“That’s child abuse of the worst kind,” I blurted out during a departmental picnic. My colleague had just described the Hallowe’en Fairy, an annual apparition who does more than don striped stockings and an orange micro-mini skirt before embarrassing herself in public. This Hallowe’en Fairy is like the Tooth Fairy, but more evil. Instead of providing cash for gummy teeth stuck beneath pillows, my colleague’s version of the October Princess steals the bags of candy collected by his children—three girls—replacing the sugary sacks with a healthier toy or gift of clothing. I was and remain outraged by this mythological creature of convenience! Such an anti-gorging intervention would never have worked in my childhood home, a relatively impoverished one filled with four rabid youngsters, each equipped with a strong survival instinct. At my house, the Hallowe’en Fairy, or anyone else attempting to wrest the plastic grocery bags laden with treats from our locked arms as we slept, would have been driven into the narrow hallway, beaten senseless, and then repeatedly stabbed. “We have a code here, bitch, and the first rule is: do not mess with the fucking Kit Kats and mini rockets.”
Ah, how I sigh with nostalgia. That golden era of childhood is over. Gone are the days when parents would send their kids outside to play unsupervised for 12 hours, barely noticing when adventurous 8 years olds would start bon fires, take the family truck for a spin, or (briefly) ride a skateboard hitched to the back of a bicycle. Such happy memories make my eyes well with tears, and I have not even mentioned the bags of steaming dog poop delivered to annoying neighbours, or the ingeniously captured wasp farm experiments. [Ummm. How are we going to set them free, exactly?] Unfortunately, also gone are the days of “sink or swim” non-intervention in the street brawls occasioned by a hole in the road hockey net, or a Double Dutch mishap. Worst of all, children no longer go out for Hallowe’en parentless, for hours on end, collecting 30 pounds of candy to be eaten in mere days, with attendant burping, farting, and occasional vomiting, while watching cartoons in an otherwise motionless state. “Oh Mighty Isis.” Blaaaarg.
Back in my day kids were still kids: that is, they were violent, greedy, weird, and misshapen, just like those featured in Frankenweenie. [Aside: loved that film]. Now every child is all cute and princessy, jumping in the bouncy tent installed in the living room while wearing a helmet. Fuck that noise. The main problem with this new protective vision of childhood, aside from some bullshit nutritional standards designed to lay the foundation for future physical and mental development, is that key life lessons are no longer being delivered. Hallowe’en used to be an instructive holiday, teaching children the skills of barter, trade, and a certain degree of hoarding. It was an event that usefully promoted crucial strategies of deception, such as hiding the homemade candy that your mom would throw away as “poison,” while gleefully offering up the razor-filled apples. Hallowe’en furthermore taught children a key lesson in disappointment, preparing them to enter an adult world in which this experience would be repeated, again and again, endlessly.
Disappointment was especially associated with the much anticipated Hallowe’en costume. Back in the day, these would never be purchased at a store. Well, Zellers usually carried a few giraffe masks, made in China from toxic plastic, and equipped with a rubber band that would squeeze your face, forcing the sharply narrow eye slits painfully against your pupils. But such luxuries cost money, so were not an option for us. Inventiveness and creativity were required in order to produce a costume from things found around the house, in the street, or in the neighbour’s garbage pile. In the heady days of liberated childhood, we would imagine the best costume ever, but then be faced with reality. That which we eventually cobbled together could never live up to what we had seen on TV or had fantasized about for weeks. Allow me to provide a personal example…
Here I am as a happy grade fiver, dreaming about the magnificent witch identity that I would soon create from variously assembled crap, including an old bottle of green food colouring found in the kitchen “junk drawer.” It was only partly dried up. ”Oh,” I sang to myself while skipping home from school, “I will surely win the prize at the Hallowe’en party this year!”
This photograph documents the actual costume that resulted. Please note that a piece of gray construction paper has been stapled into a cone-like hat. A festive crepe table cloth with head hole ripped into the middle serves as my dress. You will be surprised to hear that I was not awarded the prize that year. A younger and cuter girl won it, although she wore only a store-bought witch mask equipped with a mechanical crone nose that moved up and down in a beguiling fashion. Where the fuck did she get that? Probably from some fancy shop that I had never heard of, like Simpson Sears. In any case, I knew that she had rich parents. My naïvely optimistic belief in fairness, and my innocent contention that hard work would always be rewarded, were squashed that day, replaced by a bitter, angry, and more practical person. That was for the best. Because in the end, I turned out pretty good, right?
Perhaps not all hope is lost. While jogging in Merced I received a sign, indicating that some people still embrace the true meaning of Hallowe’en.