I'm not sure what I liked best about Halloween: the candy itself, or the inevitable back-room, black-market bartering that went on after the fact. Into the wee hours following Halloween, my brothers and I would sit on the rug in our bedroom, candy piled in front of us like Smaug in his mountainous treasury, and swap. "I'll give you three bags of Skittles for every full-size Snickers," I might offer; I always preferred my sweets balanced with a bit of salt. The brother in question would counter, extracting a handful of Smarties to sweeten the pot.
We all had our preferences, and everyone spent time trying to unload their least favored items. No matter how we finagled or cajoled, no matter what else we included in the deal, we always ended up stuck with our respective piles of off-brand fruit chews and unpleasant jellies, the names of different wines written on them in bas-relief. They formed a part of what seems to be a universally reviled list of items handed out by spinsters, hippies, and that creepy guy on the corner where all the cats of the neighborhood seemed to congregate, before mysteriously disappearing. I took an unofficial and very loosely structured survey, and came up with this master list of the worst offenders of crappy Halloween loot. If you've ever given any of these out, you deserved the inevitable tee-peeing, egging or, from those more devious neighborhood youngsters, the Life Saver on the windshield.
5. Pennies The only reason these aren't higher (lower?) on this list is the fact that I lived near an honest-to-god Five and Dime store, which sold actual penny candy. The ability to get a handful of something sweet, and pay for it out of my own pocket, helped dull the sting of having that something sweet be a bunch of crappy licorice pastilles.
4. Fruit When I discussed this with my family, I was taken to task for including fruit on the list. My nine-year-old was almost offended ("fruit is delicious, Daddy"), but I stand by the placement. Halloween is supposed to be about getting your hands on what is normally considered contraband. If you have to trade most of the rest of your lunch in exchange for it in the average fourth-grade cafeteria, it's in. Nobody ever offered a cup of pudding, a bag of potato chips, and half of their PB&J for a mealy apple.
3. Toothbrushes/Floss Yeah. That's great. Take a night of free-spirited, youthful, quasi-sanctioned semi-hooliganism, and then smack us all down to earth with a reminder that we're ruining our dental health. Thanks a lot, Debbie Downer. How about a blood glucose meter signed by Wilford Brimley, while you're at it? Jerks.
2. Canned Goods A childhood friend once got a can of tuna. A. CAN. OF. TUNA. I don't even think I need to elaborate.
1. Religious Pamphlets When I was younger, I had a pet Jehovah's Witness. His name was Oliver, and he was a very nice man from South Africa. He would come by once every couple of months and debate scripture with me. Usually, he would leave behind these weird mini comics; flip-books about how little Johnny ultimately went to hell because he sneaked a cigarette with the troubled boy who lived down the street. Sneakers, cursing, loud music, and the type of stereotypically oblivious youth culture representations you'd expect were all frequent players. There is, I'm told, a Halloween-themed version of these comics, detailing the myriad ways in which dressing up like a Power Ranger and eating nougat can condemn your soul. While I never got the Satan's Night version myself, I can imagine some poor kid's Halloween being ruined by the sudden realization that the Chick-O-Stick he'd been happily munching moments before was actually provided by Satan himself, a sure path to the fires of Gehenna. The threat of eternal damnation is a real sugar-buzz-kill.
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