Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Scary Halloween Story

Well thank God that's over.

I'm sorry, but other than the candy, I hate Halloween.  Really, I have a resistance to any holiday that mandates you get together with large groups of people and gorge yourselves on fun.  New Year's Eve used to be the premier offender in this category, but Halloween inched ahead a few years ago and pulled a solid lead when the decorations began to rival Christmas.  And no one messes with Christmas.

Besides, some pathetic scarecrow and a few glowing pumpkins is never going to be more fun than covering your entire lawn with twinkling lights, plastic reindeer and elves, and simulated Bible scenes.  Nothing says festive like the imminent risk of fire and enough kilowatt hours to melt the polar ice caps.

But back to Halloween.  I don't know that the world needs a haunted house on every block.  And I'm sorry, but most costumes just look silly.  Isn't one Kathie Lee Gifford more than enough?

There was one Halloween when I really did get into the spirit.  It was thirteen years ago during my third year of law school.  Every year the law school had a Halloween party with a costume contest.  It was one of the events I tended to skip, but a lot of my friends were going and I decided that this year, not only would I go, but I'd win that contest.

The only problem was, I didn't have a clue what to wear.  I had plans to go to Provincetown the following morning and spend the weekend, so my decision was really last-minute.  But if I was going to go, I was going whole hog.

I figured my best bet was to start with another gay, since most of us get the Halloween gene (actually, the gene is associated with costuming and pageantry, Halloween is simply a special application of the talent.  Anyway, whatever it is, I didn't get it.  I was so busy helping my self to second portion of the gene for bitchy side commentary, I missed out entirely.  C'est la vie.)

I approached the professor who ran our legal writing program, a towering old-school homo with a shaved head, a deep baritone, and all the masculinity of a rainbow, and asked for suggestions.  He opened his desk (how many of you thought the next word was going to be "fly".  Heads out of the gutter, please.  This is a PG-13 column.) and pulled out a blond wig, tossing it to me and saying, "Figure something out.  You're a homo for crying out loud."

Shamed into action, my brain worked feverishly.  With my build, a blond wig, and difficult to fit Mens Size 13 feet, what choices did I have?  The wig said drag (about which I wasn't enthusiastic, but it wasn't out of the question) but the feet meant pumps were out of the question.  Finding heels of that size, that quickly, was unlikely (and learning to walk in them, and remain standing, in a dark bar, drunk, was never going to happen.) A dilemma, to be sure, until...

Cowboy boots!  Could I wear cowboy boots?  I certainly could.  (Yes, I had cowboy boots, and that, sirs and madams, is a topic for another post.)  The answer was clear:

Dolly Parton.

Oh, yes.  It's true.  My Halloween costume was plucked from the halls of drag cliche.  Somewhere between Cher (I don't have the hips), Tina (I don't have the lips), Barbra (I don't have the french tips) and Liza (I don't have the nerve...or the drugs), I made my choice and committed to it fully.

Really, it was an easy costume.  The wig, some cowboy boots, $10 of trashy makeup and accessories from CVS, a pair of grapefruit, and a borrowed dress from an unfortunately husky girlfriend with bad fashion sense (mint green with a floral pattern) and I could have starred in The Best Little Whorehouse on the Prairie.  Topping it all off with a borrowed guitar, I double-checked the mirror and was out the door.

Have you ever entered a crowded room and rendered it completely silent?

It's a strange feeling, gratifying and disconcerting at the same time.  It's clear you're being watched, but it's hard to tell whether to wait for a verdict or assume it's positive.  Instinct kicked in and went with the latter and kept walking.  It struck me that a healthy number of people were probably trying to figure out who was in the costume, and the remainder may have been trying to figure out what the costume was supposed to be (Dolly not enjoying the universal recognition some of us feel she's owed.)  And then, shockingly, applause - first smattering, then thundering.  After that, pretty much all I remember is winning, getting drunk, and losing one of my Islands in the street (I ate the other one sometime around 2am.)

Now, here's where the story gets interesting.

I couldn't find press-on nails at CVS, and the nail kit I bought came with nail glue, which is slightly less adhesive than Krazy Glue.  So, sometime close to 3am I sat on my sofa, soaking my hands in a bowl of warm soapy water and trying to get those nails off without passing out and drowning in a cereal bowl. Could you imagine that crime scene on Law & Order: SVU?  Make-up smeared and streaked across my sweaty face and two dishtowels, wig on the floor, half-dressed wearing a single cowboy boot?

I finally gave up after half an hour or so.  I had managed to weaken the glue enough to pry 6 of the nails off, and that was going to have to be good enough for now.  I shuffled to the bedroom and fell asleep.

Morning always comes too quickly when you've been drinking the night before, and 8am arrived in what felt like five minutes instead of just under five hours. I tumbled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen, throwing down about half a gallon of water to clear my head.  Then I threw some clothing in an overnight bag, grabbed an extra large coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, and got in the car.

The drive from Boston to Provincetown is fairly easy.  It's about an hour on the highway to reach the Cape itself, then an hour on Route 6 until you reach Provincetown at the tip.  The first part of the ride is pretty boring, but the ride along the Cape is fairly picturesque.  About 20 minutes or so outside Provincetown is a town called Easton, where an infamous traffic circle is a popular speed trap.

