CARDBOARD CAPERS

Some say Halloween is for children. But they haven’t met my friend, Rod King.

You see, Rod is a cardboard craftsman. He can fashion about anything out of cellulose fiber. He’s made tunnels, hills, roads and a village for his train layout, fashioned background sets for plays and concerts, and made toys for his children and grandchildren. But, mostly important for this time of the year, he’s made all sorts of monsters, animals and characters appropriate for Halloween.

Many Harvest Moons ago, Rod began his Halloween adventures alone, draping a sheet over his head with holes for his eyes and then getting on his knees after ringing a doorbell in the Avalon Association neighborhood. His treat bag had no bottom in it so the candy fell to the porch floor. And that’s when Rod jumped up and yelled at the startled resident about dropping his treat. It was all in good fun and neighbors were only witnessing the tip of Rod’s bag of tricks on Halloween.

Next, Rod and a neighbor friend began “trick or treating” for beer on All Hallows’ Eve – pestering other neighbors and friends — long after most children and adults were in bed for the night. There was no discouraging their persistence at ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door. The only solution was to get up and crack open a couple of brews for the late-night revelers, hoping, of course, the monstrous-looking duo wouldn’t wake and scare the kids.

I say “monstrous” because the costumed visitors looked pretty terrifying in their cardboard confections. There was “Sweetums”, consisting of a massive square head usually adorned with a toilet float for a necklace. There were other corrugated characters as well including Gonzo with a duck-like head and long beak, and a two-headed creature of some sort. They were difficult to discern in detail in the darkness of the night. Nevertheless, they looked quite scary.

After a year or two of coping with these annual midnight marauders, I decided it was better to join them rather than try to beat them at their Halloween game. Both Rod and I worked for the same company so we began a yearly routine of visiting office associates, but not the boss, of course. Not real smart to maybe make a mess in your own nest. As the years progressed, our fellow workers moved about the Summit City and beyond. Unlike Santa, it made it more difficult for us to reach everyone in a single night. And, I must admit, there were times we embarked upon the wrong house.

Which reminds me. Sometimes, we after-midnight callers came dressed as a horse; Rod’s most infamous outfit. You see, the horse had a reputation. When the hapless home occupant opened their door, the stallion would gallop in, going from room to room and depositing make-believe droppings throughout. (The excreta were waded-up brown paper towels moistened for the occasion). It was the job of the rear-end man to determinedly drop a dropping at his disposal, so to speak. The horse gained its fame by once stomping through someone’s home with the frantic female occupant asking repeatedly, “Who are you? Who are you?” Rod, the head of the getup, “whinnied” to his rear-end partner, “Wrong house!” and the embarrassed pony left as quickly as it had entered.

The horse also is famous for winning a best costume award at a Chamber of Commerce event years ago. Our wives must have been so proud of us, but don’t ask them about it.

Another popular cardboard and cloth outfit Rod created was a long dragon suitable for several occupants. And if you brought your own blanket, it made it possible to join in the merriment as the dragon traveled to the next “lucky” householder. One time the multi-legged, serpentine creature charged into a residence and climbed the stairs, disassembling in the hallway outside the bedrooms. It appeared the couple were slumbering in separate boudoirs until our multi-faceted dragon drew them from their sleeping quarters to see what was the matter. So, you see, our “magic dragon” maybe moved them toward harmony and reconciliation.

The day after Halloween was not the best day of the week for us especially if it was a workday. (Maybe that’s why there’s a petition afoot to transfer Halloween to the last Saturday of October). But it sure made for some interesting conversations at the water cooler as office workers compared notes about when the cardboard cutups paid them a visit.

Those are just fond memories now as Halloween approaches. Rod occasionally fashions something out of cardboard for a grandchild, niece or nephew and keeps his train layout in good repair. But “Sweetums” and the other cardboard concoctions now inhabit a garage attic. And several former work associates, including myself, don’t have to worry about answering a doorbell way past midnight. That’s both a relief but also a little disappointing as well.

Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library.

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Vince LaBarbera

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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer