It was Halloween, 2003. I was on my way to the Greenwich Village parade (which, for the uninitiated, is a costumed extravaganza, with floats and puppets, that wends its debaucherous way up 6th Avenue and ends with all participants spilling into the street and running headlong for the nearest bar.)
My friends and I were all on the subway, healthily buzzed and heading toward West 4th street to participate in the parade, and everybody on the train was in costume. It was fantastic. Mermaids and pirates rubbed elbows with Stepford Wives. Ghouls shared bench seats with Prom Queens. My group consisted of a Slutty Dorothy (complete with red feathered malibu slippers and spanky pants); a Mary Poppins/mime hybrid; an uninspired Elvis; and me, wearing a crepe dress, go-go boots, a beret, a garter, fake eyelashes, and a holster that contained a plastic gun.
“What are you?” someone asked me, as we were getting on the train.
“Attention deficit disorder,” I said.
As the train—which was like a moving Mardi Gras drunk tank at that point—cruised into 14th Street, the doors opened, and a man got on the train wearing the most fabulous costume I have ever seen. He had a long black coat, white shirt, black pants, black hat, and little curly curls dangling on either side by his ears.
Yes, that’s right. He was the Halloween Hasidic Jew.
I was really delighted. This was The Best Costume on the Train, for sure. I was thrilled at his originality, and I wanted to tell him so. I turned toward him, smiling broadly, the words, “That’s the greatest costume EVER!” right on the tip of my tongue.
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
His eyes narrowed.
My smile faltered a bit.
“Um,” I said.
His eyebrows arched, ever so slightly. And deep within my brain, a voice cried out, Don’t say it! Don’t say you like his costume! Something is NOT RIGHT!!!
But I had to say something. I mean, I had already inhaled. I stood, eye-to-eye with the black-coated man, struggling to think of something, ANYTHING, and then suddenly, in a moment of total, out-of-body mortification, I heard myself say:
“Like, wow… are you a REAL Hasidic Jew?”
...Oh. My God. ARE YOU A REAL HASIDIC JEW????
The man—who was, indeed, a flesh-and-blood Hasid, fixed me with a disapproving stare and gave me a curt nod. People around me were snickering. My friends were gaping.
The Real Hasidic Jew was still staring at me.
“Oh, I… I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean… um…. well. I… I like your hat.”
The train pulled into West 4th street. The doors opened. I bolted. My friends followed me, one of them shrieking, “Jesus CHRIST, Kat! We can’t take you anywhere!!!”
I will never compliment anyone-- ANYONE-- on their costume again, ever. I'm too afraid. For while Real Hasidic Jews will only fix you with a mirthless glare when you fail to recognize their authenticity, Real Pirates will cut your arms off and beat you to death with them.