All Hallow's Eve is nigh, so we'll probably celebrate in the traditional manner: Lock the doors, close the shutters, turn out all the lights, and trust that the dogs will bark ferociously should anyone dare to knock. Just as added protection, I plan to hang a sign on the door that says "Quarantine! — Norovirus" and wrap the porch in yellow police tape.
It wasn't always like this. We participated in the pagan ritual of children shaking us down for candy for many years, just to see them in their costumes. When we first moved to this neighborhood, the local kids would come around while the young moms and dads stayed on the sidewalk carrying cocktails in Solo cups under the guise of "taking the children trick-or-treating." Maybe word got out that we were a candy-rich area because after a while, the nature of the tricksters changed. They seemed to be much older and not wearing children's-size costumes anymore. They were no longer dressed like pirates and princesses but more like prostitutes and pallbearers. Then van-loads of sugar-crazed teenagers began circling the block in search of Snickers. I finally decided that if you're old enough to drive, you're old enough to buy your own damn candy.
I used to love Halloween. When I was a kid, my sister and I would circle a neighborhood that was so wealthy, they handed out Dinstuhl's. I'm kidding, of course, but nearly every home was generous with their candy. Some people even went to the trouble of making caramel apples for us. But one year, after a "razor blade-in-the-apple" scare, that practice pretty much ended. No one in the civilized world ever found a razor blade in an apple.
There was one old man on our block who was too elderly to go shopping for candy, so every year, he gave us each one raw wiener. I would eat it before we got home so my mother wouldn't take it away. I still find the old man's gesture touching.
Eventually, I aged out of the trick-or-treat scene and entered into the unholy world of teenager Halloween. This was the age of egging houses and rolling yards with toilet paper. When we said "trick-or-treat," we meant it. Some of the pranks we played would be classified as atrocities today. But we grew out of that too.
I have always believed that Halloween was for children. Maybe it's because when I was a child, I saw my parents leaving for a costume party dressed as two giant, pink rabbits. It's tough to take your dad seriously while he's wearing a fluffy cottontail. That's why I was never much into costumery as I grew older. Some friends used to throw an annual Halloween party Downtown. What began as a gathering of a small group of friends, turned into a bacchanalia of such grotesque and unmanageable proportions that the cops were often called, and no one could tell if they were real or just in costume. That's when I became convinced that grown-up Halloween was pretty much X-Rated and that it served as an opportunity for ordinarily staid ladies to dress up like sluts and sexy witches. My party invitation was rescinded after one year when I couldn't be bothered with a costume, so I just got naked, strapped on a pair of roller skates, and went as a pull-toy. At least it was inexpensive. Contrast that with the benchmark set in 2018, when 30 million Americans spent $480 million on costumes — for their pets.
I'm aware that times change. Now, children go door-to-door at their own risk and adults go bobbing for Xanax instead of apples. We had one kid show up at the door in a baggy blue suit and oversized red tie with a bad, blonde wig atop an orange painted face. When we asked him if he wanted some candy, he said, "If it's all the same, I'd rather have the cash." And to think that I used to put an illuminated Nixon mask in the front window to scare the children.
Elevating the fright level now are the "Haunted Houses." What once was a church-sponsored, family entertainment where cobwebs brushed your face and volunteer ghosts said "boo," has turned into gore-fests with professional actors and animatronics. One such "house" features a cemetery crawling with corpses awakened from their graves. Another leads patrons through an actual funeral home, where visitors are taken from the parlor to the embalming room to the morgue, and ultimately to hell. Memphis is home to several such haunted houses, one of which advertises "a brain bashing, fear soaked ... experience that will scare you to the core." Another brags of "ghastly butchery that won't be believed."
Such horror from a holiday that began as a day of prayer for the souls of the departed! These times are plenty scary enough for me as it is.
Now, what am I supposed to do with this bag of miniature Snickers?
Randy Haspel writes the "Recycled Hippies" blog.