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Coming to Praise Halloween, or Bury It?

October 27, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition

I'd like to start today with a public service announcement: Spring forward, fall back. Saturday night. OK?

If you're at all like me, most years you never know darkness is upon us until you see the little reminder in Saturday's paper, gloating, "As you know, Daylight Savings Time ends tonight. Don't forget to set. . ." But I don't know, so I couldn't forget if I wanted to.

And then I start getting paranoid: Everyone knew this but me? Have they been getting prepared for weeks, storing nuts in tree trunks and such, while I can't even figure out if falling back means my head is going to hurt more or less when the alarm goes off the next morning?

Isn't this season weird enough without having to go back on Daylight Squandering Time? I mean, in just a couple of days my doorbell is going to be ringing off the wall as a procession of Power Rangers, chain-saw murderers and Middle Eastern terrorists--not to mention the electric meter guy--show up at my door.

Or maybe they won't all show up. I was talking recently with actress Linda Blair, and she thinks Halloween as we know it is dying.

I always felt kind of sorry for Blair. Had the "Exorcist" star first made her splash today--rotating her head while spewing thick green bile--she'd be a shoo-in for at least senator in this state.

They talk about the negative campaigning now, but consider:

The Feinstein ad: "Huffington, the do-nothing, lying, greedy Texas oil millionaire Californians just can't afford, even with double coupons."

The Huffington ad: "Feinstein, the limousine-riding career politician who'll do anything to stay in power, and, besides, just lookit this ugly picture we've got of her."

The Blair ad: "Bleaghgh-phuuuuggglh!! Your mother chucks socks in hell! Pfu-Bleauuuuugggggh!!!"

She'd be the hands-down winner, don't you think?

Instead, her career peaked too early, and now she's stuck in Z-grade movie parts Herve Villechaize probably would have got, were he still alive, bless his little soul. And for the past couple of years Blair has been appearing around the country at Creep Festivals, such as the one presently winding down at Lion Country Center.

There, she signs autographs amid a gory tableaux of misbegotten mutants, spurting severed heads, Barney the dinosaur and other horrors. She thinks such events are the wave of Halloween future.

"You and I used to have fun as kids trick-or-treating, right? Well, some people had to take that joy away and make the streets unsafe and make it unsafe for people to stay home and open their doors for trick-or-treaters, because it can be endangering their lives. So I know that within a few years trick-or-treating will be no more," Blair said.

Instead, she predicted, families will abandon the tradition and turn their holiday over to the professionals, to the theme parks and Creep Fests.

I'd like to think she's wrong, for a number of reasons.

For starters, some horrible things do happen on the streets during Halloween, and every other night of the year. But true Halloween horrors on the whole are still very rare occurrences--I would guess less of a risk, statistically, than driving in your car. I don't personally know anyone who has had a bad Halloween experience, though I certainly know loads who have been in auto accidents. The conclusion I draw from this is that you should leave the car garaged and walk to work in a Mutant Ninja Turtle costume every day.

"I don't stay home on Halloween; do you?" Blair asked me.


"And open your door?"

"Sure do."

And I do--or at least get my roommate to, while I take off and have fun. And no one's machine-gunned us yet. Maybe that's because we give kids Snickers. When those run out, some years I give out these god-awful CDs the record companies are always sending us music critics. When those run out, I've been tempted to hand out those cute little bottles of airline booze. Old enough to carry a laser sword, old enough to drink: That's what I figure.

No, I wouldn't actually give liquor to kids. These lame CDs are enough of a mood suppressant. But I do think we could all loosen up a bit, in a wary way. There's no denying these times call for heightened caution, but there's a difference between that and abject surrender.

Our society has precious few traditions as it is, and I don't like ceding them all to corporate entities. Halloween is certainly a perq for those in the candy and costume industries, but it has still essentially been a community thing, one of folks on the block entertaining each other.

Music used to be that sort of a shared front-porch thing before it was thoroughly co-opted by industry. In most communities the Fourth of July has also become a hands-off, leave-it-to-the-pros event. There are fewer bad notes played; kids don't singe their hands or catch any roofs on fire. Instead we get to pay for a packaged experience and just sit there with our mouths agape. And now Halloween appears to be going that way.

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