Last Halloween, I bought a elephant costume kit, which consisted of some ears on a headband and a little plastic trunk, a few inches long.
Next year, I thought, I’ll ask my sister to help me make a bigger trunk.
So this year’s Halloween came around, and I spent at evening at my sister’s new place, imagineering a bigger, better trunk with her; how to get good wrinkles, how to make it curl in spots, how to do tusks. My original vision was to attach the trunk to my gray sweatshirt somehow. Everyone who I talked to about it insisted that the trunk be attached to my face, but I thought, who cares about that. It’s an impressionistic elephant to begin with; I’m not going to look more elephant-like with it attached to my face.
In the end, my sister got it to wrinkle by sewing uneven bunches into the fabric; random pleats in the seam. Then she ran a thread through the length of it, creating a kind of tendon. When she stuffed it with pillow stuffing, it gave it that nice undulating shape. The buttons on the end were her idea, and she engineered the stick so that I could extend the end of the trunk, like a puppet.
The tusks were a piece of cake; they’re simply a couple of tusk-shaped pillows. My sister insisted that I learn how to use the sewing machine, so one of those tusks was my first experience with a machine stitch. We stuffed them, and then my sister closed the third side by hand-stitching.
Finally, we had the problem of making the trunk and two tusks attach to each other. Basically I had three separate pillows, and it was too late to sew them together somehow. So I took some of the trunk material and sewed it into a tight sleeve, and shoved the three pillows into it. Voila.
My gray sweatshirt and last year’s store-bought ears completed the elephant costume. Maybe next year I’ll imagineer myself some ears. The trunk assembly, I ended up just holding it to my chest. It was heavier than I had expected. Some people suggested that I create some kind of sling, so that I could have my hands free, but it was too heavy. Besides, holding it as I did gave me a lot of creativity in controlling the trunk, so that I could lift it, trumpet with it, do a feeding move, tap people on the shoulder, etc. It wouldn’t have been as dexterous of a trunk if it had been hanging off of me somehow.
I don’t think I’ve ever put so much effort into a costume before. That said, it really wasn’t much effort at all, on my part. But it was cool to take an idea, develop it, and execute it.
It reminds me of the time I was studying in France, back in 1993. I used to hang out at the Koala Bar in Avignon, which was a hang-out for English speakers. Some Aussies opened the place up, it was staffed by members of their rugby team. They only served Kronenbourg, and you could buy it in tall boot-shaped glasses which they called “formidables.”
There were some US Air Force officers stationed at Orange who used to hang out with me there; I am pretty sure they were pilots. They spoke French fluently, and their American accents were just brutal. Of course they were dashing, as fighter pilots are, and the American women were all over them.
Anyway, one of them was constantly telling us nerdy stuff he used to do, stuff you wouldn’t expect from an American fighter jet pilot. He told us once that he once bought a mail-order pattern for a Starfleet uniform, and then taught himself how to use a sewing machine. I remember laughing until my stomach hurt, we all did. I mean, I liked me some Star Trek as much as the next guy, but that was an amazing amount of planning and premeditation, back then, to send away for a pattern, and then to teach oneself to sew.
We laughed at him right in his face. It doesn’t seem funny at all to me now, poor guy. That was almost 20 years ago. I didn’t stay in touch with those guys, but he’s probably a general in the Air Force by now. Me, I’m a high school teacher, and a part-time elephant.