October, the month of candy, brought out the worst in all of us on the block.
Roaming the streets of our neighborhood back in the day was crazy “yo” during Halloween. (That’s my street cred vernacular) This ain’t no G rated story, kids. This time, Ben’s going third person hardcore: BG 13.
If you can refer to Halloween as a holiday, this one became vicious, not just because of the candy, but how long that candy could last within a square mile of four gangs: one for each block. For us, Halloween was similar to Hanukkah because the candy lasted, at the most, eight days….if you were lucky. Our Halloween Hanukkah was not about giving and receiving gifts for eight days or lighting candles, it was about coveting your pillowcase full of candy you received the night of Halloween and protecting it for the following seven days.
October 31st was not the most threatening of these Gangsta days, because you were usually with and protected by your gang. As the youngest and easiest target for a pillowcase candy raid, I probably required full-time back up from our gang of misfit boys, but I was too young to follow those instructions. Strolling down those Fall streets when darkness blew in, and when candy was the drug of choice at the age of eight, walking alone wasn’t a settling or intelligent idea. I could be a rogue during the day, but on that night, I was told to remain with my pack. Sure, I had my own weapons if our gang was busy kicking in pumpkins when I’d rather be ringing doorbells and collecting the goods at each house. Some of our members were for tricking before treating. That’s not the way I rolled. I was in it for the “stuff”. Therefore, while my gang was tricking, I’d meander a house or two down the road, which doesn’t sound too dangerous, but in this neighborhood, we had all kinds of predators waiting for the weakest of the tribe risking his candy when going alone. If you’ve ever watched The Discovery Channel or read National Geographic, when the cub leaves its pride, or the goose leaves its gaggle, it’s never a happy ending. The candy…..it’s an addiction, and you are willing to risk all the candy you have just to get more of it.
Traveling as a bindlestiff, or Hobo, I carried the stick to ward off any older boy dressed as a ghost. Making sure my stick was made by an older brother in a junior high wood shop class, one of them would make certain it was made of either mahogany (one of the heaviest of woods) or rattan. My choice was rattan. (The same used when fabricating a Singapore caning stick) Light, smooth, not deadly, but vicious enough letting the teenage ghost draped in his mother’s bed sheet know that even a ghost can have a lacerated ass. An additional weapon was the bag attached to the cane. Sugar sharks never saw that one coming. It wasn’t loaded with what they thought was useless pillow stuffing, (marshmallow placebos) but rather, hard candy. When ringing the doorbell of any old lady down the street, I provided the proper “Trick or Treat!” as well as “Thank you” and then received the useful ammunition: thirteen year old peppermint bullets to protect myself from imminent danger. Quickly, stuffing the peppermint bullets in the bindle, I created a diversion from the good candy in my pillow case. This bag of hard candy felt like a bag of rocks when swinging it like a wild hobo. My predator’s teeth would look like Chicklets in his bag if my aim was accurate. Forceful, and directed at his yellow grill I could easily spot through the soft whiteness of his silky smooth Downy sheet, he would feel pain and shame at the precise moment of impact. Sadly, for the phony ghost, the flowery scent gave him away; right away. Those sheets were far too fresh to believe a corpse was hiding beneath. The last weapons were the two apples in my baggy trousers used to fend off a candy predator. These must be used with extreme precision. If you do not get a direct hit, meaning right in the nose, you will be rendered helpless, and your pillowcase full of the good stuff will vanish like an ex wife…..only you aren’t happy about it. Now, you may be wondering why one may not utilize the pillowcase as a last resort. Absolutely not. In candy wars, that’s considered a candy war crime. Have you ever eaten a Milky Way without caramel? (I guess that’s called a Three Musketeers Bar, and they suck.) Have you ever eaten a Snickers when all the nuts have fallen out? Have you ever tried to eat a Twix and there is no cookie crunch……only sandy rubble? These precious treats must remain intact before you make it to home base. You can only allow the ghost or candy burglar to pry it from your cold, wet, and freezing fingers. So, after learning my lesson, I did need a gang.
After a little hazing, my brothers and their friends let me join. It was harmless. “Get me a glass of milk. Go out and fetch the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit edition from the mailbox, and don’t open it until I let you. Also, there better be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting for me…….and none of that stinkin wheat bread!”
