Well, what a bummer ... Halloween neighborhood festivities have been pushed back to Sunday here in Willowick, so I guess I'll have to wait a few more days before I get to give all the kids diabetes. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad the little monsters don't have to go freeloading in the rain, but it's a little weird that I'm going to be handing out Hershey bars* two days before Election Day (which is essentially trick-or-treating for grown-ups, only we don't get to find out which candidate is which until it's way too late).
But I love Halloween. I especially love how I'm part of an entire generation that decided to turn Halloween into a much bigger production so we could avoid growing up. Halloween, when I was a kid, was an oh-by-the-way-it's-Halloween-again holiday, barely registering above Groundhog Day on the anticipation scale. Yeah, we all loved running around the block in our quest for free candy, but a whole lot of thought didn't go into the execution of this quest. Every year, about a week before the not-so-big day, Dad would drive us to a lot with pumpkins for sale. I'd pick one out, and Dad would carve it. (Kids couldn't carve pumpkins back then, because there were no cute plastic kiddie carving tools at that time ... all we Neanderthals had to work with were very sharp knives.) Some of the neighborhood Moms would turn the pumpkin guts into a tasty pie or two, garnished with a side of healthy, toasty pumpkin seed treats, but my mother wasn't quite that Martha Stewartish....so, we'd just toss the great ball of seedy orange innards into the garbage and put our pumpkin's sad, dead shell in our front room window, pretty much leaving it there until it started to stink.
Then, of course, the next big step in my Halloween routine was the annual trip to Woolworth's to pick out whatever cheap-ass princess costume I was going to wear under my winter coat that year. Mom (who was not terribly talented at home economics, in case you forgot I told you) didn't sew costumes like some of the other kids' Moms (lucky bastards), so the rest of us were forced to wear shiny, polyester nightmares that came out of flat, flimsy boxes costing $4.95. They did come with masks, though. All the dime store costumes had masks made out of the same thin plastic that I believe holds today's Lean Cuisines. This ghastly piece of petroleum was attached to the child's head by a rubber band guaranteed to break by the fifth house. This was actually a good thing, because I'm convinced any kid wearing that hot, sweaty torture device for more than two hours would end up with either terminal cooties or the crawling gleep (that is, if the hot, sweaty child didn't first blindly tumble down somebody's concrete steps and break something important).
Truly, Halloween was dangerous and, sure, it still is... a bit. Every time some kid older than 13 rings my bell, I hand him a Three Musketeers and pray he goes away without robbing me. But when we were kids, it really was hazardous. For one thing, there were absolutely no safety concerns for kids (this was before criminals started putting needles into popcorn balls). We didn't have pre-established trick-or-treating times ... basically, we left the house when it got dark and got back just as our dads would start calling the police. Sometimes parents** went with us, but sometimes not ... I think it depended on what was on TV (if "Gunsmoke" or "Bonanza" was on, we were usually on our own). We tripped over lawns, scraped our knees on sidewalks and sent our Smarties soaring when the handles on our plastic pumpkin pails broke. Still, propelled by our stupidity and untiring greed, we pressed on, knowing that we were in a mad race against time to annoy as many homeowners as possible. The darkness was full of barking dogs, thugs toting pillowcases and those old neighborhood cranks who would turn off their lights and pretend to not be home (until they screamed death threats out their windows when we short-cutted across their lawns).
When I managed to make it home alive, I'd dump my bucket full of crap onto my bedspread and try to find something I could eat. There wasn't much. Unfortunately, I was a child of the 70s, when half of all candy doubled as hardware store adhesive...and the other half doubled as rocks. I'd search through a pile of depressing Jawbreakers, Jolly Ranchers, Bit o' Honeys, Licorice, Tootsie Rolls, Charleston Chews, Mary Janes, Boston Baked Beans, Jujubes, Good 'n Plenties, Mike 'n Ikes and Now 'n Laters*** just to find one or two blessed Snickers bars. Oh ... I almost forgot about the Sugar Daddy ... a gooey, chocolate glob that was not only adhesive, but came on a stick. So, if you didn't injure yourself by involuntarily extracting a couple of your back molars, you could give yourself brain damage by harpooning the roof of your mouth. (Fortunately, after sucking down enough Red Hots, Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs, your mouth wouldn't feel it.) And I haven't even mentioned Pop Rocks, which came along right after I stopped trick-or-treating. The candy of my day was clearly designed to be used as a tool to further all that population control the hippies told us we needed.
So ... I'd carefully pick out the good stuff (aka: "chocolate"), some Sweetarts and, of course, what money got thrown in there and let the rest fossilize on my dresser until Christmas. Fortunately, my brother (who trick-or-treated until he was, oh, twenty-five), would always wander in the door around midnight dragging a pillowcase holding his loot and heaven knows who else's. My brother might have been... well ... a thug ... but he wasn't exactly picky about what he ate. If I stole some Milky Ways out of his stash, he'd never even notice. We're talking about a boy whose favorite dinner was "bread and milk tore up" ... which is a dish that came about when my folks were really broke. Unfortunately, he continued to eat this stuff even when Mom and Dad had some money. He'd take a half a loaf of bread, rip it up in a mixing bowl, dump half a quart of milk on it, cover the whole mess with sugar and then he'd sit at the kitchen table and shovel it in with the biggest spoon he could find. He'd glaze over with this spooky (yet serene) expression on his face while he ate, milk dripping from his slack-jawed bliss, which creeped me out even more than the slop he was eating. I am truly hopeful the nightmares will someday stop.
So ... you like that? Now you get to be creeped out too. No amount of Laffy Taffy will ever pull that image out of your brain.
It is true that Halloween is a bigger deal these days. People put up lights, shop in Halloween-themed stores, decorate their lawns with inflatable gargoyles and put way too much thought into sophisticated, high-tech costumes. But it was a lot scarier when I was a kid... and, I think, a lot more fun. Heck, a few of us even survived it.
So, when I see the way some parents coddle their kids the way they do today, I do pity those kids. How are they ever going to find out how tough they really are?
But Halloween is no time to be deep and philosophical or hell, even halfway intelligent. It's a time to celebrate the innocent joy of childhood and the unbridled stupidity of adulthood. So, truly, I want to wish a Happy Halloween to all, and to all a fun night, even if you do have to wait 'til November this year. I hope you all have a blast scaring and getting scared.
And, if you're not scared enough, just think about my brother and his bowl of bread.****
*And yes, of course I give out full-sized candy bars. Someday - when I rise to power - I plan to execute the idiot who invented the so-called "fun" size.
**Actually, Dad preferred to stay back at the house and hand out candy so he could sing "Trick or treat-smell my feet-give me something good to eat" to every single child who climbed up our steps.
***I'll bet your teeth hurt right now, don't they?
****Okay, maybe it's not exactly "scary" ... but sickening is a KIND of scary, isn't it?