Column: Peripatetic Postcards


Although they are not fully under control, the wildfires are becoming more manageable. This has allowed more and more residents in these here parts to return to the natural rhythm of things. And, being late October, this means metric measures like this:

That's right. 'Tis the season. For all kids -- good and less than -- time to go a-haunting.

In preparation for this annual rite, to try to peer inside and fathom the thing that is All Hallow's Eve, I took a neighborhood stroll. It being years since I've partaken of the American version of this event -- the one where "the invisible veil that separates this world from the realm of the dead supposedly (becomes) permeable," where we seek to guide the wandering dead through the shadows, and steer them to a place of mental and spiritual rest. And here is what I found . . .

I wonder if this looks anything like the haunted bogs and balconies and ballastrades around you, wherever that may be.

As you might glean from the opening, pumpkins are a big decorative theme . . .

But so, too, are . . . yikes! Spiders . . .

Along with the usual suspects: black cats, ghosts, witches, and lab-built monsters:

and . . . flying gloves?

Then, of course, there are also assorted slogans and signboards -- ranging from cute to creepy:

Typical community service fare in this neck of the US woods.

The impulse that leads to this form of public participation is worthy of note. I suppose one can build meaning out of the signs. The jest, the camp, the glorious display of it all. On that note, people willingly decorate their own private spaces to contribute to some kind of collective conversation. It may only be for a couple weeks out of the year, and it may be for the ostentation and show, it could be all about the "keeping up with" competition angle, and, thus, may not extend far (if at all) into shared space. Still, what it all amounts to is something beyond a dark porch-front, shuttered windows and a barred door on a night when everyone is roaming the street looking to make a greet. Something beyond silence, disengagement, and rebuke.

So, more than the day of festivity, there is something in the recognition of such a day, that tells us something about the place in which we live. Viewing the existence, we see essence. We come to better understand the people over here, who fill up this space.

To be honest, it is not the case that every community through which I pass over here is so well-adorned. Some tracts sport nary a pumpkin on their threshold, a sheet suspended in the trees, or a witch on the gate. Economics -- along with the time and energy required to plot out and install such a design -- surely plays a part. In the same way, there are neighborhoods in which kids really can't go door to door. Not simply because it isn't safe to send children out there, but also because it wouldn't be a very productive venture: even if the spirit was willing, there is simply not enough disposable income among those homeowners or apartment dwellers to support the purchase of sweets for redistribution at the door.

In recent years, I have been told, a practice has come into play: parents of kids from those less advantaged income brackets, resident in more fallow neighborhoods, have taken to dumping their charges in zones such as the one I walked through yesterday. They wait on the periphery, in a battered Chevy coupe or a 1979 Datsun 210, while the kids make the rounds with a pillowcase or plastic trash bag; unsteadily trudging up the red brick paths, punching the doorbells and holding out their bags for the overy-cheery, upper middle-class lass or laddie with the basket of candy on the other side of the ornate wooden door. The kids don't even bother saying "trick or treat". Either pride or lack of social graces catching their tongues. They just thrust their bags forward until the person on the delivery end feels that they have doled out enough to expiate their guilt or convince themselves of their inherent goodness.

Reminding me of a story from my past . . . all at once I recall one Halloween where I was introduced to my badness.

Back on the cusp of adolescence when we boys were all busy flirting with what it meant to be pricks; practicing up on becoming the opposite of what our parents had always sold us on what we were: sweet. Here it was: candy night. pitch dark out on these very mild streets. Hundreds of kids -- walking in groups of 3 and 5 -- dressed up as dinosaurs and goblins and the Green Hornet and Clark Kent . . . and all my pals were taking turns running up behind small kids and snatching their pillowcases and trashbags stocked with sweets out of their surprised 6 year-old hands. I hadn't yet played my part - joined the fraternity. Typically me, I was the last holdout -- the one yet to have pilfered a kid's stash by force. Me, absolutely certain how unright this was. Wondering why I was even walking around with this crowd. But everyone in that crowd -- now having met quota, "their" extra candy sacks standing as testament to their mettle as residential rogues -- had now turned their eyes to me. It was my go. The boss of our newly-minted gang pointed out a group of short sheets sidling down the sidewalk about 20 yards in front of us. He pushed me ahead of the group, telling me I'd better get my legs pumping or I'd have his foot to contend with. Reluctantly, I felt my knees churn. My brain screaming out in protest of what my imagination could visualize 7 seconds hence . . .

Now I wonder, I think; for years I have worried. "What if the kid whose bag I pinched was one of those poor kids trucked in from out of the neighborhood?" Maybe this was the one night he had looked forward to all year and maybe . . . this was the night of his biggest disappointment. At least for that year. Returning to his Mom's battered old car with tear-stained cheeks, empty-handed, no candy to show for his stroll through the rich kid's quarter.

Well, you can file that one (all of it) -- the kids from out-of-bounds, the fine brick abodes they could only imagine lolling about inside, the guilty candy-dishing proprietors, their renegade offspring snatching what isn't theirs from impoverished others looking for one night of respite -- under the category: "the world isn't precise or fair; it never seems to properly or squarely line up."

Sad as that is to see, to recognize, to say.

But, here we are, once more. This is Halloween. 'Tis the season.

"At least for this week, this night. At least, this is what we in these parts do."

And me, back in the neighborhood now, vowing to do what I can to make up for all of the before in this go-round. Reverberating like that Sheryl Crow song:

And isn't it good

If we could freeze moments in time

We all would

But I do what I can

I do what I can

Even if it doesn't amount to enough.

Here, in memory, now in the flesh: a-haunting.

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There's a reason why Ta-Nehesi Coates is often compared to James Baldwin, and there's a reason why Baldwin's work is so relevant in the age of Black Lives Matter.

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