Who’s the jackass who gave us Circus Peanuts?
That’s the first phrase that came to mind following our return home from last Friday’s Trick r’ Treat excursion with the kids. Now, as most of you know, we live on a very rural street. 6 houses (give or take a ½ dozen) and one streetlight do not exactly add up to primo Halloween shenanigans, unless your idea of fun is hanging out waiting for the Great Pumpkin to rise while all manner of malicious beasties prowl just beyond your sightline waiting to get the drop on you and chew through to your creamy middle. When your home is perched right on top of a Hellmouth you do what the neighboring towns that cancelled the door-to-door candy raid in their districts do and beat your feet towards whatever street will have you.
Fortunately for Colin and Aria, Andi’s association with the Mom’s Club has opened up a wide swatch of geography from which we can glom onto and become neighbors for a day. As far as I’m concerned it’s Win/Win. We get to prowl their streets in search of purloined Pixie Stix and they don’t have to catch me wandering by the bay window clad in a bikini and straight jacket. (Oh, come on!!! It was my costume. Seriously, how would you ‘do’ the Lohan or in my case, the Brohan?)
So, through Andi’s extensive network of underground contacts, safe houses and black market scrapbook suppliers we settled on a neighborhood that met our strict criteria: 3-4 additional streetlights and six or several dozen fewer man-eating bobcats. Fortunately, our friend Ann Marie resides in a nice, planned development tract featuring a number of beautiful new homes arrayed throughout a network of wide, interconnected streets. A perfect stretch of suburban bliss.
The location actually brought to mind the Halloween scene from ET – with the open, accommodating streets playing host to a vast menagerie of ghosts, goblins, Palins and the rest of their undead brethren. Now, I’ve gone on my share of Trick r’ Treat excursions in spite of the fact that my hometown banned the practice in overreaction to some trumped up ‘razor blade in an apple’ tales (we may have been the first documented case of being Punk’d). So, my sisters and I had to get our ghost on in neighboring communities, usually joining alongside our cousins Johnny and Tammy to dance the Devil’s Night proper.
That said I’ve never experienced the full-fledged, street-crammed candy grab like I saw last Friday night. Anytime I’d seen similar displays in the movies, I always chalked it up to Hollywood hyperbole – the same exaggerated excess that expects us to believe that dead boogeymen always rise when your back is turned, a single gunshot to a speeding milk truck will ignite an inferno and Maggie/Jake Gyllenhall are actually two different people/sexes.
But Ann Marie’s neighborhood was that Hollywood dream come true. As I surveyed the bustling boulevard before me, elsewhere Maggie was checking in for her Prince of Persia call time while Jake was inking his name on Secretary 2.
Colin and Aria were equally transfixed. It’s funny – as a parent, you end up viewing the world very differently – always scanning the landscape for the next big threat, or more succinctly, anything that might give your kids nightmares and thus rob you of your own hard-earned ‘Z’s’. So, as we began an ambling trek, staying just a half dozen steps behind the kids as they joined their pre-tween posse and blitzkrieged each doorstep looking for their next sucrose fix, I would look ahead and try to pick out any questionable costumes that I might want to avert their eyes from.
Now, I’m not talking about little kid costumes. Believe me, neither Hannah Montana or Wow Wow Wubzy is gonna’ kick start any night terrors (at least not among children – parents are a different story although by now and my almost radiological exposure to Yo Gabba Gabba, I really think I’m immune to the stuff). But, there is a subset of teenagers that live to throw on the goriest, goopiest costume and take to the streets looking to horrify landowners into laying down the Laffy Taffy. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll rework their costume to expose an entrail or two in hopes that if they aren’t able to dip their mitts in your pumpkin pouch and paw a package of Bottle Caps (yeah, I was really gonna’ rock the alliteration and go with Pixie Stix, but damn’t I already used that one) – anyway, these Halloween hooligans figure that if you’ve caught wise to the scheme and are gonna’ affix an age restriction to your free treats than they’ll just coax a few costumed revelers to take a gander at their exposed gastrointestinal system and spew that Spree they’ve been crunching. Hey, around these parts, the five-second rule covers anything pre-digestion.
