Monday, January 10, 2005

The Halloween Party
(from the novel Half Empty)

by Tim Hall

Dennis walked in a state of extreme agitation through the streets.

Maybe it had been a bad idea after all. Instead of invigorating him, the crisp night air brought with it only the loamy smell of decaying leaves and anxieties of the coming winter, exciting his senses to overload. He was overwhelmed by sentimental memories of similar times, similar parties. If the year were a city then the holiday season was the ghetto.

He quickened his pace under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, engulfed by the cavernous echo of the traffic roaring overhead, then slowed down once he had entered the industrial no-man's land that separated the quieter Italian neighborhood where he lived from Williamsburg's trendy and overcrowded north side. As he approached Bedford Avenue, Dennis began to see the angry scrawls of Yuppie Go Home on doors and walls. They had only begun to show up recently, and they amused him to no end. No doubt written by some studiously scruffy Ivy League loft-dweller with a mysterious financial support system and a business degree hidden in the sock drawer. The ones who screamed Yuppie loudest were usually the same opportunists most responsible for gentrification in the first place.

Yuppie: someone who has moved into your neighborhood six months after you.

The building was on the water, part of a rundown strip of abandoned factories. As he approached Dennis saw a group of costumed revelers entering a battered steel door in the middle of the block. He paced himself so he would not enter at the same time; after a few moments he followed them up the seven flights, maintaining his distance on the landing below, their steps echoing in the drafty well as the sounds of the party grew louder.

He had not bothered with a costume, except his usual uniform of work pants, black shirt, and leather jacket. It was a good-looking jacket, made of solid horsehide and based on the old California Highway Patrol jackets of the 1930s. It caused many people to confuse Dennis for a cop. Street corner drug deals had broken up suddenly and dealers scattered when he approached; punks on the subway gave him repeated sidelong glances. Once even a uniformed officer had nodded to him. Shauna had picked it out.

The loft faced the river, in full view of the Williamsburg Bridge. Loud disco music came from the DJ booth and sound system on the far side of the floor, where a group was gyrating, arms in the air. Paper creatures hung suspended from the ceiling by wires: tortured demons, ghosts, all manner of faces twisted and elongated and illuminated by colored spotlights.

Dennis lit a cigarette and found a quiet place along a wall. He tried to look casual. Dracula and Raggedy Ann tended bar from a thatched hut, where revelers were piled three deep for what looked to be a punch drink of some sort. Dry ice filled the bottom of the bowls, causing the brew to spill heavy tongues of smoke over the edge. Ghosts, wizards, and nurses paraded before him.

Dennis probed his sobriety gently, like a tongue seeking out a sore tooth, and found that he did not want a drink. He took the hallway to his right and followed it down to the large kitchen, where a smaller group had assembled to mix its own drinks. A rainbow of booze was piled on the tables, and cases of beer filled the fridge. He mixed tonic water with lime and grabbed a handful of pretzels.

"What are you?"

He turned. Little Bo Peep was standing behind him, in blond curls and a tight-fitting dress, holding a shepherd's crook.

"Excuse me?"

"Your costume," she said playfully. "What are you supposed to be?"
"I'm a cop," Dennis said.

He intended to be deadpan, but it came out as a rebuke. The conversation in the kitchen died, and several people turned and looked uneasily at him. Little Bo Peep's smile dropped and she slid past him out of the kitchen.

Dennis went out into the main room and blended into a dark section of the back wall. Every person in the room seemed to be engaged in conversations, dancing, pursuing or fleeing.

What would one see if they stripped away the masks? He imagined not faces but mutual funds, interest rates, letters from alumni associations; ski trips, photos of family reunions, friends of a friend, college buddies. There were political movements, endangered species, tax-deductible charitable contributions; public television, subscriptions to magazines, knowledge of obscure pop culture trivia; collections of vintage dolls or Fender guitars. Car payments, student loan payments, mortgage payments, interest payments, accountant payments, tax estimates, zoning laws, a copy of the Kama Sutra, flavored coffees, odor-eating insoles, silk boxer shorts. Look closely and one would uncover summer homes, snowboards, mountain bikes, inner tubes and neckties. Everybody hustling to fulfill their tiny role, to squirt their genetic sequence, in a mad pursuit of happiness that they believed was the most important thing on earth.

There was a reason why the rich owned bohemia: they were willing to pay so much for it.

Yuppie go home.

Tim Hall was born in 1966 in New York City, where he still lives. His first novel, Half Empty, will be published in December 2004 by Undie Press (

No comments: