Monday, November 2, 2009

Hollow Wien

Austrians are still figuring out Halloween. This seems to be true elsewhere in the EU - I got similar reports from Americans living in Spain, Sweden, and Germany. Halloween is in transition from being an American holiday to a truly global event. I must speculate that it's also gaining popularity outside the US and Europe, at least wherever they sell alcohol.

They sold a lot of it here on Saturday night. Dios mio, these Austrians never stop. They just couldn't care less about 2 AM. In the US, you leave a bar after last call; here, after third fall. Yet Austro-ween had only a thin veneer of depth, to paraphrase Carl Sachs. This is evidenced in many ways. The costumes were lame. Most people had nothing, or slopped on some face paint. A few women had little berets with red horns - which far outnumbered berets with halos, so there is some hope for them. They might be naughty nurses or pandering policewomen next time. But, this year, nobody bothered getting all dressed up. See, here is a proper costume:

Fur trapper, Ohio River Valley, 1840. Behind me is a picture of 2 dogs in costume. Americans do dress up their dogs on Halloween too:

Dogween! Notice the plastic (American) pumpkins, which I mention later.

At David Leland's 2005 Halloween party.

My infamous mountain man costume is in San Diego. I was here in the lab and could have mostly repeated my costume in Manhattan in 03, when I simply donned an electrode cap and white lab coat and went out as a mad scientist. Out there, where New Yorkers deal with oddity every day and costume themselves impressively, I fit in beautifully. But, out here, I think it would have been too much, too exotic, too confusing, too much smiling inspired by confusion instead of connection. I deal with that enough in my day job.

It would have been too much like the time I went out as Phineas Gage. I faked 2 bloody holes in my head, wore an offensive shirt, carried around a piece of rebar that looked like a railroad spike, and insulted people as if uninhibited by frontal lobes. The costume was well received at the Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Neuroscience departments at UCSD. And it was kinda scary anyway, since I had access to gauze pads and medical tape and of course plenty of blood, so the holes looked realistic. But everywhere else, where nobody ever heard of Phineas Gage, I just said I was a fake head wound patient.

The more pathetic sign that Austrians need to learn more about Halloween came from watching a group of Austrian kids. There were 6 of them, mostly dressed as ghosts, going door to door. The kids, and the adults who are supposed to help them, did many things wrong. The kids were going out around dusk on Friday the 30th. They should go out when it is really dark, and go out on Halloween proper. The kids had uncreative costumes, which is also their parents' fault. The kids had no parental escort, which was probably OK since they were in a well lit area, but it further implies that none of the parents were really in to it. The kids only went to houses that were well lit. They got that right. But, the Austrians failed to turn off the light and shutter their windows when they aren't home. Shame on you Austrians, taunting little kids like that! If you are sick, or antisocial, or out of town, then leave a basket of candy in front in a little plastic pumpkin. That way, every kid gets a little bit - or, one older kid gets a lot, and maybe the plastic pumpkin too. The kids knocked and said "sweet or sour", which is their way of saying "trick or treat". But then, after getting denied, they left! Over and over! The kids followed the routine, and they even explicitly warned of "or sour", but then didn't follow up on it. After watching this for about five minutes, I had to go explain it to them.

Look, I said, what you call "or sour" is called "trick" in English. Halloween is not about cute. Halloween is based on fear. You want people to give you candy out of fear. Fear of a trick. You see? Here is Billa. It's still open, cause you are going out too early. Go to Billa, buy soap, and rub it on the windows of people who do not give you candy. See? That's the trick part. Also, later kid groups will see it and realize that it is a home of stingy Scrooges. I also explained that the tricks can escalate. After the soap, another trick is to bring a roll of toilet paper and throw some over a tree. See? You should do this to your teachers' homes too. And you can keep escalating. For example, you could let the air out of the tires on their car or bicycle. See? OK, I got the first car, now you, the little angel, what's your name? I'll guess it's Leonie, cuz half the Germanspeaking kids are named Leonie, and the other half is male. Here, Leonie, just press this nozzle here. Now, when you come back next year, they will not only have candy, they'll have full size candy bars and a profuse apology. And see these nice flowers? I am sure it took her many months to grow them. Now, don't just uproot them: tear them in tiny pieces or spell mean things with them. See? You want the owner to know it was a snubbed human, not an undisciplined dog. Ooh, you can spell swear words in German already? Good job, Leonie! I can't do that. OK, maybe you're ready for the next level. You must poop on their doorstep. See? No, it's OK. You are allowed to do this on Halloween. We still do it routinely in America. That's why people still give me candy, at my age. You can even put poop in a paper bag and light it on fire, then ring the doorbell. When they try to stomp it out, they get flaming poo on their foot. Then, stand out here with your friends and yell "Treat!" at them. In English. And throw eggs at them. Don't worry, they cannot really chase you, because they first have to get the flaming poo off their feet. Then the next level is- Oh, no! A police car is approaching. I gotta go, kids! Specifically, I will walk nonchalantly around the corner, then accelerate. Tell the policeman that the nice Canadian was asking you for directions. Oh, and remind your parents to learn proper Halloween traditions, including a parental escort.

This is the other key message to Austrian parents. Get involved in Halloween. If not motivated by the desire to fill your kids full of candy and happy memories, or to get rid of them for a few hours, consider this. You get to eat most of the candy! Yes, your kids are unpaid volulnteers tasked with finding a wide variety of candy and bringing it to you with a smile and a happy heart full of trust. It's the trust only kids have in their parents, so naive and cute and, well, trusting. Take advantage of it. You slave away for them all year, for what? Some lousy fingerpaints, an occasional paper plate with macaroni glued on chaotically, and terrible handmade Christmas ornaments? Dad raided my candy, year after year. "That much candy is bad for you," he said. "It will give you pimples and bad farts." Ppbbbwt! "Oh, excuse me! Um, so you can choose some candy, and I'll take the rest." I thought I was coming out ahead by hiding a few of them. But the verbal distraction was not necessary, since he also raided my candy supply while I was at school. I'd come back, excited about that fun size Snickers bar sitting in my pillowcase, and it was gone. That's odd, I thought. I counted 4 this morning. Hm. Well, what could have happened? Nobody could have stolen it, cause Mom and Dad were here all day. It must be Jesus. I do remember thinking that, with absolutely no sarcasm. Jesus miracled away some unhealthy candy. Well, that was nice of Him, I guess. Rather judgmental and petty meddling, but it seems like a Jesusy move. But why only the Snickers bars, which happen to be the best ones? He didn't take any Mounds or Almond Joy. Maybe Jesus doesn't like coconut, just like dad, and me. But why not miracle me some apples or raisins? And how 'bout some compensation, hmmmmmm? Like coins from the tooth fairy? No, I thought, don't go there. I'm eight. I'm old enough to know that the tooth fairy isn't real.

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