Near the end of October, Dingo announced at a community dinner meeting that we were going to go “reverse trick-or-treating.” The reality of the suggestion hit home. At this point in time, there was still no power in much of East Biloxi, peninsular target of a twenty-foot storm surge that it was. When the sun fell, the streets went to black; the sort of resulting ambiance was in the least degree, troubling, and at a further degree, completely foreign. There was one night that I accompanied my friend Gretchen out to the Vietnamese church on Oak Street as the sun was setting after work. She went inside to speak to a minister about doing remediation work in the facility. I sat out on the curb and smoked a cigarette. As the sun fell, the city fell concordant, in a way I’ve barely experienced in developed areas. Besides the generator-driven illumination from the Buddhist temple volunteers next door, the side streets became dark, dark shadows of their former barren wreckage.
With the light waning as it did, a lone Red Cross truck drove down Oak Street doing its last food distribution run. A whip of wind drove up from nowhere, blowing hazy dust across my face and eyes. I closed them, resting my head between my arms with my Camel Light firmly clenched between two fingers, and a sound pierced my ears. A loudspeaker attached to the side of the truck, blaring a feminine monotone with no hint of excitement to her message whatsoever: “HOT FOOD. COLD DRINKS. COME AND GET IT. HOT FOOD. COLD DRINKS. COME AND GET IT.”
I trotted over to the truck, which was already stopping for a woman and her child. I waited patiently behind them in line, and the Red Cross worker handed them Styrofoam containers filled with the day’s meal. I stepped up as soon as they’d moved, and asked for a Gatorade. I took it, and walked back over to my perch on the curb. The truck began moving down Oak Street toward the railroad tracks, and behind it the woman and her child walked down a side street. Within moments they were mere shadows within shadows.
I will always remember that five-minute period of time. And it is that memory that I attach to my belief in the “reverse trick-or-treating” scheme. It went as follows: the volunteers were to dress up like Halloween characters, and split the city into sections, driving through the streets between 5 and 6:30 P.M. handing out candy to whatever children we could find. There would be no traditional Halloween for that electric-less city, but we would do what we could.
John-Boy got off crew around 3 and went to the store to get costumes. He brought me back an Indian headdress. I combined it with a tight black jacket I’d found in the lost-and-found, and called myself a casino employee. Retrospectively, I can see that this was a pretty offensive costume, but honestly it was the best I had. And better than Josh’s— Josh actually took a cardboard cut-out of Jesus from the Nativity decorations, cut a hole in the face, and wrapped a rope around the board and his body.
There’s a really good group picture of all of us, costumed-donned, poses struck, getting ready to reverse trick-or-treat before a mountain of donated clothes in the parking lot of an abandoned Family Dollar, at the intersection of Division and Nixon. After that, I rode on the back of Jammin’s truck with Jane, Cora, Josh, and a few others. We handed out candy to kids, knocking on fallen-down doors and calling out to tents. We snuck beers between houses and alternated the task of getting out of the truck to give handouts to hesitant children standing on lawns in front of broken buildings. And after it was all over, and we’d scoured the entire city to give what we could to the families we could find, we returned back home to sit around Jer’s campfire, drunk, silly, and dressed the part. We laughed and sat by the fire, struck our miniature conversations, pausing now and then to listen to Owen play his guitar, and then continuing through the motions.
I began to feel a large love in my heart at that point, for who we were and what we were doing. Team Termite had dressed up just the same as the rest; Billy with his pirate patch, Ron with his largely inappropriate overweight stripper costume. Serena stumbled about and poured beers in her Oktoberfest Wench garb, while Cora sat content in her overly large orange pumpkin suit. Jer watched over all of us, like the stone-faced mountain man his beard had made him. There was a lot of heart in what we did that night, something special that I’d never felt in my life before, through my childhood and through my college years. Hands On was greater than me, much greater, and I loved every part of it. It was too good to be true; I had before decided that one could only find that simple goodness in short stories and romantic comedies. Yet here it was. And I was happy, sipping off of Jammin’s Maker’s Mark as it went round the fire, and off my own Budweiser otherwise. There could be nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong with this life.
I was happy.