Last Saturday, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Caille Millner published a bleak piece on Halloween in the City – my hometown. The minute I read it, I knew I had today’s Patch column pegged. I hit “send” on an email inviting her to cross the bridge to see how Alameda celebrates the holiday.
After college and time abroad, Millner returned to San Francisco and bought a bag of Halloween candy to hand out to neighborhood children (not one showed up…). Later that night, she went to a party in the Castro. She wrote,
“There, I saw many children, infinite numbers of children, all dressed up in costume and gorging themselves on candy. But the children were my age or older, and the candy was alcohol and drugs, and - much later in the night - violence.”
To Millner, Halloween seems like “a celebration for adults, with no physical or psychological space for children.” She wonders if grownups are desperate to reclaim their childhood, or to “disguise themselves so that the can lose their inhibitions in public” and “get drunk in the streets.”
As I wrote in my column two years ago, Halloween in Alameda is the October page from a Norman Rockwell calendar. It’s not just one day — it’s a season.
Some of our neighbors work on their lawn displays for weeks. Bony skeleton arms protrude from temporary front lawn cemeteries and giant hairy spiders crawl down the sides of houses.
An island-wide house decorating contest doubles as a canned food drive, with a night bike ride to preview participating homes.
In the days leading up the 31st, our firefighters hand out free pumpkins at Franklin Park to children between the ages of 3 and 10. Costumed preschoolers parade for the “over 50” crowd at Mastick Senior Center, and teenagers work in conjunction with the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department to put on a haunted house that raises funds for Alameda’s Youth Committee.
This year Central Avenue between Park and Oak streets will be closed from 7-9 p.m. for a free “Halloween Thriller Dance.” Two local studios – Dance 10 and West Coast – offered to teach participants the choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Beat It.”
My Jay’s Coffee buddy, Rudy, is planning to dance. Although it breaks my heart to miss the chance to see Rudy moonwalk, I have a sacred duty to stand in our front entry and hand out candy to a steady line of bleeding zombies, orange and black pandas, and pint-sized pink princesses who leave a trail of glitter in their wake.
These trick-or-treaters aren’t from Alameda alone. Vans loaded with munchkins drive through the tunnel and over the bridges to neighborhoods where parents know it’s safer for their children to walk door-to-door on a dark night and accept sweets from strangers.
Our world can be a scary place, and unfortunately Alameda isn’t immune from violence. But most of our monsters are lawn decorations or good kids in costumes. Most Alamedans know how to behave.
At our house the scariest thing is a plastic battery-operated motion-detector equipped gargoyle purchased from a CVS after-Halloween sale several years ago. In a raspy, threatening voice, it glows red and says, “Wahaha… I am the demon of the underworld. I’m WATCHING you! Try to run… Try to hide… I’ll fly through the night and find you. You’ll never escape the demon of death. Wahaha… WAHAHAHAH!”
When I stowed the Halloween decorations in the attic last November, the evil gargoyle escaped its box and wound up in the shadows under the eves. Every time I climbed the rickety wooden stairs into the dark abyss I heard, “Wahaha… I am the demon of the underworld. I’m WATCHING you!”
I was truly relieved when after several months its batteries finally wore out.
Then a few days ago I came home from work and heard the demon threatening me from our bedroom. My husband stood beside it, proud as punch, holding an empty package that once contained batteries.
So it’s in the front hall perched atop the banister post, and I will head home early to light the candles in the carved pumpkins on our porch and plug in strands of glowing purple spiders.
As I post this, I have yet to receive Caille Miller’s reply. But I hope she will take me up on it and come witness “magic and imagination” on the Gold Coast’s haunted streets. I know our hometown spirits will lift hers and she’ll have a much happier Halloween!