Once upon a time, a long time ago, a young man was cooking dinner for his lady friend when the doorbell rang. The young man, me, was much besotted by his lady friend, which was why he was making her his favorite dish: Chicken Alfredo by Campbell’s. His lady friend peeked out the window to see who was there.
“Oh my God!” she said. “There’s a baked potato outside.”
And so it came to be that for the first time in many months the young man and his lady friend realized how insulated they had become in their world of courtship. It had not occurred to them, not even for the briefest of flickers, what day it was, or even what month. They had been preoccupied with gazing longingly into one another’s eyes, and going for picnics at DuPont Gardens, and eating private dinners out of a single saucepan. They had, in other words, successfully tuned the whole world out.
But their romantic bubble had just been popped. Something horrible had happened. Something culturally unacceptable. Something more embarrassing than cold sores, or bad breath, or dangling toilet paper: They had forgotten it was Halloween.
The young man peeked out the window to confirm the presence of the trick-or-treaters. In the porch light, he could see black shoe polish smeared liberally on the witch’s cheek, a scarecrow with hay stuffed in his shirt collar, and a Chinese tin man.
His lady friend panicked: “But we don’t have any candy!” she said as she ran from room to room looking in vain for a pack of LifeSavers to magically appear. The young man watched her for a moment before an idea popped into his head.
“We could always turn off the lights and pretend …”
“Don’t even think about it,” she interrupted from the top of the stairs. Leave it to others to patronize the arts, science, sports …, his lady friend was a patron saint of holidays. Her memories of Christmas, Easter, and Halloween were the subject of triannual stories. She could recall her own Halloween costumes, lovingly handmade by her mother, by year, theme, and material: 1976 was the Great Grape Ape, 1978 was the Raggedy Ann costume (red yarn wig), and 1980 saw the unveiling of the life-size-banana costume (complete with hundreds of Chiquita stickers). For his lady friend, turning off the lights and playing possum was like announcing you did not possess a soul.
The doorbell rang again.
The young man looked around the kitchen. In the next 20 seconds, he opened and closed every drawer, cabinet, and cubbyhole looking for something—anything—to give to the kiddies outside.
The fridge was useless. Leftover pizza, a jar of pickles, some baking soda. The doorbell rang again. The next group of trick-or-treaters had appeared, doubling the amount of candy needed. Outside the baked potato said, “I hear someone inside!” They began to chant, “Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat.”
The young man stretched to open the last cabinet. The one above the stove, where the lobster pot, the shish-kebab skewers, and the canister of Old Bay seasoning were stashed. There the impossible stared back at him: an unopened plastic bag of caramel squares.
“Women!” shouted the young man as he retrieved the bag. “Always hiding candy for that late-night sweet tooth.” He tore open the bag and scooped a generous handful of the tinfoil-wrapped candies, cradling the booty in his shirt. He threw open the front door. The beady eyes of the baked potato studied him skeptically. Behind the spud stood Batman and Merlin, and what appeared to be the entire cast of Annie.
The children opened the hungry mouths of their bags with a choreographed snap.
“For you and you and you,” he said merrily as handfuls of caramel squares disappeared into the satchels with a satisfying thwack.
The kids darted off towards the next illuminated stoop, shouting “Thank you” over their shoulders.
Behind him, his lady friend had come gingerly down the stairs. She peeked around the door just as Tinkerbell was leaving with the last of the candy. She wrapped her arms around his neck. “You’re so good,” she cooed into his ear. He smiled. He was, he had to admit, pretty good. They walked into the kitchen. She noticed the empty plastic bag of caramel squares on the counter.
“I didn’t know you made soup,” she said.
He flipped the bag over. Written on the front, in extra-bold sans-serif font, were the following words:
“ONION-FLAVORED BOUILLON CUBES