I was a 14-year-old girl alone in my bedroom on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s fun to imagine that I was sitting on the windowsill smoking a cigarette in cotton underpants, or at least lying on my canopy bed flipping through a magazine with hot rollers in my hair, but actually, I was crouched on my floor meticulously trimming the skullcap I had just bought at the Joke Shoppe. It was a one-size-fits-all deal, a rubbery bald head similar in color to what Crayola used to call “flesh.” A bald head for pinkish-orange people.
I loved spending my allowance at that store, the only decent place in the strip mall once the arcade closed. Some people might have voted for Jim, the dude from Fro-Yo who gave all the girls free rainbow sprinkles, but I was pretty sure that the guy who owned the Joke Shoppe was the coolest guy in San Jose. You should have seen some of the things he had in there. Chewing gum that tasted totally gross, like farty onion breath, and brown paper bags that were filled with—get this—fake dog poop that looked completely real! I didn’t know exactly what was behind the brown curtain in the 18+ section, but from what I could tell, there must be something super hilarious about big boobs.
I had been planning on being Gandhi for Halloween ever since the previous year when Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for playing him in the movie that I never saw, because I had told my parents I was going to see it but instead sneaked over to hang out with my friends and get free sprinkles on my Fro-Yo. Then I had to pretend that I’d seen it (describing it as “intense” seemed to do the trick) until I could figure out a way to sneak off to see it, perhaps by telling them I was seeing a different movie, though the vicious cycle that I was about to create struck me as too daunting, so I ended it there, attempting to look really moved when Kingsley accepted his award.
I had trimmed the cap and was in the middle of doing a test run with a white bed sheet when my mom knocked on my door.
“You can’t come in! I’m going to come out for dinner in my costume!” I yelled, imagining how it would blow the minds of my entire family to see me dressed up as a tiny Indian man.
I wondered what Amy and Nicole were going to dress up as. Every year we surprised each other with our costumes and then went out trick-or-treating on our block, even though a lot of the neighbors were starting to get mad at us for being too old. “Don’t you have a party to go to?” they’d say. “Why are you taking candy away from cute little kids dressed up as clowns and pumpkins?” And usually: “I don’t even understand what you are supposed to be anyway.”
Well, this year, they would know who I was: An unmistakable icon, the winner of an Oscar, and an important historical figure who supported world peace by not eating or whatever. (Obviously, this year’s costume was entirely being driven by my desire to buy the skullcap.)
When it was time for dinner, I secured the glasses to my face and made sure everyone was seated at the kitchen table in the dark. I made my entrance, flicking the switch, only to be greeted by some lackluster groans.
“Tacky, Beth!” my brother Paul called out, revealing two of his major influences, Paul Lynde and Mr. Blackwell from the Worst-Dressed List.
“Oh, Beth. Oh, dear,” my mom said with her hand over her mouth.
“You are such an idiot,” my other brother Chris laughed. “She probably doesn’t even know that Indira Gandhi was assassinated today!”
Whoops. OK, that was true. I didn’t. I didn’t even know who she was. (A relative of some sort?)
I sat down, extremely deflated, and ate a big dinner as Gandhi, for which I was also relentlessly heckled. When I went out to trick-or-treat, Amy and Nicole couldn’t believe how quickly I’d put together the outfit, immediately assuming I was one of those geniuses you see who goes with the Timely Costume; the Marv Alberts, Fawn Halls, or last year’s favorite, Steve Bartman, the Chicago Cubs fan who everybody got mad at for catching that foul ball. The neighbors, as usual, were unkind, but Gandhi chose not to care. He turned the other cheek while filling his bed sheet with their candy.