LET INGA TELL YOU:
Halloween is approaching again — one of my most and least favorite holidays. But before we go further, let me make one thing clear: no matter what your teenager says he or she did on Halloween, they're lying.
I'm not trying to cast aspersions on your particular kid but after nearly four decades in a very Halloween-centric neighborhood (we get around 400 Trick or Treaters every year), I can attest that this is a night when kids who would normally never commit major vandalism are happily sucked into the vortex of group stupidity.
The first part of the Halloween evening is always pure fun: non-stop gremlins, princesses, and whoever the iconic figure of the moment is. We just stand on the front porch shoveling candy into pillow cases and plastic pumpkins as fast as we can and basically trying to act as traffic cops as one horde moves out and another moves in.
A friend who didn't grow up in the United States visited us one year asked why I wasn't spending more time chatting up the kids' costumes with them. Well, for one, you can't really do that if you're servicing 20 kids a minute. But more importantly, I told him, he needs to understand that from an American kid's point of view, Halloween is a business: maximum candy accrued in minimum time. More talk, less candy.
Inga: "Great Red Ranger Samurai costume!
Kid: (already half way down the steps): "Whatever."
But after 8 p.m., the fun stops when the little kids go home and the teenagers come out. The police would usually get called to our block at least six times when the egg and paint and shaving cream wars got out of control. Finally, the police got the message and just moved in en masse at 5 p.m. and set up a counter-offensive.
Seriously, we've had such a major police presence in our neighborhood on Halloween for the last several years that if Mitt Romney drove by on the way to his La Jolla digs (does he still live there?), he'd wonder why he didn't get that kind of attention. But in the 30-some years before that, it was pretty insane.
One year, a group of local teens thought it would be wildly good fun to break into a neighbor's house being remodeled and spray paint the new custom kitchen cabinets with black graffiti. Vandalizing cars, knocking over brick retaining walls, dumping trash cans out into the street, and breaking the occasional car window were all part of the merriment. But hey, it's Halloween! It's just kids being vandals, er, kids!
The police would invariably round up a group of miscreants, some of whom I would recognize since they were often neighborhood kids. (And let me make no insinuations that my kids were saints although I usually had a pretty solid handle on them on Halloween.) The officer would admonish the assembled reprobates that if he saw them again that evening, they were going to the substation. I guess you can't blame the police for not wanting to do the paperwork.
Sometimes I would see the parents of these kids in the next few days and say, "So what did Joey do for Halloween?" And Dad would say, "Oh, he just went over to a friend's house and they watched TV." Of course, that was back in the days when you could actually call over to someone's house and check on them. Not that anyone ever did, of course, because as Dad quickly added, he trusted Joey implicitly.
Trust your kid implicitly the other 364 days a year. Sometimes I'd mention that actually, the police had rounded up Joey and a bunch of other kids for vandalizing my block. Invariably — and we really are talking 100 percent of the time — I'd get a call back in a day or two that Dad had talked to Joey and Joey admitted that yes, he was there but he "wasn't doing anything, just watching." And Dad wanted to assure me that he trusts Joey's version of this implicitly.
No point in telling Dad that Joey, the lying little weasel, was actually one of the ringleaders of this operation. (As you can tell, I get testy when people vandalize my property.) But more to the point, it always stunned me that (a) I heard this excuse so often and (b) that parents would actually accept it.
I made so many mistakes with my children that they keep lists both alphabetically and chronologically. (Send stamped self-addressed envelope.) But the felony murder rule always applied: you were there, you were guilty. I would have laughed in their little faces if they'd ever tried to pull that excuse on me.
So folks, it's Halloween time again. I hope your teen has fun. But whatever he or she says they did, don't believe a word of it.
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at email@example.com