The Prank Panther goes trick-or-treating

Halloween is this coming Friday and I have one piece of advice for parents: Don’t take your kids trick-or-treating on Thursday. It sounds obvious, I know, but when my wife was 9 years old her father took her trick-or-treating the night before Halloween. I don’t think he was consciously trying to scar her for life, but the evening won’t go down as one of my wife’s favorite childhood memories.

What happened essentially was this. Two years earlier her parents had divorced and now she was spending every other weekend with her father and stepmother at their new home, which was a little over 100 miles from where she had grown up and where she and her mother still lived. Halloween was going to fall on a Sunday that year, when she was supposed to be back with her mom. And so her dad’s big idea? On Saturday he bought her a Pink Panther costume at a now-defunct discount department store chain called Bradlee’s and that evening took her trick-or-treating to all of the houses in what was to her a neighborhood of complete and total strangers. She was also a few inches too tall for the outfit and so the pink legs of the costume hit her shins like Capri pants.

“Mostly the people who answered the doors were confused,” she recalls, “though some were also pretty mean. They said things like, ‘We’re not giving out candy until tomorrow.’ Or, ‘Don’t you know it’s a day early?’ Or they would simply ask me, ‘Why are you here?'”

At the end of the evening, the haul in her plastic pumpkin was meager. To this day my wife, who otherwise loves all things feline, hates the Pink Panther. She says she actually gets the shivers when she’s at a drugstore or discount department store and hears the nylon crinkle of those Halloween costumes. The sound is her own personal fingernails-on-a-blackboard.

Just for the record, her father also gave her a bar of soap and encouraged her to start soaping the windshields of his neighbor’s cars. So, here we have a 9-year-old in an ill-fitting Pink Panther costume soaping strangers’ cars while her dad is cackling in the shadows.

The one bright side to this Halloween nightmare? Any doubts my wife might have had that her father was a complete and total lunatic were dispelled. It was painfully clear that he was.

In any case, here are a few other suggestions for parents as Halloween approaches. When your young ones come home after trick-or-treating on Friday night and you are sorting the candy with them to make sure that no one has slipped anthrax into the Reese’s Pieces, don’t suddenly legislate a Parent Tax that gives you the right to commandeer one third of the loot for yourself simply because you’re a grownup. Don’t encourage your 5-year-old to dress like a politician or wear Obama, McCain, Palin, Clinton (Bill or Hillary), or Nixon rubber masks. (Biden is fine because people will still have to guess who he is.) There is just nothing creepier than a little kid dressed up like a politician.

On the other hand, Joe the Plumber would make a great costume, especially if last year your child was Bob the Builder. The advantage to Joe the Plumber over Bob the Builder? The kids in the Obama and McCain masks will keep trying to give him their candy. One tip: Don’t go for scrupulous plumber accuracy. Make sure your little Joe’s pants aren’t down around little Joe’s hips.

Also, if you possibly can, be extra generous with candy this year. I’m completely serious. Things are a little tight out there and the last thing we want is to put a damper on either a child’s or a dentist’s Halloween.

Finally, if some kids do show up at your door with their trick-or-treat bags this Thursday night, be sure to give them candy, too, and tell them how much you love their outfits — even if one happens to be wearing a Pink Panther costume that doesn’t quite fit.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 26, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.