the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


Last Halloween, while all my friends dressed up and went to Halloween parties, I stayed home under the old-fashioned belief that Halloween is supposed to be a children’s holiday.    I have so many fond childhood memories of going door to door with my friend, Rob, and collecting all our loot, as well as the pennies for UNICEF, back when the United Nations was a reputable institution.  Rob and I still talk about our famous “old-men” Halloween costumes, with the gray beards and old hats borrowed from my father, which has become less funny as we have started to get actual gray beards.

I bought tons of candy (at the 99-cent store, of course) and waited for the cheerful smiles of the local children.   I even bought this scary Frankenstein mask that lit up, hoping to give the kids some thrills and chills.  I waited and waited.  Not one child came knocking on my door.  Not one.  I still have some of the candy from last Halloween.

My only conclusion is that in Los Angeles, most parents do not want their kids knocking on strangers’ doors, even if the kids are accompanied by an adult.  Now, I didn’t live in a “bad” neighborhood.  I lived in what they call Beverly Hills-adjacent.  (Hah!)   I think parents are scared for their children, thinking that every stranger is a potential pedophile.

Now I know this is a serious issue, so parents, please don’t throw tomatoes at the monitor just yet.    Every day, I read about some young boy or girl who is being lured somewhere by some crackpot on MySpace.  But a red flag goes up in my mind when every “Inside Edition” and “Dateline” is about the same issue.  I know how much these TV shows love selling danger to a scared public.  “Eat spinach and risk death… or worse!” a squeaky-voiced female newscaster recently said on Eyewitness News.

From doing a little reading tonight, I’ve learned the obvious — MOST problems with children are with extended family members.  Going around for Halloween might be less dangerous than leaving your kids with Uncle Joe.  While I understand the fear of strangers, I think it is bad for kids to grow up feeling afraid of ALL strangers.   How are they ever going to empathize with others if they are only taught to trust their own family?

Today, I was at my local Starbucks.  It is situated next to one of those Gymboree’s.  As I was drinking my coffee, some little girl came running over to my table.  I smiled and said hello.  The mother, at the next table, gave me a glare, as if I SHOULDN’T be talking to her daughter.  

I just thought that was a little weird.   Should I not talk to children anymore? 

Well… I was unshaven…

But, I’m not giving up yet.  Not everyone can be so fearful.  After I left Starbucks, I did go and buy some more Halloween candy, just in case someone shows up.

A Year Ago On Citizen of the Month:  Johny Kops, Remember That Name


  1. V-Grrrl

    Dust your passport off and click on over to Obitz. You’re invited to my Halloween Party for the preschool children in our neighborhood, hosted by my elementary-age kids who wish they were still preschoolers. Who knew a 9 year old could be nostalgic about “the good old days”?

    Because Halloween isn’t celebrated in Belgium or the Phillipines or Estonia or Finland or Bulgaria, we’re making sure it’s a kind and gentle introduction to the American holiday. No vampires, ghosts, monsters, stupid American Presidents, or pedophiles.

    Bring your candy and join a true “united nations” celebration at Chez V.

  2. V-Grrrl

    Oh yeah, you’ll need directions. Fly toward France, then take a right. I’ll leave the jack-o-lantern on for ya.

  3. Neil

    I know there are parties for kids all over the place. My childhood Halloween was all about ringing the doorbells of people you hardly knew and getting candy (the treat), and then calling them names — or worse — if they didn’t give you anything (the trick). The big fear in my Queens neighborhood wasn’t the strangers so much as the infamous apple with the razor blade inside, as if any of us were actually going to eat a f***king apple that someone would throw in our bag when we had tons of Hershey bars.

  4. Ash

    In Holland we have the tradition that began the Halloween trick or treating way back when all those Dutch people moved to the USA. V-grrrl – it’s in Belgium too, but it’s only celebrated in two provinces and I don’t think yours is one of them.

    Our festival is called Sint-Maarten and it happens on 11 November. Kids don’t dress up, but they make a lantern and sing songs in return for satsumas and sweets. My kids are weird – they prefer the fruit to the sweets!

    The songs are cool and can be pretty rude too!

  5. ChickyBabe

    If you decide to go halloweening (is that a word?), make sure you don’t take your talking penis along! They might give you edible condoms instead of lollies.

  6. mari

    This sort of thing is why Chris Morris’ Today’s the Day was so great. His parody of the media is absolute genius.

