“Halloween is almost here,” he tells me — “he” being a friend with a passion for holidays — “and I need a costume! Something that shouts ‘Japan!’ Any ideas?”
What he wants is something he hasn’t worn before. The old standbys — a samurai with a rubber topknot, a black-masked ninja with a plastic sword, and a geisha girl with a twirling parasol — are distant ghosts of his Halloween past.
As are Anpanman, Doraemon, Kamen Rider and more. Personally, I find nothing spookier than Hello Kitty edging out from a graveyard mist, but he has been there, done that.
“To me, what shouts ‘Japan!’ best is hard cash,” I tell him. “So why not cardboard up as a stack of ¥10,000 bills, with your face in the middle?”
“Nope, no gimmicks,” he says. “I want a costume that matches what I am, and what I am is a biped. I have arms and legs. Anything that doesn’t is out.”
Which still leaves a closet full of human options. I tick them off.
“Go as a high school girl in a sailor suit. Your hairy legs in a short skirt will scare the entire nation.”
“Oh, please. Everyone goes as a high school girl in a sailor suit, except high school girls. Besides, I like to keep in character when I’m in costume, and a person can only giggle so much.”
“OK . . . office lady, then. They never giggle. Put on one of those vest-style uniforms and pin your hair back with a barrette. Then carry a tray with green tea.”
“But how could I ever manage that office-lady look: half smile, half scowl? Half ready to please, half ready to kill?”
I tell him he’s a partygoer, not a method actor.
Still he declines. “I want to be the hit of the evening, and office girls are like umpires in baseball — unnoticed, unappreciated and unloved. No thank you.”
“OK, go as a stadium beer girl, wearing one of those day-glo sales suits — the kind that can be seen even from outer space. And carry a beer canister on your back. Free beer will get you noticed, I guarantee.”
He tells me there is no such thing as a free beer. “And I’m on a budget. If I had any money, I’d fly home for Halloween.”
Next up: sushi chef.
“Slip on a happi coat and wear one of those looped towels on your head. And then carry a cleaver and a fish. The cleaver can be rubber, but if the fish was alive and flopping, so much the better.”
“Yuck. Too smelly. I’d rather have a rubber fish and a real cleaver. The cutting edge of costumes, that’s me.”
Right. I move on. “Then how about a construction worker? Wear some of those shoes with the forked toes and put on some workingman pantaloons. And you could carry a lunch pail.”
He thinks. “OK. That’s original, but I prefer the rubber fish and cleaver.” His eyes have a gleam.
I say, “Construction workers don’t carry those. At least not often. At least not the ones I’ve seen.”
“But it’d be cool.”
“And it doesn’t shout ‘Japan!’ Rather, it shouts, ‘Hey! Look who’s nuts!’ “
“OK. Back to the office girl, then. Only instead of green tea, she has the rubber fish and cleaver: She’ll never go unnoticed again!”
I agree, but try to lead him to something safer.
“Middle-aged suburban housewife! You wear pancake make-up, thick pink lipstick, a sun visor and long, frilly sleeves to block out UV. And then you carry a Pomeranian.”
“I want the cleaver.”
“You’ll be too busy with the Pomeranian. Which” — and here’s where I hope to steer him — “can wear a sailor suit: It’s a double costume.”
He pauses. I think he’s sold.
“And I still get the rubber fish?”
“And with lipstick on the fish?”
“On the fish, on the dog, anywhere you want.”
He sighs with relief. “I like to get this figured out early. Last year, I couldn’t decide until the last minute and then went as a salaryman in a blue suit with a briefcase. To find the worst party ever. It felt like I was at a sales meeting, and it turns out I was. I goofed the address and no one knew.”
“Now that would never have happened if I’d carried a cleaver and fish.”
Then he asks me about my costume.
“Me? If I go at all, I’ll go as I am.”
He looks at me. “As an English teacher?”
“With a wrinkled shirt? A bag full of papers? And a dead look that says you’d rather be in Hawaii?”
Yes, I tell him — that’s me.
“Helluva costume. You know what would make it better?”
“Let me guess: a cleaver and a fish?”
“Or a cleaver and a Pomeranian. You have to think outside the envelope.”
So I do, and come up with “A lunch pail and a beer canister?”
Yes, that’s me indeed. Happy Halloween.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5