Issue October 28, 2008

Trick or treat?

Each Halloween, I find I’m better at handling little monsters than I was the year before.

That’s why last year I was more than ready for the first kid who showed up on our doorstep. Dressed in dime-store wings and a tutu sloppily pulled over a tracksuit, she grabbed at my basket of candy the moment I opened the door. 

“Hold up, hold up,” I said, backing away. “Don’t you have something you want to say first?”

She frowned, and looked up at me for the first time. “Uh, thank you?” she asked sullenly.

“How about Trick or treat?” I said, smiling through clenched teeth.

“Trick or treat,” she muttered. Quickly assessing the situation, I knew what I had to do.

“Oh Punky,” I said to my then-3-year-old daughter, who was clinging to my knee. “Would you like to hand out the candy to our first trick-or-treater?” I bent down and held the basket of candy out to her and, after much contemplation, she chose a single Dum Dum.

“Here you are,” she said grandly to our fairy friend. The girl’s lower lip jutted out another foot as she held open her pillowcase so that Punky could benevolently drop the Dum Dum inside. The girl flounced down our stairs, her wonky wings shuddering behind her.

“Guess what, mom?” she said loudly to a woman standing in the shadows outside our home. “I got one Dum Dum!” 

“You’re welcome!” I said loudly before shutting the door.

“You get what you give, kid,” I said grimly, putting the basket down.

Yes, after eight straight years of handing out candy in the ’burbs, I think I finally qualify as a Halloween handout expert. Gone are the days when I watched in horror as little ruffians scooped oversized handfuls of premium candy from my basket without so much as a “Boo” for good measure. These days, I call the shots. Those who bother to put on a decent costume, look me in the eye and say “Trick or treat” are rewarded with a generous helping of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and maybe even a Ring Pop. Those who don’t? Well, they get a little something from The Other Basket. 

The Other Basket is filled with whatever I can come up with from the dark recesses of my pantry. There are the aforementioned Dum Dums, left over from trips to the bank. There are rock-hard Tootsie Rolls, restaurant mints and fortune cookies. There are a few containers of Polynesian Sauce from Chick Fil-A. And then there’s the piece de resistance, a faded packet of Fun Dip, ca. 2005. The powdery substance inside has hardened to a jaw-breaking, inedible mass, and the wrapper contains a cryptic message: “Happy Valentine’s Day. From: Logan.”

Trick-or-treating teenagers can be far worse. Roaming the streets in packs, they show up at our door long after the tiny witches and vampires have been tucked into their beds. They’re generally clad in T-shirts and jeans, and have a sarcastic retort ready if you make the mistake of asking about their “costumes.”

“Dude, I’m Kurt Cobain, the night before he shot himself.”

“I’m Wonder Woman on her day off.”

“I’m like a Democrat, OK?” 

I can’t be too hard on these acne-prone adolescents, because when I was their age, I was known to wear a sheet over my head and stand on my knees on Halloween night, poking two tiny shoes out from where my costume pooled on the ground before knocking. Once my Halloween bag had been loaded with candy, I’d rise to my full height, say thanks and leave, enjoying the spectacle of the homeowner’s outrage through the holes I’d cut for my eyes.

Still. At least I had a costume. That’s all I’m asking for from these kids — well, that and some manners. And so I admit my hand wavers over my fossilized Fun Dip as the teens slouch before me. In the end, though, I save it. My moment of triumph likely would be dampened by the toilet paper decorating my front lawn the next morning. 

Yes, it’s a delicate balance, giving out candy. As I mull over whether to hand over the good stuff or the bad, the goblins before me issue a time-honored warning. Give them the Snickers and all will be well, their eyes seem to say from behind the rubber masks. Drop a few packets of ketchup in their Halloween pail, though, and those two merry pumpkins flickering on my doorstep are as good as gone. 

After all, you get what you give.