We marched down rainy Calle 23, our candy bags lifted high.
Is there anything more optimistic than a trick-or-treater?
We were: A sailor (Yours truly). A soul-singer sister in an Afro wig (Adela, my sweetheart). A blue-gowned princess from Frozen (Ana Maria, our 8-year-old). Two witches in pointy hats: one with scraggly black hair, one with hair the orange color you see on YARD-SALE-TODAY signs (Alba, our housekeeper, and Angela, a neighbor mom). A blue-wigged adult doing business by cell phone at 8 p.m. on Halloween night (Angela’s husband, Juan). A limp-legged, tennis-shoed (fake legs!) lad cleverly costumed to look like a passenger in the front seat of a cardboard roller coaster (Matías, the 10-year-old son of Angela/Juan). A tiny ninja (Emilio, Juan/Angela’s 6-year-old). A perro caliente—a hot dog (Juan/Angela’s puppy wore a bun for a saddle … with a bright red plastic weenie running the length of its spine). And Anonymous, the mysteriously sketchy hero of the cult-classic movie V for Vendetta (Juan Manuel, Adela/my 10-year-old). In the sardonic Guy Fawkes mask, Juanma resembles some kind of fourth musketeer—one Alexander Dumas maybe edited out of The Three Musketeers for steering his plot off in the wrong direction.
Halloween in Bogotá filled the streets of Santa Barbara Occidental, our neighborhood, with costumes and cries.
The pagan-rooted Celtic holiday stretches its long scary fingers into Colombia (and much of the rest of South America, I’m told), enriching the imaginations of kids and revelers … and the bank accounts of merchants in Colombia and mask-makers in China.
Kids in our barrio didn’t go door to door, U.S.-style, to trick-or-treat homeowners. They went door to door to trick-or-treat vigilantes, the security guards at the entrances of every neighborhood apartment building.
Those watchmen (and sometimes women) wore convincing costumes themselves, crisply starched, ultra-official, blue and gray uniforms that convey stern authority. Those costumes say: “Nobody gets past us vigilant vigilantes into our fortress high-rises.”
And nobody does … no trick-or-treater, anyway. (We won’t mention the occasional cat burglar who magically scales the back of a building, slips like smoke through a key hole, then steals away into the night with looted silver and the sparkling contents of the household safe.)
To avoid being mistaken for those cat burglars, our pack of costumed kids chanted a sing-song Colombian version of the ‘Trick-or-Treat’ doorstep greeting known to one and all in the United States.
In Colombia, trick-or-treaters chant:
Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz
My very rough English translation:
Tricky tricky Halloween
I want candy for me
If there is not candy for me
Well, your nose is gonna grow
Sad to say, Halloween in Bogotá brings the dreaded Curse of Pinocchio to those who don’t answer the door with bowls of candy.
No curses for the vigilantes! At most apartment buildings, the guards amiably leave their stations and crack open doors to sprinkle treats into those big hopeful bags. Most guards give generously, reckoning that the sooner they give away all the candy, the sooner they’ll stop having to answer doors … and the sooner they can get back to their Call of Duty: Black Ops video games.
The types of candies guards dispense would look familiar to a suburban trick-or-treater in the United States.
How do I know? I trick-or-treated with the kids.
I admit getting more than a few skeptical glances from the guards handing out candy, but they mostly smiled and dropped goodies into my bag as I explained:
“Isn’t this a great 61-year-old gringo sailor costume? Don’t I look just exactly like a 61-year-old gringo sailor?”
Then, after my Bogota night of trick-or-treating— and exactly as I did 51 years ago at age 10 after furiously pedaling a spyder bike on Halloween night through the dirt-street neighborhoods of south Alabama dressed as a red devil—I dumped my loot onto the dining room table.
Picture a 61-year-old gringo sailor-turned-pirate counting the riches from his treasure chest.
The hard candy outnumbered all else, a trove of cheerful little tooth-breaking emeralds and rubies and yellow diamonds in plastic wrappers. I piled those to one side.
Next, I separated out anything with a stick—lollipops, suckers, some curious kind of gummy candy shaped like a jack o’ lantern. I lined those up next to the Jet bars—a Cadbury-ish chocolate bar beloved to most every Colombian. I added to my chocolate booty the single Mont Blanc candy I had, shiny as a doubloon in its gold foil wrapper.
A couple of my treasures had unfortunate names, at least if their manufacturers ever hope to sell them in English-speaking markets.
I’m not sure most mommies would pick up a bag of small chocolate orbs called Chokis for their kids. And, what gringo would pop a Fruity Bum in his mouth?
I created more hills of pleasure that night with my cookies and gum drops and bubble gums and some kind of candy with a grimacing face on its wrapper. That one was so shudderingly sour that it made the green persimmon I once bit into (and that turned my mouth inside out) taste sweet as Tupelo honey.
I missed candy corn, which seemed five decades ago to always litter the bottom of my bag, attracting cat hair. I missed licorice whips. I’m thinking licorice may only be legal in the United States.
I did not miss those disappointing gifts that high-minded citizens once dropped in kids’ bags in lieu of tooth-rotting sugar candies. Healthy tangerines. Healthy apples. Healthy pecans. (Yuk! Break out the rotten eggs! Roll out the toilet paper! Who deserved a trick more than those sanctimonious Halloween reformers? A pecan? Are you kidding me? Am I a squirrel?)
That Anonymous character, called Sin Nombre here, proved very popular in Bogota. I saw Sin Nombre waiting at a TransMilenio bus stop. I glimpsed Sin Nombre pedaling a 10-speed in a gang of costumed bogotanos—bogomen!—in a biking pack on the way to some party. I saw Sin Nombre with a glass of beer at Bogota Beer Company.
The zombie I saw in Usaquén, another nearby neighborhood, reminded me of the strange appeal of the living dead in today’s world.
A few years back, I left my desk in Atlanta to walk up to Manuel’s Tavern, the famous watering hole of journalists and artists and Democrats in the South’s largest city. It happened that the city’s annual zombie walk had taken place on Freedom Parkway an hour or so before. (Atlanta is the zombie capital of the world, due to the fact that the TV series The Walking Dead is produced there and also to the large number of human resources departments.)
The zombies got hungry on their walk. When it ended, they staggered into Manuel’s.
I’ll never forget the sight. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen 50 zombies gnawing chicken wings and guzzling beers.
And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a security guard dropping Chokis into the candy sack of optimistic Anonymous … with a real live hot dog admiring its own reflection in a puddle nearby.
Photo: flood/10352713815/in/photolist-gLQn8M-djB7BN-gHFgCT-7dLBPY-zb6jS8-znDBFd-oWkhtB-h1ahBN-f38e1z-dyNaVG-ddrN7t-aBcr5Y-aAMhiT-azK8GJ-9tbfi4-8MVtV7-7bKAve-5xZ2zr-52vu7-zwEn9s-oWx9us-pRcZn1-pSygGe-fUfBcJ-dnAfyG-769t4x-AyS3jr-pTk5P3-pQZAbq-oSW1t4-pj3NfX-h7VyQq-gFSEB1-8PQQxj-8KC5an-7chpZi-7bJAJA-73CKjK-5zNXRe-5yhkem-48mxuS-5tHbZ-AnCGuC-zyneko-zUKGeF-nWs8J1-haXSyB-h5NmvS-aA7E4r-azWxLP">Flood G., CC-BY
Charles McNair is Paste’s Books Editor emeritus. He served the magazine as writer, critic and editor from 2005-2015.