Tom has mixed feelings about Halloween

Tonight is Halloween. Time to crack open those bags of individually wrapped candy bars that you bought when the Halloween displays first went up in the stores in mid-August. Back then, you hoped that purchasing the candy might have some sort of butterfly effect and hasten the end of the 100-degree temperatures. And sure enough, here we are at the end of October and your wish has been granted.

I'm not huge on Halloween. I mean, it's a pleasant diversion, but it's no Arbor Day. Still, I think it's great for little kids and can provide them with some great memories. Unfortunately, not all kids get to do it. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a family that includes three small kids. When I asked the kids what they were going to be for Halloween, the mother snapped, "We don't do that! We're Christians!"

Being a Catholic, I'm sorta Christian myself. I always thought that if your faith is strong enough, you could invite the devil over for dinner and then kick his ass out the door as soon as he finished his dessert. How much are those kids going to rebel when they reach the age of maturity? Or 12?

The neighborhood in which we live is really cool. Lots of people decorate their houses and add chilling sound and light effects on the unholy night. We used to have a guy who would jump out of the bushes with a chainsaw and scare the crap out of kids, but you just know that he got some kind of cease-and-desist letter from the no-fun folks at the neighborhood association. Or maybe he had to go back in for further evaluation.

The festive atmosphere draws kids from other parts of town. That bothers some of my neighbors, but I mostly get it.

Growing up where I did, there were maybe four or five households that would give out candy on Halloween, while the 500 or so other units in The Projects went dark and silent. It was like something out of Nosferatu; the instant that the sun dipped below the horizon, kids would come streaming out and start knocking on doors. (There are no doorbells in The Projects.) They would either be met with complete silence or some poor kid who had been stationed by the door by his parent(s) would yell out, "We already gave out all our candy."

I remember thinking, "You a lyin' muh!" (And yes, science has proved that people can think in slang.)

Many years, my "costume" would consist of the threadbare clothes I had worn to school; I would smudge some shoe polish on my cheeks and go as a hobo. (I'm not kidding.) One year, when my precocious young self was becoming politically astute, I found an old white sheet that someone had thrown away. I cut eyeholes in it and wore it as a robe. I told everybody that I was going as Barry Goldwater, whom I thought, at the time, to be a screaming racist for having voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I learned later that Goldwater probably wasn't a racist, but to this day I have yet to hear a decent explanation as to why he voted the way he did. Perhaps the folks at the Goldwater Institute could take a break from their socialist campaign to provide private-school education to kids whose parents can afford it but would prefer to have the government foot the bill to explain why their patron saint sided with the forces of evil at a crucial turning point in American history. Go ahead, say "states' rights"; I dare you.

Anyway, you know how intelligence and common sense don't automatically go hand-in-hand? Let's just say that it wasn't my best idea ever to walk around an almost-all-black neighborhood in a white sheet, even if it was Halloween. Plus, it got very tedious trying to explain that whole Barry Goldwater thing ... while running. In a sheet.

My kids always loved trick-or-treating. My wife would make, by hand, these elaborate costumes. One time, she used a cardboard box to make a monitor, complete with a keyboard. She cut a rectangular hole in the front and put gauze across the hole and placed glow sticks on the inside to make it look like a screen. Alexander wore it on his head and carried in his hand a plastic ax. When asked what he was, he would reply, "I'm a computer/hacker."

We still give out candy, although when older teenagers show up, I make them answer a trivia question, like "What's the capital of Canada?" I save a lot of candy that way. (It's Ottawa.) I feel like the reincarnation of a poll worker in the Deep South circa 1950. Come to think of it, that same person could work at a poll in North Carolina or Texas today.

I'm ambivalent about adults dressing up for Halloween. I once had a friend who had a long, ZZ Top-like beard who asked me for costume suggestions. I told him to put deodorant on his beard and go as an armpit. We're no longer friends.

This past summer, my friend Dirk said, "I've only got four months to come up with a (Halloween) costume idea."

I said, "Only four months? Why not go as Tim Gunn?"

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