I'm still casting about for a costume. I may end up going as me, which might be too scary for some of the younger kids. Or Snooki. Or the Situation. If you know who those two are, fine. If not, congratulations. I admire you more than ever.
Oh, the choices we make in life. Some people thrive on politics; I thrive on school field trips, choosing instead to address society's problems at ground level.
In fact, Mrs. Norris' class had a fine field trip just the other day, the second-graders all off to Lombardi Ranch, L.A.'s Ponderosa of Pumpkins.
My wife signed me up for the field trip a few weeks ago, then put it on my calendar as "Wine Tasting!!!" Turns out there was no wine tasting at Lombardi Ranch. Only pumpkins. Acres and acres of school buses, pumpkins and other fruits of the harvest.
"Hey kids, I brought cigars!" I yell, and the teachers all think I am kidding.
Anyway, I find myself a hostage on this field trip, assigned to a small group of 7-year-old boys. I protest that it's extremely sexist to team me up with seven boys, because everybody knows — especially teachers — that boys are evil and why should I suffer just because I'm one myself?
"Oh, just go with it," someone suggested, probably that pushy Miss Hamrick, who treats a teaching credential like a sheriff's badge.
Fortunately, I'm too stupid to worry. I'm also not bright enough to bring along a book for the long bus trip either, and I find myself having to engage in conversation with the feral little creatures. All the kids want to talk about is what they're going to be for Halloween.
After that, the conversation tapers off and everyone sits around uncomfortably, waiting for the next person to speak. It reminds me of almost every holiday party I've ever been to. After five minutes, I have nothing else to offer.
"Look, we're there!" someone shouts after the 14-hour ride.
If you've never been, Lombardi Ranch near Santa Clarita is a sprawling and festive pumpkin yard, with thousands of gourds, pyramids of straw and a particularly fetching field of sunflowers.
Upon arrival, the first thing the boys and I decide to do is ditch the teachers and get hopelessly lost in the corn maze.
"Come on, men! Let's get lost!" I say, quoting Chet Baker, a great but troubled horn player. I'm pretty sure this is the first time that Chet Baker was ever quoted on a second-grade field trip.
The corn maze begins with a big, gaping maw — that's how they lure you in. Because they are boys, my group sprints in at full speed, never for a moment considering their own safety.
"Stay together!" I yell, and they promptly don't. Within 20 seconds we have become a Stephen King novel.
"Stay together!" I tell the Children of the Corn, but their laughter seems to be getting farther and farther away. There is no danger, really, for the cornfield is fairly isolated. Plus, they smell like a school bus, so no wild animal would ever eat them.
"Where'd they go?" I ask my son, who is serving as my scout. The little guy dashes a few hundred feet into the corn maze, then comes running back to report that he found nothing except Johnny, who wasn't even in our group but now is. I coached Johnny in soccer one year, and he's always had this knack for showing up at the oddest times.
"Stay together!" I yell again, and right away they dart off.
This goes on for about 10 minutes, before all the boys come laughing and screaming back to their hostage (me) to be sure I hadn't escaped or anything. They are all there but report that they ran across another classmate who also wasn't in our group — a boy named Moby. I started with seven boys and now I am up to nine. And one is still in the corn maze.
"You should go get him, Mr. Erskine," one of the little terrorist/captors urges.
"Why?" I ask.
"Just because," the kid explains.
So I turn the group over to Ceci, another parent, and head back into the corn maze alone.
Soon, "I'M LOST! I'M LOST!" echoes throughout the maze.
Actually, that was me.
Then I hear "I'M LOST TOO!" and the two of us reunite in a cheerful scene right out of "Little House on the Prairie," one of the greatest shows of all time.
"Reunite" is probably too strong a word, as I haven't seen this kid before. But he has an air of entitlement about him, and very expensive sneakers, which is how I know he probably goes to our little school.
Well-mannered too. After I carry him to safety, the kid tips me.
I hope that everyone has a fun and spooky Halloween!!