Wednesday, November 5, 2014


     In the 1970's our neighborhood streets on Halloween evenings were packed full of kids toting brown grocery sacks (ala Charlie Brown) and flashlights, most wearing costumes they'd made at school such as grocery bag helmets with eyes, nose, and mouth holes, decorated with crayon scribbles, felt and egg carton cutouts, gauze, and black and orange yarn. 
     I remember the suspense of ringing a door bell at a well lit but quiet house, of waiting and wondering, and of hearing approaching footsteps and the door swoosh open to which we shouted, “Trick or Treat!” Smiling surprised, the greeter always oohed and aahed over our scary and pretty costumes before dropping a handful or two of treats into each of our ever-heavier sacks.  The crinkly thud of the treats as they struck bottom was sweeter than their sugary contents.  Singing, “Thank you,” we dashed to stand beneath the nearest light pole to count our Butterfingers, Big Hunks, malt balls, honey balls, Kisses, Chiclets, Sweet Tarts, Pixie Sticks, arare, li hing muis, Tamo Ames, and Fusen gums, to see who had most.
     A generation later, at my sister's suggestion that we trick or treat at Kahala Mall so her kid and ours could get even more goodies faster and we wouldn't have to inspect the candy, we shambled along, caught up in an endless current of strangers that traced the mall's interior perimeter passing countless generic store fronts and sales clerks who stood waiting to deposit a sweet or two into each plastic pumpkin pail or other store-bought seasonal bag that passed by. 
     I've never been in a soup line before, but seeing our kids and everyone else doing essentially that—asking for handouts—gave me a queasy feeling especially since none (except perhaps a few of the more enthusiastic candy-distributing clerks) seemed to be having much fun. Neither did it help to realize that the stores were doing it just for profit—to increase foot traffic and sales, which gave the brightly lit, noisy with piped-in music atmosphere a commercial feel—far from sweet, innocent fun for the kids. 
     Virtually everyone's costume, it took but a moment's notice to realize, was a mass produced plastic painted or molded rubber replica (we dressed our kids in ethnic clothes—gifts from overseas relatives, and had them carry plastic grocery bags for their goodies). Coming from a family that never bought a costume, I was surprised. (One year Braden went as a chess piece—complete with crown, sword, and chess board shield, the latter two mounted on foam core board that I helped cut. Besides that and the assistance I provided shaping and stapling the crown so it would stay together on his head, he designed and decorated everything—a bit lopsided perhaps but cute and creative for his age.) Another surprise was how old costumed participants were, who must have averaged age twenty—three. And some of the costumes were outrageous fancy: a life sized Homer Simpson and a masked wraith with cloak and scythe that had a skeletal face that bled profusely (I deduced that the mask had a clear plastic outer film and that a hand pump and tubing circulated “blood” from a reservoir beneath the chin to over the forehead so gushes of blood cascaded down at will.) Pirates, cowboys, princesses, ghouls, and far too many visages to remember passed in movie-like blitzes of sensory overload before my eyes and made my head ache.
     The all-out nature of the costumes—elaborated and hardcore—reminded me of a masquerade party I'd attended in the 1980's where a guy had constructed from chicken wire fencing, paper mache', and paint a replica of a cartoon character featured on a McDonald's TV commercial: a crescent moon headed and shades- and evening-attired dude. One look and it was apparent he'd spent dozens of hours designing, fitting, and perfecting the costume and makeup. 
     But it was only at Kahala Mall that evening that I realized that adults had stolen Halloween's bluster from the kids. (My parents had never gone so far or tried so hard to look so cool to so many on Halloween.) I guess it happened because adults on that one day alone get to play make-pretend to relieve the pressures, stresses, and boredom of everyday life. Even our church got into it, mostly by offering a safe, organized game night, come dressed in your favorite costume.
     We got into it as our kids got older. Penelope loved fairies for awhile, so I designed and made wings from plastic wrap and clothes hanger wire, which Penelope decorated to go along with her ballet tutu. Adults were to host a game and were encouraged to dress up so I found an old CRT computer monitor, hollowed it out, cut a hole underneath, slipped it over my head, and draped a key board and PC frontispiece around my neck (with lights added for effect). Print-outs within the CRT that surrounded my head suggested I was 
     Another year Jaren wanted to go as Lighting McQueen, so I made a cardboard silhouette of the car, painted it, and hung it around his neck. 
     This year, I found an old microwave oven, gutted it, festooned in with sloppy brown grocery bag and plastic garbage bag streamers, slipped it over my head, wore clip-on shades decorated the same, and went to church as “The Microwave Zombie”, shuffle walking and groaning my way in. Deanne, who never experienced Halloween until we married, crocheted a cute Charlotte's Web design for her black shirt, plus a spider, and hung from a thread a plastic pig (Charlotte's meal perhaps?). She later baked severed-finger cookies (puke-worthy; I wouldn't touch them) for her school's teachers. 
     Ever since we moved to a more suburban setting four years ago, we've taken our younger kids door-to-door (to known neighbors) for trick or treat. It's been fun and relaxing, but the barren streets with nary another kid and so many dark, unwelcoming homes have given the evenings a sort-of forlorn look and feel. Because Honolulu Halloweens have gone commercial, adult-centric, and indoor it's probably safer for kids and funner for adults, but to me the magic of giggling mobs of excited youth wandering the streets largely unattended is missing. Not that I mind, I had my share of it growing up; it's today's kids that don't know what they are missing out on. Ah well, perhaps one day, in another life...

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