When I was in Kindergarten in 1986 or 1987, it was the school’s policy to have everyone in the building parade around each other for the afternoon. Every year, all the kids would dress up in their favorite Halloween costumes, and show them off for the remainder of Winneconne Elementary to view.
I think the big thing in the mid-80’s was the California Raisins, so there were a lot of kids in purple-face, wearing garbage bags stuffed with newspaper. This was not only sad and lazy on the part of the parents, but also a tad racist. I never quite jived with the thought of 4 overweight prunes donning sunglasses and singing soul tunes. Maybe I’m just sensitive; after all, it was the most successful marketing campaign in fruit and vegetable history.
Anyways, my Mom was far too refined to send me to school wearing a garbage bag. Man, I was set. Today, I was Sylvester the cat, complete with full costume and a giant head. I looked like the mascot for a football team, that’s how rad this costume was. Screw the plastic masks with the cheap rubber band and staple, I was going for broke this year. If this didn’t score me some more friends, I didn’t know what would.
On the day of the parade, I brought my amazing costume, neatly folded and packed in a paper bag, and placed directly under my hanging jacket in our cubby section along the wall. There it would sit, unassuming and quiet, waiting patiently for the afternoon to arrive to spring itself free from the bag and blow the minds of about a thousand educated minds. I felt like a suicide bomber before the big moment. Before you could say “Allah,” the afternoon was upon us.
Frantically, the entire Kindergarten class darted over to the cubby, tearing their meager raisin costumes and cheap masks out of their tragic paper bags. I sauntered over slowly, as to not draw too much attention to myself. The time for that would be soon enough. As the dust began to settle, I strolled in and started looking for my costume.
But…I couldn’t find it.
The bag that I thought it was in was empty, and all the other bags seemingly belonged to other kids. After a thorough check of all the bags again (thorough for a 5 year old, mind you), I realized that my awesome Sylvester costume was no more. It was either stolen or had simply disappeared.
Again, being a refined and dedicated parent, my Mother was actually there as a chaperone for the proceedings. She asked and re-asked me if I was absolutely positive that my costume wasn’t over by the cubby. I gave her my word that it had dropped off the face of the Earth. Suddenly I went from almost being the coolest kid in Kindergarten to the loser without a costume. Something needed to be done, and my Mother was getting a bit frantic.
Mrs. Broderick, my Kindergarten teacher, had a plan. “We have some spare costumes in the closet,” she said, doing her best to make the most of a bad situation. She was an amazing teacher, and away she went, digging around to find something for me, just minutes before the big parade.
“Here we go,” she said. “Try this on.”
“This” happened to be the saddest looking dog costume I’ve ever seen. Yes, a dog costume. Why someone would neglect a costume like this, leaving it for dead in a Kindergarten closet for 80 years was beyond me. Oh, wait, it was because the costume sucked a boatload of ass.
Imagine the cheapest Halloween costume you can think of. Good, now pretend that it’s of a dog. Okay, good. Now cross-breed that dog costume with a clown costume, make it horribly ill-fit and make it orange and yellow striped, and you’re getting into the ballpark of what this costume looked like. It certainly didn’t look like something a dog would wear, but the mask assured me that it was indeed a canine outfit. Perhaps this particular dog worked at a circus or something, but I was really in no position to ask questions. While my Mom literally held back tears of embarrassment and anger, I slipped into a skin-tight circus dog uniform.
A dog walks into a hardware store and says, “I’m looking for a job.”
The clerk says, “I’m sorry, we don’t hire dogs. Why don’t you work for the circus?”
The dog looks at him and says, “What would the circus want with a plumber?”
(END OF IMTERMISSION.)
Okay, back to the story.
So, furious, sad, heartbroken and humiliated beyond my wildest dreams, I was forced to get in line with my friends and respected quad-partners, and parade this obscene costume in front of every single person in the school, grades K through 8.
Peering at the other kids through the tiny plastic slits in the mask, I didn’t know if they were making fun of me, or just didn’t recognize who I was. For a fleeting moment, I was on top of the world. I had everything I needed for a successful afternoon, and in less than a minute, everything came crashing around me. Instead of going out with a bang, I was wishing to God that I would turn into a California Raisin.
It didn’t happen.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, at the tenderest of ages. Life is hard. Nothing should be taken for granted. If you think that everything’s going to go well, that’s going to be your first of many mistakes. Billie Joe Armstrong says, “Don’t pat yourself on the back, you might break your spine.” Well, on Halloween 1987, I gave myself a Christopher Reeve-style thrashing.
It was one of the worst days of my entire childhood.
So, after the parade, everyone was changing out of their costumes and getting ready to go home. I was peeling the circus dog outfit off of me, dripping with sweat and failure, when my Mom asked me a question that I’ll never forget.
“Hey, what’s in that bag over there?”
I don’t think I have to tell you what I found in it.
Happy Halloween. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend.