
Our client, the phone company, had sustained a judgment of, like, half-a-billion dollars, due to predatory sales practices that targeted new immigrants. And the vast TV, print and junk mail effort to notify the preyed-upon about a settlement — in Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese, Korean and whatever passes in advertising for English — had turned into the legal hamster-wheel of all time.
A month in, feeling a bit preyed-upon myself, I had idly asked the second-in-command — an older, winningly cynical Brooklynite — what bonus I might get for my ceaseless servitude.
You get to keep your job, said Jerry.
I finally made it home (promising to be back by dawn). And though it was late-night by kiddie time — which meant cranky in the morning, especially me — the kiddies had been thoroughly distracted by a nonstop parade of fantastical visitors.
Which on Dominga Ave., of a Hallows’ Eve, might run to 300 or more.
Over the 13 years we lived in the Fairfax flats — one avenue away from where an Italian bistro run by Brazilian-Koreans would take over from a flailing Japanese-Chinese joint — we watched as our abbreviated rue developed into the Halloween capital of western Marin, eventually attracting monsters and their doting attendants from as far away as Petaluma.
But even in the earliest days, Halloween on Dominga was impressive. As Roni liked to boast, there were 62 kids on those three teeming blocks. The neighborhood was flat, unlike much of vertical Fairfax, and the sidewalks wide enough for dinosaurs going in both directions. And if the whole town was fundamentally surreal — “Mayberry on Acid,” by nickname — Dominga was the winged heart of it (take that, Bothin Road!), with an unrivaled demographic of painters, dancers, musicians, kindergarten teachers, writers, whiteface jugglers and other artsy-crafty types, none snooty rich.
Ideal, in other words, for a gremlin get-down.
Roni was already resplendent in peaked black hat and warty nose, a perfectly acceptable wicked witch, to our juvenile jury. And, no matter how late it was, the little fantasists were not about to let their father out of the house in buzz-killing civvies. I stalled by putting on the family Halloween soundtrack — the soundtrack to “Sweeney Todd,” with its shrieking factory whistle and “demon barber” spitting gory vengeance. But while searching for it in the muck of misfiled CDs, it struck me that a simple, yet fully satisfactory, way to get in the costumed spirit in a hurry was to become a costumed spirit.
White sheet, cut a pair of eyeholes, done.
So I went rummaging.
It turns out, among the vast array of hand-me-down sheets from Roni’s richer, older sister, none, to my dismay, were Casper-colored. We had stripes, polka dots, floral prints, animal and ABC prints galore. And one other.
It took a couple of attempts to cut the eyeholes big enough, and then I had trouble lining them up with my eyes. Finally, I threw on the sheet, centered the openings, and knotted it all in place with the pumpkin-print necktie I’d picked up at the Spirit Halloween store — not for Halloween, but for making fun of tie-wearing. Stomping from the bedroom (admittedly, more Frankenstein, than hovering ghost), I spread my arms, along with my saffron sheet, and proclaimed:
“I am the Pee Ghost!”
The two-year-old was frightened, at first, while the five-year-old was amused — but skeptical. So I explained — proclaimed — that I was the ghost who wet his bed, and that’s why my sheet was yellow.
Thus was born a family tradition, one that sustained from the kids’ adorably credulous phase through their annoyingly sarcastic phase, all the way to that horrifying moment when our contractor friend, replacing the busted water heater while we were away, confessed to using — and tossing — an “old, ripped sheet.”
Our beloved Halloween wraith discarded as a construction rag.
Which made me sadder than it should have. But what can you say about a golden ghost who’s gone?