The Costume Nazi



Broadway & E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010

Neighborhood: Chelsea

M. Gordon Novelty, Inc., at 933 Broadway, just south of 23rd Street, is a very tight operation. When things get really busy — like during the last days before Halloween — customers enter the showroom by twos or threes as other shoppers leave. The subsequent waiting period encourages customers to determine costume possibilities before they enter, transforming the shopping experience into an exercise in über-efficiency, or just good old-fashioned law and order.

As my friend and I stood in line, there was a sense of comfortable togetherness — that unspoken connection you feel at the door of some hip, new club. But rather than taking on the haughty attitude of the chosen few, we all mellowed, dropping our street mien for a meeker countenance. We felt fortunate that we were about to be let in. No one fidgeted or complained as we perused the masks and wigs from our outpost near the door.

We did, however, glance longingly beyond the velvet cordon, like chickens in a pen pining for the free-range life beyond. But our yearnings were short-lived. We heard a gruff voice bark from the dim scuffle beyond a rack of rubber spiders and rats. “Let two more in when this guy goes out. And get a move on with those receipts!”

My friend and I entered the shopping zone cautiously as a hip, downtown guy in a tight sweater and Pumas walked out. A two for one trade. We joined the orderly throng only to realize that ambivalence was not permitted. Wishy-washy notions about maybe being a clown or possibly trying on a Hillary Clinton mask would not be tolerated. The employees (most in their 50s or older) looked especially brow-beaten. They literally ran for products when The Boss — a tall, jean-clad, 20-something guy who seemed a little too big for his britches — tersely shouted things like, “Get me masks 225 and 330 and a red monster wig!” Those not carrying out his orders cowered quietly in the shadows.

After requesting a giraffe head for myself and a furry bear mask for my friend, I realized that I really wanted to try on a cat nose. This was an act of unpardonable indecisiveness in The Boss’s eyes.

“Figure out what you want and ask us for one order,” he growled.

“Sorry,” I said, feeling myself cringe like the employees lurking at the edges of the store. He softened slightly. “Well, it’s okay. This time.” He did have a point. What kind of lame-ass would wait in line for 10 minutes and not see a cat nose 30-feet away?

I gained some chutzpa, however, when I realized that I was not alone in my ignorance or timidity. After shouting, “Let two more in after these three guys go out,” The Boss reprimanded a customer who was frantically collecting a life’s worth of teeny-weeny costume accessories. The person had not kept them in the assigned box on the checkout counter. She quickly put her items in the proper container and checked out. The Boss’s take-charge approach was even effective with a group of young testosterone-injected banker-types. They ordered up the political main dish: masks a là Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Rudy Guiliani. Their transaction was the smoothest one I observed. “Just the masks?” he snapped. “How ya payin’ for this?”

When I asked a female clerk with long, graying hair for assistance, The Boss was at her elbow in an instant.

“What’re you doing? I told you to add up those receipts.”

She fell back against the counter in an apologetic swoon. “Well — I was just –,” she sputtered.

“Get the receipts done!” The Boss shouted over his shoulder as he strode back to the cash register. “Someone else will help her.” But after finishing the receipts, she displayed amazing courage and sought me out near a glass case filled with noses. She began pointing out the pros and cons of each variety, demonstrating an unnerving knowledge of the subject. “We have your basic foam stick-on nose, which most of the theatrical types like. It doesn’t have a strap to hold it on, but stays quite nicely. Then there are the squeak noses.” I ended up with a large red squeaky nose with a strap, all due to her kind and valorous assistance.

When it was time to check out, an employee dashed to get the price tags for my items, carefully placing them on the counter before ducking away as The Boss began stabbing at his calculator and bagging my purchases. The grand total of $29.40 covered the giraffe head and squeaky nose as well as my friend’s furry bear mask.

“Let three more in,” The Boss yelled as we approached the cordoned-off waiting area near the door. I glanced back at him as he stalked around the dim maze of the showroom, wondering if I should warn the next eager trio of shoppers what lay ahead. Instead, I just gave them a sympathetic look and stepped out onto the busy street.

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