    I totally agree with you about the fear-mongering media being simply fascist about such matters. I see and agree pedophilia is a very serious issue, as one of my best friends suffered from this as a child and I know how devastating it can be. But isn’t it funny how the very fear-mongerinng media are the very same who glamourize and sexualize ever younger, more childlike models? Look up Chris Morris on YOUTUBE…. I can guarantee it’ll make you think, and probably giggle.

  7. lux lisbon

    I struggle with this issue. My mother thought every person we passed in the supermarket was a child molester and told us so. Now I catch myself wondering if the grandfather bouncing his grand-daughter on his knee is actually molesting her at family BBQs. It is an awful way to think but I’ve been conditioned to think this way. I have one daughter who is very outgoing and loves to talk to EVERYBODY (I would have been the woman who shot you the dirty look for speaking to her kid) But my girl has forced ME to be more open to strangers because I do not want to put my issues off on her.

  8. better safe than sorry

    i’m ok if someone talks to my kids in the supermarket, as long as it’s a very short conversation, a quick hello and one comment, not someone striking up a conversation. it’s different when we’re at the dog park though. i have no problem at all about anyone talking to my kids there, but i don’t know why.
    we celebrate halloween here, but i’m in a mature area and there are less and less kids. maybe there aren’t any kids in your area?

  9. better safe than sorry

    oh yeah, and do you carve a pumpkin? my kids won’t go to any house, even if the lights are on, unless there is a carved pumpkin. it’s kind of a signal.

  10. Mist 1

    Just make sure it’s the good candy.

  11. mrsmogul

    Holy crap! I better get some Halloween candy in case I get knocks at the door! I live in in a condo apt in FLORIDA!! There are kids here too! It’s not LONDON OR NY!

    In london it was like that, don’t LOOK OR TALK TO MY KID!

  12. cruisin-mom

    My kids always knew where the one house was that had MOVIE THEATER size candy…the word gets out, and then all the kids will come to your house. Trust me, it works everytime.

  13. justrun

    Spread the word that your house has the “big size” candy bars and you’ll have plenty of trick-or-treaters.

  14. orieyenta

    My little one will talk to anyone that will listen. If we were in your neighborhood, I bet she’d walk right in and make herself at home just like she does here.

  15. Caryn

    I agree with Better Safe than Sorry — gotta have that universal sign, or maybe there just aren’t many kids coming around. Perhaps word has gotten out about you.

    But seriously, I think you’ve hit on something — there does seem to be a lot more fear and paranoia. Maybe it’s for good reason, but it does seem to prevent people from just simply relating to one another. Anyway, be sure you have candy. One year I was in Queens for Halloween and before we went out for our adult debauchery, we had a few knocks on the door. Those kids ended up getting sticks of gum, leftover fortune cookies from our last takeout order and starlight mints.

  16. Reba

    My son’s school is doing a Trunk or Treat. Parent’s from the school go and park in the lot and lift their trunks that are filled with candy. The kids then go from trunk to trunk for their treats. We won’t be going to this cause I still like the old fashioned walk around the neighborhood and go door to door with your friend. It is a tradition that I hope can go on forever.


    Come trick or treat in my neighborhood! The kids still run-door to door.

  18. tiff

    Move out to the country with us, where any “neighborhood” (eg – with houses closer than a half mile from one another) gets absolutely INUNDATED with kids from all over.

    I’m one of the country folk who drive their kids to any available candy-rich area. It’s a glorious madhouse kind of night, and we all know where the “best” houses are. :>

  19. Rhea

    I adore Halloween. I loved it as a kid and I love it now. But if I had children I would be fearful of them going door to door these days, as much as I enjoyed it myself. Also, I found the comment from Ash in Holland interesting. In my neighborhood there is a Dutch woman who has brought a Lantern Parade tradition to my neighborhood and it has been going each October for about 20 years!

    Neil, I always feel sad when kids don’t come to the door. I hope you get some this year.

  20. fringes

    We’re still Trick-or-Treating as well. Of course, that means, in my Baptist family, I’m raising my kids to be pagans. But they are cute pagans, so what the hell.

  21. Cover Your Mouth

    Perhaps the children’s parents have come across your blog and are leary because you wear girl undies with monkeys on them. I’m just sayin’. . .

  22. wendy

    Fringes touched on my comment. Out here in the sticks (DENVER, really the STICKS??)the born again christians worry about the evil overtones of the holiday…ugggh.. same “type” moms and I would almost come to blows over my choice to ALLOW Harry Potter books in my house. To make things SO SCARY for our the real shame.

    Hey, someone in the LA area should dress up as Dooce, and go visit Neil…to heal his broken heart..poor Neil….

