Dave Barry


The five Haagenson youngsters sport pumpkin toppings at home.
The five Haagenson youngsters sport pumpkin toppings at home. UPI Photo

I love Halloween. It reminds me of my happy childhood days as a student at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk, N.Y., when we youngsters used to celebrate Halloween by making decorations out of construction paper and that white paste that you could eat. This is also how we celebrated Columbus Day, Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Armistice Day, Flag Day, Arbor Day, Thursday, etc. We brought these decorations home to our parents, who by federal law were required to attach them to the refrigerator with magnets.

That was a wonderful, carefree time in which to be a youngster or construction-paper salesperson. But it all ended suddenly one day -- I'll never forget it -- when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, called "Sputnik" (which is Russian for "Little Sput"). Immediately all the grown-ups in America became hysterical about losing the Space Race, which led to a paranoid insecurity about our educational system, expressed in anguished newspaper headlines asking, "WHY AREN'T OUR KIDS LEARNING IN SCHOOL?" I wanted to answer, "BECAUSE ALL WE EVER DO IS MAKE DECORATIONS OUT OF CONSTRUCTION PAPER, " but I couldn't, because my mouth was full of paste.

But getting back to Halloween: It's still one of the most fun holidays of the year, as well as one of the most traditional, tracing its origins back more than 2,000 years to the Druids, an ancient religious cult that constructed Stonehenge as well as most of the public toilets in England. The Druids believed that one night each year, at the end of October, the souls of the dead returned to the world of the living and roamed from house to house costumed as Power Rangers.

And thus it is that to this day, youngsters come to our door on Halloween night shouting: "Trick or treat!" According to tradition, if we don't give the youngsters a "treat, " their parents will "sue" us. That's why most of us traditionally prepare for Halloween by going to the supermarket and purchasing approximately eight metric tons of miniature candy bars, which we dump into a big bowl by the door, ready to hand out to the hordes of trick-or-treaters.

The irony, of course, is that there ARE no hordes of trick-or-treaters, not any more. We in the news media make darned sure of that. Every year we publish dozens of helpful consumer-advice articles, cheerfully reminding parents of the dangers posed by traffic, perverts, poisoned candy, and many other Halloween hazards that parents would never think of if we didn't remind them ("Have fun, but remember that this year more than 17,000 Americans will die bobbing for apples").

The result is that many children aren't allowed to go trick-or-treating, and the ones who ARE allowed out come to your house no later than 4:30 p.m., wearing reflective tape on their Power Rangers costumes and trailed at close range by their parents, who watch you suspiciously and regard whatever candy you hand out as though it were unsolicited mail from the Unabomber.

So for most of Halloween, your doorbell is quiet. This means that you pass the long night alone, hour after hour, just you and the miniature candy bars. After a while they start calling seductively to you from their bowl in their squeaky little voices. "Hey, Big Boy!" they call. "We're going to waste over here!"

As the evening wears on they become increasingly brazen. Eventually they crawl across the floor, climb up your body, unwrap themselves and force themselves bodily into your mouth. There's no use hiding in the bathroom, because they'll just crawl under the door and tie you up with dental floss and threaten to squeeze toothpaste in your eye unless you eat them. At least that's what they do to me. By the end of the night my blood has the same sugar content as Yoo-Hoo.

But eating huge amounts of candy allegedly purchased for youngsters is only part of the Halloween tradition. The other part is buying a pumpkin and carving it to make a "jack-o'-lantern, " which sits on your front porch, a festive symbol of the age-old truth -- first discovered by the Druids -- that there is no practical use for pumpkins.

Here's how to make a traditional jack-o'-lantern:

1. Cut a lid on top of the pumpkin.

2. Pull off the lid and peer down into the slimy, festering pumpkin bowels.

3. Put the lid back on and secure it with 200 feet of duct tape.

(This is also the traditional procedure for stuffing a turkey.)

But however you celebrate Halloween, make sure you remember this important safety tip: (IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP GOES HERE).

Otherwise, you will not survive the night. I'd give you more details, but right now I need to do something about these tiny Milky Ways crawling up my legs.

© Dave Barry

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