Scary, Hairy and Just Right for Purim

"A wolf whistle and shining ants, please," requests one father, reading from a note. Actually, he has not the faintest idea what these items are, as he readily admits a moment later, rubbing his balding head and standing patiently in line. Why couldn't his son have requested something "normal" like "snot in a hanky" or "fart powder" like everyone else?

Before Purim, a costume shop is a fascinating laboratory for exploring parent-child relations and hearing weird conversations. "So we're definitely not going for the devil?" asks one distraught mother, for the fourth time. For some reason, she is walking back and forth in the store, looking for costumes while wearing a one-eyed monster mask and is completely unaware that the mask's discomfort is making her super-nervous.

"Well, you're not going to be Superman - that's final," says another mother, dealing her son a blow beneath his red Man-of-Steel belt, adding insult to injury: "Next time, remind me why I don't take you to stores anymore."

It's Purim time again, and excited children and their tense parents are flocking, as usual, to a familiar Ramat Gan landmark: the Zamir Magic Tricks shop. A week before the holiday, there is already a long line outside the entrance. Numbers are being handed out, as if the customers were patients waiting to see the doctor at a crowded medical clinic. The shop is packed, reminiscent of mom-and-pop grocery stores in Israel's past. There is a wide range of costumes, mostly imports, produced by companies that generate items that are spinoffs of blockbuster movies. The experienced saleswomen rummage through piles of costumes to find precisely what the customer wants.

"This year ordinary pirates are out," notes one saleswoman, "and Pirates of the Caribbean are in. Bratz are out, and Britney Spears is in." Many of this year's most popular costumes among boys have been inspired by animated or fantasy movies. Darth Vader, the super-dark "Star Wars" character, is the most popular in the costume shops. For NIS 200 or more (depending on the mask's quality), you can get a mask, a robe and even a small device you can turn on to produce Vader's frighteningly raspy voice, just like in the "Star War" movies. Second in the costume hit-parade for boys is the Invisible Man, a costume associated with America's version of Purim - Halloween. The faceless black costume is quite terrifying.

At the front of the store, owner Shlomo Zamir, serves customers who are amateur magicians. He gives a running commentary as he enjoys demonstrating stupid magic tricks and sleight-of-hand classics. He opened the store as a young man; today, his hair is salt-and-pepper, and his grown-up children work in the store. His wife operates the cash register, remaining glued to her seat because of the many customers. In Zamir's eyes, Israeli-manufactured costumes are rags. He is especially proud of his unique imports: Superwoman, Supergirl and female pirates. A silk-and-brown-lace female pirate dress comes with matching boots (NIS220).

However, his most stunning collection is his array of masks. Rows and rows of professional masks that cover your head, not just your face, hang close to the ceiling. Most of them are goose-pimple-producing reminders of horror and science fiction flicks; while some are those of celebrities, like Michael Jackson.