Joco Diversions

Halloween is getting complicated

Look closely: A ghost of a 2016 pumpkin still haunts the porch.
Look closely: A ghost of a 2016 pumpkin still haunts the porch. Special to The Star

All month I’ve been pausing outside the front doors of grocery stores. The pop-up concrete pumpkin patches continue to nag at me, “Hey lady! Throw some heavy orange in your cart!”

Should I, or shouldn’t I?

“Come on, do it,” says the festive angel on my shoulder.

“Don’t,” whispers the minimalist fairy in my ear.

I’ve been torn, and now it seems almost too late.

So many times I’ve circled around supermarket hay bales with the obligatory scare crows slumped amongst the gourds. These country cousins of creepy clowns repel me with their blank eyes and fake smiles. I must be some sort of crow.

“Whoosh,” go the automatic doors I trigger with every storefront indecision dance. The glass panels open and shut as I bounce between exotic pumpkins and the Charlie Brown standards.

By the fifth whoosh I give up. Puffy mums flank my front door anyway. That’s enough.

Maybe it’s this phase of life. My boys are now young adults. When they were small, I oranged up the place. But still, gusto should be timeless.

Perhaps the fervor will hit me another day, I rationalize. It did last year. I broke down and went for several Peanuts-approved orbs, but also threw in one of those wacky muted mint-green pumpkinish things.

It felt artsy to have an odd squash on the porch. I kept it out there forever, until it stealth-rotted from underneath, leaving an imprint stain on the concrete. A year later the discoloration is still there, like a ghost of pumpkins past.

So I think back to my childhood Octobers. The 1960s and ’70s offered simpler Halloweens, even in the suburbs of New York City. The rule there was children would trick-or-treat during daylight hours only. Smart.

On weekdays we’d run, run, run home from the school bus stops. Halloweens that fell on weekends were Nestle $100,000 bar jackpots. An ambitious kid could fill three pillowcases or more before dark — Pixy Stix, Milk Duds, Tootsie Pops, wow.

Tweens and young teens of my era would go out after sunset for last-chance free candy and maybe some shenanigans. I can still hear the egg that splattered on the back of my head as I ran — not fast enough — from the neighborhood goons. Thwack. The fun was over.

And during these free-range decades, adults weren’t expected to do much. There was no $7 billion Halloween industry like today. Parents just had to disperse a bunch of Smarties and procure the lamest of lame costumes, courtesy of retailers like the now defunct Woolworths.

I remember my circa 1967 “princess” costume: a shiny blue sheath vaguely detailed with a veneer of sparse glitter. I’d squeeze the barely ankle length “ball gown” over warm clothing, which ruined any iota of flowing grace it probably didn’t offer anyway. And that was the better half of the look.

I was adamant about wearing the plastic mask with stingy eye cut outs and a built-in tiara, because people had to understand I was a princess. It clung to my face via a skinny elastic band that would wrap around my head, snag my hair, and snap off within an hour.

I couldn’t breathe in that mask. The tiny, poorly aligned nostril holes were useless. I was secretly thankful about the elastic failure.

And that was it. Chintzy, suffocating costumes offering zero peripheral vision, miles of brisk hiking, dozens of doorbells, and old pillowcases stuffed with candy. Worth it.

Today, we have elaborate princess gowns and space suits that appear in Costco by August. Orange electric string lights frame entire houses. School party parents out-dazzle each other with edible licorice-legged Pinterest spiders.

Slice-and-bake no longer cuts it.

Which circles us back to pumpkins. The plain orange classics are getting bumped. On my last grocery venture, I stopped in my tracks to consider a large two-tone “warty goblin,” partly because of its cool name.

But then, once again, I sighed like Linus and walked away feeling a bit haunted by a lack of enthusiasm. Sometimes I miss 1967.

Reach Denise Snodell at stripmalltree@gmail.com. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell

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