Walking the Dog
A Not-So-Spooky Halloween
Tuesday morning, as I accompanied Bailey on his daily constitutional around the two square blocks of Lanier Place, you could see only a few signs indicating that anything special happened there the night before.
Here and there were wispy spider webs on trees and doorways, a hank of web, scattered bones, two skeletons and hooded ghosts hanging from a tree. All the pumpkins survived the night and the glorious scarecrow lay sprawled over hay as before.
But it wasn’t the same. People were going to work as if nothing had happened. The only true signs were the periodic wrappings of M&M’s candies, of Snickers and Mars Bars and Three Musketeers, Nestles and Hershey bar wrappers on the sidewalks – all that was left of last night’s candy land.
Then you could say it was Halloween night at Lanier Place.
Once again, we took Bailey, our long-legged fifteen-year-old Bichon, trick or treating. He wore his festive, seasonal and decorative plastic collar full of little pumpkins and bats. It’s called, appropriately, a “ruff.” He looked at the occasion like any of the myriad bumblebees we encountered along the way.
The two blocks of Lanier Place are a change-resistant, residential area in Adams Morgan making up Lanier Heights, which stretches out to Adams Mill Road, Quarry, Harvard and Ontario. The Lanier block consists mostly of old three-story and basement homes where ownership has often been a lifelong thing. It includes several unobtrusive apartment houses, a fire station—one small truck and EMS vehicle—that dates back to the turn of last century, the Adams Inn, a hidden-away bed and breakfast, good-to-go fully decorated and Joseph’s House, a non-profit hospice serving homeless people with terminal illnesses.
We have lived here for almost all of Bailey’s life span so far, and taking Bailey trick or treating in his ruff has become a tradition with us, and, we like to think, a tradition in the neighborhood. I managed to cop some chocolate candy for myself on the basis of his presence.
I don’t know when the Lanier Halloween festivities actually started—I seem to remember that it was a smallish neighborhood thing for a previous generation of neighborhood young children and their parents. Every year, it seemed to get bigger and better—streets were blocked off and children from all over the city and their folks showed up. It must have begun as a rumor that was passed along the 42 Metrobus line to points east, west, and northwest and southeast and so on.
Over the past few years, Halloween at Lanier Place has become a big deal and it seems to get a little bigger every year. This year was no exception. More children and people showed up—hundreds is my guess. But there was another difference. First, there has been an influx over the past few years of younger residents who promptly had babies so that there are now young children, just old enough to become butterflies, superheroes and witches and princesses. Second, more people are participating. Houses have turned into ghost homes, pirate islands and cemeteries. For a few days, spider webs rule like ominous dew on the blocks.
There are, of course, always people who go all out—gravestones rise from the ground, there are a smoke machines and signs that pass as warnings for travelers and Trick or Treaters. This year, few people stayed locked up in their apartments, houses or whatever, although there are traditionally always a few of those, too.
The cool thing about Halloween on Lanier Place—unlike the gargantuan almost New Orleans style efforts at night in Georgetown and elsewhere—is that somehow the people who live on Lanier and nearby drift in and out as if at a small town market. Gossip gets retold, the presence of long-time neighborhood dogs like Bailey are duly noted by each other and by their owners, politics gets talked about, children are hailed for walking or getting bigger. All the daily life changes—growth, time, illness, death, pregnancy, school, births and jobs and the like are duly noted amid the festivities without the visitors, who come here just for the candy and the treating and tricking.
Bailey takes all of this in stride—it’s a little hard for a dog his age to deal with this many people, especially so many children. It was as if his regular walk had turned into a parade of chatter and music. But he makes it all the way around because in some ways, the dogs of Lanier are an essential part of this, not as much as the children, but still a part of it all.
This year, for reasons hard to decipher, amid the gloomy economic news, the occasion seemed more electric and eclectic, warmer and chummier, as if neighborhood values and virtues were worth celebrating this way after all. So the hospice created a kind of pirate island, complete with what could haves been a voodoo queen at the top of the stairs. And the old tombstone—the Republican Party, died 2008 nearly four years old now—gave you a clue as if you needed one that you were in a liberal neighborhood.
The grandfather down the street somehow morphed into one of the finest, most splendidly caped Count Draculas, a smiling Christopher Lee with white face, red lips and natural white hair. We met along the way, almost one right after another, the Marvel Comics pantheon: Iron Man, Spider Man and Captain America complete with shield. The little girls opted for the princess style or June bugs or bumblebees. There was a group in front of us, led by a princess speaking German, so naturally, being a landsman, I asked “Bist Du Deutch?” and they said “Nein, wier bien Franzosish,” meaning they were French folks speaking German. So there was a mystery here.
Children flocked to the firehouse and the red engines where the firemen were dressed as, surprise, firemen. A small boy came as a 19th-century New York cop and was asked if he was on the take. His father said “we’ll take some candy.” A brash alarm sounded, scattering Tricksters and Treaters and parents and kids alike as a fire engine wheeled out.
We saw a very tall green Leprechaun and monkeys and Thor and an adult Batman—but then Batman has never seemed anything less than adult. We met folks, as always, who knew the famous Bailey but alas knew not our names. It happens even or perhaps especially on Halloween.
There were ghosts everywhere; including the faces of people I hadn’t seen in a while.
It was a splendid night. Nobody got mad, nobody got hurt, nobody was robbed that we know of, nobody got sick or drunk that we know of. It was the night, as I do every year, I walked Bailey around the two blocks of Lanier on Halloween.