Gee, What a Treat

It doesn’t take long for a kid to spot the dangerous houses on Halloween. Like the ones who give out raisins. Or pennies. Or candy that exists only to fill out a bargain bin. (Bit O’Honey, I’m looking at you.)

But notes home? That’s got to be a new low.

You’ve probably heard the story by now. For the 17 people who missed it, we take you now to North Dakota, where a radio caller said she planned to give notes to some trick-or-treaters that read “My, your parents raised a fat one, didn’t they?”

OK, it’s not quite that crass. But close. According to in Fargo, the letter home to Mom and Dad begins “(Your) child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season.”

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? And they say neighbors don’t care anymore.

Let me call a time-out for one second. Yes, a lot of kids are becoming overweight in this country. Yes, even those without weight issues tend to inhale enough Halloween candy to light up three seasons of an anime series.

But even assuming that the woman had the best of intentions and an unerring eye for the children whose weight gain was due solely to eating habits, is there anyone out there who thinks this would actually work? Or would we get to watch a Halloween movie where Mom shapeshifts into a man-eating Bengal tiger?

I vote for tiger.

I speak from experience.

Oh, not on the trick-or-treat note circuit. Rather, from my college days working in a bookstore, the late, great City News, home of the greatest popcorn in Longmont. Like many a bookstore, we drew a lot of kids. Pretty good kids at that. But sometimes a little too … energetic, let’s say.

One boy in particular had decided to amuse himself by turning the bookstore into his personal Indy 500, doing laps at a pretty good rate of speed. It was cute, but a little dangerous; even if he didn’t run into a customer, much of the floor was hardwood and would hurt like the dickens if he wiped out.

So I came over as he made his next pass and  said with a smile, “Hey, slow down a little, tiger.”

That’s when I met Mom.

And met Mom.

And met Mom some more.

The words escape me now. The tone never will. Especially the anger that someone had trespassed on her prerogative as a parent by telling her son what to do.

I still don’t regret saying what I said to him. But I’ll never forget the lesson on how quickly confrontation can blow up, even from mild beginnings, when the subject is a child.

“Fat notes,” however well-meant, are unlikely to do more than begin a fight.

I’m not saying neighbors can’t be concerned or parents can’t be neglectful. But picking battles is always a wise idea. This particular one is for the parents, the doctor, maybe the child’s teachers. People who see the boy or girl more than just once a year in a bizarre costume. People with some idea of the child’s life and health, and what their real needs are.

People whose commitment goes beyond an envelope in a trick-or-treat bag.

I hope, after Halloween, that this worried neighbor turns her eagle eye to more than just weight. That she can keep an eye out for kids who seem to be bullied, or abused, or who just need even one friend. Those are the ones who can use a neighbor who’s unafraid of confrontation, who’s willing to stick her neck out to help one child who needs it.

They’re also the situations that require more than a short letter home, of course. They require a real investment of time and energy and love. That’s risky. And it’s not guaranteed to succeed. But it’s a battle worth fighting.

And it can always use one more person.

I hope she takes note.

Forgoing Fargo

 Anyone got a 49-star flag handy?

We might need it. Send it by way of North Dakota. Assuming there is a North Dakota, that is.

No, the entire state didn’t fall into a black hole, though I admit that can be hard to tell around mid-January. Instead, it ran headfirst into its own 1889 state constitution – the same constitution that somehow failed to require an oath of office for the governor.

Legislators, yes. Judges, yes. Executive officers, no. And for 16 years, state resident Jon Rolczynski has argued that that means North Dakota isn’t a legal state.

“When I found the flaw, I was having dinner with a friend,” he told “I called him over and said ‘Look at this! They forgot the word executive!’”

This year, the state – or whatever it is – agreed a fix was needed. So, next spring, voters up there will get the chance to clean things up. And yes, there have been numerous wise guys online asking to vote it down and confirm its non-state status. (How things would be better by being a U.S. territory without congressional representation they don’t quite explain, nor how North Dakota would go about refunding decades of farm subsidies and other federal payments even if this did put them outside the U.S. somehow. Details, details.)

As for me, two things come to mind. The first is that we finally seem to be fulfilling an old campaign pledge of Dave Barry’s, to sell off one of our extra Dakotas to help the budget deficit.

The second is that once again, we get to see the value of copy editors.

Copy editors are the vital folks that keep the news readable. They’re a little like mine detectors: When they do their job right, you never know they’re there. If they miss something … boom.

That’s when public affairs become “pubic affairs.”

Or when President Lincoln suddenly delivers a speech in 1964 instead of 1864. (AAA World not only acknowledged the error, it ran a photo of Lincoln appearing with the Beatles as a poke at itself.)

Or when no fewer than seven mistakes appear in an obituary of Walter Cronkite, including the wrong dates for the moon landing and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It goes beyond news, of course. About five years ago, a comma was misplaced in a Canadian telecommunications contract. The difference in meaning cost Rogers Communications around $2 million.

Small things make a big difference.

Not a bad life lesson, for that matter. If more of us paid attention to the small things – little courtesies, minor maintenance, seemingly tedious busywork – the big things might never be a concern.

It’s when we fail to pay attention to life that we end up working ourselves into a state.

Or, in the case of North Dakota, working ourselves out of one.