Let’s Dress It Up Clean, For a Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween BannerTo be fair, I was only a teenager when I went to a Halloween party in black face. What did I know about it? All I knew of black face were grainy clips of a white guy in dark makeup crooning “Mammy” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” with sparkling, white-gloved ‘jazz-hands.’ I didn’t know what to make of the minstrel show clips I saw as a child, but I observed everyone having a good ‘ole time. All the banjos and slap-happy dancing folks didn’t seem oppressed to my childish eyes.

I could have chosen to caricature a multitude of races and creeds for my Halloween enjoyment. In the late 70s and early 80s when I was trick-or-treating, Mexicans, Arabs, Chinamen, and Indian Chiefs were neighbourhood favourites. A costume choice to lampoon any of these other groups would have been far less utterly self-disparaging.

At this point, it’s probably relevant to mention that I am black. A black kid in black face. Sadly, I was not dressed as an “ironic” Al Jolson. At the time, my understanding of irony was as ill-formed as the lyrics of an Alanis Morrisette song.

Not to defend such self-abnegating ignorance, but I did grow up in one of the WASP-iest white families on earth. All of my best friends were white, my local television celebrities were white, everyone at the country club was white. The Beatles best album was white. Cripes, even the food I ate was white – potatoes, cauliflower, butter and crumpets, turnips, cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese and the unsightly brown crusts cut off. With the exception of the inconvenient fact of the skin-colour thing, I was a white dude, inside and out.

I saw other ethnic groups and creeds with the eyes of any other teenaged white kid at the time: in narrow racist terms. The various peoples of the world offered a buffet of stereotypes and parodies to nourish my insatiable appetite for small-minded, xenophobic amusement. It was the culturally insensitive prerogative we white folks thrive on.

Life is Too ShortI don’t want to be a party pooper about this stuff. Hey, I’m pointing the finger as much at yours truly as anyone else. The skin on that finger may be slightly dark-ish, but the bones inside are as white as Tommy Hilfiger and the people he makes clothes for; which fill my own closet.

Halloween is all about the fun; about kids dressing up, trick-or-treating and running like banshees on a sugar-rush. Adults young and old will head off to Halloween parties and engage in the ritual of binge-drinking, serial groping, dry humping, and projectile vomiting. The combination of alcohol and anonymity afforded by costumes will embolden party-goers in their quest to end the evening screwing like the werewolves and trolls they purport to be. Let’s hope the legions who slither out of their mystery date’s bed for the “walk of shame” the next morning will have done nothing more than picked up an easily treatable itch and a fleeting tinge of regret; that all will have been done in good, clean fun.

But amidst all the good-natured Halloween shenanigans is a shadowy side that brings out of the woodwork the latent racism, intolerance, and insensitivity lingering in our midst. It’s time the knuckle-dragging apparition was chased away from the festivities, once and for all. Here’s how: peel yourself away from the social media feed before you head out, look in the mirror, and think.

Thinking. That shit is hard, I know. It’ll only take a few seconds, I promise.

There. Now you can put that stuffy, dusty intellect back in the attic with the other relics of humanity’s evolutionary pre-eminence and get back to being the best debauching troglodyte you can be!

Who can forget, just a few years ago, Prince Harry going to a Halloween party dressed as Hitler? On his way, the Prince would have breezed past dozens of people at Buckingham Palace camped out in his SS regalia. The flurry of panic as Her Majesty’s Royal PR machine scurried across Westminster Abbey’s marble floors in damage-control could have been avoided if only those at Court had seen fit to point out the oversight, “Pray Hal, good chap, do forgive the presumption, but wouldn’t Napoleon be a trifle more a propos as choice of amusing rogue than the mad man who exterminated Jews, reduced the world to bedlam, and nearly demolished your family’s kingdom for kicks?” Loyal establishment friends are dreadfully hard to find.

