For a few moments, the teenage couple and I are at an impasse.
“Well? Can I have a piece or not?” the teenage boy asks, in a voice that probably dropped three years ago. Then he stiffens his upper lip (which seems to be sprouting stubble, incidentally).
His date smacks her gum, shifts her weight from one high heel to the other, adjusts the bosom she has carefully stuffed into what might be a Halloween costume but is more likely the outfit she has to wear to her gastropub hostessing job later in the evening.
Let it go. It’s just a Snickers bar, I tell myself.
I take a deep breath and shove the candy into their hands. “Happy Halloween, ‘kids,’ ” I sing sarcastically, contorting my inflection so that I say the word “kids” kind of like the way Al Pacino says the word “cockroach” in “Scarface.”
For years, it’s been hard for me to justify turning trick-or-treaters away for being too old for the same reason I find it unnecessarily risky to complain to your waiter about bad or slow service at a restaurant before you get your food. (I guess I just can’t overcome the fear of the former scenario ending with eggs or toilet paper, and the latter ending with saliva.)
But I’ve decided I need to take a tougher stance on this issue, because I can’t stand another year of giving my candy to teenagers who mumble “trick or treat” with as much enthusiasm as they might throw into tackling their algebra homework.
I want to give it to the 5-year-olds who attack the candy bowl like they’re playing a speed round of Hungry Hungry Hippos, to the groups of elementary-schoolers who are red-faced and out of breath from racing each other from house to house, to the toddlers who regard me and my free Snickers as if I just made an iPad appear out of thin air.
Problem is, it’s not always obvious who’s too old, since children mature and develop at different speeds; they’re not necessarily walking around with 5 o’clock shadows or alcohol on their breaths (at least, I hope not).
So I’ve created a quick pop quiz I’ll spring on any group of trick-or-treaters that a) includes at least one person who is roughly my height; and/or b) are wearing “costumes” that appear to be made up primarily of normal street clothes. Feel free to steal.
1. “What was the theme for your most recent birthday party?” If they didn’t have a theme, they require further questioning – continue on to Question 2.
2. “Who are you supposed to be dressed up as?” This one’s pretty straightforward: Vague answers, or any variation of “I’m a high school student” are immediate grounds for dismissal.
3. “Are you employed?” If they have a job, tell them you’re running a special tonight: Three “fun size” Butterfingers for $1!
4. “Do you think Glenn died on last Sunday’s episode of ‘The Walking Dead,’ or do you think he’s still alive?” If you get even the slightest sense that they understand what you’re talking about, close the door on them.
Look, bottom line here: You can never be too old to dress up for Halloween. You can never be too old to enjoy candy. And you can never be too old to act young.
But I think you can be too old to trick or treat, and I’m willing to bet a 5-pound bag of Snickers that the “kids” who are violating this unwritten rule know exactly who they are.