Halloween Horror Night


October 31, 1979

Whee! I wasn't moving, but my insides were twisting and turning like murky, post-shaving sink water tentatively contorting down a semi-clogged drain. At least I was cognizant enough to realize that what was happening wasn't good. Logic couldn't escape me, I thought, during a nanosecond of clarity, proud that however tanked I might be, I was still in control! I can handle it. That said, it was tough conjuring the motor skills to keep my head up, lest my heavy skull crack on the rounded ivory porcelain of the toilet's lip, caked with little yellow circles of dried urine and curled hair.

Balled up on the cold bathroom floor, I had a moment of clarity: If I throw up now, I'll feel better; the poison will be out of my body. I slowly lifted my right hand toward my face and into my mouth as if I was about to gnaw on a Slim Jim pepperoni flavored meat snack. Although I washed my hands with soap before the digital insertion, I still felt that invisible shield in the back of the throat that lowers just as the tip of the finger hits the deep end. It is the point of no return. But I shoved on, a man on a mission. There is no turning back. And, I'll admit, the bile was stubborn, mocking my efforts at exhumation.

It had been a long night. Several hours earlier, I had relinquished my grip on the evening, just cut myself loose, like a kite that's lost its owner. It happened somewhere near the VA Hospital, flying down the steep roller-coaster hills of Woodley Avenue in a rickety '66 Mustang. Even at that point, I was just barely hanging on, semi-delirious in a Michelob-fueled abyss.

I kept my head out the window, gasping for fresh air, worried about puking in the car. It was cold as all hell, especially when you're doing 60 down a wide Valley street whose limit is 35. I was ready to blow the taco stand, yet I was trapped.

I didn’t toss – projectile vomited actually – until I got on the ferris wheel at Devonshire Downs. Every year the fairgrounds – a large dirt patch at the north-ass end of Cal State Northridge that later became real estate for campus housing – hosted a carnival with the requisite bells and whistles: rides, games, hot dogs, and cotton candy. But I didn't need a ferris wheel to get me high. I was skunked out, stumbling, bouncing like a pinball off the shoulders of other revelers.

It was already pretty late, probably 11, when we parked in the gravel lot just outside the Downs, polishing off the last of the beer before stumbling out of the car. Jimmy left the key in the ignition for a minute and pushed some buttons on his Pioneer 8-track player. A row of green lights flickered as the machine moved from programs one through four. He wanted to hear "Sweet Transvestite" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Again. He’d already played the damn song 20 times that night. Maybe it was in honor of our Halloween “costume”: a slathering of pancake makeup and eyeliner to camouflage our stupidity. By evening’s end, the greasy whiteness was smeared all over my hands, the mascara dripping sadly down my cheeks like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

***

The empty cardboard box in the backseat was a reminder of better times three hours ago. We'd found a kind liquor store owner down in Reseda who couldn't tell 15 from 21 – and purchased a case of Michelob. The three of us – Jimmy, Ken, and myself — made short order of it as we plopped bottles of brew in our laps and cruised aimlessly through the Valley on the Halloween night, three bozos with clown makeup inside a 66 ‘Stang.

We eventually bobbed and weaved our way onto Van Nuys Boulevard. It was Wednesday. Cruise Night. Which was actually a blessing -- the rock-solid line of cars from Nordhoff down to Ventura lowered the risk of catastrophic driving. From the Americana and Tower Records down past Bowlerland and Farrell’s to Bob’s Big Boy, Van Nuys was a straight line of revved-up heavy metal celebrating a proud tradition.

And Halloween Cruise Night was a double whammy for the coppers on patrol, whose main job that night was merely to stop the bleeding. I realized this when we casually tossed beer caps onto the boulevard, within seeing-eye view of the police station. A flashing light went off in an instant, and my heart exploded through my booze-sopped shirt. Suddenly, the murky haze from those nine beers I’d sucked down cleared right out.

But we were to live a charmed life that night. The cop pulled alongside, looked in our window, and told us: “If you pick those up, I won’t pull you over.” Considering our collective blood alcohol content could’ve torched a small city, we wisely did as the officer told us.

Spooked, we made a right turn onto Vanowen onto the darkened residential avenues toward the northern reaches of the Valley where I lived. But the thrill was gone. Devonshire Downs felt like an obligation, and when my cookies gave out, it was time to go.

Yet even as another tortured waterfall of bile cascaded down the porcelain helter-skelter, I felt a giddy little twitch underneath it all: That was pretty cool, but I can’t wait till next year, when I’ll have my own driver’s license.