Don’t Be a Ghost on Halloween

Antigravity October 2014_Page_43_Image_0001Hey: you’re not a kid anymore.

I’m sorry. It sucks you had to find out this way, in the pages of this magazine. Most likely you were drawn in by Passmore’s art and your eyes just happened to brush across the accompanying words, little suspecting you’d get the rug yanked from under you, first sentence. So, I’m sorry. I know it hurts, but it’s true: you are no longer a child.

You might be childish. You might still live off your parents’ money like a kid, play video games like a kid, and approach daily life with a kid’s wide-eyed wonder. You might still dress like a big overgrown kid! Adorable! Nothing wrong with it. I’m basically a cheerfully irresponsible Peter Pan type myself, so I feel ya. I don’t wanna be old. But we can’t turn back the hands of time, pal. You and I: we are not kids.

Why am I inflicting this brutal news on you?

It’s not because I want to hurt your feelings or fuck with your self-esteem. I’m not acting in service to the ugly and very real part of me deep down that longs every minute to inflict pain on the entire world.

No, I’m telling you this because Halloween is coming.

And Halloween is for the children.

Every year in the slice of the Ninth Ward where I live, I watch my newer neighbors cram into cars or wobble away on bikes, big elaborate costumes and all. Off they go, to parties, to Frenchmen Street or to see their friends’ bands. I witness this exodus because my partner and I are sitting on our stoop with a light and a big bowl of candy. As the night deepens, children appear. Some are in costumes. Some can’t afford costumes. They are tentative or brash, chatty or shy; they’re accompanied by adults, or not. They’re super-duper stoked to get candy.

Too often, especially to childless transplants, the children of New Orleans are invisible or less than fully human. They’re background decoration, to be dealt with only when they importune you, tokens to be photographed for your website or nuisances to be shooed away with a strained smile. But the children of New Orleans matter, and most of them— certainly those who lived through the failure of the levees— have been let down by the adult world at a cosmic and incomprehensible level. We adults can choose to live in New Orleans, with all its ups and downs. Kids don’t get to choose. This is a city where police beat and murder children, where juvenile incarceration facilities systematically victimize children and cynical charter schools trade them around like they’re property rather than people. The kids of New Orleans deserve a lot better than they’re given in many regards, but one relatively small and easily supplied thing they incontrovertibly deserve is to go trick-or-treating and get candy on Halloween.

jules-bentley-ben-passmore-halloween The last two years, on my block, not a single house except mine has given out Halloween candy. When I look up or down the street, there’s only darkness. No friendly porch lights, nobody out front, no candy for the kids of the Upper Ninth Ward. These newer neighbors have opinions about how New Orleans should be, how it needs to change. Most want to be part of making New Orleans “better,” but there’s a fundamental disconnect. Every one of them I’ve asked about it went trick-or-treating as a kid. So why don’t the kids in this neighborhood deserve that same opportunity?

I went trick-or-treating as a kid. I remember, when I’d see a darkened house, the sensation of unease it would provoke in me, the tacit hostility it represented. A closed-up house on Halloween sends kids an unmistakable message: there is nothing here for you. Entire blocks of closed-up houses send that same message very powerfully, in a chorus that kids understand at the deepest level and can’t help but internalize. That’s not what kids should see or feel on Halloween. They should see light, and welcome, and the smiling faces of their neighbors.

We’re tight, right? You and me. I was there for you, through that whole traumatic “discovering you’re not a kid anymore” thing. We’ve become close, and because we’re close, I feel comfortable asking you a favor. It’s something really important to me: please, please, please stay home and give out candy on Halloween night. Wherever you live, whether it’s a squat or a $1300-a-month shotgun or a newly redeveloped loft space, sit out front with a light and some candy, at least ’til 9 or 10 p.m. Then go party—it’s not either/or.

When you stay home this Halloween night, you’ll be doing something small but important for the children of New Orleans. Shucks, you might even enjoy it. Buy lots of candy—six or eight big bags—and while you’re sitting out there, maybe listening to pleasantly spooky music, maybe smoking or sipping something, you can dip into the candy yourself, like a happy, carefree kid. You’ll get to see, or meet for the first time, the kids in the neighborhood where you live. You’ll get to see the kids’ costumes and smiles and exchange a few words with them or their parents. Put on some mosquito spray, put on a funny hat, chat with your housemates while you wait.

Antigravity October 2014_Page_43_Image_0002There are some recent arrivals to New Orleans— by recent, I mean within the last decade or so— who cry about the discrimination they face as transplants from elsewhere. I know you’re not one of those. If you were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation; I’d just be kicking you between the legs and stealing the tablet computer you use to take photos. But what you and I understand that those benighted crybaby sore-crotches don’t is that New Orleans has some of the poorest people in the United States, and if you choose to come here and enjoy facets of the culture that those extremely poor people created over generations, you need to contribute something—and not to burnish your CV or impress your friends “back home.” You need to contribute to the community you’ve imposed yourself on, and a few bags of candy and a couple hours on your stoop aren’t much to ask.

Treme actor Wendell Pierce tweeted a couple years back, “I hate that adults have taken Halloween away from the kids. I hate that people have been wearing costumes for 2 weeks. Halloween for the Kids.” I’m not as hardline. My partner and I wear costumes while we give out candy; costumes are fun. But I agree in the broader sense: adults who close up their homes on Halloween to go off and get wasted are stealing Halloween from some of the country’s poorest children. It’s almost literally taking candy from a baby. Plus, this is New Orleans: you can go get stupid while wearing a clever outfit any night of the year.

Rest assured, Halloween weekend will be great: great shows, great parties, maybe a naughty li’l parade Thursday night. But Friday night between sundown and 10 p.m. isn’t for us (however reluctant) ex-kids. It’s for the actual children. The kids of New Orleans deserve to trick-or-treat. They deserve Halloween, and if you deny the kids of New Orleans their Halloween, I have some more bad news: you’ve grown up to be a selfish piece of shit.