Sick or beat

Kim and I used to hold Halloween in a sort of heavy disdain. I won’t say we “hated” it, because that’s too strong. Tonight, though, that changed — I hated it for sure.

Our outlook changed for the better after we had kids, and started living the holiday vicariously through them. I liked it well enough when I was a kid — who doesn’t love free candy? But once I became too old to go trick-or-treating, I held the night mostly in resentment. There was no longer enough of a pay-off for creating a cool costume.

For a couple years during and immediately after college, I rediscovered the fun of being creative on Halloween, but for the most part, I didn’t enjoy the effort or pressure of coming up with a costume. Once Christopher and Matthew came along, I began to enjoy Halloween again — maybe because I could charge them a candy tariff for taking them trick-or-treating.

Pay up, boys! You're in the 28 percent bracket, with no deductions for Baby Ruths.

But no candy was worth tonight’s experience. All through the cold fall day — whether walking several blocks to and from the remote parking lot this morning to hear Matthew sing the same well-memorized-but-still-undeniably-cute songs we’ve heard at four identical “Pumpkin Parades” at their school, or working the inflatable carnival attractions that make up for lack of appeal with a zestful sense of tastelessness (is 100 years really long enough to turn an international tragedy into a 50-foot kids’ slide, a la the inflatable Titanic?) — we were leerily watching either the clouds in the sky or the forecast on TV. We never had a bit of hope that it wouldn’t happen, but I still felt shocked when the rain started around 4pm. And it continued until about two minutes after I dragged my two drowned rats inside from our miserable trick-or-treating experience.

It started with the realization that it was my turn to take the boys around the neighborhood, and Kim’s turn to stay at home and hand out candy. We alternate duties every year, because it’s usually fun to take them house-to-house, and neither of us deserves to have all the fun. Kim was all too keen to remind me of that tonight, and to tell me how she was willing to let me have the fun this year, since I’d been stuck at home last year. I tried not to let my gratitude overwhelm me as I pulled out two umbrellas and counted three people about to head out into the rain.

Knowing I couldn’t very well withhold an umbrella from either of my sons — at least, not without sacrificing my candy tariff — I ran upstairs for my Boy Scout hat. That’s what I’ve always called it, because I bought it at a Boy Scout store when I bought my first uniform. It’s a wide-brimmed hat that always reminds me of something I’d expect to see in the Outback — if I ever went there. I think it’s called an Akubra, which I never would have known if it hadn’t been for Google and my need to blog about tonight.

Anyway, the hat has a wide, flat brim that acts a little like a bowl during rainstorms, gathering water so that I can dump it by merely nodding my head. Relying on that and a windbreaker to keep me dry, I surrendered the umbrellas to the boys.

Matthew had a small, green umbrella with a face and ears, designed to look like a frog. It was a pretty unwieldy accoutrement for a ninja with a sword in one hand and a candy bucket in the other, but he tried, just the same. He tried for all of two minutes before he dropped his sword in a puddle and conveniently overlooked that it was gone. I picked it up and stuck it in my belt, thinking people would probably start wondering what my costume was — a wet, plastic sword; a whimpy windbreaker from Disney Vacation Club; and an Akubra. (That word really is fun to say; I can’t recommend it enough.)

Christopher had an oversized golf umbrella, one whose diameter was roughly equal to his height and whose center of balance was incredibly hard for him to compensate for, meaning it frequently came chopping down on me as I brought up the rear with the flashlight. If I wasn’t getting hit by his, I was getting nailed by the even heavier one being toted by the kid next door, who’d joined us for our expedition.

Two oversized umbrellas also cause a bit of a problem when their carriers are racing up the steps to a front porch, eager to ring the bell. Because they were also heavy, they caused additional problems whenever either boy attempted to steady them in one hand so that he could reach for candy with the other.

Furthering the challenge was the fact that almost every front porch held at least one precariously balanced gourd, with a lit candle inside. I was convinced I was going to see a jack-o-lantern end up in someone’s bushes before the night was over. (Not that that would have been a problem, considering there was a steady, 40-degree rain falling on everything that might have caught fire.)

Still, the running dialogue went something like this: “Don’t scratch the cars in the driveway, boys! … Watch out for those decorations, boys! … Watch out for the pumpkin, boys! … Watch out for the glass storm door, boys! … Watch out for our neighbor, boys! … Watch out for each other, boys! … Watch OUCH! My head, boys!”

I had a couple near-spokes-to-the-eye and several umbrella rivulets running onto my Akubra, prompting me to jump out of the way and nod my head, whereupon the rivulets plummeted off the hat and down my back. And as it turns out, there’s a reason they call them “windbreakers” and not “rainbreakers” — the damned things aren’t waterproof.

