Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Prize Relinquished

On the eve of Halloween, I can’t help but hark back to a special memory of the day. You see, I won first prize for the best costume in my fourth grade class. I wore a clown mask, a red wool hat, and the heavy blue corduroy shirt my father always wore when he painted the rooms of our apartment and other things. It was a colorful outfit for sure, but these were colorful times—the 1970s. I can’t see anyone wearing that heavy corduroy shirt today, but then I can’t see why anyone would have worn it back then, except as a painting shirt to absorb all that splatter, or as part of a Halloween costume.

But here’s the interesting note about this Halloween costume contest in St. John’s grammar school in Kingsbridge. The boy who came in second place to me dressed up as a woman. He went the whole nine yards, too, with a fashionable dress and high heels—not some Woolworth-Woolco $2.47 mature woman costume. I’ll call him the K-man and concede that he really and truly merited first prize. But then, it was a democratic vote—at least that’s what we were all led to believe. In retrospect, considering the time and the school, perhaps there was some chicanery behind the scenes and the ballot box was tampered with in some way. However, I don't think so.

Whatever the real truth is, I would like on this Halloween—some three decades later—to at last award the K-man first prize, because—really—he so richly deserved it, not only for the costume itself, but for his audacity to wear it in front of his peers. After all, how old were we then? Ten? My only other personal memory of the K-man involves a certain request of his. He asked me if I would be his straight man in an effort to cheer up a classmate of ours named Karen who, for some reason I don't recall, was bereft and weeping uncontrollably.

Anyway, the K-man, with me at his side—two fourth graders—said to Karen, “Nicholas is ridiculous,” emphasizing the syllabic rhyme. I remember, too, he employed various other rhymes and plays on words to cheer her up, which is laudatory in and of itself, but particularly so considering his young age. While I wouldn't call it a rousing success, I think the K-man’s ten-year-old therapy actually worked. But, if nothing else, it’s testament to his heart and soul, and I am proud to have been his Charlie McCarthy dummy for one brief shining moment a long time ago. I sincerely hope the fifty-something K-man has put this incredible empathy of his to good use on a much grander scale. And, as for Karen, I hope the “Nicholas is ridiculous” moment made a difference—even if only a tiny one. Whatever…this Halloween first prize…transferred finally to the K-man…is, I know, justice delayed but at long last served.

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