Monday, October 27, 2014

Trick-or-treat turf turbulence

Here's the best TLDR you'll read all day (thought it's all worth it):

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country ... Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday?

— Halloween for the 99 Percent

Dear 99,

... Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.

— Prudie

I love this SO much.

For me, Halloween is an era frozen in time. I grew up in a neighborhood that was scary enough every other night of the year, and where the number of houses offering candy sufficiently withered to where I never trick-or-treated there again after age 7. (That year, I landed two tiny bags of Red Hots and a fun-size Butterfinger from two houses. You remember that sort of thing at an age where you don't yet have real problems.) After that, the emphasis was on having trick-or-treaters visit my grandparents' house (and occasionally mine next door). My grandfather had rigged a PA system into a plastic pumpkin he'd hang from his front awning. The light inside the pumpkin would dim ominously when we spoke into the microphone. Kids loved it so much that they followed that glowing beacon every year in droves, even though we were the only house on that entire block offering candy (and we were halfway down that block). I grew to enjoy watching kids' reactions to our words from a discreet spot behind the blinds, or holding the microphone looking like a creepy TV host upon opening the door. These days, I would have filmed the delighted reactions on my smartphone.

I only went trick-or-treating twice after age 7: once at the mall when I was 9, and again at either 14 or 15 when we took my little sister, then 4 or 5, to another neighborhood across town — not a rich one, but one plentiful with candy.

For us, this wasn't a pitchfork thing; it was a way to introduce a little girl to the fun of Halloween, something she could not experience in her own neighborhood. No one fussed, and I like to think that it was because the residents were nice people. But it probably didn't hurt that it looked like we belonged there.

Rich suburbanites complaining about trick-or-treaters is remarkably petty and hilarious in a "can you believe human beings think like this?" way. Treats are not expensive (after all, we bought plenty of snacks in our pumpkin-PA days), and who cares whose kids you're giving it to? We didn't request photo IDs from our visitors, though that sounds exactly like something these people would get behind.

As the economic divide gets worse in America, the wealthier among us are retreating more and more to outlying and/or gated communities (full disclosure: I live in a gated apartment complex, because most of them are gated here, but the gate annoys me, and anyway I am riffraff). One of the consequences of this is that different income brackets are interacting less and less, engendering fear, anger and distrust on all sides. For those on the extremes, Halloween could serve as a sort of social equalizer, if only for a couple of hours. Families who travel to better neighborhoods to trick-or-treat are looking to provide a better experience for the children. Those who live in such neighborhoods would be wise not to turn it into a lesson in affluent arrogance.

To quote Hank Hill: "Trick. Or. Treat. Trick. Or. Treat."

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