I grew up in a huge apartment building in Queens called Saxon Hall. The building has two wings that criss-cross like an X, just like the X in the building’s name (yes, I think that was an intentional part of the design). With over 400 apartments, Saxon Hall was Halloween paradise for a kid. You could gather enough candy in one night to feed a small country for over a year, although in those days the thought of donating candy was just plain stupid. One kid was brazen enough to go around the whole building twice in one night. It’s not like anyone would realize he’d already been to an apartment; the swarms of kids were such that all the ghosts, witches, and Disney characters started to blur into one rather quickly.
I generally went trick-or-treating with my childhood friend, Cha-Cha. That wasn’t her real name, but no one could pronounce her real name, so this is the one she ended up with. The story of how her name and other first-generation American children’s names were butchered by ignorant residents of Queens will be the subject matter for another post another day. Cha-Cha and I always started out with the best intentions every year to cover all 400+ apartments in the building. We planned and strategized for weeks, plotted our course, and visualized our success just like marathon runners. But somewhere in the middle of the second-half of the race, we hit the wall and were carb depleted (obviously this is a metaphor since we were sucking down chocolate as fast as we could gather it along the way), but you get my drift. We were tired and sick of ringing doorbells. At this point we soldiered on and trick-or-treated selectively, based on who we knew or who we recalled giving good candy last year. There was one lady who once gave each of us our own 16-ounce chocolate bar. We believed her to be insane, since no one in any of the other 399 apartments was this generous, but we didn’t care. At this point in our journey, we also began the task of inspecting our bags for unwrapped candy which we accepted politely but then hurled off the building’s catwalk in case someone had managed to cram a razor blade or piece of glass into that ominous piece of cherry string licorice.
Mom was generally in charge of selecting the candy we gave out to our fellow trick-or-treaters and she had a pretty good track record for making respectable choices such as fun size Milky Ways and Three Musketeer Bars. I held my head high as my friends collected their chocolate treats from my house and while I secretly wished mom would offer more than one piece, I felt I could live with that. But one year, my father somehow got put in charge of purchasing the Halloween candy that we would give to trick-or-treaters and he returned with licorice…black licorice. I was horrified. The only thing worse than this was perhaps a box of raisins or the sucking candy offered by the lady in apartment 907 that had been lying around her house collecting dust since the Eisenhower administration. I pictured that black piece of licorice at the bottom of everyone’s bag until at least Easter when their mothers would force them to throw it away. I was ashamed and embarrassed; I feared the worst; ostracism from my peers , teasing, or maybe even a beating from some bully expecting chocolate or at least a stick of gum. I survived, but dad’s candy buying duties were quickly relinquished and Halloween returned to normal the following year.
Then there were the costumes. No one in my family ever made the costume. Chalk it up to laziness or the lack of creativity in my household, or the fact that there was no way mom was letting me touch her stuff, but every year the costume was store-bought. I remember being a princess two years in a row. The mask was made of hard plastic, (probably the kind that is laden with dangerous chemicals, like everything else in the 70s) and had an elastic string that got caught in your hair and made you scream. And besides, it was impossible to sample the candy with that mask on. By the time we hit the third floor of the 17-story building, the mask was in the trick-or-treat bag. Cha-Cha always had a home-made costume and they were always great. I was convinced that if there was a Saxon Hall costume contest she would win hands down. My favorite was when she went as Pocahontas. She had a little suede dress, a head band with a feather, and war paint on her face. Of course this was before the Disney movie and before dressing up like an American Indian was considered insensitive. It was during a time when we played games like Indian Chief (in school!), and before American Indian became a category of ethnicity on a job application. Even though I was a bit jealous of how cool her costume was, I also realized that her great costume could be used to my advantage to get more candy from impressed neighbors or those that just pitied her friend, the one with her mask shoved in her candy bag.
Back in those days, I don’t remember any parents having any rules about how much Halloween candy you were allowed to eat in one night. And as I recall, the candy didn’t last long. I remember placing my loot in a large bowl and most of the good stuff being gone in a day or two. Of course there was still that one sucking candy, the box of raisins, and that stinking piece of black licorice.