On Halloween, the neighborhood children dress up like neo-conservatives and go door to door spreading lies. This happens one Halloween out of every four—in other years they are cowboys with broomstick horses and toy guns drawn in the old stick-em-up-partner, or else ballerinas in tin-foil tiaras and doily white dresses bundled in bulky red overcoats they fought their moms not to wear. Those years they’re fine kids and can be reasoned with, and they deserve some name-brand candy. But every fourth, when the national elections heat up, their parents get hold of them, and they become demoniacs for free enterprise and the white race, their beady, innocent eyes steel blue like the life has been syringed from them and replaced with the warm liquid metal of little fascist visions. See them coming toward you in unstoppable lines, across streets, dressed in dark blue business suits stupid for street safety and below-the-knee blue businesswoman dresses with shoulder pads like right tackles. It’s village of the damned dressed from the sales rack at Sears.
“You can’t trust Bob Janney,” these kids say. “He’s a tax-and-spend liberal. Can I have a Snickers?”
“Did you know that Embryonic Stem Cell Research takes developing embryos from the still-growing wombs of unwed teen black mothers impregnated by Phil…by Phil Clinton?”
“Bill,” their mothers whisper helpfully from my hedges. “It’s Bill.”
“Stay out of my hedges,” I yell at them, “and keep your government hands off my body!” I add, even though I am a man.
Then, a Sugar Daddy for little Lisa, a bite-sized Twix for Jimmy, and one more fist pump for the Freedom Lover ruining my lawnscape. She flicks me back the one-finger victory salute.
This is what passes for Halloween in my neighborhood.
I suppose I could love it or leave it, but I hate it and stay.
Where would I go? If I packed the truck and kept driving for a preponderance of the correct yard signs, I’d be in the Pacific Northwest. Like Vancouver. Who knows if they even celebrate Halloween way up there?
Back in the eco-friendly heat of my house, I have some All Things Considered on tape somewhere. I think about yanking out the cassette that’s running—screeching cat noises and ghost boos piped to my front porch—and cranking up some pensive news and commentary instead. I think about razor-blading some apples or perhaps my wrists.
Honey tells me, if it bothers me so much, just don’t answer the door.
“That’s not the point,” I tell her. She’s sitting at the kitchen table snipping coupons. I go stand in the kitchen doorway so I can talk to her and readjust the seam on my pelvic bone; I’m dressed in my spooky skeleton suit, a black leotard with the bones drawn on with puff paint. I’ve worn it the last five years running and Honey thinks the worn-out bulges are getting obscene. “Turning a blind eye won’t stop this indoctrination,” I say. “These are just children. They’re supposed to love Halloween.”
“I always did,” she says. She’s moving the scissors horizontal, vertical, up, down, snip. Bargains relax her.
“Right, me, too! I loved it!” Honey and I live an honest good life and do things right per the progressive worldview—we go eco-lightbulbs, magazine subscriptions from every disadvantaged or handicapped kid who comes around, and I send a bunch of forwards every day to raise awareness—but that also means we’ve gone childless. How can we bring a child into the world, we think, with all this war and Orwellian whatnot? Back when I was a kid Halloween was about candy and Christmas about presents and politics more like fencing or smoking cigars, civilized. Things made sense. Then politics became a no-limit anything-goes steel-cage match, Christmas became culture wars and fake plastic baby Jesus and Halloween became the stump. “These parents,” I say again. “These knucklehead parents are ruining it! We can’t just bury our heads in the sand on this, Honey. We have to take wing! Pretty soon these kids will have children of their own, and the cycle of indoctrination will continue. And that’ll happen sooner rather than later, what with abstinence-only education.”
“It’s a mess,” she says.
“Damn right,” I say.
The doorbell moans like a ghoul.
“You’re really setting yourself up for disappointment,” Honey tries to tell me. “Maybe you should just boycott Halloween, election years.”
That’s one thing that disappoints me about Honey: her defeatist attitude. “We’ve got to fight this enemy where we find them, baby. That’s out on our own front porch.” I fiddle my pelvis back in place and practice my spooky skeleton two-step. Honey’s still clipping coupons but I can tell she’s embarrassed by my skeletology. I grab our big bowl of candy.
