By Tim Curfman
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart. I was born on October 25, which means that every birthday party I ever had growing up was a Halloween party. And then, of course, I’m a gay man, which means I start planning next year’s costume on November 1.
Halloween is a chance to celebrate the stylish, the garish, and the outlandish. It’s a time when the veil between the normal and the otherworldly grows thin, as my Tall Tales of Texas Terror will reveal . . .
Babysitter with a Hook
When I was in grade school in Abilene, times were tough and my mom needed to find some low-budget babysitters to take care of us while she worked the assembly line at the local Timex watch factory. She found her solution in a couple that went to our church, Geri and Hooky.
As you might have guessed from his name, Hooky had a hook for a hand.
Geri and Hooky’s babysitting business was based in their home, which looked exactly like the Psycho house complete with distressed clapboard and peeling paint. They didn’t have any problems with discipline. Whenever there was any trouble, Hooky rounded the corner with his hook, and all of us kids quieted right down.
If you weren’t terrified enough by the guy with the hook, they would take you up to their creepy attic and show you their real coffin. (Oh yeah, they also had a rigged-up ghost on a pulley system that could fly from the attic window to a tree at the edge of their front yard.)
There’s only one day out of the year when it’s really good to have a hook for a hand, and that’s Halloween! Every Halloween, they took the coffin from the attic and put it on the front porch. Little children climbed up the porch stairs where Geri met them. Geri opened up the lid to reveal a coffin full of candy. As the children reached down for a handful, Hooky burst out from under the candy, covered in blood and waving his hook.
As the children ran screaming away from the porch, they were chased by the ghost from the attic. They ran across the street, where psychologists and social workers were standing by to help them deal with the trauma.
Did I mention that these were my babysitters?
Sunshine, the Possessed Cat
It was 1987 and I was attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Out of the blue, Mom called me up and asked me if I could take care of Sunshine, the big black-and-white cat that we had grown up with. Mom had recently migrated to Dallas, and she and Sunshine were currently living with my aunt. After a few weeks of this arrangement, my aunt announced that either Sunshine would be moving out, or both Mom and Sunshine would be moving out.
I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of having a cat in my tiny apartment, but how could I say no to Mom? She soon made the six-hour car trip to drop off Sunshine at my place.
Shortly after Mom had departed, Sunshine began racing up and down a stretch of my long, narrow apartment, over and over again. Whenever friends came over, Sunshine zipped between their feet, causing them to lose their balance and almost crash through my glass coffee table. It wasn’t long before no one would come to visit me.
After a week of this, I called Mom up and said, “What’s up with Sunshine? He’s not the same cuddly animal that I knew from my childhood.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then Mom said, “There was this incident . . .”
My aunt was in to crystals and gurus and just about anything else attached to the New Age movement. On Halloween night, she decided to hold a séance at her house in order to contact her dead husband. Two things happened during the séance:
1. All the lights in the house went out.
2. The cat lost its mind.
I’m holding the phone while taking all of this in. After a moment of silence, I said, “You gave me a possessed cat?”
Mom replied, “We don’t actually know that it’s possessed.”
Shortly after this conversation, I woke up in the middle of the night. The door to my apartment was standing wide open, and the cat was gone. After spending a minimal amount of effort looking for the thing, I resigned myself to the fact that Sunshine was hopelessly lost. I closed the door and went back to bed, relieved to be rid of the creature. I never saw Sunshine again, but I can only assume that it has joined the Legion of the Damned as they make their ghoulish way through the night.
In 1998, my husband Jim and I prepared to host a drag-themed Halloween party where I decided to do full drag. (I did this strictly for laughs, because with my tall, stocky frame and hairy chest, Godzilla looks more like a woman than I do.)
As I set off to collect the accoutrements necessary for this costume, I stop at Timeless Taffeta, a resale store on the Westheimer curve. I walk into the store and a young female sales clerk with multiple tattoos and piercings asks me if I need help. Suddenly this all seems like a terrible idea. I find myself stammering, “Uh, so, I understand that you have some kind of spandex little black dress that fits any size . . .”
Without hesitating, she says, “So you want to do drag, right?”
Ignoring a sudden impulse to run screaming, I force myself to say, “Yes?”
She grabs me by the hand and says, “Let’s go over to the Diva Section.”
As I’m being led over to the Diva Section, something so impossible happens that my eyes bug out of my head. I run into a coworker of mine named Margaret.
It’s one thing to be out at work, and it’s another to get busted by a coworker on your first junket to buy a dress. My face turns 16 shades of horror-red. I stammer, “Oh, hi Margaret, what are you doing here?”
She says, “I’m here looking for a Halloween costume for my daughter. What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for a Halloween costume, too!”
The sales clerk grabs me and says, “Let’s go look at shoes . . .”
As she drags me over to find high-heeled shoes for a man who wears a size 12, I see Margaret watching all of this out of the corner of her eye. I promptly lose my nerve and flee the store, all dreams of doing drag permanently dashed.
At our party, my friends take a five-dollar Walgreens makeup kit and transform me into one scary-looking woman, complete with five o’clock shadow and smeared mascara. I look in the mirror and say, “Godzilla, is that you?”
Oh, Grow Up!
A few years ago my husband, Jim, and I got invited to a Halloween costume party at my cousin Andy’s house. Andy bears a striking resemblance to Jeff Bridges, and had been cultivating a scraggly beard that has transformed him into The Dude from The Big Lebowski. His wife, Ann, told us she would be dressing up as one of the operatic Viking warrior princesses featured from an acid-flashback scene in that movie. So, of course, Jim and I realize that we’ll need to kick it up a notch.
We start with this black material that has unevenly faded from the sun, creating creepy straight-from-the-crypt patterns that make them the perfect robes for ghoul costumes. We further distress them, put on ghoulish makeup, and show up on the doorstep of Andy and Ann’s suburban Austin house, looking like the undead from the ninth level of hell. Andy and Ann are delighted. We are the first to arrive, and they give us a tour of a completely gruesome buffet of eyeball-infused Jell-O, candy worms, and other grizzly goodies.
The doorbell rings, and Jim and I offer to greet the first wave of guests. We groan and claw at the door, and then we throw it open while letting out our most ghoulish, leering howls.
The sweet family standing on the porch includes a five-year-old girl in an adorable fairy-princess costume. She screams and jumps back into the arms of her horrified parents. They try to come in and calm her down, but she is inconsolable and traumatized for life. They promptly leave, but not without first letting Andy and Ann know that they are not happy about how this evening has gone down.
We let Ann greet her guests after that. Looking back on the incident, it occurs to me that the little girl would not have lasted five minutes with Geri and Hooky.
Tim Curfman owns and runs Scenic Hill Vacation Cabins in Brenham, Texas (scenichillvacations.com) with his husband, Jim Rolewicz. Read all of his OutSmart articles at outsmartmagazine.com/author/tim-curfman.