BY Dobie Maxwell
If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, October is the opposite. For those of us living anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line this is the month when the first tangible evidence appears that Old Man Winter is indeed on the way back to extinguish our summer fun yet again.
Daylight shrinks and darkness increases. Leaves fall off trees and green grass fades to brown. It seemed like an endless baseball season in April, but now it comes down to the last few games and the last two teams. That tradition has been a big part of the American experience for generations.
And then there’s Halloween. That was also an American tradition long before I ever showed up, but now like America itself it has gotten completely out of hand. When I was a kid, every kid in every neighborhood would put on some cheesy cheapo half-baked usually discount store bought “costume,” and then hope to load up on as much free candy as possible in the allotted time slot.
That time slot was only a couple of hours on a single day, and that was it. The day or night may have been different depending on what city or suburb one happened to live in, but other than that it was a self-contained activity that came and went without incident every year. Everybody heard about the apples with the razor blades in them, but nobody I know had ever actually gotten one.
Even if I had, there was nothing to worry about because I wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. What kid in the history of Halloween ever went trick or treating for produce? Ick. Poo. Yuck-o. If there wasn’t enough raw sugar to rot out each and every one of our molars we would not consider it.
Halloween was surely not for health nuts in my neighborhood. The only nuts anybody had any time for at all were in our Snickers bar. Apples were absolutely out of the question and the only thing close to a vegetable that was part of the deal was candy corn – and we didn’t even like that. This was the one day a year when the inmates were running the asylum and it was intoxicating.
After an entire annoying childhood of being mercilessly reminded to “eat your vegetables,” and dealing with cruel and unusual punishments like “no dessert for you,” nobody was about to put a stop to a one-day organized orgy of epic edible proportions – condoned by all our parents no less. There would be plenty of time for liver and salads later. Apples would fall into that category too.
Four out of five dentists may have recommended Trident for their patients, but this was the day that fifth guy got to let his hair down and work his magic. No Trident today, thank you. I will be too busy trying to see how many Smarties I can eat while I have two Tootsie Pops in my mouth.
We got our candy, and that was it for another year. Mission accomplished. It didn’t matter that 99.999% of the “costumes” had ripped, fallen off or were completely hidden within the first five minutes of trick or treating by a winter coat because it was 35 degrees. Dracula was a much more likely candidate to get frostbite than to bite anyone’s neck. No harm, no foul. It was no big deal.
And then, without notice, out of nowhere…somewhere between whenever my last year of trick or treating was and the advent of adulthood, the whole game changed. Halloween somehow became a national holiday for adults, and gigantic megastores opened everywhere that sold only costumes.
Not only that, every Goodwill and Salvation Army started hawking complete costume sections, and it hasn’t stopped. It happens earlier and earlier every year, and pretty soon every holiday will overlap. The Easter Bunny will be dressing up as the Tooth Fairy, and Santa’s sleigh will be lit by a jack-o-lantern should Rudolph’s crimson schnozz ever need a year off, or he asks for a raise.
This disturbs me to the core as a regular haunter of thrift stores wherever I go hoping to score an original copy of The Declaration of Independence for a quarter and sell it on “Pawn Stars,” for three million bucks because Chum Lee has access to the check book. This is cramping my style.
I’m supposed to be the one doing the haunting. How am I supposed to be able to come across a highly valued resalable bauble or trinket when the first five aisles of every thrift store I find from the 4th of July through October are nothing but witch’s hats and devil’s pitch forks? What gives?
When did Halloween erupt into such an enormous event where seemingly functional adults put painstaking effort and energy into a costume they’ll wear for a few hours, just one time, and never again? It kind of reminds me of a bridal gown actually, but that’s another rant for another time.
It just seems like such a waste to me for so many people to go so off the deep end with costume creation on Halloween in recent history. How much do they hate who they are in real life that they’ve decided to go all out to create a new image so different that hopefully their friends and family are not even able to identify them? And even if they happen to succeed, it’s all over around midnight.
When I was a kid, I only remember a handful of adults dressing up. I can’t say for sure what the exact total was, but it was under ten. Now that I think about it, it was probably under five. The only adults I can ever recall getting into costume for trick or treat lived in the scary house down at the corner of the dead end street in the neighborhood where nobody went any other time of the year.
For all anybody knew they could have dressed like tarantulas and werewolves every other day of the year too. Those were the kind of people that when the baseball went into their yard we just left it there. Nobody had the guts to risk our lives over a stray baseball. We’d rather use an apple.
I know I sound like my grandpa, but times they are a changin’ and I’m not sure I like it. Gramps led a respectable and productive life, but never once did I see him dress up for Halloween – and I saw him a lot as a child. I was raised by my grandparents, and as often is the case, the Halloween costumes of children have a high amount of influence from their parental figures. Mine sure did.
It wasn’t fun having to go trick or treating in back to back years as Ben Turpin and Rutherford B. Hayes in the 70’s when all my friends got to be cool people like The Six Million Dollar Man or Charlie’s Angels. But at least it was all over in a couple of hours every year. Now it’s totally out of control, and candy isn’t even involved. I’m on the wrong planet and I want to go home.
Dobie Maxwell is a stand up comedian and writer from Milwaukee. To see him on stage at his next hell-gig and read more of his musings, visit dobiemaxwell.com