Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Treat, My Trick

“I’m coming to your house for Halloween,” the checkout clerk said as I watched the 20? 25? bags of candy glide by on the conveyor belt of the checkout counter at my favorite funky discount grocery.

I laughed but didn’t say what I was thinking, that it is an odd spot in life when you feel comfortable holding a real job and going trick-or-treating for Halloween. My sense is that this feeling of “just right” doesn’t last too long. Or maybe it does now.

My last Halloween of trick-or-treating was quite a while ago, a few states away from the current abode and, now, seeming like a world away. I lived in New Mexico.

“Not the pretty part like Albuquerque or Taos,” I would explain with my nose wrinkled. Eastern New Mexico was called the Llano Estacado or “staked plains.” At the time of this nickname it was a place flat and featureless, so much so that the travelers stuck stakes in the ground, like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, so they could find their way back. I was taught that when First People were being relocated, shameful practice that it was, they were offered this land and turned it down “for what’s behind the curtain,” I used to quip. When I lived there, I would have turned it down for the curtain itself, but it also grew on me.

When we moved there from Florida, it was a huge culture shock in many ways. For one thing, there wasn’t any water or not much to speak of. My father who had come there to teach engineering studied the water table in the area and determined that the ground water had dropped dramatically in a short amount of time. The farmers had to dig much deeper wells just to keep going. It was a dusty place when I was there which prompted more jokes, “Most of New Mexico is on its way to Texas by air,” and “You learn not to smile facing west here so your mouth doesn’t fill with sand,” and “You can tell summer from winter here because all of a sudden the wind blows cold instead of hot.” These things were only funny if you didn’t live there; otherwise, they were just facts. The glass in windows on the west side of buildings took on a frosty appearance from being sand-blasted, a fine tapering miniature sand dune collecting on the inside of each windowsill where the finest grains worked their way in no matter how clean and tight your house was. What snow there was fell like cold crumbled Styrofoam, little ice-balls instead of snowflakes, each with a grain of dust at its center. My final despairing joke was written to my grade school friends in Florida describing my new home, “Great beach. No ocean.”

Like I said, it grew on me. We went out into the country looking for arrowheads and interesting cactus and “horned toads” (horned lizards), finding a few of each, plus prairie dog villages, a great expanse of uninterrupted horizon and the occasional cow pie.

Instead of retirees’ finest treasures in estate sales in Florida, my mother’s New Mexico antique shop stock opportunities ran more to cream cans, spurs and singletrees. We became friends with the junk man who had been graced with some young man’s closet full of classic science fiction and I quickly devoured anything that had his name written inside the cover. We bought feral chicks hatched in Mr Turnbow’s field for a quarter a piece and kept them as pets.

I became aware of the legendary status of Billy the Kid, a/k/a William H. Bonney and Henry McCarty, and his friendship/adversary relationship with Sheriff Pat Garrett, a story still alive in my new home, a story mummified in the sand and caliche limestone about the evils of reading dime novels and getting too upset when someone insults your mother. I reasoned that the vividness of this collective memory was that little else had happened in this part of the world to interfere with the memory of events in July 1881.

It was in this sandy wilderness, a place where artists did not go for inspirational landscapes, that I sought my final pass at trick-or-treating. I was in junior high. One of my classmates was staying with us for the weekend. Our fathers taught in the same department at the university. Her grandfather had died and apparently she had a horror of funerals. We were presumed to be friends but we weren’t really. We were too different from each other. But I felt obligated to be a good hostess while she was staying with us and harbored no particular malice. I was reluctant to go out for candy that night, feeling too old and not having a costume, but she wanted to. We walked around in our sweatshirts and blue jeans with pillowcases, each house adding to my embarrassment.

The attack came when we were on the far side of our neighborhood. We were between houses. It was a very dark moonless night and the wind was blowing cold to usher in winter. Two boys came up behind us with intent to steal the pillowcases full of candy. My houseguest was an easy mark and lost her pillowcase to the young runner immediately. I, however, had been trained in long years of ambush and hand to hand combat with my brother. My reactions were swift and deliberate.

Being the more substantial of the two girls, I had been selected by the more burley Trickster. He had, as so many do, over-estimated my height and instead of hooking me around the neck with his left arm, he caught me at the mouth. Without dropping my pillowcase full of treats, I grabbed his wrist and elbow and with conviction bit down through his faux-leather sleeve to the skin, like it was a chicken drumstick. At the same time, using my, er, ballast, I flipped him over my back to land uncomfortably in front of me, all the while maintaining my grip on his arm. I felt it snap and heard my attacker grunt in surprise and distress. I let go, ready for the next round, but he scuttled away, his arm at a dangerous angle.

We screamed like the girls we were and ran for the nearest neighbors’ house, called the police, my parents arrived and we all went home. There was, after the excitement, only my pillowcase of candy left between us. And Mom made me give our guest all the good pieces.

I was steamed at being the more able, the more apt, the stronger and better prepared, the winner who in the end lost, just like in the 5 of Swords. That card is the card of conflict, a win-lose card instead of a win-win card, one where the victor eventually finds out he didn’t really win. And we never did find the kid with the broken left arm.

Just like Billy the Kid, I figured out crime didn’t pay in the end, for either the criminal or the victim. In the end, Billy got shot by a guy who actually liked him. In the end, I had fought for candy that I was obligated to give away to my wimpy houseguest. In the end, there’s some guy who wore a medium green plastic and cotton knit jacket with teeth marks and something broken. In the end, I gave up on Halloween trick-or-treating for good.

Now, I actually love Halloween. It isn’t that I’m stuck on a holiday I can sink my teeth into so much as I love seeing the kids and their parents and dogs dressed up in costume dashing up to my house with their bags, forgetting to say the Magic Words, “Trick or Treat!” So I bought a boatload of candy again this year. I’ll set up my tent in front of the house, dress in costume, fill my big brass cauldron with what we used to think of as penny candy and read tarot cards for free for the adults. I get all the good stuff.

Best wishes!

1 comment:

  1. Great story! I moved to Albuquerque when I was five, so I went to school there until I was in fourth grade, when we moved to Dallas, Texas. (You know how shameful it is to be carted to Texas, after being instilled with the hatred of all things Texan.)

    You fought well, you should be proud.

    Would like to see some photos of your Halloween set up, I'd love to try something similar.