Inside Doug's Head

I am not a number, I am… What's that stuff they make glue out of? I'm that. Forever swirling, forwards and upwards, but always sticky. Sometimes, a little sad.

On some calendars, November 1st is the traditional day after Halloween, and now that I am getting to be an old man, I can start stories with, back when I was a kid…

When I was a kid, Halloween was a very special time of the year, ranking right up there with Christmas in that they both offered free stuff for very little effort. It was our chance to meet the neighbors and terrorize them.

We would start early and stay out late, only occasionally making a quick stop at home to drop off a load of goodies. We walked everywhere, and nobody took a van load of kids anywhere. The time would have reverted to standard time the previous week, so by 6pm it was as dark as midnight, and mid-October is the unofficial start of a Canadian winter, so it was almost always below freezing by October 31st. The key to a good costume was that it had to be warm.

We never bought our costumes, we always made them ourselves. Usually the planning would start as early as August, but daydreaming of the perfect costume, something with elaborate lights and complex moving parts, inevitably would give way to long bouts of procrastination. The result was the last minute rush to assemble something worthy of candy, usually hastily improvised out of found supplies like garbage bags, cardboard, lots of tape, and aluminum foil.

Two particular costumes of mine stand out in my fading memory: The first was the time that I painted a cardboard box silver and drew rivet decorations on it to look like formed sheet metal (I think I was trying to be an air conditioner plenum). Then, I cut a hole in the top and mounted a flashlight in it so that it would light the way in front of me. When I put the contraption on my head, I realized I could not see through the box, so I cut two eye holes in the front (because my eyes are located in the front), but the holes were not positioned or spaced very well and still I could not see. I figured I would have to rely on my friends to point me in the right direction. I tripped over things all night and fell down a lot because my friends were terrible seeing eye dogs.

The second noteworthy costume was the time that I wrapped myself up in gauze bandages from head to foot. It started out OK, but as I walked around, the bandages shifted, slid downward, and became entangled in my limb joints that I needed for moving. As time went on, the condition worsened, and I realized why all of the mummies in the movies walked so slowly and awkwardly. By the end of the night I looked more like a car accident victim than a mummy, so I went with it.

When desperation was at a peak and ideas were not to be had, I would go out as the old standby, the nefarious hobo. All that it took was to don a jacket and shirt pilfered from my father’s closet, and rub a small amount of shoe polish on my cheeks to give me the unwashed, or unshaven, look. An improvised bindle on a stick completed the ensemble. Keep in mind that these were my dad’s regular work clothes, so it was quite the social statement I was making at the time, that when I wore them I looked unemployable, especially with the shirt buttoned-up crooked. The benefit of the hobo attire was that you could dress in layers to stay warm.

Parents never went door to door with the kids, not a chance. We lived in a middleclass suburban neighborhood, all of the kids went to school together and we all knew each other, so the parents had a misplaced sense of total security in the community. The most supervision that would happen would be that an older sibling of one of us would make the promise (fingers crossed) to our parent that they would look after us while we were out. Fortunately, the moment they met up with their friends they would abandon us with the admonishment, “Now, don’t get lost or hit by a car, and if you tell Mom that I left you…” The threat always remained unfinished because we knew it would be a fate worse than death, even though our older siblings lacked imagination.

Within a short time of being out on the streets, we would self-coalesce into groups of our cohorts. First two or three of us, then 10, 20, and eventually 50 or more. When 100 kids ring your doorbell with, “Trick or treat!” you had better have the treat, because the trick would be sure to follow. There were always the houses where the residents pretended to be away by turning out all of the lights and hiding when the doorbell rang. They got tricked the worst. By morning, these houses would be covered in toilet paper, eggs, shampoo, urine, and anything else that would stink or stick and not come off easily in the rain. Hey, we didn’t make the rules, we just applied them with judicious enthusiasm.

Finally, sometime around 11pm we would make our way back home. All of the spoils of our labor would be dumped upon the floor with a flourish, and a we would revel in hedonistic pleasure at the magnificence of our haul. Then we got all bureaucratic and anal and started sorting it all into related piles: chips, cheezies, chocolate bars, mini caramels, those little sour gobs wrapped in wax paper, licorice, pixie stix (diabetes in a straw), suckers, smarties (the real ones), and so much more. As we sorted we indulged in our favorites and traded away the less valuable items.

For the rest of the night, we would watch lame spooky movies and eat candy until we puked. Within two weeks of the event, even the kisses were gone.

Loose-tooth pulling, filling removing Halloween kisses. Considered to be the less valuable candy in the goody bag, these were often given to parents in exchange for love.

In addition to the expected candy, we would also discover the odd sets of toothbrush and dental floss in with the mix. Obviously, these came from the dentists of the neighborhood, who, it was thought, were trying to make some sort of a social statement by not giving us the candy we deserved. In reality, they get these things from their office, so they either do not cost anything or they are tax deductible. It’s really cheap of them, as if I gave your kids a pen and packet of sticky notes that I lifted from the supply cabinet at my work. Really, I do not recall any spooky stories about the sinister witch giving Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, dental carries. Spooooooky ooooooh…if only he had flossed regularly.

Equally unusual were the treats from the rich houses, owned by people who did not work and had no obvious means of income, but were somehow “wealthy”. I never knew that consignment clothing sales was such a profitable business, but I can only imagine the tax advantages of an all-cash no-receipt operating model. From these places we would get cans of pop (or, soda as they call it in the intellectually underdeveloped parts of the world), full-sized chocolate bars, McDonald’s gift certificates, and envelopes of money. The last two were not as good as candy, but at least there was a conversion process available. Rarely, we would receive a small packet of cocaine, which our parents usually fought us for.

We would also get the homemade treats, like caramel popcorn, candied and regular apples, R-K squares, and other wonderful things. Then, some news jerk, probably sponsored by the candy corporations, started promoting the urban legend that all of the homemade stuff was poisoned, and the apples were filled with razor blades and rusty nails, which put an end to the homemade treat industry. I miss those days. There never has been an actual documented case of anyone finding a razor blade in an apple, yet the news people still caution parents to not let children eat the apples. OK, Snow White, whatever you say.

There was the unwritten rule that when you turned 12 or 13, it all came to an end. I adhered to that rule, so when I finally had children of my own, I was really looking forward to a few more years of Halloween adventures. By that time, though, quite a bit had changed.

Over time, the responsibility of their children’s enjoyment of Halloween had shifted to the parent side of the equation. It was a disappointment for me to discover that the parents, not the kids, had to arrange for the costumes, which were usually made in China and purchased from Walmart or Zellers. They do not even have Halloween in China.

In the same way that parents had taken to driving their kids to school, and shuttling them around to all of their after-school programs, they had also decided that it would be safer if they walked their kids door to door on Halloween. Of course, they drove them from neighborhood to neighborhood in large vans, but once in the target trick-or-treating zone they went with them in the quest for the holy candy.

Back then, I would try to get into the mood for Halloween. I would decorate the house, spread liberal amounts of dry ice about for the misty effect, and have creepy theme music playing in the background. The doorbell was modified to sound like thunder and lightning (the same thing, actually), and I would even get dressed up.

My daughter as a witch and I as an evil Borg. Resistance is really, really difficult.

After all of the work of getting the kids ready to go, it was disheartening when they wanted to go back home for the night after only being out for less than an hour. To keep going, they required all of the motivational encouragement of a man in a wheelchair trying to make it up the stairs of the CN tower. “But, we have only done one side of one street. Let’s just go one more block. I bet those people in the big house on the corner are giving out some good stuff. Come on, you can do it.” But, they could not, and we would end up back at home before 8pm.

Once returned home, the kids neither consumed nor cared about sorting the candy. Alas, some family traditions cannot be passed along to the next generation. Every year, we would find the previous year’s candy bag stuffed in a closet and still partially filled.

Last night, with the frequent ringing of the doorbell, caused me to think and reflect on Halloweens past, and to contemplate how the event has continued to change. Now, when the doorbell rings, I answer. The kids usually do not say the line, so I have to prompt them, “What? What do you want? Are you selling something? Say the line.” and the ubiquitous parents respond, “Trick or treat.”

The costumes are still bought, none of that MacGyver improvisational crap, or they are completely absent. Sometimes, they do not even bother wearing a costume. I put candy, not dental floss, in the kids’ treat bag or bucket, and the parents say, “Thank, you.” Soon, the parents will be going out alone as proxies for the children. The children will stay at home Twittering about how tired they are.

My wife and I can never agree on how many kids come to the door each year. The number is usually between zero and fifty. If we plan for fifty, we get zero and have leftovers. If we plan for zero, we get fifty and run out of treats, so we have to resort to handing out snacks from the cupboard. “Hey, kid here is a can of soup and some crackers.” We hardly ever give out canned milk or beer. Well, not deliberately.

Happy post-Halloween.


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