If you grew up in New York City, your Halloweens were a bit different than everyone else’s. They took place inside the tallest apartment building you could find in the neighborhood, or if you grew up like me in the Bronx, in your apartment complex of ten or twelve buildings. The old people gave you rolls of pennies and peanut chews, and you took the stairwell from floor to floor, or ran from building to building with your coat draped over your shoulders in the chill of the last night of October, clutching your little jack o’ lantern basket.
I’m super excited to feature Natalie Allen, a classmate of mine at the Beacon School on 61st Street and fellow actress, as my first contributor, telling her story of a New Yorker’s Halloween. For more of Natalie’s writing, head over to http://www.dailyromps.com :
The bright orange flyer would go up in the lobby every October: “Halloween Sign Up” in black letters flashed across the top, which only meant “Candy Excess Coming Soon” to my young eyes.
For weeks I’d watch the list grow as residents of my building would scribble their names down: “Lorna & Burt, Apt. 4F” and “Fred & Marty, Apt. 7H” names I recognized and scrutinized based on the previous year’s experiences. Mrs. Harper always gives away nasty candy corns in small sandwich bags: avoid her! Or: Marty has those huge, limited, Starburst packages if you get there early… I’d carefully plan my candy route, taking into consideration all the stairs I had to climb and the length of my costume.
The building I grew up in is an eleven story, double sided, Victorian style, upper-upper West Side Co-Op. Halloween parties were taken very seriously as, over the years, the population of children boomed. I was the eldest of my generation of kids, running around the hallways and screaming after school when we treated the fifth and sixth floor like a suburban street. Clarence, Ned, Jane, Sonya, Collin, my sister and I would make epic games out of a bastardized version of street hockey and wickedly brutal dodgeball tournaments. Being that I was the eldest, I usually held my own amongst the boys of our group, and Halloween candy hunting was no exception.
The hauls were epic. Plastic pumpkin heads full of Jolly Ranchers, Milk Duds, Twix and (the coveted) Snickers were traded amongst the 5th and 6th floor gang at great cost. I hated the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and always made great profit on trading them for the not-so-widely-desired Milky Ways.The strategy for gaining the most candy came in picking the best floor to start on. Do you begin at the top and work down, risking the stalling elevator full of costumed parents and tots? Or, running with a pounding heart, did you race up the first ten flights and work down, skipping the eleventh floor entirely? The crowds were frightening to come upon as the Helicopter Moms would swoop down and berate us older kids for “taking more than the fair share” which I always found infuriating. If you can’t keep up, that’s your problem, I’d think sullenly if ever told to dole out some of my candy to the snotty baby firemen or stupid red-faced fairies I chanced to run in to in the crowds. “There’s not enough candy, young lady” was the excuse I got for years.
It wasn’t until college, when I left the city to go to the suburbs of Long Island, did I realize what non New York City kids did. Paraded around with their parents or baby-sitters or walking in tight groups, the kids would totter around to large houses, slowly walk up a lawn full of creepy smiling witches, and ring a doorbell where a flyer about Christ would get handed out along with a poorly chosen piece of candy (like licorice: Yuck!). My mind was blown when I first encountered how easy it was to grab scoop-fulls of candy from bowls that even the next morning would still be full of sweets. My days of scrambling to grab boxes of coveted Milk Duds while racing ten feet to the next door was not in the same stratosphere as the suburbs. Even the drugstores and supermarkets of Stony Brook, Long Island were so well stocked with candy that I quickly learned the best way to score the largest haul would be to wait until the morning of November 1st and buy up the whole aisle for 5 bucks.
Where was the excitement in that? Excess in the ‘burbs only created a happy, eat-till-you’re-sick-then-eat-more mentality that replaced the stringent candy saving technique I had to learn in grade school where I’d choose a piece of candy for lunch every day and see how long I could make my stash last into November. I abhorred the lazy, “what’s the hurry?” mentality of the Long Islanders and yearned for the quick think-on-your-feet dash that was my upbringing. I still do.