now with organ-grinder dad!  ♥

Waverly’s Costume/Prop Rank: ★★★★★

Dad’s Costume/Prop Rank: ★★★★★

Halloween Costume 2012

Sometime in early Spring, the concept of Organ Grinder with Monkey came to the forefront of our thinking. This was not necessarily a new idea on our ever-changing list, but Waverly seems to be the one who brought it up and once she uttered it, it was a fait accompli. This concept fulfilled several prerequisites. It allowed Waverly to act out one of her multiple animal personae; it allowed us the opportunity to build something with power tools; and it allowed us to use up more excess house paint. Time was already running out—only about 230 days left at that point!

Busker cart detail.

Our first thought was actually not about Waverly’s monkey costume (or for that matter who would be the monkey and who would be the organ grinder). We assumed that would be easy. Our thoughts turned to audio—how to get busker organ music and play it for Waverly’s “act.” We actually investigated wood-pipe organs and found amazing do-it-yourself kits. I so want to make one of these, but logistically speaking it was unfeasible. If it rained on Halloween night (always a threat), the huge effort in making an organ would only be equal to our huge disappointment. Boom-boxes were the next logical alternative. We began this process with the thought that I would be carrying the organ with a single leg support but then I became nervous about the effects on my back. We have also learned over the years that Halloween night is exhausting for Waverly. This is one of the reasons we introduced the hand truck years ago—to preserve her energy between house stops. And thus, the organ on cart was born. We could not only carry the boom box disguised as organ, but we could also tote Waverly around!

Our cart in the shadows.

With this flurry of early activity under our belts, our attentions went elsewhere for several months. After all, the thinking is the hard part. After a summer of high temperatures and national economic woes, I found myself entering fall with a low ebb of creative energies. Then, on October 3 while driving Waverly home from school, she told me without solicitation how much she was looking forward to Halloween (see clue answer, the third, below). That was all it took to shake me out of my funk. Not as abrasive as a slap in the face but more akin to a B-12 shot, it certainly woke me up. If Waverly was in, I was all in.


We initially thought of using a fez for the monkey hat as that seemed to be our embedded memory. Further research revealed the hat to be more of a bell hop’s cap. Waverly’s grandmother graciously undertook hat and vest duties and we turned to cart construction.

Detail of a table cloth.

I surveyed out vast wasteland of “things with wheels” (trikes, wheelbarrows, etc.) and emerged with a garden hose pipe reel that had four wheels and rubber tires. Waverly always wanted to make something out of this, so we dismantled it down to only the essentials and we had our base. A quick two days in our friend Lewis’ wood shop and we came away with the basic conveyance. Now on to the 50-some-odd coats of paint.

What more could you want from your family. I say, “what about eight to ten colors in very intricate patterns?” and they say, “That’s not enough!”

The other reason we like to make things is that we get to keep up with technology. Water-based polyurethane? Who knew!

We finished construction and decoration on time this year. Budget? What budget?

the big night

Another Halloween is in the books and it went smashingly well. To quote Waverly, “best Halloween, ever!” Perfect weather and even the moon was out for everyone. Each year I do have to worry whether or not we have matched our previous efforts. You just can’t judge success until you circulate. This year for Waverly: applause, gasps of delight, speechlessness, A+’s (from students), awesome (most repeated comment) and many times we heard that we surpassed last year. Waverly eats this up. She had a great time, as did I being with her.

My favorite part is hearing people ask Waverly, “Were you carrying the dumbbells last year? Were you the giraffe?”

Our journey begins.

Another barometer of success? The candy haul. Shockingly, Waverly filled a full bag-and-a-half after only traveling ¼ of our route, and we had not even made it to Sneed Road, the usual neighborhood Halloween mecca. I was really shocked this year at the amount. I have always tried to teach Waverly that if you put a lot of effort into something, you will likely be rewarded, either in personal satisfaction or candy.

