Monday, October 30, 2006

And you can bet the Great Pumpkin won't show up, either

This time last year, my then-17-month old was preparing for her first ever Halloween. She entered a costume contest (as a stadium vendor) and won, and then we shuttled her around to the homes of several of our friends so they could kvell over her other costume (a cow, which should have foreshadowed our move to the Dairy State).

So being a newcomer to southeastern Wisconsin, I was unaware that the Traditional Halloween Paradigm was in need of improvement.

By “Traditional Halloween Paradigm”, I mean the part that goes like this: It’s October 31st. You check your calendar. Ah… Halloween. If you’re a kid, you head out after dinner for trick-or-treating, hitting your immediate neighborhood, and – if your Halloween intelligence is reliable – more distant houses, which – although they’re on the periphery of your neighborhood – are handing out especially prime treats (say, full-size Snickers bars, or perhaps Lik-m-Aid).

If you’re a parent of younger children, you walk along with your kids and their friends, lurking on the curb. You’re ostensibly there to make sure the kids say “thank you” after collecting the treats that they’ll one day need Lipitor to counter. Realistically, you’re there to make sure everything is above board at those weird houses where they ask the kids to come into the kitchen to get candy.

Otherwise, you stay home and try to read, or watch TV, knowing that you’ll be interrupted every 3½ minutes by would-be licensed characters, or would-be pirates, or would-be Richard Nixons.

It’s really not that complicated.

And yet, here in the Milwaukee area, someone decided that it was a system that needed to be more complicated. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Friday published a list of 94 different municipalities and their trick-or-treat hours – from my town of Wauwatosa (1-4 pm on Sunday), to the city of Brookfield (5-7:30 pm Tuesday) to the town of Oconomowoc (4-7 pm Sunday for the Arrowhead/Stone Bank School District, and 6-8 pm Saturday for the Oconomowoc School District).

So not only do you have to know which day your municipality is holding trick-or-treating, but you have to keep track of how long it goes on (and Brookfield residents, be advised – knock on the door at 7:33 pm, and candy will not be given out).

And if that wasn’t complicated enough, within Wauwatosa, several neighborhood associations (including ours) have their own designated times for trick-or-treating – complete with sign-ups, a special candle to display in your window, and fees for the privilege of handing out candy.

My wife’s theory is that all these schemes were dreamed up by new stay-at-home moms who missed the excitement of writing memos at work, and thus needed to exert some level of bureaucracy on their new reality.

It was confusing enough that we went out for a walk yesterday afternoon without stopping to think if the ramifications. Sylvi had already gone trick or treating the day before, at the zoo, where nothing says animal conservation like a small packet of Runts handed out in the Reptile Building. And so we set out, pulling Sylvi along in her wagon. We got three houses down the street before someone came running out, holding a bucket of candy. Quickly, she was joined by the man from the next house down. Never mind that neither had a special candle in the window, and that our daughter’s only costume consisted of her fleece jacket and sunglasses (yes, she decided to go as “cool” for Halloween this year).

Of course, both homeowners also noted that she was the first kid to come by during designated trick-or-treat hours, which means that either everyone else is also baffled by the New Halloween Paradigm (a theory backed up by at least one other Milwaukee-area blogger), or - more likely - that in Wisconsin, a televised Packers game always trumps trick-or-treating.

Or maybe everyone was home, trying to figure out what “Lik-m-Aid” is.

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