Republished for Halloween: Ecology meets Psychology at the Crossroads of Humiliation

I started my lessons in humiliation early in life. There was the time when I was ten and my parents decided to pull out the lawn at the start to a grand landscaping project. The resulting weed patch was the source of ridicule and frustration among the neighbors. My mother, rather than sensibly buying some “Weed & Feed”, put a great big sign in the front yard that read, “A weed is a flower whose time has not yet come.”

Then there was the time in second grade when I was having trouble using the restroom with the skirt I was wearing, so I unzipped it and took it off. Unfortunately, when I went to put it back on the zipper had broken and I had to spend the rest of the day wearing the teacher’s rain coat over my shirt and tights. After school I had to walk home without the coat, holding my skirt around my waist with one hand and carrying my lunch box with the other.

But nothing can compare to the Halloween when I was eight.

I wanted to dress as “O Mighty Isis” from TV. That amulet was the coolest thing ever!

That was not to be, however. My mother had other plans.

My family was very ecologically-minded, before it was hip. Even though it was the early 70’s, we already recycled bottles, cans, newspaper, and cardboard, making the long trek to the recycling center every month or so to get a few dollars and a feeling of superiority when we turned in what we’d collected. That year my mother came up with a brilliant idea for our Halloween festivities. She took upside-down paper grocery sacks and cut eye-holes toward the top and arm holes at the bottom. Then she used markers to write slogans on the sacks like, “Love Your Mother Earth”, “Recycling is Responsible”, and “Recycling Cans Makes Cents”. She put these sacks over our heads, adding additional paper sacks to the bottom to make them into a sort of tea-length ensemble. She called us “The Ecology Kids.”

You can imagine my pouting as a stood underneath my paper sack mask, asking if we were going to wear these costumes when we went trick-or-treating. (Yes, we went trick-or-treating. And we walked, too. It was the olden days.) And there was even more to her evil plan than these (and I use the word lightly) costumes. As we went from door-to-door, instead of saying “Trick or treat!” we would ask our neighbors for their recyclables, and put them in our little red wagon that we pulled behind us down the street. I was grateful that our neighbors could not see my face as I impatiently waited for them to dig through their trash for aluminum cans or vainly try to come up with a few scraps of newspaper for our wagon. One lady told us to wait while she opened up some tuna and then gave us her fishy cans. Another told us to check the garbage can at the street and promptly closed the door. After handing over their garbage — and after returning my mother’s smug, superior smile as she stood behind us — they would sometimes offer us a piece of candy, but sometimes not.

Maybe someday I’ll find an Isis costume and go trick-or-treating. And if I do, it’s a sure bet I won’t be asking people for their cans and cardboard.

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