Kids from other neighborhoods

One of the first Halloween costumes I can remember wearing was that of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. I was in the second grade at Coventry Elementary School. Every year, on Halloween, students were allowed to wear costumes after lunch, for the rest of the afternoon. My Scarecrow costume was pretty close to the one Ray Bolger wore in the Wizard of Oz movie. But I insisted on dressing as the Scarecrow before Dorothy took him off his pole, when he had a broomstick, or something, through his sleeves to make his arms stick straight out at his sides. So my mother used a broomstick, minus the broom, for my costume.

But, of course, then I had to walk back to Coventry School, from Belmar and Mayfield roads, with my arms sticking straight out at my sides—and of no use to me—and then sit in class, with my arms sticking straight out at my sides. I began to lose the feeling in both of my arms, and my back and neck started hurting.

But I refused to forfeit the authenticity of my creation. I was being crucified. I was suffering for the sake of my art. I actually continued that pattern for many years, eventually graduating from a broomstick in my shirt to homelessness, 12 years later. But, at least, when I was homeless, I could put my arms down.

One of my last Halloween costumes—worn when I was in my late 20s—was a real clown outfit, but with the addition of a black cape over my back, with a pillow under the cape; and half clown makeup, plus half dark, scary makeup; and a nametag that read “QuasiBozo.”

I kept the clown costume, and a few years later, when I had a child of my own, I always wanted to put it on to amuse him. Except that he was always afraid of clowns and he would scream when he saw one. And why not? His fear increased, though, and was beginning to reach a level that I thought might be unhealthy. So for Halloween, when he was three, I thought it would help him if we dressed him up as a clown. I got him a little costume and a wig and a nose, and put a little makeup on his face. When he was ready, I held him up to a mirror so he could see himself dressed as a clown, and see how cute he looked. He screamed.

I whisked him away from the mirror and he calmed down. We went out trick-or-treating and I avoided anything that could act as a mirror. He collected a lot of candy and as soon as we got home, I removed all traces of the clown get-up.

A few years later, when we had two kids trick-or-treating, they collected tons of candy. When we came home, they always wanted to eat it. We decided that we should let them; the rule was that they could eat as much as they wanted to—that night—but then we’d put the rest away, to be consumed gradually, over some period of time (maybe until they received their Easter baskets).

Our theory was that they would make themselves ill eating so much candy and then they wouldn’t want it anymore. That experiment failed completely. They ate a ton and wanted more, every day.

But the candy never lasted nearly as long as we hoped it would, mainly because we, the parents, ate some of it every day until the supply became depleted.

When our kids were little, our street and its surrounding neighborhood were full of little kids. We got into the habit of buying lots of candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters. Over the years since we’ve lived here, in the Cedar-Fairmount area—the neighborhood closest to Cleveland Heights’s western border, just a few streets away from the city of Cleveland—we’ve seen fewer kids from our neighborhood trick-or-treating (because there are fewer kids). And we’ve seen more kids from what I assume are neighborhoods in Cleveland, across the imaginary border.

They come, with supervising adults, in cars and station wagons and minivans, with large bags, often pillowcases, for their Halloween hauls. Sometimes the adults come to the door, too, with their own bags. (Why didn’t I think of that when my kids were little?)

At first, it was confusing—“I’ve never seen those kids before,” I’d say. And then it became annoying—“Why should we give our candy to kids from other neighborhoods?” And then I started seeing it a little differently—“Why shouldn’t we give them candy? There aren’t very many kids in this neighborhood anymore; and we have plenty for the ones who do live around here, and for these other kids.”

And then I started seeing it even more clearly: We have a lot around here; they don’t. Maybe people where they live can’t afford to buy and give away candy. These kids deserve to have fun as much as any kids do. I can’t afford to give a lot of money, though I do give what I can; but I certainly can afford to buy bags of Halloween candy (and giant bags, too, from Costco). And after the dozen or so kids from my street come for theirs, what am I going to do with 150 leftover pieces of candy—eat it myself? Believe me, I’ve fantasized about doing that. But no, I’m not going to. Any kid (and the occasional adult) is welcome to it.

Finally, it became something I started looking forward to. The year that I stopped being mad and grudgingly handing over a mini-Butterfinger bar, I started talking to the kids who came to my door—about their costumes, or the weather, or whatever. I do that still. They almost always seem shocked that I want to talk to them. That’s heartbreaking. And it’s certainly worth the $9 a year I spend for the candy.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 8:47 AM, 10.01.2015