My friend Kat makes an appearance in my life maybe three or four times a year. It all starts with a phone call, which leads to lunch over sushi or a couple of drinks at the Cobalt Club or some other downtown dive. Then some follow-up phone calls over the next two days. And that’s that, until three or four months later. And the cycle repeats. Halloween is a constant. I can always count on her touching down into my life during the tail end of October.
It’s my neighborhood. She’s attracted to it much like the kids. The homes are old and spooky looking. Many of the people living in them are rich. They can afford the good candies. And so children from all over the city come down my street to load up.
Last year Kat sat out on my front porch with me and we handed out treats to hundreds of kids. She was a mermaid, in a black vinyl outfit, complete with tail. I was, well, just me.
This year I’m in on the game. We’re back on my porch. I’m in medical scrubs and a surgeon’s mask. Kat’s in a very revealing nurse’s outfit. white stockings and garter belt with a mini skirt and stethoscope. We stand at a medical examining table, looking down at a dummy stretched out. As the timid kids creep up the steps, I use a pair of forceps to pull back the sheet, revealing an opened abdominal cavity filled with entrails and bags of candy corn.
Earlier in the year I picked up the exam table from Kat. She was moving to Shreveport to be near the man of her dreams, who was fifteen years younger than her, very rich, and just a hair less possessive than the last love of her life, who I believe is still stalking her, restraining order be damned. I haven’t the heart to ask if she’s still with the rich kid. I haven’t even asked if she’s still living in Shreveport. I’ve learned not to ask questions. She prefers to keep a low profile. In fact, when I helped her move, it was the first time I had visited her house. She wanted my assistance because I have a truck, and also because she knows me to be discreet and nonjudgmental. You see, Kat’s a dominatrix. And she needed someone to help her empty her dungeon so that she could then get her father to help her clear out the rest of her house. Daddy doesn’t know what she does to pay the rent. I took her cages, racks, and restraint tables to a storage facility on the south side. The examining table was something she didn’t want to keep. “I hate that naughty nurse bullshit!” I told her I’d take it. And so I did.
“Come on, sweetie,” Kat says to a cautious girl in a ballerina outfit who is looking up at us on the porch. There are candles in red glass burning all around us. “We have candy.” That last doesn’t seem encouraging enough. The father laughs. He scoops up his little ballet dancer and holds the giggling girl over the body with the gaping belly wound. She grabs candy and they are gone.
“Wasn’t she the cutest thing?” Kat gushes.
There was a Halloween, it must have been twenty years ago. I was living in San Francisco, working in the warehouse of Rough Trade Records. After work me and three of the women who worked the phones, placing and receiving orders, were tossing back a few drinks at the Metro Bar before heading to the I-Beam for some punk show. Jill had the whole dark goth look to the hilt, which wasn’t really her scene. But it was Halloween. Alex was super butch, like Brando in “The Wild One.” Actually, this was pretty much how she dressed every day. And Erin had on this pink tutu with matching ballet shoes. She started out the night with a tiara, but a drunken drag queen had bought it off her with a bag of mushrooms.
The four of us took turns heading off to the restrooms at the Metro to choke down the mushrooms. They were dusty, leathery, and tasted like dirt.
Erin held back some for her boyfriend, Derrick. But when he showed up, he was so cranked up on meth that he didn’t care about much of anything … except that we should finish up our drinks and grab a cab because the club was going to fill up fast. He glanced at the mushrooms with impatient disdain.
The mushrooms were starting to hit me, ever so gently. And Derrick looked like some evil robot, fixated on a single, pointless task.
Erin seemed of the same mind as me. She leaned back from her boyfriend (she was on a bar stool, he was standing, tugging at his watchband). She helped herself to my beer, and began, indiscreetly, to eat up all of Derrick’s share of the mushrooms, washing them down with my cheap draft beer.
The bartender, Donny, clutched at his throat melodramatically. “Girl, put that in a Denver omelet and it’ll sure go down a lot easier.” I liked Donny. He always managed to comp at least every third drink of mine.
Erin threw a ten on the bar top.
“Okay,” she said, turning to Derrick. “Let’s go find your fucking cab.”
Jill and Alex laughed and followed Derrick outside. I grabbed Erin and she stiffened like she could stab me if she had a knife.
“Be like that Denver omelet,” I whispered into her ear. “Warm and savory.”
She relaxed and leaned back her head. She looked up at me with a playful smile. “You want me to be all hammy and sweet peas?”
“You get locked into some shit with Derrick, it’ll be a long long night for us all.”
“I’ll be like a soufflé,” she squealed.
I turned to Donny. “She’s a soufflé!” And I fluffed up Erin’s tutu.
Outside, Derrick was hustling Jill and Alex into the back of a cab. I jumped in after them. Derrick pushed Erin in after me. She slid in, laying across all our laps. We all started laughing. Derrick took the passenger seat up front. We were off. The girls were singing a Woodentops song. I was gauging the strength of the mushrooms by looking at the fabric of the seat in front of me, and seeing how busy were the shifting of patterns. And then I heard Erin shout.
“Stop the car!”
At first I thought it was a Woodentops reference. But Erin was sitting up in my lap, with the door half open. The cab driver pulled to the curb. We were on Haight Street at Buena Vista Park. Erin took off at a run up the hill. The street lights made her pink outfit all orange. And I noticed that sequins had been sewn into her tutu — they splashed light like a puppy shaking off water. Halfway up the hill she stopped running. She gave us a little hop. She began dancing in a slow serpentine manner. Soon she was totally lost in herself. Not dancing for anyone.
“Christ,” Derrick muttered. “Who’s going to go get her?”
He actually looked at me.
“Hey!” I said. “She’s a soufflé, fully risen and clearly off the leash.” That made me laugh, and I turned to Jill. “I think I mixed my metaphors.” Jill ignored me. She was staring raptly at the lighted radio in the dashboard.
“It’s like Jesus.” She turned to me. “A light … you know, in the darkness.” And she grabbed my arm, grinning. “I’m so fucked up.”
Alex was trudging up the hill. When she got to Erin, she sat down and just watched her dance.
I squeezed Jill’s knee. She focused on my face, with a questioning smile. I pointed up the hill.
“There’s a show up there.”
Jill looked up and saw Erin and Alex. She got out of the cab. I followed. Soon we were seated on the grass watching Erin dance slow and lost and happy. The cab driver sat next to me with a grin and he lit up a cigarette. Derrick stood over us, glowering.
“Is this how it’s going to be?”
The cab driver looked up, puzzled. “Well, she sure is a pretty thing, isn’t she?”
Derrick zipped up his jacket. “I’ll go ahead, right?”
We nodded. And we waved to him.
“Okay,” he muttered. And finally, he left.
We never did make it to the I-Beam. In fact, I never saw Derrick again. But what I do remember is that a couple of white guys in dreadlocks were out walking their Dachshund. For some reason they both had drums — one with bongos, the other with a djembe. They joined us. They provided a beat, and soon it wasn’t just Erin dancing.
Tonight, however, the strongest drug I’ve got going is the sugar rush off the candy corn. Kat’s working her way through a bottle of Boon’s Farm. But it all seems so innocent.
I want edgy. I want Dionysian. And here I am on a porch in a proper, polite neighborhood with candy for kids.
“It’s Harry Potter!” Kat says, pulling on my sleeve. “Isn’t he adorable?”
I agree, and I smile behind my mask. And I reveal the candy for the kid with my forceps.