The Candy Economy: Remembering Halloween

Speaking earlier with a co-worker today, I began to reminisce about the different impressions of people’s houses and the state of things in general based solely on the candy we got in our plastic pumpkin buckets as children and young teens. 

The “Rich” houses:

We always knew the rich houses right away.  For starters, we didn’t live in their neighborhoods or only one or two were within walking distance, and thus had to be driven to them; usually by extended family members or friends families.  Walking into a “rich house” neighborhood, we saw well manicured lawns and completed sidewalks with little or no cracking. Both are especially noticeable when you are looking through crudely slit plastic masks that make the glasses fog so as to severely increase the chance of tripping and ripping the thin-nylon over the clothes costume your mom bought at the last minute in the Halloween isle of the local Skaggs-Alpha Beta.  Greeting you at each house would be an array of yard signs, lights, and spooky special effects; like dry-ice in a cauldron sitting atop a fake fire being eerily stirred by the lady of the house in a “ugly old-witch” costume fit more for the stage than a front lawn.  The effects would almost be too much for a lesser child; which would be you if your friend’s mom hadn’t driven you across town just to get some candy.  After summoning up the courage to walk up the drive to get the candy, the selection would be like a candy store had just spilled a shipment of the finest full-sized candy bars and treats right by the front entrance.  The occupants of the house would be friendly and greet you and want to take pictures with you for their scrapbooks.  Finally, leaving each house you would feel more and more at ease; until it was time to go back home to your own neighborhood.  In the up years, we would go to these houses regularly.  However, if things were “tight this year” that meant that we wouldn’t even ask to go.

The “Good but not Great” houses:

After the sad farewell to the upper class neighborhood you arrive back in your own neck of the woods to see if there is anything more to get.  These good houses would always have a porch light on and a door opened with the candy bowl in plain sight.  The driveway wasn’t crowded, but wasn’t devoid of the odd car or left-out bicycle.  Approaching the house, the occupant in side was usually sporting a witch hat or wolf-man mask; depending on gender; but otherwise plain clothes.  No special effects, or a just a small two-cassette tape player with “haunted house” sounds on a loop.  Walking up to the door you may be startled by a smart-alecky teen in a clumsily thrown together scare-crow outfit.  In a good economy, the house was clean, and the treats were assorted mini-candy bars, chocolate coins, candy necklaces, and other small grab-bag style toys like small army paratroopers, or the occasional matchbox car.  However good the treats were, the person doling out the goods would admonish the recipients with a strict “one piece each” policy and was constantly on the alert for repeat guests.  The transaction was more sterile, but not unfriendly.  Not a lot of “wow, I love your costume” or “can I get a picture of you?”’ but still plenty of greetings.  However, when times were tough the chocolate candy all but disappeared and there were absolutely no little trinkets or prizes.  In fact, the odds of getting a caramel covered popcorn ball that stuck to everything or a candy apple that was still dripping went up dramatically, thus forcing the child to either feign gratitude or hold the treat at arm’s length as to not get it stuck to the rest of the loot.  During the good times, these were the dominant houses; but during the bad times, they became as scarce as the upper class houses.

The “Broke and it ain’t funny” houses:

As a kid walking a neighborhood at night, with a group of other kids; these houses were the “dare you to go up and knock on the door” houses.  Most of the time, they were darkened with no exterior light showing to indicate they did not have anything to give.  Sometimes, there were dimly lit with disturbingly yellow bug lights as a porch light.  The yard was always a mine field of broken toys, lost Frisbees, rusted bicycles, and dog feces.  The sidewalk was broken beyond repair, exposing the bare earth under it; usually with a large chasm between walkable chunks of cement.  Any kid with a loose shoelace or clumsy walk was going to fall on their way to the drive; and the probability of a scraped knee was directly proportionate to the speed of the fall and the amount of thin clothing between ground and skin.  The doors were always closed; with the living room window shades slightly open or at least parted so the occupant could be clearly seen.  The smell of petroleum, cigarettes, beer, and animal droppings would mingle with the crisp autumn air and rotting leaves to form a sort of fear perfume.  If you were brave enough to go to the door; or if pushed hard enough by family or friends the driveway was just as crowded as the yard.  No less than three cars would be parked so close to the door or each other, that it was impossible not to get some grease or dirt on the easily torn plastic of the costume.  Once at the door the brave explorer would have to swallow hard to knock; because the doorbell was always out; or missing; or having wires out that threatened to electrocute the next victim dumb enough to press the button.  Once opened, the door would bring more smells of tobacco and booze; along with a bowl or pot thrusted out of the door at arm’s length by a person who clearly was annoyed; but prepared for the visitor.  Looking into the choices, the candy always consisted of tootsie rolls, hard bubble gum that cracked all teeth at the instant of chewing, pixie sticks, sour balls, and whatever else was sold by the pound in the candy isle of the local grocer.  The greeter would always say “once piece only”, but the trick-or-treater feeling slighted after enduring the adventure to the door would quickly grab a small handful and bolt; which in turn would get some sort of growling from the occupants; but never more than that.  The worse the economy, the more of these darkened houses would dominate the landscape.  Even if they stayed open during a down turn, the picking became apples, oranges, bible tracts, and prizes from fast food kid’s meals.

This year, judging by the state of most of the houses, we definitely had more Good and Broke houses than in recent years past.  Having a child of trick-or-treating age has opened a new perspective on where things are at for me.  Yet, it does not feel as hopeless as those years as a kid when everyone in the neighborhood stopped trick-or-treating because no one was giving out candy.  Here’s to hoping for a brighter future and to a better Candy Economy next year.

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