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Monday, November 03, 2008

A Safe Halloween for Back of the Yards

These are some photos from St. Joseph's Halloween event, co-sponsored by the church youth group and U.N.I.O.N. Impact Center. I'm happy to report that Halloween in the neighborhood this year was a safe and fun experience for the kids of Marshfield Avenue and beyond. We didn't make headlines this year. There were lots of police out. People still trick-or-treated.

Here on Marshfield, I rode my bike past Chavez Elementary as school was being dismissed, just in time to see hundreds of little kids (up to 4th grade) coming out in all their costumes. About an hour later, I came out of my house with my candy to find about ten neighbor kids waiting outside my front gate. After they got treats from me they went up to 47th Street, where the businesses were giving out candy and other treats. The famous one is the peanuts from El Guero supermarket.

Around 4:30, Junior and his brother and Picasso came by. They helped me unpack my fog machine and went to figure out how it worked. Picasso's mom was going to Cicero to spend time with her grandkids, and Picasso didn't want to go. I promised her he could stay with me and we would go over to St. Joe's and then back to my house for pizza.

The boys and I were hanging around when some of the girls from down the block came out in a big gaggle. They were going to the movie at Holy Cross. We agreed we would all go over together and stop in at St. Joe's on the way to see how the haunted house was coming along. (I had some candy to donate, too.) We ate pizza in the Holy Cross basement. Only two of us watched the movie--the rest of us were just talking and making jokes.

Afterwards we went back to St. Joe's since the haunted house was now running. Picasso told me his mom had called him to say she was home and he wanted to go home. I smelled a rat but didn't want to say so. "OK," I said. "I'll walk you home." I figured I could trust Junior and his little brother to stay put with the girls at the party.

So Picasso and I walked back together, and he told me he had forgotten to take his essay draft to school on Friday. "When we get back for the party, give it to me and I'll type it up and email it to your teacher," I said. He agreed. I was hoping this would keep him in the house for a few more minutes anyway. He does seem to want to improve his grade in English.

We got to his house and the lights were out. "Are you sure your mom is home?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"OK...Well, I'll call you later when we order the pizza."

I watched him go in the house, saw some lights turn on upstairs, then called Junior's mom (they live in the same building) and told her that Picasso was home and I was going back to church to get Junior and his brother.

Turns out I was right about the rat. When we were walking back, Junior told me, "Don't trick [tell on me for saying this] but Picasso left early because he wanted to throw eggs. I was going to go too, but then I couldn't find him."

"That's because I walked him home," I said. "He said he was going to come to the party." I took out my phone. "I'll call him now and tell him we're coming. Let's see if he answers."

Junior's little brother disagreed. "No, don't do that! Then he has time to come home before we get there. You won't catch him that way."

I explained that I didn't really care about "catching him," I just wanted him to be safe and that if he had gone out and this would convince him to come back, that was fine with me. Picasso did answer the phone right away and seemed fine with the news we were on our way back.

When we arrived, I sent Junior and his brother home for a few minutes so I could straighten up. The girls from down the block were coming, too. Before I went in the house, I saw Joey and his dad talking next door. His dad was dressed up to go out: black cowboy hat, black cowboy suit, boots. He was going to Cicero for a party and was trying to persuade his son to join him. Joey wanted to go out with another boy on the block here. I don't know that kid as well but I hear he's trouble. It looked like Joey's dad was going to weasel out with some "be careful, son" comment but not do anything to prevent him taking off.

So I stuck my nosy neighbor nose smack in the middle of their chat. I took Dad aside and said, "Look, Halloween is a very dangerous night. Kids think they're going to out to throw eggs and they get shot by gangbangers. When I was teaching I had a student land in the hospital on Halloween with a gunshot wound. I'm going to have a party right here at the house. Tell Joey he has go with you or stay here with me. He's not listening to his mother but he still has some respect for you."

"There are a lot of police out," he said uncertainly. I didn't say what I was thinking--that makes it all the more likely your son will get picked up off the street and you'll be spending the night getting him out of jail.

Eventually Dad got the point and was a little more insistent with Joey. "You don't want to end up like your brother," I could hear him say in Spanish. Fortunately, I had the five plywood boards down in the basement, ready for tagging. That got Joey's attention. He and I went down to the basement and put two of them in the back yard, one for him and one for Picasso. We called Picasso and told him to come over with his spray cans. I ordered pizza. The rest of the kids showed up.

The girls ate pizza and chatted. We talked about how great it would have been if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had run as president and vice-president. (A couple of the girls were really into that idea.) Junior and his brother tried to work the used laptop their dad just got from somebody. Alas, they didn't succeed. The laptop was password protected and somehow they didn't get the right username and password written down. Joey and Picasso sprayed away on the boards out back. Some of the little kids who came with their big sisters went out to watch. When the pizza came, everyone ate. Then the older kids squished themselves together on my couch to watch YouTube videos while the younger kids drew pictures and played with my yoga ball.

At one point, Joey's dad called my cell phone to check on him. Yay!

Near the end of the night, some of the tweens wanted to figure out how the fog machine worked. Earlier Junior and Picasso briefly got it close, but they put in too much water. This time I was paying very close attention and put in the water myself, and the fog started coming out. It looked great, especially with the lights off. We called everybody down to see it. Then it was time to call it a night, about 11 p.m.

The best part was seeing Picasso and Joey go home afterwards. No eggs on the street. Nobody in jail. At least for one night. It's especially good when that one night is Halloween.

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