My friend Lauren hails from St. Louis. A few years ago, she left for college out of state and was shocked that people gave candy to children at Halloween without any quid pro quo.
Apparently, in St. Louis, children are expected to tell a joke before the sugary goods are handed over. The kids usually tell the same joke door after door, year after year. Lauren’s was “Why did 6 fear 7? Because 7-8-9.”
Only after she recited her joke did she receive candy. Then on to the next house.
I thought this was a grand idea. As the next Halloween approached, I decided to incentivize, not mandate the change. I asked the 60 odd kids we got at the door to tell me a joke for an extra piece of candy.
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Many froze, unable to think of one at a moment’s notice. Some turned to a friend or parent for help. Some had enough presence of mind to make up one on the spot. While I never got those jokes, they got the extra candy. We are not joke judgy in this household.
If a child were just plain stumped, I asked for a favorite nursery rhyme or song. Failing all else, I asked them to name an animal.
I have continued the practice. A few times, I have asked if they would give me candy if I tell them a joke. I never get takers, but if I did, I would use Lauren’s. For the nerdier goblin, I might add “Do you know why 7-8- 9? To get 3 squared meals a day. “
That’s a St. Louis style rib tickler.
But then, I am a professional joke writer. In the fall of 1963, I submitted a joke for the “Think and Grin” page of Boys’ Life magazine. They accepted it for publication and sent me a dollar. It was my first non- family paid job.
The joke was included in the November 1963 issue. As our nation mourned the loss of a beloved president, I did my part to lift a few spirits.
Lifting spirits, not summoning them, seems like a good goal. Traditional Halloween is about extortion of treats for avoidance of hooliganism. This St. Louis model is about a child doing something positive in exchange for the treat. I approve of that.
As a matter of fact, we had a tradition in our house that our daughter’s Easter basket would not merely be presented to her. She had to find it by solving a puzzle. The puzzles were age appropriate. When she was a neo-toddler, we cut out footprints and taped them to the floor. She followed the steps to the basket.
By elementary school, she might have to find a specified book, turn to specified pages, then combine the first letters on those pages to determine the location of her treasure (e.g. clothes dryer).
By high school, the clues might include quadratic equations, the periodic table or complex cryptograms to locate the basket, usually in the clothes dryer.
A downside: By the time she reached junior high, it was taking me weeks to create a mental gymnasium and she was mastering the equipment in minutes. I seriously thought of reverting back to cut-out footsteps.
Just before my head exploded, she graduated college, moved across country and didn’t always visit on Easter. No visit, no basket. We don’t operate a chocolate bunny handout program here.
I would like more households in the South Sound to adopt the St. Louis model this Halloween. If our children had to tell a joke at every door, it would boost their public-speaking skills, give them satisfaction they had earned the bounty, and maybe even set them on a course to be a professional joke teller.
The next Chris Rock or Tina Fey might be at your doorstep come Halloween.
Wouldn’t that be a treat?
Chuck Kleeberg, a Tacoma resident for most of the last 40 years, recently retired from public service. He's one of six News Tribune reader columnists for 2018. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org