Monday, October 22, 2007

Phantom Gifts are Spooky

Ugh. I’ve been visited by The Phantom.

The Phantom is an annoying neighborhood ritual where neighbors leave anonymous treats on your doorstep, along with a cutesy Halloween poem and a drawing of a ghost. You hang the ghost on your door so everyone will know you’ve already been visited. Then you’re supposed to make new treats and deliver them anonymously to two other neighbors, with copies of the same poem and ghost. Then they give them to two neighbors, and pretty soon, the whole neighborhood is glowing with gratitude, a warm sense of community, and a ruined diet.

I hate this ritual. Call me Scrooge. (I know, wrong holiday.)

It’s not that I don’t like my neighbors. I DO like my neighbors. I have some really nice neighbors, in fact.

It’s not that I don’t like giving neighbor gifts, either. At Christmas time, I like taking small gifts to my immediate neighbors, because we don’t get to see each other very often during the short, cold winter days, and it’s a good excuse to say hi.

So why am I grumpy?

1) It’s anonymous, so I don’t know if I can trust it. I don’t think eating food you find lying around on the ground is a good idea in the best of circumstances. What if this same plate of brownies has been regifted through four busy neighbors already? It could be a week old before I even see it! Or what if there’s someone in the neighborhood who hates me and thinks I’d enjoy brownies laced with pot, Ex-Lax, or rat poison? I don’t think I’ve offended anyone, but you never know. Maybe someone hates blue Hondas, and they’ve never forgiven me for driving one. Hey, these are human beings we’re dealing with. People are weird. It happens.

2) It has an obligation taped right to it. I prefer doing something nice because I want to, not because I’ve been told to. Heaven knows I have enough obligations piled up right now, without some blue-Honda-hater telling me I have to stay up past midnight baking cupcakes to deliver them to two other unsuspecting harried moms.

3) It contradicts the #1 Halloween trick-or-treating rule we enforce on our kids. Honestly, this is the one that amazes me. Ever since the 1960s, when rumors of LSD-tainted candy and apples containing razor blades ran rampant, children have been told to never, ever, EVER eat a Halloween treat that wasn’t individually packaged from the store. But when unidentified home-made treats show up on your doorstep, you’re just supposed to take it inside your home and blithely feed it to your children? Are you KIDDING me?

4) And last but not least, the anonymous goodies left on your porch never come with an ingredients label. I feel bad that whoever went to the trouble of staying up past midnight, satisfying the obligation ghoul, has now wasted her time and money by leaving these treats for a food-allergic family that can’t eat them because we can’t tell if they contain peanut butter or almond extract. If the anonymous part of this trick was removed from the treat, and people just added a little tag saying “From the Smiths,” then I could call up Mr. or Ms. Smith and ask about the ingredients. Or at the very least, I could thank them for the gift. And get to know a neighbor.

I know this ritual was intended to be a community-building exercise. And I know most people probably think I’m over-reacting. But all that the Phantom gifts give me are misgivings and guilt – not really the feelings the originator intended, I’m sure.

So I taped the paper ghost to my door so no one else will bring me anything, and I let my little branch of the Phantom network die. I figure other neighbors are continuing to spread Phantom joy and anonymous “I dare you eat this without knowing its origin” gifts to the other neighbors, so no one will feel left out if I don’t participate.

But don’t worry. I’ll make up for it on Halloween. I’ll give all the kids that come to my door twice as much candy as the neighbors. And it’s all nut-free, milk-free, and egg-free, too. They’ll know who it’s from, and they’ll know it’s safe, and they’ll see me smile when I give it to them. And they won’t have to give it to two other neighbors or tape a sign to their door afterwards, either.

I like my Halloween heavy on the treats, and light on the tricks. And I think community-building exercises should let you get to know your neighbors, not hide from them.

Scrooge may be my middle name, but I still can’t wait for Halloween!


PdR said...

Hear hear! I so detest those Phantom thingies, for all the reasons you describe (so much more eloquently than I could). The only thing worse is those "friendship" breads, that make me stay up into the wee hours making bread and keeping some fermenting starter alive (no cheating with store-bought goodies there). From now on I refuse to feel guilty for letting the Phantom die.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Yep, I've always thought that friendship breads are misnamed -- you should only give them to people you want to torment. If you really like your friends, you should never give them anything that requires maintenance!

Eviliz said...

Though this is old, I must comment. In my neighborhood, it's called being "Jacked" and it has a jack o'lantern instead of a ghost. Also, it's always something store-bought for the reasons you name like food allergies and assurance of freshness/cleanliness. HOWEVER, every single instance of there being tampering in Halloween candy has been proven to be done by either a parent seeking to hurt their own child and blame an outside source, or a prank by the kids themselves. Please, folks, stop spreading this urban legend as fact!