I’m Old, Part LXV: Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en. I prefer the version with with single quote.
I love Hallowe’en. I always have. As an adult, I have taken a lot of joy in the process of creating costumes for Hallowe’en. When I started at Adobe, I made a pair of costumes for me and my ex-wife: A large-size plug and socket. I was the plug. It was brilliant. Just rude enough. My ex-wife got stopped by people for weeks after, saying “you were the socket!” She wasn’t too happy with that.
A couple years later, I went as 2/3 of ZZ-Top. I made a cardboard version of Dusty Hill with an articulated right arm and I dressed as a coordinated Billy Gibbons. I made a connecting rod that went from my right arm to the cardboard Dusty Hill so that we moved in sync and I brought in my guitar and an amp and played Tush for the Adobe contest.
The next year, 1994, I spent three months making a face hugger from Alien.

This was no small task. First of all, in the proto internet age, there were no easily accessible photo references. I had to special order a coffee table book about the production of Alien just to get a couple of marginal reference stills. I made clay pieces, made molds out of plaster of Paris, did castings in latex, built an armature out of hobby brass, wire, heat-shrink tubing and RC airplane hinges. Wearing this on my face, I had a really interesting experience. I could just barely see through some of the leg gaps via peripheral vision. As such, in order to make eye contact with someone, I had to turn slightly, which would make them turn and then I’d turn, and then they’d turn. Whoever I was talking to and I would end up doing a weird dance.

Next year, emboldened by my experience in molding and casting, I decided that I would go as a 10th century interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Yes, that’s my own hair. I grew out my beard for a few months, made plastic spikes for my hands and feet, a prosthetic wound for my side and a muslin loincloth. One piece I was particularly proud of was my ID badge. Adobe had recently switched over to a photo ID system. The badges were pretty nice. Your badge had your photo and your first name in BIG LETTERS and your last name in small letters. My badge read “STEPHEN hawley”. The badge was made with some tweaks to try to minimize forgery. What they didn’t count on was that an employee in Adobe (me) had access to some decent scanners and printers. I made a scan of my badge and using Adobe Photoshop, I removed my name and matching the font, I changed the name on the badge to “JESUS h. christ” and printed it out on a nice dye sublimation printer named “DON’T USE. EXPLODES” then laminated it and attached it to my badge. Oddly enough, I successfully used the badge for the next several months and was never challenged.

The next year, working at Axial (which would become Newfire), I decided that I would go as a cockroach.

This was so much fun. I bought sweatpants and a couple sweatshirts and some fabric and made the costume.

Wait.

You made this?

Yup. See, when I was in 8th grade, I had an awesome art teacher. Herb O’Brien. He did a unit with us on soft sculpture wherein we made gnomes. We learned how to work with sewing machines, how to do embroidery, stuffing and so on. I bought a sewing machine and applied most of that to this costume. I couldn’t get sweats in the right color, so I just dyed them.

I will point out that in 1996, my experience in fabric stores was interesting. I spent a lot of time walking aisles looking for just the right fabric for various projects and I got a lot of stares from the women in the store as I was always the only man present. Oh – and if anyone says that there is a difference in thinking skills viz 3D visualization between men and women, show them a pattern for a vest because there are some truly mind-bending transformations in there.

The next year, I was dating a wonderful woman (I ended up marrying her, ha!) and we decided to hold our own Hallowe’en party with coordinated costumes. I went as The Tick and E went as American Maid.

E made her costume from scratch (awesome). I bought several  dance leotards and dyed them (wrong color – easy to fix), and modified them as needed. This included sewing gloves, making booties, making foam rubber muscles, and so on.

When we moved to Massachusetts, we carried our joy of Hallowe’en along. One year I made a fake skunk skin cap and went as “Skuny Crockett – Davey’s lesser known, but more widely shunned brother”.

Atalasoft was fantastic. Most of my coworkers were way better at their costumes than me. Dave Terrell, when his wife was expecting, decided to grow out his beard through her pregnancy. At Hallowe’en, he dressed up as a Hasid (his wife is Jewish and approved, so no appropriation there). Jake Lauzier dressed up as a puppet theater. Bill Bither dressed up as a fairy (Tinker Bill). Christina Gay did a very respectable Awesomeo 3000. I was so happy.

I never really had a lot of time to since I’ve had kids to dedicate to my own costumes. One year at Atalasoft, I managed to pull of a decent enough House costume. It was particularly funny because Eric Deutchman dressed up as the devil and kept offering people candy in exchange for their souls. Since I was House, I was playing the part as a devout atheist and repeatedly denied his existence and asserted that religion was fairy tales for the insecure. I can’t say who had the harder time keeping a straight face.

What does this have to do with software, with coding? The process of writing software is a fundamentally creative process as is making Hallowe’en costumes. One of the better smells in your company is how creative the costumes are. Creative costumes = creative employees and that means all kind of good things.

Foster creativity in your peers and it will show in all kinds of ways and you will have a much better place to work.

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