I would oblige, and thus be sworn in as a certified member of The Gannon Gang. We were also known by some of the neighborhood parents as “The Melting Pot Roasts”. Although Irish and Catholic, we welcomed others with open fists and bags requiring only loyalty for one another and candy. The three true Gannons were my brothers, Tom, Greg and myself, all Irish Catholics who could be forgiven for mostly anything after this night. We also had a Chavez. He was Tom’s good friend and also a Catholic. He played rough. This Latino could only be forced to go to church when he HAD to be forgiven. Once, I watched him steal a maple bar from a rival gang member just to throw it in the dumpster before Halloween! This would get the maple syrup warfare juices flowing, so I understood his tactics. That’s a waste of sugar. I prayed for him and that maple bar that night.
There were a couple of Lineruds in our gang. (I could only assume they were Scandinavian because of their smell of pickled herring and stench of loyalty.) One was tough, but the other was just crafty. The latter was so stingy that he’d hide Jolly Ranchers in places of his body where nothing should be jolly; Perhaps crude, but indeed shrewd, none of us would trade candy with that dude. They both fit in.
We were a group of semi pacifists running around with a white shadow: me. You couldn’t hide my white afro with a sombrero. I was a hobo. I didn’t have money for a haircut or a common hat. Nothing could hide my locks on that evening. I was like a Halloween Baby Nuisance. Because of me, I made our gang an easy target.
The other gangs and unusual suspects:
Some of the gangs we could only identify by their breath and weak use of the English Language. There was the notorious “Carbone Clan”. They ran the local carnivals and were easy to spot, yet difficult to diagnose. Guilty of crimes such as letting a ride at the carnival go too long or stop too short, they knew we had a weakness for their profession, but we knew they had a weakness as well; They were wildly spooky, because they’d turn on themselves just as soon as they’d turn on us. Our gang would fight amongst ourselves over the last cracker jack, but we had a code. At dusk, you stick by your boys. With the Carbones, even at dusk or the carnival, it was every rotten tooth for himself.
Their family did indeed run the carnivals. And by ran, I mean ran the rides. When I’d show up to a carnival and a Carbone was running the Sizzler, Hammerhead, or the Zipper, I’d choose the baseball bottle toss. I’d lose money, but I’d be safely grounded. The toughest part about this gang was that they had a Carbone Godfather and Godmother. If we messed with the Carbones, we were messing with their parents and anyone else working the carny circuit as well.
Since our diet of candy only consisted of a few Ding Dongs a year, we weren’t dependent upon Halloween during those times much like a lion must have a drink in the Serengeti when a drought annually nears. Luckily, we had potatoes each night to fulfill our starch requirements. There would never be another Irish Potato Famine in our house. Candy was the Carbones’ staple. Living in a carnival atmosphere, once you go cotton candy on someone’s ass, you can never go back. At this time of year, they became sugar zombies, only surviving by eating the flesh of a Mars Bar or Charleston Chew. Apples for us came in handy with these ruffians. Pin point precision wasn’t necessary with an apple they looked upon as a nutritious grenade. Yank that stem out with your mouth and toss the apple up in the air and they’d scatter like a loft of pigeons. We outsmarted them. Lord knows, I couldn’t outrun those hyenas dressed as scary clowns.
The Castor Oil Gang:
The Castor Oil gang was different, because they were strangely indifferent. I guess you might consider them the agnostic gang on our block. They’d be happy to throw a rock, rotten potato, or grab a wad of milk duds from your stash and throw them at you at point blank range like an automatic beebee gun, but they’d laugh doing it. So, we were cool with them because we were similar. There was no hint of danger, just some pain. Our fights would end with a white flag and a shake of a greasy hand, but they weren’t rough, just tough. And if we needed anyone on our side, we’d summon the Castors. They were just as nervous about the Carbones as we were. Since the Carbones recruited adults from any valley carnival, we were outnumbered. That’s when the Castor Oils and The Gannons would unite. We’d always win. You see, the easy way to beat a Carbone IS on Halloween. I don’t know much about drugs, but I do about candy. Have you ever witnessed a guy on crack settling for just a couple beers? I haven’t, but I’ve seen one try on t.v.. It doesn’t satisfy their desire. The Carbones were trying to come down from the most sacred of spun sugars, cotton candy, and thinking a mere tootsie roll could relieve them of this sick desire was preposterous. Apples, Laughy Taffy, Baby Ruths, and if you were lucky, a Mr. Goodbar could be waved at them like it was Carbone kryptonite. Game over. To the victor goes the candy.
