Required listening: Under The Knife by The Rural Alberta Advantage

In 2005 I found myself at the end of a three-year relationship. I don’t want to get into the details, because frankly there isn’t much to tell. As far as break-ups go, things ended uncharacteristically smooth – by this I mean the break-up was amicable and felt right – much in the way that putting the family dog to sleep feels right. It’s not easy, but it’s ultimately the best thing to do. Unless you don’t believe in that sort of thing, in which case I have no metaphors for you. Keep reading though; I get my comeuppance in the end—I promise.

At the end of any relationship, I think it’s fair to say you generally find yourself making one of two observations. Either you managed to maintain a healthy balance between your relationship and your friendships, or you alienated everyone around you, and have no choice but to start fresh when, in the aftermath, you’re left with no friends to speak of. As I made my way into an end-of-year film department mixer, I found myself in a crowded room full of strangers (students I’d known for years, but never attempted to get to know). It was at this moment I realized which route I had chosen.

At least this wasn’t a costume party, right? It was. But at least it wasn’t an eighties themed costume party, right? Even worse. It was a “come dressed as a character from a film produced in the year 1980, party.” But at least my ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend hadn’t planned the whole party, right? Guys, they seriously-f**king-did!

What could be more awkward than walking into this eighties-themed costume party alone? What if I told you I had come dressed up as John Travolta from Urban Cowboy.

urban cowboy

The truth is, I was never particularly great at picking out costumes.

You can read the rest of this story in Not Your Average Urban Cowboy, but right now I’m rewinding to the year 1985…

– 1985 –

It all started coincidentally enough in the early eighties.

My mother was an extremely accomplished seamstress back in the day. When we were kids, she could hem a pant, taper a shirt, and whip up a roman shade all while drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette (at the same time). She has since quit….smoking. In hindsight, I think she would agree that she had met her match when she decided to create what would be known as the worst Halloween costume ever: The Koala Bear (picture to come).

To my mother I was the cutest Koala Bear to ever roam the streets of Thorold, Ontario. To the people of Thorold, Ontario I was an abstract cubist decoupage made from an old shag rug, plastic vampire teeth and a beaver tail. I knocked on hundreds of doors in my mother’s Koala creation–each time receiving the same soul-crushing response.

The following is a re-enactment of the rejection I faced at each and every door.

“Oh my goodness! Look at you! Your a…um…look at your…(turns to significant other for help)..have you ever seen a cuter…(significant other shrugs nervously, then mouths the words “I don’t have a clue. Just give him some candy, he’s kind of creeping me out).”

I didn’t know it yet, but this awkward exchange was to become a metaphor for the rest of my life. Thankfully though, I experienced a growth spurt in the early nineties, making the Koala Bear a horrific memory that would later manifest itself as a re-occuring adult stress dream.

WRITERS NOTE: to anyone wondering, I am now over six feet tall and while the Koala Bear costume has since retired, he does sometimes make appearances for special occasions. Just kidding we gave it to goodwill. Just kidding, even they wouldn’t take it.

– 1990 –

Superheroes were all the rage when I was in elementary school. If you didn’t have a kick-ass superhero costume on Halloween, you knew better than to show your face at the annual St. Charles Elementary Halloween Day Parade. I struggled for a long time when deciding which superhero I would be. My mother campaigned hard for Spider Man—“He doesn’t have many friends either”–pep talks were not her forte. But Peter Parker just didn’t feel like the right fit. I was looking for something more…musical.

One dreary Sunday morning, following one of my parents’ date nights, I laid eyes on a comic book that would change my life forever. The thing is– it wasn’t so much a comic book as it was the Playbill to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s timeless musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

At the time I thought my Phantom of the Opera costume couldn’t fail. But let me ask you this question: when you were in the 4th grade, did you know who the Phantom of the Opera was? You weren’t the only one. Luckily I was around to educate the playground on his philistine appeal.

“He lives in the basement of a Parisian theatre, his super power is music. All he wants out of life is to produce beautiful opera productions with his girlfriend Christine Die-eh.”

My parents were right, I should have just been Spider Man—it was admittedly a very tough sell.

My version of The Phantom had a much lower budget than that of the Broadway variety. You see, the porcelain phantom mask I needed to really complete the look also kind of blew my parents costume budget, and so we had to settle for a discount Zorro costume to fill in the gaps. Basically I was a phantom mask wearing Zorro, complete with sword and sombrero–tassels removed. I like to call it the Spanish-fusion Phantom. Sure it was a distinctively unique vision, but somehow in my eyes it just worked. I was ready for the parade. I walked out the front door, boarded the school bus and waved goodbye to my mom.

“If you lose that mask, don’t even bother coming home!” she said, encouragingly.

It was a particularly blustery day on October 31st, 1990 and to be honest my fail-safe Halloween costume wasn’t cooperating. The added threat of homelessness, should I lose my mask, was also not helping matters. I spent the majority of the parade using my right hand to protect my mask from the wind, while simultaneously using my other hand to keep my sombrero securely on my head.

Seems responsible right? Let me set the scene for you, this time from a parade bystander’s perspective:

First up, a teacher dances happily past you dressed as Snow White – she carries a basket of apples and takes a bite out of one. Then a few cats prance by, they make a few catcalls and laugh giddily. Then maybe a doctor and a nurse skip by – they both wave at you happily. Then, a sudden shift in tone. From the shadows emerges…something. You’re actually not quite sure what you’re looking at. He walks slowly, carefully, some would even say in slow motion. He has a somber yet focused facial expression. Dramatically he shields his face with one hand, with the other he holds his cape, which is now attached to the top of his…sombrero? He never makes eye contact, so you’re never completely sure what he’s supposed to be, but you’re glad he’s gone, because to be honest, he was kind of creeping you out.

I had my heart set on winning the award for best costume that day, but it wasn’t meant to be. On the bright side I did take home the award for Most Original Costume: awarded to Dan Williamson for Dracula meets Mr. Magoo.