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For a Halloween costume contest, a young Lane Parker and his stepfather had meticulously prepared an elaborate costume. How could he lose?

A long time ago in a city far enough away... a starry-eyed sixth grader entered a costume contest.

October 1977. The first Star Wars movie had come out just five months earlier, and I’d already decided to be a storm trooper for Halloween when I heard about the big costume contest. On contest day my whole family went. I joined the line snaking onto the stage and past the judges’ table. I gave a few bursts from my blaster and moved on, my white armor shining.

Finally two contestants remained: me, and some pumpkin man walking on his hands.

And the prize went to... the pumpkin man.


My family and I were shocked. What were those judges thinking? They didn’t know how hard my stepfather and I had worked, putting in countless hours over several weeks, making each piece of the costume, cutting and shaping wire, layering papier-mâché, applying high-gloss white spray paint till I grew woozy from the fumes, fashioning a blaster out of PVC pipe and a flashlight with red cellophane covering the bulb.

They didn’t know that it wasn’t until I went to school on costume day, struggled into the suit in the boys’ bathroom, and got to class that I discovered I couldn’t sit down. I leaned, crouched and bent at my desk until I got so achy I had to change and then watch the other kids circle around in the costume parade.

Those judges didn’t know any of this. My faith in humanity, or at least in Halloween costume contest judges, was shaken.

Only recently it occurred to me that I might have been judging those judges unfairly. They really didn’t know the story behind my costume. They probably saw a man who’d cleverly dressed upside down and lodged a pumpkin in his crotch, and a kid whose parents had paid big bucks for a fancy costume. They likely didn’t know you couldn’t buy storm trooper costumes then.

We all wear some kind of costume, and we rarely see the real story behind the façades of others. It's good to remember that the life behind the mask is more interesting than what the outside world observes and judges.

With a Perspective, I’m Lane Parker.

Lane Parker is a writer, editor and stay-at-home dad in San Francisco.