NO TREAT IN THIS TRICK!

By Carol Ann Wilson

Halloween 1996. I rushed home to be there for all the little (and some big) trick-or- treaters. (I always get teenagers as well as tykes.) It's one of my favorite nights, and I canceled going to an adult costume party to be able to make the precious costumed visitors happy (because I give a handful to each). A friend was coming over to watch ice skating and help answer the door, and I hit my driveway about 6:10 p.m. and alit from the car with both arms full. Another reason for my rushing home was that on Halloween it's always dark when I get home from work, with DST having just ended, and for some, the starting time is "at dark." I wanted to be sure I was home by the time the first "spook" appeared. This Halloween was one I will never forget, nor will I forget my encounter with that first visitor.

I live in a house in a comfortable neighborhood, where during my exercising days I would walk at 6 a.m. or midnight, with no qualms or fear. It is as "safe" a neighborhood as one could find in Houston--but of course there is no such place, in any city. If you can picture it, I have a double driveway, connected to a little sidewalk behind a hedge, leading to the front doors. Note the plural, doors: a burglar-bar with a dead bolt and a regular door with a dead bolt, both of which are unlocked with the same key. It takes a little time, but I can do it in five or six seconds-- less than an eight-second rodeo ride.

I suppose what I got was a wake-up call, because of my lax procedure, which has been (1) opening the doors, while leaving both standing wide open as I put down my purse and tote bag or whatever else I've brought in; (2) turning on entry hall and porch lights on my way to put my things down with the doors standing open; (3) going back for the mail and only then closing and locking the doors. It all happens in a matter of seconds.

This Halloween, as I put down my things and turned around to go get the mail, a young black man appeared at the open door. I first smiled, thinking he was either a trick-or-treater or accompanying some little goblins. In the same split-second I realized that he was not costumed and that he was alone. No little trick-or-treaters with him. Not only that, he was coming through the door and was already in my entry hall with his right arm raised and clutching something like a tire iron!

Terror invaded my body as my visitor invaded my house. He got right next to me and I stupidly began fighting with him, and his weapon hit or grazed my skull on the left. It wasn't a hard hit, and it was almost like he backed off as soon as he realized he had done it. I now realize I had the fleeting thought that he might be a "first-timer" in the attack business, but that didn't affect the terror I was feeling. It's amazing how many thoughts can go through your brain in a second.

I could feel the hot blood rushing through my body, I shook like Mount Vesuvius on its most malevolent day, and I think the mugger said, "I'm gonna kill you." Then in that split-second, I realized he might do just that. I remember having the thought: "He's going to kill me right here in my own house unless I do something to stop him." I also looked at the end table for anything I could use as a weapon--letter opener, knife, I'd have given anything for a loaded gun! But nothing was there. I now know that if a loaded gun had been there, I would have been able to kill him. That surprises me because I had come to hate guns, believing they're only for killing people, and not believing I could kill another human being. I was wrong. I could. I would have fired until he no longer moved a muscle.

About that moment, he grabbed my purse and I saw my life in that purse and I grabbed it from him. I don't know if he let me grab it or if I reached back and got some of that strength that lets a mother lift an automobile off of her child, but I wrested it from him. I should take a moment to describe my purse. It's huge, multicolored leather with a long strap, has jewels on one side of it, and weighs about 25 pounds. With all its contents, it literally does contain my life, or a good part of it. It might as well have been my child he was grabbing. It may also have been true that in that same moment, he realized he would not get very far with it and not be noticed. He just didn't seem to want the purse.

As I gained possession of the monstrous purse, I yelled at him, right in his face: "Wait a minute! Just wait a minute! What do you want? I'll give you anything you want!" It must have startled him, because for a split-second he let up in his attack and we began a sort of negotiation.

He said, "Give me all your money." As I reached into my purse, he said, "give me your wallet."

I said, "I don't have any money. I don't get paid until tomorrow, but you can have whatever I've got." I'm still digging in my purse, careful not to bring up either my wallet or my credit card holder.

He waited, almost patiently it seemed, and said again, "Give me your wallet." And I pulled out the red change purse I had recently purchased, for the sole reason that I could easily find it in that bottomless-pit-of-a-purse. When I fished it out, he grabbed it and ran out the door and down the street. I thought the only things in it were a five-dollar bill, about a dollar's worth of change, my AMC Moviewatcher card, and a free movie pass, and maybe one other insignificant card. I yelled after him, "Please bring back my cards!" but he kept going. I'm sure he thought it was a wallet, Thank God! (I later realized that a frequent flyer card was also in it, from a recent trip, an easily replaceable item.)

