Halloween: the one time a year a kid's neighborhood becomes a veritable paradise -- the one night you get to pretend you're a princess, movie star or superhero and anonymously ring strangers' doorbells for free candy.
But for my brother Scott and me, it's a dark and chilling day that brings back horrifying memories of a brutal attack.
1973. The year my mother died. My family was grieving, and somehow Halloween costumes were overlooked on the to-do list. My 7-year-old brother came into my room after school, crying that he couldn't go trick or treating, because he had nothing to wear. I quickly crafted him a clown collar with poster paints and a paper grocery bag and whipped up a red yarn wig. He wore the ensemble with his New York Jets jacket and my "Dyn-o-mite" hat, while I recycled the Three Musketeers outfit my mom bought me the year before for a masquerade party. I hated that outfit. I wanted to be I Dream of Jeannie, not some guy with a stick-on handlebar moustache and a sword. But it was all we had. And the two of us hit the streets, ready to rake in the loot.
It was a good year for candy. We could feel it in the air. We went from door to door for so many hours, we were hoarse when we shouted "Trick or Treat!"
As we approached the last few houses on our route, we peeked at our loot, sneaking fun-sized chocolates from the haul of a lifetime -- two gigantic Macy's shopping bags full of Nestle's Crunch, Snickers, Mounds and Almond Joys. We had Tootsie Pops and Charms pops... Pixie Stix and bubble gum cigars... Goobers and Raisinets... Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies. We'd scored Milk Duds and Milky Ways... malted milk balls and Atomic Fireballs... Oh Henrys, Kit Kats and Krackels.
"I'm tired," I said to Scott. "Let's go home." I was anxious to line up my candy in the living room and start the trading.
But my little brother had other ideas. Like a crystal meth addict begging for another hit, he pleaded:
"Just one more house, Parri. Just one more house."
And it was this greed that led to our demise.
That's when we rang one last doorbell around the corner.
"Trick or treat!" we sang.
And then the door opened. And standing before us were the two meanest kids in the neighborhood... older kids... nasty kids -- identical twin bullies who once ambushed me when I was riding my bike around the block. One held onto the silver sparkle banana seat of my Pink Schwinn, while the other pinned me down and put ants in my hair.
Now, here they were again, towering over us in rubber gorilla masks.
"PARRI, RUUUUUUUUUUUN!" Scott shouted.
When he tells the story today, he reminds me that alerting me in this manner showed his courage -- that he was willing to sacrifice his own life so that others might live.
Those bookend bullies ripped the paper collar right off his neck and grabbed his bulging bag of candy. Scott held on for dear life, while I shouted "One for all and all for one," and charged them with my plastic sword. I clobbered those future convicts with my 20 pounds of Razzles. But they grabbed my bag, too, and dragged us around the yard, holding our Hershey Bars hostage, while we held onto their ankles.
"Help! We're being mugged. We're being mugged!" we screamed.
Each year, Scott's memories grow more vivid and the story gets more traumatic. Now, as he's hit his forties, he's sure he remembers those block bullies sneering "stupid clown!" as they tried to stuff his yarn wig in his mouth.
He remembers one gorilla ripping off my fake moustache, while he yelled, "Get off of her, you dirty ape!"
According to Scott, we wrestled them to the ground and clung to our candy, while he hollered, "I'll die before I give you this bag!"
He also claims a recovered memory of reaching into his bag for a giant candy apple, which he used to beat one of the gorillas, as he shrieked, "Give me my candy or give me death!"
When it was all over, those two nasty twins slammed the door in our faces, and we swear we could hear their laughter over the voice of Satan.
"We were robbed! We were robbed!" we screamed, running through the streets of Flatbush to our house. How did this happen? One minute we were watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the next we were running for our lives in a terrifying reenactment of Planet of the Apes.
When dad came home from work, he took us back and angrily knocked on their door, demanding that those two identical hooligans return what was rightfully ours. But all the good stuff was gone -- the peanut butter cups... the $100,000 Bars. All that was left were Mary Janes, cellophane-wrapped sesame candies, orange marshmallow peanuts and some loose candy corn.
To this day my brother blames me. How did I not know where the neighborhood bullies lived? And, he insists, I was an enabler. When he begged to hit one more house, I gave in to his greed, and it almost cost us our lives.
"They took our candy and our pride," he says, shaking his head.
He likes to remind me that I was older and supposed to protect him. Today, when he asks for a favor and I turn him down, he still says, "You dressed me up like a spastic clown and got us robbed and beaten on what should have been my happiest day of the year. You owe me."
Scott has spent the years thinking up a master plan to get even. When his son goes off to college, he plans to dedicate the remainder of his life to hunting down those evil twins and bringing them to justice -- wherever they are in the world. The emotional scars run deep. He's been talking about this for 40 years.
Like a Depression child remembering the days of bounty, Scott remembers the times when the two of us spread out our Halloween candy on the floor, and it looked like a scene out of Willy Wonka.
"But that year," he recalls tearfully, "our booty was so sparse, we had to cut a candy corn in half, so we could share."