And while I saw plenty of Jonas Brothers mingling with the Backyardigans, none of ‘em really raised the alarm – letting me know the kids would sleep soundly once we got them home, bathed, in jammies and administered a round of stomach pumps.
Until we got to the Mother of all Halloween haunts – the coolest, most kick-ass house I have ever come across in my Trick r’ Treat travails. Now, as I mentioned this was a real community affair. Everyone was out in the streets, fueled with a potent mix of holiday cheer and Gummi Bear. Many of the houses set up little tailgating events with a full spread laid out at the end of their driveway. The kids would take some candy from the well-stocked trays while the adults would grab a wobbly pop from the well-stocked mini-fridges. Me – I took a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
But I have got to see this house at Christmas. I’m expecting a full blown Santa’s Village with real reindeer in the front yard and a sweatshop staffed with ‘midget’ elves in the basement. Anything less would be tragic.
What they did was turn their carport into The Haunted Garage. But this was no Mickey Mouse operation. They went full freak show on this thing and apparently employed their entire family as some little moppet leaped out of the dark and almost took a chunk out of my leg (at least I think it was one of their kids – who knows, maybe their holiday midget shipment arrived a little early).
The whole house was decked out for Halloween, with a makeshift graveyard planted in the front lawn (unless this community’s developers were even lazier than the dude in Poltergeist and didn’t even bother throwing some loam over the Indian Burial Ground). But The Haunted Garage was the centerpiece.
Essentially, you had two ways to get candy. You could either approach the MDAWILF (Mom Dressed as Witch I’d Like to… well, you get the idea), or you could traipse through their house of a couple corpses and score two servings IF you made it through. Aria shied at the screams coming from within but Colin and his friend Jillian wanted to take a walk through. Fresh off my Tony winning turn as Aide Warren, I was sized up as ‘Bad Ass’ enough to escort the kids through Hell so I took their hands in mine and we got in line.
Just as we were about to cross the threshold, a bloodcurdling scream from within sent Colin in retreat. I looked at Jillian and asked if she still wanted to go through with it. She did, so it was on. We opened the door and were immediately assaulted by a blinding array of strobes. We began to wade through a thick mist of theatrical fog (or dry ice) and all manner of creatures crawled from various corners of the garage. The people had set up a makeshift maze inside and between the tight corridors, the smoke, the Pink Floyd laser show and the dwarf gremlins, I was suitable freaked. And if I was freaked, you can imagine Jillian’s reaction.
I tried to hasten our departure but a number of kids and parents were getting disoriented and a little traffic jam developed. All the while, that little imp kept reaching out clawing at my soles (soul???) We finally made it out and were greeted by Andi, Aria, Ann Marie, Josie – and Colin, who was especially interested to learn what horrors befell us inside. As my voice made its first tentative steps forward, it was stopped in its tracks. Colin’s eyes grew wide and he pivoted on his feet, running towards the street. I had no idea what brought about such horror until I heard the sickly buzz of a chainsaw. From the garage, came running a masked maniac wielding a power tool above his head. Our scene was repeated 20 fold with kids running in all directions.
Of course, as with the best Halloween tricks, the treat soon settled in. Everyone got over the fright and realized it was all part of the show. Just one last kicker before you grabbed those Snickers. These people really made you work for your reward. And we were never in any danger as the blade had been removed.
But, there’s no doubt that memories of The Haunted Garage visited Colin, Aria, Jillian and Josie later that night. I explained to Colin that it was all pretend – that those people were just like us, living in a house similar to ours and that the maniac was simply their Dad (just like he’s got his own personal maniac in me). His response to my rational explanation – “Yes, But is he going to eat me?” Kids thrive on the fear and although he knew that I was speaking the truth, something in him wanted to live the fantasy.
We get one night a year to walk bravely among the things that go bump in the night and bump ‘em right back. This year, The Haunted Garage put us right back in our place and frankly, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.