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The Terrors of Tea Bagging on Halloween

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Count me among the unimaginative, the uninspired, the unenthused, the Halloween-hating.

This year, as most previous, I'd left my costume (or at least the conceptualization of it) until the day before. For a moment, I thought I could get away with wearing my threadbare hoodie under my stained, fraying, armpit-ripped trench coat and fingerless knitted gloves. I'd go as homeless. Then I realized that, in the age of Twitter -- and I would no-doubt post a self-portrait -- my colleagues back in Santa Fe would be quick to point out that this was how I dressed every day when I covered the legislature. Facing my first house party, my social debut, in San Diego, where I'd moved only two weeks ago to take a job as San Diego CityBeat's staff writer, I realized that I had to, had to, come up with something a little less slapdash, something with a bit of wit and a respectable amount of effort.

In lazy Halloweens past, I disguised myself as a Republican, using the "Proud of Texas" ball cap from Rick Perry's 2006 gubernatorial reelection bid I had leftover from a piece in which I reviewed campaign shwag in Texas. Last week, the "Tea Party Express" kicked off its second national tour in San Diego and, light bulb, I had it.

Tea bagger.



Using as my starting pont William Kostric, the protester who made national headlines when he turned up strapped and carrying a "IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY" sign to an anti-Obama rally, I clodhopped over to the army surplus store behind the office to assemble the other elements. The shop declared itself in handwritten letters "Halloween Headquarters," which really is only accurate for those planning on dressing up as a Swiss military ... or as right-wing extremists.

The T-shirt was easy; the clearance rack overflowed with far-right propaganda and I decided that "Peace through Superior Firepower" was too cliché, whereas "The Strong Survive" was pitch perfect for my satirization. Right-wingers were surely oblivious to the downright Darwinistic implications of the slogan.

I needed a gun, something hand held and automatic that I could strap to my calf as Kostric did. For some reason, wearing the gun down there feels so much more militia than a belt holster. I dropped $16 on an "UZI Rescue Force" kit -- body armor, handcuffs, gas mask, whistle and "light and sound" Uzi,

Frightening thing #1: The whole kit was sized to fit a five year old.

Now, what's a tea bagger without an outrageous sign? After great thought and Googling, I combined some of the most ridiculous (and common) tea-bagger catchphrases into this single sentence: "THE LIBERTREE IS THIRSTY FOR THE BLOOD OF ISLAMO-SOCIALISTS." I picked out the Castellar font because, to me, it looked most like the one used on American currency, the great symbol of capitalism. Next to the words, taped together like a kidnapper's note, I mounted the ubiquitous Obama-as-Heath Ledger's Joke image: yet another intentional jab at tea-bagger gullibility. As the LA Times reported, The image was created by a Dennis Kucinich supporter screwing around with automatic image-transformation software.

On the reverse side, I taped the full Obama's Kenyan certificate of live birth, itself a hoax design to punk the birthers. Above it, I affixed a Sarah Palin-Glenn Beck 2012 bumper sticker I found through Google images. I attached it all to the short side of plank stolen from canvas frame, pointed on both ends.

I needed a visual cue, something that would spell out the costume for the confused. So, using tape and the strap from my dog's airplane carrier, I manufactured a tea-bag bullet sash.

Frightening thing #2: My roommate had no idea what a tea-bagger was.

A coworker and her husband picked me up and brought me to the party. The two-story house was fantastic, each room decorated in its own theme: heads on stakes in a blood-filled tub in the bathroom; a Big Bad Wolf munching on a decapitated Red Riding Hood in the guest room; a full homemade haunted house ride in the yard powered by a double-wide motorized wheelchair. The costumes were also incredible: a young woman in curlers and a grill, lugging a blue baby on an umbilical cord, represented one of the reenactors from Discovery Channel's "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant," a man who claimed to operate an oil platform for Chevron off the coast of Alaska wore a museum-replica of Henry VIII's robes.

Early on, an African-American guest -- wearing a horse codpiece attached to his neck by a noose (figure it out yourself) -- told me he was offended. He later said he was joking, but it made me realize that even though there wasn't anything to indicate racism, no swastika, no ape-in-a-turban stuffed animal, the elements were all there: Obama in white face, the Kenyan birth certificate, the secessionist implications of the hat, the selective survival shirt.

I slowly realized that I was dressed a white supremacist. I felt like Prince Harry learning too late that a Nazi uniform wasn't appropriate for any circumstance, not even a costume ball. What was worse: the whole costume wasn't as obviously satirical as I had intended. I looked like the real deal. Guests eyed me uncomfortably, read my sign and smiled nervously. Fact is, I should've known better. I'd written about white nationalists infiltrating tea parties only a couple of months ago.

I lost the get-up gradually over the night; I set aside the sign, then put the uzi in my pocket, stashed away the tea bag sash (potent Yogi tea was all I had at home and it was making me sneeze).

Frightening Thing #3: I zipped up my black jacket...and that made it even worse. I caught myself in the mirror; between the cargo pants, the short hair and the steel-toed boots, I'd transformed into a skinhead.

I put the tea-bag sash back on.

They say that a Halloween costume speaks loads about one's true self. The girl who dresses as a nun, with a habit that hangs to her toes, is self-conscious. A man who rolls in drag is comfortable with his testosterone. The skeleton t-shirt exposes the slacker.

I guess mine revealed how much I hate Halloween.