Woog's World: Halloween is the oddest holiday


America’s weirdest holiday is right around the bend. No, I don’t mean Election Day (though November 2020 may well bring some very strange stuff).

Halloween is our oddest holiday. For decades, kids dressed up in costumes. They prowled around the neighborhood, extorting candy — I mean, asking for “treats” — in exchange for an implicit promise not to engage in “tricks” like toilet-papering trees or smashing pumpkins (the act, not the band).

That was then. Today, Halloween is even more transactional. Parents drive their kids (some of whom wear the most minimal costumes) to one of the few neighborhoods in Westport with less than one-acre zoning.

With ruthless efficiency, they race from door to door. There are two types of homeowners in these areas: those who flee, and those who gamely stockpile thousands of Kit Kats, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and whatever else will provide enough sugar to power them through the rest of the school year.

The folks who give out all those “treats” are true heroes. They feed tons of kids (often without thanks), including a surprising number of out-of-towners. Word has gotten out: Westporters are generous. And, from what I’ve heard, not enough of the youngsters have been taught to say “thank you.” Some don’t even say “trick or treat!” They just open their bags, as if they’re at a TSA checkpoint or stadium turnstile.

Some Westporters have gone the extra mile, making lemonade out of the lemons they’d surely like to hand to a few of their “guests.” They have turned Halloween into a block party.

At the same time the kids are snagging more M&Ms, Snickers and Hershey bars than even the American Sugar Alliance could hope for, adults open their doors to the youngsters’ chauffeurs/chaperones/co-conspirators.

“Come on in!” the homeowners say. Then they point to an open bar. Bingo! It’s a parental jackpot. All of a sudden, Halloween duty doesn’t seem half as bad. In fact, if they hit enough of these open houses (some of which are actually in the garage), it might be wise for their kids to drive them back to whichever one-acre zoning neighborhood they live in.

Halloween, 21st-century-style, is one more example of taking something that was once strictly kids’ business, and turning it into an adult activity. Youngsters today don’t know basic skills like how to divide up sports teams (you get the first pick; I get the next two; when there are four kids left, we’ll split them between us). Some teenagers don’t even write their own college application essays.

And they sure don’t throw their own parents’ mailboxes into the pond across the street.

That’s not just a random concept I throw out there. I did exactly that, back in the day.

The day was eighth grade, when Long Lots was a junior high school. I was hanging out in the middle of the In Crowd — not at the bottom of the pecking order, but not secure enough in my spot to be able to resist when the Cool Kids concocted the idea of mailbox tossing.

I should have seen it coming. I should have realized that once this Lord of the Flies-type behavior began with other people’s mailboxes, it would come to include mine. After all, we lived right across from the rapidly filling pond.

I would like to say that my “friends,” warped though they were, had a peculiar code of honor that enabled them to say, “Hey, wait! That’s Dan’s parents’ mailbox! Lay off!”

That would be nice, but it would be false. In fact, rather than gracefully excusing me and my mailbox from their vandalism, they took malicious delight in egging me on.

So I did it.

I uprooted my own mailbox. I helped hurl it into the water. I watched it sink. I felt my stomach sink too, in shame at what I’d just done. At the same time, I felt elated. My position in the In Crowd was secure, for at least another 24 hours.

I don’t think any Westport 13-year-old has vandalized a mailbox — his own, or anyone else’s — in years. At least, not on Halloween.

Kids no longer roam in packs, unsupervised. They are delivered to their destinations. They fill their bags with candy from strangers.

That’s probably a vast improvement over the cowardly, follow-the-crowd behavior I engaged in all those years ago. We’ve come a long way since then. And, thanks to hyper-vigilance and plenty of publicity, no one worries about crazy people putting razor blades in apples, either.

But there is something to be said for kids putting on a costume one night each year, heading out with a gang into the crisp fall air, and saying to neighbors they know — in one-acre zoning — “trick or treat.”

Even if they have no idea what that means.

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 danwoog06880.com.