ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

BE A HERO

To tell the truth, I didn't know much about Fidel Castro in 1962. I just knew I wanted to be him. For Halloween, I mean.

I didn't know about the Cuban Missile Crisis, or how close we came to a nuclear nightmare just days before trick or treating. I didn't know about the Bay of Pigs, Soviet bombers or American U-2s. I just knew that Fidel Castro was a bad guy -- somewhere in between Hitler and Sergeant Garcia from the "Zorro" television show, near as I could tell. He had a beard, he wore army fatigues and he smoked a big cigar. And the way I saw it, bad guy plus beard plus army fatigues plus big cigar equaled a really groovy Halloween costume.

So I asked Mom to help me put it together.

"You want to be WHO?" she asked. The tone in her voice told me that she knew perfectly well WHO - she just had no idea WHY. And that I had better have a darn good reason.

"Um . . . Castro . . . you know, the guy on TV?" I stammered. "He has that . . . you know . . . beard and everything? And the cigar? And he wears army clothes?"

"I know who Castro is," Mom said icily. "I just don't know why you want to be HIM!"

Suddenly, neither did I. "I just thought it would be . . . funny," I explained, meekly.

"Well, there's nothing funny about Fidel Castro," she said.

"OK," I said. Then an idea popped into my head. "What about that other guy?"

"What other guy?"

"The one who looks like Grandpa Arrowsmith."

"You mean Khrushchev?"

"Yeah - that one," I said. "Could I be him?"

I had touched a nerve here. The fire sparkling in Mom's dark eyes told me I was dangerously close to her version of DEFCON 3.

"There's nothing funny about Khrushchev, either," Mom said, almost spitting out the words. "And he doesn't look a THING like my father!"

I was going to point out how both men were short, fat and bald, but I thought better of it. Mom's yardstick -- our family's version of a strategic arsenal -- was well within her reach, and there was no question about her quick-strike capability.

I don't remember what I ended up being for Halloween that year. I just know I wasn't Castro or Khrushchev -- or, for that matter, President Kennedy (we were, after all, Republicans).

It has taken until now for me to understand what my mother was feeling back in 1962. In fact, this year I think I'm feeling it too. With so much fear and trauma in the real world all around us, I'm not sure I'm ready to see a bunch of little make-believe terrorists at my door asking for candy. Like Mom said, there's nothing funny about that.

So here's what I'm thinking. Instead of using Halloween to celebrate the evil, the mean and the nasty, why don't we celebrate the good guys this year? If you must BE something, be a hero. Be a firefighter. Be a police officer. Be a soldier. Be a nurse. Be a venture capitalist who actually bought stock the day the market re-opened.

But by all means, don't be a terrorist.

No matter how "groovy" the beard and army clothes may be.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.