“Besides,” I say, “maybe this one’ll be more sensible.” Honey mm-hmms in a way that means doubt. I dance my dem bones through the living room to the front door, open it wide and make my noise. “Oooo-ooooo, Haaaaaappy Halloweeeeeeeeen.”
Standing on my front porch is a pudgy, pigfaced boy wrapped in bedsheets, carrying a plastic AK-47. He’s painted himself in brownface, and there’s a faded beach towel around his head in a turban.
I drop the skeleton act and stare.
“Now just what in the hell are you supposed to be?”
“I’m glad you asked me that, Mister,” the boy says, revving up for his pitch. The dark foundation under his mouth has rubbed off in streaks where he’s been chomping candy bars on the trail. “I’m Anytown Main Street USA, if Ted Booby gets elected.”
He pauses for a response and then takes my stunned disgust as an invitation to keep going.
“Did you know there are right now Talibans in Toyota flatbed trucks waiting just outside the county line for the moment Ted Booby gets elected? As soon as that happens, why there’ll be Talibans all over this place, converting us to Muslims and taking our factory jobs. Ted Booby’s their man.”
“Ted Booby’s running for coroner,” I tell the kid.
He thinks this over a second and picks nougat from his teeth. He scrunches his slack fat face like a pig figuring math. He shrugs.”Drumming up business,” he says finally.
I take two rolls of Smarties and nail him right in the middle of the turban. “Get the hell out of here,” I say. “You should be ashamed. Spreading hate like that.”
The kid narrows his eyes at me and palms the barrel of his fake gun. If that conceal-carry passes, he’ll be back. But then he swallows his pride and reaches down for the candy, scoops it up, and turns his fat ass back toward the crawling, half-dark, synthetic-material-lousy street.
“You need Jesus, mister!” he yells at me halfway down my drive.
“Booby for Coroner!” I yell back.
These kids is all I can think, watching the little bubba in brownface shuffling back into foot traffic, watching the cars and minivans and the wide urban assault vehicles pulling up and parking streetside and unloading their propagandized little spawn. I’m indignant watching all this and all I can think is the same indignant mantra, These kids. I’m so indignant I save it up until I’m back in my house and walk into the kitchen and then let it fly:
“These kids!” I say.
“I know,” Honey says.
“I mean, come on!”
“I know it.” Now she’s doing crosswords. After that, she’s got knitting lined up. She’s put on her black cat tiara I bought for her but she’s drawn the line at the tail, barely participating. It’s not that she’s apolitical; Honey’s got the funk. She’s had it for years, since that one election, the one we don’t talk about, what with the protests and the disputes and the courts getting involved, and then the families not speaking to each other and the late-night comics unsure whether to make fun of it all or run for the hills and then finally the National Guard called out to restore order everywhere. Ever since then, it’s become a red-and-blue, black-and-white world. Everything’s politics. I might not complain so much if the politics were a little saner and to my liking.
Back when, in our first-together days, we used to have so much fun, so much in common, passion. We would canvas bad neighborhoods for our good candidates and then spend close nights in bed with our bodies curled into a question mark. Sunday morning talk shows led to coffee and footsie. When we hug each other close now it’s like we’re waiting for a bomb to go off. But people deal with trauma in different ways, I guess: I get so mad I could shit myself, whereas Honey just folds inward and withdraws. She’s got a back drawer full of busted campaign buttons from failed tickets she keeps hidden away shameful like porn. She peeled the bumper stickers of yesterday’s promises off her trunk because she was tired of being pulled over for going two miles below the speed limit. One still barely reads America Can Do Better but only if you squint.
“Why don’t you just put the candy out in a bucket and let the kids take it?” she tells me. “You’re not going to change anyone’s mind by hitting someone with a sucker. Put out some literature they might take and read. How about the Howard Zinn book? You’ve got, like, how many copies of that one? Four? Five? Maybe their parents will read it and you can make a difference. I’m afraid you’re going to get arrested.”
“You think you can reason with them?” I say indignantly. “You think these people can be reasoned with?” It’s not a dare, but it sounds like one.
