This may shock you, but Halloween these days is completely out of control. It generates nine billion in retail sales and begins promotions at the first hint of fall – late August. Who doesn’t love that? Well, me, apparently. Used to be, it was simple, modest and kid friendly. And in Barton County in the early 70’s, there were a couple sure things about every Halloween. The first was that if you wanted to collect the biggest stash of Snickers, Butterfinger and Peanut M&M’s, you went to the doctors – a sugar high golden rectangle – the Degner, Polson, Niederee and Kirby homes. Long before physicians knew of reduced insurance reimbursements and Medicare cuts, the CKMC version of Grey’s Anatomy shared the wealth with annoying tots. In spades.
There were two other sure things. The toddlers and youngsters always had the biggest haul. When I was eight, nine and ten, kid brother Marty and I got rich. Our treat bags were bulging. But this lead to the final sure thing. We got home and brother Tim would propose, in a very friendly way, "putting all the candy together. Let’s share!" That’s how communism began and Tim –with sister Kate behind him – was every bit Chairman Mao. Seconds later our stash was dumped in his sack, and he disappeared – leaving us with burned popcorn balls and store bought cookies. To compound matters, November 1 was All Saints day, and there was no school, so the pain of a bad deal resonated another 24 hours. I suppose there was one other sure thing. Crying. Marty and me. What did it accomplish? Nothing.
And so it was those memories I took with me when I moved to Johnson County. On the anointed day, for the first 2 hours I saw a steady stream of little girls and boys, proudly wearing their parents 5 digit investment. Darling, delightful, charming young girls wearing cute but overpriced outfits, repeating "Trick or treat."
After the first wave comes the second. The troublemakers who don’t know trouble yet but were sure looking for it. These are the fifteen year olds who try to be cool but can’t drink, drive or avoid their moms’ shadow. They dig in the sack deep, take more than they should, and disappear.
Around for about an hour, there is a lull. It appears the night is over, and once the Keenan kids are accounted, for, I can relax with an adult beverage. And then it happens. The doorbell rings. I open the door and smell a whiff of cigarettes. Standing a couple feet off the porch is a twenty year old, and his nine buddies. He has a five o’clock shadow, leather pants, a rat tail extending on his shoulder along with piercings and tats. In a deep baritone, grunts: "Where my treat?" As you squeeze the candy plate between the narrow opening, he mumbles, "is that it?" At that moment, a thought crosses my mind – ‘this kid just left Leavenworth and he’s about to step inside and ask to see the safe, gun collection and jewelry inventory." He leaves, we turn off all the lights in the house, and hide under the covers.
So maybe Great Bend is different, but let me assure you that in KC, Halloween has been hi-jacked by a complicated consortium of candy makers, distillers and Wall Street. I read one a news site with this tidbit: "This popular holiday increasingly has morphed into a celebration by adults who buy a Dracula or sexy showgirl outfit and head to a party or club. More costume sales are going to adults, with some retailers saying the percentage of adult sales exceeds 50 percent. "Adults use Halloween as their escape holiday," said one owner of a Halloween store.
Escape? From what? Your van down by the river? Your pathetic life? Apparently. So call me nostalgic for the good old days. Except for the Chairman Mao part.
Matt Keenan’s book, Call Me Dad, Not Dude, is available at Borders and online at thekansascitystore.com. Write to Matt at his Web site, matthewkeenan.com.