When we went “Halloweenin’” (not “Trick or Treating”) in the 1950s, the kids were expected to do more than blurt out, “Trick or Treat.” If you are old enough, you will remember that we were required to perform in some way. We would greet the resident by saying, “Any Halloweeners?” After being admitted to the parlor, we would have to sing a song or recite a poem and then get our reward. Candy was usually not an option; we almost always got money. The people would have a cup or dish with change in it and they would “pay” us with coins. Over the years we learned which houses were generous and which ones were stingy.
The best payoffs were always in the bars, of which there were about twenty-three in those days. In order to get a lot of money in a bar, the performance would have to appeal to the plaid-eyed audience. “Hit hard and run fast” was the way my friend, Bill Donovan, approached the task. He would recite,
I am a little workin’ boy
I work at Number 8
If you don’t gimme nuttin’
I’ll kick you out the gate.
This was received with great enthusiasm and the guys at the bar would reward him amply for a job well done. Following Bill’s lead, I had two favorite verses that were short and always got lots of laughs, and big payoffs, from the patrons of establishments such as Domin’s, Uzup’s, Juggy’s, and Costello’s. They seemed to like it when a ten-year-old kid like me would recite,
Old Mrs. Kelly
Had a pimple on her belly
She showed it to the lady next door
The lady next door put jelly on her belly
And the pimple ain’t there no more.
Usually, the later we got to the bar, the more receptive and generous (not to mention mellow) our benefactors became. It was on a cold Halloween night in 1955 that I hit the jackpot. It was late enough for the customers to have long since departed from the state of full sobriety. I entered Juggy’s, took a deep breath of the stale beer air and, through the mouth hole of my wet, clammy rubber bum’s mask, delivered:
The night that Paddy Murphy died
I never will forget
We all got stinkin’ drunk that night
And I’m not sober yet
We said a prayer for Paddy
And kissed his widow dear
We took the ice from off the corpse
And put it in our beer.
There followed an uproar of laughter; one guy actually had beer coming out of his nose. I walked out of the place with a cool $2.57; this was the most money that the tragic tale of Paddy Murphy ever produced.
“Trick or Treat” for candy? I think not.