Monday, November 24, 2003

Once again it's been almost a month since my last entry, so after I get the usual apology (in which I blame my absence on my ever-hectic Bruce Wayne life) out of the way, it's back to bat-business.

I've been meaning to fill you in on what happened on Halloween night. As you may recall from my last entry, I took my bat-self public to an unprecedented degree this year, not only dressing up to answer the door for trick-or-treaters but constructing an entire front-porch "spookhouse" -- really more of a funhouse, since the emphasis wasn't so much on scaring people as on creating an entertaining environment with a few scary touches. I spent most of the night of the 30th and half of Halloween day building the thing, and what was nicest about that was the opportunity to work outside the house in the bodysuit-and-utility-belt ensemble I usually only wear indoors. Naturally I was careful to avoid the mask and cape during daylight hours -- not out of fear of looking foolish, but because I didn't want any neighborhood kids to see me yet.

The downside of my master plan was that I found myself still out running errands in the afternoon and into the early evening -- the very time when the youngest children would be most likely to arrive on the scene. (In my haste at that late hour, I couldn't find any bags of candy in the nearest store, which led to a major innovation: I bought a whole bunch of cheap art supplies -- crayons, watercolors, balloons, etc -- and gave those out, along with various bat-themed toys -- instead. To my surprise, it went over incredibly well. So allow me to pass along this tip to any of you who are as annoyed as I am by the whole junk-food aspect of trick-or-treating: you can think outside the candy box and not have to worry that your lawn will be covered with toilet paper the next morning. On the other hand, I only gave out one streamer and one box of chalk to one thrilled adolescent before I realized maybe those two items weren't such a good idea for the older testosterone-fueled set.)

When I finally drove up to the house after my shopping expedition, I saw at least 4 groups of kids I wasn't ready for walking up to the door, and I told their parents to stop back by in 15 minutes or so for something worth the wait. Then I ran indoors and scrambled to suit up and put the finishing touches on the installation. (I later heard from a neighbor that the darkened, abandoned porch only heightened the mystique for the visitors who arrived before I did.)

There was a steady stream of trick-or-treaters for the next two and a half hours, and the setup was a smashing success if I do say so myself. Both the kids and their adult chaperones were impressed, and the bully factor was lower than ever. A few of the older boys and girls seemed disappointed that the spookhouse wasn't scary enough, but again that wasn't really my intention. I was mainly trying to recreate the look and feel of the Villain Hideout sets from the TV show, complete with a few captured-bad-guy dummies and references to the standard Rogue's Gallery, and to augment that with a CD of Neil Hefti's soundtrack music. I put bubble wrap on the ground thinking that would spook a few people, but it turned out I was the only person unsettled by it while I was busy moving around. The kids, on the other hand, loved it, and there were at least 4 spontaneous dance parties when groups of them hopped up and down in time to the "da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-BATman" theme song.

That was great (one man's fear is another man's fun), but the high point of the night came for me when a little girl--I'll guess she was 8 or so--ventured up the steps and timidly peered into the plastic-curtained room. I could tell from the way she talked and moved that she was one of those bright nerdy kids not too unlike the kind I had been at her age, and she was clearly terrified of the horrors awaiting her in the primary-color-ed set. "That guy's going to jump up and grab me," she told her dad as she pointed at a black-clad dummy slumped in a chair. "No he's not," said her dad, and I added (in my best reassuring Caped Crusader voice), "I assure you this villain has been subdued; he's harmless." Her father and I promised to protect her in case anything bad happened, but she was already lost in her own fantasy, and begged her dad to hold her hand while she moved in closer to investigate. I could see was taking a huge step in confronting her own fears by facing this one down, and that process was one of the most amazing things I've ever witnessed. After she held her breath and touched the would-be villain enough to realize he wasn't real, she got more and more assertive. "Go poke him," she ordered her dad. "Beat him up! Do it!" Suddenly she was transformed from coward to aggressor, albeit still hiding behind somebody else. Her dad refused to do her dirty work for her, so she was obliged once again to march up to the now presumably inanimate object. This time she was as fierce as Batgirl. I gave her an extra-special goody bag as she and her guardian headed off into the night to face and defeat still more imaginary foes.

After all the kids left, I hung out by myself in the lair and shot a little video footage there. Later still, in the wee hours of the night when all my neighbors were asleep, I moved into the backyard to tape more scenes of outdoor bat-fun. (As I've noted before, Halloween is the one night of the year when such behavior is easily explainable, so I was determined to seize the opportunity.) Rolling around in the grass, leaping and tumbling on the lawn, I was 6 years old all over again -- only now I'm old enough to actually be the grownup character I used to pretend I was, my adult body even older than Adam West's was, my real life more complicated than the ones I used to read about in comics and watch on TV. I'm sure I would have looked crazy to anybody who might have seen me, but in that joyous moment I honestly didn't care.

A good two or three weeks later, there was a knock at the door. My partner answered it. I didn't hear the conversation, but he later told me it was two girls selling Girl Scout cookies. "One of them said we had the scariest house in the neighborhood for Halloween, and she told me all about it." From his paraphrase of her story, I was positive it was the same kid who'd poked the dummy. I'd already felt great about inadvertently helping somebody else confront a fear, but hearing that the experience had stuck with her all this time was even better.

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