Latter Day Neighbors (LDN):
Our most formidable foe, the Latter Day Neighbors, were hot on our candy trail. I take full responsibility for this rivalry and misgivings amongst two gangs who can coexist, just not when you are an eight year old moron like I was, believing the only difference between Latter Day Neighbors and Catholics was a football team.
I didn’t realize this until much later in life, but the Latter Day neighbors’ insatiable desire for candy far outweighed Irish Catholics’ insatiable need for beer. Forgive me Father, but I was only eight. The Mormons made the Carbones look like hummingbirds…..harmless. Scaring the living holy ghost out of me, they had the entire Morman Tabernacle Choir on our ass like we were to be their next wives! In attempts to steal our candy, Greg, our generally focussed commander would shout, “It’s every Gannon for himself! Let’s get the hell out of here before they bring Brigham Young himself! Ben, RUN, you little goofy bastard”, (he used to affectionately call me that even though I did have a father, but he was looking out for me) I ran like heaven and we all made it back to home base. Our attackers stopped at our house as though it was some sort of forcefield. Many of them realized they weren’t wearing their protective pajamas. Peacefully, they strolled back home. They were very good people and we made peace. I once traded one of my dad’s beers for one of their Nestles’s Crunch. Fair deal. All was well outside the house, but not within.
The aftermath was more like a sigh of relief, but you had to still take extreme caution for those next seven days where you’d hoard, hide, trade and yes, even steal amongst your own. It was like smelling napalm the next battle friendly morning. Nothing was over until the candy decides it is.
You awakened the next morning not with a candy hangover, but feeling as though you conquered a block. You and your bag had a mission. You think the mission is accomplished. It’s candy euphoria, but you also awaken to the most evil, and sinister of vices…..candy paranoia. Candy can bring out the worst in anyone. These brothers, friends, and loved ones stared at your bag as thought it was filled with gold. They didn’t stare at me. They stared at the bag. When your own brothers are willing to steal your gold, this is where a hunted mouse like me must fight the food chain with his brain, since he has no braun. You set traps for the cats.
You begin when all your older brothers and members of the gang are tired from the pumpkin smashing and praising their bags like common popcorn ball pirates. (I only liked the red ones, and it was my one candy weakness, because I knew they wouldn’t last, and there was only one trustworthy neighbor who distributed them minus the strychnine.) While eating their popcorn balls like it was a giant sphere of sticky rum, I’d hide my candy in places of our house and outside our house no one wished to venture. We had closets, an attic, vents and a chicken coop. Chickens don’t eat packaged candy. My candy was safe.
The Candy Stones:
The Silverbacks and the Goldsteins beat us all at our game of candy warfare. Although not related, they figured outsmarting the Gannons, the Castors and the Carbones was the only way to win this battle. They knew we would exhaust three quarters of our candy before they could snatch the last quarter up. We called them the Candy Stones. Initially, I didn’t understand the term, but remembering the hard candy rings draped around their fingers, it made sense. They also wore silly hats which didn’t have a bill. We sometimes referred to them as the Candy Hoes. It seemed as though they were pimping candy for a profit, not a cavity. This was a gang who had money and wanted to make more of it. They wandered down to our side from the North Side only when our legs were weary and our bellies were full of sugar. The Candy Stones didn’t know how to fight, but they knew how to barter, and more importantly, they knew we could never get enough sugar. And, that’s exactly what they needed…… desperation. It was Silverback and Goldsteins Guerrilla candy warfare. When we ran out of candy, they knew we still contained pennies in our pockets, and they wanted all those pennies. The Candy Stones didn’t fight with their fists, they fought with their brains and their wallets, and could sense the smell of fear and money simultaneously. Sweet and Low packets they’d permanently borrow from the nearest International House of Pancakes were shrewdly used by them as candy currency. They would sell packets to us for any penny, nickel, dime or quarter we had left.
After that week of Halloween, and eventually running out of all our sugar as well as our change, the gangs would unite in a backyard or playground to play baseball or football. The sugar highs and lows would wear off, and we focussed on using our energy the right way. It didn’t matter if we were Irish, Latino, Scandinavian, Jewish, Mormon or Carbone, we recognized our differences, ultimately laughing about our differences and embracing them.
Happy Safe Halloween.