Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out, But You Can’t Take It

We don’t throw the neighborhood Halloween party anymore, which is sad because I love to be scared and I love scaring people. At NYU, my roommate and I spent two years in an all out “scare war”…until we mistakenly jumped out at an elderly woman getting off an elevator at 1am, who burst into tears and wobbled down the hall, ignoring our apologies and saying over and over again, “Why would you do that? Why would you do that?”

I have sat beside my friend, Sarah Paulson, on many plane rides and sporadically clutched her arm muttering, “Oh my God did you feel that?” or “That’s a weird noise, never heard that before.” Sarah is pathologically scared of flying.

Conversely, I am a scaredy cat. Up until my 30’s I would take a running leap to get into bed so nothing could grab my ankles. I can’t sleep without covers, no matter how hot it is, because I am sure some dark and unnatural thing will eat me. My husband always has to take the “monster watch”—which is (as we all know) the spot closest to the door. I guess my friend, Clark Gregg, was right when he told me, “You can dish it out but you can’t take it.”

I have passed both things on to my children, who are forever jumping out to scare people or lying in wait in the back of cars to grab us around the neck as we pull out of the driveway. Last week, I brought an early cup of tea to my office and my youngest grabbed me from behind, shouting “Rahhhhh!” I spilled the tea everywhere and was furious. Again, I can dish it out but I can’t take it.

When our children were young, I thought, “Oh goody, it’s my JOB to make Halloween spooky and fun.” For their first real Halloween we had some families over and the adults were stationed behind doors in the house: the bedroom door, the office, the guest room, etc. And the kids would traipse around the house, knocking on doors, getting candy and feeling safe, but festive.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Going door to door)

How wholesome. How age appropriate. How boring.

So the next year my friend dressed up as Sleeping Beauty and I was the Wicked Witch. When the children opened the guest room door we acted out the poisoned apple scene. (I have to admit I was brilliant.) We even had a smoking caldron. Their frozen expressions were just proof that 3 and 4-year-olds lack discernment as an audience.

The next year, we abandoned the fairy tale reenactment and instead, at dusk, we hid in the bushes. When the children walked by we leaped out, screaming, and attacked them with silly string. Again, not that receptive—you would expect more from 5 and 6-year-olds.

The following year we hosted the neighborhood Halloween party. Everyone gathered for pizza before heading out. It was sweet, getting to know your neighbors (or at least what they looked like in a Darth Vader costume). It was so successful that the neighborhood association asked us to do it again the next year. So to spice things up we made the whole lawn into a graveyard—with tombstones, smoke machines and spider webs. I thought it looked a little lame, but everyone loved it and we were chosen to host again. Score!

That’s when I decided to throw my professional resources behind it. Matthew Mungel, THE special effects artist in Hollywood, let Bill and I rummage around in his storage shed. So we packed up the car with severed limbs, horrifying monsters and dead bodies. It was like the carnage of Zombie Wars in the back of our minivan.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Friends getting ready to scare the kiddies)

We recruited a bunch of actor friends, spent the day building up the sets, and by the time the first guests arrived, we were ready. Small groups were forced down a dark hallway into a bathroom where a young woman lay in a tub of blood with her throat slit. A closet door was opened to reveal a ghoul gnawing on human limbs. Hairy monster arms would grab you from behind curtains. A dead bride was twisting in the air from a noose. Bill (in a top hat and covered in blood) lay in the bed and sat up, screaming as people got close, at which point I would grab their ankles from my hiding place under the bed. Oh, oh, I forgot to mention the soundtrack—it was awesome.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Bill and I after silly string attack)

But several things happened: the majority of the neighborhood kids started their trick-or-treating in hysteria with furious parents, and I now have a room in my house that my two girls won’t go into AT ALL. I have apologized to the neighbors over and over, and it has been agreed that I won’t throw the Halloween party anymore.

I have turned over a new leaf; scaring people is infantile. It’s a frat boy hobby and not an occupation for a grown woman.

I have to go, there is a huge empty cardboard box on my porch that I can fit into nicely…and my kids are due home any minute. I am sure the elderly woman whom my roommate and I scared coming out of the elevator would shake her head in disgust.

Happy Halloween,