Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 2009

I was invited to a Halloween party last week and was struggling with what to wear (I thought I might come as a caring and compassionate physician, but was told that someone had already beat me to it). So it was off to the seasonal Halloween Discount Worlds in the Abandoned Big Box Stores for an expedition into holiday spending.

It had been years since I had gone shopping for a Halloween costume, mostly because it had been years since I had been to a Halloween party. It’s not that I have any objection to costumes or parties. In fact, during my tenure as the State Health Officer in Kansas, I dressed up as both an intestinal polyp and as Major Molar. And while I really like going to parties, working an ED schedule and the inevitable fatigue of child rearing and middle age eventually take their toll.

So I was totally unprepared for the wonders of the modern Halloween Discount World. But I was glad to see that despite those who see Halloween as an unholy day, spiritually was alive and well. People were dressing as pastoral leaders like Popes, Rabbis, Priests, Nuns, and Sexy Nuns. All was well in the world.

The divine presence was lost, however, in the next aisle. This could best termed Groins Alive. These are male-oriented costumes whose greatest asset seems to be the ability to repel any vaguely attractive girl it encounters. These costumes feature the gynecology group of Dr. Howie Feltersnatch and Dr. Seymour Bush (names embroidered on the lab coat…their parents must be so proud), the Chief Instructor of the Mike Hunt Diving School, and a Mr. Hunglow who plays for the New York Yankers. (This reminds me of my Vietnamese colleague, who is fond of saying in his singsong accent, “Someday we go to strip club and you find out why girls call me Hung! Hahahahahaaha!”) Slightly more creative, and significantly less offensive, is the Chick Magnet outfit, which consists of a large stuffed magnet-shape pillow worn around the neck a bunch of puffball fowl glued to it.

The Breathalyzer and the Big Top Circus costumes featured a similar theme. The former is essentially a box you wear around your torso, with the “inlet” valve, if you will, strategically located around the groin area. (There is no guidance offered on the package as to who should take the test…apparently, it’s a matter of personal preference.) The latter is a kind of skirt shaped like a circus tent that you wear around the waste. The circus tent opens in the front, according all a view of the performing elephant. (I’m deliberately avoiding all references to the name “Jumbo” because I suspect that for those who would wear this kind of costume, the term need not apply. I am avoiding any references to “peanuts” because while this term may, in fact, be an accurate reflection of the wearer's assets, I can internally gloat while exhibiting public sensitivity.)

There are other outfits as well. There are the adventure-themed costumes like gladiators, pirates, soldiers, knights and cowboys; the animal costumes like pigs, penguins, and cows with squirting udders; and the truly fun costumes like pieces of fruit or the one where there’s a blow-up ostrich around your waist and your legs stick through so it looks like you’re riding the ostrich (riding in the correct form of the word, to be sure). And then there are the ones that are so tasteless as to have no redeeming value (the Blind Referee, complete with cane) or the ones I simply don’t understand (the Tightey Whitey, which seems to be a large pair of white underpants extending from groin to neck). But while there are dramatic costumes, eerie costumes, and funny costumes, at least they bear some resemblance to what they purport to be. Which brings us to the Super Mario costume, which does not look like a little mustached guy in red overalls and a jaunty yellow cap, but instead looks like Aladdin with the baggy pants and open vest topped by a hat which can best be described as a cross between the Hagia Sophia and a hallucinogenic mushroom.

Interestingly, female costumes show nowhere near the same range of styles. All of them…and it’s a bit of a generalization, but not much…are in the “Sexy (or synonym thereof) x” variety, where x = a character. (Like the way we worked some algebra n there? We strive to be both entertaining and educational job.) So we get Sexy Leprechaun, Flirty School Girl, Hot Pirate Wench, Luscious Demon Mistress, Buxom Geisha Girl, and the like. Certainly there are no realistic costumes like Frustrated Housewife, Underpaid Waitress, or Desperate Botox Silicon Cougar. What I found most intriguing is that there is an entire line of “Sexy x” costumes available for the oversized girl as well. I applaud this move as long as we recognize that at a certain point, bigger is not better. My experiences during Bike Week in Daytona have taught me that once you break 300 pounds, neither fishnets nor chaps are attractive. This goes for the guys as well.

