About 20 years ago, wife Brenda and I bought a distressed house on Richland Avenue. It had no kitchen, and very little plumbing. The water pipes we did have ran to one leaky, rotten-floored bathroom. We knew that we'd be living in the midst of an ongoing renovation, but we moved in anyway. We set up camp and bought a fridge, which we put in the living room, near the sleeper sofa. The entryway, living room and dining room were my wood shop.
Our food-prep area comprised a popcorn popper, a coffeemaker and a hot plate. During the early camp-out stage of the renovation, breakfast was usually cold cereal for Brenda and hot instant oatmeal for me. We had sandwiches for lunch, and dinner was takeout.
Brenda washed dishes in the bathtub. After a few weeks of kneeling on the rotten bathroom floor and worrying about smashing dishes against the walls of the tub, she decided we were switching to all disposable dishes and utensils, even if it meant her picking up a shovel and digging our own personal landfill in the backyard.
As autumn, and Halloween, approached, we figured that our wrecked house, with its 30-yard Dumpster out front, its porch full of scrap lumber and plaster chunks, and no porch light, wouldn't attract many — if any — visitors. So we bought the smallest bag of mini Snickers and figured it would get us through the night.
Problem was, I popped the top on the Snickers bag Halloween morning, and by dusk, there was nothing left but a bunch of little Snickers skins under my table saw. Brenda was working the evening shift that night, and I had to pull Halloween duty all by myself. I had no backup, nobody to make a candy run.
So, wouldn't you know, kids started showing up on my front porch wanting candy. Since I was all out, I had to resort to handing out hard currency, in the form of nickels, dimes and quarters. Pretty soon, that was gone too. During a lull between trick-or-treat gangs, I scrounged the food-prep area for snacks.
My favorite food in the house was the instant oatmeal, which Brenda had been buying in variety packs. I really liked the honey-maple, the apple-cinnamon and the strawberry, but I was all out of those. All I had left was blueberry, which I thought tasted like cough syrup. Every time I'd open a variety pack, I'd take the blueberry out and stick it in its own separate box. I never threw a pack of blueberry oatmeal out, because I knew there was a chance that I might just wake up one morning with a craving for cough-syrup gruel.
I had an emergency stash of about 60 single-serving bags of blueberry oatmeal ready to be consumed or otherwise repurposed. It would have been a shameful waste to hang onto these things when I had plenty of willing snack customers at my very door.
When the children — and the ne'er-do-well teens who posed as children — came up to my porch, I made sure they knew that I was passing out healthy, dehydrated breakfast food. "Hey, kids," I called, "I've got lots of instant oatmeal!" I'd shake the packs, so they could hear the little dried-out pellets bounce around like the beads in a maraca. "Just add tap water, and microwave for a minute and a half."
Within minutes, the river of kids had slowed to a trickle. But I had plenty of oatmeal left. So I paced up and down my block, stopping children and dropping instant blueberry oatmeal into their bags. Pretty soon, it was all quiet on my block.
I've spent all the years since trying to make up for that night. We don't give out oatmeal anymore. We give out no SweetTarts, no Tootsie Rolls, no little store-brand mystery-flavor hard candies. None of those orange-slice marshmallow things, which I have on good authority are made out of the toxic tailings left over from the manufacture of countertop laminate.
No sir, these days the Jowerses distribute only individually wrapped, high-quality, brand-name, chocolate-containing candies. And to make sure the kids gets some protein, there'll be a few mini PayDays.
And if we have a few Mr. Goodbars or Krackel bars left over the morning after, well then, I'll do what I have to do to get them out of the way before we enter the long holiday overeating season. Don't want the neighbor kids spoiling their appetites.
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