At five o'clock sharp, street traffic is prohibited, and we officially open our doors. Lugging baskets filled with candy outside, every family on the block settles on the front stairs, adults with cocktails, children with macaroni and cheese. My family—my husband, Eric, and two children, Benjamin, fourteen, and Lilly, eleven—always invites a crew of extended family and friends to join us. My only rule is that everyone who comes over that night should wear a costume. My love for my family rises exponentially every year as I see them struggle to comply with this rule. My usually elegant brotherinlaw Nick permits us to swathe him in purple velvet swashbuckler attire. My motherin-law, Maria, unrecognizably silly, giggles in a clown costume, while my refined sister Jeanne gets funky in a seventies rainbow-colored Afro and platform shoes, and my brotherinlaw David raps in a blue polyester tuxedo and bling. My children's costumes, long discussed, carefully conceived, have evolved in response to their growing maturity: Tinker Bell transformed into a teenage rock star; a dalmatian devolved into Dracula. I tend to like wearing small touches only, usually accessories that somehow hint at my mood that year: a black pointy witch's hat, crown, Mardi Gras mask, fairy wings.
The crowds begin to pour onto our block. People from all over Brooklyn gravitate to Garden Place, and it becomes one big street party, more and more raucous the later it gets. Our block plays the role of sentinel that evening. We are polite, even generous overseers of the madness, but always above the fray. The crowds of trickortreaters press, forming lines at the bottom of our stairs. We sit midway up our stoop, just high enough to make it difficult to reach us. In control, we casually toss candy from above into the up-stretched candy bags. "One piece per trickor-treater only," we remind the younger helpers on our stairs, "or we'll run out!" Minutes later, we holler, "Friends always get extra candy, though," bending the rules for the familiar. The evening will eventually teeter on the brink of sourness, as makebelieve chaos gives way to potential threat. Dark descends and unruly teenagers wearing gas masks or burglar panty hose replace the toddlers dressed as princesses and firemen. A teenager leaps over a fence into the neighbors' yard to kick in a pumpkin and grab fistfuls of candy. Our block is momentarily shaken but reminds itself that this is only a night of pretend. All we have to do is stand up, brush the candy wrappers off of our costumes, and go inside, firmly closing the door to such non-sense. Danger, indeed—not on Garden Place!
When my family first moved onto the block, a neighbor told me how much candy to buy. I thought she was exaggerating—she wasn't. In those three hours, we give away more than three thousand pieces of candy. I won't pretend that I go to Costco or Walmart to buy cheap hard candy in bulk or go online to buy some healthy alternative to candy. My children and I instead go to the grocery store, and they get to pick out whatever kind of candy they want—usually bag upon bag of the most deliciously disgusting candy one can buy: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Ways, and 3 Musketeers bars.
Later in the afternoon, we sit in the middle of our living room, ripping the bags open, the chemical fumes of processed chocolate wafting around us. The kids love to wrap their arms around and then dump the piles of candy into the baskets.