There comes a point in all our lives when monsters no longer live under the bed, itchy polyester costumes no longer hold the promise of a temporary disguise, and the sugar rush of trick-or-treating crash lands into the bittersweet years of teenhood.
Halloween was much more than mischief and mayhem for my hyper-competitive family. Quite the contrary, it was a cloying court for competition. My father, a work worn, self-made Midwesterner, believed that everything in life worth having (including Halloween costumes) should be earned.
After all, his offspring would be doomed to a lifetime of mediocrity lest we realize the value of good ol’ elbow grease. And so began the Annual Shreibak Halloween Lap Swim.
Week by week, in the sun broiled in-ground pool smoldering in our backyard, we’d incrementally work toward swimming 10 laps for each year of our age (80 laps when we were 8, 90 when we were 9, etc.) to pick up the tab for a costume. Every lap beyond that quota would score us a dollar.
My brother, the budding financial analyst, would paddle across the cerulean, heavily chlorinated waters until his arms fell limp, stuffing his winnings into a novelty-sized Coca-Cola can for safe keeping. I, on the other hand, would lazily freestyle enough laps to break even on a new Green Day CD or the latest issue of TigerBeat. (Whaddup, fellow ‘90s nerds?)
We’d spent many a summer night slinking out of the house after dark to walk to the nearby Meijer and pocket candy from its bulk bins. I’d become savvy enough to hunt and harvest loose change from car cupholders and couch cushions to fund my splurges, including a Halloween costume. We were scrappy and fierce and freewheelin’ because we were pre-teens, dammit. And most of all, we wanted to avoid swimming those laps at all costs.
When the summer months of ’05 rolled around, my lash of rebellion was in full swing, and I was poised to assert my obnoxious false sovereignty and unapologetic laziness by evading the Lap Swim. I faked stomach pains, feigned sore muscles, griped about my period cramps — anything to ensure that I wouldn’t have to dip my toes in the alchemical pool waters. Once summer had sung its swan song and the pool had been sealed, I had not fulfilled my divvy of laps.
With my bootleg funds and a few items in my closet, I fashioned a half-assed homage to my favorite TV character at the time: Sydney Bristow of Alias. I expected to emerge into my subdivision’s labyrinth of gauzy faux spider webs and glossy jack-o-lanterns beaming with pride as my father wistfully handed me off to my friends, but the costume felt more like a facade.
The Lap Swim was an opportunity to bond with him, for him to cheer me on from the sidelines and gab during Gatorade breaks. Trick-or-treating is more than peddling for candy from your sugar drunk neighbors. It’s one last chance to be something you’re not. It’s one of few times to be unafraid of asking strangers for candy. It’s the infinite possibility of youth before it becomes bitter with age.