By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The decision not to dress up on Halloween night for some people may owe to a lack of faith in their imaginations, as if a costume somehow requires a witty conceptual satire on the order of a pregnant nun or a monk in chaps. A few come up with promising ideas, but get bogged down in the details: My friend Cindy threatens every year to go out as a transplant-delivery agent equipped with a cooler full of organ meats, but she never finds the time to gather props. Others are just embarrassed by the idea of a Halloween costume.
I have never been deterred. It seems to me that if Western middle-class culture offers grown-ups one day a year to look weird, we ought to take advantage of it. This year, I painted myself, from hair to toenails, in glittery silver, put on a standard-issue black evening dress and went to Hal Wilner’s “Closed on Account of Rabies” (better known as “that Poe thing”) at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
The costumed people were in the minority: A handful wore white mime face or fluorescent wigs, one elegant woman wore angel wings on her flowing dress, and a bereaved Ramones fan fixed himself up like Joey. But the bulk of the audience wore regular clothes.
Many in the crowd were generally delighted with the anomalies among them. One woman wanted to know if I was in pain (no); another wanted to touch me; someone else demanded to know the details of the process (a sponge and a bottle of Kryola, a talc-and-glycerin mix available for $24 at Image Exclusives on Melrose). My date informed me that most people were smiling, but then said, “Some of them are giving you the evil eye.” I encountered a colleague and her boyfriend who looked bewildered and kept the conversation with me short. But if anyone winced, I quickly dismissed it, confident of my Halloween privilege, which I try hard never to justify or defend.
Any lingering self-consciousness disappeared with the show, which was, to me, a wonderful thing, a four-hour stretch in which to meditate on Edgar Allan: Did his conscience torture him? Did depression make him violent (as Edith Wharton hinted)? And how did the drugs he took affect his dreams?
Performers seemed perversely matched to their pieces: Saturday Night Live’s Chris Parnell, who is a short man, found spectacularly credible characters in his diminutive self to animate Poe’s vindicating saga of little people, “Hop-Frog”; Syd Straw’s heart-shredding howls made her telling of “Morella” chill your skin; Eric Roberts narrated “The Black Cat” with an escalating intensity that might, we speculate, come from having visited some of the same demons of violent depression. After the band Antony and the Johnsons closed out the first act with their otherworldly “I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy,” I became preoccupied with the big-eyed blond soprano called Antony (“Shouldn’t we have heard of him?” we all kept saying), and I forgot that I looked different from anyone else. But at intermission, it all came back to me. “What are you supposed to be?” asked a man who passed me cream for my coffee. “Someone from Star Trek?”
When pressed, I explained I was a magnet, but in fact the concept was low, at best a brief rebellion against robust Homo sapiensskin fashion plus a little vanity: I actually like myself in silver paint, despite the way it accentuates wrinkles and pores. Having spent the last 10 Halloweens at parties where my minimalist disguises were never terribly conspicuous, I got a kick out of being the only silver body in a sea of plain flesh. I hadn’t merited this much attention since I’d had the nerve to drink Budweiser in my box seat at the Hollywood Bowl.
People drifted out of Royce in the show’s last hour, but we stayed, savoring Chloe Webb’s emotional incantation of “The Bells,” which took my breath away with its sheer newness, and a lovely, dirgelike setting of “Annabel Lee” by the New York–based band Elysian Fields. At the party after the show, where a man in a latex mask and I were the only ones to acknowledge the holiday, I introduced myself to Antony, who’d been described to me as shy and reluctant to meet people. A silver woman, apparently, didn’t bother him at all. “I love your costume,” he offered, and slipped me a copy of his new CD.
Fright Nights: Firefighters and Princesses
What does the world look like right now to kids who are too young to understand what happened on September 11?
Gendered, for starters. Parked uneasily between sorrow and anger, my 3-year-old tomboy wants to know why the lads who can’t keep up with her on the monkey bars are suddenly shutting her out on the grounds that they are valiant firefighters, while she’s nothing but a lousy princess.
The gender stuff we can deal with — today’s child-rearing manuals are full of tips on the care and feeding of girls’ self-esteem. But there’s nothing in the books about how to respond to the more topical questions parents are suddenly fielding from inquiring toddler minds. Like why the cars around us on the drive to preschool have sprouted American flags, but ours hasn’t. Or why, at the birthday party we went to in the Valley last weekend, American flags beat dinosaurs in the Top 10 of face-painting options. My daughter is too young, thank God, for a discussion of patriotism. To her, America means the odd shape on the globe someone gave her, or the map she plays hopscotch on in the schoolyard. Given my own discomfort about all the flag-waving, I’m happy to leave it at that for now. It may also be too early for a chat about pluralism and tolerance.