Three weeks from now, our fair neighborhood will be observing Halloween, the one day of the year in which we’re all willing to look directly at each other, and maybe even speak to each other if we’re feeling particularly peppy and high on sugar. For once the children leave their entertainment screens behind for the space of two or three hours and patrol the area in search of the best kind of free handouts — the kind with no government strings attached. For me, it’s a form of community involvement, one of my rare opportunities to engage in brief fellowship and do nice things for the people around us whose names I still don’t know.
Kids of my neighborhood, or of neighborhoods exactly like mine: pay close attention. This is your target. It’s called “a neighbor’s house”.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it and your parents aren’t paranoid enough to forbid it, will be to approach houses like mine and undergo the traditional step-by-step procedure to obtain free candy in exchange for ten seconds of human interaction. I realize this is asking a lot from some among you. If you’d rather forgo the expenditure of effort and simply write “LOTS OF CANDY” on Mommy’s grocery list instead, far be it from me to lecture you about all those generations of diligent children who were better than you.
In preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for the evening’s task, I recommend adhering to the following principles to ensure that your candy donors are impressed with your performance and don’t regret spending dozens of dollars on all those giant bags of junk food. Remember, you’re not just out there to mooch from us adult strangers: you’re there to win at Halloween.
1. Dress like the person you aren’t, not the person you are. Your everyday street clothes are not a costume. Makeup is a good start, but should not be your sole costuming medium. If your so-called “Halloween costume” is comprised entirely of clothes you’ll wear more than three times this year, you’re a deadbeat who’s making the Spirit of Halloween cry. Even if your family can’t afford to overspend on store-bought get-ups, at least try to create something that requires the use of scissors, glue, tape, or food — anything that says, “I tried.”
2. Knock or use the doorbell. A single rapping or button-depress will do. More than once is permissible if it’s my fault that I’m taking too long to answer the door. Three times in fifteen seconds makes you look desperate and increases the odds of my throwing your candy at you overhand. Standing motionlessly on my porch, staring at my door, and waiting for me to detect your heartbeat or the fluctuation in the air pressure caused by your occupancy of that space is not traditional door-to-door decorum and I totally won’t hear you. Shyness is understandable, but hardly meritorious under the circumstances.
3. SAY THE LINE. Three words, three syllables: “Trick or treat!” It’s not a secret password known only to members of the Halloween Cabal. Anyone can memorize it. Some of your peers seem to have trouble vocalizing it. No one is expecting you to spout anything nearly as complicated as, say, “supraventricular tachyarrhythmia”. If I open the door for you, your response is THE LINE. Staring at me silently and expectantly will be rewarded with me returning the silence and motionlessness in kind. I can stay locked in that position all night if I have to. I might even make it worse with eye contact. Don’t test me on this.
4. Don’t make me open your container for you. Take the lid off your bucket, open your plastic bag or pillowcase wide, pull up the flap on the hiking backpack, whatever. If I have to do that part for you, from a distance it’ll look as though I’m trying to steal from your stash, to say nothing of the weird violation of personal space required to keep your share of my candy from dropping all over my unswept porch.
5. Don’t immediately look into your bag to evaluate your spoils. That’s just rude. My candy bucket was right there before your very eyes where you could see it, and already you’re inspecting the results? Are you checking for explosives? Are you afraid I pulled a bait-and-switch and gave you broccoli lollipops instead of chocolate bars? Can you really tell my candy apart from the dozens of other treats in your bag? You do know most of us benefactors hand out pretty much the same brand names, right?
6. SAY THE OTHER LINE. Two words, two syllables: “Thank you.” They’re English and they’re common in some circles. If it helps, write them on the back of your hand. Weeks in advance, if need be. Practice saying them to yourself in a mirror. Use flashcards. Have a friend drill you. By any means necessary, learn them. They’re your easiest way to validate me as a human being so I don’t feel like an unloved vending machine that you’re taking for granted.
7. If you’re a baby, see to it that your parent does all of the above for you. If your parent can’t handle the job, cry uncontrollably until they agree to find a cool aunt or uncle to take their place. You may have your whole life ahead of you, but it’s still too short to leave yourself at the mercy of amateurs.
Remember: enjoy the evening; be safe and sensible; travel in groups where possible; and — I can’t emphasize this enough — don’t forget your lines. If five words is too taxing or you’re struggling with stage fright, ask Mom or Dad to stand off to one side with cue cards. Pretend you’re hosting Saturday Night Live and have to succeed lest you ruin the funniest sketch of the night and end up being mocked in a thousand YouTube response videos. Have fun!