CHICAGO — If one thing deserves to go on during this freak show of a year, it’s Halloween.
America’s civic, cultural and political life live in the spirit of the holiday.
Halloween was born from remnants of a pagan feast that also is bound up with the celebration of one of the highest holy days in the Christian calendar, All Saints Day. But All Hallows’ Eve has never been made an official holiday. Its traditions aren’t organized. It started out in the United States as a night for bonfires, tale telling and costume parties. It became a night for sometimes dangerous mischief. And after World War I, it turned into a night for children to beg door-to-door.
Since March, I’ve been thinking about Halloween and what the coronavirus pandemic might do to it. Haunted houses, the resorts of older teens enamored of frights but not willing to dress up in silly costumes, are out. Parties are out. Kids shouldn’t gather with their friends to form door-to-door mobs.
And the isolation and the real-world horrors imposed by COVID-19 have had me flashing back to 1982. That year, the Chicago-area Tylenol murders, with bottles of painkillers tainted with cyanide, canceled trick-or-treating.
Can kids trick-or-treat safely this year, I wondered? Then the Centers for Disease Control advised parents to “avoid traditional trick-or-treating.” Instead, the CDC advised people to leave small bags of treats outside your door. (How long would those last?)
But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady gave us some hope when they said they weren’t canceling Halloween.
Then my wife saw something on Facebook. A chute, made of a PVC pipe, designed to deliver Snickers or Twix or Laffy Taffy to the hungry hordes, while keeping the young ghouls away from those handing out the treats.
And I decided to build it.
Orange would be best. And orange PVC pipe is used for sprinkler systems. But it commonly comes as a 1-inch-wide pipe, too small for even the funnest-sized candies.
So, like a lot of people on YouTube and Facebook, I priced 10-foot-long, plain white, 3-inch PVC. They’re the most common and easily available tubes, and last weekend I was on the verge of spending about $15 at a local hardware store. I needed about an 8-foot piece to attach to the front porch railing of our Rogers Park house, long enough to launch candy from the top step and have it be easily caught by kids on the front walk.
Luckily, I found enough scrap 2-inch PVC in the rafters of our garage.
I took it down, brought it to the front porch and it fit. (If you’re buying a piece and don’t have the equipment to safely cut it to size, most hardware stores will do it for you.) Cleaned off and hosed through, then disinfected and hosed again, it was ready for use.
My wife got a few rolls of orange duct tape (we visit Clark-Devon Hardware regularly), and I ended up using just one full roll, for about $5, to wrap the tube.
To keep the candy from shooting right out onto the sidewalk, I bought a 2-inch, 45-degree angle elbow for the bottom of the pipe.
I was going to mount the tube to the top of the railing with metal straps, but the hardware store clerks told me zip ties (with a little more duct tape) would do the job just fine.
Mounting complete, decorations came next. My 11-year-old daughter broke out some markers. I wrapped the chute with orange holiday lights and draped the top three-quarters with a wispy black cloth.
To keep the tube clean until Halloween, I attached round pieces of cardboard covered in tape at both ends.
The chute does work. (Violating house rules, we broke into the stash of Halloween candy to test it.) Not only do the candy pieces come zooming out of the chute, they make a suitably didgeridoo-like sound on the way down. A repurposed plastic jack-o-lantern, with a hole cut in its mouth so it looks as if the pumpkin is spewing candy, completes the rig.
Next, we’ll have to figure out how to mark off social distancing for the families we hope will give us a chance to use our newest, most 2020 of decorations.
So, friends and fellow candy-lovers, don’t let the pandemic smash our Halloween spirit. We need it now more than ever. We’re a nation built on ingenuity. And duct tape.
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