I loved the rough theatre of Halloween when I was a kid. Being an introvert, the disguises brought out something else in me. The costumes of the time permitted extravagance in that regard, and I was partial to characters in the old movies that were already playing endlessly as cheap programming on television in New York. Preparations might take hours of planning and execution, and two or three trips to Futterman’s or Woolworth’s for the right touch. Of course, certain characters had to be avoided because they could not be altered in the field. A mummy could not be easily unwrapped. A Frankenstein was difficult to reconfigure. Ghosts were the best. With the difference of a sheet, you might become a vampyre. Wax teeth, otherwise cheap and cheesy, could be chewed into odd lumps between our gums and lips. The wide range of potential zombies were excellent, and easily transformed into a hobo for a second round of the best houses.
Perhaps the only sad note is that I always felt as if I was missing out on one thing. It appeared that everyone else was intent on getting as much candy as possible, running breakneck from house to house to fill their bags, because they loved the candy. The competition was fine with me, but the candy itself was usually a disappointment. Good only for trading away during the following week for comic books or a missing baseball card. There were very few candies that were worth the trouble to go after, in and of themselves.
Meeting a fellow beggar on a walkway, you’d say “What’d you get?”
“Forget about that, I’m going to the other house.”
But getting the most, I understood.
Shortcutting through yards and hedges, or over a fence in the dark, I’d often stumble on the stones of a garden edging, or catch my pants on the top of the chain links, and lose the contents of the bag in a splay amidst the drift of leaves, only to squander valuable moments clawing back what could most easily be reclaimed.
Kids swarm in waves that might easily be charted on computer graphs limning human behavior, or even noted by a young opportunist, and a common enough trick was to wear a mask of some sort and then, after getting a treat, take the mask off, or turn it backwards, and join the rear of the next crowd coming on. This became an art. If you were known in the neighborhood, as I was too well, you had to rely on the mask to hide your identity. Stooping was effective. Keeping a hat in your bag and adding that to the costume was always a good move. A scarf that could be pulled off quickly was a nice touch.
Mr. Henderson, a retired gentleman who lived on Chestnut Avenue, was wise to this. He knew us all, by name, size and hair color. But his candies were always excellent, Heath Bars, Chunkies, Zagnuts, Snickers, or Mounds, and we could not resist taking the risk. It was his habit to drop one candy in each extended bag. Not the little sample sizes—the full deal. But if he suspected subterfuge, his dispensing hand would come forth from the costume he himself wore—an iridescent wizard’s cape—faster than you could recoil, and zap the back of your own hand with a joy buzzer he had buried in his palm. This metal carbuncle was loud as well as shocking, signaling a sudden and public failure. Surrounding motion halted. And even if you were ready for it, it was lucky if you did not loose everything on the steps.
“Mr. McCaffrey! I didn’t know you were a twin!”
He became the standard of our accomplishment on that one night of the year, and in that he was also a crossing guard, the real sport was to dangle two or even three proofs of success from our fingers the next day as we passed.
“Ha! Next year won’t be so easy!”
But if you had been caught out, it was best to cross at another corner because he took delight in your ignominy.
“Oh, my dear boy, I hope the wizard did not hurt your feelings.”
In truth I never managed three. Greg Snider often did. Greg was small and always looked younger than he actually was.
I did manage two, on two different occasions.
And then, inexplicably, that endless moment of childhood was gone. Mr. Henderson disappeared from our view. We crossed the streets where we pleased then, but come every last October morning after that, we wished we were young enough again.