Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween at the Goodwill


"Omigod, do these shoes make me look like a slut or what? I love them!" Teenage girls squeal and giggle in the dressing room, and I wonder how many of them are crammed in there together. "Dude!" Shrieks one. "That is so retro!" Then "Oooh, what are you going as, a peacock?"
I am trying to stuff my graying hair into a wild red mop of a wig. 'It would look real good on you', a sweet little old lady had said when I picked it up from a hairy pile of wigs. I can't help but wonder how many cancer patients wore these. But I take it anyway, wedging it under my arm like some alien creature between a pair of boring beige slacks and a t-shirt I have folded over my arm.

There is nothing quite like Halloween at the Goodwill store. Rack after rack of second hand costumes. Zebra stripes and red ruffles, glittery gowns and felt hats, a basket of plastic swords, tiaras and ragged straw hats. Rubber masks still smelling of the stale sweat from last Halloween. Two skinny teenage boys round the corner wearing pimp hats, one purple, one leopard skin. "Dude, says one, you look like a real bad ass!" "Cool!" says the other. "Where are the capes?" Everyone seems to love to mix and match when shopping at the Goodwill. "Look, sweetie," says one woman to her toddler. "Here's a costume that’s a pirate and a skeleton!" A young girl holds up an unremarkable dress. "Look at this!" She says. "I could be a stepford wife!" A small boy of about ten approaches one of the sales clerks. "Excuse me?" he asks. "Do you have any ready made zombie costumes, or do I have to shred my own?"

"Samantha!" A woman is yelling at a young girl standing in the aisle in her underwear, hugging a pink ruffled dress to her bony chest.  "For gods sake Samantha, you can't be a feminine little princess every year!" The girl is fingering the pink fabric longingly as  she is eyes the tiaras. "Look here, Sammy," the mother says, her arms laden with black polyester. "Check out this cool witch costume. Don't you want to be scary on Halloween?" The woman's white belly protrudes from between a pair of baggy sweat pants and a tee shirt, a tattoo of barbed wire wraps around her flabby upper arm. The girl takes a step back from the black cape and pointy hat being held out towards her. "Here, lets see if this fits you," says the mother. She lets the dress fall to the floor in a pink pile and stands there, her face blank and expressionless, until she is draped in the oversized cape and hat. "Alright!" says her mom, "now that's a Halloween costume!"  
I am thinking of the irony of my own childhood, my mother forcing me into the itchy discomfort of frills and ruffles, the misery of dresses and anything feminine and girly. I wanted to be a pirate or goblin or a superhero, never a princess. Do mothers ever get the children they hope for?

An older man is searching through the rack of gowns, one by one, a studious look on his face. He holds pale silky fabric between his fingers, drapes it over his arms. I wonder if he is looking for a costume or if this is a 'thing' he has. Being the open-minded person I am I casually ignore him, until he starts sniffing them. Then I slip away, hiding among the capes and overcoats.

The door of the dressing room bursts open and a pile of girls come giggling and spilling out of it laden with fabric and hats, boots and scarves.  They weave toward the cash register, where the clerk is handing a bag to Samantha’s' mom. I see a black peak sticking out of the top and my heart sinks. Then she hands her another filled with pink frills. It seems they have reached a compromise, perhaps. She takes the girls hand, whose fawn eyes cast down to her shuffling feet, imagining glittery pink ballet shoes.

I am looking at myself in the mirror, my face surrounded by a mess of red curls. The wig does not have the effect I was hoping for, which was to make me look young and sexy. Instead it is rather frightening. Not frightening in a witchy zombie way, but because it brings back memories of when I was a teenager, watching my mother's friends, who when they began to reach middle age began to do all kinds of strange and  desperate things  to their hair in vain attempts to hang on to their fading youth. I pull off the wig and toss it back onto the pile. Boy, that was a scary moment.
Ah well, it is Halloween after all...