The Ghosts of Halloween

In a few days, we will make our ghosts and hang them, and no doubt I will remember a Halloween past

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Halloween’s almost here and I need some supplies. My knife is already sharpened. But I lack rags.

I love that in this age of upscale everything, my local hardware store still sells boxes of rags. I guess they’re meant to help you wipe up splatters from the $90/gallon Donald Kaufman paints that have edged out all the toilet plungers that used to fill their windows.

New York has gotten really fancy, but a couple of things remain — homemade ghosts and the potential for street violence.

Yesterday, my 15-year-old daughter asked if we were going to make the ghosts again this Halloween. Surprised and happy that she wanted to continue this tradition of ours that stretches all the way back to the 20th century, I said yes.

“And we’ll hang them off the stoop?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “I love those ghost rags. Do you remember you kids called them 'ghosties'?”

For the uninitiated, here’s how you build a NYC stoop ghost.


–Thin, white cotton rags


–Knife (I find big-ass knives are most appropriate to the holiday, as you will soon see)


–Wad a thin cotton rag into a ball and set aside.

–Place one hand out, palm facing the sky. Drape a rag over the palm.

–Set the wadded rag into the palm and squeeze the hand shut to form the head of the ghost. The trailing fabric will make the body of the ghost.

–Tie off the neck with twine, leaving sufficient extra to hang the ghost off your wrought iron railing. Hang all your ghosts.

–Keep the knife to the side, in case you need it.

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In a few days, we will make our ghosts and hang them. And no doubt I will remember a Halloween past, from not that long ago, but long enough that I can joke about it. My marriage was in the courtroom stage after three kids and 17 years. The kids and I had passed Halloween on the stoop, giving out candy and marveling at the costumes on the flamboyant residents of Chelsea, our Manhattan neighborhood. Great fun.

And now, the day after, my soon-to-be-ex and the guy she’d left me for had taken the kids upstate for a fall-leaf tour. I had never met this guy, and in my mind (fueled by my wife’s descriptions), he was wealthy, powerful, sensitive and cool. None of the attributes I attributed to myself at the time. As often happens to the cuckolded, I vacillated between self-immolating feelings and pure rage towards my almost-ex and her man.

Expecting their return in an hour or so, I decided to take the ghosts down from the stoop to kill my nervous energy. I stepped outside with a 12-inch classic cook’s knife to cut the ghosts from their twine. I had cut about 15 down, with three or four left to go, when I noticed a van pull up in front of the house. My kids were in the back. That meant my expected ex and her superior man were in the front. They were early. I felt shaky, suddenly. And my mind’s eye rose up a bit and took a good look at myself.

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It saw a crazed 45-year-old, standing barefoot on a cold stoop holding a really huge knife. Wait, make that a crazed, middle-age cuckold, standing barefoot, clutching a huge knife like he wanted to kill someone. Perhaps the dude sitting frightened in the van.

Self-awareness can be a beautiful thing. I said to myself: “You need to put the knife back in the kitchen.”

I didn’t think I’d kill anyone. But I wasn’t sure. And I knew for damn sure it looked bad. I opened the door and put the knife back in my apartment and returned to the stoop empty handed.

The kids tumbled out of the car, gave me a hug and scrambled inside. I did meet the guy. Turns out he wasn’t as special or superior as I had imagined. He was just a guy.

My impending ex and I divorced. Later, he and she split up. Life went on. And anyone who tells you they don’t believe in ghosts is, in my opinion, a little loopy. Because ghosts are solid. They endure. Just ask my kids, or stop by my stoop on the 31st. But remember, I have a blade.

Check out Stephen P. Williams' audiophotos and his blog, clouds and capital.

Tags: memoirs

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