2010.11.03 Tricking with Treats

Written by David Green.

From Nov. 3, 1999

Tricking with Halloween treats

The dentist’s favorite holiday is over for another year—at least it is for you as a reader. For me, the writer, it’s just arriving. Tonight I will put on some odd clothing and a mask and sit on the porch with my little ceramic bulldog.

I’m one of those adults who has a little too much fun on Halloween. I can’t simply pass out the goods; that’s too easy. I’m sure this was learned from my father. Any little kids who have had the unfortunate experience of ringing his doorbell when he’s operating at his prime (before my mother takes over) will have a story to tell when they get home.

There’s a much worse sort of house to visit than the typical scary place. I’m talking about houses where the adults force the kids to interact with them somehow. They make the trick-or-treater enter into their little drama before they get a little bag of Sweet Tarts.

Think of the poor kids. Their field of vision is severely restricted through the tiny eye holes of an ill-fitting mask. Condensation is building up and their face feels as though it’s rotting away.

They don’t want to be forced to walk inside the house and stick their hand in a bow of fake eyeballs. They just want to take the darn candy and get on to the next house.

I remember years when I’ve kept a tally of the number of children who turn and run back to the car crying. That certainly isn’t my goal and it’s not a big number. Never more than half a dozen. When they turn and run, I know it’s time to tone it down, or at least to check the kids’ age more carefully before they get up close.

I’ve had problems when I’ve dropped out of a tree or when I’ve hidden under a pile of leaves quaking and moaning. The current surly-old-lady-on-the-porch routine doesn’t cause too much fear.

It’s nothing like the comedy routine I heard on the radio yesterday. A woman complained that costumes aren’t scary anymore. Then the doorbell rang and she asked the visitors what they were supposed to be. “I’m a dark cloud over Wall Street,” one said. “I’m Alan Greenspan in a panic,” said the other.

Next she found a girl at her door wearing a formal dress but suffering from really bad hair. “I am the memory of your senior prom.”

That was a little unsettling, but then it got worse. The next kid ringing her doorbell was wearing a tutu and holding a broken mirror. “I am your broken dream of becoming a ballet dancer.”

“Here’s your candy. Now just go away!” said the woman.

Next came a kid wearing one of the woman’s dresses, but her hair looked like her mother’s.

“Are you supposed to be me or her?” asked the woman.

“I am you in five years,” answered the young girl.

After the woman ran to the basement screaming, her husband went outside and paid off the neighborhood kids for helping him celebrate Halloween.

One of the highlights of the holiday is the aftermath. I don’t exactly look forward to it; I’m just overwhelmed by the sight of all that junk.

My kids always come home and empty their bags onto the living room floor. Three giant mounds of sweets. Then the sorting begins. Soon every brand of candy appears neatly lined up by name like little gardens of tooth rot.

Next comes the trading. Maddy will give up all of Candy A in exchange for Rosanna’s Candy B. Ben will trade five of Candy C for three of Candy D. Eventually a new pile emerges, containing all the undesired items that no decent trick-or-treater would ask for. Apples, pennies, really cheap candy. My kids tell me that I’m welcome to anything from this pile.

At least their candy doesn’t have any dog saliva on it. That’s what I always give out.

I sit on the front porch with my ceramic dog, Buster, and I ask him to clean the candy off. “Here, Buster, lick this off for the kiddies,” I say, and Buster slurps away before the item is quickly tossed into the begging bag.

It’s just too much fun.

• The 2010 report: Half a dozen were afraid to approach the man standing in the garbage can; only one cried.

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