HOW ABOUT being hoboes?" I'd suggest every year as the subject of Halloween costumes came up. Hoboes are easy to make. Tear up some old clothes and mark 'em with charcoal.
"But we were hoboes last year," the kids whined late one October. "And the year before that, and the year before that. And we never win anything." They were referring to the community costume parades.
That year, I decided we were going all out to win, and they would be knights. "Knights!" I said. "How would you like to be Knights of the Round Table?
"Ya-a-a-a-a-aaay!" they cheered. Anything but hoboes.
I fit them with armor fabricated from strips of cardboard, spray-painting the body parts with silver paint and adding silver and gold foil to the decorative touches. It took about a week, but I made them shields, helmets, swords, lances, maces and axes. I tied the arms and legs together with leather shoelaces and silver duct tape during the final fitting early that evening.
Immediately, they began slashing and clubbing one another, unraveling the foil and ruining my costumery. "We're out to win prizes in parades, not battles!" I pleaded, settling them down for the first of three parades in which they'd compete.
But as we piled them into the back seat of the car to charge off in quest of roses and ribbons, an awful thing happened. I forgot to allow for the bending of the knees! These noble knights could not sit down in the car. They had to stand, hunched over. I wouldn't even let them attempt to sit down.
"True and noble knights do not concern themselves about such ignoble deeds," I said.
At least they could walk, although rather stiffly. The three of them marched off together and joined the first procession, colorful pennants flying from the tips of their lances and ribbons from their helmets.
And then suddenly there were many fingers pointing at them. "Look at the little knights! Look at the little knights!" everyone was saying. "My knights," I thought, "my own brave and bold knights. They will not disgrace their patron and beg for candy. They will accept only prizes and flowers from fair maidens."
They won a big prize in the first parade, and in the second and third parades, too. I was proud, but the long night of marching was beginning to take a toll on the legs that wouldn't bend and flex.
Around 10 p.m. that long-ago Halloween night, they had finally had it. They were whimpering and uncomfortable. They were thirsty, tired and hungry. And they had to go to the bathroom.
During the short trip back to our castle, their armor in tatters, they were stacked across the back seat like cordwood -- sound asleep.
The next Halloween, I suggested the old standby hobo costumes.
"Not again!" they said.
"OK, how about knights, then?" I said.
They were hoboes.
John Sherwood writes from Baltimore.