Gary Smith: Tricks, treats and tactics

Getting the hang of Halloween takes time

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 1 a.m.

One of the beauties of Northwest Arkansas is that our diverse employment and education environment has generated an exceptionally diverse, well, Northwest Arkansas.

So, while there are lots of folks who are from "around here," the borders of "not from around here" are extended to everywhere else. Which means that while most of us are pretty firmly in the fold when it comes to some of our national oddities, the rest of us could use a primer.

Take, for instance, Halloween. And since it was Tuesday, you probably already did.

But just in case this was your first rodeo, let's help fill in the gaps that may have opened as wide as all those bags shoved in your face at your front door (note: cowboys, cowgirls and cute adaptations of livestock figure prominently in our celebration. Not sure why, except, well, we've already got the hats.)

First things first. For, basically, all the rest of the year, we instruct our children not to take candy from strangers. However, for one night (and one night only), not only is it a-OK to take sweets from people you don't know, the point is to solicit them. Aggressively. And repeatedly.

Then there's the matter of costumes. Costumes are often a manifestation of our inner selves. At least up until the point where we elect to dress as ax murderers. At least we hope.

Now if you'd rather not leave your offspring's costume selection up to the varieties of young, easily-impressionable (or scarred) minds, fall back on some general rules.

For boys, costume selection is fairly simple -- anything involving weapons. So, since you can't control the narrative and can only hope to soften it, move toward civil servants (policemen, the military) and away from anything involving a chain saw that isn't a lumberjack or wildland firefighter.

For girls, you have two goals. You want to steer them into something cute and fun and wholesome (in an effort to implant those images in their minds) and suitable for photographing and sending to Grandma. And ... you want to steer them away from anything that in any way, shape or form could be mistaken for a Kardashian. For exactly the same, implanting reason.

And for infants, a cute fuzzy version of a baby animal. One, it keeps them warm and tote-able while their older siblings ransack the neighborhood. Two, awwwwww. And three, pictures you can embarrass them with later in their life. Hey, being a parent is planning ahead. Why not? They're already planning how they're going to sneak out and wreck your car. Once, of course, they learn to walk.

As for adults, costumes can be aspirational -- priest/nun, Wonder Woman (her) or Superman (him). Or they can be ironic -- priest/nun, Wonder Woman (him), Superman (her). Or, they can be reasons for conversations you'd rather not have with your children ("Mr. Johnson is wearing a dress today because it's his Halloween costume. The rest of the time, uh, well, uh, go ask your mother.").

Or they can be a window into the soul of larger issues, like an utter lack of imagination or interest in the whole thing. Like the guy who hunts and comes as a hunter. Or the guy in the cowboy hat who, well, you get it.

Then there's the critical matter of Halloween candy. Sure, the inclination is to go for the biggest, cheapest bag of "what the heck is that brand?" you can find. I mean, after all, you're giving it away to people who already can't lift what they've got, and you're pretty sure most of it is going to be dumped or hauled off to work. Or both.

But don't kid yourself. They know, the same way Depression-era hobos used to know where they could get a hot meal. And if your Halloween offerings don't include Reese's peanut butter cups, well, you obviously don't care about the neighborhood kids or the parents who will be pilfering those bags once they've gone to sleep.

You might consider moving to another neighborhood. Or a place where they don't celebrate Halloween. Which, apparently doesn't include Japan. It seems, for reasons known only to them, they've started celebrating the holiday, complete with pumpkins and ghosts and costumes and everything.

If you show up as a cowboy there, it's neither aspirational or ironic. It's just odd.

Commentary on 11/03/2017