Friday, October 26, 2007

HALLOWEEN WEEK: trick or treat

Halloween was thrilling. If it landed on a school day, and it mostly did, you were so distracted and filled with such adrenal anticipation you could hardly concentrate on your teacher's droning monotone. At home, you had a costume waiting. The costume was magic and mythic. It warded off evil by assuming evil, an aspect of what Levi-Strauss (Claude, not the jeans manufacturer) referred to as "totemization." A lion hunter, say, dressing as a lion. Anyway, we dressed as what we feared after gulping down dinner, and racing out into the cold. No adult chaperones. We went alone into that fearsome night.
Some kids had fancy costumes with sharp die-cut plastic masks you could barely see through, and flimsy, flammable plastic suits that tied like bibs around the neck. Great for a dark, rainy night dodging traffic. On the other hand, we were pros. Me and my cousins generally dressed in old clothes and passed for hoboes and pirates. Some kids -- newcomers -- carried little plastic pumpkins for candy that filled up after a few fun-size Snickers and were useless, but we carried big brown paper bags or pillowcases for our loot. The night was magical. We roamed until the porchlights went out, miles from home. We entered an altered state as powerful as any drug, our minds swimming with jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and toxic levels of blood sugar. We'd hit a line of houses, then sit on corners eating little Hersheys, Baby Ruths, rolls of Sweet Tarts, always on guard for the proverbial apple with the razor blade.

"You must be the Lost Patrol," one old timer said, after we'd rousted him to the porch long after curfew. "That's us," said my cousin Mike, a hobo. Late nighters had it harder getting home. By then, high school kids were driving around looking for trouble, trying to steal loot, get you with squirt-guns -- or worse, firecrackers. You stumbled upon some hoods soaping windows or smashing pumpkins (not the musical group, the activity), and they'd give you a good chase. You'd run screaming, they'd be right behind, flying through yards and over hedges until they got winded and finally stopped for a cigarette, still cursing you as they gulped for air and nicotine. Teenage hoods were scary, but they were no match for hoboes and pirates.
Today, in this fearful age of Homeland Halloween Security, with lockdown rec room parties, and parent chaperones armed with mace and pepper spray, it must be an entirely different experience. Good luck, kids. Don't eat too much candy.

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