“Nothing on Earth so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night.” —Steve Almond, American short story writer



One of the great things about being an adult is having a Halloween-ish haul of the candy hit par­ade “good stuff” filling the kitchen counter treat jar year-round.

It’s every kid’s dream really, a well-stocked treat jar worthy of candyman Willy Wonka perpetually at the ready for candy emergencies, but as Halloween draws near I find the dreamy candy cornucopia at my fingertips lacks some of the youthful magic of the trick-or-treating days of my youth.

Plunking down an ever-rising number of greenbacks at the checkout counter for an ever-shrinking “family size” bag of candy, depressingly now more blown air than confection, falls short of the mark in the fun department compared to the youthful joy experienced prowling the old neighborhood with costumed friends in the dark, painstakingly earning a year’s stash of candy one trick-or-treat doorbell ring at a time.

And even then, every trick-or-treat stop was something of a “Wheel of Fortune” spin. Either you scored the good stuff “treat” you loved or you landed on the bankrupt “trick” with the downward-slide whistle sound effect, handed a dud like a lovingly-made petrified popcorn ball or, heaven forbid, a piece of nutritious fruit. Sometimes you hit the mystery wedge bonus, scoring a fistful of treats or a full-size candy bar. Alas, I never hit the “Wheel of Fortune” My$tery Wedge $10K giveaway while out trick-or-treating, though it wasn’t unusual to score a few “treat” nickels or dimes along the way.

With our chaperone parents in tow, my “Sandlot” friends and I would canvass our neighborhood on Milwaukee’s far northwest side — Granville some old-timers still called it — with a fine-toothed comb, a fun-loving, goofy and eminently convivial trick-or-treating Band of Brothers.

Think of The Three Musketeers meet The Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers meet Laurel and Hardy and you can imagine the lively and comedic hi-jinx that were afoot after we were sufficiently buzzed on sugar, staggering around the neighborhood like drunken sailors on shore leave, singing Helen Reddy’s 1973 hit “Delta Dawn” — or was it “My Wild Irish Rose?”

Later gathered together under the porch light, tired and footsore but intensely satisfied with the fruits of our persistent trick-or-treating labor, we’d wheel-and-deal our candy haul with all the intensity of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. 

Emptying out our toothy-grinned orange plastic candy baskets from W.T. Grants and Drews Variety on the year’s designated concrete front stoop, we’d haggle spirited trades over Milk Duds, M&M’s, “fun sized” Hershey’s minis, Pearson and York peppermint patties, Boyer Mallow Cups, jelly Chuckles candies, chalky Necco wafers, powdery Pixy Stix, paper scrolls of candy buttons, syrupy Nik-L-Nip wax bottles and Snickers, Mounds, Almond Joy, Milky Way and Three Musketeers bars of various sizes.

Possessed of varying candy preferences, we all had our passionate likes and pet peeve dislikes. By the time the closing bell rang on the Beaver Creek Apartments candy trading floor, there were takers for most all the candy, save for the concrete-hard popcorn balls that were reserved for batting practice, bocce, ten-pins and shot-putting.

I’d gladly trade away the Nik-L-Nips, face-puckering SweeTarts, anise-spiked black licorice whips, nougat-filled candy bars and incendiary cinnamon Red Hots, Atomic Fireballs and Hot Tamales to buddies Ken, Brad and Brian for my personal favorites — “coconutty” Mounds and Almond Joys, Hershey Special Dark minis, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Boyer Mallow Cups, Butterfingers, old-school peanut butter and molasses Mary Janes, Necco wafers, Pearson and York peppermint patties, Whoppers malted milk balls, Goetze’s caramel creme Bull’s Eyes, hard candy Dad’s Root Beer barrels, and Brach’s pink, white and brown-striped “Coconut Neapolitan Sundaes.”

Satisfied with our high-stakes candy trades and an evening’s trick-or-treating well done, being kids of the ’70s we’d all kick back and “light up” our red-tipped white sugar Pell Mell, Winstun, Acmel, Marboro, Cool, Viceyo, Terryton and Lucky Stripe candy cigarettes, four ridiculous prepubescent Humphrey Bogart wannabes trying to look suave and sophisticated in our dime store Halloween costumes.

It seems like a lifetime ago — and it seems like just yesterday.

As Gene Wilder’s Wonka mumbled as an aside to Roy Kinnear’s Mr. Salt in the 1971 musical fantasy film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

And as Halloween nears, I yearn for a little of that old childhood nonsense.

You can find me outside smoking my retro “candy stix.” Being ridiculous every once in a while can be a good thing.