The Costume Vote

November 1, 2010

Halloween and Election Season arrive when Autumn is at its peak, a good time for the city. And there is something a Halloween costume store has in common with a local campaign headquarters. For a few weeks, each of these places rent space and anticipate a day of climax, after which they close down, to pop up next year. Halloween stores are cramped, unorganized, stuffy, staffed by temp clerks dressed in fangs, wigs and makeup, a “sexy” devil, “The Crow,” or the vampire man.

At campaign headquarters, perhaps for the State Senatorial District, the cheapest commercial space is rented, above a hair salon in a two-floor storefront, a few computers on tables found on the roof of the building, maybe a back room with concrete walls. Staticky carpet and musty fake wood paneling, and a flight of steps that might seem to lead to the offices of a 1940s bounty hunter. The campaign workers are stressed and make impulsive decisions in the creative effort to get votes – as people in a Halloween store pick out costumes at the last minute.Vote Today Pepsi billboard Times Square 2010

Both spaces are transient and sloppy and the mood is manic. The day nears, and campaigners recruit canvassers, and cheap-ass Jack Sparrow outfits are bought, and fake beards and sexy bloody nurse numbers. After the election, and the holiday, the abandoned stores and HQs are left like Times Square on New Year’s morning, a mess of monsters and politics. The outcome on Election Day may prove much scarier than anyone dressed as Jigsaw the cancer man, or Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies. Or Hiram Monserrate.

I moved into my Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill, in June. Each Hallow’s Eve, outside a few of the carriage houses and old 1880s mansions from when Brooklyn was a suburb, theatrical entertainments are staged by neighbors for the kids and passersby. At five o’clock the area was swarming with kids trick-or-treating. The best costume I saw was a little kid dressed as Colonel Sanders. He had a good goatee and the curly white hair. I have been to Colonel Sanders’ grave at Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louisville, KY, a famous and evocatively landscaped graveyard, where also is buried Harry Leon Collins, an old-time magician whose gravesite had an occult effect.

My ladyfriend and I dressed up as 1920s aviators. She wore the vintage goggles and cap, I wore an eyepatch and fedora, the story being that my eye was injured in a crash when flying over the Sudan in 1921, or some such tale. I bought the pants I wore for $5.99 in the womens section at the cheapo store in my neighborhood. They were Gloria Vanderbilt, and fit well as the legwear of a 1920s pilot adventurer.  My brother was visiting from Redondo Beach, CA. this week, with his gal pal. She dressed as a sacrificial goat, and Fud was the goatherder.

We walked around the neighborhood. The architecture reflects the flush of 19th century shipping wealth, the Brooklyn Navy Yard not far. It was a vintage autumn evening.  Brisk and windy, leaves like sandcrabs crackling across the asphalt and the rows of Italianate townhouses and brick apartments trimmed in Gothic are dim and infinite in the fall dusk.

The house at 313 Clinton Ave performed a “Vampire Opera” with pre-recorded audio, dance numbers to parodies of songs from Phantom, creature shop masks and a Nosferatu protagonist obsessed with candy. It was mainly for kids, though I didn’t see a whole lot of kids standing on the sidewalk and street for the 8:30 show. Most of the crowd were local couples not in costume. Some teenagers passed by, Batman was being chased by Urkel from Family Matters.

The highlight of the neighborhood spectacle was a carriage house on Waverly Ave, where the garage was turned into a dungeon cast by props of old movie monsters.Exorcist show, Waverly Avenue, Clinton Hill 2010 In the center, strapped to a bed, writhed Regan MacNeil, from The Exorcist.  The actress thrashed and gargled and mimicked along to a profound audio mashup of sound clips from the movie, satanic backwards-playing LPs, and a psychedelic bad-trip collage of primal snarls and inhuman whinnies.  If this show might have been for kids – to maybe fuck them up a little – it was definitely geared to adults.

I didn’t know what to expect from this local street theater – I had heard that the neighborhood was known for making such spectacles a tradition. Earlier that day I was talking with a tour guide about the scariest movies of all-time. My pick was The Exorcist – only to discover that the little girl possessed by Pazuzu the demon was right up my block.