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This is my sister’s first Halloween with her older brother. She’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, perhaps from some of the other children at Fort Chaffee, but that first October after they had arrived at the National Guard base was too confusing. Many of the other refugee families came with nothing, so there’s nothing to give out, and this is not home, this former POW camp. Who goes door-to-door in a barracks?

No, her first Halloween is in Carbondale, where the family’s sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, live. The Lees are elderly, religious, and that Sunday, when the family trots off to church on Sunday, she leans against her father, who has closed his eyes in a good approximation of prayer, and naps.

The end of October air is brisk. The Lees’ church provided them with some cool weather clothing, but no costumes, and so she wears her everyday clothes. She feels conspicuous. She is nine; her brother is twelve.

The sun has disappeared under the horizon, but orange light still suffuses the sky like fire. Jack o’lanterns exude the odor of pumpkin from jagged mouths. Her brother rings the doorbell, and they hold out their plastic grocery bags.

“Trick or treat,” he says, and she echoes it a moment afterwards.

Puzzled, the homeowner reaches for the candy bowl. He speaks very slowly, as if they can’t understand.

“Halloween is tomorrow,” the man says.

Her brother whispers to her in Vietnamese: I’ve got it covered.

“It’s a school night,” he says.

This is my sister’s first Halloween with her younger brother. He’s heard of trick-or-treating, of course, since he’s spent most of his life in America, and now that they’ve moved to Aurora, Colorado, Vietnam seems further away than ever. This is the suburbs; they have their own furniture (not new, but new-ish), and even their parents know to turn off the lights to discourage people from coming to the door.

She’s long outgrown trick-or-treating, but her little brother seems excited by the promise of free candy. Each year, Halloween grows larger and larger; Vu Lan and Tết Trung Thu seem distant, like days that appear on the calendar, but nowhere else. Tonight, she will take him door-to-door.

Snow starts to fall; the first snow of the season. Her brother has refused to wear the plastic frock that came with his Smurf costume; he only wears the mask, but he complains that it makes it difficult to breathe.

“You don’t have to wear it all the time,” she says. She is fourteen; he is five.

He has started to make friends with other kids on the street; she has her friends at school. Her other brother is looking at the School of Mines. Next year, he will not need her to accompany him. She tells him to use a pillowcase, and not one of those tiny baskets the other children use. “You can fit more candy in.”

He looks at her for tips on sugar acquisition.

“I used to trick-or-treat the day before Halloween,” she says. “Then again on Halloween.  Twice the candy!”


I think that instead of having the typical angel-and-devil duo on our shoulders to represent conscience and temptation, we would benefit more by having a burlesque Constance Towers offer moral guidance.  Added bonus:  her feather boa doubles as a cottony ear swab.

After college, I worked for a year as an intern at the Washington Blade, in Washington, D.C., but I just wasn’t much of a journalist.  I certainly didn’t have the gumption to get myself committed to a mental institution as Johnny Barrett does in Shock Corridor.  And if I were attacked by a group of female nymphomaniacs… let’s just say that the Internet makes it seem much more pleasant than Samuel Fuller does.

The Blade, sadly, no longer exists, having fallen recently in the great gay print journalism implosion of 2009.  The parent company of the Blade, Windows Media, also folded five other regional publications.  The mighty news magazine, The Advocate, became an insert in Out, which, for all its strengths, is more a lifestyle magazine — it features, after all, a “nipple count” for each issue.  News you can use, people.

Couple this with the closing of gay bookstores around the country, and it almost seems to augur the end of “gay” as a discrete community, if, indeed, it ever was one.  But consider that this is happening to African-American magazines.  And when was the last time you remember seeing a feminist bookstore — or better yet — bought something from a feminist bookstore?  These are still businesses, and businesses collapse all the time.  The failure of a business doesn’t necessarily equal the failure of a community.  (Though if a community fails to support its businesses, bemoaning it during the liquidation sale is somewhat short-sighted.)

So no last rites for gay journalism just yet.  The Philadelphia Gay News seems to be going strong, and back in Denver, Outfront Colorado still pumps off the presses regularly.  While I was an intern for the Blade, one of my jobs was to read through gay newspapers from around the country and photocopy interesting stories for the managing editor.  The gay newspapers had a sharing mechanism; if the Blade saw a story from, say, an Atlanta paper that they wanted to publish, they’d call up the editor and pay a licensing fee.

One of my stories, for instance, was re-published in the Houston Voice (obviously, this was long before Windows Media owned both the Voice and the Blade).  I had followed the members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians in the annual Roe vs. Wade protest march.  It was like finding a nest of ivory-billed woodpeckers.  During the march, a pro-life (or anti-choice — pick your preferred terminology) woman looked at the group’s sign, rainbows and pink triangles and all, and said, seemingly without irony, “You should have been aborted.”

“Do you get a lot of that?” I asked the group’s leader.

“Yes,” the leader said.  “But it’s usually more vitriolic when it’s the gays criticizing us.”

There’s a famous character in Shock Corridor, an African-American patient who believes himself to be a white supremacist.  His identity can’t hold up against the double whammy of a violently racist society at large and the black community’s expectations of him.  I wonder how pro-life gays handle being minorities several times over.