A strange and horrible thing happened on Halloween this year.
Trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, as always, was awesome. If you live in D.C. and are looking for a place to send your children hunting for candy, I heartily recommend Friendship Heights. Nothing weird happened while trick-or-treating. We marched around everywhere and had a lot of fun, just like last year.
No, the weird thing happened at a party after trick-or-treating was done. We had come home. We put my little girl to bed. I watched the third inning of the fourth World Series game with my boy (ah, such a hopeful inning) then put it on record. The boy and I then got in the car to drive down to a halloween party at a friend’s house in nearby A.U. Park. It was one of those parties where most of the guests were families with children but adults without children were also invited, in costume if desired.
I was not in costume.
So we walk in, and the front room is filled with dancing kids, ranging from three to maybe 10 or 11. And across the room, standing there, is a man in a Adolf Hitler costume.
I do a double-take, tell myself he must be dressed as Charlie Chaplin.
I go up to him. He is standing next to his wife. Nope, it’s Adolf. No swastika, but lest there be any doubt, the woman next to him said, “This is my husband, Adolf.” (They were in fact married.)
Now, I have to note here that ten years ago in Mexico I got into one fight with a fellow wearing a swastika T-shirt on the street and angrily chased another out of a concert. (There was a weird fad for such shirts in Mexico; sometimes the place feels like the far suburbs of Western Civilization. I still don’t think I’ve told the story of the two middle-class women I met reading Mein Kampf at a bar?)
But I am older and I was at a friend’s house with my young son. (Plus, I stopped wearing contact lenses around 2006.) So I go looking for the party organizer. I can’t get her alone, so I decide to leave. My boy and I get in the car and start driving home.
No, can’t let this one go. Not gonna happen. I turn around; we go back inside. I find the woman organizing the party and this time I insist that I need to talk to her. I ask if there’s a story behind Adolf and his blonde wife over there. (The wife was not in costume.) She says no, friends of a friend. I tell her that I am going to ask them to remove the costume or leave. She says of course, but asks me not to make a fuss.
I was surprised that there was no exculpatory backstory, because I would not have imagined that this friend would have permitted somebody into her house in an Adolf Hitler costume without one.
So I go up to the gentleman with a sleepy three-year-old in my arms and tell him that he needs to remove the mustache or leave.
He does not seem to understand the question. He asks me where I from. I say “Brooklyn” and repeat my statement. To which I add, “It would be completely acceptable for me to punch you in the face, but this is not my house and there are children here.” One of which I am holding in my arms. A few people are watching, but this cannot be called a “scene.”
At this point he claims to be Danish and tells me that the costume is fine in Europe. I tell him, “Tell that to Prince Harry.” I followed by saying that Germans would not tolerate this. (I do believe that it may in fact be against the law there.)
He says (really) that I have no sense of humor. I ask him to explain the joke, he says it’s Halloween. I say — truly, I am astounding myself with my adult patience — that I have seen many funny comedies depicting Hitler and Nazis, but he is projecting no humor or satire, especially being a blond man from northern Europe.
Surprisingly, I am as calm as the above sounds. I am of course paraphrasing, but I am not translating from Brooklynese. If he had been able to give me an explanation of why he had a point that didn’t involve making light of the man who caused World War 2 and the Holocaust, I would have been happy to hear it.
His wife say, with exasperation, “There are vampires here!” I point out, obviously, that vampires aren’t real. He says, “Neither is Adolf Hitler anymore!” That deserves no response.
In response to my silence, he starts to go about how many memorials they have in Germany to the Jews while we have none here in the United States to the slaves. I remind him that he said he was Danish. He says he has German cousins and goes back to his rant about slavery. (Note that he can see my son in my arms. I think he thought that this comparison was supposed to make me more sympathetic.)
I interrupt. “That is true but irrelevant. Next time wear a sheet and see what happens. Or come as Colonel Sanders.”
At his point my patience has run out. I tell him that if he does not shave or leave right now I will ask one of the several black women at the party what they think. (There were no black men; the fathers, unlike me, were watching the World Series live.) He leaves.
I was then approached and thanked by several bystanders. We see the fellow’s wife come back looking for something. The wife comes up to me (I am standing in a small group now) and asks, “Do you know [the party organizer]?”
I say yes.
She says, “You should apologize to her!”
To this, I finally break. “Get out of here, Eva Braun.”
There is an redeeming addendum. After the man leaves, while I am talking with my thankers, my boy asks, “What are Nazis?”
“They were bad people, son. They made people work and beat them and killed them because they did not like them and took their stuff. Your grandfather shot Nazis.”
He thought about this for a moment and says, “I shoot tigers, when they are coming to eat me!”
And that is the end of my no-good horrible weird and unexpected Halloween night. It did not, oddly, occur to me to whip out my phone and take a picture. I sort of wish I had, but then again, I do not approve of internet mob justice and likely would have refused to post it. Instead I give to you a picture that is not one of the two Mexican gentlemen with whom I got into a physical altercation ten years ago, but which perfectly captures the scene immediately preceding both fights. (A close friend took this one, and went on to have a big argument with the fellow.)
The lesson, if there needs to be one, is that neither Nazi symbols nor the Confederate flag should be taken lightly. A good rule of thumb is that if you are not in the Finnish Air Force nor a practicing Hindu, then anything resembling Nazi wear is best avoided. Unless you want to be politely thrown out of a D.C. Halloween party or less politely punched on a Mexico City street.
I admit to being perplexed as why my friend did not tell the gentleman that he could not enter her house dressed as he was. I also admit to being perplexed as to why no one had told him to leave before I did.