In the what-they'll-think-of-next sweepstakes, some thinkers on the town council of Dudley, Mass., have thought up quite a next. They have banned Halloween.
No trick-or-treating this year for the kids of Dudley, the politicians ruled. Someone became sick from a cookie last Halloween, it seems. Worse, this year the Tylenol craziness is in the air. An evil spirit might put it into the head of a Dudleyite to lace a Halloween treat with cyanide.
The children of Dudley have yet to be polled on this banning, though a town spokesman said that violators would not be prosecuted. The cops have been instructed merely to tell the little ones to move on and go home.
Halloween alarmism about predator adults is an annual rite. It's usually been nuts who jam razors into apples or needles into candy bars who are on the minds of the Protectors of Children. I have some expertise in this issue, because for the past 10 years I have gained, in some of the more fright-prone parts of my neighborhood, a reputation as one of those weirdos the kids had better avoid. My offense is that on Halloween night I open my front door and hand out vegetables.
Last year I gave okra. I had had a good year with it in my garden and had a few dozen pods left over. Okra is a late summer crop, so it was tough of skin by Halloween. I suggested to one kid wearing a gorilla mask that if he wasn't up to eating raw okra, despite his costume, he should boil it for 10 minutes.
The year before I was into kale. "Don't be spooked," I told a child dressed as a ghost, "it's not spinach." In other years, I have treated the innocents at my door to carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli and turnips.
Halloween is about the only time of year I get near to proselytizing about my vegetarianism. The kids are on my property, after all, and by the time many of them get to my house they are ready for a break from the ad nauseam pile of Milky Ways, Tootsie Rolls, Mars bars and other tooth-rots in their sacks. "You err what you eat" is the nutritional wisdom I quote on Halloween night.
A decade ago, other parents in my neighborhood warned that I was asking for retaliatory trouble by giving kids vegetables like kale and carrots. My windows would be broken, they warned, the porch railing bent and the doorbell ripped out.
None of these Druidic horrors has happened. Some years, I admit, the lawn on the morning after has been strewn with kale leaves and broken carrots. The sight causes me grief, and I wonder if I shouldn't go back to the civilized way of dispensing junk food. But I have never taken offense at the leftovers on the lawn. Instead, I have taken the vegetables inside, rinsed them and cooked them all up for dinner -- my annual post-Halloween stew, a high-nutrition and low-cost delight.
Harvesting my rejected crops has been a minor hurt compared with a larger joy: scaring the wits out of little kids by opening the door and standing there, as somber as Frankenstein, with a broccoli stalk jutting out of my mouth. The littler they are, the more frightened they get. It's not me, it's the broccoli. They've never seen it before. They've gone directly from processed baby food out of jars to plastic hamburgers and fries out of golden arches. The true fright comes when I hold out a trayful of broccoli and say, "Take one, kid, you deserve a break today."
The children are brave. They look up at me and reach for the broccoli -- quickly, as though either it or I might be catching. The veggie is dropped into the sugar-polluted sack and the friendly ghosts move on.
I have met few adults who believe me, but a growing number of my Halloween visitors actually eat what I give them. Not the onions one year, nor much of the okra another year. But the carrots have been popular. Although it could be that the kids have been grateful not to have gotten a handful of bulgur or bean sprouts from me, I prefer a brush that paints a brighter picture: they certifiably and really do like the taste and texture of vegetables. Stranger things have happened on Halloween.
Each year gets easier for me. Kids began asking two weeks ago what I'd be passing out this Halloween. Gonna have to wait, I've answered. I had a decent bean crop, but it's been eaten. I'm thinking now of tomatoes, which I've stewed and put into plastic bags. Except they would be unretrievable on the lawn the next morning. I don't think I should be depriving myself of a treat.