The doorbell groans in agony.
“Okay, I’ll try,” she says. She takes the bowl of candy from me. “After this, it’s bucket time,” she says.
She walks out of the kitchen and the door swings back my direction like a saloon door before a gunfight. I steady it from swinging and put my ear bones against it. I hear muffling sounds. No trick or treat. I hear a little voice sounding out the syllables in activist judges. Honey says something about the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. I hear a fake ray gun going off in a D-battery blaze and hope she’s all right. Silence. A second later I jump back from the door just in time for her to kick it back open.
“Those little fucking fascists!” she screams out. She’s in shock, not angry. It’s how she reacts to monster movies, too. “Did you hear what that foul-mouthed little fuck called me?”
“What is it?” I ask. “What did he say?”
“There’s no hope,” she says. “There’s just no talking.”
“What was it?” I ask.
“You can’t change those minds,” she says. “There’s nothing to change. There’s nothing to do about that stupidity. Why are the only people having kids these dumb fuckers? It’s like part of their plan. Those kids are just like ‘em. We’re being breeded out.”
I haven’t seen her this worked up in a long long time. Her cat tiara is hanging over to one side like she’s baffled by some dangling string. That shallow breath of hers is heaving, rhythmic, filling the whole room with her breath and tickling my lungs, sliding right down my thighs like fingers. Her face is flush and her neck, her entire body, I know, in that frenzied state of fight or flight, blushing with furious red splotches—”I mean, come on.”—and this sight of her standing there squirming in her clothes stirs in me something that’d been sleeping and suddenly knows it’s awake and alive.
And then it happens. I have a vision, right there in my kitchen. It could be the adrenaline pumping sugar into my heartbeat, but I am having a vision like an ecstatic.
I see Honey—some future-version of her—and she’s plump with our own baby, holding a hand atop the curve calm as a Madonna, rubbing her tummy and whispering words like inclusion and middle class and progressivism and her boobs are huge, and I see myself down there at belly-level, too, on my knees whispering into her naval and my head up against listening with all the care and attention of a safecracker. Then I see the vision fast forward. First birthdays and first steps and such, then that first Halloween. Dressed like a baby shit-raker, a little baby savior, with a little baby onesie on that says The System Is Whack and tiny baby sunglasses too cool for school. We’d be door to door, knocking, getting candy and changing lives.
“Hey. What?” Honey says. She’s still heaving, but now she’s slowing down and looking at me confused. “What’s that look?”
But I’m still seeing things. I’m looking over a bridge into the future at the strange shapes waving on the other side: elementary school elections with platforms for more ice cream and recess and ending world hunger. Middle school debate team earning the A plus plus phenom grade reserved for freakish intellects. High school hallways passing out fliers that she—a she!—made herself with PhotoCrop, while other girls her age are still cropping hairless heartthrobs from Teen Beat. On the fliers she’s put war-torn grisly pictures in a collage of severed body parts and a slogan for peace that gets me called in to the Principal for conference.
“What is it?”
Good Sweet God why stop? I feel caught up in some revelation and rush, I’m locked into it, some prophecy, some divine adumbration…a sweet-sick sugar dream.
Local town council where she tears those Christian uptights and bun-hairs a new asshole.
State Senate Baby and U.S. Congress Baby, where her legislation is feared and reformist and kind.
National Election Baby—tell me why not?—and the camera at her convention speech finds Honey and me in the balcony looking old and distracted by the lights but proud.
“What’s that look?” Honey asks again, then she gets this wide-eyed stare like she knows. “Oh, wait a minute,” she says. “Maybe we should think this through.” But it’s too late: the skeleton suit’s on the floor, the bowl of candy on the floor, and a second later we are, too. Our buttocks on the kitchen tile are cold but the passion just above runs white-hot.
“Let’s do it,” she screams out in the middle of it, loud enough for the Halloweeners out on the street to hear. “Take me hard now, you fuck,” she seethes at me, she coos, “Take me for America, give me your baby, Oh I love you,” she says, and she calls out my name, the doorbell rings loud with concerned people right outside and we just let it go, and then my own moan rises up, right on pitch and full of life, to meet it.