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Saturday, November 15, 2008

McStepford: A lesson in Cool

One of Erin's baby friends, whose name I will change to Froggy for no nefarious purpose but merely because he was dressed as a frog for Halloween last year, moved into the neighbourhood across the street a few months ago.

It is an intimidating neighbourhood. That is, when Froggy's mom was greeted with welcome baskets of cookies and muffins and frankincense and myrrh she was also greeted with the ominous: "We go all out for Halloween here."

She wasn't quite sure what to make of this, but she heard it over and over again from neighbour after neighbour: "We go all out for Halloween." Veiled behind this description was an instruction: "You will go all out for Halloween here."

"All out" meant decorating and giving out candy on an enormous, four Costco bags scale; no matter that Froggy is too young to go trick-or-treating himself: "Don't disappoint the neighbours by failing to fully participate in Halloween." It meant that one family set up a haunted house, while another one was known as the "water station" for the parents, where "water" means "definitely not water." Playtime at the park with other families new to the area was filled with conversations beginning with "Have they come by to tell you about Halloween yet?"

As Halloween approached and the decorations and candy were purchased Froggy's parents grew bored with the idea of answering the door every 30 seconds to dish out a handful of candy to the kids who were coming from all over (some were dropped off in cabs. I'm not joking.) Halloween can be tedious if you let it be. The neighbourhood's reputation was built on opulence: impressive decorative displays and magnanimous distribution of candy. Froggy's parents had the candy but the decorations weren't keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. And they didn't care. They were going to insert themselves into the neighbourhood and stamp it with their idea of fun rather than let the community mold them into the perfect McStepford household.

A table was set up on the front porch. A hand-scrawled sign was made that read "American Idol Auditions", and a toy microphone and speaker set were brought outside. And then, with the help of some friends who came over for the evening, Froggy's parents played "American Idol" judges for hours and hours while forcing the kids in the neighbourhood to sing for their Costco candy. They stayed in character (Simon, Paula, and Randy) whenever there were kids around and the line to sing sometimes stretched down to the street.

You'd think the kids would have been shy. In fact, Froggy's parents figured no one would sing and this experiment in scrounged conceptualization and personal enthusiasm would be an epic fail. But the kids sang.

The adults sang. The grandparents sang. The preschoolers sang. Even, toward the end of the evening, the teenagers. The self-conscious, easily embarrassed teens stepped out of their cocoons of faux-coolness to sing songs of their own choosing in front of total strangers, risking that fate worse than death to a teen: mockery. But just as the teens were uncharacteristically brave, so too were their contemporaries uncharacteristically joyous and encouraging. There was no room for cynicism on the porch.

Once, as one crowd of singers and groupies dissipated three figures materialized out of the darkness, stepping forward into the porchlight.

Figure 1: "You have done the neighbourhood proud."

Figure 2: "Very proud."

Figure 3: "Too proud."

All Together: "Ha. Ha. Ha."

Figure 1: "You have set the bar high for next year."

Figure 2: "Very high."

Figure 3: "Too high."

All together: "Ha. Ha. Ha."

And with that the Wyrd Neighbours cloaked themselves in darkness once again and returned to the "water" house.

Coolness, the teens realized and Froggy's parents demonstrated, is what happens when you embrace even your meager resources with enthusiasm. It is giving a shit, completely, about what you give a shit about, not pretending that you don't. It is not keeping up. It is remaining yourself, and thrusting yourself into the world, not like it belongs to you, but like you don't belong to those around you.

Froggy's parents offered the best, most enduring Halloween experience for everyone who came by, and it wasn't because they spent the most on candy or decorations, but because they spent the most of themselves. And doing it because they thought it would be fun and hoping it would entertain the kids meant that even that cost was minimal: a little laryngitis the next day; a dead battery in the scrounged mic-and-speaker set.

Next year they're going to make the kids dance too.

42 comments:

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] said...

And to think my neighborhood went all out with a random fake spider and orange xmas lights. We spent the night drinking 'water' on our front porch while sending our kids over to the neighbor's with beer.

ChurchPunkMom said...

what an awesome post.