Which is easy to forget when you've got a crazy hangover and a stomach full of nothing but coffee and the handful of Almond Joy you stuffed in your coat pocket the night before.  At 40 miles an hour I'm nearly double the speed limit and the second I see the police cruiser I know I'll find his lights in my rear view mirror momentarily.

Which I do.

You know what else I found in the rear view mirror?  A face pale from base make up and too little rest, still sleep-creased.  Heavy eyes, unshaven, with the memory of too much lipstick and eyeshadow still visible like I'd been the canvas for weak watercolor painting, I am the definition of a hot tranny mess.

And I've still got four fake fingernails that are so aggressively red I looked like I'd been using them to scrape out the hearts of small animals.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.  The Trooper took one look at me, realized I was coming off a night he wanted nothing to do with, and let me off with a warning, after conducting a field sobriety test which I passed.

So really, this isn't so much a Halloween story as it is an object lesson about maintaining composure in any circumstance.

This Halloween didn't provide nearly the same sense of adventure.  During the day we ran some errands and ate lunch at Xie Xie, a Vietnamese sandwich shop on Ninth Avenue between 45th and 46th St.  It's a small place with a very limited menu, but they have a barbecue beef sandwich made with short ribs that is moist, juicy and really flavorful.  It's served on a toasted sesame bun with basil mayonnaise and a carrot kimchee (which is really nothing more than some julienned carrots, and gives it a nice crunch).  At $9, it is a tastier, cheaper alternative to most of the burgers in the city.

Saturday night we went uptown to a party that friends of our have every year.  Neil went as a cheerleader (a costume you can only pull off when then spookiest thing about Halloween is unseasonable 70 degree weather.)  I went as Balloon Boy, with a giant silver balloon floating above my head.  Neil surprised me by - out of nowhere - bringing a homemade dessert.  And, even more shockingly, by not using a recipe.

Neil's Halloween Treats:

1 package Ritz crackers
1 jar Creamy Peanut Butter (not the natural stuff, something like Skippy or Jif)
1 package chocolate bark or 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Spread peanut butter on a cracker.  Top it with another cracker.  Do this a lot.

Melt chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler.  Cover the cracker sandwiches with chocolate.  Chill.

There was a girl at the party dressed like DNA (clever costume) who ate the entire plate.

On Sunday, I spent most of the day on the couch, working on my book and watching the New York Marathon.  It was really inspiring to see Meb Keflezighi become the first American man in 27 years to win the New York marathon.

And also sad.

For those of you who didn't watch the race, Keflezighi is originally from the African nation of Eritrea.  His family were refugees who came the the US through Italy, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1998.  A silver medalist for the US in the 2004 Olympic marathon, Keflezighi failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, coming in eighth during the trials in Central Park and witnessing the death of his friend and training partner Ryan Shay.

He ran on Sunday with the letters "U S A" emblazoned across his chest, proud to be an American in a country thrilled to call him its own as he crossed the finish line.

Yet for every Meb Keflezighi there are hundreds of doctors and scientists and engineers and students and families for whom the promise at the base of the Statue of Liberty is empty rhetoric.  Why are we so eager to embrace Meb when we're so resistant finding more of him?  And does our celebration of his success a public hypocrisy?

These are the stories you don't see on the news - the argument about immigration that's about more than Mexican day laborers.  Something to think about.

Neil's real achievement was Sunday evening, however.  He made a lima bean soup with roasted red peppers, an eggplant casserole, and a delicious meatloaf.

Meatloaf (Adapted from the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook):

Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze:

1/2 cup ketchup or chili sauce
4 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons cider or white vinegar

Meat Loaf:

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup milk
2 pounds chopped meat (Beef/Pork/Veal) - this is often available at the supermarket; if not, the butcher will make it for you
1 1/3 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. For the glaze: Mix all ingredients in small bowl; set aside.

2. For the meat loaf: Heat oven to 350F. Heat oil in medium skillet. Add
onion and garlic; saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to
cool while preparing remaining ingredients.

3. Mix eggs with thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, pepper
sauce, and milk. Add egg mixture to meat in large bowl along
with bread crumbs, parsley, and cooked onion and garlic; mix with fork until
evenly blended and meat mixture does not stick to bowl. (If mixture
sticks, add additional milk, a couple tablespoons at a time, until
mix no longer sticks.)

4. Turn meat mixture onto work surface. With wet hands, pat mixture into
approximately 9 x 5-inch loaf shape. Place on foil-lined (for easy
cleanup) shallow baking pan. Brush with half the glaze.

5. Bake loaf about 1 hour, until internal temperature of loaf registers
160 degrees.  Simmer remaining glaze over medium heat (or throw in the microwave for a minute or two) until thickened slightly. Slice meat loaf and serve with extra glaze.

That's all for me, folks.  Next time: Dinner with Marcelene and some delicious baby back ribs.  And I'll tell you all about the dinner party for 5 we're having on Wednesday.


DO THIS, New York:

Grab a sandwich at Xie Xie.

Win a costume contest.

Make that meat loaf

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

I don't recommend getting pulled over by a cop the morning after drunk drag.  

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