Tricks for treats

A few houses over from mine, the neighbors have decorated their front porch with scarecrows, pumpkins, a dozen or so ghostlike objects and a sign announcing "Happy Fright Night."

Next door to me on one side, there’s a liberal frosting of fake spiderwebs; a similar display graces the porch of the house on the other side, too.

At my house, however, the fun has barely begun.

"When are you gonna get with it, Freak Girl?" asks the Lizard of Fun, digging through my closet. "Where are your Halloween decorations? Where’s the string of pumpkin lights and the thingy that makes the doorbell growl?"

I shrug. "Um … I think I have an old squash in the pantry. You could use that."

The Lizard shakes its head. "Already tried. It’s moldy. Frightening in completely the wrong way."

"So, you think you’re going to scare people with smiley pumpkin lights and a cutout of a ghost on the door? That hardly seems chill-inducing."

"What are ya?" says the Lizard. "Some kind of Halloween Grinch?"

Well, I explain, there’s nothing wrong with decorating for the season if you’re into that sorta thing. I’m not. But plenty of people are: Halloween has become, in the past decade or so, one of the hottest party nights of the year in terms of dollars spent on outfits, food, parties and decorations.

"Of course it has," says the Lizard. "It’s the only holiday that has candy as its main purpose. It’s a celebration of Chupa Chups, a jubilation of jujubes and a festival of fudge. It’s the only time of year we get to dress like idiots and pig out on junk without the guilt we feel the rest of the year."

"That gives me an idea for a scary costume, anyway," I admit. "I’ll go as a bathroom scale and tell everyone they’re 10 pounds heavier than they think they are."

"Are you saying this outfit makes me look fat?" asks the Lizard, holding up its Jabba the Hutt costume. "Maybe with a belt?"

I shrug and shake my head. "Sorry. I guess it’s the moldy squash paradigm. I just find real life so much scarier than all the manufactured ghosts and goblins and other thingies that people usually display at Halloween."

The Lizard waggles its eyebrows, pondering, then grins.

"OK. Just for you, I’ll make a truly frightening haunted house. Come back in an hour. Bring tequila."

It shoves me out the door, where I’m forced to wander the neighborhood like a lost soul in search of a party-store fifth. I pass the decorated houses, and then a few abandoned ones, and then the duplex around the corner that burned last Devil’s Night and still hasn’t been repaired.

A cold wind rattles an empty-branched tree against the house’s charred roof. In the distance, I think I can hear a ghost howl, or perhaps it’s just one of the six-pack of stray dogs who roam around the area.

I think about meeting up with menacing stray dogs. Or scarier still, stray people. I wonder about the darkened house, and all the other darkened houses in Detroit. I worry that these houses will stay dark, that the promised revitalization of this city will continue to haunt us, but like a half-glimpsed ghost, never really materialize.

I shiver, and scurry home.

The porch light is out. There’s a jack-o’-lantern by the door, carved to look remarkably like Bill Clinton. The house seems frightening already.

It gets scarier. When the door creaks open, a life-sized cutout of Linda Tripp flies into my face. I bat it away, then the Lizard, in a trench coat and a ski mask, hops out from behind the door.

"Welcome to the Reality Switch Project," it says, holding a camcorder to its eye. "This is my attempt to get you to appreciate Halloween like a normal person, and not get so damn tangled up in those pesky real-life things you keep worrying about."

"Turn that thing off," I say, poking at the camcorder.

The Lizard shakes its head, refusing. "Repeat after me. ‘Trick or treat.’"

"Trick or treat," I say, reluctantly.

"Good," says the Lizard, rewinding the videotape. "Now, I’m going to show you how you look. How pathetic, how dull, how very unfun you seem. And then we’ll see if you get scared enough by traditional Halloween stuff to think it’s fun.

The Lizard, who’s recently taken a strange interest in videography, hits the playback button. It’s managed to make my voice come out of Melanie Griffith’s mouth.

"Aaaaaaaghhhh!" I scream, as the perky-faced Griffith mouths "trick or treat" at me.

The Lizard grins. "See? Isn’t that terrifying? And what could be more traditional than saying ‘trick or treat’? Are you convinced?"

"Mostly," I say.

"Right then. Get over here and see if this Powerpuff Girl outfit fits."

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