  23. Dagny

    There are still neighborhoods in the Bay Area that have trick or treating. I hear the best place to go is Sea Cliff in San Francisco. Apparently Robin Williams gives out some really cool toys.

  24. Neil

    Cover Your Mouth — I never thought about that. I haven’t got called back for an interview after I mentioned my blog. Maybe this mother was a reader…

  25. Two Roads

    Jewish people have Halloween too – it’s called Purim! Don’t you just love how Jewish people get two of everything – New Year’s, Hannukkay & Christmas, Halloween & Purim, Easter & Passover, Independence Day (US & Israel). We just party hearty!

  26. echo

    one problem could be that the children found out you were going to give out 99 cent store candy (even preschools use the internet these days), so they skipped your house. you should have mentioned in your blog that you will be giving out king size candy bars this year, then you’ll get tons of kids.

    if i lived in LA i would totally dress up and trick or treat at your house (even if it was candy from the 99 cent store).

  27. amanda

    i am a halloween scrooge. but i always talk to children. i am sorry that people are so suspicious – but i guess better safe than sorry. you really never know. but you seem harmless enough – unless that’s you skulking around outside my apartment building.

  28. Jessica

    I use to go trick-or-treating ALONE in my neighborhood/small town.. When I think of my child ever doing that, I absolutely cringe.

    For years, I lived in an apartment and, unfortunately, those don’t get trick-or-treated often so I was giddy with excitement when my husband and I moved into our townhouse just in time for Halloween. Imagine our chagrin when we only got one group of three trick-or-treaters, all of whom were approximately 17 with no costumes and pillow cases for candy retrieval…I swear they drove themselves to our door, stomping on their cigarettes as they rang the bell.

  29. Leesa

    We don’t get trick-or-treaters here.. I guess the walk between farms is too far 🙂
    We did as kids though, walk all the neighborhoods, by ourselves.

  30. jamelah

    Trick-or-treaters come to my house, but they all seem to be 25-year-old guys with 4 bags, mumbling something about how the kids are in the car. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that there should be a rule — if you’ve got a non-costume beard growing out of the hair follicles on your face, then you shouldn’t be allowed to go up to people’s houses and ask them for mini-Snickers.

  31. K.Leigh

    I’ve not had a trick-or-treater since I moved to LA…but I’m in an apartment, so I guess that makes sense. I didn’t get any the year I lived in Chicago, either.

    I miss seeing the little ballerina fairy princess unicorns (I love how littel girls combine as many “pretty” outfits into one as possible).

  32. schmutzie

    I find that if the Palinode and I are together, parents smile when I say hi and frown when he does, and he’s the one who knows how to relate to kids. It’s a shame, really, that they’d rather have me, someone who’s at a complete loss with kids, than the Palinode, who can engage even a three-year-old in deep conversation, hang out with their offspring.

  33. M.A.

    Giving out candy is the best part of Holloween. I love it!

  34. Churlita

    Where I live, we still go trick-or-treating, but we go as a big group of parents and kids and all the parents drink wine out of coffee cups so it’s really fun.

    I love that part of Halloween. Since I’m not home, I have no idea if kids come to our house or not.

  35. 2nd Pearl Past the Post

    I’d say smile at kids anyway, even their paranoid parents. They need the reinforcement of safety.

    I have had 2 trick or treaters in 10 years, and that’s counting the same baby twice. Ah well, a few reece’s PB cups won’t be the immediate horrifying death of us, unlike spinach. 😉

  36. lizardek

    You can come and hand out OUR candy so I can go around the neighborhood with the kids: first time trick-or-treating for them AND a whole boatload of clueless Swedes 🙂

  37. Denise

    I haven’t had any kids at my condo with the trick or treating in the 17 years I’ve lived there. I think it’s the fact that apartments aren’t very kid friendly. Still, it makes me sad.

  38. Linda Freedman (TherapyDoc)

    Terrific post. Of course you have to talk to little children. Carl Whittaker, a dayan in family therapy suggested that we mainly talk to little children, flirt with all of them. But that’s as far as it goes, Neil.

  39. Melanie

    Just popping in to say ‘Salut, Neillou’! Which would almost rhyme in French.

  40. sbukophile

    I don’t know if we’re going to get trick or treaters this year–we moved into our house in January. It’s a very family oriented and safe neighborhood, so I kind of expect a lot–but I’ll be bummed if I buy a ton of candy and nobody comes–unlike you Neil, there is NO WAY that I’d still have candy left a year later, let alone a day later!

  41. brettdl

    Halloween definitely is not what it used to be.

    On the other hand, you’re always free to say hi to our kids next time you are in Chicago.

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