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FIELD NOTES: Dress your family in Naugahyde and flannel

It was traditional-ish for students at my high school to dress in costume for Halloween. More accurately, it was traditional for kids who were popular enough to believe they would not get the snot beat out of them if they showed up on Halloween in a costume. By our senior year, my buddies and I felt we had accumulated sufficient gravitas, if not popularity, to give it a go. And if we were wrong, we could always fall back on the lead-weighted ax handle Carl kept under the front seat of his car.  

Fred dressed in a very convincing vampire costume, complete with white-face and red “blood” dripping down his chin. Carl dressed as a football player, which wasn’t all that out there since he was on the team. Jeff did a Doctor Johnny Fever thing, which wasn’t exactly a stretch for him either, and I … well, I was a Naugahyde mountain man. 

I should probably explain that Naugahyde is the trade name for a leather-like plastic popular in the ’70s. It was used primarily in auto interiors and inexpensive furniture, and the manufacturer operated a factory in my hometown. Rolls of product that did not meet their quality standards were made available to the public for a couple of dollars. That’s how my sister, Bonnie, acquired a 4-foot by 50-foot roll of chocolate brown Naugahyde that had probably been intended for the seats of a Plymouth Volare. 

Bonnie was den master for her son’s Cub Scout troop, and since I was a former Wolf and Webelos, she often volunteered me to help her. We cut the roll of Naugahyde into 4-foot sections from which the Scouts were supposed to make “Indian ponchos.” As projects go, it wasn’t the most intricate. The Scouts just needed to cut a neck hole, cut “fringes” along the edges, and glue on a few beads. I played along but made mine look more like a buckskin jacket by cutting and fastening the sides together with some old leather shoestrings. I had recently seen the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” on television, and the mountain man esthetic was having a moment; one of those moments that makes me glad we didn’t have phones with cameras back then.

When I crafted the Naugahyde jacket, I wasn’t thinking about ever wearing it in public, and certainly not to school. It hung in the back of my closet for months, but when we all decided to dress up for Halloween, I saw it as a unique opportunity to show off my handiwork. I matched it with a red and black flannel shirt, ribbed jeans, and an ill-fitting pair of my father’s old work boots, finishing off the ensemble with a sheathed hunting knife. Not a toy knife; a real 6-inch knife that would land you on suspension and likely in jail if you brought it to school today. Ultimately, I don’t know whether I looked more like a mountain man or a well-armed hobo, but either way, it was a costume. 

There are two things I remember pretty clearly about that Halloween day. It was hot for late October in Ohio – much too hot for a plastic jacket and flannel shirt – and I went bowling. I was in a gym class called Co-ed Individual Sports, which taught the basics of recreational pastimes such as tennis, golf, racquetball, jogging and bowling. It just so happened that our one and only bowling field trip was scheduled for Oct. 31. So … flannel shirt, check. Homemade pleather jacket, check. Ribbed jeans, check. Hunting knife, check. At least I didn’t have to wear the gnarly oversized work boots on the alley. I would say that this is another example of being glad we didn’t have iPhones, but the truth is bowling in that outfit was so absurd that I really would like to have some record of it.

Happy Halloween!


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