Me as GhoulDateline: Boston, MA

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays — all fun, no guilt, and an opportunity to dress up and act completely silly. As a youth, I enjoyed trick-or-treating, but am now on the other side of that particular age barrier so my thrills have changed a smidgen. Now I give out candy, but try to make trick-or-treat a real experience for the kids that stop by. And fun for me too.

Historically, I’ve put up decorations, jack-o-lanterns, spiderwebs, and a ghoulish face on the door that’s theoretically glow-in-the dark, but only briefly. I line the steps with torches in a can that are kind of like giant candles with four-inch flames. And I dress up all in black with a long, black cape and put on a scary mask, so that when I fling open the door, kids can be appropriately terrified. Inside the house, I’ve typically played Bach’s “Tocata and Fugue” at full blast, and my vestibule is lit by candle light coming from a skull candle holder. The whole scene is satisfyingly creepy and the kids usually enjoy it.

But this year I decided to click it up a notch. Over the past winter while organizing my CDs, I discovered that I had a CD entitled “Haunted Horror Sounds.” This CD has about an hour’s worth of howling winds, screaming people, monstrous voices, wicked laughter, thunder, rain, rattling chains, ghoulish moaning, howling wolves, and creepy organ music mixed into one terrifying soundtrack. Since my historic practice of playing the stereo inside didn’t really make much sound outside, and by Halloween it’s too cold in Boston to leave the windows open, I figured I needed to get the sound onto the porch. What to do? My stereo speakers weigh about 80 pounds each, and given that it might rain, I wasn’t too eager to put them outside anyway. But I realized I had a subwoofer/satellite system connected to my computer that would serve nicely. So I put that out on the porch, attached it to the last working Discman in the western hemisphere, and the creepy sounds could now be heard from across the street, and the porch virtually shook when I cranked it up.

This Compact Disc Should Not Be Listened to Alone

This Compact Disc Should Not Be Listened to Alone

But I also wanted more sound, something surprising, unpredictable and scary. Then I hit on a plan. I’d hide my boombox in the shrubbery next to the front walk, and I’d connect it to a microphone inside the house. When trick-or-treaters walked by or up the steps, I’d snarl, growl, howl, or scream into the microphone. It was perfect. The boombox being black would become completely invisible in the dark, and then anyone could believe that there were monsters lurking in my bushes. Or at least a large and vicious dog.

As night fell, I lit the candles, illuminated the jack-o-lanterns, dressed in my costume, and started the music. I dropped the venetian blinds and turned a few blades so I could see the sidewalk and front walk. Then I waited. Soon enough, kids started to appear.

Casa de Fantasmas del Gringo Suelto

Casa de los Fantasmas del Gringo Suelto

My house is kind of high up off the street, so there are a goodly number of stairs. You first have to climb 2 steps, and then walk a short walk until you get to the main stairway. Once you’ve climbed the two steps, you’re about 3 feet onto the property, but still a good 8 feet from the house. And that was where you got snarled or growled at. The reaction was very funny. Some kids jumped and then fled when they heard the sound. Others jumped, and then ran up the steps. Others kind of hung out a bit to see what else might happen. When the kids got to the top of the steps and rang the bell, I’d dramatically fling open the door and say in a ghoulish voice with an eastern European accent, “You rang?” Most of the kids were delighted, with many saying it was the coolest house in the neighborhood. Others were flatly terrified. A lot of them just kind of stood there, in a sort of stunned silence. Most forgot to say “Trick or treat,” and had to be reminded. And if they were small and terrified, I’d take off my mask and tell them that it was all in good fun. But mostly it was very well received. At least after the intial shock wore off.

As for me? I’m totally hoarse from having spent Halloween eve growling, snarling, howling, and screaming into a microphone. But it was all worth it, though I think I’ve set a high bar. God only knows what I’ll do next year.