HALLOWEEN is here, and parents are again confronted with that most difficult of questions: How do I permit my child to enjoy HTC the holiday without incurring harm or offending any minority group?
We are all by now familiar with the warnings about poisoned candy and razor blades in apples. But coping with the threat of LSD-laced candy or crack cocaine disguised as Pez raises new challenges and requires even closer parental monitoring.
The FDA (over the heated objections of the SPCA) has recommended that, before allowing children to consume any candy, wrapped or not, a sample be given to the family pet to assess possible contamination. If he, she or it expires within 20 minutes, it is advisable to discard the tainted treat. If the dog, cat, canary or goldfish smiles a lot and stays up all night begging for more, one should suspect the presence of a controlled substance. In this event, a parental trial might be in order -- just to make sure.
Remember to dress your children in bright colors so that they will be easily visible to larger kids waiting to steal their treat bags. You might want to accompany your little ones, but it would be a good idea to leave your wallet at home, depending on what constitutes "larger" in your community. And remember, while you're out, your house is unguarded and nobody's handing out candy. It's astonishing what damage a small group of hungry and frustrated trick-or-treaters can do to a home. You may recall that the word "Halloween" is derived from the old English "hallow," meaning pointless, and "een," meaning vandalism.
Now about costumes. Dressing up as a witch or ghost is still considered acceptable in most parts of the country, excluding California, the home of the militant Supernatural Anti-Defamation League (SADL). This group has organized some exceptionally severe retaliatory actions against costumes it finds offensive. The recent conflagration in Oakland is a particularly gruesome example and occurred in response to early trick-or-treating on the part of some incautious (and now homeless) children.
It is universally frowned upon this year to dress up as a Native American. Already incensed at the "tomahawk chop" insensitivity Atlanta Braves' fans, various Indian groups have organized to protest further disparagement of their traditional culture. The best advice one can offer here is to go easy on the feathers unless your actual name contains some reference to an animal. Cowboy costumes are OK since they are an unorganized and nearly extinct minority.
Good taste determines what identities can be assumed. For example:
Acceptable character: Any member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (If you go as Ted Kennedy, you might consider wearing pants if it's a chilly evening.)
Unacceptable characters: Clarence Thomas, Long Dong Silver.
Acceptable: Snow White
Unacceptable: Any of the Seven Dwarfs without written permission from Little People of America.
You get the idea. If there's the remotest chance your costume might offend someone, it will. Don't worry about offending small groups with little clout.
Even with all these drawbacks, Halloween retains its place as a celebration of those uniquely American values: greed and something for nothing.
Gordon Livingston writes from Columbia.