BETWEEN THE LINES - Halloween vs. real mask of evil

Friday, October 26, 2001

What chance does a haunted house display have against maniacs sending death in the mail?

Has it really been just a

handful of weeks since our world was changed?

Seems so much longer than that. Just a few weeks that we have felt fearful to fly, since we have watched our local Guard people called away and seen some of Storm Lake's sons and daughters go into harm's way.

Seems a lot longer that our children have awoke with

nightmares, we have been watching our bombs strike

on the nightly news, and

since we have started to

see even our own mail as

a potential weapon against


Think, less than two months ago, most of us had never heard the words, "anthrax," "Taliban," and "al-Qaida," let alone had to try to understand their warped meanings.

We were worried then about high cholesterol, and the only enemy we knew was our own oil companies.

Bio-terrorism? That was science fiction gibber-jabber.

Now, we pick up the paper

in the morning to see where

it's hit this time. Congress...

a White House post office...

a TV network... a computer company... deaths... massive testing... contamination...

warnings - a blur that is worse than a science fiction movie, because we don't know if this has an ending.

We are told that the next

strike may be an attack of smallpox, a disease we

thought was wiped out long ago, and one for which we don't have enough vaccine. It is a form of risk that we would not have imagined just a few short weeks ago.

For one, I wouldn't have had a clue where Kabul is back in those comfortable days, or maybe even what

it is.

Peace was something to take for granted. Half of us had really never seen

anything else to compare

it to.

I read that a longtime Iowa TV reporter who should have been old enough to know better was fired for playing an anthrax hoax joke on his co-workers at the

station in Des Moines. A staff member with another

newspaper in our own company also got caught playing such a hoax, I'm told.

What, isn't the truth bad enough? Try as I might, I

can't find any humor in it.

Six weeks, that's all it's been. Before that, the "Star Spangled Banner" was just the time to run to the fridge before the ballgame got started, and we would have looked funny at someone flying the American flag from their porch in the middle of October.

And so comes Halloween, the holiday in which we are supposed to scare ourselves for fun and excitement. But I think all of the scare has been wrung out of us these past few weeks.

Soaped windows or trees draped in toilet paper isn't going to startle us much any more.

We may find it hard to get fired up about the local haunted house, or those kids in witches' costumes begging candy at the front door.

Just as I was thinking about Halloween, a letter pops up on my e-mail from Joan Ryan, the talented young lady who writes a weekly column for these pages, and she puts it so well, I just had to share it with you.

Joan writes:

"A spell has been cast on our decades-long Halloween party.

"Demons no longer disappear with the flip of a mask or the click of a remote control.

"The challenge once was to keep us from giving in to manufactured fear. Now it is to keep ourselves from giving in to real fear - while recognizing that we are, in fact, in danger. Some are coping by stockpiling gas masks, water, nonperishable food, antibiotics and guns in their homes, as if we are about to be invaded or nuked. Others talk crazily of moving, at least temporarily, to Canada. Perhaps, though, irrationality is the surest sign of sanity.

"In this Halloween season, I find a curious relief in the cardboard ghosts and goblins in the neighborhood windows and the black-crepe witches. I understand what a luxury we enjoyed all these years, when fear arrived behind flimsy masks of celluloid and newsprint, before we knew about evil crawling out from a cave."