Well, Halloween is upon us. This has always been a special holiday in my family because October 31st is my sister’s birthday. October 30th is my oldest brother’s birthday, and they are exactly one year and one day apart. The result for them was that they almost always had a joint party as though they were twins, which may have robbed them from some of the spotlight.

I remember my sister saying once that

My sister and brother's birthday party in ye olden tymes.

when she was little she assumed that part of every birthday party was dressing up in costumes. We have tons of pictures from birthdays past with tons of kids dressed up in all kinds of costumes–most of these were taken before my time, so all I know are the pictures.

Costumes were mostly useless when it came to trick-or-treating time because we grew up in cold area of the country, so we almost always had a heavy coat on as we walked through the neighborhood. To make matters more annoying for me, I never did well with masks because I wear glasses.

I don’t really remember any of the costumes I wore as a little kid. They were probably those cheap vinyl ones you buy at Kmart. I do remember this stand-by hobo outfit in the closet, which I think my dad would don in an emergency (like when the tax man came to visit).

It was really Ontario Provincial Police, NOT Ottawa Police Department

In the eighth grade I got to wear one of my all time favorite costumes: my sister made a Sgt. Pepper tunic for me out of scrap satin-like material we got from my great aunt who worked for Champion. We even made a fake O.P.D. patch for my one sleeve, and I was young enough to have to draw on a mustache (I had shaved a couple times, but I still couldn’t produce anything but peach fuzz above my lip).

In later years I would commonly dress up as Groucho Marx. In college I went as Harpo to a party and annoyed the crap out of my friends because I refused to talk while I remained in costume. Good times!

But what does this have to do with old TV shows? Nothing really, so I guess I should switch gears and talk about Charlie Brown. Play the video first:

Love YouTube! To me, this intro always meant just one thing: a Charlie Brown special. Whenever CBS played this, I always expected Peanuts, even though that’s not what the networked always intended. What if it was a Presidential address or press conference? Unless a reporter yelled out to Commander-in-Chief, “You BLOCKHEAD!” I was not going to be satisfied.

In any case, Peanuts specials were always a treat, but they are not created equally. After a while I noticed that some didn’t have the right voices for C.B. and the rest of the gang. The two main ones, Christmas and Halloween, were right, but some of the other ones weren’t.

Well, naturally, I looked them up. It turns out that only the first five specials had the original cast of voices:

Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl: typical guy--he's infatuated with her but never bothers to learn her name.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965
Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, 1966
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966
You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, 1967
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown, 1968

That’s it. The sixth special, It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown, features the voice of the original Charlie Brown (kid actor Peter Robbins), but none of the others are present, and Robbins is gone in the following show.

I had trouble watching the later ones because they just didn’t sound right. Imagine if they took the characters from the original Star Trek and recast them with all new actors. Could that ever hope to be any good? Oh wait.

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin: Linus's status as a blockhead is sealed.

Anyway, the whole concept of a Great Pumpkin, who rises from a sincere pumpkin patch to give toys to all the good boys and girls is ridiculous, and everybody knows it except for Linus, who, I thought, was supposed to be the smart one (he’s the only one who can articulate the true meaning of Christmas after all).

Oh yeah, he does convince Sally to wait with him overnight in the pumpkin patch and later receives her wrath:

You blockhead! You kept me up all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, and all that came was a beagle! I didn’t get a chance to go out for tricks or treats. And it was all your fault! I’ll sue! What a fool I was! I could have had candy apples and gum and cookies and money and all sorts of things. But no! I had to listen to you, you blockhead. What a fool I was. Trick or treats come only once a year, and I missed it by sitting in a pumpkin patch with a blockhead.  YOU OWE ME RESTITUTION!

Two great things in this rant: first, the word “blockhead” is used three times. I don’t know who else uses this word except for Peanuts characters, and if anyone does, they usually do it as a homage to Peanuts. I took the liberty of looking “blockhead” up in my handy thesaurus. The entry is three paragraphs long, but very fun reading:

These nouns are all informal pejoratives for people who behave in stupid or foolish ways. Blockhead, dolt, and dunce suggest foolish behavior that results from a lack of intelligence. Blockhead suggests a dense, slow-witted person who predictably misunderstands information or is filled with exasperatingly obvious ideas or attitudes: a party at which she talked with one insufferable blockhead after another. Dolt specifically suggests a lack of flair, imagination, or perception that results from cloddish conventionality: dolts in the audience who liked his medley of show tunes better than his group of Schubert lieder. Dunce may suggest a momentary failure of intelligence rather than a permanent lack of it: He made a dunce of himself by forgetting the name of the guest of honor.

Fool and chump need not suggest a lack of intelligence at all. Both can suggest silly or ridiculous behavior that arises from any number of causes: letting the boys make a fool of him. Chump, besides being a much more informal substitute for fool, can indicate somebody who allows himself to become the butt of a joke or confidence game: looking for chumps who could be lured into buying Brooklyn Bridge. Chump can also be a severely contemptuous term for any sort of unsophisticated or ordinary person: chumps dumb enough to be taken in by tabloid journalism.

The remaining group of nouns relates to this last suggestion of chump in indicating contempt for ordinary or simple people. When it is not an informal substitute for fool, boob suggests a person crippled by middle-class values: H. L. Mencken used the term booboisie to refer to class rule of, by, and for boobs. Nincompoop has particular relevance in describing a foolish person, suggesting a weakling afflicted by timidity and passivity: situation comedies that stereotype husbands as bumbling nincompoops. Ninny can apply to either sex, but may be particularly useful in reference to foolish women, suggesting silly, precious, or prissy behavior: a ninny who still writes saccharine poems about butterflies and daffodils. See MORON.

“See MORON.” — A great final thought.

The other great thing about Sally’s rant is the phrase, “tricks or treats.” Again, I don’t know of anyone who pluralizes the first word in that phrase. Does anyone besides the Peanuts gang? Was this an acceptable alternative in the mid ’60s, and it just went out of favor by the time I was aware of the difference? Or is this a regional thing that is common in Charles Schultz’s part of the country (or at least not in mine)? These aren’t rhetorical questions. If you have any answers, please let me know.

That also goes for probably the most famous line of the whole program: “Hey! I got an invitation to a Halloween party!”

No, what I meant to say was, “I got a rock.”

When you've got a bag full of candy, how do you know what the last item you got was?

Think about this: along with assembling a bowl of treats, people also had to put together a bowl of rocks to give out to costumes they didn’t like. At every door, there were two bowls. Was this another normal practice in ye olden tymes? I know giving, or getting, coal at Christmas was a standard practice, no? Is this the same type of thing? People were cruel in ye olden tymes. Geez, lighten up!

Charles Schultz said that when this special first aired, he received tons of candy by mail from people who felt sorry for Charlie Brown getting so many rocks. How sweet! Did people realize that this was fiction? Not only that, but it was a cartoon. YOU BLOCKHEADS! Who spends the money to buy candy and mail it to a complete stranger who wrote a story about a kid who got rocks for Halloween? Am I being overly cynical here? Were people just more sentimental in ye olden tymes? Will I stop referring to the 1960s as “ye olden tymes”?

Okay, I’m sounding really negative about this show, but I love it. I love tricks or treats. I love calling people blockheads, and I love the idea of giving out rocks instead of candy. In fact, starting next year, when the 16-year-old kids come to the door at 9:30, without a costume on, and want free candy, I’m going to surreptitiously drop rocks in their pillow cases and hope they don’t notice until it’s too late. Most of them are bigger than I am, and I don’t think I have a chance in a fight.