"It is not keeping up. It is remaining yourself, and thrusting yourself into the world, not like it belongs to you, but like you don't belong to those around you."

yep. you pretty much just summed up my philosophy for life.

CT Mom said...

That is way cool! The closest thing we had was the "cider" house - one house that set up a table with warm cider and cold water for the families. We never knew about it before this year because we used to only do our street. This year we ventured into other parts of the neighborhood, and had a great time.

Heather said...

"It is giving a shit, completely, about what you give a shit about, not pretending that you don't."

If there was more of this in the world, it would be a better place.

Sounds like a great place to be on Halloween. Those kids will remember that forever.

Mr Lady said...

They rule.

Last year, I was the ONLY house to decorate for Halloween. The ONLY one in my corner of suburbia. This year I didn't even bother. Next year, screw'm. I'm going BIGGER. :)

abdpbt said...

Nice. That is a great idea for Halloween. Our neighborhood goes crazy with the decorations also, but we are too lazy to participate. Fortunately, nobody has come over to pressure us, because I'm not really cool. I just play cool on the interwebs.

MadWoman said...

Now THOSE are the people I want to be friends with. What a fantastic idea!!

We're never home on Halloween so we don't bother decorating or buying candy, but maybe when the kids are older we will

Amanda said...

This was incredible! However it's totally being trumped by the post wherein you "holy shit" about May...May it be wondrous! Congrats all around!

No Mother Earth said...

This post: Cool.

What a fantastic idea. I am going to have to steal it.

Corina said...

A nice lesson in "keeping true to yourself"

bill s said...

We had a grand total of three kids this year but we were prepared for at least fifty. Candy for breakfast and lunch is getting old about now.

I look forward to your posts since I found you recently through Muskrat's reading list. 'Rat is off-the-wall hilarious and you're ... well, we have to tune in that day to find out. I'm still mulling over your "Bard" masterpiece.

And congrats to you and Emily!

Bethany said...

What a fun and thoughtful post BPD. :)

Swirl Girl said...

How much is cab fare to San Jose?
See you in Octoner '09!

Heather J. said...

Froggy's parents rock. A very cool tradition...I might just have to steal.

anita doberman said...

Sounds awesome! I wish I were in your neighborhood (despite the pressure to go all out) ...I didn't grow up with Halloween (I am from Italy) so I feel the need to overcompensate...
:)

The Microblogologist said...

I am the only one in my building (there are 4 units) who participated and decorated. I was so sad that once again the neighbors did not dress up and take their kid trick-or-treating, he is like 3 so totally old enough! At least he got a piece of candy from me. They are not American but I think they should totally have fun with at least some of our holidays while they are here, part of the experience of studying abroad is getting to see another culture =).

sarah bean said...

Love this post :D The world needs more neighbours like that. Heck, *I* need just one neighbour like that...

Tracy said...

FUN!! I wanna do that!!

1sttimedad said...

What a great post. It's so easy for us to forget that 'fun' doesn't mean having the biggest and brightest toys (or decorations in this case).

Imagination and a willingness to stick our necks out and try new things can go a long way.

a li'l bit squishy said...

How totally cool. I myself, am a nerd, who would be completely envious of the neighbour who thought that up...and enjoy every minute of it!! Good life lessons for all.

James Austin said...

That was a grade A post. Even Simon would have liked it, and word is that he is a dick. Really, I wouldn't have guessed it either.

I am going to make everyone design evening gowns for candy next year. The whole project runway idea just came to me.

Chrystal said...

Very timely as I am still recovering from seeing my brother on AI Rewind tonight. Still trying to decide if I should post about it or not...

Mandy said...

Dude. You channeled Macbeth for a Hallowe'en post? I'm in awe. Really.

Nora Bee said...

Holy crap! Your friends are cool and I can tell that none of you live anywhere near my neighborhood.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

Hey! I didn't know you lived in my neighborhood? We get passenger vans full of families dropped off. I refuse to spend $200 on candy for the entire valley. Everyone got one piece. We suck.

Ali said...

i totally dance and sing for candy.
just saying.
:)

(as usual, ali skips the insightful part of the post and goes straight for the candy)

for a different kind of girl said...

