Dive Mask

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Object No. TK of 50 — Significant Objects v2

Object No. 24 of 50 — Significant Objects v2

[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Gary Panter, has ended. Original price: $1.00. Final price: $54.00. Significant Objects will donate the proceeds of this auction to 826 National.]

I wanted to create a monster hoax out at Century Lake, like the guys in stories in Boys’ Life. I had notebooks full of illustrated plans and lists of items I would need to effect three pranks. That was the most fun: plotting and scheming and list-making.

Big monster tracks were easy: twenty-inch-long reptile foot shapes cut out of plywood and nailed to old lace-up tennis shoes. A muddy spot near the picnic ground was perfect. No one noticed the first time. I kept it up.

I needed two masks in order to navigate downstream and surprise a canoe-load of moonlit necking teens. The rubber Mole Man mask I ordered from the back of Famous Monsters was my major expense, $39.95, so I had to skimp on the scuba gear. I traded my hand-cranked tin helicopter and Flintstone Village to my goofy uncle for a rubber diving mask. It was a good one, by Dacor, makers of fine snorkeling gear since 1953. I wanted flippers and a snorkel, but no luck. I scared the teens silly.

Carloads of hillbillies started coming out to the lake to look for the monster — mostly at night, because that was more exciting. The Daily Echo did a little article. It was quite the thing there for a while. I was dying to tell someone.

Step three, the final step, was to make a torso to go with the Mole Man mask. The torso started as a lightweight frame made out of laths I retrieved from the shutter factory’s trash heap. I mounted the frame and Mole Man mask onto a Styrofoam beer cooler lid. I added muslin fabric ripped into strips and dipped in Elmer’s glue — both borrowed from Dad’s shop. It looked pretty great. The whole episode was worth it for the thrill of seeing “the monster” all painted up and crazy out in the garage.

Donned the dive mask and swam out in the afternoon; dropped a concrete block a hundred feet offshore by the picnic area in eight feet of water and threaded the rope through one of the holes on the block. Attached one end of the long rope to the monster. Floated the whole contraption out by tugging the other end of the rope threaded through the block — a simple pulley. The monster settled over the submerged block and bobbed when I jerked the rope. When I pulled really hard I got it all the way underwater, which was perfect. Couldn’t believe it worked.

After checking one last time on the underwater contraption, I swam shoreward, peering through the mask’s plastic lens into the olive murk. I came face to face with an eight-foot alligator gar. A real monster. It jetted forward and tapped its razor-like beak on the dive mask with a terrifying crack, then thrashed away. I got the heck out of there, coughing up muddy Century Lake water.

After that, I was too freaked out to go through with step three. I ended up burning the monster stuff where they dump old flowers at the cemetery. I still get goosebumps every time I look at the dive mask.



Gary Panter won three Emmy awards for his set designs for Pee-Wee's Playhouse. His artistic activity includes comics (Jimbo), puppets, prose, music, and light shows. He teaches at School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

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