I'm trying to get myself in a festive mood. The holiday is, after all, one of the biggest celebrations of the year, second only to Christmas in time and money spent on decorating; rivaling Easter and Valentine's Day as an orgy of chocolate and other braces-wrecking treats.
When the kids are small, there are worries about needles in candy and skinned knees while trick-or-treating. There are the endless costume negotiations. You buy the darling black cat costume and she changes her mind and wants to be Hannah Montana -- which is sold out everywhere the day before Halloween. They are too excited to eat dinner, leading to sugar-induced stomachaches at 11 p.m., when they are still awake on a school night squabbling with siblings over the one full-sized Snickers bar that a neighbor handed out.
Then they're teenagers, and it's even worse. They visit haunted houses with groups of rowdy kids, beg to go to parties where there is beer and weed, and parade around in costumes that barely cover their underwear.
And you sit home and hope the stream of trick-or-treaters ends soon, so you can gorge yourself on leftover treats.
It's been a few years since I've visited a Halloween store. I've already got the equivalent of a costume shop in storage bins stuffed with 20 years' worth of fairy wings, animal ears, tutus, tiaras, sabers and leotards.
So I'm surprised when I visit the Spirit Halloween store across from the Northridge mall on Sunday and find a sentry stationed at the door -- "Adults on the right. Teenagers on the left," she said -- warning young would-be ghosts and goblins away from the really scary grown-up stuff.
On the right, even the conventional costumes had risque themes: The "saucy nurse" with white fishnets and platform heels. The "sexy scholar" with a pleated skirt so short you'd have to spring for matching skivvies.
"Where are the children's costumes?" I asked.
She gestured toward a full wall display of black outfits, arranged under the heading "In Goth We Trust."
Whatever happened to tigers and fairies? What was left was arranged on racks nearby. Halloween, these days, seems to cater to extremes.
I guess that's why online costume shopping has become so popular. Gather the kids around the computer and they pick from what you summon on the screen. Navigate to Tinkerbell or Spiderman without having to pass through the temptation of French Maids and Freddy Kruegers.
But you also miss braving the hordes at those giant fly-by-night costume warehouses, where you can't try outfits on and you can't return them.
And by the time your child finishes searching row by row and finally settles on the perfect Grim Reaper costume, someone ahead of you has just bought the last one in his size.
Sunday, I watched a teenager arguing with her mother over the "sexy scholar." Forget that it's made by Playboy, the daughter pleaded. Mom opened the package and eyed the tiny skirt. They compromised by adding a pair of white tights. Mom's credit card charge was more than $60. Neither looked happy when they left.
On the children's side of the store, a young mother was roving the aisles, desperately plucking costumes from picked-over racks.
Her daughter, who looked about 7, already had turned thumbs down on an angel, a cheerleader and a princess.
I could recognize the edge in Mom's too-sweet voice. "How about this one, Melissa? Isn't it pretty?" She held out a go-go girl costume, with white plastic boots and a fringy pink dress.