"So what are you going to be for Halloween?" That's the question on everyone's lips this time of year.
My standard reply: "I'm thinking of going as an elephant, but I need someone in the costume with me to work its giant ass. Interested?"
But the truth is I never dress up as anything. Not since 1978, anyway, when I was Robin Gibb, complete with flight jacket, billowy scarf and feathered hair, à la the Bee Gees' Children of the World LP. I had fun that night, trick-or-treating for candy as the Brothers Gibbs' ewe-voiced warbler.
But that was it, 22 years on and not another costume in sight.
So why the long stretch without fully participating in Halloween festivities? I don't know, really.
I'm amused by people in their costumes at Halloween parties. I like candy. I like the booze. It's not that I find it silly or that it's just for kids. I like to think I'm a fairly fanciful person. I'm no stick in the mud.
I'm just a Halloween bore.
But last year was a turning point. At the CityBeat Halloween party, I was the only, the only, person not in costume. In the past, at other parties, there have always been a few lame-os like myself who didn't bother to dress up. Not this party. I felt naked. And, for the first time, I didn't enjoy it.
Adding to my isolation were some of the terrific costumes my co-workers wore. Tartuffe was in attendance, in an opulent waistcoat and purple wig. Cruella Deville was there. Boba Fett from Star Wars took a break from bounty hunting to come. Even Satan took time out from plotting the next Heavy Metal revival to make an appearance. But there I was, an audience of one at this terrifically festive costume party. Couldn't they feel my humiliation, my burning shame, every time they derisively shouted "Great Costume!"
"I came as myself, heh, heh!" never once got the first laugh. God how I hated them. All of them.
The frustrating thing was I actually went costume hunting the day of the party. I was within inches of renting a Styrofoam lobster outfit. But just like my mother used to remind me, I'm a cheap bastard, and I wasn't willing to part with the green when it came time to do the deal. So off I went, reassured that I'd saved 30 bucks.
This year is going to be different. Like the ugly duckling who became a swan, like Kurt Warner who left arena football to become the NFL's top QB, like the homely high school wallflower who became the delicious porno queen, I will shine. I will be a Halloween supernova.
Last week, I returned to the Cincinnati Costume Co. (where I almost became a lobster), certain that they could help me redeem myself this Halloween. I confessed all to Caren Young, the store manager. She was sympathetic. She didn't say so, but I could tell she just wanted to help me help myself.
I asked her if there were others like myself: tabula rasa, without a single good costume idea.
"About half of the people know what they want," she said. "Some people come and say right off, 'I want to be Catwoman.' "
"OK!," I shouted. "Then I want to be Catwoman, too."
Being a professional, she ignored my pathetic outburst and continued. "Last year, the big thing was Austin Powers. I think he's going to be a perennial character." She also added that the Saturday Night Live characters from the 1970s were still surprisingly popular, like the Coneheads and Rosanne Rosannadanna.
"We had high hopes for the X-men," Caren said. "It's doing OK, but not everybody wants it. With the election year, Gore and Bush are popular, and Regis is very hot."
"Regis is very hot." Even now these words strike me as terrifying.
Clearly, Caren was eager to help me find the right costume, but if I was going to make up for last year I'd have to meet her halfway with a little imagination of my own.
So I searched the endless racks of military gear, leather, vampire duds and Star Trek costumes (Kirk and Picard style). There was an amazing collection of giant animal heads: gorillas, gators, bears. There was a wall of horrible, ghoulish masks. I could dress up as a policeman or a French maid. Whatever I wanted, the Cincinnati Costume Co. could probably make it happen.
Then it struck me. Ever since my early teens, I'd kept secret the improbable fantasy of being crowned the king of an ambi-sexual race of outerspace funk masters who live a harmonious existence on the rings of Saturn. It was time to unleash the real me on my earthbound brothers and sisters.
Moments after my epiphany, Caren found me among the racks to inquire if I needed some more help. I wasn't ready to fully divulge my secret, but I asked her if she had any good funk space suits, kinda like the Isleys or P-Funk used to wear. She said they had outerspace and they had funk, though not necessarily together.
Fortunately, Cincinnati Costume Co. is all about mixing and matching. Within minutes I was wearing a shiny, silken, royal blue space jumper. Of course, I needed to accessorize, and the CCC had just the array of sunglasses, wigs and other odd and ends to help me get my freak on.
Back in my earthly garb, I made the rental arrangements. The CityBeat Halloween party is Saturday night, but I can pick up my outfit on Friday and don't have to return it until Sunday afternoon. That means I can be an ambi-sexual freak-a-zoid funk king from the rings of Saturn for the entire weekend: Dinner at Jeff Ruby's Steak House on Friday, party on Saturday and church on Sunday, if I'm not too hung over.
This year, if people ask me what I'm going to be for Halloween, I can honestly say, "I'm dressing up as myself." ©