I discovered this about five houses into our quest, when the rain first began to soak through my sleeves. Normally this would have meant that my shirt sleeves inside the jacket would become drenched and stick to my skin, making me even more miserable. How fortunate, then, that I was wearing only a short-sleeved tee-shirt under my flimsy, wet jacket.

I swear, some neighbors must have felt pity when they saw me shivering in the background, because at least every other household asked if I wanted candy, too. Or maybe they were trying to get rid of their excess, knowing they could expect only a handful of trick-or-treaters out in this mess. Or maybe they saw my Akubra and figured I was just a big kid in a messed-up costume.

I didn’t want candy of my own, although I did end up carrying Matthew’s bucket between houses. He was having trouble keeping it dry under his umbrella, so he passed it off to the one guy who didn’t have one. I had to hold its opening against my chest in an effort to keep the rain out, but I suspect that only succeeded in wringing some of the rain out of my windbreaker and into the bucket. The thing wound up with about a quarter-inch of water in the bottom before we got home, dissolving the candy from the first few houses and resulting in a sweet, soupy, colorful mess. And every time I pressed the opening against my chest, some of the soup ran out onto my windbreaker.

Would you willingly walk past this to ring the bell and ask for candy?

About 15 minutes in, I found myself longing for the good old days, when at least one of the boys was too frightened to go to every house. Just the sight of a skeleton, mannequin or tombstone was enough to send them back to the warmth and dry clothes of home. I still remember Matthew talking about the neighbors’ “lowercase ‘t’ that shook and said, ‘Go back.'” So he did.

Not this year. I even took them to the house that looks like a devil clown has been crucified on its front porch, but they marched right up the stairs and requested candy from the masked maniac hiding in the shadows. She was friendly enough, even though her mask looked like she was ready to shiv my sons at any moment.

Eventually, though, we worked our way back to our street, the boys feeling satisfied with their haul and me feeling soaked to the bone with a cold so deep it would likely respond only to bourbon. We had crested the hill up the street when a neighbor’s boyfriend came up behind us and had the audacity to honk at us before heading on to her crack house, even though we were well off the shoulder of the road.  I can only assume he was in a hurry to get home and start blading apples before the supply of trick-or-treaters ran out.

But we made it, despite that last scare, and the three of us immediately changed into warm clothes before the boys sat down to work out their various trades. I ignored my tariff for the time being, and the only trade I was interested in was an empty shot glass for a full one (and vice versa).

The boys are long-since upstairs, dreaming sugar-fueled dreams while I try to end a two-month blog drought by drawing something akin to inspiration from tonight’s adventures. I did take a break just now, checking their candy supply for possible tariff payments. Both buckets had already been cleaned out — ostensibly by Kim. All that’s left is a quarter-inch of sweet, soupy, colorful water.

I wonder how it would taste with bourbon?

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at; thanks!
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13 Responses to Sick or beat

  1. Cathy Marlowe says:

    Loved the story! Keep em’ coming! Write another book, please.
    Go HOKIES!

  2. Oh, the fun of making memories. (Oh, go GA Tech…although it’s always a little dicey when VA Tech is involved around here)

  3. You poor man! The good news is that you can pull the “my turn” card if it rains next year! haha!

  4. It’s ALIIIVE!

    Finally! I’m sorry your trick-or-treating was so tricky, though frankly, those kinds of raw-to-the-bone nights are the ones when I so look forward to settling in wearing something warm with a glass of red wine that I almost don’t mind the misery that precedes it. Hope the bourbon bore you well. I can’t remember if it ever rained on a trick-or-treat night when I was a kid, though if it did, it’s likely my father foisted a golf umbrella high over us all and made us stay at heel. And then ate our Baby Ruths after checking them for needles.

    • Dan Bain says:

      That’s enough of your sass talk, Missy! Actually, it’s nice to be welcomed back — thanks. I have more cold adventures to share from last night, if I can stay awake long enough to blog. I’ll try to put in more time here. And yes, the bourbon was nice. It’s a little too early for me to start in after last night’s cold time, so I’m having coffee. For now.

  5. Evie says:

    Oh, I laughed through this! The joys of parenthood! Sorry, better you than me, but you are a great Dad for dealing with that misadventure. Thank God for the bourbon, wouldn’t want you to catch a chill!

  6. kvetchmom says:

    This post made me feel so much better about how much I hate Halloween. It turns my kids into sugar-high candy whores for days, someone always ends up scared and crying during Trick or Treating, and I don’t really want to be that close & personal with some of the neighbors. Can’t there be a better way?

    • Dan Bain says:

      It depends on the neighbors — I’m avoiding the house with the devil clown for another 11 months, and possibly even next Halloween. I’m glad my post made you feel better. 🙂

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