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Can we be safe and keep the thrill?

Bright green and purple, it stood out on the shelf at the Wal-Mart Halloween display: Barney the dinosaur, "child size," $19.96.

So where's the "adult size" costume? My guess is that if any adult wears one next week, we'll read about it in the police reports.

The stuff you can buy for this day of masquerading is amazing. Jumbo skeleton feet, $5.96. "Mental floss," a $2.97 entrepreneur's brainstorm that consists of two big fake ears with string coming out of them. (The idea is to pull on the string, creating an illusion that it is passing through your head. The packaging says it is "For Ages 3 and Up."

Halloween already was controversial enough. Now we have toddler discrimination!

There are "fancy feather masks" and a rubber dinosaur mask with green teeth and yellow eyes for $8.94. Amid the hooks for hands, headdresses, wands, tiaras and a hockey mask with meat cleaver set, you can find orange and black sweatshirts, socks, candles, dishes and glow-in-the-dark skeleton earrings (only 97 cents).

It's fun browsing through these items. But one package seemed a bit out of place, even if it did belong. Next to the witches' fingertips was the Body Alarm ($9.96). "THIS COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE," blares the words on the package, which also notes that the device's "130 decibels of ear-piercing alarm" is as loud as a car alarm.

The manufacturer, DAC Technologies of Little Rock, Ark., want you to strap the device on your little trick-or-treater, just to be safe.

One of my co-workers, feeling especially cynical, suggested that this alarm in the Halloween section was just another in a long list of examples of how messed up and dangerous the world has become. No doubt.

As I was holding the device, coincidentally, the Wal-Mart loudspeaker broadcast a recording with safety tips for Halloween night. Always wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight; trick-or-treat only in well-lighted neighborhoods; don't wear masks that obstruct your view.

I scribbled those tips in my notebook and looked up to find a woman staring at me. "Do you know where the baby wipes are?" she asked. She thought I worked at Wal-Mart, because, she explained, I had on a white shirt and tie. This happens every time I go in a department store on a workday.

But back to Halloween . . .

I know that many parents are regularly prohibiting their children from taking to the streets for trick-or-treating because they fear for their safety. Stories of razor blades in apples and thugs stealing little kids' bags of candy are chilling, and so it is getting more common for kids to go to places like the mall where merchants give out candy.

What a shame. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of racing from door to door, collecting candy. After hours of this joyful exercise, my brother, friends and I would assemble at home and take inventory. We would separate the candy in piles, taking special pride in chocolate bars such as Mounds and Milky Way. The only person who loved this more than me was, of course, my dentist.

Those memories have led me to shepherd my children through neighborhoods for 10 years. It's hard to keep up with them sometimes, but their joy is my joy. The candy is better these days, as everybody seems to give out chocolate bars. We put a limit on how many the kids can scarf that night, and most of the candy ends up being dished off to friends and co-workers. The thrill is in the getting, not necessarily the eating.

I sure hope my wife likes her glow-in-the-dark skeleton earrings.

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