Halloween will forever be an awkward holiday for me.
Why? Because my Halloween experience was also my first experience with begging.
I grew up out in the Western ‘burbs, and though All Hallow’s Eve is starting to catch on in Aus, when I was a kid it was appropriately ghostly. By which I mean to say, the streets were empty. I remember – as a good and studious child raised by television – being the only one who really had any inkling it was a thing, or at least cared enough to want to see it happen.
One memory stands out in particular. It was near the end of the day but the sun was still out, and it suddenly occurred to me that it was Halloween. Halloween meant sweets. Meant candy. We could do it. No, we should do it. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to rope my older brother and cousin and friend into tagging along with me – maybe they were forced to by my aunty as a safety measure – but out onto the streets we went. It’s where we belonged, anyway.
Here’s the rub though: due to the last minute nature of the revelation that a holiday was technically occurring (sort of, not really), we didn’t have costumes. We just had bags. So, three little Arabs (in ascending order of height) and a Tongan went door-knocking for sweets. The cavalcade of awkward responses that followed will stay with me for the rest of my life. Being older now, and a writer, I can doubly appreciate the weirdness of it, but at the time, I was armed with the oblivious enthusiasm of a child.
We had no strategy. No real aim, or direction. Our choices were arbitrary. We’d pick a house, and go knock on the door. Stand there in broad daylight with our bags, and wait for someone to answer the door, which didn’t happen as often as you might think. There was a house at the top of our street, it was oddly shaped like a long L, and shaded with all manner of trees. We knocked on the oak wood door, and waited for a moment. Then two. Just as we were about to go, we heard footsteps, and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged overweight Asian man in boxers and a singlet.
He looked bleary and confused and he had every right to be, although now I have to wonder what he was doing in such a state on a weekday, at around 6pm. He stared at us and we stared at him, none of us really sure what to do. I honestly don’t even recall if we offered up a weak, ‘trick or treat’? The notion terrifies me now. The only reason I recall this particular instance is because I was of a height with this man’s distended chest, and his nipples were of a level with my eyes. They remain, to this day, the longest, weirdest nipples I have ever seen. I mean, they were a solid inch or two or three and covered in hair. I’m fairly sure it mentally scarred me.
Needless to say, we got nothing out of that encounter except a healthy dose of fear.
There was another house a few streets down I recall thanks to the delightful shouted-conversation that occurred when the door was opened and some dude peered at us. “What’s all this then?”
“Trick or treat?”
“Trick — Is it — is it Halloween?” He turned and shouted into the house. “It’s some kids! Halloween! Is that a thing? Do we do that here? …Shit. Hold on.”
And then we stood there, waiting, while he went back inside and furtively conferred with his partner/mother/whoever as to what the hell they should do. Did they have anything? A can of tuna perhaps? I think we got something out of it, but I’m not sure what. I don’t think we tried many houses, to be honest. It was utterly dispiriting, and yet totally hilarious. No one else did it, no one else was out there, no one really cared.
Now, of course, it seems to be more of a thing. It’s gradually catching on and I’m sure there are actual suburbs where throngs of children go out and revel in being monsters, and where adults can ponder this strange day when social norms are totally thrown out in the most blasé of fashions. “Don’t take candy from a stranger, kids! Unless it’s Halloween, then go right up to their fucking doors and demand it! It’ll be cute.” Unless you’re not dressed right and are poor, then you’re just a modern day Oliver Twist, and instead of candy, you’re left with horrible memories of elongated nipples.
These days I still appreciate Halloween, despite all of that (and sundry other episodes which I won’t get into), because it gives me an excuse to watch horror movies (not that I need one) and Hocus Pocus as often as I like, or go to dinky little cinemas and watch old flicks of gore flickering on big screens. That’s a good enough reason to be thankful that Halloween is strengthening its roots in Sydney to be sure, but I can’t help but wish it wasn’t 15 years too late.