I want to make it clear: I don't hate Halloween. I can't stand a lot of holidays (Saint Valentine, are you listening?), but Halloween is a day I simply let be.
It's a little strange, when I think about it: Halloween is a day when you can go totally crazy. Deck yourself out, act like a madman (but not like a zombie - zombies are so 2010)... what's not to like, especially a nutjob like me?
Let's go waaaaay back in the wayback machine, back to... 1976? 1977? I can't quite place the year. (That's a wonderful thing about passing 40: you can't nail any year, so you have to settle for a range.) Anyway, we're doing some serious time travel, at least in terms of my lifetime. I lived with my mom in an apartment building on the Kansas side of Kansas City. Apartment 213, to be exact, at the end of the hallway. (Now that I think about it, it was probably 1977.)
Back in those halcyon times, before sexy bee costumes were readily available, a mom could get away with slapping some old clothes on her son, dipping into her makeup, and turning him into a serviceable clown. And that's what she did. (Sorry, no photographs available.) So there I was, a clown, ready to take on my apartment complex and make off with gallons of candy.
Unfortunately, my mother made a mistake: she didn't accompany me on this trick-or-treating excursion. The building's tenants were mostly elderly folks; I didn't know any kids my age, so I went alone. I was six years old at the time, and although such an act would land me in foster care today, in 1977 (it was definitely 1977) this was perfectly fine, especially when we knew so many of our neighbors. It was okay. The problem with this particular journey? I was shy.
Imagine being a six-year old, trick-or-treating in an apartment building. The doors were HUGE, tall wooden structures. The hallways themselves were lit, but the lamps had long since yellowed, giving the hallway that dark, jaundiced look common to old apartment buildings. And when you're six, hallways go on FOREVER. How the hell was I, a shy clown, supposed to take on this building full of harmless, friendly senior citizens? I ended up wandering the hallways, trying to knock on the doors but, my little fist hovering an inch away, not quite having the gumption to finish the knock. The few times I did knock, nobody answered, which I guess further diminished the rewards of overcoming my shyness.
Complicating the issue was my clown makeup. It itched like crazy. A mom - certainly my mom - would tell me to stop scratching and rubbing my face and, backup makeup at the ready, make the necessary repairs to my costume. But I was not only alone, I was hopelessly lacking in self-discipline.
When I knocked on my own door a half-hour or so later, my mother opened it to see this short, severely smeared clown, a total of one piece of candy in his pumpkin bucket. I don't recall if I cried or not, but even without the tears it must have been the most pathetic scene in American history.
I did go trick-or-treating in later years, sometimes with my mom's or stepdad's friend's kids, but the humiliation stuck with me, and by the time the 1980s arrived, I had stopped trick-or-treating altogether.
Fast-forward several years. (We'll go with 1984.) I lived on Long Island now with my grandparents and my dad. I was still shy, considered by classmates and neighbors as a freak, and popular as a cloud of flies. However, I figured I could score a few popularity points if I performed a Halloween role from the other side of the door. Why not give out the treats?
My grandmother was happy to cede that role to me, and so I gave out the treats for the next few Halloweens. There was one problem: my grandmother - bless her soul - was incredibly cheap.
So you're thinking, "So she gave out cheap, crappy candy, like those horrifying peanut butter lumps in black and orange wrappings that you inevitably had to eat pieces of along with the impossible-to-remove candy. Or was it old-person candy, like those inedible butterscotch drops?" I wish. My grandmother gave out pennies.
To be fair, she didn't give one penny to each trick-or-treater; she gave out five. Yes, five cents to each kid who tromped up our stairs. She would empty her piggy bank, stack piles of five pennies on her card table, and give them out as needed. I'm sure you little brats are thinking to yourself with that snark you're so famous for, "Well, back in those days you could buy a lot with five cents." I was around in 1984, and let me tell you, you could buy a lot with a dollar (one slice of pizza OR two candy bars OR four games of Centipede), but five cents would get you a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. One piece. And if you're buying one piece of Bazooka bubble gum with five pennies, you were one poor bastard. At least buy two for a dime, for crying out loud.
Now, if my grandmother simply rolled those pennies and sent me to Waldbaums to buy some Halloween candy, I would have gladly done so. But no, she did not believe in giving out candy. So I gave out five pennies to the kids, young and old. And unlike giving out cheap candy, when you could at least salvage some dignity by tossing in a few extras, no amount of pennies can compensate for the fact that your house is THE CHEAPEST GODDAMN HOUSE IN THE ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD. A grandmother giving out pennies can get away with this crap, since she's a grandmother and you'd forgive her for being senile. A 14-year old kid who's already unpopular? Yeah, right. Within three Halloweens, all but the youngest kids skipped our house, leaving my grandmother with far more pennies and me with a powerful sense of relief.
I have not gone trick-or-treating in thirty years. At Halloween parties, I dress as myself. Again, I don't hate Halloween. I like watching the kids walk around with their parents, dolled up in The Current Hit Costumes. I don't mind the parents getting into the Halloween spirit by dressing up as old dorks. But I also don't mind treat-or-treaters not buzzing our apartment. It's no big deal: it's my problem.