Saturday, October 25, 2003

No more tricks, no more treats

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We are approaching the scariest day of the year, when monsters in eerie costume come out of hiding to ply their fiendish trade, stalking everyone nearby, baring their snaggle-teeth and demanding the one thing that will satisfy their hunger. Yes — it will soon be Election Day.

Halloween is also coming up.

I had almost forgotten about that holiday until recently. My wife and I were driving home one evening. It was the stroke of midnight, and ours was the only car on the road in downtown Fall River. Right outside Government Center — a creepy enough place during the day — we saw a guy in brown pants and a red and green striped sweater out for a stroll. Somewhere, a wolf bayed at the moon, or perhaps it was a pit bull.

“Ugh — that poor guy’s face looks all mauled,” my wife said.

“And he’s got knives for fingers,” I said.

He looked just like Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” slasher flicks. As we passed him, I saw he was Freddy Krueger.

We drove along in silence for a second.

“Uh,” I said.

“Must be coming from the Asylum of Horror,” my wife said.

“Or the Factory of Terror.”

“Or the Dunkin’ Donuts.”

We hit a red light at the corner of North Main and Bedford. Behind us, in the rearview mirror, Freddy Krueger slowly approached, inexorably, shuffling along by the Citizens-Union Savings Bank.

I hit the power door locks.

For a minute there I was reminded of when I was a kid, and how much time fun Halloween could be.

The entire month of October was often consumed with intrigue as I planned elaborate costumes, stole ideas from friends, memorized maps of the neighborhood. In the weeks beforehand, my school friends would ask the eternal question:

“Who are you going as?”

“It’s whom,” I’d say. “And I wouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition like that.”

Which answered their question, actually — no matter what costume I wore, I would be going as a total geek.

I was a vampire for several years in a row, until I discovered an old beige trench coat in my parents’ closet. That year, I was the only pre-teen who was planning to dress like TV detective Columbo.

So other people would get the joke, I ended up modifying the costume at the last minute very slightly — actually, not at all — and telling people I was supposed to be a hobo. Unsurprisingly, they bought it.

My sister, Christine, and I never trick-or-treated at random houses. We were always afraid of kid-snatchers, poisoned candy, witches living in tenements made completely of sugar — you name it.

More to the point, over the years, our family had perfected a trick-or-treating route that resulted in the best-quality hauls per house visited, without the unnecessary expense of calories by walking everywhere.

First, my mom drove us to the relatives’ houses. They were always good for Sweet Tarts, fun-size Snickers or Three Musketeers, and Tootsie Rolls. In return, I had to endure pinches on the cheek and pointed questions about my outfit.

“Hey, look! It’s Little Humphrey Bogart!”

“I’m Detective Columbo.”

“Who?”

“I mean, a hobo.”

“Oh, yeah. I see it. Take some candy!”

Then, after visiting the relatives, we always stopped by the candy mother lode, conveniently close to my cousin’s house — the home of Deacon Camara.

For those who never knew the man, Deacon Manuel Camara was one of the nicest, gentlest men I had the pleasure of meeting. I didn’t know him that well, unfortunately. I saw him only a few times a year, but he made a lasting impression.

Besides being the only deacon or priest in Fall River who tweaked the noses of children before giving them Holy Communion, Deacon Camara opened his house to kids on Halloween. It was the essence of a well-known secret — he and his wife were tucked away on a small, dark street, but there would be plenty of kids running in and out of their house with full-size candy bars trailing behind them.

He and his wife would call us inside to his living room, to where several tables were set up with every variety of candy imaginable: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Baby Ruths, Butterfingers, Gummi Bears, lollipops, 100 Grands. My sister and I would stand in awe, unable to make sense of all the sugar.

“Take whatever you like,” he’d say, eyes twinkling like rock candy. We’d pick out a few chocolate bars, careful not to be greedy, and thank him before leaving.

At home, we’d sift through our piles at eat ourselves sick, unable to sleep because of the sugar high, and planning our costumes for the next year, when we’d visit Deacon Camara’s again.

But now I’m much older, and Deacon Camara has passed away, sadly. The last time I went trick-or-treating was in my freshman year of college. Dressed in a blue bathrobe and a fedora (“I’m Indiana Jones”) I visited a couple of rooms in my dorm and was rewarded with a piece of junk mail, a sample packet of Tide laundry detergent, and a little more than 50 cents.

So I’ll buy the candy this year to eat with my wife after no kids visit our apartment, and we’ll carve a jack-o-lantern that will get collapsed and moldy after a week. But I’ll do all that because of the memories, not because I feel like celebrating. No — Halloween stopped being mine long ago.

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