Poor Vinnie. That's not actually his name, because this wasn't his fault. Sadly, his real one is, in some quarters, synonymous with "That Kid Whose Parents Didn't Let Him Trick-Or-Treat."
In my 1980s suburban youth, in my neck of the woods, a certain level of sugar-charged entitlement overtook the last day of October. While no one was especially extravagant in their candy offerings (save for one or two houses on a well-to-do cul-de-sac giving out full-sized Hershey bars, and believe me, word got out) perceived stinginess was met with great public indignation.
Warnings spread quickly amongst passing bands of costumed kids. "Don't bother -- they're just doing pennies." "Aw man! I heard they had a bowl of Tootsie Pops on the porch, but the eighth graders hogged the whole thing!" "Raisins! RAISINS! Abort mission!"
There were well-meaning houses, clearly devoid of kids, giving out homemade popcorn balls and apples, instantly discarded by parents scrutinizing hauls at the end of the night. Upon arrival at home, we were to dump out our pillowcases (plastic pumpkin buckets are cute, but their scale was insufficiently aspirational) for triage.
All unwrapped or loosely wrapped items went straight to the trash can lest they be riddled with glass, razor blades, poison or LSD. Change was slipped directly into the UNICEF box. Stickers were rated on a sliding coolness scale. Dull, but passable sweets -- Double Bubble, Dum Dum pops, Chuckles, Brach's hard candy and orange slices -- were stashed to the side. Premium sour sugar bombs like Pixy Stix, Nerds, SweeTarts and Lemonheads were held in high regard, but at as any kid knows, chocolate ruled the night.
The sours and high-ticket fun-sized Snickers, Milky Ways, M&Ms, Hershey's bars, Three Musketeers and (ultimate score) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were appropriated, then doled out by parental units. Ostensibly, this was to protect the health and well-being of their cherished offspring, but seriously - they were poaching. Kids grinned and bore it as a sort of confectionery ATM fee so as not to be denied access to their stash. Trick-or-treating was a family affair.
But not so Chez Vinnie. His parents wouldn't allow him or his sisters to join in the candy gathering, and we kids were never able to ascertain quite why. It seemingly wasn't for religious reasons - he went to the same Catholic school as us, and his dad wasn't passing out Jack Chick bible tracts like the dour, devout fellow several blocks away. Neither were either of his parents dentists - who in our experience tended to meet the wandering ghosts and goblins at the door with toothbrushes and those nifty little plaque disclosing tablets that you'd chew to reveal skipped spots with a bright, red, gory glow.
Rather, the rumor went, Vinnie's mother did not believe in sugar. Whether she was denying its existence as a substance altogether or was simply opposed to it, none of us was sure, but we were baffled. Vinnie's father, a maintenance worker at our school, could periodically be seen skulking around the back of the buildings, furtively sipping a carbonated beverage, muttering pleas not to alert his wife - an odd duck by all accounts. We wouldn't have dreamed of it - nor would we have busted Vinnie to his parents when he jumped out a back window in the Spiderman costume he'd saved up for and hidden in the back of a closet at home.
Vinnie held a pretty solid foothold on the bottom rung of our school's social ladder, but there wasn't one among us who didn't feel a pang at his plight. We knew enough not to ring his home's buzzer, but watched in sympathy and sadness from across the street as we saw the curtains rustle, and the children's pale, sad faces peeking out from their darkened upstairs bedrooms. It's one thing not to be home, and quite another to be made to feign so. "I mean, I know he's a dork and all, but that just sucks out loud!" "Dude, I heard his mom won't even let them watch TV! That's so freaky! Poor guy."
Vinnie caught up to us a block or two from his house, panting wetly and nervously behind his cheap, plastic mask and clutching an empty trash can liner. Without consulting one another or breaking stride, we closed ranks around him and moved en masse to the next block, taking turns to stuff a few choice pieces of our own loot into his makeshift candy bag. "C'mon, dude. You're way behind. Gotta catch up."
This post was originally published in October, 2011. We just liked it.