I immediately called 911, and an officer was there within ten minutes! Say what you will about "Houston's Finest," but he was right there and very helpful. As he pulled up, my friend had just arrived, and I was just heading down the sidewalk to see if by chance the mugger had thrown down the change purse. The officer accompanied me on that unsuccessful search, and then came in with me to make his report and give me the incident number.

A while later I realized I had many sore places, but it didn't seem that the blow to my head had amounted to much. (I'm trying to resist making a "hard-headed" remark.) The police report will say, "Refused medical attention."

As I began recovering from the ordeal, I realized I would not be able to open my door to trick-or-treaters. I had no fight left in me, and my limbs were like jelly. I made a big poster, put it outside, and turned off my porch light. The poster said: "Sorry. I was mugged tonight and I'm not opening the door. Blame it on the bug-eyed mugger." And he was bug-eyed. I will never forget his eyes as they looked right at mine and came at me uninvited through my front door, looking evil and not friendly. His size was that of a high school football player.

I then spent much of the night awake, for two reasons: (1) concentrating on his face to remember what he looked like, so I would be able to identify him; (2) a horribly wrenched right leg, which was either from the struggle or from the blow to the left side of my head (regardless, I could not find a comfortable position to sleep); and (3) carefully noting whether I had any dizziness or spots before my eyes, in case the blow to the head was worse than it seemed.

So what did I learn from this misadventure? Plenty, and anybody can use this as a checklist, asking yourself, "Have I done any of these things to protect myself?" I have now done, am doing on a regular basis, or am in the process of doing the following, and I make these recommendations to you:

1. In getting from the car to the house:

a. Always be alert, looking all around before getting out of the car.

b. Keep a flashlight in the car to check bushes and other "hiding places."

c. Install a motion detector light fixture at the front door so the light will come on automatically when you get there, eliminating one step in the process.

d. Immediately lock the door, even if returning in a matter of seconds to get the mail, because those seconds are valuable to an intruder..

2. Get a barking dog machine for the entry hall. I think it would have stopped my visitor, where other items, such as an alarm system, would not have. A friend has one and the instant you cross its electric eye, it sounds like the biggest Rottweiler on earth! You definitely don't keep coming toward it.

3. Get a pepper spray self-defense weapon. Even policemen use it and it will drop an attacker. It requires some instruction, however, because you can hurt yourself, if downwind of it. A distributor to civilians (but I'm told it's the same grade as used by police) is Aardvark Corp. at (800) 9-Pepper. It can be disguised in a leather cigarette or glasses case, and it's much more effective than mace. (But don't forget to leave it at home or pack it in checked luggage when boarding airplanes! If in your purse, it will be confiscated.)

4. Get a gun and keep it handy, after proper instruction and practice.

5. Replace that red change purse that looks like a wallet. What a great idea, to keep a "dummy" wallet with a couple of bucks in it to give to a mugger and let him think the got something! (Maybe even fill it with fake money?)

6. Give thanks every day that he didn't kill me.

The police have a theory that supports my thinking that this criminal was a novice. Some gangs have an "initiation" that requires the initiate to break into a home and steal a wallet. Some initiates have done it in the middle of the night, feeling especially exhilarated by standing over their unsuspecting victims at sleep. No physical harm done, but the initiation requirements have been met. That would explain a lot about his behavior, because why did he give me time to fish anything out of my purse, which could have been pepper spray or a gun? And why did he immediately run away, without even checking what was in it?

And what about this trick-or-treating custom, anyway? We've had years of horror stories about poisoned candy and hidden razor blades, and nobody dares give out homemade goodies, as much as we would like to. For future Halloweens, I would be afraid of those too-old-for-it teenagers, because one could just as easily put himself in my entry hall as my intruder. I've checked with friends and learned they don't have nearly as many trick-or-treaters as in former years--probably because of activities at churches and community centers.

That's where Halloween activities should take place, our churches, community centers, and homes. It's too bad our customs have to change because of mean people, but facts and statistics are good evidence of the need to do away with trick-or-treating, even without reference to a "Satanic connection," espoused by some religions.

My new soapbox activity will be to rid ourselves of this custom. Anybody want to help?

P.S. I spent three hours with a police artist, who came up with a drawing of my Halloween intruder. It's a pretty good likeness, except that my attacker's eyes were much more bulging. I just couldn't seem to get that across to the artist.