The First Annual Halloween 'Story Time With Bomb' Spectacular
As far back as I can remember, I was never good at Halloween.
Being good at Halloween takes preparation, while I've often been prone to procrastination.
My “skill set”, using that term very loosely, is more rooted in an ability to think on the fly or just roll with the punches.
This ability can be both a gift and a curse.
Growing up it enabled me to pass some tests without preparing all that much, which unfortunately only emboldened me to study less.
So you can imagine how I might feel conflicted about a holiday with homework.
Halloween was never a major event in our family home.
Both my parents worked until after the sun went down, so trick-or-treating usually meant tagging along with friends around town.
This is likely why despite my mother’s expansive photo collection, she was unable to produce a single childhood Halloween picture of me upon request.
Some of the earliest Halloween memories my sister and I have, felt more like little earthquakes.
My sister gets fairly horrified to hear the story of an emotional morning meltdown she had in her first year of Pre-K. My grandfather was in charge of taking Erin to school that morning. At the last minute, unsatisfied with her homemade Queen of Hearts costume, she staged a passionate protest. This included prodigious amounts of tears and wailing while in the back of Granddad’s car. My grandfather was revered by his large family, for his patience and quiet determination. The four-year-old version of my sister, put both to the test that fateful morning. The rest is family history of legendary proportions.
Her older brother wasn’t a whole lot better with this October 31st stuff either. My BFF since age 6 known to many of his friends/family as Duke, recalls my first Halloween in public school at age 8. We had made a joint decision we were going as punk rockers. Somehow, I missed the memo that I needed to bring a costume to school with me, before heading to his house and putting on some final touches.
“Matt, Why Don’t You Have Your Own Costume?!?” was the fair and vexed inquiry from Uncle Dave. Duke's mother Linda, quickly instructed her brother to cease badgering the young witness. I managed to throw a costume together with help but the damage was done.
This may have been the first, yet not the last time time in which Duke would help provide us with clothes, food and/or shelter in a pinch.
I got a bit better at Halloween in the years to come, which basically meant adequate enough to avoid disaster.
Well, at least up until 17, following an ill-fated Mischief Night, which inspired a local patrolman to unforgettably warn me to “stay off the sauce, son, it’ll get you in trouble”.
Most of my best Halloweens took place in the same large five-bedroom row Baltimore row home. It was a place myself and a rotation of friends resided for impossibly cheap rent between the years of 1998 thru 2002. Those Halloween parties always contained the following: a live band, an ice luge, countless kegs, fog machines, exotic lights and hundreds of our closest friends, back when getting that kind of crowd to all show up somewhere besides weddings or funerals was possible.
Those parties in a sense spoiled me rotten like an extended candy hangover. Five of those tainted my entire next decade of Halloweens.
I knew it would never get that good again.
Yet Halloween 2003, the next year after the final bash, was memorable nonetheless.
As Bushwick Bill notably recounted, “this year, Halloween fell on a weekend”.
Which for me meant shopping for a costume on the Friday afternoon of Halloween.
That’s already a bad starting point.
Capa’s Costume Shop was packed and chaotic, while also running low on supplies.
I quickly found a costume that suited my three main requirements: cheap, comfortable and no mask required.
O’ Sailor, Why’d You Do It? Whatcha Do That For?
I’m not exactly sure why I chose the sailor outfit.
I guess it was utilitarian. Plus I didn’t have to wait for a changing room to see if it fit before heading to the line for the register.
Maybe I thought I could pull off something akin to Jack Nicholson’s shore patrol naval swag in The Last Detail.
But in this outfit, I likely came closer to capturing the mascot on a Cracker Jack box.
I may have even absorbed some shrapnel from Village People "In The Navy" barbs.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on thru most of the weekend festivities without incident.
The weekend began on South Street in Philly but drifted down I-95 to Baltimore on Saturday for the festivities, chasing that old Charm City magic of a bygone era.
Late in the evening during Halloween in Fells Point, I was involuntarily glitter-bombed, by a girl in a pixie outfit.
This happened just as I was crossing Broadway, with a case of bottled beer in my hand en route to a Halloween house party in Little Italy at my boy Todd's.
Lost in the hullabaloo of the shimmering shower was my remaining cohort not at or en route to the party already, so I now walked alone to the Halloween shindig's home.
No problem, this is Baltimore.
I knew the lay of the land around these parts.
I’d tended bar and worked for Guinness during my first two blissful post-grad years.
I’d also been to this house before.
Not wanting to take the side street short cuts back to Little Italy at this late and dark hour, I decided to do all my Westbound walking along the south side sidewalk on Broadway.
Past Broadway Market.
Past The Ritz Cabaret Gentlemen’s Club, which during my bartending days, briefly closed in order to become Orlando's, for an HBO show that became my all-time favorite: The Wire.
I kept pushing up past Pratt Street until realizing I was now up past Fayette Street. The store signs had begun to change quickly, then the language on the signs did too and before long any sign of an open storefront began to disappear altogether.
Clearly I’d overshot by a few blocks. This was not territory that I was used to traveling on foot as opposed to car and even with a case of bottles in tow, my city gait moves at a rapid pace. Rather than double-back, I decided to just make the next left and cut across. I hadn’t gotten much more than another block or so in that direction before realizing that was a mistake, especially after midnight.
Little Italy’s streets, likely due to the organization running the neighborhood, were more meticulously maintained than most places in the city. It was a small stretch of space though, with about a block separating it from some housing projects that were considerably less protected and well kept. I was now walking directly into that area.
I made note of a group of six to eight enterprising young businessmen, seemingly engaged in some of the area’s weekend wee hour entrepreneurial activities. The gathered throng was about a block ahead, on the corner, on my side of the street.
It’s probably not a stretch to say that a sparkling, besotted sailor, headed towards them solo, with a box in a brown bag in his hands, might have raised an eyebrow.
That occurred to me at approximately the same time.
But now that our eyes were fixed in each other’s direction, I figured confidence, or at very least the appearance of confidence, was the correct way to play it.
I continued walking forward like I meant to do so in the first place.
I reached the crowded corner, just after one of the men concluded a driver-side car window client meeting with a briefly braking vehicle.
After arriving in all my gleaming glory, I gave the collective the universal what’s up nod, and asked if anyone would trade me a couple Newports for a beer.
Someone took me up on the deal, so I set the case down on the concrete, popped open a bottle with my lighter, passed it over and took a couple smokes in return.
Lit one up and rather than exit, started up some casual conversation.
Before long, the feeling out process had given way to a makeshift summit.
More beverages, plus mentholated cigarettes, were exchanged.
Stories were told.
Jokes were made.
A new nickname arrived.
Eventually a freestyle cipher even broke out.
Luckily in the early aughts, I still had probably 5 to 6 of my best sixteens, mostly written clandestinely while seated in Western Maryland College English Major classes, committed to muscle memory.
Plus the fact that I had any rhymes at all, had already exceeded expectations.
Before long, I’d been hanging on that same block for over an hour.
Somewhere close to 2 AM, running low on raps and beers, it was time to bounce.
Giving pounds, bidding each participant good night on my slow stroll across the street, one of my newfound friends shouted out “No, Popeye, don’t go!”.
But by then, I was already throwing up the deuce and heading to the left.
I’ve never been good at Halloween.
But I do try my best to show love and respect to folks I meet, wherever I may be at.
So even though things seldom go as planned, most of the time I do get that back.
I am what I am, and that is all that I am.
Happy Halloween from The Wudder Man