Aside from Christmas morning, Halloween is the most cherished day on the kiddie calendar. What could possibly be better than door-to-door candy larceny?
I’m sure I loved it when I was younger but now that I’m a grumpy old fart (with suspect dental work earned from years of amateur hockey), I can honestly say the holiday holds no magic for me. In fact, I refer to the entire month of October as “Fall Craptacular."
Forget about relaxing on Sundays watching early season NFL games, it's time to pack the minivan for the ritual visit to some pumpkin farm on the outskirts of a rural county Mapquest doesn’t recognize. Mom picks up the obligatory jar of apple butter to go alongside the nine other unopened jars in the pantry, the kids forage muddy fields for pumpkins and rhino viruses and I wonder again why none of these places ever has a beer garden. Seems like a missed opportunity.
Fall Craptacular is a marketer’s dream. “Spooky” themed episodes of your favorite TV shows (Don Draper slugs a fifth of Scotch during the annual office Halloween party), “haunted” versions of your favorite groceries (Halloween Cap’n Crunch that turns the milk green!) and Pumpkin Butter Spice Caramel Corn Roast Leaf Lattes at Starbucks. If melancholy came in a box, it would be available for a limited time during Fall Craptacular.
The worst part for me is costume shopping in the Halloween store that sprang up in the carcass of the old Circuit City. My kids can spend hours trying on, choosing, agonizing, deciding and changing their minds the second they spot an outfit with more accessories. As a parent, I find it painful watching the forces of good and evil (and Madison Avenue) battle it out for my kids' attention. What are they going to be this year: Ariel the Mermaid or Monster High Hoebag? Obi Wan Kenobi or Darth Sidious? I cringe every time I see my son reach for a costume that features a gun as an accessory (shocking how many do), or my daughter pass up a Glinda the Good Fairy Queen dress for something with fishnet tights and cat o’ nine tails.
Is this the moment I look back on when she hooks up with the drummer of a jam band and drops out of college? Will I remember this day when I’m pleading with the State Department to petition the government of Burma to extradite my son so he can get a fair trial? Why doesn’t this costume store serve beer?
Our basement is filled with the ghosts of Halloween costumes past: plastic devil pitchforks, wands, crowns, light sabers, fangs, hillbilly teeth (love those), fake handcuffs, bottles of spray-on glitter and pointy witch hats. Sometimes when the kids are in bed, I give the wife a nudge and say, “Honey, why don’t we split a bottle Charles Shaw Shiraz and play mix-and-match Halloween dress up? You know, see where it leads...” Nowhere so far.
Because I’m a creative director, my wife and kids have high expectations when it comes to my ability to carve a decent jack-o'-lantern, but the truth is I’m awful at it. Every year I challenge myself to create something seasonally appropriate, and yet unexpected. Something that’s never been done before, completely original but strangely familiar. A design that appeals to the widest possible audience, but also draws in consumers who don’t recognize or celebrate Halloween. A grin or expression that both captures the spirit of the season, and yet exceeds the communication objectives outlined in the seasonal creative brief, redefining the category and somehow elevating the Halloween experience…
Maybe I put too much pressure on myself.
Right around the time my crudely carved jack-o'-lantern rots so bad the squirrels won’t touch it, I partake in the only Halloween tradition I truly enjoy: “Trick or Treat, Pull and Drink.”
What’s that? You’ve never heard of “Trick or Treat, Pull and Drink” (TOTPAD)?
I’m not sure when and where this tradition began, but at some point the dads in the neighborhood took over trick-or-treat escort duties and turned the entire experience into a pseudo-seasonal pub crawl.
It works like this: The kids go door-to-door trick-or-treating and the dads pull wagons filled with all the costume accessories their kids are sick of carrying. A portion of each wagon is reserved for babies who are still too young for trick-or-treating, and whatever space is left over holds a 12-pack of Miller Light or some seasonally appropriate brew. One wagon in the caravan is reserved for the empties, and sharing your suds with other dads is encouraged. Some guys pack leftover BBQ to share and maybe a few bags of Doritos Cool Ranch to keep us from digging into the kids' candy bags. (Author’s note: There is an exception. My kids understand that any Bottle Caps they collect are to be immediately handed over to Dad. He loves them.)
TOTPAD is a rare male bonding occasion where the rutting stags can chat about "guy stuff" (bench pressing, bacon, Tolstoy) out of earshot of the wives while still keeping an eye on the kids. It’s also a great way to meet neighbors you rarely see and peak inside their houses to reassure yourself that there isn’t a Meth lab hidden somewhere on the block.
“You should be ashamed of yourself! What kind of example are you setting for your kids when they see that Dad can’t spend time with them without drinking! You complain about drunks in the parks—what about drunks on the sidewalks?! Hypocrite! You're no better!”
Yeah, I saw that one coming.
Relax, no one is getting drunk. Truth is, most of us will nurse the same beer for the entire afternoon. It’s not about boozing, it’s about bonding. Besides, we make it a point to stick to the sidewalks and avoid all parks and Metra station platforms. Also, single-serve cans of malt liquor are strictly prohibited. It’s in the rules.
At least we are keeping an eye on the kids, I don’t recall either of my parents walking with me during trick-or-treating. My mom would shove us out the door in some pieced-together homemade costume and say, "Be back when the street lights come on,” and—poof!—we were on our own.
She had no idea which direction we took off in or what friends we were with. She wasn’t there when the older kids from Ridgeway High School pushed us down and stole our candy. She had no clue that Vito Felegario thought it would be a good idea to cross busy Cumberland Avenue and trick-or-treat at the apartment building near the river. She never thought to have our candy bags X-rayed for hypodermic needles or razor blades. She didn’t realize that the safety pin that was holding my "gypsy" costume together fell off and I was essentially walking the streets of Norridge in my underwear.
Looking back, it’s like my parents were that disembodied “mwa-mwaa” voice from the Peanuts cartoons, somewhere off camera telling us what to do but never keeping an eye on us while we were doing it.
Times have changed, and I can’t imagine my daughter crossing Cumberland Avenue by herself. I’d rather keep an eye on her so she isn’t tempted. Besides, I’ve been saving a bottle of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Imperial Stout just for the occasion. The label features a grinning skull with bat wings and a crown.
Now that's perfect for Halloween.
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