Flour-flinging bands of hoodlums roamed the streets of Washington, D.C., on Halloween in 1894, casting so much flour on personal property that "some of the streets looked as if there had been a fall of snow, and the pedestrian who reached home with his garments uninjured considered himself fortunate," the reported. Such incidents of "rowdyism" still occur every year on Halloween, although the authorities have stepped up the enforcement game a bit--police in , will be patrolling the streets this year with night-vision goggles and thermal-imaging equipment, looking for vandals lurking in the darkness.
Minimizing darkness by keeping your property well-lit is the best preventative measure for homeowners concerned about the risk of an egging, a toilet-papering, a pumpkin-smashing or a mailbox-bashing, Jim Pasquill says. Pasquill oversees security as part of an in British Columbia's School District 42. Comparing vandals to cockroaches, he says, "Normally, the types of people doing these things don't want to be seen doing it. If they want to egg a house or write something nasty on the outside, they're going to look for a house that's not well-lit. That's where they can get away with it."
So let's just assume they do get away with it, the punks. In the best possible scenario, you've called their parents, who promptly dispatch the offenders to clean up the mess. More likely, you'll have to do the dirty work yourself. Here's how to clean up after the Halloween mayhem.
Toilet Paper in the Trees
Quoting an expert about the damage toilet paper can do is difficult--multiple toilet paper manufacturers decline to admit that their product could be employed in any way other than its noble, intended use--and even landscape contractors grow cagey when offering advice. "Get out what you can before it rains," recommends a representative of Country South Landscape Service in Atlanta, Ga. Would one use a rake to do this job? "Yeah, or a long pole. There's no special way of doing it, just get it," he says. When asked to identify himself, the man hung up.
Toilet paper victims are more willing to speak on the record. Mark Roper, an employee of the New York City Opera and also a onetime landscaper, woke to find his parents' lawn "rolled" on a few occasions in the late 1990s. "If you just start yanking on it, it tears, and then you have all these little pieces up there," Roper says. To get those bits down, "The best way I found was to basically take a pool cue, tie a candle to the end of it, and reach up with the flame to light the strands on fire." Roper cautions against using this method on branches near the house and power lines, but adds that "the way the toilet paper burns, it's probably not going to catch anything on fire. And the ash is so tiny, you don't even have to clean that up."
For homeowners wary of lighting trees ablaze and also a little tentative about scaling a ladder with a rake, there's always the old hose and nozzle. Though it contradicts the advice of landscaper No. 1, water can be used to get down errant strands, says a third landscaper, David Whittaker of Atlanta's Chatham Landscape. Using a nozzle set to a concentrated beam, "just spray portions where the toilet paper connects with the limb," Whittaker says. "It'll fall off, theoretically."
Egg, Pumpkin, or Paint on the House
Bruce Schneider, a paint expert and marketing manager with paintbrush manufacturer , offers a series of remedies for any type of organic stain. Take the egg, for instance. First, Schneider recommends sponging cool water onto the front and back of the stain, allowing water to soak in and "loosen the egg." Next, gently scrub the egg with a soft nylon brush, adding as a cleaning agent a solvent-free, protein-based stain remover like Clorox Stain-Out or .
If that fails, Schneider recommends mi 1 teaspoon of a mild pH-balanced detergent (nonalkaline, nonbleaching) with a cup of lukewarm water and blotting the spot. Then, mix 1 tablespoon of household ammonia with a half-cup of water and blot the spot again. Sponge it with clean water, then dry with a clean cloth. "Always test these cleaners on an inconspicuous area," Schneider says, to make sure the surface won't be further damaged when the cleaner is applied.
Cleaning off paint, such as graffiti is a bit trickier, but Motsenbocker has a Lift-Off product formulated for that as well. This item, No. 4, "doesn't distinguish between types of paint," says Motsenbocker's Patty Ducey-Brooks, so prepare to repaint the entire area. Many types of solvents can remove paint--lacquer thinners, industrial degreasers, our old pal methylene chloride--but this product merits a specific mention because it's water-based, biodegradeable, and generally easier to deal with than stronger chemicals. Unlike a solvent, which melds with the paint as it works, the Motsenbocker formula breaks the molecular bond between the surface and the paint, producing a solid paint chip that flakes off, to be thrown away.
Some light-colored paint or ink graffiti can be concealed by simply priming and painting over the damage. Porous brick and concrete often need the pressure-washer treatment. Pasquill of the Anti-Vandalism committee, whose paint crew has "vast experience" cleaning acts of graffiti, says "it can get fairly complicated, depending on the material or substrate." Pasquill does have one universal recommendation, though--"clean it quickly."
Mayhem at the Mailbox
The feel of a Louisville Slugger connecting with a plastic mailbox, the explosion of envelopes, the shattered parts flying all over the yard--it's a scene too hilarious for many teenagers to resist, federal crime or not. For a homeowner, the best defense is a bulletproof box.
We offered up several mailboxes that can take a beating in a recent issue, and our readers had a few comments as well. One rural mail carrier recommended filling an old tire rim or a 5-gallon bucket with concrete, setting the post into it, and then simply picking the thing back up whenever it was knocked over. A more sinister solution came from another carrier in New Hampshire. His advice: Fit a smaller box into a bigger box, like a Russian nesting doll, then fill the gap between the two boxes with concrete. "Imagine the surprise a bat-wielding vandal has when his bat connects with the sturdy concrete-lined mailbox," the reader writes, adding that he's sure the results would "cause his teeth to vibrate."
For homeowners wanting teeth-rattling protection without the work, the Lehman catalog offers the , a "virtually indestructible" 29-pound box made of "ball-bat-splintering 1/8-inch welded steel."
Among the catalog's primarily Amish readership, is there a particular need for a tough mailbox? "I don't want to make it sound like we're surrounded by vandals, but I know it happened to a friend of mine," Lehman's vice president of marketing, Glenda Lehman Ervin, says. The friend has since upgraded to the World's Toughest. "It's working fine so far, but it's only been a few weeks," Ervin says.
Of course, if your main problem isn't baseball bats, but teens who stuff neighborhood mailboxes with eggs, you may want to remove your mailbox temporarily. Or, put it under .
Let's just hope your home makes it through Halloween weekend without getting pumpkined, egged, rolled or, worse, covered in flour, 1890s-style.