To be fair, there are no realistic guy costumes, either. You never get a chance to portray a Dead End Manager or Petty Bureaucrat or Convenience Store Worker or Errant Weatherman. The latter is a shout out to my friend Jeremy, who is a local television weatherman…I’m sorry, that’s meteorologist…in Topeka, Kansas. When I worked an ED shift that got out at 10:30 and his last broadcast ended at the same time, we’d get together at 11 at a bar called Pigskin’s that had half price food after ten (translated as “eat this or we have to throw it out, and we may as well make some bucks on it while we can.”) I think Jeremy felt safe at Pigskin’s. We’d been out places during the day where people would come up to him and accuse him of misreading the entrails of the climate sheep, and he would very patiently explain to them the difference between a forecast and a prediction, and everyone would be thrilled that a TELEVISION PERSONALITY spent time talking to them. At the bar, it was much more likely that someone would come up to me and scream “HEY! I STILL GOT THAT RASH AND MY GIRL WON’T TOUCH IT ANYMORE!”

One costume I didn’t find was the Illegal Alien. You may have heard of this, as it recently was in the news:

A Southern California immigrant rights group has asked Target stores to stop selling an "illegal alien" Halloween costume it says is offensive to immigrants.

The costume…features the mask of an alien with a green card and an orange jumpsuit with "illegal alien" written across the front.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says she wrote an e-mail to the Minneapolis-based retailer Friday calling the costume "distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform."

(Associated Press, October 16, 2009)

I agree that the costume is clearly inappropriate. In fact, I believe it is our solemn duty, as Good Americans, to welcome any green-faced antennaed aliens into our society with open arms. We must embrace them and share with our national blessings so we all, together, might realize our fondest hopes and dreams. Then, and only then, is it appropriate to send them out to a Secret Government Lab in New Mexico and dissect them to see what makes ‘em tick. And we should do so wearing snappy serapes and sizeable sombreros, all of which are readily available at the Halloween store and apparently cause no one any grief.

Costumes are not limited to the human variety. There is also a large selection of costumes for dogs. I always wondered about people who dressed up their dogs for Halloween until I became the pet of a beautiful young lady Shetland Collie who bit potential human female rivals for my affections and trained me to drop food on the floor at strategic intervals. In exchange, she would occasionally submit to wearing holiday gear. (Actually, getting a costume on a dog was a lot easier than I thought. The first time I saw them, I thought you had to actually get their little legs into the outfits. Turns out you just tie them around their necks.) The Princess apparel was tolerated; the Cheerleader sweater found the pom-poms devoured within moments (“they LOOKED like food”). The best dog costume at the Halloween store this year was the Yoda outfit, with a brown sack-like robe you tie around you dog’s neck and green headgear that I’m still not sure stays on without superglue. (“Good it is that my lips do not you kiss me on. Know not what I have been eating nor know what licking I have been.”) This year’s effort at animal couture has been the application of a jester hat to the Residential Cat. That lasted about three minutes, but the look of utter disgust on the feline face was well worth the five bucks. And I’ll recycle the hat and put it on my six month old nephew.

(Admittedly, in a shameless plug for which I am receiving no reimbursement, the best dog costumes are at Target. They have a lobster suit that’s a killer.)

Of course, it’s not all costumes at the Halloween Store. There are the other accoutrements of the holiday, including all varieties of tombstones, snakes, spiders, rats, assorted bagged vermin (30 bats for $7.99), disembodied organs, hacked-off limbs, severed heads, necrotic fanged infants, axes, swords, scythes, plastic vibrating chainsaws, and other cheery holiday fare. Not a lot of distinction, however, though I was favorably impressed with the motorized rubber rat tugging at the throbbing plasticine heart, as well as the life-sized Hannibal Lector display that kept flipping off its mask and saying things like “I’m having a friend over for dinner.” (The gourmet food industry must have hated the Silence of the Lambs. Pate can be a pretty tough sell to start with, promotion on Top Chef notwithstanding, but now…) And for those who wish to celebrate in a literary fashion, you can get both a glow-in-the-dark skull and a stuffed raven so you can quote both the Bard and the Baltimorean at the same time.

But after all this shopping, I realized I had the perfect costume at home. And at the party, I realized that the best costumes, of course, are the ones you don’t expect. Yes, there was the requisite guy with the Barack Obama mask, but he carried a briefcase full of beer that he called his “stimulus package.” (He could have called something else his “stimulus package,” but he properly acknowledged that you have to respect the office.) And then there was the couple who were dressed in normal clothes, but had a necklace of rope attached to a flat wooden piece of playground equipment. (I’ll let you figure out that one…took me about a half hour myself.) And I learned many other useful things at the party, including that the people you work with actually have bodies when they’re not wearing scrubs, and that it’s weird to see three different people all wearing Brett Favre Green Bay jerseys with foam cheese on their heads in the middle of Florida, and that if the ability to get a whole jello shot out of a medicine cup with your tongue is a measure of intimate prowess I may as well give it up and go home.

Which I did…until next year.

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