Few things chap my ass more than damned teenagers who don’t know when to hang up the pillowcase and stop trolling for free candy on Halloween.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to doling out some boxed raisins or wintergreen lozenges to a 3-year old in a Ronald Reagan costume but I get pretty incensed when some pock-marked 17-year old smelling of bong water and sloth shows up at my door with an insolent scowl and a demand for free food.
In my day, teenagers didn’t harass their neighbors for unearned sweets – they were too busy holding down jobs, harvesting crops or serving in the armed forces overseas. But nowadays it seems young people trick or treat into their mid-twenties. Half the damned “kids” that bang on my door are over six feet tall, have five o’clock shadow and voices deeper than Elaine Stritch for Christ’s sake.
And, honestly, if you insist on coming to my door looking to scrounge some hard candy at least put some effort into it. These damned teens refuse to say “trick or treat,” won’t make eye contact and sure as hell don’t bother with costumes. They just roll their eyes and stick a sack under your nose while text messaging their location to other scurrilous moochers in search of easy prey. If they intend to carry on with this shameless behavior the least they could do is dress like hobos or – perhaps more accurately – petty thieves.
In these perplexing days, when every man seems threatening to become my brother or better, almost my only comfort is in an anonymous English author, who, in 1841, wrote a little book called “Etiquette for Gentlemen: with Hints on the Art of Conversation,” published by Messrs. Tilt and Bogue of London. With his first sentences this nameless arbiter brings back to the world a forgotten order and security.
Marvellously reassuring, for instance, to a man who had thought all privacy lost in the brotherhood of man is his comment in the chapter called “Introductions”: “You should not introduce anybody, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite sure the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter. A person does himself no service with another when he obliges him to know people he would rather avoid.” You didn’t, in this happy society, have to meet dull people; in fact, it was rather hard to get to meet anybody at all. “If in the course of a walk in company with a friend, you happen to meet, or are joined by an acquaintance, do not commit the too common, but most flagrant error, of introducing such persons to one another.” It is pleasant to think of this fashionable trio as they strolled through the town, Mr. A. irritably involved in two unrelated conversations as he struggled to avoid the flagrant error of introducing Mr. B. to Mr. C.
The Master, however, goes even further. “Never introduce morning visitors, who happen to meet in your parlor without being acquainted, to one another,” he says. “If you should be so introduced, remember that the acquaintance afterwards goes for nothing; you have not the slightest right to expect that the other will again recognize you.” Here, of course, was the perfect escape from dismal fellowship: it seemed very unlikely that you’d ever be introduced to anybody, but even if you were it was presumably because of some flaw in your host’s breeding, and was much better ignored.