Monday, October 20, 2008

Incognito: Costumes and Other Cheap Thrills

I have always loved costumes and reported in a previous post my penchant for getting up like Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, and a Christmas Tree, among other alter egos.

My first mystery novel, on the back burner for editing, is set at a costume affair called The Crystal Ball. It’s the 25-year anniversary of a longevity organization in San Francisco. The revelers are invited to Come As You Will Be in the Next 25 Years. You have no idea how much fun I’m having with that! I can invent costumes without regard to the problem I have in real life—mechanical execution. For example, Micki Michaels, the protagonist and head of PIOPEA, the Physical Immortalists on Planet Earth Association, attends the bash as a DNA molecule. Think the bar scene in Star Wars gone biotech.

What is it about costume parties, costume balls, and dressing up that gives us a cheap thrill like no other? In fact, the longstanding costume shop from the hippy dippy heyday of Sacramento is called
Cheap Thrills. It remains a local cultural icon.

Psychology of Costumes
No question in my mind will remain unanswered a click away from Google. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to know that our choice of costume says something about us. However, I found a
fascinating exercise proposed for teachers of clinical psychology. In a way, that’s all of us. Life is the clinic! The exercise: (1) Write down costumes you have worn in the past, (2) Write the costumes you’d like to wear in the future—then, (3) Let others in a class setting (or a gathering of family or friends) tell you what costumes they’d choose for you. Do I want to know?

I even found suggested
costumes for introverts! Again, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that introverts don’t like being the center of attention, but certain costumes are easier to hide behind than others. Or bestow a bit of of the brazen. And for those of you who want some costume interpretations without thinking too hard, click here for some expert opinions from a psychologist.

My Stab at the Costume Exercise
1. Costumes Past: You already know I’ve been Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, a cosmic cowgirl, and a Christmas tree. Oh, and Glitta from the Planet Glitz in a Golden Galaxy, dripping gold, not 14-carat.

2. Costumes Future: I decided I had to write down my pure desires, regardless of how ridiculous I might look in these get-ups at my current age, weight, etc. Try not to laugh too hard: trapeze artist, ballerina, CSI (complete with disposable gloves and that nifty specimen collection kit), and a private eye (beige trench coat and sunglasses). I suppose these all make sense, as I try to keep my balance while navigating the mysteries of life.

3. How My Friends Would Dress Me Up. Several of them were game! I just sent them an e-mail. Here’s are some of the surprising results with my parenthetical reactions:

-- I could see you in a Dorothy costume with cute little Toto in tow. (I hope it’s only my wide-eyed wonder of a child and my tendency toward glitzy accessories. I’d kill for those sparkly red shoes!) Yes, plus your persistence to get to your goal and help get others there, too, and to overcome obstacles and pick up friends along the way that are definitely not mainstream thinkers… which is a good thing! All of the
Joseph Campbell mythic journey is wrapped up in the one little story... you’re living it!

--I am not sure what costume I can see you wearing, but one of my favorite all- time costumes is a clear trash bag filled with colored balloons and the person inside wearing a leotard and tights in a bright color – and they are a bag of Jelly Bellies! (You were channeling! I love Jelly Bellies!)

-- Don’t laugh…I can see you in an Elvira costume. Also, Lily Tomlin as the little girl with the big lollypop. (I’m nothing if not versatile.)

Now, don’t you just have to try this for yourself?

All-Time Favorite Costume Ideas and Incidents
I tend to be most impressed with costumes that are objects of some sort. I think it’s much easier to portray a person—I already am one—than a thing. Morphing into an animated object takes real talent. One costume that caught my eye was someone in a paper box crafted as a traffic light, complete with ovals of changing colors—Go, Caution, STOP!

Here’s my most hilarious costume incident. Our neighbor down the street, a fun guy, but never known to be on the bold side, showed up early on Halloween night as an adult trick-or-treater. He was wearing one of my coveted costumes—a trench coat—only he had a different job in mind for it. As I opened the door, he ripped opened his coat like the proverbial dirty old man played by
Arte Johnson on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. His exposé revealed a large salami and two rounds of cheese hanging from his belt. (He was otherwise fully clothed.)

He got the last surprise when he stepped across the threshold and saw that he had just “exposed himself” to my sixty-something mother-in-law. A proper lady, Mom fortunately had a great sense of humor, but she still couldn’t put Paul at ease, who skulked home, embarrassed about his flashdance.

Probably the most clever costume party I ever heard of was called a Cocktail Party, and it was literal to its name. It happened in Wisconsin in the ‘70s. People came dressed as cocktails. I can only imagine the Harvey Wallbanger. I would have gone as a mint green Grasshopper. There was a Pink Lady, a Tequila Sunrise, and my favorite—six people who walked in together with a big brown box around them, bottle caps on their heads—a six-pack! Contest: Tell me how we’d adapt this to modern day. How would Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte from Sex & the City dress up like a Cosmo? I can’t begin to imagine where this would take one of my favorite boomers, the
Martini Diva, but I know she’ll Comment and tell your herself! (Sex on the Beach-a-tini would, no doubt, be the life of the Cocktail Party!)

Like Day of the Dead that follows it on November 1, Halloween is a mixture of the sacred and secular--of life and death. Overall, the holiday has become highly commercialized and more people, adults included, are into decorating and dressing up. Seasonal costume shops are cropping up on more corners. For those sensitive to it, there is no denying that All Hallow’s Eve is a night where the veil between worlds is thin.

Halloween is a celebration of the hidden mysteries of life and the mystery of our own multifaceted natures—the parts still hidden inside us. As you get ready for this annual night of tricks, sugar rush, and brushing elbows with ghosts and goblins, see what you discover about yourself in the fun, in the disguise—in the touch of the forbidden—in the magic.

Photo: Joyce as Auntie Mame, Halloween 1985. This photo is featured only because I could not find the Purple People Eater or Christmas Tree pics. Maybe they’ll surface by next Halloween.


Lady Lynn's Boutique said...

Great exercise. I am sending this one to our couples group! Looks like lots of fun!

Eileen Williams said...

What a fabulously fun post in celebration of Halloween. It's one of my favorite holidays and I always enjoy a good sugar high.
As far as costumes, I can picture you as a delightfully wild and wooly flapper--as our dear Antie Mame would have been. You'd be dressed in sequins and fringe and sporting a bright purple boa. For sure, you'd be the bee's knees in that getup!

PopArtDiva said...

I think I would dress you up as Amelia Earhart - a pioneering adventuress who flew boldly into a man's world and conquered it - then got lost, lol!!!

I don't think I want to know what costumes other people would put me in! I have discovered that my view of myself is quite different from how others see me. But then most people judge others fairly superficially and only our closest friends know enough about us to be able to put the right fantasy costume on us!

Here are some of my costumes from the past: As a child I remember being a little Turquoise Bunny, a clown, a purple witch and Wonder Woman. As an adult I have been Fall, The Ice Queen, Adam AND Eve and Darth Vader in Drag to name some of the more elaborate ones! In the future I think I'd like to be one of the performers from Cirque Du Soleil, Indiana Jones or anything that allows me to wear a feather boa and my tiara. I also think it would be fun to try to make a costume based on a famous classical painting - but at my age it will not be The Birth of Venus by Boticelli - maybe something from Rousseau, lol!

I love the Cocktail Party concept! And yes, Miss Joyce, I have thought about turning myself into a Martini as a costume - and not just for Halloween but for my martini making videos that I do on YouTube, lol. I'm just trying to think how I could walk around with my entire lower body wrapped up as a skinny martini glass stem!

I think most people would like to put me in a witch costume! But I'm going to e-mail people and ask just to see what they say! Should I come back here and post it later, lol?

BTW, your friend with the trenchcoat, salami and cheese balls was lucky there was not a large family dog like a shepard or a Rotty at that door!!!!

PopArtDiva aka The Martini Diva

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks for your hilarious response, Pop Art Terri! Yes, the "flasher" neighbor was lucky he didn't lose his cheese balls. And, of course, inquiring minds would love to know how her friends would dress up the Pop Art Diva. Do come back with an update. Lower body as a martini stem makes my point about the difficulty of executing those inanimate object costumes! You could build the whole thing on a skateboard, since a Martini would be kind of tipsy turvy ... but I guess that might be kind of dangerous. Still, it'd be fun to figure out!

Pam Archer said...

I would dress you as a flower, lovely yellow petals that spread sunshine to everyone who sees it.

Have you ever had times that everything you did seemed to offend someone? Lately I feel like my friends would dress me like Joan of Arc and burn me at the stake!

I think I'll dress like a tree and leaf (leave)

Joyce Mason said...

LOL, Pam! The flower spreading sunshine sounds so wonderful ... and, yes, who hasn't had their Joan of Arc moments? That's the one that made me laugh. When I was a kid, I actually took Joan as my confirmation name. Do not ask me what possessed me or what I saw in her. It must have been her bravery. It certainly wasnt the end she came to. If I were dressing up after offending someone, I'd come as Limburger Cheese from the line in the Farmer in the Dell, "The cheese stands alone." Of course, I cannot imagine I'd have much fun at a Halloween party, given how people would run in another direction from the stench! Thanks for playing!