Trick nor treat

October 28, 1998|By Mark Lane

WHAT is the statute of limitations on Halloween? At what age are you supposed to cede the streets to the little kids and take your place behind the front-door candy bowl?

The National Halloween Standards Commission says trick-or-treating should cease at age 12. The National Organization of Costume Manufacturers says 28. The World Toilet Paper Marketing Association and National Egg Council say 21.

OK, I'm making that up. Parents facing this question are on their own.

Late arrivals

I've always dreaded this decision. Every year I'd think about it when the late-wave trick-or-treaters arrived. The late-wavers aren't usually too elaborate in costuming. They arrive with a sack and a little bit of green sprayed into their hair at right about the time you are calling it a night.

"We are costumed as troubled youth," they seem to say. "We personify your fears about what your kids will grow into once they're in middle school. Make us offerings of candy and we will go away for a year."

And I do. It's a bargain.

In person and at the door, however, they are not quite that articulate. They just stand there, a quarter-embarrassed to be going through a ritual that's too fun to give up easily.

They usually just say "hey," and hold out their bags.

A few years ago, the last trick-or-treater of the night was a kid in baggy shorts and a large T-shirt -- the universal middle-school male costume -- and about as tall as I am. His one concession to costuming was a plastic Tweety Bird mask hanging down around his neck with an elastic tie.

He didn't strike me as the Tweety Bird type. He seemed to have a 5 o'clock shadow, but maybe that's just how he looked by the light of a plastic, battery-powered pumpkin. I took his mask to be in the spirit of cheap irony.

"Hey," he announced himself.

I made a mental note to have a talk with my kids in a few years.

And now it is a few years later. My children are at the age when they wish they could drive and trick-or-treat. An age in which girls can be stylish among their peers wearing lipstick and those plastic barrettes that have a poodle stamped on them.

Everything older and younger looks simultaneously better at that age. Only the present seems lousy.

I'd tell them they are too old for this and threaten to draft them for Halloween door duty but they are not sure whether to believe me. I am threatening the natural order of holidays as they have always lived it.

The kids suspect my lack of holiday spirit enters into my puzzling suggestion that they need to change their usual plans. And it's true, I do not much like Halloween.

It makes arts and crafts demands I cannot satisfy. Lawn decoration to me means I bring the lawn mower inside. The scariest costume I've come up with from the kids' point of view is what I would buy them for school if I were left in a store unsupervised.

And I am constitutionally unable to estimate candy demand. Either I give kids individual M&Ms at the door by way of rationing, or I'm left with a sticky and moldering candy pile until Thanksgiving.

Once, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I dispatched a small hill of post-Halloween candy corn, by biting off one section at a time -- white, yellow, orange -- to see if the colors tasted any different. They don't.

Week-old Halloween candy can make you do these things. It's a recognized legal defense.

Maybe my anti-Halloween bias does make me too quick to suggest that my children make other plans for the night. But here are my impartial rules:

Any kid who, without the aid of costume, looks scary coming at you in the dark is too old for trick-or-treating.

Kids who are mortified at the thought of being photographed in costume must move to candy distribution duties.

I don't make the rules, I just enforce them.

Mark Lane is a columnist for Cox Newspapers.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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