The year was 1986; the date was October 31. The event: the annual door-to-door candy-grubbing festivities commonly known as trick-or-treating.
I had mentally prepared for this day for weeks, strategically mapping out the shortest possible routes from each house to the next (forget sidewalks—it would be much faster to dash through front lawns). This was not my first time out. Indeed, at the ripe old age of six (going on seven), I knew what Halloween was all about; it was a microcosm for epicurean western materialism: grab all you can, ‘cuz you just live once.
This particular year I was charged with inducting a new member into the cult: my three-year-old brother. I was sporting an Ohio State University football uniform and helmet. Little Bro wore a brand new full-body Big Bird costume.
In the days leading up to Halloween, I had been enthusiastic about showing Little Bro the ropes. “Listen,” I would explain, “the most important thing is that we get to as many houses as we can. If Dad wants to take a picture of us, we have to pose as fast as we can so we get back to trick-or-treating.” Unfortunately, my teachings were received about as well as the involuntary math tutoring I had repeatedly subjected him to throughout his early childhood.
When the big night arrived, I was juiced, like the men whose uniform I donned before a big game. If someone had been there to lead me, I would have gladly done the run-in-place-as-fast-as-you-can-then-fall-to-your-face-then-jump-back-up football player drills to improve my chances of rapid treat acquisition. I was to be a chocolate hoarding juggernaut sprinting through the neighborhood; tragically, Little Bro was to be my Achilles heel. Despite all I had taught him about maximizing our candy potential, he seemed to completely miss the point of the evening. He was the quintessential lollygagger.
This was the routine repeated over and over throughout the evening: I would ring the doorbell. The door would open and, in unison, my brother and I would chant, “Trick or treat.” We would then extend our arms (I would take extra care to hold my candy receptacle in its most open, accessible conformation). The attending sweets distributor would make an obligatory comment: “My, my, what do we have here? A football player and Big Bird.” Edible items (usually cavity-causing, but occasionally, and less desirably, fruit or small amounts of coinage—popcorn balls were of intermediate desirability) were dropped into our bags. As soon as I heard the new treat hit the bottom of my container, I was running to the next house. “Little Bro, come on!” I would importune to the straggler struggling to keep up behind me. My parents (walking alongside us on the sidewalk) would command us thank the candy giver, and I would shout my gratitude over my shoulder as I sped to the next doorstep.
On this Halloween, stress hormones coursing through my veins, I grew increasingly impatient with Little Bro. Not only could he not keep up with me when he was on his feet, but he fell en route to each and every house throughout the entire evening. “Little Bro, come on. HURRY UP!” I knew that our time was limited, that this was a once-a-year two-hour free-for-all. I just wanted Little Bro to understand this and get his head into the game. The first few times he fell face-first to the ground, I’d stop dead in my tracks, race back to him, semi-cheerfully help him up, and recommence my dash to the next stop. My enthusiasm for helping him get up off the ground waned as the evening progressed. “Uggggghhhh,” I shouted once, watching the sands (or Skittles) of time slip through my fingers.
The promise of exceeding previously held candy accumulation records was not to be fulfilled this Allhallows Eve. Indeed, the dream of having enough candy to maintain a sugar high that lasted till next year’s neighborhood foray was transformed into the nightmare of having to sacrifice caloric volume for brotherly love and assistance. More time was spent waiting for Big Bird to catch up with me (I wasn’t allowed to ring a doorbell until he was by my side) or helping him off the grass. He probably fell 50 times, and this may well be an underestimation.
At the end of the night, as I was counting and sorting my less than satisfying stash of sweets, my parents made a startling discovery. The pant legs of the Big Bird costume they had purchased for Little Bro had been linked at the ankles by the plastic connector string (the kind used to attach tags to clothing items). They had never snipped it. Three-year-old Little Bro had effectively been ankle-cuffed through the whole ordeal: he had never been able to step farther than half a foot-length. His shrunken stride explained the unimaginable quantity of spills he had suffered in our (my) quest for untold confectionary accretion.
This finding made our unsatisfactory returns no more acceptable in my eyes, but it did elicit hope that next year would be better.
(image accessed from wikipedia.com)