As I write this, I'm already decked out in orange and black apparel in preparation for the most wonderful holiday of the year. I'm happy Berlin's finally caught up to the joys of that kooky American custom Samhain, because for the first quarter century of my life, back when I was the devil's defender, Halloween wasn't the fun and merriment it was for many others.
Statistically, crime rates rise on Halloween night, so you can imagine the kind of mayhem the HQ of the Church of Satan—a black house centered in one of San Francisco's most conservative, pastel-lined districts—invited upon itself. Early 70s San Francisco was hit by a steep spike in the crime rate, with a special twist of Barbary Coast weirdness added by such local lunatics as the Zodiac Killer, who brought fear into the city even when it wasn't Halloween.
My parents didn't allow my friends to visit our house—my daily routine consisted of coming home from school, checking in for headcount, immediately escaping to a friend's house or going out alone to play, then reporting back for dinner at our kitchen's grim mess hall before bed check.
You might expect that this drill would be different on Halloween in the most celebrated Satanic household of the 70s, but Halloween was the same old same old. Rituals were only held for the rubes—no special ceremonies necessary for family, who were all a part of Chez LaVey's mitt-camp (criminal fortune-telling rings of the carnival). We didn't spend Halloween celebrating spooky self-indulgence. We spent the harrowing night warding off the many thrill seekers who picked our infamous dwelling as the perfect target-practice for Halloween vandalism. It was bad enough this was a problem every night of the year, but on Halloween it was guaranteed that maniacs would use our house for even more imaginative drive-bys.
Like a Dickensian feral child, I always found other neighborhood kids whose parents let me tag along on Halloween nights, to make sure I was safe.
When I was eight years old, I thought I had my Halloween strategy all worked out. One of my best friends, Frankie, a Chinese boy with a Siamese cat named Mamacita, persuaded his father to take us trick-or-treating. Frankie would dress as Batman, and I would dress as Catwoman. We spent weeks preparing for Halloween, ardently studying Batman reruns, learning our lines, staging dress rehearsals, and getting all our gear in order for the big day.
Frankie and I had a lot of adventures together, encouraging each other into mischief. One day when I showed up for our Halloween training, Frankie was particularly excited about something. In hushed tones, he said he had something to show me. We went into his parents' room, and as he pulled a cardboard box from under his father's bed, he enthusiastically told me, “I found a Q-U-I and other cool magazines! You won't believe it!”
What the hell is he talking about? “What's a Q-U-I?” I asked.
“You know,” he said, “magazines for men!”
Oh! Just as my eye landed on the title, it hit me, “You mean Oui! Sure, I know Oui. My father's got tons those kinds of magazines.” (Frankie misread the title of the October '72 premiere issue as beginning with a “Q.”)
Okay. So soft-core porn was a big news to Frankie, but it was small potatoes to me, considering I belonged to a family who first come to prominence having salacious rites covered in porn rags. Cute, I thought. But let's get back to Batman. So we didn't give it much more thought about the magazines... until the big day.
Halloween night 1972: I methodically got all decked out in my sexy hand-me-down black leotard, tights and turtleneck sweater. Applied my whiskers, tail, and cat ears. Added some Julie Newmar eyebrow pencil and super sneaky-silent ballet slippers for paws.
Every good little ghoul knew it was bad luck to begin trick-or-treating before sundown. But by 5 PM, I couldn't contain myself any longer. I bolted out of that black house like a cat out of hell. Pillowcase in hand, I charged over to the corner grocery store where Frankie lived in the upstairs flat. After a while, I banged impatiently on his door. I could hear Frankie padding down the stairs. Good! I thought. Now we're getting somewhere!
When Frankie opened the door, NOT in Batcostume, my heart sank. What happened? Frankie simply said, “I can't go with you tonight. My father found out about the Q-U-I,” and then shut the door.
To keep San Francisco safe, Catwoman prowled the darkened streets without the Caped Crusader. I spent a very scary couple of hours stalking the avenues alone, ardently fulfilling my Halloween vow: Give me trick-or-treat or give me death.
That Halloween night abruptly came to an end when I knew I'd gone to the wrong house. I ascended the stairwell to a flat absent of festive Halloween decorations, but took my chances ringing the bell in pursuit of one last Snickers bar or pack of Fizzies. The creepy, disheveled occupant looked at me like a trap-door spider looking at its prey.
He grinned with an unfriendly smile and said, “What do you want?”
Immediately, I realized I'd come to the wrong door. I made something up about confusing the house with my friend's and pivoted to leave. But he grabbed my arm and said, “That's okay, I don't have any candy, but you can come in, and I'm sure I can find something.” In a nanosecond, the survival fear-reflex propelled me down the stairs and straight home.
Just one of many close calls in my life. But as you can see by the photo of the booty I plundered, my rat Orwell was happy I returned home safely.
After renouncing Satanism in 1990, in favor of sharing life with more considerate and generous entities, I'm freed up to fully enjoy Halloween as I never could when I served in defense of an ungrateful devil.
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