Obama masks and New York monks

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New York City Halloween parade'I wanna be Obama,' whines a 12-year-old girl, as she stretches a rubbery grinning mask of the would-be president over her fingers like a puppet. 'Ugh, no, you won't be able to breathe in that thing,' her mother snaps, and goes back to her mobile phone conversation.

Bulging plastic-wrapped sexy bo-peep outfits, scythes, wands and Joker masks buffer me as people push past in the aisle of Ricky's, the first stop for Halloween costumes in New York City. It is that time again. Each year there is a massive parade in the West Village, and the city descends into temporary madness, as a strange mixture of gothic images (white faced Grim Reapers, skeletons, grinning pumpkin heads) and pop cultural favourites (Batmans, Steve Irwins with sting-rays and scantily clad nurses) collide.

When it's all over, wannabe Anna Nicole Smiths and McCains stumble drunk past packed tourist trap restaurants in the Village and the atmosphere goes from revelry to rehab in the blink of a blood-spattered eye ball.

But this year, a different kind of dangerously drunk anticipation hangs over this overpopulated island. There is a ghoulish atmosphere of unrest and uncertainty in the wake of what is simply referred to as 'What's been happening lately' or in shorthand, 'Wall Street'.

Not to mention that little election that's coming up, which is giving everyone the jitters. Campaigners canvass outside subway stations and street vendors trying to make a buck are on every corner hocking political pins and Che Guevara-style Barack Obama t-shirts.

I found a crudely made Obama badge, with glitter around the edges, and hung it from its safety pin, like a thought bubble, on my bedroom wall. I wonder what it will come to represent in years to be. Perhaps a relic of a time that never came, a would-be president filed away for political anecdotage. Maybe it will take on a different meaning? Hope in politics, even when instated by someone new and revered, can quickly turn to disappointment.

Walking through the West Village, before the parade takes over, I notice the homeless people have popped up — they are dotted along the steps and dents where the sidewalk hits the buildings. They all sit in a prayer-like C-curve, supplicating to the wealthy. Wearing hoods, faces burrowed, they are our New York monks.

They hold cardboard signs in front of them: 'Out of luck, need a buck.'

It is cold today, the wind is whipping down 14th Street like the Roaring Forties, and no one is willing to stop. These homeless people are like repressed thoughts floating at the edge of our subconscious. If you blink, you might miss them. But they scare us nonetheless.

My friends, and friends of their friends, artists made of grit and will and determination, are turning jobless. They're the kind who work two jobs, temping during the day, waitering at night, and rehearsing for a play in between or finishing their novel in a mouse-infested sublet in Brooklyn. One friend's gmail status message reads like a cardboard sign: 'Ben needs a job'.

And so, Wall Street has become like the epicentre of an earthquake that is rippling out across the city and further still around the world. It seems like the smallest people are jobless, the ones without health insurance or benefits. And although some of it may be hysteria, it feels like we are all a whisker away from losing whatever job we have, from taking pen to cardboard.

But in reality, it is not the artists who will be homeless — many of them are well-schooled, middle-class kids who have ridden into the city on trust funds. Instead, it is that strata of New York earth that the city walks upon — the cab drivers, the kitchen hands, the delivery guys on their bicycles, the many illegal immigrants — who will feel the trickle-down effect and the cold biting at their fingers.

In Brooklyn, the more affordable borough where I live, all the houses are decorated: aside from the usual American flag stickers, and signs, fences are draped with cottony spider webs, and the stoops feature grinning pumpkins and scarecrows. Kids trick or treating will soon be swarming down the streets dressed as witches and wolverines, and consumerism and the childhood, sugary sweet elements of Halloween will prevail.

A man in California recently attracted attention and condemnation for a less tame Halloween display. His house sported a life-sized doll resembling Sarah Palin, which was hanging by a noose, and an effigy of John McCain that looked to be emerging from the chimney, engulfed in paper flames. Self-expression is alive and well, even in these uncertain times.

In Brooklyn, politics and the autumnal celebration of All Hallow's Eve also overlap. On one house orangey leaves swirl around a 'Vote McCain' sign which abuts another, declaring, 'Haunted House'. My mind wanders over the possibility of a dead president and being haunted by an inexperienced Vice for years to come.

But only one thing is for sure, after Halloween, after 4 November, in New York City winter is coming and then hopefully after that, spring will too.

Alexandra CollierAlexandra Collier is a playwright and freelance writer based in New York city. She has written for Lonely Planet, Arts Hub USA and The Age newspaper.


Topic tags: Alexandra Collier, halloween, new york city, financial crisis, presidential election, obama mask



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Hey here you can watch the real I Wanna be OBAMA Music video, composed by Manish Shah, Indo Canadian IT Engineer Artist.
Manish Shah | 31 October 2008


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