Hominy & Hash
EVERYBODY'S TRYING TO GET INTO THE ACT*
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
November 4, 2003
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- This was the first year we did not spend anything on candy for the adorable trick-or-treating goblins coming to our front door, nothing for the neighborhood children collecting loot to be dispersed by caring parents for at least the next three months.
We turned off the porch light and went out to dinner. No looking back. It's not that we've outgrown the passion for keeping tradition alive; it's just that tradition has been given over to the hucksters, the ones who haggle over the terms of the situation.
"Let's entice those little goblins into the mall," they say to themselves. "While we're giving them a gumball, their parents might spend a little, or, at least notice what's on sale. What have we got to lose? How much is a gumball, fergoshsakes?" an opportunist in the marketing department declares.
Will the little costumed goblins know the difference from what it was like to be a masked marauder in bygone years?
Turning off the porch lights in those older time was an invitation to ghostly mischief. In the darkened yard, one could sneak up to the door and ring the bell. "Let's go out ringing bells," was the clarion call any night of the year when there was nothing to do. It didn't have to be Hallowe'en. Oh, the thrill!
Daring and more sophisticated kids would improvise deviltry: "Let's put a paper bag full of dog doodoo on the front steps, light it with lighter fluid, ring the bell and run like hell." Of course, the first action by the house-holder was to stomp it out. Ooooooey Goooooey!
Today's kids miss that heart-pounding thrill of the trick. When you run out of candy, apples and pennies, these delightful, politically correct kids will say, "That's okay, Ma'am," and off they go across lawns or into the SUV that delivered them into our neighborhood.
Everybody seems to miss the point of the whole thing. Angst is really setting in. "Why bothuh?" we say in dreary tones.
Last year, I thought I'd get with it, so to speak, so I dressed in black, wore a witches hat, used calamine lotion to make up my face into a ghastly glow. I wore red and white striped socks left over from the bi-centennial days, and flung open my door, slithering words off my tongue as I did: "I'll get you my little pretty," squealing, screeching, through clenched teeth and looking just like the bad witch in The Wizard of Oz. I really scared the hell out of four-year old Superman at the door. Luckily his dad was there ready to pick him up and comfort him, daring me to turn sympathetic. So much for candy with that trick or treater.
But, isn't that what it's all about? Being scared? Playing harmless tricks? Others who came to my door that night were eerily greeted by a handshake from they assumed was my hand emerging from my black sleeve. "How do you do?" I said with dulcet tones. Innocently, they would reach out and grasp a salted pretzel, which felt like a bony finger. Oh, how they'd run, their little green flashlights flapping at their sides.20
Now, I am not Freddy Kreuger. But, I do understand Hallowe'en, the night the dearly departed return for a little bit of fun and frolic. If the kids aren't going to trick then the spooks have every right to kick up their heels and hover around.
The "old" tricks were just enough to suggest the presence of "someone" having been there: a streak of Ivory soap across the darkened and dusty basement windows; another streak on the side windows of the car in the driveway, or on the black tires.
Just enough. "Someone" was there, and "Oh, my, why didn't Rover bark?" Rover knew us. We were just "us" in the yard, as we often were during the day. As a matter of fact, we were sneaking around our own yards knowing full well the next day we'd have to "get out there and clean up that mess, I don't care who did it. Ghosts don't come around with a cleaning crew."
I really can't recall when costumes went from darkened, smudged faces dressed in Commando-type garb guaranteed to slip through hedges, unscathed, unnoticed, to the day-glo, flame retardant, costumes of today.20
A couple of years ago, two little girls, about nine years old, came as Britney Spears and Christine Aguilera. Last year Harry Potter came to call, horn-rimmed glasses and magic at the ready.
Is every older generation ready to sneer at the doings of those growing up around them? The communication is sadly lacking when my own children didn't "get it."
"You mean you got scared running soap across a window? What would happen it you spray-painted it?"
"Oh, Heaven forbid. We'd never do that and you better not, either!"
Oh, the laughs over my time and theirs.
What has happened between then and now? I researched studies done on childhood behavior in the thirties and what we have in front of us now.
In early 1933, for example, the Child Study Association of America was reporting that children had become constant radio listeners. Parents in those days were very disturbed about the influence that radio was exerting over the young listeners. In a study by Maxine Davis the conclusion was reached that radio was second only to movies as the "opiate" of young people.
"They sit at home and get all the excitement of... ." Well that's enough of the quote. I'll tell you what it was because I was there: We'd sit at home and get all the excitement of... . Hmmm, where did I hear that line before? We'd sit in a darkened room after "Lights out, everybody." was announced. We didn't speak. The glow from the grownups' cigarettes was the only light in the room. The story evolved and with the exception of the commercial break, we sat frozen in our seats.
"Inner Sanctum" was another "opiate" and we were scared out of our wits. When these "stories" weren't on, we'd listen to ghost stories the older family members and visitors would provide. "I heard footsteps enter the hall. Then, on the first step; then on the second step, then on the third step... ," and we'd pull out comfort blankets closer around us.
In reflection, I can see how innocent it was. I know we were thrilled but felt safe. Is this what our children crave in the arcades at the mall? They shoot, they kill, they maim, they are threatened with bodily harm. But, if they turn their heads, they can see the Merry-go-round outside the arches to the arcade. "Whew. I'm at the Mall."
The common denominator here is that age craves excitement. They test their limits; they know when the border of what's allowed is reached. They don't cross it.
I grew up never wanting to be scared again; my friend Tricia runs home for the SciFi channel just to relive the thrills of yesteryear.
The day-glo costumed kids of today may turn into the dramatists or party planners of tomorrow. They have no idea what is being done or why. Does it matter? October 31st is the day we dress up in outlandish costumes and parade from house to house.
Does any of this scare the children? I don't see how it could. But, does it really matter when the Play Station games and televised News they face each day, the new millennium opiates, are scarier than any in the world of fantasy. These kids deal with reality ... and that's really scary.
*Comedian Jimmy Durante's famous line.