Monday, October 31, 2011


Halloween Costume Contest

During my childhood, my brother and sisters often brought home trophies awarded for their various accomplishments in school and on the playing field. The black sheep of the family (as I fancied myself), I was the only one who never brought home a trophy. In school, I was a failure, literally—I graduated at the bottom third of my high school class. The only sport I played was tennis, and my school didn't have a tennis team in my day. I joked self-consciously about my failure to win any trophies, and one Christmas my mother gave me, as a consolation prize, a small trophy purchased at the local sporting goods store. The trophy represented a naked man holding a torch aloft, and the inscription read "Number 1."

Later in life, in the early 1990's, when I worked as a senior software engineer (aka elderly computer programmer) at a Bell-Northern Research lab just outside Atlanta, Georgia, I did win two minor, but satisfying, victories.

The first victory was in an informal chess tournament among company employees. My opponent in the final round was a native of Russia, which takes its chess seriously, and knowledge of that fact made my win all the sweeter.

Shortly before my second victory, the company announced an "adjustment" in its benefits package. In other words, employees would henceforth pay more of a share for the benefits they received, while the benefits themselves would be reduced. Soon thereafter, the company sponsored its annual Halloween costume party. My costume was a simple one. I took an old, torn shirt, and made additional cuts through it with a pair of scissors. Then I wrote "Slashed Benefits" in large letters on two pieces of cardboard, which I hung front and back around my neck, attached with pieces of string, over the torn shirt.

The Halloween costume contest took place in the company cafeteria. There were no judges. Instead, an applause meter measured the applause which greeted each contestant as he (most of the employees were men) entered the cafeteria in costume. A deafening chorus of hand clapping, foot stomping, cheers, and whistles met my appearance as "Slashed Benefits."

I won that year's Halloween costume contest, which was the last one ever held in that lab. Local company management banned all such contests from then on, and I received a black mark for my stunt in my next performance review.

I don't usually like to talk much about myself on this blog, but I thought my children might some day enjoy reading this story about their stodgy father.

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