I drive into the company parking lot, on the morning of Halloween, October 31, 2014, at 7:00 A.M. There are three cars here. A few days ago, it was almost full. The season, as we call it, is over. Orders have been placed and sent. What was once a beehive of temporary employees, buzzing through corridors of racks to the drone and drumbeats of well-placed speakers, is now a solemn temple of industry, taking a break from commerce. Far away, in the depths of the shipping department, something drops and bangs. The lights are on and the doors are unlocked. Faint whispers fill the stillness. The massive building breathes a great sigh of relief, and exhales memories of laughter and sweating bodies.
Halloween, known as Samhain (pronounced “sahwen”) to the Irish Celts, is the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to travel easily between the Otherworld and ours. Ancient Celts would leave offerings to these unearthly visitors by the front door, giving us the tradition of “trick or treat.” Druids would tend great fires throughout the land, to mark the beginning of the dark half of the year. In modern times, we dress as ghosts, monsters and Hollywood celebrities in mimicry of visitors from the other side. Industries revolve around The Season. Costumes lie sleeping in their bins, dreaming of souls to fill them. Today, they’re having a party.
Within the maze of tall, costume-filled racks, I notice some movement from the corner of my eye. I turn my head to see who's there, only to find a brief, faint wisp of cloth and color. Is that Barney Rubble dressed as a vampire? The ghost of Mickey Mouse? The Mad Hatter in drag? If only I had a camera! No one's around but me to take it all in. Superman flies by, suited up as a cowboy. A clown nurse attacks the cast of Grease dressed as Santa's elves with a chain saw. Austin Powers and Marty McFly dance with a sexy swat team. Scooby-Doo aids Little Red Riding Hood in her escape from a big, bad wolf who wears a US Navy uniform. And out of the tumult, Luke Skywalker, wearing an orange tuxedo, threatens a herd of little zombie ponies, who froth rabidly and eye the cast of Austin Powers in their hunger for brains.
It's total mayhem, invisible to the rest of the waking world. I watch a giant squirrel do disgusting things to Eggs and Bacon. Ninja turtles, led by Capt. Jack Sparrow, score a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings, who are, of course, dressed as real vikings. Dorothy unleashes killer Toto on the Joker and his gang of scary clowns. Iron Man is wearing Kiss boots. Batman takes on Darth Vader in a fight to the death. Police officer Super Mario puts the Mummy in handcuffs. And in the middle of the melee, Elvis the priest, GI Joe, Snow White, several doctors and the Flintstones join hands in a circle dance. It looks like everyone showed up. Everyone, that is, except Waldo. Where is he?
At this point, I wonder if I'm still asleep at home, having another mad dream. In answer to my disbelief, the shipping conveyors start up, and their metallic whirs echo throughout the building. The fantastic apparitions around me begin to dissipate, returning to the world of magic and imagination that spawned them. The last vapor trail of a pink gorilla winds into nothingness. I'm left alone with my thoughts. The costumes in the racks are once again at rest. Some of them will eventually find homes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, birthdays and all other occasions that living, breathing humans celebrate by donning festive clothing. It's only on Halloween, though, when they're charged with supernatural life in a spontaneous masquerade, and I've been fortunate enough to witness it. As I walk, somewhat shaken, towards Inventory to begin the day's work, I wonder if I'll ever have a front row seat for the spectacle again. Maybe I will, but next time, I'll bring a camera.