So what is the legal limit on the amount of Advil one can take? I knew this would be a rough year on me, but my ergonomic planning was near spot on. Our fulcrum was perfectly set when Waverly rode our cart. All I had to do was hold the handles down and I did not have to lift them up. That’s if she rode on the cart. Unlike her usual pattern, she wanted to walk the first half of our night. This really messed up my balance. Why did she choose this year to want to walk? I was only carrying 1 and ½ sheets of ¾" thick plywood, one boom box, 12 D cell batteries, assorted flashlights and a 100+ lb. monkey with ever growing candy bags. Now my arms are killing me! On the bright side, it wasn’t as rough as I thought it was going to be. The only other design problem was that Waverly parked her candy bags (yes sir, three bags full) on the handles of the cart for easy access. She carried a large tin cup which she emptied into the hanging bags. This also threw off my balance!

Waverly doing math.

Waverly’s identity was only mistaken twice tonight, once as a bear and once as a bell hop. A bell hop? Believe me, Waverly works it. She would do her “monkey dance”, twirling her tail, and it was awesome. There was one house where as long as Waverly kept doing her monkey dance, the old gentleman keep putting handfuls of candy in her bag. Do I need to worry about this?

One elderly gentleman even uttered the words, “hurdy gurdy” which pleased me. Seemed as if the older generation were more in tune with busker organs than the younger one. A small child asked if we were a magic cart. I answered yes and that for our next trick, Waverly and I would make all the neighborhood candy disappear. This scared him and he ran away. Oops. Guess I don’t know my own strength since we made him disappear.

Our busker organ incense man.

I was especially pleased that the audio portion of our program was a success. Our battery levels survived the cold and the night. Being able to control volume and song selection on the iPod with one hand while I cranked with the other was a blessing. I imagine that one or two of the music pieces are now firmly embedded in Waverly’s brain, as she was sitting in front of the speaker. If you would like to hear a sample of the type of music we played, have a look at these YouTube videos here and here.

I do fear I have created a little Halloween monster. Waverly absolutely loves Halloween night, but at the age of 10, she is beginning to make judgments and comparisons. If a house only put out a basket of candy or if a woman admonished, “only one piece”, Waverly would utter to me, “mental note: we aren’t going back there next year.” I think we need to develop our own set of hobo symbols to draw on each mailbox, indicating what to expect. Waverly even spontaneously came up with her own zen mantra: “respect the art of the Halloween!” I nearly spit out my gum when I heard it. If anything interrupted her act, such as a pea-gravel driveway (since the cart would not travel on pea gravel), or if someone was not home we were hoping to see, she would start muttering her phrase and shaking her fist in the air.

Detail of our organ box.

As always, a big thank you to our special cadre of neighbors who make Waverly feel welcome and her effort appreciated. She loves it when they come out of their houses and engage her and take her picture and laugh with her. One woman even came all the way down her driveway because I could not make it up. It’s for these moments that our hard work is made easy.

Once home again tonight, I asked Waverly what we would do next year. Instead of giving me a blank stare as in past years, this year I could see the wheels turning in her head. She didn’t answer me yet, but I know she’s thinking about it. That’s all I ask.

Our little monkey girl.

Guess the Costume Game, 2011

This year, for the first time, we decided to tease the costume with clues, or rather random ideas that came to me as we worked on the costume. If you were following along, here are the “answers” for each clue:

clue, the first:

That’s what I am
Please understand
I wanna be your holy man

When we started this costume, the hat was the focal point. We initially thought of a fez from our memories of monkeys and organ grinders. After some research, we settled on more of a bell hop cap. Thanks Steely Dan, for The Fez.

clue, the second:

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back
You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall

From the song, “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” by Portrait (also covered by Yo La Tengo on Little Honda). As attention turned to the cart, the phrase that keeping coming to mind was “pimp my organ grinder cart.” Waverly would strike a “gangsta lean” whenever I needed assistance in designing her seat configuration. Waverly does not know what a “gangsta lean” is, it just comes naturally.

clue, the third:

It takes two to tango

Continuing our music-themed clue set, this clue arose around October 3, while driving Waverly home from school. She was talking about how she could not wait for Halloween, and as her voice trailed off and her inner-voice started coming out unfiltered, she mentioned to herself how happy she was that I was going to be part of her Halloween (meaning part of the act). I always thought of myself as part of her Halloween, but only as the man behind the curtains. Her comment made me very proud and snapped me out of my Halloween funk. It was full speed ahead at that exact moment. Thanks, Pearl Bailey!

