Saturday, October 27, 2012

Assignment: Halloween Costumes!

Decked out in my purple long-sleeved shirt featuring a small, tasteful, and sparkly spider design, I headed down to the mall to go Halloween costume shopping this past Monday. Even though it was nine whole days before the holiday, I felt like I was late in tackling this all-important project. The marketing juggernaut all-things-spooky has been chugging along for quite sometime now, and it has the effect of putting parents (at least this one) into a mild state of panic.

"Calm down," I told myself, "you are way ahead of schedule compared to previous years." And that was certainly true.

Since my older son's birthday is the day before Halloween, I have had to be super-organized this time of year to be ready for the back-to-back festivities, including the inevitable birthday party and Trick or Treating. Then there is the matter of getting pumpkins -- Christopher and Charlie each want their own, of course -- along with mums, gourds, Indian corn, or any other attractive fall offering from the local nursery. By the time we go door-to-door, I am so tired and frazzled-looking I don't need a costume.

Yep. I'm going as a zombie again!

Lest you've been living under a rock, finding just the right Halloween costume -- i.e. what the child wants, what is priced reasonably, what is age-appropriate, and what is comfortable to wear -- is like finding the Holy Grail. For kids, the Halloween costume is right up there in status with the big birthday present or Christmas present. So it is always with some measure of trepidation (mixed with excitement, yes, because it is an adventure of sorts) that I head out in search of Halloween costumes.

First stop: Spirit Halloween. Christopher wanted an orange prison jumpsuit. I found some. Yay! They were for teenagers. Boo. My son is big for his age but not THAT big. In any event, I took the costume out of the package and looked it over because that's allowed. It was too big for Shaquille O'Neal. Seriously. I know what I'm talking about: I've met Shaq. I went over to the lady at the cash register and inquired about smaller sizes. No luck. Not in this costume. She suggested some sort of tape to pull in excess fabric. But all I could think of was the double-sided tape J.Lo used to hold up that notorious green awards-show dress when she was with Ben Affeck. "Uh, no. That won't work," I said.

Charlie's first choice for a costume was a chicken. Spirit Halloween had no chicken costumes, but they did have bananas. Uh-uh, can't see it. My first-grader is way too cool to dress up as a piece of fruit. In fact, I was concerned that any poultry attire would be too toddler- or preschooler-oriented for Charlie.

Initial stop: a fail, to be expected. Next up was Target. No prison jumpsuits but about a dozen black-and-white-striped jailbird costumes in small and medium ONLY. Now I've been around the kids' Halloween costume scene long enough to know that these cheaply made polyester numbers (stretchy yet clingy) tend to run small. Two years ago Christopher's pirate-outfit top nearly split at the seams, and that was BEFORE my broad-chested son started playing defense on a championship football team. Needless to say, I was discouraged not to find a large jailbird getup at Target because I just knew my third-grader needed a large.

Argh. Make that double argh. No chicken costumes or fish, Charlie's second choice.

"Am I the only one starting to have a panic attack?" I asked a woman with frizzy blond hair.

She shook her head. "I'm trying to find a wig for my daughter, and these are $30!" She gestured toward a wall of hanging costumes and accessories.

"It's terrible," I concurred, spotting an almost-hidden yellow Angry Bird costume near the floor. It was a one-size-fits-all hooded poncho with arm holes. OMG, I thought to myself. A chicken's a bird. This is a bird. A bird with attitude and speed, just like Charlie. A hip (and commercial) update to a generic chicken outfit. Charlie loves to play Angry Birds. And this definitely won't be mistaken for a toddler or preschooler costume. It's PERFECT! I didn't know if Charlie would like the costume. He can be very stubborn. But a little birdie was telling me that he would!

I headed to the cash register, Angry Bird in hand. The only hurdle left: the cost. Yellow Angry Bird had no price tag on him.

The lady at the cash register looked over YAB. The price would determine whether I would buy him or not, I said. In other words, don't ring him up just yet. She made eye contact with another Target employee standing nearby then somewhat unsurely answered: "$19.99."

I wasn't convinced. "Is that the actual price? Or the default price?" DEFAULT PRICE. How did I come up with that? Is that a real retail term? Or did I just coin it? Awesome, Shelby. Love it when I'm sharp on my feet. I could see the definition printed in a store training manual: "If you don't know or can't find the exact price for a particular item, revert to the Default Price. Hint: it often has a .99 at the end of it." I chuckled to myself.

Well, turns out I WAS being given a Default Price of sorts . . . or a guesstimate. The male salesclerk inquired if I wanted to know the exact price. Uh, yeah, though it dawned on me that I was taking a gamble as I could lose out on what already seemed like a good deal if, in fact, YAB actually cost $50. "Give me a couple of minutes," he said, scurrying off to do some investigation.

SCORE! When he returned, he informed me that YAB was an online item that originally went for $44.99. I could have it for $11. I didn't understand that logic, but I was certainly not going to quibble! Eleven dollars was the price of a Halloween costume my mother might have bought me in the early '70s. Woo-hoo! I took it.

Still no prisoner costume. However, my anxiety had lessened and my optimism had increased. Time to check out iParty where, unfortunately, I heard the costumes were high-priced. Finding that amazing deal at Target, though, meant I would be amenable to spending more at iParty, but I refused to shell out in excess of $25 for a costume regardless. And I couldn't forget about accessories. Christopher had made it very clear he needed handcuffs and one other emblem of the incarcerated life. Spirit Halloween carried such items, yet I couldn't pick them up without first knowing if Chris was going to be a prisoner or hippie, his second choice. If, after all this, I had to start again and look for a '60s Dennis Hopper "Easy Rider" getup, I would be very annoyed, indeed.

I arrived at iParty and fully expected to run into someone from my past. That's because two years ago I bumped into a woman from my college and a former job in the checkout line. And this visit did not disappoint. There was a woman in the accessories aisle from both my boarding school and college. Going to iParty is really like going to a party for me!

To the task at hand: prison jumpsuits. Men's sizes only, I was told. Jeez. What about jailbird black and white? A few minutes of pawing through the hanging selections revealed -- yes! -- the large size Target no longer had in stock. This was it! It cost $14.99. Pretty reasonable, I'd say. Toy metal handcuffs and a plastic ball and chain set me back an additional $8.98. But I was happy . . . and DONE.

I would deal with the issue of makeup later. Besides, I had some left over from last year in the bathroom cabinet back home. Then, on my way to the cash register, I spotted YAB -- the very same costume I had just purchased at Target -- for $11 ($11.96 with tax, to be exact). It was selling for a whopping $49.99. Suckers! I also passed a generic turkey. More expensive and less The Bomb than my awesome YAB, natch, so I walked by with a satisfied spring in my step.

Charlie didn't want to be a turkey anyway.

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