River Dad, Doing Halloween Right

I seriously dig Halloween.

I mean honestly; candy, ghosts, candy, goblins, candy, vampires, candy and candy. What’s not to love? Plus, when I run around on the other 364 nights of the year dressed up as a naughty monk, people call the cops.

Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a child and first dipped my hand in a bowl of wet noodles and was told they were brains.

Then I moved to Tarrytown.

You’d think living in the shadow of Sleepy Hollow would provide me with the uber-Halloween experience, whereby I implode from the contact high of being immersed in so much Halloween-ness. Yet I soon discovered something I had never anticipated.

Serious Halloween pressure.

Growing up in Northern California, we’d hand out a good three or four bags of candy on any given Halloween. When I moved down to LA, we’d be lucky to get through two bags. When we first moved to the East coast, we landed in Dobbs Ferry and didn’t even make it through a single bag. But our first Halloween in Tarrytown?

Four bags empty by 6:30 pm, the rest of the evening spent huddled in the dark hoping that if kids saw a house without any lights, they’d just leave us alone. Remarkably, three separate groups knocked on our door,

demanding payment in rich, sweet, chocolate or threatening to douse my massive holly tree in shaving cream. We explained that the no lights thing was supposed to be the universal signal for “We have no more candy!” One kid shrugged and said he’d thought we were just trying to be the really scary house on the block.

I had a lot of shaving cream to clean up the next morning.

Our next Halloween, I was determined to do better by the sugar-holic urchins who are unceremoniously bused into the neighborhood each year, pouring out of unmarked SUVs like clowns at a demented circus. This is the land of Washington Irving and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. We own this holiday, and have a reputation to uphold. So my wife purchased 14 bags of candy for the occasion while I went about decorating the house in full terror-inducing regalia. No silly glow-in-the-dark grinning pumpkins here; we’re talking hand-painted signs, intricately-carved jack-o-lanterns, masses of fake web strewn up the walk, red lighting and a surprisingly effective spider scare at the door. The way I see it, I’ve got 14 bags of yummy candy, and the more kids too afraid to come to my door, the more candy I get to eat over the next month.

The result was an unqualified success. The highlight, for me, was when one teenager told me point blank, “Yours is the scariest house we’ve been to.” Score one for River Dad! Plus, we only went through about ten bags which gave me plenty of opportunities to slip into a chocolate coma during the first half of winter.

This year, of course, I need to top myself. I’m going to need a truck-load of fake web, for starters. And some more spiders, but not the silly blow-up ones. No, I want spiders that in a faint red light look like they’re drooling at the thought of gnawing on your flesh. While I probably can’t get actual human blood, I definitely want to create some sort of rotting corpse that the kids have to walk past. (Hopefully the parents of the little kids will cover their eyes as they walk past.) Tombstones are a fun addition, but they don’t do much more than add atmosphere unless I can manufacture some sort of Carrie-esque skeletal hand that claws out of the ground as you approach.

It goes without saying that I need to install some sort of unexpected terror from above. Something that slides down the roof and vomits would be good. Or maybe just a severed head, in honor of the Horseman, dripping blood into the hydrangeas lining the walk. I saw those at the mall this weekend. My daughter loves to dig up bugs, so maybe I can get her to dig me up a nice pile of creepy-crawlies that I can litter the walk with. Or better yet, I could put together a realistic-looking child-sized dummy, surrounded by a broken bag of candy and all the bugs, as if someone got to my door, but wasn’t able to get away in time. So many ideas, and not even a month left to put it all together.

Now some will say that I need to keep in mind the many sweet, innocent toddlers and elementary school-aged kids for whom this sort of arrangement, done right, would permanently scar them for life. I say phooey! They want a G-rated Halloween, they can go trick-or-treat in Hastings or Elmsford. We do Halloween right out here, and the sooner they get used to it, the sooner they can take their rightful place in the Haunted Hayride.

Because I want kids to have second thoughts about actually walking up to my door. Remember, I’m protecting my candy. Kids who make it to the door have breached my defenses, and must be rewarded with a handful of my treasured booty. And make no mistake, my wife gets the good stuff, not the cheap loser fruit-flavored candy you get at some houses. What’d be the point of hoarding that? No, I’m talking little Snickers bars. Three Musketeers. Kit Kats. Kit Kats!! It’s all about the chocolate. I have it, they want it.

The question is: how bad do they want it?

Happy Halloween.

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About the Author: David Neilsen