Monday, October 27, 2008

Humor Me: A life of trick-or-treating


A reader in Texas, picking out a set of vampire fangs while suffering from low-blood sugar, sends in this question:

“When is a person too old to trick or treat?”

For some reason, I get asked this every Halloween. Several times, actually, as I stand in front of people’s houses with my hand out, telling them I’d like something with chocolate AND peanuts.

OK, I’m kidding about that. But seriously, are you ever too old to trick or treat?

What’s important is that you’re young at heart -- and that you don’t mind if a wolfman mask highlights your receding hairline. You shouldn’t have to give up trick-or-treating simply because you’re taller than the people handing out the candy, or because you’re supposed to be “mature,” or because you need to get to sleep because your annual prostate exam is the next morning.

No, you shouldn’t have to give it up. But at some point, we all stop touring the neighborhood for freebies. At least legally.

When does that happen?

Well, it’s different for every person. But it usually comes after the four life stages of trick-or-treating:

1. Toddler to age 4

Everyone says you’re adorable, but you don’t know what that means. You have no idea why you’re dressed as a pumpkin, or a ghost, or -- if you’re my mother and want to scar a child for life -- as a ballerina boy. Getting candy from the neighbors is great, but it disappears from your treat bucket even when you don’t eat it. Daddy seems to eat a lot of candy as he guides you around the neighborhood.

2. Age 5 to 8

You realize your candy fantasy has come true. Every other night, you have to eat all of your spaghetti, and at least six green peas, to get a measly dish of Jell-O for dessert. On this night, you just say “trick or treat” and adults hand over enough candy to fill your pumpkin bucket. You spill the bucket at least once, cry for a moment, and then realize you are wasting precious time. When you get home, your parents say, “you can eat five candies before bed, and we’ll save the rest for later.” You put on your costume again the next day and ask, “How many days is it until Halloween?”

3. Age 9-13

You’re interested in your costume, but more interested in how much candy you can jam in your plastic bag, which has replaced the bulky, less-aerodynamic plastic pumpkin. You run from house to house, trip over a sprinkler head and break it, and nearly knock over a 3-year-old dressed as Dora the Explorer. Knowing your parents will limit your candy intake when you return home, you eat while collecting. You start to cross the street while unwrapping a candy bar, and a car screeches to a halt when the driver sees a chocolate-smeared Harry Potter in the headlights.

4. Age 14+

You don’t have time to find a costume because you have to call a friend who is pretty sure another friend said something bad about you – “for reals” -- and also because nobody understands you and your life is more dramatic than “Days of Our Lives.” So you just wear something black and put some stage blood on your face. You ditch the plastic bag for a pillow case, which allows for more storage, and try not to look up when saying “trick or treat.”

And then, with much reluctance, you give up trick-or-treating. I can’t remember when I gave it up, but I remember it was hard. For one thing, it meant admitting that it was time to grow up. But just as important, the candy pipeline ran dry.

Sure, now I can buy all the candy I want. (And instead of the small “fun size” versions, I can get regular candy bars, which I suggest calling “mind-blowing euphoria size”). But when I was a teenager, money was tight. Sometimes I had to choose between sugary goodness and Extra Strength Clearasil.

And for a kid, the sweet stuff is extremely addictive. I ate chocolate until my stomach hurt and tossed back Sweet Tarts even when I was sick of them. That’s why I don’t do drugs. If I could eat Pixy Stix until the dust came out of my nose, imagine what would happen if I tried anything stronger than NyQuil.

Yes, candy is hard to give up. And giving up childhood is even harder. So this Halloween, please make sure Stage 4 trick-or-treaters feel welcome. I’ll try to do the same, although I won’t be home for part of the night.

That’s because I have a Stage 1 and Stage 2 treater at home. I’ll need to follow them around, keep them on the sidewalk and tell them to say “trick or treat” when the door opens. And, of course, remind them to say “thank you” when they get the candy.

Especially if the candy has chocolate AND peanuts. That’s just as delicious when you’re a Stage 5 treater like me.

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