Monday, August 07, 2006

The Strangest Night of My Life.

I’ve had strange nights. We all have. The nights you’re forced to converse with someone on coke who threatens to shoot you with a pellet gun if you take the LP of Jim Morrison reciting poetry off the turntable, or getting into a conversation at a diner with a drag queen with bleary raccoon mascara, eating pancakes at 3:30 in the morning.

These things will happen if you’re a reasonably adventurous person willing to go with the flow.

The strangest night of my life, however, happened recently, long after I have dropped from the flow into the back bay where the fish all go to bed at 10 pm without fail.

Like all things, some back story is needed. Here in San Francisco we had an amusement park called “Playland-at-the-Beach”. Playland at the Beach was an amusement park that opened in 1927 and closed in 1972. The park was modeled after New York City's Coney Island, which contained roller coasters, ferris wheels, merry go-rounds, fun house and a carnival midway. I was all of three when it shut down, but my older brother has memories of it, particularly of the evil Laffing Sal, a mechanical clown with a satanic laugh that greeted you as you entered the park. (I’ve seen a Laffing Sal in action at a museum, and yes indeed, she is evil. See image below and prepare for fever dreams.)

The whole caboodle shut down in ’72 as it attracted junkies and the like. Bay Area baby boomers get misty eyed about the whole thing, but like I said, I missed the whole thing. I’m sure the smell of sawdust and vomit and the sight of rats scampering over a passed-out merchant marine under the boardwalk must have been charming.

Anyway, ffwd to a few weeks ago. My boomer brother calls me on a Wednesday night “What are you doing this Saturday? Want to go to a film festival? It’s at a guy’s house.”

First phrase that pops into my head: Snuff film. Second: Donkey show.

“What sort of ‘film festival’”

My brother explains: in an auction to raise money for a museum celebrating Playland at the Beach, a coworker won a private film festival at the house of the museum director, a man who is some sort of film instructor who owns 10,000+ films.

The topic is the Hayes Code, and censorship in film. My brother says “We’re going to watch parts of Song of the South.”

That’s a film Disney will not distribute in the United States. So, what the hell?
Too weird. Have to go.

Saturday arrives, my brother, his girlfriend, me and few other guests have dinner at the guy-who-won-the-film-festival’s house. There we learn that the host of the evening’s entertainment has actually named his house “It‘s a Magic Place”. A house with a name does not bode well.

We arrive at a middling bungalow, not one you’d suspect that a MAD MAN makes his home in, and we’re greeted by a portly fellow with respiratory problems. Seems nice.

We enter, and the living room presents no indication of the horrors contained below, other than a miniature alpine village spread out across the entire mantel, replete with cotton batting for not very convincing show. Film professors, one would think, would have Cahiers du Cinema lying around, but it was somehow more…dowdy.

Our host notice our collective looks of horror and registered them as interest. “This village of ours has been featured in various hobby magazines.”

Hobby magazines. Huh.

The reference to us was to himself, his roommate/assistant/life’s chum – a goateed, quiet man in tight jeans, tight t-shirt, and a third “very shy” roommate. Apparently the three work on the house together. I hope it’s voluntary.

He went to explain they had 3,000 visitors a year. I would soon learn that if I had asked “And how many have successfully left” it would have been entirely pertinent.

“Come on down to the home theater!” We follow him down a dark, dingy hallway to a staircase filled… with wizards.

“Magic is sort of our theme here.”

Down we go, above us are velvet lined shadow boxes underlit and filled with the cheesiest dungeons and dragons looking jive-ass wizard figurines in severe tableaux-du-fromage. Magic!

We are pooted out into the theater, four blueberry-colored satin love seats with a giant video projector mounted to the ceiling. The walls are SMOTHERED IN CHEESIE MOVIE SHIT.

In hushed tones: “On the right you’ll see our Disney memorabilia case.”

Hmmm…. Maybe a Technical Oscar picked up a Christies, or a screenplay, animation frames… Disney is not my thing, but hell… Oh, wait. It’s all shit you bought at the fucking Disney store. Lots of figurines. More figurines. Brand New Fucking Figurines. Uh, neat.

“I was in Disneyland last week and Disneyworld three weeks ago.”

I was surprised he’d admit to that.

The mysterious goateed man goes and mans the Carnival popcorn popper.

The host: “So if anyone needs to use the toilet, be sure to head into the “Rollercoaster”.

