Where has all the toilet paper gone?

That’s on my mind this October. Forget hurricanes, healthcare, and the Hartford horror show known as the state budget crisis (which, interestingly enough, can be described as “in the toilet”).

As Halloween creeps up on us this month, I wonder what happened to that great or awful (depending upon your age) tradition of Mischief Night.

Back in the day, the day after Halloween was a mess. Toilet paper hung from trees. Smashed pumpkins littered doorsteps. Mailboxes filled the streets. It looked like a scene from “The Day After.”

Truth be told, I was a reluctant — okay, willing - participant in one of those eves of destruction. I do not say it proudly. Well, okay. Maybe a little.

Back in the day I was a typical Long Lots Junior High School student. I was unsure and insecure, desperate for acceptance by every single other eighth-grader, all of whom knew telepathically exactly how to dress (chinos and penny loafers), how to talk (“groovy,” “outasight,” “hey man”) and walk (very coolly). Meanwhile, I was working at all those things as if they were a full-time job.

I was part of the in crowd, which was merely the most important thing in the entire universe to me. But at the same time, I was hyper-aware that my position was tenuous. I could be cast out at any moment by the queen bee. I was willing — okay, frothing — to do anything it took to stay cool.

Including tossing my own parents’ mailbox into the pond across the street.

I did not, mind you, set out that Halloween night to vandalize my mother and father’s mailbox. That was the furthest thing from my mind. The nearest thing was to follow along with whatever the rest of that swarming crowd did.

This, I quickly determined, was tossing other people’s mailboxes this way and that.

Hey, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I should emphasize that I was not a major player in this mayhem. I was not the person — Ricky, let’s call him — who determined which mailboxes would live, and which would die. I was not the one — hmmmm, Glenn sounds like a good name — who physically uprooted the mailboxes Ricky selected for death. I was merely a mindless drone who hauled the mailboxes to wherever our leaders decided would be their final resting places: the woods. The fields. The middle of the street.

Or, in the case of my parents’ mailbox, the pond across High Point Road.

Let me say, in my defense, that I did not think trashing my parents’ mailbox was a wise idea. I may have wondered whether they could replace it in time for the next day’s delivery. I hoped they would not see me. I prayed the police would not roar up and send me to “juvenile hall.”

But like any good eighth grade follower, I kept my concerns to myself.

I would like to report that my friends, warped though they were, had a peculiar code of honor, one that enabled them to say, in the midst of demolishing the Woog family mailbox, “Hey, wait a sec. That’s Dan’s parents. Lay off, guys!”

Barring that, it would be nice to say that my friends — in retrospect, I use that term broadly — let me off the hook, gracefully placing their hands over my eyes as the dirty deed was done.

It would be nice, but false. In fact, rather than allowing me to avoid this one act of degrading vandalism, they took malicious joy in egging me on. To get me in just the right frame of mind, they used the key phrase guaranteed to galvanize any insecure 13-year-old into action: “C’mon, man. Everybody’s doing it!”

So I did it.

I can still picture the mailbox as it arced through the air - propelled, in part, by me.

I can still hear it splash as it hit the water.

I can still see the ripples as it sank slowly, descending to its watery grave.

I can still remember the shame I felt, for giving in so easily to my peers.

And I can still remember the other, equally ambivalent feeling I had: elation, as my “buddies” hooped and hollered with congratulations. For one more day, my place in the in crowd was secure.

The next day at Long Lots, everyone heard how I had helped wreck so many mailboxes - including my parents’. For at least 24 hours, I was still cool.

I am now several decades older, and perhaps a little wiser. I know what it’s like to be a kid, and try like crazy to fit in with the crowd.

So here is a message, especially to all you socially insecure eighth graders out there:

If you ever even think about destroying my mailbox, I’ll kill you.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com