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Costumed characters try to hide their flaws

The rain spatters lightly against the windows. Outside, the sky is a leaden gray. In the yard beyond, the golden oak leaves circle lazily to the bronze and green carpet below. The temperature is in the 40s. It is cold and damp. It is mid-autumn in Western New York. We look back, in wry amusement, at surviving two of the more mystical and certainly interesting ceremonies of the calendar year.

Halloween and Election Day have just passed. The images of brilliantly costumed and elaborately made-up characters, roaming the streets in search of plunder, is still fresh in the mind's eye. We still remember the colorful and imaginative Halloween costumes as well.

The mystical soon surrenders to a caricature of itself. Is it a coincidence that Election Day and Halloween fall hard upon each other? Or is it the winsome fancy of an amused electorate? Which day serves as a better parody of the other? Certainly the parallels are there in abundance.

Both sets of characters from these events are wreathed in smiles and dressed in costumes. Some are of cloth. Some are of rhetoric. The makeup and disguises are elaborate and colorful. It is difficult for us to know what (or who) is disguised by the costume or hides behind the mask.

Both trick-or-treaters and candidates are childlike and effusive, as they knock upon your door, or beam in through the television set. Their hands are outstretched, confidently expecting treats from the neighbors or votes from the electorate. Some few goblins, in both cases, are even honest enough to bring a bag to haul off all of the loot. There are monsters, superheroes, celebrities and street bums, all vying for our attention.

We smile in amusement as they approach, though some can be bothersome in their intensity. We throw goodies (or promises of votes) into their bags, with arms outstretched. It is a process something like carefully feeding a school of piranhas. And then, after receiving our treat, they surge away, in a swirl of color and noise, and pester someone else.

At home, the trick-or-treaters examine their goodies carefully for signs of tampering. Unfortunately for the voters, the flaws in the candidates are not so easily spotted. Damaged or altered goods, in both instances, can give you a rather serious belly ache or worse. Maybe we should X-ray candidates, like Halloween candy, to make sure that what we are getting won't harm us. The air waves are crowded with annoyingly repetitive messages, urging us to vote for this guy or against that one. Mercifully, the onslaught has ceased.

Election Day, like Halloween, passes us in a fast-moving parade of colorful hobgoblins and clowns. The winners smile radiantly, the losers stoically. The greatest ongoing shell game in America is over for another season.

And maybe next year the unsuccessful candidate, or trick-or-treater, will pick out a more elaborate costume that better reflects the popular mood at the time. Appearing to be in the popular fashion, in both instances, is everything. For children, the holiday soon passes with little more than a tooth or stomach ache. For voters, the headache can last for years.

So the next time you find yourself at a City Hall, Town Council, School Board, Village Hall or other government conference, remember the imagery of hobgoblins and candidates pounding upon your door, seeking favors. Perhaps it will be a source of amusement to you when you most need something to smile about.

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