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Little monsters

by Brian Clarey

Little monsters

Frankie Stein has big, blue eyes and long black hair streaked with white that barely conceals the bolts coming out of either side of her slender, shapely neck.

She gets the bolts from her father, Frankenstein — yes, the big, green guy pieced together from corpses and brought to life by a bolt of lightning in a lab. If you’re wondering how he managed to sire a daughter, let alone one who has inherited his neck bolts and surgical scars, you are missing the point.

If you haven’t heard of Monster High, the fictitious high school where the children of classic monsters are educated, then you likely don’t have a little girl in your life, which means you are unaware of Draculaura, Clawdeen Wolf, Spectra Vondergeist and the rest of the gang. But in my house we know the Monster High canon intimately, accord to it the same reverence as we do for certain video games or the Star Wars timeline. Because we have a little girl in our house. And this year, it is as important for her to garb herself as one of the Monster High characters on Halloween as anything else in the world.

In her saucy little outfit, with fishnet arm gloves, clunky yet stylish black boots and the iconic black wig streaked with white, she will make a wonderful Frankie Stein and possess a memory that will last the rest of her life.

My younger son has less specific Halloween costume desires — he just wants to be something cool, not too scary but certainly badass. We settle on a Skull Ninja costume, with a pair of curved daggers sheathed around his waist. My oldest son, 12 now, has decided that he’s over it, over the candy and the costumes and the door-to-door traipsing. It makes me sad that a chapter of his childhood is past, but also gives me a sense of relief. I remember well what I was doing on Halloween at 12 years old.

There were no Skull Ninjas when I was a kid, no costume stores dedicated to authenticity and accessories. When I was a kid the Halloween costume industry was a chrysalis of its current state. Plastic and vinyl costumes came in ridiculous configurations — a store-bought Batman costume, I remember, had a picture of Batman himself on the breast, as if the Dark Knight needed to promote himself while making his evening rounds in Gotham City. Store-bought costumes were for kids, and by the time we were 12, my friends and I adopted the preferred guise of the neighborhood hoodlums: We dressed as bums.

There were no bums in the Long Island suburb where we grew up, of course, and we weren’t really striving for correctness — political or any other kind. We wore our fathers’ old flannel shirts and knit hats, smeared burnt cork on our faces to suggest beard stubble. But in actuality the costume was just pretense. We weren’t bums; we were vandals.

The big shirts allowed us to conceal cans of shaving cream, to which we had affixed aerosol tops that enabled us to shoot the cream in a stream. We carried flour socks — yep, socks filled with flour — for close combat situations. Some of us had eggs, which make a marvelous ballistic.

I should add that this activity was not only tolerated by the adults in our town, but endorsed by them. Our parents bought these supplies for us — little kids don’t have money for shaving cream.

We’d begin with a massive shaving-cream fight on our home streets, then our crew would invade other neighborhoods in our town, seeking out other gangs of similarly armed children. Eventually we’d band together and empty our shaving-cream cans on street signs and garage doors, huck eggs at passing cars, maybe smash a few pumpkins if we could get our hands on them, all the while evading teenagers who had the advantage of cars, giving a drive-by dimension to their attacks.

And in the fall of 1982, when I was 12 years old, it all went terribly wrong.

We had ventured too far down Prospect Avenue, loud and laughing, covered in shaving cream, and antagonized a crew of teenagers from the neighboring town of Hempstead. When they turned on us, we fled, our flannel shirts whipping in the smoky, dark night, and took refuge in my friend’s backyard, figuring it to be a safe haven. These teenagers had to know that his parents were right inside. Perhaps they did, but no quarter was given.

I remember seeing the shadows around the hedgery as they surrounded us — it seemed like dozens of them, though more likely it was just five or six. Either way we were terrified, a handful of 12-year-old children huddled together as we were pelted with eggs, taunted with shouts, threatened with physical beatings that thankfully never came.

When the shadows receded, one of our group had gotten the worst of it: a thin cut on his ear made by an eggshell that produced enough blood to make us panic. The rest of us were shiny with raw egg and fear.

In hindsight, the attack wasn’t as brutal as it felt on that day, but I remember feeling lucky to have survived it.

This year, when my wife takes the little ones out to collect the candy that is their autumn rite, my 12-year-old will be with me, in the house, watching scary movies and handing out treats at the door. I’ll admit that a small part of me wonders why he doesn’t want to be out on the streets courting trouble, the same small part that wants to buy him some shaving cream, rub burnt cork on his face and show him how it’s done.

The rest of me, the responsible adult that now lives in my body, is immensely relieved that he won’t be out there and hopes fervently that he won’t be reading this column.

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