James Lileks
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We can all agree that packing people into small rooms and scaring them so they scream and emit fine mists of personal fluids is probably not a good idea in a time of germs. Haunted houses probably should be discouraged until we get past this whole “sorta kinda the plague but not exactly” thing.

Now traditional trick or treating is being discouraged, both by the major health poobahs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local authorities. Here are some CDC-suggested activities to make Halloween fun and safe in a time when the Covidian Miasma still grips the streets like London fog:

• “Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them.”

I never would have thought of that. The “displaying them” is a nice touch, because usually after we carve a pumpkin, we put it in a dark room in the basement and post guards.

• “Decorating your house, apartment, or living space.”

Again, they’re a real fire hose of ideas here. This will play well with the kids:

“Mommmm, when are we going to get the free candy?”

“I’ve got a better idea, kids! Why don’t we stay indoors and apply those gummy window stickers that have seasonal motifs? Then we’ll take them off and put them in another room.”

“Great, Mom! Who needs candy? Dibs on sticking the candy corn one to the window!”

(All the kids cheer.)

• “Holding a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.”

They don’t suggest a low-voltage electrical fence to keep kids on the sidewalk, but it’s implied. Maybe a guy can stand on the porch and shoot candy at the kids with a slingshot, but you’ll probably have some kid coming to school the next day with an eyepatch because he took a Jolly Rancher to the head.

• “Having a virtual Halloween costume contest.”

Old wisdom: Limit kids’ screen time. New wisdom: Replace every possible social interaction with sitting alone in front of a screen.

• Moderate risk: “Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard).”

If you try this, I recommend adding someone with a hard look and a pitchfork, growling “Move along, now!” if the kids do not grab and go, or get too close.

• Highest risk: door-to-door accumulation of candy. Or, as we know it, Halloween.

No one will be shocked if the same authorities in a few months recommend the cookies left out for Santa to be store-bought and pre-wrapped.

The eerie thing about the suggestion to skip traditional Halloween is that it’s real life.

For the first time we have a real-life example of the theme behind half the holiday shows aimed at kids: “Oh, no, it looks like (insert specific holiday here) is canceled this year!”

It started with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Santa canceling Christmas because the weather is bad. Takes him about five seconds to pull the trigger on that decision, too, which makes you wonder if he forgot to pay his liability insurance premiums, or the tabs on his sled were expired, and he was looking for an excuse.

Ever since then, animated specials have used the canceled-holiday theme to make the characters act with ingenious enthusiasm to save Christmas (Halloween, Arbor Day or International Endangered Newt Awareness Day). It appeals to kids because the idea of a holiday being canceled is horrific. It can’t happen — or, at least, so the kids thought.

Well, now they know it can. Perhaps that’s not entirely bad, because it makes them appreciate all the more when things go normally. Any 5-year-old would understand.

“It’s OK, Daddy! I wanted to be Capan America an’ get candy, but now I have a new per- per - perpextive.”

“Perspective.”

“A new perspective on the uncertain nature of life, and the fragile illusion of continuity.”

“Yeah, that!”

Who’s happy about this? No one but dogs, who see Halloween as a sustained attack by outside forces. People who regard the ding-dong urchin brigade as an annoyance might be relieved. But this means the rest of us have no reason to buy excessive candy that coincidentally happens to be the stuff we like, as well. You have to buy some, in case some rebel youth defy the guidelines — but what will you do with all the leftovers?

Well, same as usual, just take them to the office ...

Oh. Right. Perhaps we can have a virtual office dump of unused candy, and 36 people can join a Zoom conference where everyone stares at the last Bit-O-Honey, not wanting to take it, because it’s the last piece, and that would be rude.

If it disappears, you’ll know your call was hacked by someone in another country. A very rude country whose mother did not bring them up correctly. Or Wisconsin.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks