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Halloween is the perfect excuse to put on a mask and reinvent yourself — if only for one night. 

False Faces

Once a year at Halloween, we jump at the chance to jive in costume, thanks to creepy characters like the Boogey Man, Elvira and President Nixon — gleeful anathemas to our daily routine. Thankfully, the giddy trickery of All Hallows' Eve doesn't diminish with age, even without the trick-or-treating. It's possibly the one holiday that's just as much fun for adults as it is for kids. After all, its tradition of impersonating popular characters — whether sinister or silly — can spice up a bland spirit and prove to friends how clever you are. Often the perfect mask is just the prop to do the trick.

Hockey players, stage actors and drag queens regularly don masks for protection, theatrics or disguise, but Halloween is the time when the rest of America indulges its fascination with masks. Darth Vader. Zorro. Little Orphan Annie. Darth Maul. "It's an easy way to alter your ego," claims Jerry Gum, a 14-year veteran costume outfitter and manager of Premiere in Carytown. And Gum says that a created identity like a witch or superhero often symbolizes what a person's perceived alter ego might be.

"Most people really do like the scary masks, like that of the old man" says Gum about the puckered rubber mask that accentuates the wrinkles and baldness of an old man. The scariness of such a mask lies not so much in its actual detail, but in the reality it mocks as grotesque — vampires may be immortal, but for humans old age and death are inescapable. "There's something about when you put the mask on," says Gum. "People start playing the character, and the mask is not always proportionate to the body." It's this image of a head, as too large or too small for the body, that adds the bewitching touch to the costume. "A mask can really be the answer that gets the effect you're looking for," says Gum.

This year Gum says the Richard Nixon mask, the store's all-time biggest seller, is still popular with baby boomers because they grew up with the exaggerated caricature of Nixon. But Gum acknowledges that since the beginning of President Clinton's second term and the Monica Lewinsky incident, interest in political masks has waned. "Now people are jaded by politics," concedes Gum.

Of the all the masks Gum has to chose from, he does have a favorite: Leroy. "He's a black guy with a cap, kind of my alter ego," laughs Gum. "When I put him on I feel 'Oh boy! I'm going to go out on the streets without a care in the world and be happy.'"

This Halloween it would be nice if there were enough of these masks to go
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