Frightening children for fun and profit

Halloween may be my favorite holiday, but not for the reasons you might guess.

Yes, there’s candy, and I’m all for that. Yes, there’s a sense of community from all the kiddies and their chaperones prowling the chilly night together. And, yes, it’s a lazy man’s holiday, requiring little preparation, perspiration or shopping.

But here’s the reason I enjoy Halloween: I love scaring the bejeebers out of little kids.

Sick, I know, but I can’t help myself. I get caught up in the spirit of the holiday, wolfing down candy and greeting trick-or-treaters, and next thing you know, small children are running AWAY from my house rather than toward it.

I’m not a nut for Halloween like some grown-ups, those who decorate their yards in fake cobwebs and plastic skeletons and flickering jack o’ lanterns. (See “lazy man’s holiday” above.) I don’t host a “haunted house” where children gross each other out, handling “eyeball” grapes or cold spaghetti “guts.” I never wear a costume myself because a) they don’t make them in my size, and b) I’m scary enough in street clothes.

My Halloween enthusiasms are more spur-of-the-moment, fueled by the traditional sugar buzz and a Pavlovian response to the doorbell. Costumed children show up at my door, and I’m compelled to put a little “boo” in their holiday.

Years ago, when our sons were small, we lived on a street that was so popular with trick-or-treaters that some neighbors were forced to take out home equity loans to fund the annual candy giveaway. I was in charge of answering the door and handing out treats. As the night wore on, I found myself itching to do a little tricking myself. Thus was born the Evil Laugh.

Kids would ring the doorbell. I’d open the door slowly, standing behind it so they couldn’t see who was there. Then I’d unleash the Evil Laugh, which goes like this: “BWAH-hah-hah-ha-ha-ha-HAH.”

Most trick-or-treaters weren’t fazed, but some were startled by the Evil Laugh. Occasionally, terrified kids would sprint all the way to the sidewalk where their frowning parents waited. Those poor children got extra candy, if they could work up the nerve to return to the porch.

A few years ago, my wife brought home a Halloween decoration: A giant, fuzzy, orange-and-black spider. You’re supposed to hang the spider on your door or make it a centerpiece, but I hooked it to the back of my shirt.

I’d answer the doorbell, hand out the candy and then, before the kids could head for the street, I’d turn and ask, “Is there a bug on me?” The shrieks still echo in my ears.

The best one ever was when my kids where in grade school. They had several friends over for Halloween, and my older son led them into his darkened room for a “séance.”

I went outside and slipped around to his window. Just as the kids were fairly certain they were on the verge of conjuring up the dead, I used my fingernails to scratch on the window screen.

That’s all it took. No “boo,” no decorations, no costume. Just scritch-scritch on the screen. Screaming kids nearly killed each other, stampeding for the exits. (Most of them don’t twitch anymore, and their parents have since forgiven me.)

I think word has gotten out about my antics. The number of trick-or-treaters has declined in recent years. Maybe parents are warning each other away from that weird guy’s house.

Good. More leftover candy for me. BWAH-hah-hah-ha-ha-ha-HAH


Hobbies? Kidnapping, arson

Today's tip for aspiring criminals: Honesty may be the best policy, but when getting booked in a bank holdup, it's really better if you don't list your occupation as "robbery."

That advice comes too late for 60-year-old Lonnie Pannell, who's facing a four-year stretch for robbing a bank in Rapid City, SD.

Full story here.


That funky 'man cave' smell

Police in New York arrested two janitors who allegedly outfitted a locked room at a state building with couches and a TV, creating a "man cave" where they could hang out and sleep on the job.

As if that's not bad enough, authorities say the men also used the room as a place to smoke and sell marijuana.

Dude. The janitors. No wonder all the snacks kept disappearing from the break room.

Full story here.


Can I get an 'Amen?'

Today's tip for aspiring criminals: After a crime, or even during its commission, you might feel guilt or remorse. But it's really better not to stop everything and pray with the victim for 10 minutes during the course of a holdup. Especially if the security video cameras are running.

Full story here.


Knew I forgot something. . .

Today's tip for aspiring criminals: If you're going to terrorize a whole neighborhood with break-ins, attempted carjackings and threats, it's usually better to have a real gun.

Police in Aloha, OR, say Billy Ryan, 26, confronted homeowners and tried to carjack vehicles, each time reaching inside his shirt as if going for a gun. But nobody seemed to believe him. Homeowners told him to get out. Motorists drove away unharmed. A shower of 911 calls followed his every move until he was finally arrested.

Maybe Ryan should find a way to be more convincing. Do they offer acting lessons in prison?

Full story here.


Maybe deeper pockets. . .

Today's tip for aspiring criminals: During an armed robbery, try not to drop your wallet. But if you do, don't call the victim and demand that he return it. It's bad form, and the cops will be waiting at the meet. Trust us.

Or, you can check the example of a 23-year-old Little Rock, AR, man who managed to lose his wallet during a failed stickup. While the victim was being interviewed by police, he got a phone call from the robber, demanding that he bring his wallet to a gas station in North Little Rock.

Guess who met the robber at the gas station?

Full story here.



To all my fellow authors: Next time you get to grumbling about your reviews, go read this review, in which the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani holds the latest book by Jonathan Lethem in front of a flame-thrower.




Trying out a bit of dialogue:

"I like my coffee like I like my women -- hot, sweet and in my lap."

What do you think? No? Doesn't work?

I told this one to my wife, just kidding around, and she said, "What do you mean 'women,' plural?'"



Another reason to avoid Florida

Trappers in St. Augustine, FL, say they killed an Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake that was 7 feet, 3 inches long.

The trappers were called after the giant rattlesnake was spotted near a townhome community called Tuscan Village.

Story, complete with chilling photos, here.


Y'all come

A reminder to my friends in the Redding, CA, area: I'm appearing at 1 p.m. this Saturday (10/3) at the Barnes & Noble store on Churn Creek Rd. I'll be signing books and talking about mysteries and the "Lonely Street" movie.

Hope to see you there!