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Remember when Halloween was scary?

View From the porch: When we called it ‘mischief night’

Published on October 26, 2017 7:08AM

Last changed on October 27, 2017 6:49PM

The window dressing at By the Way in Gearhart.

Eve Marx/For Seaside Signal

The window dressing at By the Way in Gearhart.

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When I was a kid growing up in south Jersey, the big event of the season wasn’t Halloween as much as it was “Mischief Night.”

Mischief Night was the night before Halloween when local police turned a blind eye to adolescents armed with rolls of toilet paper and shaving cream, who ran around for an hour or so in the dark. Mischief makers used these items to swiftly decorate somebody’s house. If you were a homeowner targeted for shaming, it was because you were the grumpy, miserable, child- and teen-hating neighbor constantly complaining to the cops about kids riding bikes in the street or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. I’m still mystified why the police in that community chose to look the other way, even when they spotted us from their patrol cars crouching in the bushes, toilet paper and shaving cream clutched in our sweaty hands. Maybe they thought we kids were exacting some kind of justice, or maybe they didn’t like those homeowners much either.

Mischief Night has pretty much fallen out of favor these days.

For at least 20 years, Halloween has been co-opted by people adverse to dark and devils and anything scary. What used to be a hallowed celebration of the dark and death, across the country Halloween is now is a playful affair involving family pumpkin carving and dressing up as action figures and super heroes and Disney princesses. And candy. Lots of candy, distributed by friendly shop owners in malls and retail parts of town in daylight and under highly supervised circumstances.

My own most treasured memory of Halloween involved my 8-year-old self, unaccompanied by any adult, ringing a doorbell, my candy collecting pillowcase gripped in hand. I remember the door opening to a man whose face was covered in black and white paint, his Harlequin features illuminated by flickering candlelight. Spooky music poured out from speakers mounted outside the house. I was terrified. My friends Claudia and Jimmy squeaked out a nervous “trick or treat” that sounded more like a question than a demand. In a low voice I imagined might sound like a wolf speaking English, the man responded, “First, a song. You must sing for me.”

I don’t remember what song we sang, but sing we did.

This year I finally live in a house where it’s possible I might get trick or treaters. This is very exciting. The last time I had trick or treaters was in 1995 in New York, which is the year Melissa, a slightly older and infinitely more mature 7-year-old friend of my son, decreed she would no longer trick or treat on our quiet street because she wanted to go into town where all the action was. So while I trick or treated in town with Melissa, my son, and Melissa’s dad, my husband and his pal Lance hung out at our house waiting for trick or treaters. They had no takers at all except for Dan, who lived next door, who rang the doorbell late, on his way home from trick-or-treating at the condos.

This Halloween I plan on lining the front walk with votive candles and, weather permitting, sit waiting on our porch. I’ll have candy, miniature Snickers bars and Nestle Crackle and M&Ms I giddily purchased last week at RiteAid. For a moment I thought about buying candy neither Mr. Sax nor I like, in hopes of discouraging us from eating it if no trick or treaters show up. There are at least four young children on our new street, and a family with three kids live in the house behind. I’m hoping they come by. I might ask them to sing. I’m pretty sure we’ll wind up eating most of the candy. That’s what happens every time.


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