Woog's World / The ghost of Halloween past
Over the years, Westport has changed in many ways. New homes have his-and-her bathrooms, "great rooms," and rooms so unfunctional they don't even have names. Bedford Middle School is on North Avenue, not Riverside Avenue, and kindergarten classrooms at the old Saugatuck El have morphed into apartments for elders.
But I notice change by what I don't see, too.
Take toilet paper.
Back in the day, the day after Halloween was a mess. Toilet paper hung from trees. Smashed, smushed pumpkins littered doorsteps. Mailboxes filled streets.
One year, I was responsible for much of that destruction. Though that is the truth, I do not say it proudly. Well, okay, maybe a little.
Back in the day I was a typical Long Lots Junior High student: insecure as all get-out and desperate for acceptance by hundreds of other eighth graders, all of whom knew telepathically exactly how to dress (chinos and penny loafers), talk ("groovy," "outasite," "hey man") and walk (coolly). I, meanwhile, had to work at such 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 always aware that my position was tenuous. I could be cast out at any moment by the queen bee, who had the power to do such things and often did, on a whim (or perhaps to watch her classmates squirm). Naturally 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 the crowd did.
This, I quickly determined, was tossing other people's mailboxes this way and that.
I did not have anything against these folks. I many cases, I did not even know them. Their mailboxes had done nothing to me; they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And I should emphasize that I was not a major player on this juvenile delinquency stage. I was not the person -- Ricky, let's call him -- who cunningly 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 extinction. I was merely one of many mindless drones who hauled the mailboxes to wherever our leaders decided would be their final resting places: the woods. The fields. The middle of the road.
Or, in the case of my parents' mailbox, the pond across the street.
Let me say, in my defense, that I did not think trashing my parents' mailbox was a wise idea. I 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 down the street.
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 middle of demolishing this particular mailbox, "Hey, wait a sec. That's Dan's parents'. Lay off, guys. This is wrong!"
Barring that, it would be nice to say that my friends -- and, in retrospect, I use that term loosely -- let me off the hook, gracefully placing their hands over my eyes while the dirty deed was done.
It would be nice, but it would be false. In fact, rather than allowing me to avoid this one act of degrading vandalism, they took malicious delight 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: "Come on, 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 the 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 friends.
And I can still remember the other, equally ambivalent feeling I had: elation, as my "buddies" slapped me on the back, eagerly congratulating me for trashing yet another mailbox. For one more day, my place in the in crowd was secure.
The next day at Long Lots, everyone would hear how I had helped wreck so many mailboxes -- including my own parents'. For at least 24 hours, I would still be cool.
There is, of course, a moral to the story.
I am now four 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 tossing my mother's mailbox into the pond, I'll kill you.