Sometimes, I just long for the Halloweens of my youth.
This isn't to say I haven't thoroughly enjoyed each of the successive five Halloween celebrations since I moved to Madison. I've partied up and down State Street, as far West as Walnut Street and as far East as Butler Street, as far South as Vilas Avenue and as far north as...well, Lake Mendota, I guess.
Yes, we jumped in.
You see, each celebration has been unique in its own way, with wild, scarcely believable, individually unique stories to accompany them. Sure, I will refuse 'til my dying day to call Halloween on State that ridiculous term they coined for it, but I will attend, wear a costume and laugh myself stupid.
But in spite of all the fun there is to be had in this town on the closest Saturday to October 31, I will never accept Madison as the end-all-be-all of Halloween. That honor is reserved for Monroe, my hometown, and the carefree innocence of Halloween when I was young.
And by carefree innocence, I really mean unsupervised, unfettered, unbridled mayhem.
I believe I was 13 or 14 at the time of the tale I will now impart. I was at that stage in every boy's life when he begins to learn who he is as a man, and it was slowly dawning on me that I was somewhere between a hellion and a criminal mastermind.
I wasn't alone. Like every neighborhood in the Smalltown Midwest prior to the invention of the Playstation, ours was inhabited by a roving band of troublemakers. I won't name any names, because like me, a number of them have gone on to lead rather legitimate lives. But I will say, at my age now, I would have been terrified to live in the midst of the subdivision that was our adolescent playground.
Halloween rolled around that year, and half a dozen of us assembled in somebody's garage to lay our evening's plan for battle. We were at that age where, were we to ring a doorbell and exclaim, "Trick or treat," eyebrows would rise. All of us were too young to drive, but too old to play the cute card. Yet not a one of us was willing to let a favorite holiday pass by without "earning" "our share" of free candy from the neighbors.
So we schemed. And after we schemed, we went into the house and got on of the guys' kid brother, "Donny," who was all of 10 years old and dressed up in one of those big, plump pumpkin costumes. We told Mr. and Mrs. Donny we would take him trick-or-treating so they could stay in and sit by the fire, and they thanked us with a plate of brownies.
Then, after promising Donny an equal cut in the action, we waited.
By about eight o'clock, the neighborhood was primed for our scheme. It was dark, the number of legitimate trick-or-treaters was dwindling and neighborhood denizens were beginning to settle into their couches for a couple hours of primetime before bed. We struck out, a half dozen black-clad wraiths and one pumpkin, cute as a button, with a light-up trick-or-treat bag.
The first home must have had no idea what hit them.
"Mrs. Johnson" was a pleasant woman in her early fifties, and a teacher at the high school. I imagine she was just plopping a few marshmallows into her hot cocoa, because it was a chilly night, when the doorbell rang.
"Oh my," she likely called to her husband in the basement. "Must be one last trick-or-treater at the door."
On her way to the front entrance, she grabbed the large bowl of Halloween goodies perched on the bannister, only half depleted after an entire evening's worth of ghouls and goblins. Ours was a fairly middle class neighborhood, and a trick-or-treater could always count on the neighbors to have about ten times more candy on hand than they actually needed. And they always did.
Opening the door, Mrs. Johnson glowed down at the round, rosy-cheeked little pumpkin standing on her doorstep. "Trick or treat?" Donny bellowed, grinning up at her with an innocent 10-year-old's imperfect smile.
"Aren't you just adorable," she cooed automatically. "I'll tell you what. Just because it's getting so late, I'll give you two candy bars."
"Thank you!" Donny blurted, just as we had instructed him.
Mrs. Johnson furrowed her brow and glanced at her watch, then allowed her eyes to dart about the front yard. It was a dark, moonless night, and she could have sworn she had heard snickering in one of the hedges out front.
"It's getting kind of late," she cautioned Donny, eyes still narrowed. "You ought to go straight home."
"Thank you," Donny rapped out again, and turned to leave. With one last glance around the yard, she began to swing the heavy door closed, until she heard Donny cry out.
From the hedges, from the street and from the side of the house, black-clad figures swooped in on the bouncing little pumpkin, surrounding him and knocking him to the ground. His legs kicked impotently in the air from within his costume as the teenage hooligans pried at, then wrested the light-up candy bag from his arms.
Within moments it was over, leaving the 10-year-old laying in Mrs. Johnson's front yard, the faint echo of a sniffle emanating from within the Day-glo pumpkin costume.
"Are you all right," screeched Mrs. Johnson, tearing out across the front yard to Donny's aid. She helped him sit up and saw there were tears running down his face.
"Th-th-they t-t-took my c-c-candy," he stammered between sobs.
"Well, we'll just see about that," she said, leading him back to the front porch and disappearing through the front door. Mrs. Johnson reappeared at once with a plastic shopping bag, into which she unceremoniously dumped the remainder of the candy dish and three unopened bags of individually-wrapped chocolates.
"Now here you go," she said, patting him on the head, "and you walk home quickly and carefully, do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am," Donny said, his tears dried and the grin shining once more. "THANK YOU."
We met the kid halfway down the block, high-fiving him for his performance and dumping the loot into a pillow sack. That pillow sack, which we stashed in a nearby sewer grate, became our base of operations for the next hour and a half, as we terrorized neighbor after neighbor with what would forever after be known as the Pumpkin Con.
We must have run that bit on over a dozen people. By the time we headed home for the night, we had amassed enough loot for each of us to carry home our own full pillow sack, and Donny got a double share.
And it's true what they say: candy won is sweeter than candy earned.