Sam had a Halloween party, only he didn‘t mention the part about Halloween; just that he was “having some people over Friday.” And since it was still early August, a time when few among us tend to interpret people over Friday as Halloween party, I didn’t ask if I was expected to wear a costume.
I showed up early, in typical Davewear, to have at Sam‘s enviable assortment of fine Arizona wines and feign preparational assistance. Sam in his Samwear (same as Davewear — jeans and an untucked T-shirt) stirred a simmering cauldron of barbecue sauce as we drank Sangiovese and listened to this new, creepy Leonard Cohen album, loud. As the last few beams of daylight fell onto the front porch, the first few guests arrived, and by dusk the living room, kitchen and patio were half-filled with unremarkably attired citizens and one man dressed as a hunter. Sort of a hunter, I guess, with a cap and a rifle and a big rusty bucket of . . . meat?
“What kind of meat is that?” I asked the hunter.
“Elk,” he replied. “My brother landed him yesterday near Flagstaff.”
“I didn’t know they had elk in Arizona,” interjected a 50-ish woman who moments before had certainly not looked nearly as much like Barbra Streisand as she did now.
“Yep,” said the hunter, scratching his chin with the pirate hook he wore on his left hand. “They sure do. At least they did; now they got one less. Haw!”
This was a joke, you see, so Barbra and I laughed and excused ourselves in different directions as politely as possible. The hunter shrugged and hauled his bucket out back, where Sam was spreading orange-hot mesquite coals around the barbecue pit.
John Cleese in fish regalia asked if anyone minded him cranking up the Leonard Cohen. “Certainly not!” and “Fine by us!” replied Richard Nixon in a 19th-century English schoolboy uniform and Roy Orbison with a mohawk, respectively. I could hear and see and feel, now, the people around me metamorphosing into a mass of ghastly zaniness — outlandish hats appeared, and false ears, grease-pencil mustaches, plucked chicken wings and so on. Outside, sparks flew as the elk hit the grill, and “Hey, Dave!” Sam called from the flames, “Happy Halloween!” and things began to spin in a cold sweat as I was seized by the stark and hideous sensation that I was becoming Charlton Heston. Handing off my wine to a carrier pigeon in platform tennis shoes, I fled to the nearest mirror, over the bathroom sink, to see if my face had changed.
Nothing. Plain old Dave.
Cold watersplash, deep breath, straighten up, composure.
Double-check: yes: generic, unhestoned Dave in the mirror. Another deep breath and opening the door and back to the living room, where the now coherently masked and costumed guests were laughing and shouting their way through traditional Halloween party games — bobbing for apples, Rochambeau-ing for shots of boiling absinthe, disemboweling one another on inverted crosses, Twister® and so on. Some chewed elk; others munched at cheeses and breads, inhaling and gargling wine.
Everyone had become someone else, and everyone but me seemed to be having a wonderful time. So, more or less recovered from the Hestonian panic attack, I retrieved my wine from Chris, the carrier pigeon, and made my way between assorted priests and goblins and a swarm of bees toward the back yard, toward the barbecue.
“Where‘s your costume?” Just outside the back door, a woman stood smoking a cigarette. I’d met her earlier, and she‘d looked then exactly as she looked now.
“Where’s yours?” I replied.
Her name was Jane. Jane was a friend of a friend‘s friend, and no one had told her it was a Halloween party either, but she wasn’t concerned — she‘d been to similar parties before; sometimes she ended up in costumes, sometimes not.
“Did it hurt?” I asked.
“Hurt? They’re just costumes.”
“A few minutes ago,” I said, “I could swear I was turning into Charlton Heston. And it hurt.”
“That‘s weird,” said Jane. She studied me for a moment, then smiled slightly and repeated, “They’re just costumes.”
I made us some coffee and we talked for a while in the kitchen, with a view of the festivities. Jane and I seemed to be the only ones still out of costume, which puzzled me a bit, but Jane was witty, warm and wise, and I soon gave up on worrying about the costume situation.
One guest, introduced earlier as Andrew but now Nixon (and now with a Little Lord Fauntleroy hat topping off the schoolboy uniform), joined us for a little while and entertained us with stories about the FBI tapping phones at his apartment complex.
“Incidentally,” said Nixon, “are those your costumes?”
“Not yet,” Jane replied.
“Wonderful!” said Nixon. “Glad to hear it!”
Nixon followed Barbra Streisand into the bathroom and Jane and I went out back to watch the embers glow and to discuss . . . nothing terribly important. Maybe it was just small talk — Jane had recently moved into a small, nice house; I had a steady job and liked bebop; we both liked Led Zeppelin — but it felt substantially larger.
Midnight arrived; still no masks, still no costumes for Jane and me. The others were reconstituting and leaving in cars; a few stragglers turned into bats and flew out the windows or up the chimney and into the blue night‘s full moon. I speculated as to how Arizona wines might affect their sonar, and recounted, at Jane’s request, a recent visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
Jane‘s ride was leaving. Jane accepted another small cup of coffee for the road. She was going on a vacation next week, alone. And after that she was going out of town to work for two or three weeks. But she’d get in touch, perhaps, when she returned. I hoped we‘d still recognize each other.