The Awful Truth

Halloween, our only real holiday.

By Cintra Wilson

Published October 4, 1996 4:23PM (EDT)

i spent my first Halloween in New York the other night. The plan was this: we take over a small bar. We devour the atmosphere. We become so large and rambunctious and filled with alcohol that nobody will contest us -- nay, all Others, excluded from our pack, will be forced by the sheer weight of our mighty presence to leave and find another bar.

I decided to be one of those charismatic psycho-Christians who reads the New Testament,then handles poisonous snakes. Moe and Spanky came as Dead Musicians. Boy Strange came as a Porn Star. Pink painted the entire half of his upper body and perched on his bar stool like a gargoyle all night. Three fairy princesses got frightened and left before the second round. Soon the bar was a slobbering mass of my dearest friends, beating each other merrily with plastic pitchforks to DEVO.

When I was a child, my mother used to dress me for Halloween, and given the costume-ish things she had lying around, I always ended up looking sort of weirdly sexy. Other friends in second grade were bedecked in handmade fun-fur baby animal costumes or pastel ballerina tutus -- I always ended up dressed like a gypsy prostitute, with a liquid eyeliner job that looked like my mother had applied it to me while she was drunk or underwater.

We always went trick-or-treating in the hills in Sausalito, because we all knew that there was some kind of noblesse oblige required of the wealthy orthodontists and drug dealers who lived there. They couldn't just give you a bite-sized Snickers and be done with it, there had to be merchandise: toys, bicycles, scholarships to college. A good Halloween in Sausalito, if you hit the right guilty rich people, was almost as lucrative as a bar mitzvah.

Later on, in my pre-teens, candy and goods got less interesting than trouble, and I figured out that I could cause more problems if I dressed like a man, given the athletic versatility of male footwear. For years I went as Groucho Marx, if he had been disgraced in his career and lowered to the station of alcoholic subway flasher. Those were the years that there were episodes: throwing the Barbasol in the bushes before the cops checked my bag, sneaking the cooking sherry out of the parents' liquor cabinet, upchucking in yards. After that there were Halloweens in the Castro, before those turned into mass excuses for suburban queer-menacing and aimless violence. There would be three or four of us, little black-clad punk rock girl urchins shuffling around, stopping every now and then to remark: that guy is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. There were some drag queens so outstandingly beautiful they made us feel like sexless, faceless potatoes.

One Halloween I went to the Vats, after recklessly ingesting a tiny piece of paper with a picture of Saturn on it. The Vats was an abandoned Hamm's brewery that served as San Francisco's main punk squat -- many disenfranchised youth had taken up residence in this place, which was like a cross between a three-story men's room and a prison camp. I walked up the steps to the Vats right as the acid started to braid its metallic tingle into my inner ear. Every one of the 50 or so punks who were twined around the stairs like rude ivy had heavily tattooed Queequeg faces and the viney ink on their necks was winding together into one big hostile tapestry. They all seemed to be singing some Viking war chorus consisting of the words "Fuck!" and "Fuck!"

A huge bull dyke in a Carmelite nun's habit was beating up our friend the clubfoot heroin dealer. She was trouncing him with her steel-toed boots in prismatic slow motion and threatening to piss down his back. Both of their eyes were blue and quivering like napalm; her big-sleeved punches seemed to soar like deadly condors from miles away. During their battle, they struggled with a terrain which appeared to be a four-inch pink soup made of beer, jism, blood and industrial cleanser, lubricating the tile beneath them and forcing them to compensate Twyla Tharpishly for balance.

Deeper into the Vats, there were giant dry bathtubs about 20 feet long and 12 feet deep, which was where beer used to live. Some skinheads had been pushed down the slick, unclimbable walls by their friends, who were now throwing garbage at the prisoners, who would not be saved without the aid of complicated suction equipment.

I stepped onto a tarp made of hefty bags that I realized was covered with human shit: a communal restroom! I exalted. It seemed an oasis of Order compared to the rest of the environment. All sound echoed deafeningly off the tiled walls like an underwater volcano, then swirled into a laser point and bored a little hole in my scalp, and the whole evening began to sit small and distant in my head like a tiny nativity scene set inside a sugar egg. I don't exactly remember much else.

After the third or fourth round of drinks this Halloween, my dear friend Bitzy exposed her nipples and three of us began swirling green paint around them. I was stripped frenziedly down to my sturdy Christian foundation garments by two dirty elves and a lesbian pirate. I then collapsed on the floor, frothing at the mouth with my rubber snake, screaming spirited glossolalia. Seven of us all used the restroom together. Spanky leapt screaming from the bar to tear off his vinyl pants in the middle of 7th Street. In short, the evening was a pleasant success.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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