My favorite recurring segment on Late Night with David Letterman was Darlene Love singing “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” every year. My second-favorite recurring bit was his annual parade of Halloween costumes. Meta and bizarre, these segments spoke to me.
In 1993 I was wracking my brain to come up with a similar concept in an effort to win money at some big Halloween costume contest in Tucson. My wife Lisa came up with the perfect meta subject matter for Tucson: A leaky CAP water pipe.
The Central Arizona Project is a big concrete ditch running water from the Colorado River, through Phoenix, all the way down to Tucson. Tucson had been relying on pristine (though diminishing) groundwater. When the valve was opened to send CAP water through our pipes, disaster struck as the pH and mineral content of this new water rusted out pipes and water heaters throughout the city. Everyone seeing this costume would immediately get the joke.
meta concept to first prize
With the goal being to win money I wanted to invest as little as possible into the project. Based on a quick sketch, I built a frame out of cardboard and rings of thin luan wood. I covered the rough cardboard with cue cards left over from a recent Muscular Dystrophy telethon (I was working at KGUN-TV at the time). I cut jagged holes and backed those with paper, painted black. A large crack at my eye level, backed with a black mesh, let me see out.
The arms and legs were made out of cardboard and cue cards with the holes just painted on.
I gave the costume a base coat of light grey, then stippled on lighter and darker specks to give texture to the costume. I added “CAP WATER MAIN” to the front in yellow using a stencil. I then applied generous patches of a rust-colored spray primer, accentuating the holes. I drizzled fiberglass resin down the body to simulate rivulets of water.
I fabricated a large bolt and nut from which I produced a urethane rubber mold and cast 16 pieces with fiberglass resin, attaching them around the circumference of the rings.
As a final touch I bought an inexpensive motorized squirt gun. I cannibalized it and mounted the nozzle in the front of the pipe so I could spritz water on unsuspecting bystanders.
All that work paid off as I won the $500 first prize at the Tucson Country Club Halloween costume contest. I gave $100 to Lisa for her great concept.
Another one of my favorite Letterman bits was his man-on-the-street interviews. Once again, Bryan and I collaborated, this time with our version of these absurd videos. My CAP Water Main costume, now named “Cappy”, was pitched as an adorable replacement for the Tucson Water Bureau’s mascot at the time, Pete the Beak, the water-saving duck. (Fun fact: The first time I met Bryan was at a protest outside KVOA-TV in 1983 when they were pre-empting Letterman for Thick of the Night with Alan Thicke.)