Since 9-11 the profound dearth of creativity and imagination in our culture inevitably spawns countless variations on a theme of Osama bin Laden at Halloween. Scores of frat boys wield toy AK-47s, brandish any garment on their head as a turban, flub crappy hindu accents, and pretend to extol jihad. Apparently, they are dressed up as “terrorists,” a parody which, in their mind, shouldn’t warrant outrage from anyone.

Except, the bong-soaked performances of “the terrorist” are robbed of their poignancy by the sheer magnitude of ignorance and stupidity these morons bring to bear upon it. They end up mocking whatever they think passes for an Arab or Muslim – typically a South Asian – and half-heartedly parrot the lie they’re being a “terrorist.” In reality they’re projecting the pea-brained idea that every Muslim is either a terrorist or a sleeper-cell supporter.

It’s rare to see anyone idiotic enough to dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween. But it still happens, especially among little kids whose parents obviously need sensitivity training. In Canada, where I live, the plan to obliterate aboriginals was executed by stealing children away from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were abused by servants of God in the hopes of making good white folks out of them. Acts and policies were promulgated to passive aggressively deny and paper-over their existence in the nicest, typically ineffectual Canadian way possible. The US was more honest in its approach, setting about the task of obliterating American Indians as Americans do best: with armed possies and a shitload of guns.

Given this sordid history, it’s more than politically incorrect for the would-be exterminators to misrepresent a cute “Indian” simply because a few US professional sports franchises and their millions of oblivious, adoring fans can’t imagine something less offensive as a moniker. Imagine if some rich douchebag called his baseball team the “Atlanta Honkies” and fashioned as the team mascot a bland dip-shit with a mullet, who eats Spam sandwiches on white Wonder Bread, dances like a moron with a sparkling, toothy overbite, and berates fans with racial epithets.

Well, maybe that would be funny. Can someone, anyone, come up with a slur that actually offends a white person? In any case, being an “Indian” for Halloween is offensive and lame.

Well, unless you’re trying to be a “sexy Indian”, that is, at least if this flyer in my newspaper today is to be believed. Okay, so if the costume is basically two strips of faux-leather cotton just large enough to cover the nipples and girly parts down below, you have a headband with one feather in the back, and your hair in pigtails, then you’re a “sexy Indian,” which is apparently fine because it is more slutty than racist.

But not really. The point of this costume is to brag about your body by revealing as much of it as possible without being arrested for indecency. The costume will be a testament to just how little food and how much time at the gym the person wearing it has indulged in lately.Slutty Halloween Card

We should applaud a woman who is confident, proud of her body, and uninhibited enough to go virtually naked in public. She should not be concerned that men will interpret the costume as an invitation, or fear that when drunk, they will feel entitled to act on the alleged invite. Those men will have to impart a little more civilization into their rape-acculturated minds so they don’t assume a woman’s titillating choice of attire is a substitute for consent. But hey, svelte ladies, if you want to strut your stuff on Halloween, do so as cat-woman, wonder woman, or Pebbles instead of Pocahontas or Sacajaweah. Deal?

The slutty genre of Halloween costume should be off the table for young girls. Girls should not be encouraged to objectify and sexualize themselves until they’re old enough to be that self-effacing. It’s appalling how many parents seem willing to tout the alleged sex appeal of their young daughters. Only the pedophiles out there appreciate the effort. Parents who send their little girls into the world looking like pole dancers and pin-up girls ought to be ashamed for the deviant sexual appetites they whet.

So here’s a challenge, avid Halloweeners: choose something fictional, tasteful, and age-appropriate as a costume. Be creative. Be a Muppet, a pirate, a character from Dr Who. Be a superhero, a gorilla, or a rooster. Just don’t be a Zulu tribesman, a Sherpa, a Geisha, a prostitute, or a slutty version of any specific creed of human being.

If your costume depicts another group of existing people you are not among, refrain. If you’re a knucklehead like me, it’s not okay to mock your own kind. It’s like extending a hall pass to bigots, who’ll feel uninhibited as they roam the cultural landscape freely airing their racist views, thanks to your active hand in reinforcing them.

