I am in the later stages of writing a memoir on my manic high-school shoplifting business for publication (still need another round of outside edits and a cover design), and to seed that, am releasing some reflections—and broken mirrors—from my younger days. Here’s one on Halloween (usual link list follows):
Children are very dangerous. I know, I was one. For instance, when no one else is home, they might release a sibling’s hamster in the house just to see where it might establish a new burrow. The hamster’s new home might remain a mystery forever. (Personal recommendation: Your sister will forget soon enough anyway.) Or they might test every spray-can cleaning product with a lit match to see which one makes the most vivid incendiary device. (Personal recommendation: Anything with “Dow” in the product name is a good bet.)
Or they might get up in the parent’s attic, remove most of the collectible coins from their coin booklets, and spend them on candy. (Personal recommendation: saying “I didn’t take ALL of them” will not invite forgiveness.)
Children are even more dangerous at Halloween, and I don’t mean just because they might be wearing a Donald Trump mask. Now I’m not talking about tiny children here, the four-, five- and six-year-olds who stumble up the walkway to a Halloween house and give a benumbed “thank you” to the householder who coos over their costumes, while the parents of the costumed lurk in the sidewalk shadows.
No, I’m talking about the eleven-, twelve-, and thirteen-year-olds, who are considerably more in need of their parents’ supervision, because they are capable of—no, delight in—wreaking havoc. Their brains are soft cheese. Deeper channels of ethics and wisdom? None.
Halloween was a holy time for me, because I was crazed for sugar. I was one of those kids who live for (and lived on) dessert, so I would eat dessert seven or eight times a day, no preceding meal necessary. I was very accomplished in scouring the neighborhood trash for deposit bottles, which I’d return to the store in exchange for candy bars.
Ah, free enterprise. Thus, the notion of a night in which you dressed funny and house after house would give you candy if you knocked on their door? Preposterous. And exhilarating.
But having reached that dangerous age, I also craved a little mayhem with my M&Ms. Necessity being the mother of dementia, my neighborhood cronies and I constructed a realistic looking life-sized dummy, with a dressmaker’s dummy’s head sewed into a long-sleeved shirt, covered by a baseball cap, long pants, and shoes sewed onto the pants. On a dark night, on a street where the cars went by pretty fast, the dummy would fool a fair percentage of people. Which street?
As it so happened, my small suburban street butted up to a four-lane boulevard, with steady traffic. We’d employed this street many times in our pranks: in the daytime, I once took a six-foot ladder out into the median between the two sets of lanes, light bulb in hand, and ascended to the top of the ladder and pretended to be changing a bulb, while drivers in passing cars gaped and my friends on the sidelines laughed.
We also took a small poker table out to the same median and set it up with folding chairs, and dealt a few hands of poker while the cars whizzed by. Just one of those flukes that no one hit us, or no cop pulled over to inform us of just how not-clever we were.
Where were the parents, you might say? Well, mine were in our house, as were those of my friends. Had they looked outside, they would have been mortified, but again, just a fluke that no parent happened by.
My mother, bless her, raised me specifically NOT to be this way. Since we were always outside playing baseball or hide-and-seek or some other thing anyway, we were presumed innocent from those on the comfortable couches inside. (In fact, don’t tell my mother in heaven about any of this; she’s heard enough about the shoplifting.)
So, we had the right street: the big boulevard. We had the right night: Halloween. We had the right attitude: we were idiots. We set that dummy lying in the street, an arm cocked over its pathetic head, and pulled back into the bushes to watch.
Oh my. Cars coming screeching to a halt, or whipping around in a wild swerve. And one, a Porsche going too fast, actually did a full 360-degree screaming circle after jamming hard on the brakes. But our favorite was the guy who skidded to a halt, jumped out of the car, picked up the dummy and shouted “That’s not funny!”
He was right, of course. I marvel to this day that a high percentage of kids do make it out of adolescence alive, because so many of them have no sense of consequence whatsoever. We didn’t see the dummy leading to an actual accident (potential: high) and possibly to serious injury (potential: high) and probably lifelong consequences: (fact: we had no clue about consequences). And we were regular kids, raised by conscientious parents, who tried to instill sense and ethics. But children are dangerous, as I’m trying to point out.
That’s why we also threw Halloween pumpkins at passing cars. Now I think I only actually hit two cars in all my efforts, but imagine you are driving along and a rocketing orange missile hits your car. A ripe pumpkin has a lot of heft, and when one strikes a car going 35 miles an hour, it makes an unusual sound, a deep thunk combined with a liquidy, squooshy echo. Very satisfying. Except to the driver. But nobody crashed. Again, just a fluke.
Of course I did other bad things at Halloween, like when a house had a big bowl of candy labeled “honor system.” It was like the coins in the attic—I didn’t take ALL of them. What do you expect when you’re dressed like Satan? That’s HIS honor system.
Our neighborhood was straight middle-class, so we got the regular Halloween offerings: tiny candy bars, hard candy, gum, nuts. We would also immediately launch skyward anything like an apple or orange that a well-meaning householder would supply. Fruit? On Halloween? Absurd. What were they thinking? Of course, “thinking” was something we were pretty much amateurs at ourselves.
Once we went up in the gated rich folks’ neighborhood near our own, where amazingly, they were letting in the grubby outsiders. Here were houses giving away regular-sized Snickers bars! Another donuts, and they were hot! Another, full RC Colas, which is remarkably bad judgment. [Return to what I said about hurling pumpkins.] As an aside, if you ever need to detonate anything, just put a bunch of Sweet-Tarts in an RC Cola and cap it back up. But then you need to back up too, quickly.
Fast forward about a thousand years to a couple of Halloweens I’ve had being on the other side of the door. My girlfriend and I spent an entire evening with the lights off, cowering, because we’d forgotten to buy any candy, and we hadn’t made any plans to go out. Truly a mixed message: we had a lit pumpkin on the porch, so we were inviting candy-seeking door-knockers who would go unanswered. I remember us whispering when we heard kids pausing outside and then moving on: “Are they going to come up? Damn!” And believe me, I wasn’t going to offer any of the apples we had.
The first Halloween we had at the house where we live now we made big preparations: lots of carved, lit pumpkins, both of us fully costumed, a big bowl of candy—and nobody came. We live in a semi-rural area, that’s pretty dark, with lots of space between houses, and I guess that’s not too appealing these days. We felt pretty stupid, waiting around for hours without one trick-or-treater.
But it worked out OK: I ate all the candy. I’m no longer as dangerous as I was, but some things never change.
A few recent articles of mine:
The objects and objectives of travel are subject to mysterious forces — and sometimes cosmic jokes. Published in October 2021 in the Bold Italic.
Airstreaming in the UK has some parallels to road-tripping in the US, but it’s not nearly as easy to go castle-hopping here. Published in the Fall 2021 edition of Airstream Life magazine. (c) 2021 Airstream Life, published with permission.
I’ve stayed in a number of striking places overseas, but my neighbor just down the street, Big Sur, is second to none for captivation and beauty. Published in October 2021 in the Bold Italic.
Other Writers’ Posts
“… our conception of what a good life looks like should include a consideration of whether it is “psychologically rich,” which they define as being, “characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences.”
“He makes the case that the cause of this never ending chase—and the burnout it often leads to—is a sense of not-enough-ness. We expect external successes to solve internal worth issues.”
“Routine might not sound all that creative, but it reliably summons the muse on cue. Evolutionarily, the ability to perform habitual actions on autopilot freed human brains to invent fire, tools and TikTok.”