“TRICK OR TREAT” By Mike Grell © 2020

Growing up in a tiny town in northern Wisconsin, I never saw TV until I was 8 years old. We didn’t get one until I was 11. When I told that to an audience of school children at the local library a few years ago, one wide-eyed little guy in the front row said, “What did you watch???!” 

Our local theater closed down in 1956 with the arrival of television in town and those of us fortunate enough to have parents with jobs had to wait for weekend trips out of town and out of state to theaters in Michigan or be satisfied with the feeble signal (mostly snow) you could draw from Channel 6 in Marquette, MI. 

In those days, watching TV mostly involved one of the older kids climbing up onto the roof and turning the antenna while everyone in the living room shouted instructions at him: “Stop! Go back! Too far!” My brother Dick spent a lot of evenings balanced on one foot, hanging over the edge of the roof, clinging to the antenna for dear life.

My buddy Joe’s folks owned a tavern with a TV set and a second TV in their apartment above. The antenna was mounted on the roof, which meant it was tall enough to draw signals from as far away as Green Bay, WI, a hundred miles away. That meant one thing: SHOCK THEATER!

While Joe’s mom and dad were busy tending bar downstairs, we were upstairs watching the greatest monster movies in Hollywood history for free! Beyond the reach of parental supervision, we got to watch classics like FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA. THE WOLFMAN and the one that made Joe’s eyes sort of glaze over: THE MUMMY!

Staring at Boris Karloff’s dry, flaking flesh and his mouldering wrappings, Joe’s brain formed a plan which he immediately put into action. Somewhere around the 4th of July, he began stealing bedsheets from his mom’s laundry and shredding them into strips. His plan for suitable makeup was to glue oatmeal to his hands and face, which seemed an absolutely ingenious idea to me at the time and made me jealous that I hadn’t thought of it first. I settled for using my mom’s eyebrow pencil to turn myself into something resembling a crayon drawing of the Wolfman.

Suppertime in the Midwest was 5PM. The rules for Trick or Treating were 1: No Trick or Treating until after supper (5:30PM); 2: No Trick or Treating after 9PM unless the porch light was still on. At the stroke of 5:30 every kid in town made a mad dash for the east end of town where the “rich” folks lived, because some of them were known to give out a couple of dozen caramel apples and, if you were late, you got a popcorn ball. Then we’d hit the businesses, known to hand out Hershey bars and Baby Ruth’s the size of a police billy club. After that, it was a mad dash to cover the rest of the town, which really wasn’t all that difficult, since the town was about seven blocks long and six or so wide. Joe was to rendezvous at our house and we’d set out to loot the town.

When 5:30 came and went with no sign of Joe, whose house was half a block away, we waited for about three whole minutes before abandoning him altogether and setting out on our own.

That was in the days before climate change brought the first Halloween snow (which brought costumes big enough to fit over snowsuits), which meant temperatures were up in the high 60s and with all the running we did, you had no problem staying warm.

That night was eventful for a couple of reasons, partly because someone among the older high school kids got the bright idea that it would be the most excellent prank to roll the rusted wreck that sat behind the Gulf station out into the middle of the alley. The motor and transmission had been removed, along with the doors, hood, seats and a lot of other stuff, so it wouldn’t have been difficult, except that the tires and wheels had also been stripped off. Not to worry, there’s little that twelve or fifteen aspiring juvenile delinquents can’t accomplish when they put their minds—scratch that, I should say backs—into it.

Maybe it was the chants: “One, two, three…heave!” or the crashing sound of that old wreck rolling over and over for a solid five minutes until it came to rest in the middle of the alley that gave us away. In any case, as we stood around admiring our handywork, a voice cut our celebration short” “Okay, boys. You can put it back now.”

Busted! Red Johnson, the town constable had been standing there watching from the start. There was no use running because Red knew every kid in town. Worse, he knew all our parents.

Let me tell you, it took twice as long to roll that old wreck back into its original position. When I left town to join the US Air Force, it was still there.

Nowhere in all the evening’s festivities did we see hide or hair of Joe. 

By 8:30 we had sacked the whole town and returned home to spread our loot out on the living room floor and divide it up into categories according to which we’d devour first—big candy bars first followed by anything chocolate and working our way down to toffees, jawbreakers, bubblegum and, last, hard candies which were organized in similar order: red first, then purple, then orange, then yellow and (last of all) green. Green candy didn’t taste like anything but green and was reserved for desperate times when all the rest of your Halloween candy had run out. Sometimes we’d have green candy leftover at Easter. Thank God for the Easter bunny.

We had long since forgotten about Joe when, around 8:45 a frantic banging on the door brought us out of our chocolate-induced stupor. BAM BAM BAM!

It was Joe, wide-eyed and frantic. He had a strip of bedsheet wrapped around his head, his arm in a bedsheet sling and weird patches of oatmeal stuck to his hands and cheeks. “TRICK OR TREAT!” he yelled. “TRICK OR TREAT!!”

“Joe! Where have you been? What happened?” 

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was doing my makeup and I smeared airplane glue on my face and hands and started to rub oatmeal on … and… and… I fell asleep and Halloween’s almost over! TRICK OR TREAT!!!!

There were still a few porch lights on here and there around town and we could hear Joe’s running footsteps fading into the night followed by frantic knocking and his cry: “TRICK OR TREAT!!!”

We felt so sorry for the poor kid, we gave him all our green candy.

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