BELGRADE LAKES, Maine — Sales of President Obama masks are down this Halloween season, way down.
“It’s not that popular an item,” said a sales clerk at Party City in Augusta, Maine when I visited a few weeks ago. You’d think this would be a bad sign for the Democrats, but on the other hand, there weren’t any John Boehner or Mitch McConnell masks in the store. The public has spoken: No one fantasizes about being a politician anymore. The most popular costume at that Party City? The minions from “Despicable Me.”
This is a comedown from the days when one of the most popular masks in the nation was Richard Nixon. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when one could reasonably expect, on Allhallows Eve, to see children dressed up as the president who had resigned long before they were born.
You can still get a Reagan mask — available in both regular and zombie models — although you’d have to order it online. In fact, there are plenty of politician costumes available on the Internet. But it’s curious, who’s in and who’s out.
Costumecraze.com carries George Washington and Abraham Lincoln costumes; Jack Kennedy; both Clintons; George W. Bush; and Barack Obama. But no Lyndon B. Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt. You get the sense that, if Mount Rushmore were carved today, it’d be Washington, Lincoln and both Reagans (zombie and regular), which, come to think of it, would probably suit congressional Republicans just fine.
Would you be surprised to learn that Mitt Romney was on sale on the site? Normally $26.35, the former governor of Massachusetts had been marked down to $18.45. There was an “Animal Donkey” mask for $15.39 for the Democrats. And the same would get you a “Deluxe Republican Disguise Kit” — furry elephant ears and a trunk.
I also noted, as I looked at the Obama mask in the store, that there was a large warning on the package. While disguised as Obama, the label warned, do not engage in “any activity in which full vision and hearing is essential.” Because full vision and hearing, one presumes, is what gets a person into trouble (perhaps especially when engaging with Congress).
The costumes we choose say something about who we are, or wish to be. Little kids dress as astronauts, pirates and princesses, teenagers as sex sirens. Grown-ups — to come full circle — dress as little kids again.
Even for the most repressed among us — perhaps especially for the most repressed — Halloween is the one day of the year when we are allowed to give in to our secret selves. I still remember the first time that I ever saw a boy dressed as a girl on Halloween, in a skirt and a wig. As a transgender child, I remember being shocked. You can actually do that? I thought. Seriously?
But that’s not to say that fantasy is safe. Looking at that little boy, I knew I couldn’t do the same, not then anyway. That fantasy, for me, was a dream so desperately urgent that I could not imagine revealing it, even under the cover of disguise.
The years fly by. We wash up on the shores of adulthood, with our minivans and mortgages and fixed selves, and woe to the fragile soul who attempts to alter her public identity much beyond the age of 30. You don’t have to be transgender to know how some people respond when you take the risk of revealing your private self. There are times when Halloween, the one holiday when we catch fleeting glimpses of one another’s fantasy lives, seems like the most serious holiday on the calendar.
It’s at times like that that a person winds up in a place like Party City, looking at the exaggerated, cartoon versions of our many alternative selves. And who is it we yearn to be? “Nurse Juana B. Sedated” and “Adult Psycho Clown” and the “Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.”
What does it say about a man that some desperate, noble part of his middle-aged soul cries out, just once a year, to walk the earth as Mr. Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man? What does it say about us as a nation that we would rather be “Adult Hot Dog” than president of the United States?
Then something maybe even more disturbing occurred to me: It’s not just the politicians who are missing from Party City. Apparently no one fantasizes about being a living person anymore. Of the hundreds and hundreds of disguises, Obama was the only one I saw who was real.
Excepting, of course, Adult Psycho Clown.