Bad taste may not be illegal, but it is not in the realm of exercising your right to free speech if you choose to be a racist dip-shit in your Halloween costume. It’s actually closer to hate speech, depending on how you play it. The everyday look of people in other parts of the world isn’t the makings of a Halloween costume; it’s their clothes. The differences we exaggerate for our entertainment are rooted in traditions, cultures, and religious beliefs whose nature we can’t fully understand. These are facets of human beings not rightly lampooned just because they appear foreign, exotic, or silly to us.

A little thought will go a long way to making sure you’re not being an insensitive jackass in your choice of attire for Halloween festivities. Your presence will add to the fun and enjoyment of others this year and increase the odds the little kids watching you won’t become Archie Bunker adults, like me and my white homies of generations past.

So get out there and dress up for a brighter future!

Happy Haunting End Banner

E K Saunders, Paper Boy Inc.

Back in those heady days, it was the robber barons and me. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Edmund K Saunders - not pictured.

Back in those heady days, it was the robber barons and me. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Edmund K Saunders – not pictured.

I was a pre-teen scion of industry, my fortune made on the heels of a massive paper route conglomerate. In a few short years I’d gone from one measly route, which paid the bills, to four routes, which bought the bling.

Riley Jackson was an army-brat whose dad was shipping out to Germany to the front lines of the Cold War, where he’d be shining up the tanks parked on NATO’s eastern flank to scare the shit out of the Reds. Riley offered me his paper route before he left for the land of lederhosen. I’d sometimes walk with him as he delivered his papers and go collecting with him whenever we fancied a fix of extra-large Slurpees to give us brain freezes and nights tripping out on a sugar high. I knew I wanted that route for my own.

My enthusiasm wasn’t diminished by the fact that, where I lived, winter meant plugging in cars so they’d start in the morning. In my town exhaust fog was a weather condition, created by a surge of instantly frozen exhaust billowing from cars as they pushed off when traffic signals changed red to green. If you sniffled too hard, your nostrils would freeze shut. Your earlobes would turn to little nubs of frozen-solid skin in minutes and your tongue and lips could stick to the zipper on your jacket, painfully tearing flesh as you pulled them off.

I was a typical kid – undeterred by the harshness of the winter – and was quickly hooked on the combination of easy work and even easier money. We would get a “bill” from our “manager” based on the papers on our route. Any money we could collect from the subscribers on our route over and above our bill was ours to keep.

Such a scheme would be out of the question today. But back in the early eighties, it was a form of child labour our culture didn’t abhor. It was a time when the idea of unsupervised ten year olds knocking on strange adult’s doors on evenings and weekends, stepping into their homes, and haggling them for money didn’t seem to bother a soul.

Among my customers I faced scores of adult pathos, loneliness, and perversion well before any of my peers. I didn’t fully apprehend some of the phenomena I’d witnessed, but was struck by the intuition that something was off. ‘Adults are fucking weirdos,’ I thought.

I concluded there must have been something dubious and corrupting about adulthood that transformed people who ostensibly started out like me into lunatics. I could hardly wait to walk that adult gauntlet, the idea not tempered in any way by the reality I’d probably become a bona fide nut-job like many of my customers. Adults didn’t live with their bossy, apoplectic mothers and slobber-faced brothers, at least back then, two realities that outweighed the negative baggage.

After a year, I had bought out the paper routes of the other, less energetic, less earnest kids who delivered papers in the town-house and apartment complex where I lived. Four routes had become one route. All mine. I was an entrepreneur, a master of my own destiny, and I loved it. I didn’t have to ask my poor, single mother for money she didn’t have. I imagined I was saving her the guilt of being unable to provide any frills for her kids. I was happy to take the burden off and make my own way in the world.

