Sunday, November 1, 2009

Harlem Halloween

Halloween in Harlem was humid and warm, with gray skies and a wind that whirled dry leaves around and tugged at the witches hats and candy bags of trick-or-treating children. The children here start trick-or-treating in the early afternoon, going from shop to shop instead of from house to house as in other neighborhoods. All the stores along Broadway, Amsterdam, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X Boulevards were accepting trick-or-treaters, who were out in droves at 1:30 when I was walking to the church with trays of cookies for the ward party. The costumes on the kids were so cute, but I did see a few mothers who should not have dressed, down? The problem with Halloween is that so many grown people use it as an excuse to wear less clothing, not more.

I had made sugar cookies in the shapes of cats, skulls, pumpkins, and gravestones for the ward party, as well as devil's food cupcakes with candy corns stuck into the frosting. At the church, there were vast quantities of other spooky treats: apple slices that looked like toothy mouths, red punch with huge hand-shaped ice floating in it, rice krispie ghosts, and more. Kim and Ryan, the newly-wed ward activities leaders, were dressed as Frankenstein and his Bride, and they had prepared a day of spooky fun and activities for the kids. I stayed and helped kids stick construction paper facial features on orange balloons to make them look like jack-o-lanterns, and I held the pole with donuts dangling from strings that the kids had to try and bite without using their hands. That was hilarious. After preparing the donuts for each round, all I had to do was hold up the stick and children would come running from all over the room to try and grab a donut. One little boy dressed as Batman with a mohawk ate three of the donuts. The kids were so funny, and the grown-ups were really into the party as well. The bishop walked around scaring people in a huge pumpkin-headed costume.

Later, I walked around Harlem doing my errands--returning a library book, grocery shopping, mailing letters--and watched again as vast numbers of children ran around the Harlem streets dressed as princesses, goblins, soldiers, fairies, bees, cats, and witches, clutching bags of candy, fighting with plastic swords, and having a generally merry time. Rubber Halloween masks hung out for sale like shrunken heads along the eaves of bodegas, and older teenagers were considering the merits of each. Candy wrappers mixed with the colorful autumn leaves that littered the streets. Fairway was sold out of pumpkins. The wind picked up and it started to rain a little bit.

It was raining harder later when the sun went down and children headed indoors. I set out for a friend's house for an evening of over-indulgent candy eating and spooky movie watching, and along the way encountered many costumed people heading to parties or to the parade downtown. Late at night, when I walked home, the streets were deserted, except for one guy dressed as the Pope, and a few ladies dressed in not much at all, hailing a cab. The rain had come and gone, leaving a few broken umbrellas here and there, and random relics from costumes: a fake stethoscope, a striped glove, sparkly feathers.

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