Halloween is my bag

It’s Halloween week (plus some) at the JMD blog!  Lots to talk about, so read on…

When I was but a tadpole, I had a few very favorite things:  reading, baseball and collecting.  It didn’t take long for the former duo to impact the latter.

Early on, I gravitated to comic books, which appealed to me as much for the words as the pictures.  I looked up a lot of words based on comic books and got a headstart on a decent vocabulary.  Back in those days, though, I read them like most everyone else, without worrying about condition or value.

Similarly, while we had no “native” baseball team in South Florida, there were several that played their spring training games down here, most notably my favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles.  Like all boys my age, I bought packs and packs of Topps baseball cards and treated them much the same as my comics…flipping them with friends and even (gasp) putting them in my bike spokes.

My collecting actually got started back then from my Grandma (as she started many other things in my life).  She got me and my sister hooked on stamp collecting.  Every other weekend, we would go down with her or Dad (Mom & Dad were divorced early and we visited “his side” every two weeks) to Ken’s Stamp Shop to pick up packets of stamps.

I would meticulously apply those little adhesive hinges to the stamps and cover the appropriate pictures in the stamp books (one for US and two for Foreign, which I still have).  I even had a small collection of coins for a few years.

When I hit my double digits, the comic book collecting field was beginning to become more well known.  I started taking better care of my comics and the habit also spread to my baseball cards.

Eventually, just prior to heading off to college, I had a period where I was managing a used book store and, with the owner’s permission, buying and selling comics in a section of the store.

Over the next couple decades, I continued to buy and read comics (and baseball cards) but I stopped selling them.  The physical laws of the universe do not change regardless of the object involved, so my increasing mass of comics and cards, not being converted into anything, just became an even larger mass.

For a period of time in my life, I lived a cheap condo.  It suited me quite well as I paid my dues in the working world (read:  didn’t get paid much).  It was on the fourth floor of a building mostly populated by older people.  Not a fertile area for Halloween.

When I finally purchased my own home, it was in a nice family neighborhood of townhomes and villas (I’m the latter).  Immediately, I decided to make sure the kids in the area got something special for Halloween.

Looking at my many boxes of comics, I realized I had a perfect “bag stuffer” for the kids when they came by.  Add in a little bag of candy and you have something really special.  So that was my first Halloween at the new house.  There weren’t many trick-or-treaters that year, but those that did come went away surprised and happy.

Well, I’m the type of personality that doesn’t like repeating himself (for a different glimpse into that, hunt through the archives back in February and look up the post “Everyone should be a Valentine”), so I began to think how I could make next Halloween even better.

I was wandering through the stores after the holiday, picking up miscellaneous extra decorations at the usual “blowout” prices (up to 70% off!) when I chanced to pass some “regular” clearance merchandise.  Much of this stuff was only a dollar or so.  That’s when it hit me.  I could add more than just comics and candy to the bags!

I started visiting the $1 stores.  Most of them are gone now, but back then there were some awesome 99¢ stores.  I picked up a bunch of stuff; wagons full sometimes.  I should probably point out that I was moving up the salary food chain by now.  My own personal tastes were not growing particularly expensive so I tended to have more discretionary cash than most people.

It occurred to me that not everything I was buying was fit for every trick-or-treater.  It further occurred that same thought would follow to the comics.  So I began the process of separating the “goody” bags into four types:  Older boy, older girl, younger boy and younger girl.

Following that groundbreaking idea, I could then build the bags that best fit the age groups.  For example, older boys might get action figures and older girls might get candles.  Younger boys would get stickers or playdoh and younger girls might get nail sets or craft articles.

Of course, the challenge was in keeping the bags fresh each year.  One year, I went out and found a boatload of DVDs at Wal-Mart at a remarkably cheap price; segregating the scary ones into the older bags and the all-ages ones for the younger.

Another year, after we had been hit by Hurricane Wilma and many areas were out of power, I popped into a bookstore that had its roof caved in and was selling a huge amount of books at a massive discount.  Figuring that few people would have no electricity for their DVDs and TVs, I thought books would make a great gift (it’s not like the schools were open, so having something to do during the day would be nice).

Each year, though, I always include comics in all four bag groups.  I throw in baseball     cards in the boys bags (which just makes me look for something else for the girls).  While I still buy and read comics, the annual Halloween celebration and giveaway has at least halted the growth of the boxes…though I make little progress in decreasing the already existing load.

Beyond the house decorations (we’ll talk of that in a later post), the goody bags have built a reputation around the area and my house.  Repeat business has been phenomenal and guest trick-or-treaters have been known to stop in from other areas.  I do require them to have at least some semblance of a costume, which has occasionally resulted in a “be right back” and the previously uncostumed trick-or-treater back at my door wearing his friend’s costume (acceptable).

I have received two memorable comments on my goody bags.  The first was on a rainy Halloween (which we unfortunately have quite a few), a boy struggled out of a car at the end of my driveway.  He hobbled up to the door, his arm in a full cast and told me this was the only house he had his mom drive him to because I was the guy who gave away comics.

The best compliment I ever got was from a parent at my last job, who told me she had spent several nights over the past week with her daughter reading her the comics she had received from me.  She thanked me for creating that time together.

In the end, that has always been my underlying wish.  As it was with me, I hoped that giving away those comics would encourage the kids to read or draw or just imagine.  That’s why what my former co-worker said meant a lot to me.

How did we get from one-armed trick-or-treaters hopping up my driveway to former co-workers thanking me?  Sounds like a good topic for tomorrow!