October 30, 2011

Some room for flexibility on Halloween


---- — When the moon rises, and the dead crawl from their graves, and ghosts, goblins and ghouls wander the earth — on Halloween — residents of this, and most any college town, are presented with a dilemma:

What to do when the college students come trick-or-treating at your door.

I understand that, technically, the federal government does not have official guidelines on who can and cannot trick-or-treat. To me, however, the cutoff age is, oh, about 13. Kids can opt out sooner than that, and those who are slow to reach puberty can hang on until 14. Anything past that age is awkward. College kids, for example.

In my neighborhood, the college-age snack seekers outnumber the cute-but-greedy toddler types by at least a 2-to-1 margin.

To be fair, a little harmless trick-or-treating is probably preferable to hoards of students wandering the streets overturning cars and setting aflame children's imported Halloween costumes.

The Halloween visits from the really big kids, however, bother those of us who answer the door, for a couple of reasons.

Candy is expensive, and we've used our hard-earned money on these unhealthy treats so that we can see the joy on the faces of small helpless kids. That little — what was he, a troll? A toadstool? A flamingo? — can't ride down to the convenience store and buy himself a Twix bar. The college student can. He's essentially stealing candy money out of our pockets.

Also, frankly, we're old and a little bit frightened. When a full-sized trick-or-treater arrives, it's always in the back of our minds: "What if that machete is real? Is this a home invasion? If I just give them the priceless jewels hidden in the fake Spic 'n Span can on the third shelf of the upstairs bathroom, maybe they'll just go away."

The question many of my neighbors have is, why do the college students do this? I think I understand that part.

Some are trying desperately to hold on to the youth that they can feel inexorably slipping away, a childhood innocence that they subconsciously know they will never feel again.

For others, Oct. 31 marks two months into the semester, and they've already expended all their food budget on pizza, cigarettes and Red Bull. A good haul on Halloween could get them to Christmas Break.

For others, it's as simple as the fact that Kit Kat bars aren't included on the college meal plan.

Some homeowners have opted to lock their doors to any Halloween visitor under 4-foot-10. Others have borrowed large, slobbering dogs.

In the past, I've merely been discriminating with the candy. If a college kid showed up, I would shrug and say "Gosh, I'm sorry, I just gave the last candy bar to Justin Bieber and Optimus Prime." Then I would give them a handful from my alternate stash of hotel soap and fallen leaves.

I think this year, though, I will be less militant.

For the college students, I only ask that you amuse me. Every little kid in a modified burlap sack is cute. The "Oh, you're so adorable!" bar is very low for them. For you, I ask quite a bit more. Use some imagination.

Just throwing on a cowboy hat or a T-shirt with ketchup spilled on it or a hockey mask doesn't cut it. Don't dress up as a tax attorney. Don't wear your cap and gown from last year's high-school graduation or your old high-school jersey. Do not wear your clothes backwards.

Please, please don't paste raw meat to your clothes. We know for a fact that Lady Gaga only trick-or-treats in warm climates, and my dog has enough trouble on Halloween as is.

Use some effort, though. Sing a spooky song. Cough up some fake blood. Reach out a razor sharp claw and lop the head off a nearby squirrel (those things are driving me crazy).

Remember, you will be judged.

Also, for safety reasons, I ask that you dress as something non-threatening. That doesn't mean you can't be a vampire, zombie, demon, Smurf or other fantastical evil creature that promises menace with its very existence. It just means don't dress in a realistically threatening form: angry plumber, crazy Canadian, chainsaw-wielding neighbor, shotgun-toting candidate for city council.

To me, Halloween is a holiday for children, but I suppose there's room for flexibility.

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