As an actor, I make a good part of my living from dressing up and pretending to be someone else. In just the past six months, I’ve been paid to play a fairy, a mushroom, a dancing door, a stern English matron, a clown, an obese, operatic duchess, a giant leaf, a wicket in a croquet game, and a vaguely Latina factory worker. As you can imagine, this makes getting into costume on Halloween a little anticlimactic.
To be honest, I was never all that into Halloween, not even as a kid. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been much of a candy fan. (A nice piece of dark chocolate, yes! But a Snickers bar? Meh.) Or maybe it’s because I never saw the need to designate a specific day to playing dress up. I still remember the random September day I showed up to fourth grade dressed in my American Girl doll (Molly) costume. By lunchtime, I was so mortified by my classmates’ jeers that I changed into my gym clothes and finished out the day in athletic gear.
That’s just one example: my childhood photo albums are full of shots of me in grass skirts, cat makeup, my mother’s silky negligees, strange toga-like garments draped over my body—anything but street clothes. Halloween, frankly, was for amateurs.
The apple fell pretty far from the tree when it comes to my lack of passion for Halloween: no one I know has a greater enthusiasm for the holiday than my father. “It’s the single greatest day of the year,” says Pa Perry. “You get to be whoever you want to be. Personally, I’ve always wanted to be incognito—to hide behind a mask and do something stupid, or fantastic, or both.”
So it was fitting that in the early ’80s, Pa Perry got himself a mask. It was a creepy rubber thing that went over his entire head and looked like a Manson-esque mélange of the three great men of the era: Geraldo, Gallagher, and Super Mario. For four years straight, he donned it on Halloween and went to his company’s corporate headquarters. “I’d get on the elevator, go to whatever floor, and pop into the offices,” he tells me. “I’d walk up to someone’s desk, pick up a pen, and just stand there without saying a word. Invariably, everyone would try to guess who I was. ‘That’s gotta be Tim.’ ‘No, I recognize those shoes! That’s Bill. Hi Bill!’It always drew a crowd, made everyone crack up.”
That mask may have been the only costume piece Pa Perry ever purchased from a store. When it came to helping me with my Halloween costumes, my dad took a more DIY approach. Whenever I was at a loss for a costume idea (having already used up my American Girl ensembles and grass-skirt collection throughout the rest of the year), he was always ready to lend a hand.
One year, I went as a refrigerator. We got a big cardboard box, turned it upside down, cut holes in the other three sides for my neck and arms, spray painted it white, and taped a bunch of magnets to it. Another year, I went as a bag of trash, for which I put on a trash bag and we taped some garbage to it. Done. Eat your hearts out, Disney princesses.
Then there were the college years, when Halloween hijinks got a bit more rambunctious. I’ll never forget the year I watched my (underage) intoxicated friend being hauled off to the police station in a cow costume—bovine headpiece and all. The best part: the cops refused to let her remove it when they snapped her mug shot.
These days, I like to use Halloween as a respite from getting into character. I leave the stage makeup at the theater, pour myself a glass of something festive, and coo over the children who come to my door in their adorable costumes. House rules state that anyone wearing a trash bag or cardboard box gets double the candy.
Mo Perry is a Twin Cities writer and actor, appearing this month in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Ten Thousand Things.