That western ghost festival

Imagethief would like to wish all readers a happy Halloween.

I’m a big fan of Halloween, and not just because I have wretched sweet tooth and rosy memories of childhood evenings spent sifting through pillowcases full of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Pixie Sticks, Sugar Daddies, Candy Corns and those goddamn inedible wax lips that I always got at least one set of. Those were the days. The unintelligible sugar-high days, that is.

For some bullshit reason, when a ten-year-old in a ridiculous costume knocks on your door begging for candy it’s considered “cute” but when a 39 year-old man does it people get all freaky and weird. As far as I’m concerned this is just one more sign of our society’s ruinous youth fetish, and is blatantly unfair. The only solution seems to be to have a child (which we’re trying to do), wait a tasteful few years (I think people might get suspicious if you show up with a basinet and claim the candy is for an infant that is still breast feeding) take the little rugrat out trick-or-treating and then ration the candy out over days “to make it last” while secretly skimming from the top. I’m pretty sure this is what my father did, and it would go a long way toward explaining some of my issues.

I also enjoy dressing in costumes. Especially ones that I can be seen in public in. I was a Jawa back in the Star Wars says. And Han Solo one year. And Luke Skywalker of course. And when I was in grad-school in the early nineties and had really long hair I event went in drag as Princess Leia. I actually made the cinnamon buns with my own hair, although they were a bit on the small side. More cupcake sized than the enormous dish antennae that Carrie Fisher wore. Thinking back on it, Star Wars seems to have been involved with most of my Halloween costumes over the years, which, I suppose, reveals my inner nerdly qualities. But at my age I’ve come to terms with that.

I also like fire, which is a big part of Halloween. After all, you’re either lighting candles in pumpkins or –once you enter high school– blowing them up. Both can be festive and cheery. Although, by the shaving-cream and toilet-paper drenched standards of my high school, I was pretty tame on the prank front. I was really in the whole thing to dress up like somebody from Star Wars and get a bunch of free candy.

Adults, of course, love Halloween as much as kids. But they all use at as excuses to go to fetish parties. Having grown up in San Francisco’s Castro district (which may explain the whole Princess Leia thing) I’m not much into fetish parties. Not because I have anything against fetishes, mind you. I like black vinyl, thigh high bitch boots and fishnet stockings as much as the next guy. It’s cool when girls wear them too. Rather, it’s that I feel I’ve seen most of it before.

This year I didn’t go to any parties and I didn’t collect any candy, although I am sure you can trick or treat in the villas. Even in Beijing it’s probably courting trouble to be a trick-or-treating 39 year-old in drag. And god knows what the police report would say. If I were the cops I’d just have me write a self criticism and call it a day rather than try to send that one up through the chain of command. “We have arrested a middle-aged foreigner dressed like a teenage fantasy space princess and begging for sweets in expensive neighborhoods. Hello? Hello, sir?”

I did carve a pumpkin this year, the first I have done in a long time. On our way back from Sunday brunch at The Orchard my friends and I stopped at a large wet market. Unfortunately, the Chinese don’t cultivate an ideal assortment of carving pumpkins, being more prone to see large gourds as food. I can understand this. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup and pumpkin brushed with olive oil and then roasted are all really good. Still, sometimes you need a carving pumpkin. And it should be big, bright orange and able to stand upright on its own. Not small and green or weirdly misshapen in a way that would require you to brace it somehow and thus constitute a fire hazard were the cat to brush against it and tip it over.

Fortunately we did manage to locate a couple of satisfactory specimens and haggled our way to an only slightly outrageous price. Our driver said it was still better than what we would have paid in the city, so we felt pretty good. My wife speaks better Chinese than me and she’s much more attuned to what’s being said in crowds around us. As we were trudging out of the wet market with large pumpkins under our arms, she overheard one woman say to another, “Oh yes, that western ghost festival is coming soon!”

That western ghost festival. I quite like the sound of that. In fact it was nice reminder that there is something to Halloween besides all the dressing like Luke Skywalker, amassing sugary swag and going to fetish parties. So in observance of that western ghost festival I have carved my Jack-o’-lantern and placed it in the window of my apartment where everyone across the street can see it. Tonight I’ll light it one more time and enjoy the nostalgia that the smell of slightly singed pumpkin always brings. And, if no one is looking, I might just take out that old Princess Leia costume as well. After all, I might be too old to beg for candy. But you’re never too old for drag.


Say, who’s the cute one on the right? The staff of KSFS Radio, ca. 1993. Can you guess Leia is me?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.