Oct. 31, 2019 will mark the seventh consecutive Halloween where I have worn the same rubber pigeon mask.
Okay. Context: In my high school, Halloween is a pretty big deal, and every year the senior class gets to decide what everyone else goes as — deciding each grade’s costumes was one of those weird high school badges of honor like, “Hey, you survived three years of ‘Lord of the Flies.’” My freshman year, it was our lot to be minions.
Obviously this was a colossal humiliation, but it would really have been against the spirit of the whole thing to just wear some other costume, so as an act of rebellion I pulled on my yellow shirt and overalls, and then put on the pigeon mask.
It was a tremendous success. Overnight, I became the “pigeon mask kid,” and for the rest of high school, no matter what my theme was, the mask came along for the ride. By my senior year, it was a part of me.
In college, I don’t think I ever considered a different costume. Sure, I joked that I’d go as “sexy pigeon mask,” but I couldn’t find fishnets, and it just wouldn’t have felt right, anyway. One of the key aspects of the pigeon mask is that it’s eminently un-sexy, and it would just have complicated everything if I’d tried to add in another joke on top of the original one.
The focus of the costume has to be the mask. If it isn’t, I’m pushing some message beyond just “my Halloween costume is a pigeon mask,” which goes counter to the point of the whole thing — it can’t have a greater message, because its meaning has to come from the observer (you), not the wearer (me).
Sometimes people find much deeper existential themes in the mask than I hope I’ve ever intended. I get the best questions.
“Who are you supposed to be?” That’s a bit loaded, isn’t it? Aren’t we all trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be?
“Where’s the rest of the costume?” Are people dressing up as complete pigeons? Is there some other popular Halloween costume that involves a pigeon mask? Of course not, and there couldn’t be; the creature that Halloween has become on the American college campus has no room for something like that.
One of my favorites, from an inebriated passenger on my bus home from a party this past Friday night: “What is that? Is that a bird?” Sure, if you want it to be.
The pigeon mask is a costume in the simplest possible way. It hides my face, and that’s it — no pop-culture reference, no sex appeal, no expectations of any kind — and I’m even kind of worried I cheapen the gag whenever I explain it like this.
I don’t put on the mask so much as become it. The holiday originates in the belief that on Halloween night, the boundary between the physical and astral worlds is blurred. When I wear the mask, I escape myself and embody the wandering pigeon-mask-spirit descending to Earth on All Hallow’s Eve. And It is hollow. And rubbery. And I can barely see out of the eye holes.
But on the other hand, the mask traps me within myself, much more profoundly than a costume showing my face would. I, Eddie Hock, am the pigeon mask kid, and even as everything else in my life has changed until it’s basically unrecognizable, this hasn’t. No one else does this, or has any reason to, but I still feel compelled. And now the costume and my identity, for one night a year, are the same thing. Ich bin der Taubenmaskegeist.
In a sea of cat ears, sports jerseys, and other accessories that barely qualify as costumes, you can count on the pigeon mask kid to be there — bopping along to OutKast, stone-cold sober in a miasma of alcohol, surrounded by friends but also totally alone, keeping the spirit of the holiday alive. You can count on me.