The amassing of such a large area of responsibility required creativity to minimize the imposition on my life and keep complaints down. I paid well below what I made to get friends to help, anticipating Wal-Mart’s shabby labour practices long before they made the company billions. I extorted my brother with threats of wedgies, wet-willies, and noogies. I considered myself a benevolent older brother for extending the option.

I had an iron-clad memory and was a visual thinker. Every customer got their paper because I had all two-hundred homes in my route committed to memory. I didn’t need to rely on a list to deliver my papers like the feeble-minded schlubs who had the routes before me.

My route had four apartment blocks and fifteen clusters of town houses. I could get it done in under an hour, most days. At the start of the route I had to find a way to carry four stuffed newspaper bags. On Saturdays, when the paper was full of extras, I looked like a Sherpa carting supplies for an expedition up Mount Everest.

It's true, you really can find anything on the internet, including a picture of your eleven year-old self heading out to deliver his load of Saturday papers. Man, the inter-web never ceases to amaze.

It’s true, you really can find anything on the internet, including a picture of your eleven year-old self heading out to deliver his load of Saturday papers. Man, the inter-web never ceases to amaze.

I mapped out the most effective, efficient way to get my papers delivered fast to make sure folks would have their paper in time to stuff their faces with Hamburger Helper and watch the evening news. Delivering to all my customers in the apartment buildings was fast and easy. The main stairwell went up the middle of these three-storey buildings, separating each floor into a left and right hall. So, I’d start with the apartment’s stack in my arms and run down the left hallway of the first, second, and third floors tossing papers as I ran past each door. Then I’d do the same on the right side of the building to get down. A friend timed me, and I finished a whole apartment in about two and a half minutes.

My customers were relieved to have me over the previous paperboys, who I learned were extremely unreliable. They had often made mistakes and many customers did not get their paper. When they did get it, it often came late, as they were ready to watch their M*A*S*H re-runs and hit the sack.

I also learned my predecessors weren’t much conversation, which didn’t build the goodwill needed to have people overlook their shabby performance. I was well-spoken enough to offer more than a grunt in response to their mindless banter. I could carry a decent conversation, even if I couldn’t be less interested in its contents. I credit the years as a fly on the wall at my rich grandparents’ country club for insights on how to make obsequious idle chatter if it meant cheddar in the bank. Compared to the knuckleheads before me, E K Saunders Paperboy Inc. was a benchmark of customer service.

The size of my route meant I had to be strategic with collections. There were several lonely widows on my route. I couldn’t collect from too many of them in one night, especially if it was on an evening before my bill was paid. They’d wait with their door open and a fresh batch of cookies, wooing me away from my fruitless attempt to tiptoe past their door to the fire escape.

I was like a mouse, their offerings of sweets the favoured tune of these septuagenarian pied pipers. Before I realized I’d succumbed, there I was watching Family Feud with Mrs. McDougall in her housecoat and baggy stockings, wearing earmuffs to protect my hearing from the volume on her television, which was louder than a stack of Marshall amps at a Judas Priest concert.

If I hit too many of these old ladies it would take weeks to collect and, over time, would end up morbidly obese. My belly had quickly reflected the fruits of my success; I was getting chubby from the junk food my wealth afforded. I could never decline gracious offerings of baked goods from customers because I was polite, weak-willed, and eleven.

There were several pervy women on my route. One would answer the door in mid-riff revealing teddies and slinky pajama bottoms, and I couldn’t help but notice it was always cool and bra-less in her apartment. Another would throw the door open with a warm “hi sweetie,” and float angelically to her credenza to get her loot. Her bouncy, perky bosom would send a flurry of waves cascading through her gown, the breeze of her gait lifting it to reveal glimpses of alabaster flesh beneath.

I’d given her a newspaper, but she’d given me a chapter of an Anaïs Nin novel every two weeks. It seemed unfair to charge her for the papers, but I would never have been able to live my very own version of Delta of Venus if I didn’t collect, so I took the money, reluctantly. The memories kept me enthralled in teenaged masturbatory bliss for years to come as I imagined countless iterations of what could have transpired had I been just a little older, or had they been willing pedophiles.

