Posted by David
on Nov 1, 2005 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Once when I was in college, I watched a black man get arrested on Maryland Avenue, right under my bedroom window. He was drunk and, faithful to some internal logic, had begun yelling nonsense at the top of his lungs. The police arrived within two minutes, their whooping sirens and flashing lights causing more upheaval than a hundred individual disturbers of the peace. What efficiency, I thought, especially considering they had never come for the dozens of shrieking white drunks who passed by that corner every week. Incensed, I was determined to set up a scientific experiment in which I would get drunk myself, stand on the street yelling, and see how long it took for me to get arrested, but in the end, I just ended up getting drunk and passing out on the floor. It must have been Wednesday.
Flash forward to last year. Rob and I became obsessed with our neighborhood’s annual brouhaha over whether to participate in the special “neighborhood” trick-or-treating the Saturday before Halloween, or to give out candy on Halloween itself, when “non-neighborhood” kids might show up, too. It became clear that, in this inner-city debate, neighborhood and non-neighborhood were code words for whiteand black respectively, and although I would not normally participate in any celebration involving candy and/or children (both of which I highly disapprove of), we were determined to provide a Halloween-night extravaganza for those much-maligned “non-neighborhood” kids. We bought scary costumes and festooned our porch in spiders, cobwebs, candles, and other macabre décor, topping off this tableau with creeping fog and spooky music and congratulating ourselves for being so prepared for the holiday when in fact there was no earthly way we could prepare for what happened next.
The kids started arriving before dark, dozens of them, then hundreds. Possibly as many as a third of them were in costume, said “trick or treat,” accepted one piece of candy, and said, “thank you.” The majority of our visitors wore their everyday clothes and dropped candy into their backpacks, worn across their chests in honor of the occasion, so they could gauge their haul at a glance. Older kids started arriving, jostling the littler ones out of the way and demanding more than one piece of candy; then they’d go around the block and come back to demand more. “Can I have an extra one for my cousin?” became the mantra of the evening so quickly that I began to feel sorry for the hundreds of cousins who had to stay home during such a festive free for all. Adults quickly picked up on this tactic and began trick-or-treating in the name of multiple children who were mysteriously absent. The later it got, the wilder it became. Kids who didn’t like our candy selection literally threw it back in our faces or pelted each other with it on the sidewalk. When I went outside in my costume, which allowed little in the way of peripheral vision, I was deliberately shoved and kicked from behind.
As I normally don’t even like to see a child from a hundred yards away, you can imagine my reaction to this behavior. I felt so thoroughly upset and betrayed by my ideals that when my plasticine neighbors started talking about what a fun evening they had in the midst of all the “non-neighborhood” children, I asked them if they had spent it on Mars. I, who am more liberal than anyone I know, was transformed into a grousing Archie Bunker.
This year, the trauma still fresh in my psyche, my first impulse was to ban Halloween entirely, but Rob started talking about how nice it would be to participate in the early “neighborhood” trick-or-treating. I told him I would rather not get involved in any aspect of that hellish holiday, which had become so warped and political in my mind, but he went out and bought twice as much candy as we had last year and signed us up to be on “the list” (sanctioned “neighborhood” trick-or-treat stations must be on “the list”). At first, I thought he was simply trying to counteract the reputation I had cultivated as the local crank, but when I saw him carving a jack o’ lantern and dragging his treasured Halloween decorations out of the basement, I realized how much my sweet husband wanted to preserve the innocent magic of the holiday—for parents and children who put an effort into dressing up and having fun, but perhaps most especially for himself. For two hours on the Saturday before Halloween, I sat in the living room and watched syndicated sitcoms, almost drowned out by the spooky music he blared out the window, the doorbell, and his exclamations of delight with all of the clever costumes and polite children. “They are so cute!” he repeatedly announced to me between visits, and I would pause the TiVo to appreciate the huge, sloppy smile on his face.
Of course, we had mountains of candy left over, even after the dozens of pieces I caught Rob eating himself. On “real” Halloween, Rob went to New York to work, but he somehow talked me into distributing the remaining candy to the “non-neighborhood” kids that evening, by myself. It had been quietly burning me up for days that we had given into the shrouded politics that separated the desirable kids from the less so, no matter what the given reason. While I would just as soon throw any approaching child, no matter what its skin color, into a barrel and release it over Niagara Falls, it still devastated me that Halloween night in my neighborhood didn’t see black and white children mingling, having fun, perhaps singing pumpkin carols together. I know I am being too idealistic, entirely too naïve with this vision, because it really isn’t the matter of skin color that divides us, but that of psychology. How can anyone fault people who have been traditionally shunned, marginalized, and victimized by a group for not conforming to that group’s traditional etiquette? How can people who have so much not give with an open heart to those upon whose backs their prosperity was built? But at the same time, why do people who rightfully demand respect often not behave in a respectful manner?
With whatever motivation, I agreed to the challenge. Yesterday, when it got dark, I lit the jack o’ lantern Rob had carved, turned on the porch light, and waited for the onslaught. And it came on schedule, the same as before: the jostling, the grabbing, the absent cousins and children, the repeat visits, the lack of appreciation. “Aw hell, we got chocolate in every house!” one chunky mother complained when I put a handful of mini Hershey bars into her outstretched purse. But I barely had time to fix her with a look before she quickly amended this with, “But that’s good! I likechocolate!”
“Well, I hope you enjoy it,” I said, almost meaning it.
When I ran out of candy, I turned out all of the lights and ate dinner by the glowing light of “Just Shoot Me.” For some reason, the word innocence was on my mind.
Maybe I longed for a time when I was more innocent, or maybe I wished that I were less innocent now. I don’t know. These are such hideous, complicated times in the real world that in the midst of them, I can’t tell you the good it did me to see Rob with his chocolate-smeared goofy grin, or the delight on a little boy’s face when I gave him five candy bars instead of one.
Halloween is supposed to be about escapism, but I suppose there is no escaping certain realities for very long.