My most vivid Halloween memory is of a haunted house in Encino that had a trough full of slimy goo. In a pitch black room, a stranger, presumably a zombie, would take your hand and guide it into this strange confection. It was warm like urine, and full of what felt like bones, cartilage, sea anemones, rubbery sausages, livers, hearts, brains, cigarettes, and dead goldfish. It smelled of blood, rubbing alcohol, open heart surgery. We’d try to imitate it in the school cafeteria. Tom La Verdi would dump his milk into his half-eaten bowl of spaghetti. Jeremy Dash would add a banana peel. Ronnie Sachs would spoon in some chocolate pudding. John Thorsen would pepper in some pizza crusts, an apple core, and a regurgitated peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We’d decorate it in swirls of ketchup and mustard, and sprinkles of Pop Rocks. Peter Bishop, bully that he was, would add what he referred to as “the cherry on top”: a deeply hawked loogie. Then we’d dip someone’s hand in it, or hurl it at an enemy.
Nothing more vile than the narcissistic fame-monger posing as a humanitarian or an environmentalist. Nothing more passive-aggressively disgusting than the mass email that begins “Sorry for the mass email,” then invites you to some gig or gallery opening or movie premiere, followed by “Bring your peeps.” Or the blog post that pretends to be op-edish but is in fact an advertisement for, say, a new book called “The Eighties at Echo Beach,” dripping with red-hot photos and available on Amazon for the low, low price of $21.50—
People can be so full of shit.
Gary Shteyngart’s vivid description of Mrs. Park:
“Mrs. Park had tweezed her brows to within an inch of their life…and her round lips had a trace of rouge, but that was the extent of her beautification project. A great spidery web of defeat spread across her face—as if there lived below her neck a parasitic creature that gradually but purposefully removed all the elements that in human beings combine to form satisfaction and contentment. She was pretty, the features economical, the eyes evenly spaced, the nose strong and straight, but seeing her reminded me of approaching a reassembled piece of Greek or Roman pottery. You had to draw out the beauty and elegance of the design, but your eyes kept returning to the seams and the cracks filled with some dark cohesive substance, the missing handles and random pockmarks. It was an act of the imagination to see Mrs. Park as the person she had been before she met Dr. Park.”
There are Ground Zeroes and Pearl Harbors and Dresdens, places where we collectively bow our heads and gasp at just how unfathomably barbaric life can be. And then there are our own private versions of these.
In 1987 I was traveling the world as a professional surfer, reveling in the heady buzz that comes from weekly contests, supreme physical fitness, fratboy-like camaraderie with my heroes, heart-thumping gropes with radiant 19-year-old girls in Capetown night clubs, when I received the news.
“Your brother’s dead.”
These words delivered by a kid I barely knew on the sand at Malibu Third Point in a moment when I was peacocking after a career-best finish in the Stubbies Pro not 24 hours earlier.
I ran to the pay phones, called Mom.
Yes, it was true.
Four years later I was profoundly in love, career nosediving, trying desperately to shake off LA, family, my own skin. I’d been in Brazil for a make-or-break pair of contests in which I choked.
Jetlagged, cocaine-deluded, I called my chocolate-hued baby after a long hiatus and—well, let’s just say that it would spell the end of my first love, the end of my career, the end of all I’d been dreaming about since I was 14.
It was not only the same pay phones but the same actual receiver that delivered me these life-changing blows.