Today's kids have a coddled holiday. What happened to the real terror of BB guns and raw eggs?
Here is a Halloween tradition, circa 1892, as described by an article in the New York Times: You hang a stick by a string from the ceiling. At one end of the stick is an apple; at the other end, a lit candle. You spin the stick around, and try to snag the apple with your teeth without getting your face burned off.
In our town, Halloween was terrifying and thrilling, and there was a whiff of homicide. We’d travel by foot in the dark for miles, collecting candy, watching out for adults who seemed too eager to give us treats. At that time, rumors on the evening news said maniacs were injecting Almond Joys with rat poison, tucking razor blades inside candy apples before handing them out to children.
Granted, no one in my gang would touch a candy apple in the first place—caramel on a piece of fruit being so much lipstick on a pig. But we knew death was possible. If it wasn’t the psychopaths, some high school kid might shoot you in the mouth with a BB gun, or make you drink raw eggs. There were seven of us who lived a short walk from each other’s houses; perhaps by the first morning of November we’d be six. Halloween, all told, was fantastic.
Today, though, it’s tough to conceal a Gillette Mach 4 Vibrating Razor inside a Mars bar. I’ve become an adult, and having seen how adults mostly ruin Halloween, I’ve also become a Halloween Scrooge.
In our semi-rural neighborhood, children are chauffeured around on Halloween in minivans, before dusk. They trick-or-treat in broad daylight, shuffling to and from houses like refugees, between colonnades of guardians, as if Halloween was now monitored by UN peacekeepers. Our nation’s one night dedicated to horror has become a soccer-practice carpool. And sure enough, the costumes are feeble, store-bought. I’d make a joke about wishing kids these days would dress like tramps, as in hobos, rather than tramps, as in Katy Perry, but Andy Rooney would probably sue me for copyright infringement.
However, my Scrooge-ness does not extend to candy.
If I see a roll of Bubble Tape, a bag of Haribo Gold-Bears or a pouch of green-apple Big League Chew, I’m eleven again. The great thing about candy is that it can’t be spoiled by the adult world. Candy is innocent. And all Halloween candy pales next to candy corn, if only because candy corn used to appear, like the Great Pumpkin, solely on Halloween.
My mother still has a three-step system to eating candy corn. First she eats the white tip, then the orange middle, then the yellow end. She swears each segment tastes different. While writing this article, I emailed three friends versed in statistics and asked them how many ways you can eat a piece of candy corn. Assuming that no bite’s smaller than a single segment, they worked out an answer: nine. The formula they devised, which I don’t understand even slightly, is this:
W = 9 + Sum over t, t = 1 to 2 [ (Z_t | Z_t-1)*(D_t | D_t-1) ]
W= Ways to eat a candy corn
Z = Size of bite
D = Side of bite
t = bite occasion
My wife saw this and told me the statisticians had missed one option: you can also bite a piece of candy corn in half lengthwise, “so you get a little piece of each segment in each bite.”
I told her that was ludicrous.
“I have very firm opinions about candy corn,” she said, and went on to trash my preferred brand, Brach’s, saying their candy was waxy compared to her favorite, Farley’s.
If candy corn is where I still find my Halloween innocence, it was my father who set me on the road to becoming a Scrooge. In seventh grade, news spread around our town that all the kids, all the town’s children from sixth to ninth grades, were gathering on Halloween night at one of the elementary schools for an egg and shaving-cream war. Pharmacies were quickly depleted of Barbasol. I bought six cans with my allowance, and modified their aerosol tops with a hot needle in order to shoot farther.
My mother somehow heard the rumor. She came outside, where I was testing my assault range, and forbade me from even going. She went the extra mile: “No one in our family has ever gone to jail,” she said. “If you get caught by the police, we aren’t bailing you out. You’ll sit in that jail for weeks.”
I was stunned. I hadn’t even realized “jail” was a possibility. Now I’d be left there to rot? Instead, my friend John and I roamed our neighborhood that Halloween, John being likewise banned. All our friends were gone; they were having the best night of their lives. We ate candy corn and shaving-creamed a few mailboxes without much joy. When we got home at ten, we must’ve looked pitiful, because my dad came out and told us we could go ahead and shaving-cream the garage if we were going to act so pathetic about it.
The next morning, my mom found the side of her garage etched with John’s and my initials, three feet high like graffiti tags. Apparently menthol shaving cream burned through paint. Well, we hadn’t known. My mother was furious. She even called John’s mom. “But dad said we could,” I insisted.
She consulted my father, who was raking leaves. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about.
That November, John and I repainted the garage. I never trick-or-treated again. It wouldn’t be until I graduated from high school that my father copped to his betrayal, and by that time I’d crashed his car, so we were even, probably.
But this Halloween, I’ve decided to set my Scrooge aside—there’s no fun in it, only humbug. Instead, I’m carving a pumpkin with a big exclamation point, and any children brave enough to visit will receive full-size candy bars. Afterward we’ll all play spin the candle. And if a parent calls the police, my wife has promised to bail me out. It’s going to be great.
Rosecrans Baldwin is a founding editor of The Morning News. His first novel, "You Lost Me There," was named one of NPR's Best Books of 2010. His latest book is "Paris I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down." More Rosecrans Baldwin.
More Related Stories
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- Conservatives A-OK with closeted Boy Scouts
- Horrifying new trend: Posting rapes to Facebook
- Corporate greed is poisoning America -- literally
- The new geography of poverty
- Childhood ADHD linked to obesity in adulthood
- Obama to all-male university graduates: Be the best husband to "your boyfriend or partner"
- Chicago man breaks world record with 48-hour Ferris wheel ride
- I will never be able to afford Angelina Jolie's mastectomy
- GOP attorney general candidate tried to force women to report miscarriages to police
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- GOP actually bullies an anti-bullying bill
- Georgian police slow to react to mob violence at gay rights march
- 1 killed in Oklahoma tornado
- Thousands treated for sexual abuse-related injuries in military
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11