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FAMILY LIFE

Don't Be Spooked Out of Halloween Fun

October 26, 1989|MIKE SPENCER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The only creature that really gives me the willies at Halloween is the Myth Monster, a particularly ugly presence created by rumor and fear and generally sustained by the media.

It manifests itself this time of the year as the belief that there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of Freddie Krugers out there busily inserting needles and razor blades into apples--when they're not lacing candy and other treats with arsenic and LSD.

The difference between this monster and the tiny costumed creatures running around is that this one is real--so real that it has turned the lights out on what next to Christmas Eve was once the most joyful and carefree night of the year for children.

No one today would dare do as my mother did and hand out homemade popcorn balls and cookies; the streets would be littered with her goodies, because our children are instructed never to keep anything that has not been hermetically sealed at a factory.

Many of us no longer even let our children trick or treat, period. We send them to organized activities or maybe allow them to slip over to the next-door neighbor's--if the neighbor has been known to us for six generations and has signed a loyalty oath.

Even hospitals and private physicians have gotten into the act, providing X-ray equipment to scan the children's loot.

I suspect that there is more danger in the radiation from those machines than there is in anything they might detect--at least until X-rays are able to pick out sugar content and harmful chemical additives.

You see, like most myths with which we live, this one, as far as I can figure out, has absolutely no basis in fact.

After tracking the phenomenon for about 15 years, I have not been able to find a single documented incident of anyone ever perpetrating such a grotesque crime as putting needles, razor blades, poisons or drugs in Halloween treats.

Lt. Richard Olson, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, partially confirms my suspicions. He can't speak for other law enforcement agencies, but "in the five years I've been here, I've never seen an actual case of tampering (with Halloween treats)," he said.

There was one incident in Los Angeles of a father poisoning his own children for insurance and blaming doctored treats, but that's as close as I have found.

And I did think I was finally going to be proven wrong about six years ago when TV and newspapers trumpeted the arrest of a West Los Angeles woman on just such charges. Turned out, however, that the police had made a minor error--one that in the end cost them about the price of 20 new patrol cars.

This is not to say our streets are perfectly safe for children, at Halloween or any other time. They are not. There are more than enough drunk drivers and other fools to make them otherwise.

It is also not to say that introduction of harmful treats is impossible. And God knows I'm not saying that there are no crackpots out there. Just look at the state Legislature.

What I am saying is that you do not need armed guards on Halloween, just a little prudence and common sense.

Make sure that your children have flashlights, that their costumes are made of flame-retardant materials, that they travel in groups (with an adult along if they are younger than 10), that they do not eat too much and wind up sick and that they do not stay up too late (it is, after all, a school night). And certainly go through their loot to make sure there is no moldy stuff or wrappings that have been opened.

I guess I am concerned about still another holiday turning into a commercial monstrosity, just one more giant piece of bait to get us all into the shopping malls.

And I miss the days when I had to worry about running out of treats, of panicking when I did, of sending someone scurrying to the market to replenish supplies while I raided the piggy bank for pennies and nickels, of scouring the pantry for something acceptable to put in those sacks.

I guess more than anything else, I miss the one evening of the year when I could count on meeting, however briefly, every kid who lived within a couple of square miles of my place.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against making life safer for children. I support almost anything that will keep them out of harm's way.

I just don't believe in lying to them.

"The bogyman is going to get you" is a line that should have gone out about the time William McKinley was elected President and we entered the 20th Century.

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