By Anthony J. Rapino
A stocky man with glazed, red eyes approached me and grunted. He stared for a beat as I rummaged through a box hidden under a table. Inside the box were a few strings of Halloween lights and some fake spider web: the promise of something more. As if this were not enough proof, the man said, “You the one asking about Halloween stuff?”
I glanced at my brother Mike, then at the owner of the store. I stood from the box and wiped my hands off. “Yeah, you have anything else?”
He rolled his eyes. “Follow me.”
The man–who never did introduce himself, and will forever be the man–turned and sped through a hallway. The building was once a restaurant, owned by the man’s parents, and housed apartments on the second and third floors. Somewhere along the line the building had ceased functioning as both burger joint and dwelling, transforming into the haunted shell we traversed.
One dim and dirty hallway gave way to another. The wallpaper flaked and peeled in large patches. Whatever pattern they once displayed, it had faded into blotches of yellow covered with water stains. As we continued along, my brother tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a holstered gun on the man’s waistband. Mike’s expression said, “Maybe we should go.”
My returned glare screamed, “But he has Halloween stuff!”
We continued to the end of the final hallway, where the man fumbled with a number of keys. He found the one he needed. With great effort he turned the rusted lock and shouldered open the stuck door.
He glanced over and smiled. “I love Halloween. We used to decorate the restaurant every year.” He waved us into the cramped space.
Inside, boxes upon boxes of Halloween and Christmas gear overflowed onto the floors and table tops. He presented the site with extended arms. “Go to it.”
And go to it we did. With every shifted box and every displaced decoration, twelve more treasures erupted. I rummaged with glee, out of breath from considering the possibilities. I asked, scared to hear the answer, “How much?”
“Fill up a box with what you want and I’ll let you know.”
I nodded, still afraid that this thrift store was really an antique shop, where the prices were chosen with gullible tourists in mind. But I ventured forth, because this room, it had been locked and out of the public eye for months, maybe years. This was not part of the front store. No. This was presented because I had asked. Because I always ask once Augusts’ Autumn rolls around.
For me, Halloween starts sometime in early August, when the yard sale people of the world unload their old Halloween decorations. I pounce like a rabid werewolf. After all, I only have so much time to prepare. And so, as I go from yard sale to garage sale to flea market, I always ask: “Do you have any old Halloween stuff?” Sometimes they say yes. This was one of those times.
Once I had a box filled, I asked the man how much.
He pushed things aside, pondering the contents, and to my utter joy, he said, “Fifteen dollars?”
His mistake, you see, was that he asked. And since he did ask, I told him, “Ten.”
We shook, and I high-tailed it, my brother in tow, with a box of Halloween goodness.
The first piece I found–and by far my favorite–was a lighted witch. I collect this style of vintage, Halloween blow mold, and when I saw the haunting lady, I damn near busted my ankle trying to get to her. She makes the sixth addition to my collection, not counting vintage candy pails.
Next up is a Gemmy animatronic skeleton, who bounces around on his tombstone as he sings. I generally don’t collect this style toy, but I couldn’t resist.
Strangely enough, I also added three other non-functioning animatronics to my box. The dapper skeleton just looks cool sitting on my shelf, and the two tombstones (though they do still play music) make nice table top decorations.
When I first spotted this hair-topped Jack, I nearly passed him by, but a quick glance at the bottom revealed it to be an Empire original, which makes it vintage–which makes it mine! The more I look at this little guy, the more his hair–grows on me?
The two tiny skeleton pails were an afterthought, but by god do I love that winking devil head. He reminds me of the Mystic Seer from The Twilight Zone. I have no idea what this piece actually is, but I love him just the same. Wait. I don’t mean I love the Devil. You know? Just that I love his head. Yeah.
Nothing much to say about these pumpkin lights or skeleton head other than I plan to drape them over the still beating heart of my Samhain sacrifice this year.
These two decorations make my brain swim is nostalgia juice. They’re made of flimsy plastic (the same material vintage Ben Cooper masks are made of), and over time crack and become brittle, but there’s just something about the texture that screams Halloween.
The last thing I snagged was a huge pile of die-cut, paper decorations. I haven’t counted them but there have to be over three dozen. Most of these are Eureka brand, and if you were in elementary school any time in the 80’s, you’ll likely remember these ubiquitous decorations from the bulletin boards around school. There were also two vintage Beistle decorations from around the 50’s or 60’s that can be highly collectable.
Driving home from this monumental score, I went through the room’s contents over and over in my head. And each time I did, I was sure I left some treasure behind. I pushed these thoughts away and focused instead on the things I did get. And even better than the things I bought was the experience I had. Because truly, it’s never too early to start celebrating Halloween.
The moral of this story is as follows:
When promised Halloween treasures–even by a red-eyed, sketchy stranger who has a gun on his belt–it is okay to follow him deep into a deserted house and behind locked doors. Nothing will happen to you. I swear.