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The day I wore a burqa

Somewhere around 1980 I was invited to a Halloween party by an old New Mexico Tech friend who was living in Palo Alto at the time.

Another friend of mine was an inveterate shopper of second-hand stores and had a number of treasures, including an authentic burqa. She agreed to loan it to me for the party.

It was a black robe with a head covering that left only two parts visible: a tiny rectangle enclosing my eyes (with some small coins hanging just underneath), and my legs up to about mid-calf. I put flip-flops on my feet and drove to the party.

This was during the Iranian hostage crisis, when Islamist militants took over the American embassy and held 52 Americans for over a year. The news often showed footage of Iranian militants screaming “Death to Carter!”

So when my dear friend Candy answered the door, I said in a high sing-song voice, “Death to Carter! Death to Carter! Happy Halloween! May I come to the party now?”

Candy and I have been friends since we were freshmen together in 1966, so I was quite surprised that she didn't seem to know who I was. But I wasn't armed or otherwise menacing so she let me in. I didn't shave my legs, so I doubt anyone thought I was female, but no one had any early correct guesses about who I was.

I stayed in character for twenty minutes before Candy figured it out! The lesson that has stayed with me, since that day, is how much a burqa makes one anonymous. This is not a value judgement, just an observation.

At this point I weighed probably around 300 pounds, so finding a costume that concealed my identity was a good trick. But a burqa worked surprisingly well.

See also: Industrial period I: 1971-1983
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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2012/01/15 23:35:26