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Real life will scare hell out of Halloween

Okay, let us, just for a second, set aside the issues of taste, decency and the presumption of innocence.

Let's just look at those ridiculous O. J. Simpson costumes from the standpoint of safety. Large knife? Blood-spattered jersey?

Good choice when you're knocking on somebody's door late at night.

Every year after my previous year's ravings on the subject of trick-or-treating, somebody finds a way to make it worse.

"I've got a gun," I heard a woman say on the radio last year, "and if anybody knocks on my door, I'm just going to shoot right through the door."

The woman was understandably terrified. She lived in Spring Hill, where there had been five murders of elderly people, four of them women, in about six weeks.

And, chilling as her words might have been for UPS men, Jehovah's Witnesses, salespeople or concerned neighbors who might have just been wanting to check on her, the fact that Halloween was only a little more than three weeks away didn't help any.

A man was arrested and charged in connection with the slayings (he has not yet been tried) and a considerable amount of tension was released from the situation, but caution is still a better idea than abandon.

Sorry, folks, but it seems like reality has been providing more than enough terror all by itself without the need of any additional goblins, ghosts or killers to titillate a public that went way past titillation sometime around 1969.

It just isn't the world it was when we were kids. Norman Rockwell doesn't paint our lives any more, the Beaver is a fat middle-aged guy and ghost stories aren't as entertaining in a spooky world as they were in one where Bonanza and Highway Patrol set the standards for entertainment-media violence.

Concerned parents didn't form organizations back then to make sure that some adult with a worried look would be posted at every school bus stop to make sure that kidnapping, rape and murder wouldn't be added to the day's curriculum.

Schools didn't have metal detectors to try to hold down the number of firearms that made it into the halls of academe, you had a right to slap an airport employee's hands if he or she tried to look into your purse, and all that motorists ever shot at each other was the bird.

In that world you could dress your children of walking age and older up, wave at them as they went out the door and be secure in the feeling that they would be back in a couple of hours, dragging massive bags of candy and facing no worse dangers for the experience than a stomachache and the threat of tooth decay.

Independent of the holiday would you, today, encourage your child to go to or enter the home of a stranger? Any stranger? If the stranger offered food, would you encourage your child to eat it? Do you see the sense in sending your children _ whose safety concerns you when they are among a bunch of school friends at 3 o'clock in the afternoon _ out into the dark on a night when those who would prey on them expect them to be out there?

I have friends and family members who dearly love Halloween and even a few for whom it is, under a different name, a serious religious holiday, and I really hate being the Grinch that sat on the pumpkin, but it is time to think very seriously about alternative activities.

Check around.

Most shopping malls and centers have Halloween activities, as do a lot of schools and independent organizations. If your kids absolutely must go trick-or-treating, make it before dark and make sure they are accompanied by a responsible adult. Make sure they stay in their own neighborhoods where people afraid of or unfriendly to them are already identified.

And if your massive, hulking teenager thinks a burglar or murderer costume is a real cute idea and isn't embarrassed about knocking on a door to feed a candy habit, explain to him or her that a sense of humor is a very subjective thing and safe is always better than sorry.

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