I am perpetually uncool, thus, if I took this idea and ran with it, I'd end up with something akin to Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, which would just make me be the uncool and creepy neighbor. Therefore, I think I'll just keep the porch light off and gorge on fun size Snickers.

zandor said...

That sounds kind of totally awesome.

loudange said...

Its cool and all...but I think I would have turned my lights off and pretended to be away to spite those jerk neighbours. Nobody tells ME what I'm supposed to participate in! Good on them for actually doing something fun in a bullied situation

Lollie said...

Once I find a cool neighbourhood to live in, I'm totally stealing this idea!

My_Dog_Is_Better said...

As if.

JayMonster said...

That is so cool! Guess what idea I am stealing next year.

Miss Grace said...

You kinda gave me the creeps.

Kei said...

Wonder what next year will bring?
Great post!

Loralee Choate said...

Jon and I always dress up, too. Our kids love it and I remember thinking that the adults who did it when I were younger were just more fun.

We went to a house like Froggies this year and YES...definitely the BEST HOUSE EVER.

anymommy said...

Aw, this post made me tear up, as did the previous one. Congratulations daddy!! That is incredible news and I'm thrilled for you.

Jack S Renton said...

Wow. you have quite the following.

Rhea said...

That's awesome. Unique. Very un Stepford. I like it.

Backpacking Dad said...

Angie: mmm...water....

ChurchPunkMom: Good philosophy :}

CT Mom: exploring is rewarding.

Heather: Especially the one who dressed up like Borat.

Mr Lady: Awesome :} That'll learn 'em.

abdpbt: I have to stare at your name for a good 5 minutes before I remember it well enough to type it to reply to you. I do this every time. I don't know why, but the pattern of letters won't stick. Is it an achronym?

MadWoman: I'm going to never be home for Halloween again. Because I'm going to be over there.

Amanda: thanks :}

No Mother Earth: I won't tell.

Corina: word.

bill s: I take your note to mean "I have no idea what your blog is about" which I completely agree with. I need a theme or something :}

Bethany: Thank you Bethany

Swirl Girl: I'm going to guess about $40

Heather J: You I will tell on :}

anita doberman: Luckily we're not in the neighbourhood, just next door to it.

The Microbiologist: yeah, if I were in Canada I'd be all over Boxing Day.

sarah bean: you can't have them; they're mine :}

Tracy: me too

1sttimedad: yup

a li'l bit squishy: Nerds of the world unite!

James Austin: awesome :}

Chrystal: Totally post about it.

Mandy: well, that's how I roll.

Nora Bee: well, maybe. Where do you live. Be as specific as possible: the stalkers are taking notes :}

Tootsie Farkelpants: Yeah, everyone who didn't sing got one piece. They gave out more in increasing amounts based on performance. One kid got 9.

Ali: that totally made me feel dirty.

FADKOG: Dude. Full size. As Greg Behrendt says "What is fun about Fun Size?"

zandor: no, "zandor" sounds totally awesome.

loudange: yeah, I think this was them TRYING to spite the neighbours a little. And it worked.

Lollie: I won't tell.

My Dog Is Better: As if your dog is better.

JayMonster: If I guess right do I get a cut?

Miss Grace: they were kinda totally creepy :}

kei: America's Got Talent.

Loralee: I haven't dressed up in years. I really ought to.

anymommy: thanks darlin'

Jack S Renton: They come out of the woodwork when I talk about candy.

Backpacking Dad said...

Rhea: yeah, they tossed Stepford out the back door.

Gina said...

absolutely hilarious! what a graet idea, i wish i lived in such a fun neighborhood :)

QueenB said...

I am so confused by this. Your neighbors made people sing? Why? Were they afraid of running out of candy and trying to make people cry? Are they just like total poor posers? It's a cute idea and all but I think it would have been so much klassier if they had a film and lighting crew and revolving stage. In fact I think I will borrow this idea for my neighborhood next year. We really know how to go all out! Oh and no costco ew candy for us. Godiva and Perugina. Costco? Whatever...