The decision to be a table for Halloween must, in retrospect, be questioned. Looking back, I can offer no explanation other than sheer, cussed laziness. This was high school, laziness at its career zenith. My parents owned a picnic basket that included a small checkered tablecloth. I draped this over my shoulders and stapled to it pictures cut from my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens: a pork chop, some spaghetti, lima beans, pie. People would ask what I was, and I’d bend over, back flat. “See?” I’d wiggle my arms. “These are my legs.” The rest of the time I walked around appearing to be some variety of poorly thought-out superhero. Look! It’s Nutrition Girl! No! It’s Nursing Home Meal Man!
Sometime after midnight, unbeknownst to me, someone hooked his Leonid Brezhnev mask to one of the staples on my tablecloth. The leader of the communist empire obscured my spaghetti. Confusion ensued.
“Who’s that with his face in your cutlets?”
I was at an age where any comment that you do not understand is assumed to be sexual innuendo. Where, anatomically, were one’s cutlets? I wondered. Why were they saying this to me? I recall once riding a crowded bus with a man whose convention nametag—"Hi, I’m BOB"—had been slapped on his back without his knowing. Strangers would board the bus, look at him and grin and say, “Hey, Bob!” I know Bob’s pain.
I vowed to do better. The following year, I had big plans for a Cat in the Hat costume. If you are going to be the Cat in the Hat, you need a respectable striped top hat. I tried to improvise with a stuffed stocking hat. It was a flaccid, poorly fitting thing. The stripes were the wrong color, the wrong size, the wrong genus and species. I believe I skipped the bow tie entirely. I wore a black unitard with a lumpily stuffed black pantyhose leg pinned to my backside. The cat’s tail looked very much like a picture I had seen in the illustrated Atlas of Proctology in an office at the medical school where I worked that summer as a janitor. PROLAPSED RECTUM, said the caption. My Cat in the Hat appeared to have this.
I believed I could make up for the crappy outfit with my patented Cat in the Hat facial expression. Also, I’d convinced a friend to wear a puffy blue fright wig and come with me as the Cat’s assistant Thing One. Though many believed him to be the fight promoter Don King. This owing to the lights being dim and the wig’s blue color difficult to detect, and to someone yelling out, “It’s Don King!” as we walked into the party. All night long, people would look at Don King, and then they’d look at me in my black unitard. (I had long ago ditched the hat.) “So you’re Muhammad Ali??” I’d do the face. “See? I’m the Cat in the Hat.” I did the face so many times that I became convinced my upper lip was stretching and that soon I would have Satchmo-like facial pouching. Eventually I gave up. I went with the flow. “Yes,” I’d say. “I’m Muhammad Ali.” I’d take a few jabs, then an uppercut. “And here is my prolapsed rectum.”