McSweeney’s Halloween Tales
Welcome to McSweeney’s Halloween Tales, guest-edited by Alex Wellen. Alex is an author and a screenwriter at the San Francisco Grotto at work on his first novel for Random House. He is the author of the memoir BARMAN: Ping-Pong, Pathos, and Passing the Bar , published this fall in paperback.
The Great Pumpkin.
When I was a kid, the best part of Halloween was the pumpkin. I’m not talking about carving one; I’m talking about kicking one in. Sure, we wanted the candy, but there was something liberating about putting your foot through a freshly carved jack-o’-lantern. Oh yeah!
Kicking pumpkins to bits requires risk, skill, and love of the sport. The greater the destruction, the greater the fame, glory, admiration, and respect. With one swift kick you can become a hero among your friends. A man among men.
“Remember what Norman did to the O’Connor pumpkin last year?” they reminisced.
One Halloween I went as a bowler so I had a built-in excuse as for why I “inadvertently” dropped a 16-pound bowling ball onto each of my neighbors’ prized pumpkins.
“The ball’s awfully heavy for me, ma’am,” I’d say as the ball dropped from my hand a second time, demolishing their pumpkin upon impact. “It’s so slippery, sir.” The look on their faces—precious.
People love their pumpkins. Pumpkins become a part of their family. They’ll hunt for the right pumpkin for days, clean and carve it for hours, and then display it with great pride. They think it’s safe out there on their porch. They want it to be safe.
But it wasn’t safe then and it isn’t safe now.
Some tips for the youth of today in the category of pumpkin crushing:
As you approach a pumpkin-occupied porch, make sure there are escape routes. Once the pumpkin’s kicked, will you need to run right or left, or do an about-face and run into the street? It’s also important to take note of the personality of the person dispensing candy. Is he or she the in-and-out type, someone who lingers, or someone inclined to stake out the porch with a shotgun? Is there an electric light inside the pumpkin instead of a candle? Electric pumpkins require a gentler kick for fear of electrocution. Candled pumpkins have a flame and hot wax. It is equally important to take stock of the people around you. For me, young kids were my greatest threat, as they would always yell, “That boy broke your pumpkin,” or something to that effect.
Once you’ve nailed down the basics, then you can consider adding a little flare to your pumpkin-smashing style. By the mid-‘90s, I’d perfected my method as follows:
You’re at the door and the other rubes are standing there yelling, “Trick or treat!” I generally lip-synch the words to avoid feelings of actual enjoyment, which lead to guilt and, dare I say, restraint.
At this point, it is important to make sure you’re the last person to receive candy. (This all but eliminates witnesses.) Be prepared for small talk:
“Are you a skeleton?” the person standing in the doorway may ask.
“Yes, ma’am,” I’ll say. “I’m a skeleton, and my mother made my costume from the bed sheet my father died on, and now he’s a skeleton, too.” The “ma’am” endears you to the greeter and fills them with a false sense of hope for future generations. The bed-sheet reference is simply a tactical move to generate more candy.
As they close the door, it’s good to pretend you’re admiring all the goodies in your bag. (Say “wow” again and again.) When the door closes, proceed to thrust your heaviest-soled shoe into the face of the pumpkin, then walk quickly and casually away. If yelling and screaming follow, think nothing of it. In all likelihood, the people are admiring your footwork. Proceed to your next house and pumpkin.
Master the art. Pass it on.
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