The house was dark. Most of the street was by then. Porch lights, living-room lights, kitchen lights -- every watt visible from the sidewalk was dead, a message of discouragement to the wayward princesses and zombies and superheros still out there, lurking, hoping against hope for a pillow-case top-off.
They were out there. Of course they were. It was hardly past eight o'clock. The rings and knocks had mostly stopped, but occasionally a stray burst filled the house, like the final heartbeats of a popcorn bag. I ignored them. Tried to, anyway.
I was upstairs, in the bathroom. Mine was the only light on in the house. Ostensibly I was there to give my son a bath, but he'd been sitting there for a good five minutes and not a drop of soap had graced his perfect skin. I was distracted. I couldn't stop replaying the night in my head, ticking off the things I could have done better. I was a rookie, sure -- my first Halloween in a proper house, as a Dad, the weight of the trick-or-treating world on my shoulders. But still: How did I screw it up this badly?
Let's go to the tape.
4:30 p.m., Halloween: My wife calls. I'm worried we don't have enough candy, she says. I assure her we do. I bought it myself: five bags. At least 100 pieces. We'll be fine. Better than fine. I envision myself unfurling the leftovers at the work the next day, my coworkers silently burning with envy over my immense caloric reserves.
5:45: I arrive at my street in East Dallas. It's blocked off! I remember one of my neighbors coming around, asking me to sign a petition to get it blocked off, so the kids in our neighborhood could bounce house to house without worrying about traffic. We did it! How festive!
5:50: I step through the front door and there they are: My five medium-sized bags of candy. It's a classic mix: Two Hershey's, one Resee's, one Snickers, one Kit-Kat. I look upon it with swelling pride, and I start thinking about which bag I'll open last, based on which candy I want to have left over.
5:51: A flash of color catches my eye. There, to the right of my candy, is MORE CANDY. What will we possibly do with MORE CANDY? And this candy especially: Junior Mints and Dots. I recognize the inferior product as the work of my wife, whose taste in candy falls somewhere between unorthodox and divorce-inducing.
I ask her, what the hell, and she says, I was afraid we didn't have enough. I chuckle at her lack of faith and push her contribution to the side, out of sight of the kids, lest they worry we would actually serve them that nonsense on this sacred day.
6:01 p.m. The doorbell rings. I scurry to the door. In the moment it seems like there should be at-bat music, like a ballplayer. Like, as I stroll to the door, speakers should blare that one Eminem song everyone plays when they want their adrenal glands to work better.
I open the door. Confident in my stockpile, I pull candy out of the bowl in pairs and drop it into their bags, two by two. I compliment creativity -- Brek Shea! Einstein! I get it! -- and playfully chide the less thoughtful approaches. They look at me like, Dude, if I want to be embarrassed by an old person I'll let my Mom walk on the same block as me.
6:04: Another ring. As I open the door, I notice something happening in the street, beyond the kids standing on my doorstep. The children are multiplying. I don't know how but they are. The Captain Americas and the Pocahanti must be mating and breeding little Scoobie Doos or something, because my street is suddenly crawling with un-fully formed humans. There are a lot of cars, too, which is weird because trick-or-treating is usually done by foot.
I look down at my stash, and for the first time, the question sneaks into my mind: What if there's not enough?
I give each kid one piece. I can feel the heat of their judgment -- Really dude? One effing Kit-Kat? -- but I close the door and start to count.
6:15: Cinderella takes a header on my steps. I laugh, perhaps a little too loudly.
6:24: They're coming steadily now, too steadily to even shut the door. Reality sets in: I'll have to at least open my wife's back-up provisions. I retain hope I won't have to use them. I'm thinking about returning them actually. I hope she kept the receipt.
6:41: The good stuff is running low. I have no choice. I have to start distributing Dots. I identify an easy mark: a kid with a mask that looks to be his eyes. Poor guy can't see shit.
I slip a box of Dots into his bag, and it's in that moment that I realize what Walter White would feel if he was reduced to selling crack on the street, like some sort of two-bit peddler, a corner boy, just slanging God knows what with no respect for --
Oh God, another princess ate it on my walkway. Maybe I should have the handyman take a look at that.
6:46: Still wallowing in shame, genius strikes: It's still light out. There are toddlers, 2- and 3- and 4-year-olds, still waddling the streets, totally confused by their surroundings. Bless their hearts, they're too stupid to know the difference between a Junior Mint and a Snickers, and too young to eat all that chocolate anyway. Their fat adult parents will probably end up eating it. A plan forms. Anyone 4 and younger gets Dots. It's in everyone's best interest.
And while we're profiling, why not distribute the now-waning supply of respectable candy to the kids with real costumes? Spray some paint on your face before you left the house? Throw on a Rangers hat and call yourself a baseball player? How do you feel about the smallest possible box of Junior Mints?
7:01: Oh, I get it now. We petitioned to block off our street to try to keep the poor kids from other neighborhoods from trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. How considerably less festive than previously thought!
7:06: The real stuff is officially gone. It's Dots and Junior Mints from here on out, their tiny judgment be damned. I apologize to every child as I drop the sharp-edged boxes into their bags. They say nothing, but the look in their eyes stings more than any words could.
7:12: "Dots are awesome!" a young Captain America says, and for a brief moment, everything feels OK.
7:17: We're in the final minutes now. The last bag of Junior Mints is in the bowl and going fast. I run down a mental checklist of other potential treats in the house. I imagine myself spooning a scoop of the chili we have simmering on the stove into their bags, followed by a dollop of sour cream and a slice of garlic bread. Alas, it proves impractical, as I was hoping to pack the chili for lunch.
7:32: The doorbell rings, and for the first time all night I ignore it. My wife answers it, and gleefully drops the last few boxes of Dots and Mints into the bags of the last few superheros and princesses. It's she who's standing there when the last piece disappears. The kids keep coming. I'm in the kitchen when she tells them we're all out. This chili is good. Needs a little heat, but I'm glad I didn't give it away.
8:01: The house is dark now. After the last Dots disappeared, I scrambled to shut off all the lights, trying to give the impression that we weren't home, hoping to avoid the awkward situation of having to explain our lack of preparedness. But the doorbell rings anyway.
I stand, motionless, and tell my wife to do the same. If they see no movement, they'll assume we aren't home. Never were, in fact. They're probably out doing something cool, they'll think. Too bad. I bet they would have given away a ton of candy.
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I continue to imagine this scenario while my wife calmly opens the door and explains that we're out of candy. Happy Halloween, she says, effectively masking her embarrassment somehow. Happy Halloween, the kids say in return. I can't see them -- my eyes are shut tight for some reason -- but I can only assume they looked back in disgust, making a mental note to skip our house next year.
8:15 p.m. Bath time. It's been quiet for a few minutes now. I think maybe it's over, and I start to feel better. Maybe no one noticed our pathetic display.
But then the doorbell rings, and rings again. Then a knock. I ignore it, waiting for it to pass. When it finally stops, I peek out the blinds, and that's when I see it. Across the street, a neighbor's house is lit to the tilt. There are 30 kids at least in their driveway, lined up for what is surely a still-robust selection of American-made chocolate products. Not a Dot in sight, I bet, and three pieces for every kid.
The owners are sitting in lawn chairs on the porch, their hearts king-sized no doubt, as the kids fall upon them gratefully. Enjoy it now, I think to myself as I finally wet the wash cloth. 'Cause next year? Next year, I'm going to Costco.