Halloween in Oz

I may have posted this before. It is old. And not very good.

But with everyone else jumping on the Halloween bandwagon I felt left out. Even though it is not (as will become clear) a festival that I properly understand.

Anyway …. quite some time ago I was challenged to write about Halloween from a different perspective. This is the result.

*****

Halloween

An Australian attempt at American culture goes horribly wrong.

***

I was a very willing participant when our little community embraced the concept of Halloween in October of the year 2000. The school was to be involved with the “G’day USA” student exchange program in the following year and Mrs Davis, the headmistress, thought that this might be a fun way to give those of us who might have the opportunity to take part an introduction to American culture.

Such is the notion of ‘foreign culture’ in our small corner of the world.

Heartfelt but misguided.

To be sure, there was some mention of Celtic history and ancient pagan rituals in class, but the real meaning of the holiday, as far as we could tell, and were certainly not about to dispute, revolved, essentially, around the concept of extortion.

By October 20 or so reports were flooding in about whose parents had acquired which lollies and in what quantities. Mrs Farmer, it was said, had purchased seven commercial size boxes of Smarties and Karen’s grandmother had apparently cornered the market in Mars Bars. Even weird Old Gladys Parker had been spotted leaving the supermarket stuffing bags of green frogs in with her shopping.

Despite the protestations of her children Mrs Anglesee had expressed an intention to bake scones for the big night and was, therefore, struck off most people’s visitation list.

In America, I suppose, it is easy to purchase all manner of outfits specifically designed to be worn on the night. One is expected to take to the dark in the guise of a zombie, ghoul or witch, I believe. No such supply is available in West Wyalong, however, so we were encouraged to make do with anything we could lay our hands on that might provide some visual separation from those not participating. When nightfall arrived the streets of town, as a result, were awash with Spidermen, Zorros and Phantoms.

A smattering of our less financially secure neighbours were out and about with nothing more than paper bags over their heads and holes cut out for the eyes. They were, as a result, the most terrifying of all of those at large.

My friend Tom and I opted for the Blues Brothers outfits we had put together for a birthday party earlier in the year and took to the streets at about 6:30PM

The whole process was ridiculously easy. By 8 o’clock we had stuffed our backpacks with more than enough sugar to ensure the early onset of diabetes and were considering calling it a night. It was only when passing the Parker house and seeing the porch light on that, on a whim, we thought to have one more go. Old Gladys and I had had a troubled relationship since the cricket ball incident of 1998, but I was confident that we had both, by now, put things in perspective, or were at least willing to put them aside for this night of American goodwill.

I knocked on her door and applied the technique that had proved so successful all evening. “Trick or treat?” I enquired when she answered.

“Oh, it’s you.” She replied, and immediately slammed the door in my face.

Neither our limited classroom training or our recent experience had properly equipped us for this sort of response. It seemed clear enough, nevertheless, that Gladys had made the unusual decision to enact the ‘trick’ option of the procedure. Just to be sure, however, I knocked a second time and when, a little stunned, she opened the door again I made our position clear.

“Hand over the Green Frogs or we burn the house down.” I said.

This time she let out a little yelp before slamming the door with what seemed greater conviction.

Having our bluff called a second time was certainly not something that we had bargained for and we were actually on our way down her front path in the early stages of a tactical withdrawal when we heard the window on the second floor of the house open behind us. We saw a flailing of old arms above as we turned and suddenly it was raining little bags of carefully packed green frogs.

***

The police car was already parked outside my house when I got home. The significance of this was not immediately obvious until I opened the front door and heard my father in the early stages of preparing a defence from within the lounge room. “What sort of proof do you have that our son was actually involved in all of this?” he was asking, as I approached.

“The perpetrators,” the sergeant explained, looking up from his note book at the very moment that Elwood Blues entered the room, “were described as wearing black suits, black sunglasses, black ties and black hats.”

My father looked at me and then at the floor – accepting, a little too easily I thought, my guilt. I was not to be so quickly defeated. “And who makes such an accusation?” I demanded.

The officer stared at me. “Don’t try to be smart-arse now, son. You’re in serious trouble. You threatened to kill Mrs Parker. She is under sedation and God knows if she will ever be the same.”

I won’t deny that at this point I was feeling a certain degree of remorse. But I had certainly not threatened to kill anybody. There had been a misunderstanding. To any sane jury, clearly, it would all be seen as a well-meaning prank with the full support of the school authorities that had gone terribly wrong. It was not the time, however, to over play my hand and rely too heavily on that support.

Fortunately I had already had a fair dose of American culture. I had watched television. I knew my rights. I knew how to deal with the police.

“Listen, officer,” I continued, “this is clearly a trumped up charge possibly stemming from some previous misunderstanding between myself and my accuser, but you’ll never make it stick. Look at the facts. It was a fancy dress night. There may have been a hundred Blues Brothers out there and all manner of crime occurring on the streets. Why pick on me? Just five minutes ago I saw Superman pissing on the Simpson’s rose garden. Why don’t you arrest him?”

Not for the first time in my life, and certainly not for the last, I heard my mother weeping in the kitchen.

But I was right. The officer did not press charges. Nor did he search my back-pack. The seventeen bags of green frogs within may have been more difficult to explain.

***

Old Gladys made a full recovery and I wrote her, after some less than subtle encouragement, an impassioned letter of apology ‘on behalf of the school community’.

I was not selected to travel as part of the program to the USA. An annotation on my application suggested that I was “a potential disruptive influence, with limited respect for authority.”

In the September of 2001, the citizens of the USA were given even more reason than before to be suspicious of anyone masquerading as something other than what they appeared to be. Perhaps it would not have been the place for me, anyway.

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