Mostly Tricks by
(93 Stories)

Prompted By Trick or Treat?

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I have many Halloween memories, but can’t recall a single specific Halloween from before I went to college. All I have are fragments. Sepia-tones Instamatic snaps in my mind of me and other little kids wandering in and out of the pools of light and shadow of the streets in my neighborhood, seeking candy. No adult accompaniment back then, which I think made it much more fun. I remember that the bullies always seemed to dress as stereotypical hobos. I figured that it was because some old clothes, a pillowcase and a dab of greasepaint for dirt on the face was cheap and easy. My costumes were usually homemade and science-fiction themed. A robot of silver-painted cardboard boxes, corrugated tubes and Reynolds Wrap. Mr. Spock, complete with ears. The Creature From the Black Lagoon (well, sort of). As I outgrew tricks or treats, I noticed that the usual bullies kept at it, in the same costumes, although it was by then more of an extortion scheme for them.

Halloween did teach me a life lesson, though. I only learned the story behind it years later.

My Mom was a very take-no-prisoners person if pushed too far; One day, when I was quite young and not at home, my school gym teacher showed up at our door. Mr. Louis was selling encyclopedias. After inviting him in and listening politely to his pitch, Mom declined to buy what we had available in the public library. That was when Mr. Louis made a serious error. He intimated that it might go badly for her kid’s grades if she didn’t buy a set of his books. With that, my Mom went ballistic, grabbed Mr. Louis and escorted him bodily to the door, all to the accompaniment of some of her plentiful supply of obscene insults. But she didn’t tell me about it.

My grade school had a Halloween costume contest every year. My most imaginative and carefully crafted costumes never seemed to get any traction. Robot, Spock, Gill Man, Dracula. It didn’t matter. I was always out in the first or second round. The winner was usually one of the hobos. The hobos were often the jocks as well.

One year, when I was in sixth or seventh grade, my parents attended. They sussed out what was happening in short order. Although the judging was ostensibly by loudness-of-applause, one of the teachers, standing in the back of the auditorium, was signalling who was in and who was out and who finally won.

That teacher was Mr. Louis, who evidently had a long memory.

Mom had never put two and two together until that year. That was when she told me about her giving the bum’s rush to a certain encyclopedia salesman. It took a lot of pleading to convince her that a rematch with Mr. Louis could only make things worse for me, and I only had a year or two left at PS#4 anyway. But the story explained a lot about Mr. Louis’ behavior toward me over the years.

I never again entered the Halloween costume contest.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: halloween, adults, kids, authority
Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dave, this story is infuriating, but I’m so glad that you got a chance to tell it here. Of course, in this era, Mr. Louis would be hauled up on some ethics violation (hopefully) but that era was quite different. I think our elementary music teacher sold us our World Books. I am so sorry this happened to you. Just not right for a kid to be pushed aside as you were because his gym teacher black-balled his family for not buying something they didn’t need! What a world…

    • Dave Ventre says:

      He was persistent if nothing else. I was very bad at most sports, but due to my constant bicycling, by 8th grade I could run far and sprint fast. There were two races where he simply refused to acknowledge that I had one. Even the other runners said I had won. He was not a nice person.

  2. Dave, shame – more than shame – on that disgraceful teacher. Hopefully over your school years you’ve known other teachers with integrity who were far better role models and mentors than bad apple Louis.

    And brava to your mom for her moxie!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What a sad story of teacher abuse, Dave. It does seem a bit like extortion on his part. Wonder if teachers could get away with that today?

  4. Suzy says:

    As the others have said, it is shocking what Mr. Louis did. He should definitely have been reported, but I can understand your telling your mother not to do anything because it would make things worse for you. Still, I wonder how many other students he victimized.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Loved the sepia-tones memories of pools of light etc. Your mom was a real fighter! Good for her, even if you had repercussions from the creepy teacher. Costume contests are fraught, as others have mentioned. One year I made a costume as a deck of cards, with a beautifully drawn rendition of the playing card on the cardboard sandwich board. I found out it didn’t win anything because the judges assumed my mother had made it.

  6. Marian says:

    Well, you’ve made the case for banning costume contests in school, Dave. Glad you survived and found out why this all happened. I experienced my share of sadistic gym teachers, and hope that if this kind of thing happened today it would be reported.

  7. Risa Nye says:

    I think the very idea of a costume contest is terrible! Kids should be able to dress up for the fun of it without anyone judging or excluding. The rating scheme reminds me of a particular MLB team stealing signs. But I digress–bravo to your mom to showing that bum the door!

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