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Lawton lays on the cobwebs and truckloads of candy

on October 29, 2009

The candy was bought. The decorations were up. The costumes were ready to go. The only box left unchecked on the laundry list of to-do’s for the Momet family on Lawton Avenue in the Rockridge District of Oakland was big, orange, and sitting on the ledge of the front porch.

And tonight it was time to carve it.

For a family living on what could arguably be considered the most hit-up block for trick-or-treaters in Oakland, Halloween is serious business.

Cobwebs hung from every corner on the porch, but according to Jen Momet, mother of two, it wasn’t enough. “They’re sold out everywhere,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

She went to two Halloween stores in search of more cobwebs, but came up dry.  She asked her neighbor to pick up some, if she came across any on her errands. No luck there either. By Wednesday Jen was on the verge of giving up, but the lack of cobwebs didn’t deter her from the Halloween spirit. “I think I’m known as the nut in the neighborhood,” she said, “because I go all out for Halloween.”

Outside the front steps, a huge RIP tombstone jutted from the ground. Lights, cobwebs and spiders the size of small children hung from the front windows, a smiling ghost hovered below the front awning, and a candy bowl with a rubbery green hand and dark blue nails pawed at anyone who ventured to reach in. The favorite decoration of the moment for the Momet girls, Chloe, 7, and Avery, 2, was the motion-sensor cackling witch and yo-yoing spider that went into action if you got close enough. Avery leapt back and shrieked each time she managed to clap loud enough to set the toy in motion.

Inside the front door it looked like any other day in the Momet household, except for the piles upon piles of Halloween candy. But like the cobwebs, according to Jen, the hundreds of miniature-sized candies weren’t enough for a Halloween on Lawton Street.

“I still need to buy more,” Jen said looking at the mountain of Butterfingers, Skittles, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups on coffee table in the living room. Their candy bill had already exceeded $100.  “It won’t be enough,” she said.

And in an area where there’s a heightened anxiety about sugar intake, the Momets said they don’t normally feed their girls sweets. “It’s the one time of year that they look forward to having some,” Jen said.  “I’m O.K. with it.”

For Lawton Avenue resident Deborah Hoffmann, a few doors down, it’s difficult not to buy the traditional Halloween candy. “We buy crap, and not happily,” she said. “But in this day and age we’re not allowed to pass out unwrapped things and baked things. You know there’s the fear that there will be poison in the cookies and razor blades in the apples.”

And for a neighborhood that gets hundreds of parents and kids coming in from all over Oakland to fill their trick-or-treat sacks on Halloween night, candy can be a big expense. “I spent between $60 and $70,” Hoffmann said. “And at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. the kids come around and then we think, ‘Oh, we so overbought on the candy,’ and start telling kids to take three or four.  And then of course that’s when they all start coming.”

Exactly why Lawton has become the trick-or-treaters’ go-to place in Oakland is something of a mystery to most.

Hoffmann, who has lived on Lawton since 1989, has no idea why it’s become so popular, but has her guesses. “There used to be a couple that lived across the street,” she said. “They did these really elaborate pumpkin carvings, and I think that may have started it.”

For Lawton resident Ian Hussey, it’s a little overwhelming. “It’s too big, in my opinion,” Hussey said. “People bring kids from far away.  And then they come around twice!”

Back at the Momet residence, Jay Momet got home a little after 6 p.m. Wednesday and was ready to get straight to work on carving. Chloe and Avery bolted out of the house and to the edge of the lawn to greet him as he stepped out of his white sedan. They were dressed in  preview garments.  Chloe’s hat was large and pointed, her black veil spotted with spiders. Avery had a rainbow tutu and wings. (Fairy princess.)  Jay took the lead in the carving. He had sophisticated equipment this year, including an electronic carver that helped trace a design. Chloe picked out a bat.

Also, the yearly “pumpkin guts” shot had to be accomplished, the girls pretending to eat squash viscera for the camera. “We do it every year,” Jen said, laughing, although looking mildly embarrassed.  Jay traced, poked and carved.  Chloe helped. Avery occupied herself by scooping pumpkin guts into a big wet  pile in front of her, occasionally bringing a gooey mass to her nose and inhaling with a wide-eyed look on her face. “Careful, Big Red,” Jay would say to Avery, who has extremely red hair, when it looked as though she might let a handful of pumpkin mass fall on the dining room rug.

Jay and Jen contemplated their first carve.  They were not impressed. Jen blamed the new tools, which she observed were not the superior old-fashioned kind, but Jay declined to give up on them yet, so they opted for a simpler design, a classic jack-o-lantern face for carve two.  A dinner break was called,  Avery amused herself  by crawling around under chairs and popping her head up to alarm people.  Finally Jay placed candle-shaped lights inside both pumpkins and carried them outside.

They turned off all the porch lamps. Under the night sky and cool October air, the Momets–minus Avery, who had retired for the evening–examined their work. The swooping slivers across pumpkin had a convincing resemblance to wings.

“They actually look like a bat,” Jay said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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