I like Halloween. Mostly because I like going to parties with friends. Whether it be parades through Greenwich Village, or a karaoke bash at Finn McCool’s, there’s always a few events each Halloween at which I know I’ll get a big night out with buddies.
But I don’t really feel the same way about the trick-or-treating aspect of the holiday. I have a few memories doing it as a kid…but each of them involves some sort of mild, but scarring, tragedy.
In kindergarten, for example, I was dressed up as Alf, of the planet, Melmac. My mom and I were on a block very close to our house and we ascended a porch containing some planted shrubbery of various sizes. The Alf mask was difficult to see through, but obviously I couldn’t take it off, because I was Alf, and Alf didn’t have the luxury of taking his own face off.
I knocked on the door and, as the homeowner opened it, I took a step back to make room. But I stepped back into a potted plant and tripped into a cactus.
Old, reliable Mom was picking needles out of Alf’s ass for the rest of the night.
A year or two later, I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I wanted to be Michelangelo (Cowabunga!), but my Mom botched it up and got me a Raphael (Gimme’ a break!) costume instead. I already had Michelangelo’s nunchucks, so this was a real fucking mess.
But, believe it or not, the story gets worse.
This was the first year in which I was allowed to trick-or-treat alone. I went with my friend, Justin, and — if my memory serves me correctly — he was Freddy Krueger. But, this was 25 years ago, so he may have been a Care Bear…or possibly also a Ninja Turtle.
In any case, Freddy Krueger and Raphael were minding their own business, going door to door, collecting all the best candy — which they weren’t allowed to eat until their mothers checked the wrapper to make sure their neighbors hadn’t snuck in poison, needles or razors. (Thinking back, it does seem strange that it was okay to go to the neighbor’s Bar Mitzvahs, or to carpool with them to school, but we weren’t allowed to eat candy from them until Mom made sure they hadn’t hid an HIV needle in the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup…)
Anyway, we were minding our business and — out of nowhere — a group of older kids charged toward us, swinging pillowcases partially filled with flour or sugar or something else that would hurt if it connected with our heads. We were probably 9 or 10…but these kids were probably, like, 12 or 13. They had hair growing in places we hadn’t even discovered yet. And — maybe more crucially — bags of flour.
So we ran. As fast as we could. I was a chubby child (nickname for a brief period in 2nd grade: Fat Matt), so it wasn’t that fast, but it was fast enough.
We were almost to the safety of my front lawn, when we got to “the road.” It was a very small road, basically one lane. But I wasn’t allowed to cross the street without my mom. That’s the rules. I knew it. And now my attackers knew it.
I looked back, and the 13 year olds were barreling toward us, sacks of flour swinging through the air like Kevin Costner riding a horse to battle with some sort of weapon that swings through the air. We might well have been at the edge of a steep cliff, or the edge of an alligator-infested body of water, because there was no crossing this street (which, by the way, had not a single car driving by…just trick-or-treating pedestrians).
But, just as I was about to meet my end, my Mom heard my screams and came outside. She turned to one of the even-older kids hanging out in the backyard next door: a 16 year-old, named Gary. “Gary!” she screamed and pointed toward me, the wrong Ninja Turtle with the wrong weapon, alone (Freddy Krueger’s mom allowed him to cross the street as long as he looked both ways first), and about to be pummeled.
Like any ninja species would, I turned toward my attackers…and cowered — hands blocking my face, ready to take the blows that would surely kill me.
But the blows never came. Gary and his band of 15 – 17 year olds charged across the street-that-might-as-well-have-been-a-canyon and, with flour-filled bags of their own, pushed back the medium-aged “bad kids.” (Why did everyone’s parents let them leave the house with pillowcases full of flour? What the fuck did they think they were going to be doing with them?)
My Mom walked across Live Oak Drive, held my hand, and shepherded me to safety.
Well…that was a lot longer of a story than I thought it was going to be. But, once you get going…
All this to say, I don’t love trick or treating, and it might have something to do with these memories.
And, now, as an adult (basically), the candy bit has never been an aspect of the holiday I’ve engaged in. It’s actually one of the beauties of a shotgun-style home. For those of you that aren’t from New Orleans, a shotgun-style home has no hallway. Just four rooms, one after another in a straight line.
The house is long and thin. They were inexpensive to build and also had the effect of a wind tunnel keeping them cool(er) during grueling New Orleans’ summers.
But, also, if you keep the lights off in the front room, and retreat into one of the back ones with a small lamp, trick-or-treaters have no idea you’re home! (A similar strategy used during Formosan termite season, now that I read that back.)
I was going to hide again this year, but then I read this article by Ian McNulty. With an election upon us, we’re hearing a lot about civic duty, but in his piece, Ian makes the case that Halloween is about civic duty, as well.
Now I’m here with a plea: Do whatever you want on Halloween, but make sure you do your part first.
Have some candy, be there for the trick-or-treaters and be there for your neighbors doing the same.
You’ll make memories, and you might even make your New Orleans neighborhood a better place.
Give it a read. It’s as sweet as a story about candy can be. *raises and lowers eyebrows repeatedly*
And, it convinced me to take my part in this day a little more seriously. I bought some candy (and ate a few pieces already, so these kids better hurry up), have my Eagle costume ready to go, and I hope you’ll join me in keeping an eye out for any Ninja Turtles in despair.