Whereupon Amy Gets Upset That Halloween Isn’t What It Used To Be and Sits On Her Porch Waiting for Kids Who Follow Old-School Halloween Rules and They Never Come

I don’t ask for much. 

Really.

I’m pretty low maintenance, though I can already hear the chorus of laughter coming from Dave and my family. To hear them tell it, you’d think I was asking for jewelry from Tiffany and a personal shopper at Nordstrom every weekend. Okay, maybe I am currently obsessed with the camel-colored corduroy Jones New York Signature trench coat I saw in a magazine and isn’t for sale anywhere in the universe right now, but other than that, I’m about as maintenance-free as a Maytag washer.

Except when it comes to Halloween (and the aforementioned corduroy trench).

In the words of Walter in the Big Lewbowski: “There are rules. Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one who gives a shit about rules? Mark it zero.”

Walter was talking about bowling but the same goose egg goes to today’s version of Halloween. It deserves zero points for style, for fun, for anything resembling what the holiday used to be. My brother Kevin has a t-shirt he wears on this presently very un-holiday night that says: “Halloween Sucks.” 

Precisely.

Why does Halloween suck? Thanks for asking. Because All Hallows’ Eve has been sanitized down to nothing more than another controlled, boring playdate for kids. Gotta make sure everyone is safer than Fort Knox on lockdown. Gotta control how much candy kids eat. Gotta light up streets as if it’s Christmas lest the trick-or-treaters recoil in fear of a darkened porch stoop.

Last week, in an effort to offer up tips for a “danger-free” Halloween, an Akron Beacon Journal article suggested the following:

Consider staying home. Akron Children’s Hospital suggests hosting a neighborhood block party and costume contest as an alternative to trick-or-treating.

WHAT? STAY HOME? ON HALLOWEEN? TRICK-OR-TREATING IN YOUR NEIGHBOR’S LIVING ROOM? (All caps and boldface type added to mirror exactly how loudly I said these exact words when I read that line above.)

Who in the heck stays home when there are pillowcases to be filled, doors to be knocked, streets to run amok on, candy to be sorted and hidden from your brothers and sisters, and sometimes even your dad if your dad happened to like Baby Ruths as much as mine did? Stay home? Unthinkable. Halloween was close to Christmas on the Major Fun Scale when I was a kid. Now it ranks right up there with President’s Day. Maybe kids today get enough free candy throughout the year that Halloween doesn’t hold the kind of magic it did when I was young. But who in the heck would stay home when there are a kajillion people out there just waiting to give out free candy that doesn’t require you to do any other chore except haul your costumed carcass across some yards and say trick-or-treat and thank you when the booty goes plunk in your bag? Is this not the easiest way to get gifts ever? And there’s no Pumpkin Claus threatening to take your presents away if you haven’t been a good little boy or girl.

I mean, Halloween is EASY.  Even easier than Easter. It doesn’t require church or frilly dresses or the smell of hard-boiled eggs that you’ve tried to color pretty pastels but have all turned out various shades of puce and grey because you couldn’t leave well enough alone by dipping the egg in just one color. And even if you’re Catholic and you go to church for All Saints Day the next morning, you’re so deep into your sugar coma that you don’t mind a little post-Halloween R&R.

Alas, Halloween just ain’t what it used to be. And it pains me to say this because then I sound like some cranky old fool who doesn’t understand “kids these days.” So be it because I don’t get it. This ho-hum Halloween attitude has reached epidemic proportions and it creeps me out more than any devilish mask used to. 

Case in point: Of the 50 or so kids who braved the poor weather in our neighborhood on Saturday (from 4 to 7 p.m., mind you, before it even gets dark), I’d say 25 percent were actually wearing anything that resembled a costume — and I have even loosened my costume rules over the years. I used to want all kids in homemade costumes that they dreamed up themselves, sort of like I did. But, given the rush-rush lives of parents today, I know that’s an impossible expectation. So I’ll settle for a mask and maybe some type of cape. What we mostly saw on Saturday were sweatsuit ensembles. Apparently, the kids were so bored with the idea of Halloween they thought they were going to bed instead of going outside.

