Monday, October 31, 2011

The Hazards of Halloween

This is a humor column I wrote back in the late 1990s. In honor of the 2nd most commercial holiday of the year, I'm republishing it here.

As October draws to a close, there is an excitement in the air. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting shorter, and parents are racing around, helping their kids through another annual identity crisis. That can only mean one thing:

Halloween is coming!

Or, as Uncle Albert called it, Dress Up Like A Goofball And Go Begging For Candy Day.

For children, this is one of the most exciting holidays of the year. What other time can a kid boldly march up to someone's house and demand candy? Sure, they can do it the other 364 days of the year, but this is the only time the police won't be called.

But for parents, Halloween is one of the least enjoyable holidays. They're constantly bombarded by their children's demands about what they want to be for Halloween, and it's usually the latest, hippest, trendiest, and most expensive costume available.

Child #1: Mommy, I want to be Pokemon for Halloween.

Mommy: But those costumes are $500. Why don't you go as a hobo instead?

Child #2: Mommy, I want to be Sporty Spice for Halloween.

Mommy: Um, Billy, are you sure you don't want to be a cowboy or something?

I realize I may be opening myself up to all kinds of geek jokes by admitting this, but when I was a kid, one of my hobbies was collecting beer cans (empty ones, of course). By an amazing coincidence, my best friend, Eric (no relation), also collected beer cans. And, being the geeky 11-year-olds we were, we got it into our heads that we wanted to be BEER CANS FOR HALLOWEEN!

We were such geeks that we thought dressing up as giant cans of liquid amber refreshment would be the coolest thing ever.

Of course, children today couldn't get away with this, because it would send the wrong message about alcohol. Never mind that nowadays kids dress up like witches, mass murderers, and Britney Spears. But, this was something we could get away with during the hip, cool late 1970s.

Our mothers put their creative minds to work, and came up with the costumes. My mom is a decent artist, so she created a big beer can out of three pieces of white poster board, and a lot of colored markers. She fastened all three of them together into a big cylinder, and came up with an elaborate suspension system made of staples, tape, and an old bed sheet. This way I could wear the costume, and keep my arms free for ringing doorbells and holding my candy bag.

When it was finally finished, I was so proud. I looked so much like a real beer can with an 11-year-old boy sticking out of it, it was uncanny. I beamed with pride as my mother lowered my crowning glory over my head, and I marched down to Eric's house so we could begin our candy gluttony at the spooky hour of 4:30 in the afternoon.

I rang the doorbell, waiting to be greeted by cries of adoration and amazement at my mother's inventiveness. But, when the door opened, I seethed quietly in a helpless rage. Grotesque images of death and maiming raced through my head when I saw what my so-called friend, Eric, had done.

His parents had gotten him a big 55 gallon heavy-duty cardboard barrel, the kind used for high-volume paper disposal. They cut out two small holes for eyes, and painted it to look like a can of Budweiser.


I was so disgusted. Eric looked like a real beer can, while I had suddenly been transformed into some dork wearing a poster board barrel around his stomach.

I quickly shook off these feelings and remembered the reason for the season: to gorge ourselves on candy.

However, my jealousy squelching failed miserably when I noticed something else about Eric's costume:

There weren't any arm holes!

The stupid jerk didn't even have to suffer the indignity of arm holes. He got his little sister to carry his bag for him, then she would just ask "Can you put some candy in my brother's bag? He can't get his arms out of his costume." The neighbors would rave over Eric's costume, then as a polite afterthought, they would ask me what the heck I was supposed to be.

"I'm a beer can too!" I would say with as much pride as I could muster.

"That's nice," they would say in a condescending tone and throw an old carrot into my bag.

Still, greed drove me on. The thought of having a bag full of candy by the end of the evening kept me ringing doorbell after doorbell. But it was getting dark, and time was running out. We still had two more blocks to cover if we were going to beat last year's take.

We decided to jog between houses, and cross the lawns, rather than going back out to the street, so we could cover more ground.

Simple logic dictates that when an 11-year-old kid wearing an upside down 55 gallon heavy-duty cardboard barrel with no arm holes suddenly trips, there is no way he can stop himself.

As we were running across a yard, I heard, "Hey, wait up!" and turned around in time to see Eric trip on the edge of a driveway, say a word most 11-year-olds shouldn't even know, and slam face first onto the driveway.

And as any concerned friend would do, I laughed so hard I cried.

Needless to say, Eric didn't think the incident was very funny and told me so in so many four-letter words as soon as he crawled out of his cylindrical death trap.

Then he said that first word again, and announced that his nose was bleeding. Since we weren't too far from his house, we walked back so he could get patched up (I made him carry his own stupid costume), and then we set out again.

We lost nearly 15 minutes of our candy harvest, and fell short of last year's take, but it turned out to be one of the best Halloweens ever. And I came away feeling a lot better about my costume.

I might have looked less like a beer can than Eric, but I wasn't the one doing half-brainers in driveways because I was too vain to have arm holes.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My NEW book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.

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