The Costume Contest
I trudge along, my head encased in in latex. Through two tiny holes, that do not line up with my eyes, the flash of the fire truck strobe blinds me further. My chest is covered with thick fur. It is raining and my latex feet are stretching and catching on the wet pavement. I yell and threaten the sky with my plastic caveman club. This horror, circa. 1966, is the torture forced on children once a year in my little Midwestern town: the Halloween parade leading to the dreaded costume contest at the local school. My friend Kerry and I began the evening with the usual mode of Halloween operation. Dropped off in town by our parents, we went door to door, holding out our plastic Jack O’ Lantern containers for the goodies to drop in. My costume was exquisite. Caveman latex mask, latex big ugly caveman feet, fake fur for the chest, leopard skin top and topped off by a plastic caveman club. Not only quite frightening, but a sure winner in the contest. There were prizes of up to three dollars awarded for various divisions and I was planning on going home a rich (cave)man. Kerry, on the other hand, had somehow dressed, well, just not up to par. He wore a half hearted pirate outfit with a beard drawn on, red and white stripped shirt, and a wooden sword. It was almost laughable, and I wondered if he would enter the contest at all. Soon we heard the fire siren. It was time for the parade. A light rain fell in the darkness as we followed the flashing lights of the fire engine toward the school (I couldn’t see the actual fire engine as I had to focus on the ground, through whichever eyehole lined up at the time, to keep from tripping). My floppy latex feet, which now had holes worn in them from the rough pavement, didn’t fit my shoes as tightly as they had earlier in the evening. As result they came off frequently on our promenade, and about the fourth time I had to sit down on the wet curb to pull them back over my shoes, it was too much. As they were wet, they wouldn’t slide on at all. Kerry had left me behind. In desperation, and I suppose breaking the terrifying caveman illusion, I snatched the floppy feet up and pulled off my mask. I would have to redress before the contest, I reasoned, and ran for the school. I stood for a moment in the front hall of the school. When the steam on my glasses cleared a bit, I entered the school cafeteria. The Mayor and several village council members were scanning the assortment of costumed contestants and I went in a corner and stealthily donned my disguise. Kerry wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Obviously realizing the folly of even showing up against such elite competition, he had probably called his mother for a ride home. The dignitaries were now talking among themselves in the corner, deciding which and how many of the prizes to award my costume. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kerry’s mother, looking for her son to take home. I started toward her. And then it entered. A huge, green fabric Christmas tree. Breathtaking and full size, sporting yarn bulbs and a crochet star on the top. When my shock subsided, I realized it was Kerry inside, taking the dainty steps it took to mince the spectacle across the cafeteria. Yes, a costume like this would have had no chance in a common, rainy Halloween parade.While had been hurrying through the dark and rain to my claim my prizes, Kerry had arrived early, slipped into the bathroom, and changed into the waiting virtual tree his mother had made for him. The little crowd gasped in astonishment. The judges’ heads quickly went back into the huddle. They whispered excitedly. I watched in horror (it was Halloween) as the awards were lavished on the hand-sewn conifer: Best 2nd and 3rd Grade Costume, Most Creative Costume, Best in Show. The cash bearing envelopes fell at the tree’s feet like one-dimensional gifts at Christmas. I ran out of the school in shame. And promptly tripped on my latex ugly caveman feet and fell in the schoolyard mud. As a minor public official, I was recently in a meeting with the local fire chief. “Do you think your municipality could donate $150 to the kids’ Halloween party again this year?” he asked. “Uh, sure.” I said, my stomach fluttering a little. “We’re just going to pass out candy at the park in the center of town.” “Oh, no costume contest?” I asked, nonchalantly. “Too hard to find judges, and not many kids interested anymore. I guess they have more important things to do after trick or treating now a days.” “I suppose so.” No damn wonder. Happy Halloween!