He points to the bathroom. I avail myself.

The light goes on… and the hellish audio track of someone screaming on a rollercoaster kicks in. The place is done up in circus shit and if one were to sit down, one would be treated to an animated diorama of a circus scene. Does one really need phastasmagoric entertainments when one does one’s business?

“I actually own a small circus.”

Yeah, I bet you do. Creep.

So, back to love seats. The show commences. We see scenes from
Freaks, a hellish blackface musical number from an Al Jolson films, the aforementioned Song of the South and the entirety of Baby Face, a pretty good early Barbara Stanwyck film. That gal had Moxie!

The guy kind of gave a lackluster sort of presentation. Hoo boy. When “Baby Face” ends, I am rarin’ to get the fuck out of there. But I was only at the first ring of hell.

“There’s a lot more to “It’s a Magic Place.””

Oh, no.

The screen rises along with the curtain behind it. And the nightmare got cranked up to 15.

For behind it was the HIDDEN MAGIC ROOM, filled with the sort of fakie crap that makes people hate magicians. Just. SHIT.

“We have over 2,000 magic tricks!” You fucking DICK.

He takes us further back, past A FALSE BOOKSHELF to the Dickens room. The Dickens room is essentially a walk-in closet where two wingback chairs face another FUCKING DIORAMA, this time of a small Victorian village. Neat! And if sitting in a closet looking at pre-fab nastolgia for something that never existed gets dull, you can make your way up to the OBSERVATION ALCOVE by way of a hidden staircase (of three steps) that provides you a view of the self-same Victorian village albeit from three feet higher than you were before. Not only are you creepy, you are also pointless.

Finally, after a brief tour of the “vault” where the DVD and LaserDisks are kept, we get a glimpse into the Majordomo’s room. He has not one, but TWO dioramas, one of a seaside hamlet (replete with fiber-optic fireworks and canned seagull cries) and another snowy scene behind a false window, now at night. Oh, and a throw pillow on his bed that bared the legend “Chocolate is like Men. The Richer, the Better.”

It was then that I decided I wanted to pull my eyes from my head and burn them.

The evening ended with a few more alarming facts: He owns a circus, he is going to install a rollercoaster (!) in his backyard, he really loves circus movies, he entertains disadvantaged youth (!!!), there is an entire lower level filled with more "memorabilia" his chum loves, LOVES Mizz Eartha Kitt. There may be more, but I’ve probably purged it.

As we walked out into the fog round about midnight, I started to say something to my brother.

He, through gritted teeth: “Shut. Up. Do. Not. Say. Anything. Until. We. Get. To. The. Car.”

Five minutes later, we were pulled over, shrieking with pent-up horror. My brother was unable to drive for about ten minutes. He was laughing too hard.

I wish I could say we had more generosity toward others' eccentricities, but I can't. That's not how we were raised.

And that was the strangest night of my life.



Blogger Crackpot Press said...


Less weird than the night we discovered the compund of people living under the Bay Bridge.

And don't knock Eartha Kitt, if memory serves me correctly I go my first boner while watching her as the Catwoman.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Crackpot Press said...

Im sorry..

MORE weird than the night we discovered the compound under the Bay Bridge

6:25 PM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

Was I with you on Compound Nacht?

10:01 PM  
Blogger G. said...

So let me get this straight, you went to the Neverland Ranch, and Michael has gone fat? I thought that shit was closed and he was living in the UAE?

4:24 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

The difference is that Michael is pretty lithe and has those big hobo stranglin' hands, so running away from him would present a challenge. This guy couldn't work up a good saunter without oxygen, although his house is probably filled with trap doors and hidden cages.

They both sit on thrones made of nude boys, however.

9:55 AM  
Blogger How I Died Today said...

I can't imagine such a place. Or such people. Two words: Why?

6:20 PM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

how i died today -- I assure you I still have the address of this hall of horrors and have put it on the Culling List. You know the one.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Walking Spanish said...

holy crap, as a diorama enthusiast, i can say that sounds inexplicably horrid. at least they didnt screen rocky horror and act it out in front of you...
men are like chocolate.....eugh!

7:31 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

What I wanted to ask is what happens when one of the "roommates" decides "Hey, uh, maybe I'm not so much into Disney anymore."

Are they banished to the "lower floor"?

9:33 AM  

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