Fall is here and it is time to break out all the pumpkin-spiced products. Relish in the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the clove, and the most important ingredient, the king of all squash – the “Great Pumpkin.” I now can enjoy the crisp autumn air as I visit the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and order my box of pumpkin-spiced munchkins. Let me sit back pop one in my mouth, enjoy the taste of the season, and think about cracking open my orange and black bins of holiday horror. It means that Halloween is on its way. It’s time to break out the spooky decorations and try and scare the crap out of the neighborhood children.
Since I was a child, the use of Halloween decorations and the celebration of “All Hallows Eve” have grown exponentially. Halloween has become the second biggest decorated holiday after Christmas. I love seeing people’s houses decked out in terror, in the anticipation of the giant sugar rush of “Trick or Treat” night.
Now, there are bite-sized versions of every candy that can be conveniently tucked inside mom’s pillowcase or the industrial “Trick or Treat” satchel. Children arrive home with enough candy to open concession stands, and to provide a very Happy New Year to the family dentist. They go to bed cuddling with their pile of high fructose crack, while the Juvenile Diabetes Fairy lurks around the corner with her fat ankles and cavity filled smile.
Although it sounds cliché, it is a different world now than when I celebrated Halloween as a child. I didn’t have a candy curfew. I didn’t venture out to collect my “Trick or Treat” booty until the moon had risen and the witching hour had begun. I didn’t need to be accompanied by an adult to travel from house to house. I went with a group of friends or my older sister – who nobody messed with.
I didn’t only go to houses of people I knew; I went to everyone in the neighborhood’s homes, and then crossed over to other neighborhoods. My friends and I became a band of candy hoarding gypsies trying to hit as many places as we could. We were the Jehovah Witnesses of Candyland offering up our open bags like a tattered Watchtower, waiting to see if we would be invited in to deliver the sweet sound of “Trick or Treat.”
Our bags were filled with full sized candy bars. This was the era before the fun sized bags of miniaturized candy. We drooled over the Hershey and Baby Ruth bars in anticipation of what goodness would be waiting for us behind door number three. If we received an apple or an orange it was a personal affront to our juvenile sensibility. “Fuck you Green Grocer!” “There’s no fruit on Halloween night.” We would write off that house as a place to stop, and a vendetta was sealed.
A “Trick” was in store for the fruit-giving loser. We were the four-foot Godfathers of Jersey. We delivered vengeance on our banana seated, chrome wheeled, get-a-way bikes. Try backing out of your driveway with a clementine stuck in your tail pipe or good luck getting your mail out of the box filled with rotten apples. You will rethink passing out those healthy snacks and ignoring the candy with a costume doctrine, after we have issued delivering our calling card. Don’t mess with the Don, the Billy or the Vince.
I was never worried over receiving a razor blade in an apple or strangely colored (amphetamine) M&M’s. The crazies hadn’t started passing out treats yet. They were still locked in their houses, fogging up the windows, pressed to the glass, as they privately spied on the neighborhood kids in their costumes. I knew which houses to stay away from. I heard the stories about the old lady that never took her winter coat off or the man at the corner who was married to his dog named “Mrs. Jones.”
Even if they had started distributing their brand of crazy, the razor blade could go to my dad. He could always use the extra for shaving. The brightly colored M&M’s could be added to all the other diet pills my mom was taking. They deserved an extra treat for providing me with the costume to loot the neighborhood. I am sure that my parents kept a watchful eye on us, but I never felt their constraint as my sister and I stumbled in at 8:30 PM, arguing over who had more candy. We didn’t have chaperones, or a neighborhood watch – just the razor sharp heel of my mom’s shoe. The shoe could travel great distances, go around corners and open closed doors. It was a leather-covered heat-seeking missile, and it provided protection and a warning to anyone venturing into our air space.
Once home, we would drop our bags and quickly shed our costumes, as the warmth of the house enveloped us. This was before global warming was messing with weather patterns. Our Halloween nights were cold and most times we were covered in thermal underwear or some other clothing underneath our costumes. When we completed our brisk jaunt lugging our candy stash, the heat build up from the layers of clothing and the synthetic costume material would create a sauna against our bodies. The plastic mask would be vapored locked to my face from the moisture buildup of breathing into it for three hours. My mom would only have a few minutes to peel off the masks and the clothing before we would collapse onto the floor in a puddle of perspiration.
I guess the strenuous workout of Halloween night helped in burning off the excess calories of our pile of sweets. We would unload our bags and compare the items to see if we were happy with our night’s work. Sometimes the bartering would begin if I had something I didn’t like and I wanted to trade it out. There was always a delicate balance in the candy trading market – the art of the sweet deal. There were candies that had more prestige than others. They possessed a greater street value by the worth of their brand name or ingredients. Chocolate and nuts always trumped just a simple sugar product, so you had to know when to go for the two for one deal.
“I will trade you my Chunky bar for two packs of your Necco wafers,” I’d urge my sister. She would fondle her stash in contemplation of my offer. She was like Rumpelstiltskin admiring his gold. It was like a trade on the stock exchange floor where timing was important for each party’s satisfaction. “It’s chocolate,” I’d squeak in my prepubescent voice. She would finally agree and the transaction would take place. I always hated Chunky bars. Who wanted raisins in their candy bar? “Yuck!” It was never a sacrifice for me to give up a Chunky, so I was usually the victor with the sweetest spoils.
Halloween night would always end with chocolate smeared across my face and
flannel pajamas. I would make a list of all the candy I received to compare it with my friends at school – the bartering did extend to the playground. Also, the list served as an inventory control for any missing pieces that were finding their way into my sister or parent’s mouths. No one was going to rain on my “Trick or Treat” parade.
My Halloweens are unique to me, but I am sure everyone who has wiggled into a costume has similar recollections. Everyone’s experience is relative to the time, the place and the circumstance. For me, my Halloween excursions were in a much simpler time, but that doesn’t mean they were better – just different. So whether your costume was homemade, purchased at the 5&10 or chosen from the seasonal aisle at Target, it still should hold the excitement, wonder and mystery of Halloween. So every year when autumn arrives, we should enjoy the seasonal change, celebrate Halloween and by all means share a pumpkin spiced memory.