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Neighborly Hallowe’en

This Hallowe’en Cassie and I will hang out in the neighborhood just to the south of us, where a nifty thing goes on.

The neighbors decorate their yards with orange lights and weird hoo-dahs. Then they bring tables and chairs out to the driveway or yard, stack the candy on the tables, and sit outside to greet the trick-or-treaters. This strategy serves all sorts of excellent purposes:

They have an impromptu, loosely organized block party. Neighbors get to know each other and each others’ kids, and a good time is had by all.

Everybody gets to enjoy all the kids frolicking around in their costumes.

The kids are safer, because a lot of grown-ups are outside watching.

The grown-ups are safer, because no one is opening their doors to strangers.

The obligatory vandalism goes someplace else, where fewer eyes are upon the perps.

It really is a great idea. It combines the fun of door-to-door trick-or-treating with the relative safety of an organized party. As a single woman, I never open my door to anyone I don’t know, and so on Hallowe’en I  turn off the lights and hole up in a back room. But I love to see the children showing off their costumes. This is a fine opportunity to do that.

Image: Toby Ord. A Jack o’ Lantern made for the Holywell Manor Halloween celebrations in 2003. Creative Commons.

Hallowe’en: “It’s the neighborhood”

Some time back, shortly before the real estate bubble started to blow up, I asked a Realtor why a house in the tract a block to the south of mine should be worth $60,000 or $80,000 more than my house, when mine is newer, its rooms are larger, its lot is nicer, and its interior had been updated more recently. She sniffed and remarked, “It’s the neighborhood.”

Sniff, indeed!

Well, there may be something to that. This evening I took Cassie for a walk during the height of the Hallowe’en tricking and treating and, as usual, walked down into that area. The difference between my neighborhood and that one was striking.

First, to get there you have to cross a feeder street, one that’s not so busy you can’t jaywalk across safely but that does carry some traffic. The road was hectic with people carting their kids in from the unsavory districts to the west and north, where no parent in his or her right mind would let the kiddies visit the local crack houses and meth factories in search of “treats.”

My neighborhood north of this asphalt dividing line had almost no children, but the slightly more affluent neighborhood to the south was alive with kids in costume.

In my neighborhood, almost every house had its front lights off (except for the occasional security light outside a garage) and the front windows shut up tight. In the other neighborhood, residents were out in droves, sitting at tables in front of their homes and doling out candy from big bowls. At three houses, the grown-ups were drinking wine and partying companionably on the front porch or driveway as the little visitors went from house to house to show off their outfits and collect their loot.

Think of that! The neighbors talk to each other! What a quaint idea.

Heaven help us, they also speak to poor folks. Now that is outré.

I walked over into La Maya’s part of the area, a block closer to the truly desirable addresses. Her house is worth about $150,000 more than what mine is worth—maybe more than that now, after Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum was given away for practically nothing at auction. Interestingly, that neighborhood was just as hermetically sealed as mine: most houses had their lights out, and none of the locals were to be seen in public. Precious few kids, either.

So there you go: what makes a neighborhood is the neighbors.

Maybe when you’re looking to buy a new house, you should wait until Hallowe’en and visit all your candidate areas. Look for one where the residents are outside enjoying the little kids and each other—that’s a good neighborhood!

The Hallowe’en grinch

What do you do about Hallowe’en?

I get a big boot out of seeing the kids in costume. But I’ve become pretty curmudgeonly about having swarms of kids, teenagers, and even adults show up at my door asking for a handout. Several things make this custom problematic.

Most obvious, of course, is the cost of candy. You have to get the kids products that are individually wrapped, because many parents, wary of nut cases who lace treats with “tricks” of one sort or another, won’t let the kids eat it unless it’s in a manufacturer’s package. It’s pretty expensive, especially if you don’t eat the stuff yourself. Which I don’t. Any candy that doesn’t get handed out to trick-or-treaters gets wasted. I hate that. It makes me feel like I’m throwing money in the trash.

Next, there’s the issue of out-of-neighborhood families trucking their kids into more affluent areas in hopes of scoring fancier stuff. My neighborhood abuts a very tony district—we form a buffer zone between an area of upper six- to lower seven-figure homes and a couple of gang-ridden slums. So we get the overflow of kids being trucked into the swell neighborhood. Well, I wouldn’t let my kids run loose in the areas to the west and north of us, either, so I can’t blame the parents for bringing them to a part of town they may perceive as safer. But what you’ll see is twenty kids jammed into the back of a pickup and dumped on the street in front of your house. Some years, a hundred kids will show up at the door; some years, none. Just depends on which street the freeloading parents decide to use as a drop-off point.

I don’t mind giving candy to the neighbors’ kids, but…OK, ungenerously!…I resent having every kid in Sunnyslope show up at my front door demanding a handout.

When M’hijito was little, one friend’s parents used to keep a stash of expensive, healthy treats for the neighbors’ kids and a big bucket of the cheapest, grodiest junk they could get for the traveling freeloaders. Worked, I guess…but something about that doesn’t sit very well with me, either. Is it OK to rot little kids’ teeth and contribute to their budding diabetes just because the kids are poor?

And finally, there’s the safety question. This neighborhood has had three home invasions that I know of—probably more that haven’t been gossiped about. I don’t open my door to strangers. Really, you’re crazy to do so. Why should I make an exception for hordes of out-of-neighborhood candy tourists? Especially when many of them are not kids. I don’t feel safe doing that.

In my cranky old age, I’ve taken to turning off the lights in the front part of the house, which discourages people from ringing the doorbell. It’s too bad…but the cost, the abuse of hospitality, and the risk kinda militate against it.

Hallowe’en! Bah, humbug!