The Magic of Make-Believe


Being a kid on Halloween is a lot like being a Kardashian: you put on some crazy outfit and clamor for attention, even though you really haven’t done anything worthwhile. It’s a fleeting moment, but you desperately want to be noticed as long as possible.

For one night only on All Hallows Eve, every kid gets to morph into an alter ego. When we were young, we became superheroes, princesses, or some other magical personality that couldn’t be bothered with such mundane tasks as math homework or taking out the trash. If you lived in a small town like I did, you canvassed all the streets in town, frantically seeking out every home where the porch light was turned on.

By second grade, you had the routine memorized:
1. Ring the doorbell.
2. When someone comes to the door, yell “TRICK OR TREAT!” and hold out your bag.
3. Humor them and stand there patiently as they coo over how cute of a pirate/witch/devil you are.
4. Use your super-focused night vision to monitor every single item that falls into your bag, scanning the intake for apples, toothbrushes, or other lame disappointments that need to be thrown away immediately after you devour 17 bite-size Snickers.
5. Yell “THANK YOU!” (no matter what) as you take off on a dead sprint to the house next door.

I was a shy kid, so donning a costume was the only way I could make eye contact with some of the adults in the neighborhood… the same adults I’d have to face a few months later when I rang their doorbell to sell Cub Scout popcorn, or magazine subscriptions, or candy bars that tasted like chocolate-covered drywall.

I had some pretty awesome costumes, so I decided to look through my photo albums and find a few of them. Here, for your ridiculing pleasure, are five of my favorites:

costume collage5. Groucho Marx Clown (age 5): I’m including this one because it’s one of the earliest costumes I can find documentation of, and it’s the one most likely to cause people to say “Awwwwwwwwwwwww, how cute! He’s got a fake cigar hanging out of his fake mustache!”

This photo makes it look like I have a freakishly gigantic left hand. My actual left hand is holding a popcorn ball, which was most likely eaten as soon as I got in the car. If you’ve ever eaten a popcorn ball, you know those things will turn into concrete orbs five minutes after you unwrap them.

4. White Jimi Hendrix (age 18): It was meant to be a hippie costume, but once I donned the headband, it became full-on purple haze all along the watchtower.

That afro was HUGE. When I turned my head to the side, it seemingly took a few extra seconds for the afro to follow suit.

I’d also like to point out that even with the afro (which added a good six inches in height), I was still shorter than most of my classmates.

3. The Red Rooster (age 11): I loved pro wrestling. But since I couldn’t pull off the Hulkster or the Macho Man, I went with The Red Rooster. The Red Rooster was a wrestler who styled his hair to look like a rooster’s comb and strutted as he made his way to the ring.

The rooster bit may have been one of the worst wrestling gimmicks of all time, but I was cock of the walk with my red streak, my rooster robe, and my custom championship belt.

2. John Dillinger (age 12): This wasn’t for Halloween, but it’s too good to omit. In elementary, I participated in the school’s Extended Learning Program (translation = nerds). We had a “Night of the Notables” event where we portrayed a historical figure and talked in character. You might think a 1930’s gangster was an odd choice, but remember this took place in 1991, when people weren’t offended by every little thing.

Yes, I realize that Nike high tops are not historically accurate.

Yes, that is a plastic machine gun, and yes, I was allowed to bring it into the school and make the “rat-a-tat-tat” noise.

1. Ryne Sandberg (age 10): That’s right – I used to be a Cubs fan. Thank God I grew out of that phase! But seriously, this is my favorite costume from my childhood. While many of my classmates were wearing mass-produced, store-bought plastic masks and capes, I was sporting a one-of-a-kind pinstriped uniform my mom made. And I got to carry a bat all night, which kinda made me feel like a bad ass (albeit a bad ass who had to put half of his candy in the freezer and be in bed by 9 pm).

Do you have a favorite costume from your childhood? Let me know!



  1. Loved this. Perfect read for this gray day. Thanks as always. Favorite costume until that jackwad racist ruined it was my Indian costume. 🙂

  2. The most original as well as flimsy costume I had was a letter. My mom taped two window shades together and painted on a stamp and address. Completed the look with a ski mask.

    • I definitely have to give you props for most original. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of anyone else dressing up as a letter!

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