A (True) New York Halloween Day Experience

Photo by C. Aklu

By Chaitram Aklu

The throwing of eggs, it is said first began in Europe in the Middle Ages. People would throw eggs at a prisoner in the public stocks. I am a witness to politicians being egged, at times with rotten eggs but not physically harmed, back in my native land.

Halloween is celebrated around the world in varying degrees of popularity. It originated in the British Isles from Samhain, the Irish Gaelic feast of All Saints, celebrating the changing of the season from summer to the darkness of winter. It was brought to the United States by the early British settlers. Because it is associated with dark, evil spirits, and scary things, people lighted candles to keep evil spirits away. They gave sweets to make them happy – hence the practice of “trick or treat”. The American settlers innovated by carving pumpkins and other gourds and made them into lanterns. Today Halloween has grown into a huge spending event – estimated to past $10 billion this year on all kinds of products – costumes, candy, parties, and decoration.

In New York the practice has evolved and has brought tragic and deadly results for both the egger and the egged. In fact in October 2010, The New York Times reported that between 1984 and October 2010, “at least 24 people have been seriously wounded or killed in stabbings, shootings or incidents sparked by egg-throwing confrontations around Halloween” in New York City. “All 24 cases played out in roughly the same way: a group of boys hurled eggs at pedestrians, cars or houses; the targets confronted the throwers; and violence erupted.”

Halloween egg throwing had become dangerous to the point where schools in some neighborhoods would have what is called a ‘rapid dismissal’. It would take the form of a fire drill in the last minutes of Halloween Day. Teachers and students would take their belongings and exit the building and everyone would disperse and leave the area as quickly as possible.

Some students would take the day off but would be outside of the building loaded with eggs to throw at others. Some of them intent on harm would freeze the eggs, thereby turning them into disguised rocks to hurt others. To help to reduce the dangers, stores would not sell eggs to kids the day before and on Halloween day. The police would make their presence visible around neighborhood schools as the day ends.

Such was the setting one Halloween Day in the early1990s in East New York, Brooklyn.
After the rapid dismissal I left my Junior High School building and walked along Pitkin Avenue to the Van Siclen A and C subway station just three blocks away. As I approached the second corner, Miller Avenue there were four kids, one of whom, Fernando, was a student I taught. I could tell that they were going to throw eggs at me because as I approached they turned from facing the street and faced the building. I realized that if I turned back they would conclude that I was scared and would have fun coming after me. I was confident they were not going to harm me. Anyway I thought that they would enjoy telling their friends that they egged the teacher. And I was on my way home anyway so being egged would not be such a big deal.

As I passed one of them threw an egg hitting me in the back. I said nothing and did not even look around and just kept walking. I was expecting it. But then one ran up beside me and slammed the egg on my face knocking my glasses off. When that happened I heard the other kids shouted, “What the f— you did that for? He didn’t say nothin when we throw it at him. You goin put all of us in f—in trouble now.” With that they ran south on Miller Avenue. Adult folks who witnessed the incident and recognized me as a teacher, yelled at them, shouting that they were calling the cops.

Moments later, one of the four, came running back. He was carrying a wet white bath towel. To my amazement and to the shock of the adult folks he began cleaning me up – coat, hat, face, and shoes. One woman could not believe what she witnessed. She just stood there looking. By then I was amused – the kid cleaning me up on the street. He did not utter a word to me but I thanked him and assured him that I was not angry and that he should not worry about it.

The next morning I decided to share my experience with a colleague, Mr. G. I related the events which Mr. G. promptly brushed it off as a poor made-up joke, adding “I have never heard of people throwing eggs at any body and then cleaning them up after. You are talking about our students. Come up with something better.” So I told him to call Fernando and ask him. He sent for Fernando who looked tense thinking he was in trouble when he saw me standing with Mr. G. When I assured Fernando that he was not in any trouble, but Mr. G did not believe me, he related what happened. He also explained they were not all running away. Fernando and the other two chased the one who slammed the egg on my face to beat him up. One who lived just two houses from the corner ran into his apartment, grabbed the towel, soaked it and ran back to clean me up.

Mr. G. now satisfied that my experience was real and true offered that had it been him he would have taken that kid out. I had no doubt about that. He always carried a 12 inch meat cleaver in his bag ever since one of our past students was in the practice of robbing people going to or getting off the subway while armed with a snake (his weapon) around his neck.
Be reminded that intentionally or recklessly pelting another person with an egg and causing injury and pain could be an Assault in the Third Degree crime in New York State. It carries a punishment of up to one year in jail and/or up to $1000 fine.
Celebrate Halloween safely on Monday October 31.