I live in a Destination Trick-or-Treat Zone, the kind of neighborhood where ghouls, tiny Elsas and teens with bloody masks and plastic bags come by the hundreds. They come by church bus, by caravans of cars or by foot, like the good old days. My neighborhood In Pasadena, California has sidewalks, streetlights, and a tree canopy that gives off perfect shadows. The houses are just far enough away from each other that the candy don’t come easy. It’s Halloween the way it should be– spooky and safe.
For the most part, our neighborhood steps up to the challenges, with a fair number rolling out topnotch graveyards, pirates’ flags and bubbling cauldrons to enchant and delight. Our resident special effects guy and the theme park ride designer have upped expectations with Day of the Dead themed decorations and costumed characters performing scary shenanigans that bring in the big crowds and keep’em haunted, I mean, happy.
I turn my front porch into the Goth Witch’s House, a little bit Hansel and Gretel with a touch of Faulkner. There’s black gauze drapery, a rusted candelabra and vases of ‘dead’ flowers, especially roses. I have my own personal murder of crows, collected diligently at the Stats after-Halloween sale over a decade. One terrifying stuffed black cat has morphed into a dozen black cats. (Apparently, that happens with cats.) There’s an empty rocking chair, spider webs and, as God is my witness, someday I am buying that smoke machine. I dress up with a full green face, thick boots and a fabulous black hat bedecked by black roses and a bridal veil. (That’s for you, Mr. Faulkner.) The finishing touch is a screeching tombstone that scares the bejeezus out of people– because you gotta earn that candy at my house.
A few years ago, after weathering the Great Recession, I moved to full-sized candy bars to compete with the neighbor who started hanging out those giant Pixie Sticks. At first, I did it for me because I wanted to win the candy contest. But, then I did it for them. If you’ve never experienced handing a ten year-old in Freddy Krueger costume a full-sized Hersey bar and hearing his whoops of joy, I highly recommend it. Cures any ill.
My finest Halloween moment came a few years ago when a little Princess Jasmine was headed up my walkway lit by pumpkin lanterns and faux feral cats with glowing eyes. As I opened the door, my green face illuminated by many tiny green lights, Jasmine gripped onto her mother, terrified, and said, “It’s the witch’s house!” It was exhilarating. Now I know the power Margaret Hamilton must have felt all her life.
Why do I bother? My kids are long past trick-or-treating age and, frankly, my husband doesn’t even get off the couch to see who’s at the door anymore. It’s just me and my screeching tombstone making Halloween happen.
I make the effort because my first Halloween in Pasadena was in 1993, the night three teen boys were headed home from a chaperoned party and were gunned down in the street a mile from my house. The murders are known as the Halloween Massacre, a shocking moniker for a shocking and awful event. A gang revenge killing with mistaken identities that left three innocent kids dead, their parents destroyed and a whole city stunned. The murders galvanized civic action in the community as it related to gang violence. Pasadena came together with a ‘never again’ spirit. For me, I made a vow to honor those boys’ memories every Halloween. It seemed like the least I could do as a citizen, a mother and a human being.
So every year, as I hand out those Kit Kat bars to whomever shows up at my door – young or old, costumes or no costumes, locals or visitors — I think of Edgar Evans, Stephen Coats and Reggie Crawford, who would be in their 30’s today and probably handing out their own candy on their own front porches had they made it home safely that Halloween night.
There are people in my neighborhood who turn off their lights and hide inside, complaining that most of the trick-or-treaters who show up in our neighborhood aren’t even from our neighbor. Why should they spend fifty bucks on Dum-Dums for somebody else’s kid? Others boast about “the good candy’ for the neighbor kids and presumably a handful of candy corn for the kids off the church buses. I don’t get those people at all. It’s the one night of the year when you can make a nine year-old happy with a snack-sized Snickers bar. Doesn’t every kid deserve that, no matter what neighbor they live in? A safe place for costumes, candy, and the excitement of being out after dark. I’m honored to be part of the tradition. Last year, one mother said to me, “We love coming to your house every year.”
You know what? Me, too.
Happy Halloween. Boo, Lian
Originally Published in Pasadena Magazine October 2015