Tuesday, October 31, 2006

when i was a kid...

My mother was a stickler for rules.

If trick-or-treating didn't start until 6:30 - we were not to leave the yard until 6:30. And there was none of this "starts at 5:00, ends at 7:30" bullshite. We were out until all the house lights were off. And then some. I remember my cold, tired legs wrapped in warm pajamas, the smell of Noxema filling my nose after my mother had washed all the black eyeliner or dried blood off my face, some animated special on the TV, my brother and I furiously putting our candy into neat little rows - by type - preparing for at least an hour of bartering before bed. The doorbell would ring late into the night with older kids on scavenger hunts looking for things like safety pins or cans of peas or duct tape.

When I was younger, my parents took turns walking with us as we ran from house to house. Parents used to get real into Halloween then. One year our neighbor sat out in the frigid October air in a speedo, in a blow up raft filled with candy. One year my dad went up on the roof in a mask and ran the chainsaw as the kids came up to the house. On the next block, one guy dressed in a trench coat and gorilla mask while his wife passed out candy at the door. They had a large pine tree in the middle of their yard and the gorilla man would walk stealthy around it, lurking in the impending darkness. Oh yeah, he freaked me out. My Dad often had to carry me up to the door. I cried.

That's what Halloween was about then. Not just the candy - but the fun. Running from house to house, running back to mom or dad and telling them what was just dropped into your pillow case. As we got older, the night was a competition. When we didn't need our parents right at our side, my brother and I broke into a mad dash for the TV tray house. The house two blocks over next to the brown house on the corner with the big black dog. The elderly woman who lived there (who we oddly enough - only saw one day a year)would set out cans of soda, comic books, full and king size candy bars, bags of chips and gummy tarantulas on a line of TV trays - and she let you pick. That's what was so cool.

We knew the houses by heart. We knew our neighbor two doors down, who always threatened to shoot any neighborhood cats that had gotten loose, gave out pennies (heartless bastard). If we could make it a few blocks past our regular neighborhood to Crestwood - we'd score cans of Cherry 7-Up and A&W Cream Soda. I didn't have any friends of my own in the neighborhood - they were mostly my brother's age and his friends - but their parents still gave each of us extra hand fulls of sweet and gooey stuff.

Then we'd set out what we'd collected for the night, my brother and I. We didn't always have the best relationship as children, but on Halloween, we were ready to do business. We'd set up our merchandise night after night - once we'd gotten everything we wanted, we stopped. Our pillow cases were kept in our own secret spaces, to avoid theft.

Halloween was a night of delicious sin. Junk food, devilish costumes, pandering and bartering all in one. It's not the same anymore. Our pillowcases were washed and smelled like Tide. As I sat on Leslie's porch passing out tootsie rolls and pops, some pillowcases had drool marks on them. I swear. We were creative w/ our costumes. Sometimes we fell for a fad, but it was still a bonafide costume. If you couldn't come up w/ something new, it had to have some sort of make-up or blood to make it viable. Now, kids as old as me walk around in sweatshirts carrying WalMart bags trick-or-treating as "high school football fan". Seriously? Fun Size candy bars - got a hell of a lot smaller and a lot more expensive. Babies trick-or-treat now. Which is really in kind of poor taste. "You know that thing ain't more than 3 mos old," Leslie said. "Can't eat any candy."

Girls of 12 go out with their friends dressed in fishnet stockings, shorts that barely cover their ass cheeks and bunny ears. Without their parents. Which is a good thing because I'd probably report their asses to Social Services if I knew who they were. Little five-year-old boys dress up as pimps - and have the walk down. Times have changed.

And then there's the curfew on trick-or-treating. Which is bullshite. Yet, the Halloweens I remember, the running through the night, the freedom and fun of it all - were all before a friend from the neighborhood was kidnapped while on a walk with my brother and some other friends. I suppose more neighborhoods have stories like that. And so you have a curfew. Because kids aren't safe anymore. Now we screen our candy through the Police because Mom isn't good enough. It sucks - but then again if kids aren't safe it's probably because their parents let them dress up as prostitutes and run around on their own.

I was seven when my parents divorced - so I probably only had five or six good ol' fashioned Halloweens. But on those nights, we were free to do as we pleased and be anyone but ourselves. Those are the only memories I have of my father being protective, holding me in his arms far from the gorilla man. Even though my brother was 3 years older than me - and technically cooler - we bartered together and had jolly good fun. Who knew our neat little rows of treats were a glimpse into the obsessively structured adults we now are.

Trick-or-treat indeed.

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