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The Checklist 

Confessions of a Halloween-oholic

Lary is the last person who should be here. I need help, I tell you. Help. I need someone to hold me back, not someone to back me up, because right now, as I speak, there is already, erected in my back yard, a haunted house that is bigger than the house I actually live in. That right there is evidence I have a problem. Last year I was able to rein it in a little, even though I built a canopy to cover my entire front yard in case it rained -- which of course it so totally did -- so thank God for the canopy. And my treat selection was so huge I might as well have set the kids loose in the candy aisle at Wal-Mart. By the time they got home they were probably so coked up they could set off car alarms from across the street. (You're welcome, parents.)

This year is already amounting to the mother of all Halloween parties. I paid five guys to clear the giant morass of thorn bushes that formerly made up my back yard so that now there is actually room to walk back there, which was like excavating, I swear. I actually uncovered a windmill, for chrissakes, and a frame for a swing set. Who knew? I was half relieved we didn't find a set of little mummified tykes to go with it, still sitting in the swings.

"That would have been cool," said Lary.

Like I said, Lary is the last person who should be here. I've known him for a hundred years, but it wasn't until recently that I figured out what he does for an actual living; Lary is a "rigger" for large-scale events. That means people actually pay him to take their crazy-assed party ideas and make them a reality. This explains why, a few years ago, when I asked him to help me decorate Mae's fourth birthday party, the theme for which was "Castle Princess," he showed up with a rented bulldozer to dig a moat.

Lary is here hanging outdoor speakers so the sounds of tortured groans can be carried throughout my back yard. "If you don't want to kill any kids," he says, "you should use the heavier wire." I would very much like not to electrocute my guests, no matter how much Lary insists that fried people would provide cool Halloween props, so I opted for the heavier wire. Earlier I'd had him on the phone at Home Depot, trying to collect all the spooled coils and clip sockets and other electrical components he said were essential to activate the animatrons, when all of a sudden it occurred to me what the hell it was, exactly, that he was aiming to get me to make.

"This sounds like an extension cord! Are we making an extension cord?" I hissed. "You retard! I can buy them for a buck a piece at Family Dollar!"

"Sure," he said, "but what's the fun in that?"

Lord, I do not have time to build my own extension cords. I have important things to do. I have a checklist. Do I have enough fake blood? Check. Did I remember to buy the foam board for the fake tombstones? Check. Did I borrow the rubber carcass from my neighbor? Check.

Before I had a child, all this energy used to go into my own costume, which often included blinking lights and battery packs. One year I was so exhausted after getting into costume that I sat down to rest before hitting the parties, only to awaken on my couch four hours later with the illuminated skull on the end of my scepter barely still glowing.

Now I let Mae pick our costumes, and at 7 she's old enough now to ask for less bizarre stuff, like this year she simply asked that I be a witch like her. I expected to feel more relieved than I was, but instead the feeling was clouded by an odd melancholy. "I still have the double-butted baboon costume from last year," I offered meekly, but she demurred, even going so far as to suggest that the baboon butts were not National Geographic grade.

What? Last year that costume garnered me God status in Mae's eyes. She showed me off to her classmates like a prized captured spider, and my heart shot like a rocket right out of my chest. Realizing now that the double-butted baboon costume has lost all its power makes me want to groan like the torture victims on the Halloween soundtrack.

Instead I look at all the Halloween pictures taken since Mae was born; the ladybug costume at age 1, the sparkle princess at 2, the mermaid at 3 and so on. I look at her face in those photos, and I go over my other checklist. Did I hang her pumpkin drawings? Check. Have I laid out her costume? Check. Does my soul widen like the open sky when I look in her eyes? Do I cry with pride at the sight of her? Does my heart happily break every day she grows and makes her way? Check, check, check.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (

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