Somehow, I was hoping that three consecutive music-related clues would hint that our costume involved audio this year.

clue, the fourth:

“I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable.”
—George Costanza

We did a mental calculation, balancing cost, time, and whether we could do a better job or not, and came to the conclusion that a store-bought (gads!) monkey outfit would be the proper course this year. We went shopping and found a full-body costume made of velour. The softness of the material made Waverly very, very happy. She would sleep in this if she could, and she probably will.

clue, the fifth:

Furniture design is all about the angles.

In designing and building the cart, we really concentrated on the seat angles—at resting, riding and exiting positions. It took me back to a furniture design course in college. Secretly, I would like to be a furniture designer.

clue, the sixth:

This year, it’s Waverly’s concept and you could only
take it from her cold, dead hands.

I figure Charlton Heston is well known for his NRA quote and when I think of Charlton, I think of monkeys.

clue, the seventh:

Waverly will finally get to come home from Trick or Treating and get to utter the phrase I say after coming home from every meeting.

“Get this monkey suit off of me!” [And she did, right on cue.]

clue, the eigth:

It could be a part of your body.


clue, the ninth:

“I’m gonna paint this wagon,
I’m gonna paint it fine,
I’m going to use oil-based paint
because this wood is pine.”

I was delirious from weeks of painting and started singing this classic ditty from The Simpsons in my head.

clue, the last:

The evolution of man

Ten clues for her tenth costume.

thank you, play again next year!

miscellany (or things that may interest only me)

Yes, the organ box is on a Lazy Susan. I thought it necessary to “aim” our music from house to house. Inside the organ box is an original Apple iPod Hi-Fi, the much-maligned Apple shelf stereo. I suppose this was our own little tribute to Steve Jobs.

The handles and the decorations on the organ box were off-the-shelf parts from Home Depot. There is a bright yellow rope in the front that serves as both lifting handle and Waverly’s foot rest.

Typically, one starts with a sketch and then works from that. Not us. We finish a project and then Natasha draws a picture of it (see back of organ grinder box in slideshow above). Not sure what to paint on the back, Natasha says, “well, you have to look at it all night!” Good thinking.

A note about demographics: Waverly and I typically make our way down our home street, stopping to see friends who know us well, but we are really headed to Sneed, a block behind us. For many years Sneed has been Halloween party central for our neighborhood. People set out tables with drinks (alcoholic) for parents and cupcakes for kids and it’s quite crowded. After 10 years of trick or treating with Waverly, I’ve noticed a change in the local demographics. With new houses being built on our block and many older residents leaving, our block is actually getting more action than is past years. As I stated, Waverly’s bags were near full just after our start. Look out Sneed, you’ve got competition and competition is good for the free market candy solicitation racket.

My analog nonagenarian mother stopped by a few days after Halloween to read Waverly’s webpage and look at pictures. I was still in the middle of cleaning up the studio and driveway. As she was leaving, she looks at our mess and says, “oh, this just makes me so happy. Looks like one of my messes.” She was right. In the middle of all the painting and building, I kept thinking the same thing—only without the layer of Styrofoam shavings covering the driveway like snow.

with great appreciation

A big thank you to honorary Godfather Lewis, who is as generous with his time as he is talented with a table saw. I love working in a dedicated shop and Waverly loves seeing her dog pals Daisy, Bear and Pepe. From setting us straight on the playhouse, to teaching us about pocket screws for Waverly’s lemonade stand, and now helping us build our grinder cart, Lewis got mad skillz. I always imagine a hushed voice-over announcer: “He’s about to attempt a triple lutz on the high-diving angled table saw. Never been done… and he nails it! (pun intended.) The crowd goes wild!” Thanks, Lewis!

the big question

Now what do we do with the cart?

Goodnight, everybody. Till next year!