The parents were no more into it than their kids. I saw one parent in the true spirit of the night. He was dressed as Count Dracula, a la Bela Lugosi era.  The rest were shuffling down the sidewalk at Bataan-Death-March speed and looking about as happy as prisoners of war.

This, of course, was a big topic of conversation at the adult block party later that night whereupon a whopping six of us (all in our 30s and 40s, mind you) huddled under a picnic table umbrella in the middle of the street in the pouring down rain, and reminisced about our Halloweens of yore. We were desperate to relive the holiday of our youth. Those years when we were free to roam the darkest of streets in search of regular-sized candy bars and the scariest of houses. Sure, our parents may have been with us up until a certain age, but our moms and dads always hung back a little and let us dash ahead to the next house. It was one of the unwritten rules that clearly should have been written down because it’s been forgotten with all the other ones. Bill, the block party coordinator, also abides by the old-school rules. A kid without a costume was required to tell him what she was dressed as before getting any candy. If the answer was lame? No candy. Forget to say trick-or-treat? No candy for you!

So, under the umbrella we recited the Rules of Halloween That No One Follows Anymore and, If Followed, Would Certainly Bring About More Happiness and World Peace:

  • Choose the optimist’s trick-or-treat bag — a pillow case. The bigger, the better. Why limit yourself to a grocery bag when you could fill a pillowcase with all sorts of cavity-inducing material? A pillow case says you mean business, that you’re a professional and you know you’ll get gobs of candy that will last you through Easter.
  • Wear a costume, preferably one you helped make or at least one you waffled over for about three months before you decided that, yes, this year, you would be the Leprechaun-Hockey Player-Witch because you liked pieces of each costume and couldn’t really choose between so many great options.
  • If you’re a teenage guy, you have to – at least once – dress as a woman. It’s especially great if you’re borrowing one of your mom’s old wigs from the era of “frosted hair” but not essential and no style points would be deducted for the lack of wig. Vice versa for girls.
  • Travel in packs, preferably with quick-footed, gym-shoed friends who want to cover as much territory as possible. This is the only night when unsensible shoes are forbidden, unless you’re the aforementioned teenage male dressed as a female, in which case, pumps are a must.
  • Spend hours at school plotting your trick-or-treat route when you should really be listening to the math teacher  — Think of it as a big story problem since you’re not doing the math you’re supposed to. If you can knock off six wealthy streets in one hour and eight sort-of good streets in two hours, how much candy will you have in your pillowcase? Factor in the places where the houses sit back from the road and most kids won’t attempt to go. There, you will find the biggest candy bars ever! Okay, so maybe that’s where the story problem goes off the rails but who needs story problems in real life anyway?
  • Beg your parents to drive you to a wealthy neighborhood, and raid every white-pillared porch you can. Again, big candy awaits you.
  • You must work for your candy. Say (preferably in a screaming manner) “trick-or-treat” at every door. 
  • The louder the better – your goal should be to lose your voice by the end of the night because you’ve screamed trick-or-treat at the top of your lungs a kajillion times.
  • Knock on doors even if the porch light isn’t on. Chances are good someone is hiding in there waiting to scare the living daylights out of you which is what Halloween is all about.
  • Consider it a successful night if, and only if, you get chased from at least one yard.
  • Leave the pumpkins in their unsmashed state – they’re cooledr that way.
  • Ignore the weather – cold, rainy, hot. Who cares? You are getting FREE candy. A little soggy cotton is the sacrifice you make for sugar.
  • Say thank you when you get candy. In fact, if you say thanks and look really cute, you might get an extra piece.
  • Hide candy from your older brothers and sisters, who will make every attempt to eat all of your good stuff. Don’t trust your parents either. The backs of underwear drawers work. Somewhere in your mess of a closet. In my old room, my dad had made a built-in desk and one of the bottom shelves lifted up to reveal a nice little cubbyhole. I hid all sorts of stuff in there, including Halloween candy. I’m hoping I got all my hidden treasures out of there before mom and dad moved.

Call me cranky but if kids followed the Halloween rules from our childhood, they’d have far more fun. If the media would stop freaking parents out about keeping kids ultra-safe, it’d make for a better holiday. I know the world isn’t as carefree as it was in the 70s when the six of us Halloween die-hards under that umbrella were of trick-or-treating age, but the Culture of Fear continues to dominate our kids’ free time. Can’t play outside after dark (thus the reason half the kids today have no idea how to play Ghost in the Graveyard but could kick our asses at Playstation). Can’t stand at the bus stop alone. Can’t stray too far away from the block on Halloween. The list goes on and on.