I realized there was a species of female vastly unlike my flabby, lumpy, stubby mother. This exotic variety of female had skin like butter and bodies with curves and dimples in places that left a tingling, alert sensation in a part of my body that my eleven year old self hadn’t quite got to know yet, but really was beginning to enjoy. I never, ever went collecting in sweatpants when I planned to hit these homes.

Collecting payment from customers was at times a cat and mouse game. The brinkmanship between enterprising child and the irresponsible adults on my route was striking. It occurred to me the newspaper’s collections strategy was incredibly naïve, partly exploitative, and painfully lazy: “we’ll get children to be our accounts receivable because nobody would screw a kid out of his money, but if they do, well, it’s just kids.”

In essence, the newspaper had left it up to me and legions of ten year olds to keep the accounts of their adult customers in good standing. If I was to to be used as a pawn by my benefactors in their proxy war with deadbeat customers I would have to convincingly rattle my fledgling sabre in a standoff with the serial delinquents on my route, all of whom were men. I am proud to say my sabre was in very good hands.

I vomit in my mouth quite extensively whenever I think of how utterly terrible this show was and how vile they were for trying to extend the life of disco well past its well-deserved death.

I vomit in my mouth voraciously as I think of how utterly terrible this show was. The creators should be flogged for extending the life of disco well past its stale date. I am certain all the deadbeats on my route were over-biting to this show as they busied themselves with their Toni-curl perm kits.

Obviously, the first tack was to get them to pay the honest way. I’d hit their homes at all times: evenings, weekends, weekdays I was supposed to be home sick, weekdays where I’d just skip out on school, and holidays. The wily customers pretended not to be home, even when I could smell their dinner and hear them watching television programs ready-made for deadbeat putzes, like Solid Gold, and The Love Boat.

I carried my collections book all the time. I was a soldier and it was my rifle. If I happened to see the lights on at the bums’ apartment, I’d ditch my friends, buzz Mrs. McDougall or other widow to let me into the building and knock on his door. Inevitably the deadbeat’s hearing was off. I imagined they were taking their sixth dump of the day because they lived on a diet of pizza pops and cola; that they were jerking off to smut magazines, because no woman would ever want to be with losers who bilk innocent children of their hard-earned money. In my pre-adolescent fury, I kicked doors to send an unequivocal message: I know you’re in there, scumbag, it’s only a matter of time.

I had another army-brat friend named Randy who was a little older than I. He had a massive chip on his shoulder, which I assumed was because he’d moved ten times in his thirteen years and couldn’t keep friends, which made him even more angry about it. I’d walked his paper route in the past, and he taught me all the dirty tricks to deal with delinquent and annoying customers, but also how to bat your lashes and grease the nice customers for extra tips.

Randy was always practicing his Tae Kwon Do on me, making me his figurative and literal shadow boxer. He seemed to be perpetually readying for the inevitable battle with a band of thugs who would surround him, taunt him by calling him a “dog”, and leave him only one means of escape from the indignity – with a fist – just like Bruce Lee. He was either unco-ordinated as hell or he meant to kick me in the face repeatedly. I’d kick him in the balls “by accident” on many other occasions when he would least expect it. I could be a vengeful little prick myself, and reasoned that, if he was such a ninja warrior, he should have been able to stop it from happening.

Thanks to Randy, I could kick the shit out of a door, and butter up a customer as cheap as Scrooge, or crusty as Genghis Khan and get a tip at Christmas. That kid could charm the pants off of the Wicked Witch of the West and dang it, so could I. One Christmas I made a hundred and fifty bucks in tips. The new year would be a banner year for sugar consumption, waistline expansion, and zit-creme expenditures.

