A Really Scary Investment

Driving around my neighborhood a few nights ago, I realized Halloween is no longer a one-night event. It's now a season, commercially speaking, and is becoming an electrified ritual of personal expression. Many homeowners are adorning their porches and windows with strings of pumpkin-shaped lights. Often, there are elaborate displays of goblins in the driveway.

The only surprising aspect of this trend is why it didn't happen sooner.

Some unsung genius in the decorative lighting industry must have figured out that the festive, theatrical spirit of the Christmas holidays could be triggered at an earlier point on the calendar. Preparing for Halloween now starts during the first week of October, creating a bonanza for companies that make or import molded plastic and electronic components.

Tired of the same old paper skeleton taped to the door? Toss him in the recycling bin and get wired. My local variety store offers an abundant selection of ghoulish gear. A simple 22-inch illuminated pumpkin costs $15 (light bulb not included). The larger, more elegant Ghost on Pumpkin is $30. But fancy lights for the lawn are just the start of your investment in the Halloween season.

If you really want to impress the trick-or-treaters, your front porch should resemble a special-effects ride on the Universal Studios tour. This requires the purchase of sophisticated interactive devices such as Dancin' Dangling Bones, a small, cavorting plastic skeleton ($25). The Fountain of Horror features a small tombstone with a skeleton face that drips red-tinted water. The Grim Reaper Playing Violin is voice-activated and makes "Halloween sounds." I presume one of those sounds is money jingling into the pockets of the folks who manufacture these devices. Scary.

Storing all of your new Halloween equipment might be a dilemma, of course, especially if the basement is crammed with Christmas elves and reindeer. One solution: Buy items that can be used for both occasions. A plastic ghost is easily converted to a snowman by adding a muffler and top hat.

But, after thinking it over carefully, I've decided not to complicate my budget or my life with any of these fancy gadgets. We'll get by with a couple of jack-o'-lanterns carved from pumpkins and our black cat, no batteries required. It may not be a very enlightened approach, but on Halloween, I like being in the dark.

* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of "It Came With the House," (Catbord Press, 1997), a collection of humorous essays.

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