Despite never having tipped over an outhouse on Halloween or on any other occasion, life’s been pretty good. Call it a reverse Bucket List. My father used to regale us kids with derring do that he and his brother and pals such as the mythical Johnny Carpenter, Dutch Somebody, Swede Somebody-else and Red Somebody-or-other, used to do on Halloween. That was, of course in the old days, in Scranton, Pa. In the days when they walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways with cardboard stuffed in their shoes to cover the holes in the soles, keeping an eye out for an abandoned lump of coal.
In those days, those rascals knew how to keep Halloween. You kept Halloween by roaming the neighborhood in search of teetery outhouses that would fall with only a slight application of pressure. How many boys did it take to tip over a teetery outhouse? Just one. The other guys acted as lookouts in case the homeowner, farmer or neighbor happened to be prowling his property against local, teenage savages bent on tipping over the outhouse — in which case a lookout would give a special whistle with his fingers in his mouth to alert the designated tipper — and they would run off in the pitch-dark in different directions so as to confound the victim.
We’d laugh till we cried at my father’s Halloween stories and couldn’t wait till we were old enough to pull even half of his and Johnny Carpenter’s pranks. Unfortunately, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood on the Peninsula whose nearest outhouse was … I don’t even know where the nearest outhouse might have been — maybe in Manteca or Dixon or Solvang or maybe in some towns on the coast like Half Moon Bay. In any case, I never got to participate in the thrill of a Halloween tip-off, more’s the pity.
I don’t recall whether my father and the Carpenter gang ever employed the amazing, blazing bag of dog poop on the porch or not, but there’s no reason to believe they didn’t. Surely that would have been a Halloween keeper. Popular among young delinquents for centuries no doubt.
Here’s what you do. You scoop up some fresh dog poop, maybe a pound or so. You put it in a plain, brown bag. You creep up on the target house and one or two of you slip onto the porch. One holds the bag and lights a match. The other sprays lighter fluid or other accelerant onto the bag, and you apply the match and drop the package. One of you rings the doorbell, and you both dash off the porch as if Lucifer himself was on your tail. It helps if there’s some large shrubs or brushery nearby so you can hide but still be able to see the drama play out. The homeowner opens the door carrying a big bowl of candy to give to the cute little Trick or Treaters, sees the fiery bag and immediately begins to stomp on it to put it out. Once the fire is out, the hapless resident goes back inside with fresh, wet, sticky dog poop on the bottoms of his or her shoes. Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so.
If we were really lucky, somebody’s parents would take a trip to Louisiana or New Mexico or anywhere there were fireworks for sale. Not just sparklers and black worms but real fireworks, Roman Candles, cherry bombs, M-80s (whatever that is, but I know it’s big). If you had the nerve you could go to Chinatown and get whatever you wanted, if you knew where to go, which I didn’t and apparently didn’t know anyone who did either. We did our share of firecrackers in the jack-o-lanterns, I have to admit, but it was mostly in our own yard and not necessarily on Halloween. It would have to be some time when the parents weren’t around.
Of course back in the day, the Carpenter gang still had leftover explosives from the Spanish-American War. Dynamite or something just like it. Those boys had stuff our dreams were made of in the ’50s. They had it just lying around waiting for Halloween each year, evidently. And we never heard that any of them ever got in trouble for blowing up Mrs. Bartlett’s privy or al fresco bathtub, or for actually stealing all the pumpkins from Farmer Jlabotnik’s punkin’ patch.
Cow-tipping was not something I’d ever heard of till fairly recently. I don’t think dad and Johnny ever mentioned anything like cow-tipping. If they had, I’d have thought it was just about the funniest thing I could imagine. That would not be a one-guy job. It would take the whole gang except for one guy who acted as lookout. The image it conjures in my mind is beyond hysterical. The reality, not so much. Cows were pretty valuable back then, even as they are now. And people who lived close to the edge probably wouldn’t have put their neighbor at risk by hurting or killing a cow. So, while the picture of it really cracks me up, the actual practice wouldn’t be very amusing or neighborly.
Jumping out of a dark alley and scaring the pants off a little kid and stealing his bag of treats was way beneath us. That’s what real 7th grade hoodlums did. You know who they were back in your day. They’re the guys who would jack you up at the school bus stop and take your lunch money — and double dare you to squeal to the principal, let alone your parents.
The Carpenter gang wouldn’t have stooped that low. And we didn’t either. My youngest sister got held up for her giant candy bag one Halloween but we never caught the perpetrators. If we had, a cherry bomb might have gone off in their now humongous and ill-gotten candy bag.
Every generation must have its own Halloween specialties. I can’t even guess what they would be today. Send a picture on your iPhone of a blazing bag of dog poop to the neighborhood meanie? Maybe. Put a virus in Mrs. Bartlett’s home security system so every time she runs out to grab and keep the football that accidentally falls in her yard, the door locks and the alarm goes off. Well, that’s a pretty good one actually. Wish I knew how to do something like that.
p.s. There was a Mrs. Bartlett in my neighborhood who literally would snatch and keep any ball that accidentally fell into her yard. No one ever found out why, but it would have been nice if she’d had an outhouse.
Hope your Halloween was happy and safe.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.