In the late 70s I saw a science fiction play called Warp, with inspired low-budget special effects. In one scene the curtain rose on an Obiwan-Kenobi-like character sitting cross-legged on a raised platform, like this classic guru pose:
A tablecloth was hanging down to the floor, and after a while I noticed the entire table was swaying slightly side to side so he appeared to be floating. "Man!" I thought, "Whoever is under there holding that table up must be getting pretty tired!"
As the scene stretched on to many minutes I got more incredulous, until finally I saw it—he was actually standing, wearing the table somehow, with a pair of fake legs to make it look like he was sitting. How great!
Time went by, and every few years when I was wracking my brains for a Halloween costume I'd remember the Warp guru and think "Yes! Gotta do that!"
But how to actually do it? How do you attach a table to yourself, how do you keep the straps from showing, how do you balance the legs so it doesn't just fall forward, and how do you keep the whole thing from being too heavy?
It all seemed just too complicated and time-consuming. Another few years would go by and I'd get excited again, but could never quite rise to the occasion.
Finally in 2008 the stars aligned. I was invited to call for the annual Rum and Onions Halloween dance in Princeton (where costumes abound), I had some spare time due to not working, and—the key ingredient—my inspired creative friends Bill Quern and Sarah Gowan helped me out.
And it worked!
Here's how we got there.
One day Bill is over and I tell him the whole story, with all the insurmountable problems. He seems intrigued and we kick around a couple ideas but don't really get anywhere.
Then the next day he shows up with a maple baby gate. Bill, why are you giving me a baby gate? "I found it on the street a couple years ago. I pulled out the middle two bars and was thinking you could just wear it that way."
Brilliant! Very strong, nice shape, really light. And the price is right.
But how to attach it to a human?
Then I remember building a hobby horse with the Commonwealth Morris Men—we had to attach it to a human in a similar way. Here he is (Abraham Brown, Horse of Renown) ridden by Peggy Marcus:
For Abraham we used the waistbelt from an old backpack I had lying around, and it worked great.
Bill says "I have an old backpack at home, I found it on the street a couple years ago."
The next day it appears on my front porch.
Perfect! Now we just need to remove the waistbelt and attach it to the baby gate.
To make it adjustable I used my favorite fancy knot, the taut line hitch.
Now for the fake legs. They have to hold their shape, but be really light so they don't weigh down the front of the baby gate.
How about newspaper bags stuffed with those great Amazon packing material air pouches? And a thrift store baby bowl (Winnie the Pooh) for the knee.
Stuff the legs into a pair of pants, attach some thrift store shoes with duct tape (you knew there would be duct tape), poke and push and rotate and stretch and arrange until they look half decent.
Of course Bill knew the best thrift store. And it was right near the best discount fabric place for the tablecloth.
This beautiful "wizard" fabric wasn't the cheapest but how could you pass it up.
Uh, but how do I turn this piece of fabric into a tablecloth that fits the frame?
No problem, with Sarah's creative talents to guide me through. Here she measures the right length while I fiddle with the legs.
Here's the final frame.
And with the legs!
On the big day Bill recruited three burly guys to "carry" me in and deposit me on the podium.
I intoned my best guruspeak, about finding inner peace and balance in the dance of life.
Because people were laughing and pointing when they "carried" me in, and because of imperfections like the little hump behind me I thought everyone could see right through the illusion.
So after standing riveted to the podium for the first half of the dance, I carefully stepped down and "floated" through the crowd during the waltz. From the delighted response I realized most people hadn't figured it out after all. One person said "I thought it was so nice they had a platform for you to sit on!"
Thanks, Bill and Sarah, for helping me with the costume I've been trying to make for 30 years!