I gave the bums who were in arrears a chance to be stand-up guys. I wrote my visits on the back of my collections book and left slips of paper under their door, which were always passive-aggressively pleasant. Looking back now, these people must have felt their delivery boy was either the son of a mobster or an Amway salesman.

Many evenings it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I coursing the townhouse complex in the shadows to sneak up on unsuspecting home-dwellers. Even as a child I thought they were earnest, deluded morons, but I felt a fraternity with them – we were confreres in the art of getting unwilling people to open up to our aims. We were toiling in our separate ways to absolve the heathen dwellers from their spiritual and financial sins.

If collecting didn’t work I’d change tactics by launching a shock and awe campaign of annoyance. I’d give them the most mangled paper at the bottom of the pile. I’d take the comics and sports sections from their paper – because, let’s face it, they were dudes and that’s all these morons read. I’d give them yesterday’s paper. I’d throw rocks at their window, play knock-knock on ginger at all hours, sneaking out of my home in the middle of the night just to unleash it. I’d leave creepy, angry notes in their mailbox, realizing years later how obvious it would have been to any half-witted adult that it was me, the only child in their life who had genuine reason to send them hate-mail.

Certain customers made me want to touch myself, just like the stories in this little ditty by Anais Nin.

Certain customers made me want to touch myself, just like the stories in this little ditty by Anais Nin.

For the worst deadbeats I’d find out what car they drove and get an ice-cream at Dairy Queen and squish it on their windscreen. I figured the buck fifty for the ice-cream was an investment – I had fifty bucks riding on the fact I’d wear them down. I’d break eggs on their car. I’d leave notes on their neighbours doors asking them to call me when the dipshit next door was in because he owed me fifty bucks for the paper. The bum who lived next to the Aphrodite paid up within days of the letter I slipped under her door. And he never was delinquent again. Looking back, I think I got that guy laid.

Humiliation, terror, harassment. No childish, angry tactic went untried. It never occurred to me one of these dirtbags would get really angry and want to unleash a world of hurt on my paperboy ass. Either way, it never happened, which I suppose I should be thankful for.

I told my manager all I’d done to collect the fees from the deadbeats. He laughed and said I was the wiliest bastard, son-of-a-bitch of a delivery boy he’d ever met.

I had this earning money thing down to a science. I never was wont for anything. I had the record collection to rival that of an adult enthusiast. I had Slurpees whenever, and wherever I wanted. If my friends with poor single mothers like mine wanted to go to a movie it was my treat. I bought pizzas for everybody.

I was a young tycoon. I was king of the world. Who needed school when you could make money so easily? Man, life was easy. Adults like my mom and all her lower middle class friends constantly struggling to make ends meet seemed to me at the time as a bunch of grade-A losers. The cost of housing, cars, utilities, and all the adult vices they over-indulged in to dress the perilous wounds of a squalid existence never factored into my shrewd assessment. The cost of chips, soda, slurpees, and pizza seemed a fair approximation to the costs of living, in my eleven year old eyes.

And then, as quickly as it began, the party was over. In nineteen eighty-three, my mother moved us to a new end of town. Not that it mattered. Soon the afternoon daily I delivered would decide to become a morning paper. I was a teenager. Mornings were like parents – they existed but I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Cartoons were no longer incentive enough to get me out of bed, especially when hormones and wet dreams kept me up all night. My years as a newspaper delivery baron would be behind me for good.

The money I’d saved held me in good stead until I was sixteen and began to acquire more big-kid tastes: cars and women. I’d need to get a job again, which I did very easily. And once again, in no time I had cash in the bank, a mint car, money for beer, parties, and a kick-ass wardrobe.

It strikes me now that my I could stand to tear some pages from my enterprising, industrious youth, because I don’t have money for extras like beer and parties and my wardrobe is decidedly discount-store in nature. I’ve been trying desperately to tap into the courageous, go-getter spirit I had as a child to see if he’ll take me back so we can pay some bills and have some fun.

He still thinks I’m a bit of a chump, but he’s warming up to the idea