Really bad things do happen to some good kids but the incidents are blown out of proportion by the media. A quick Google search didn’t bring up any major uptick in crimes or child abductions on Halloween night. In fact, most of the increases in arrests occur on college campuses, like my alma mater, Ohio University, where Halloween is celebrated in all its raucous glory.

Kids are probably more likely to be shocked by a short in their Playstation than they are to be abducted by a masked marauder. I’m not saying it’s an impossibility and I’m not advocating that parents shove their 5-year-olds out the door and let them roam crime-ridden areas. I’m just saying that we all take risks every day, so why not let kids be kids on Halloween? Give them a little space. Let them stay out a little later than usual and eat all the candy they want. I’m not a parent so, clearly, I don’t have to live with the Halloween hungover kids the next day but isn’t it worth knowing they’ll have some great memories instead of thinking back on Halloween and wondering whether they dressed as a sleepy person in pajamas or maybe they really just were asleep during the whole night?

As I type this, “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is on our TV and I am watching it, just like I did when I was a kid. Because that’s one of the rules. And I give a shit about these rules.

6 comments ↓

#1 Jeannie on 10.30.07 at 7:28 pm

Amy-
I totally agree. This evening at work I was talking to the tech (who is 18) about Halloween just isnt what it used to be. It makes me sad too. Funny that you typed about this right after I was talking about it. I cant wait to dress Hope up tomorow nite in the costume she picked out (Blue from Blue’s Clues) and take her out. Granted, she is only 2, but I want to make some good memories. Happy almost Halloween!
jeannie

#2 Ann on 10.31.07 at 12:29 am

I enjoyed reading this very much. (Although I never got to have a free-range Halloween as a kid, I do agree about the sanctity of costumes and hiding your best candy.)

#3 dave on 10.31.07 at 9:14 am

Great rant!

Baby boomers have ruined nearly everything.

Including Halloween. Nice work, folks.

#4 SoupSisterSincinnati on 11.01.07 at 3:12 pm

All that and not a single mention of bars of soap and cans of shaving cream?
No homage to wax teeth, lips, or other liquid-filled wax novelties for that matter?
No conversion table for the candy rate of exchange? (i.e. 3 Bit-O-Honey and 1 Charms Blow Pop = 1 Snickers)

Oh Halloween, I knew ye well.

We did not have a single Trick-or-Treater last night.
🙁

#5 Mary on 11.06.07 at 11:42 am

Hey Aim,

You’ll be glad to know that Halloween is alive and well in Wyandotte MI. Andrew and his buddies went out by themselves this year unlike his other friends. They were however disappointed with their loot it seems age and candy are inversely related when it comes to Halloween. The only bummer was trick or treating was from 5:30 – 7:30 and it wasn’t dark yet. He is writing to the Mayor to petition that Halloween be changed to 6-8. Did we have a time when we were growing up?

He did score at Dunkin Donuts and the bars in our neighborhood. Overall Claudia made out with a brown grocery bag 3/4th full of candy. Halfway through she stopped off at home and we convinced her to empty her bag so that everyone would take pity on her because her bag was empty. Amid shouts from our neighbors as “scammers” she dumped and came back home with more booty.

Have you heard the new fad? Trunk or treat? It’s where you go to a parking lot lift your trunk and give the candy away out of the back of your car. UGH! If your going to do that just buy your kids a variety bag of candy, let them stand outside your door yell trick or treat, you can dump the whole bag in their bag, they can then come back inside and eat their candy.

#6 Angel on 10.31.11 at 11:23 am

Amy, no truer words were said. I turned toward my 21 year old to point out the beggars who carried on conversations on their cell phones. I hated to interupt them to put candy in their poorly designed treat bags. The art of Trick or Treat is lost on this generation! When my kids were little and hitting the streets in well constructed costumes i would threaten that if i couldn’t hear “Trick or Treat of Thank You” from the sidewalk I would get that piece of candy. They got to be very quick learners…the little goblins!

Leave a Comment