School Days: “Exit, Stage Front” or “I’m Ghost. I’m Outta Here. Long Gone…”

I think everyone can remember several exciting or disastrous events from their elementary school years.  For me, sadly more of the latter.  So I guess that Halloween is the perfect time for me to begin my new “School Days” series with a 2nd grade story I’ll call, “Exit, Stage Front!” or “I’m Ghost. I’m Outta Here. Long Gone…”

Growing up in The Harbor (a neighborhood in East Chicago comprised of mid- to lower-income families) many of our activities resembled that of the old “Our Gang” (The Little Rascals) shorts – good ol’ fashioned fun. If there was something your parents refused or couldn’t afford to buy, you stole it or made it for yourself.

Halloween, 1972

I woke up, asking my mother if she remembered to pick me up a Halloween costume for Costume Day at Franklin Elementary School. I had asked her on several occasions and one last time the day before. She told me she would pick one up from the Walgreen’s store that afternoon. With all of the activity that evening, somehow I either forgot or neglected to follow up. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what the end-result was.

No costume.

In a panic, I asked my sister Denise if she had any make-up I could use with one of momma’s old wigs, to which she quickly answered that she didn’t (Translation: “Yes, I have some, but I’m not letting you waste it on something stupid!”).

“Mom!” I screamed. “I need a costume!”

“MOM!” Denise covered over my cry. “Let him be a ghost!”

My mother warned, “Don’t go cuttin’ holes in any of these bedsheets!”

“We’ve got some old ones downstairs he can use!” Denise offered. Being the other half of the house laundry team, if anyone knew, SHE did.

Denise ran downstairs and returned with one of the oldest, most wrinkled, stale-smelling piece of white fabric she could find.

I know she did that on purpose.

“Where did you find this?” I asked. “It’s wrinkled! It smells like the basement!”

“Shut up, boy!” she snapped back. “Hold still.”

She threw the sheet over my head then poked me in my eyes through the fabric, supposedly to mark the spot for the eyeholes.

I swear, if she intended to cut through the sheets with my eyes right behind them…

She took the sheet off, then grabbed a pair of the scissors from the drawer and quickly cut two holes in it.

Two hours later.

I sat in Mrs. Jones class with a disgusted look on my face, staring at my classmates who all wore their store-bought costumes or had them created carefully and, dare I say it, with love. There was Frankentein’s Monster, complete with neckbolts. A witch in black garb, ratted hair and warts. A wolfman with a full-head mask. An escaped con with vertical black and white stripes and a ball and chain shackled to one ankle. There was a fairy godmother. Dracula with his pasty-white complexion, fangs and blood in the corner of his mouth. There were many other wonderful costumes including pirates, sailors, policemen, ballerinas, clowns, hoboes.

And there was me. Sitting in plain clothes.

I sat waiting for the big celebration in the auditorium, where each class would parade on stage, displaying their outfits.

WHY was I in plain clothes? Because Mrs. Jones asked me to keep in the locker so it could “air out” (Translation: It smelled like Grandma and hot butt.)

It wasn’t until it was in the bright light of the hallway that I could add “pissy” to my list of adjectives for my costume, thanks to the faint yellow stain, custom-applied by my youngest brother who thought peeing in the bed was fun. Where exactly DID Denise find this sheet and why the hell was it in the house???

I angrily put the sheet over my head and walked, holding my classmate Greg’s hand as we walked into the backstage entrance to the auditorium for our class to present itself.

Oh did I forget to mention that Denise didn’t cut those holes with the “love” in mind that I used to reference my friends’ costumes? Did I fail to mention that I couldn’t see a thing because the eyes were too far apart and too small?

As the class walked in one continuous circle around the stage, all I could do was thank God for the dim lighting and stage smoke that hid the faded urine stain in the front of my pissy, musty, wrinkled, dingy, “yes-I’m-ghetto” costume for all to see. Thankfully, I couldn’t see a thing each time my portion of the circle arced along the stage front. I guess I could determine my position on stage by the laughter that rose and faded every now and then. I couldn’t see who was laughing though. I couldn’t see a thing.

I had had enough. Between suffering through the “un-aired” stench of the sheet and not being able to see, I let go of Greg’s hand and attempted to fix the eye position myself with both hands. If nothing else, tear a larger hole.

All I knew was that I would NEVER ask my mother to buy me anything else. Next Halloween I was going to make my own, 6 months in advance.

So why did I get a whoopin’ that night? Let’s just say it’s not a wise decision to come home and throw a torn and bloodied bedsheet on the kitchen table, calling it a “booty blanket”. And if you DO say it, it might be better to lead with the fact the large rip in the bedsheet came from when you stepped on the sheet and fell off the front of the stage in front of a couple hundred children.

Yeah, lead with that next time.
Exit. Stage FRONT!

This has been, the first of many, School Tales

….and oh yes…

Happy Halloween.

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