The men and women of the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Pendleton were being given a welcome-home parade from the war in Iraq. At first, I was hot and miserable, having just gotten over a migraine the day before. But when I saw the flags and signs that said “Welcome Home,” it made me feel patriotic. I saw couples kissing who could rival that famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse. Marine helicopters were flying low, and cannons shot red, white, and blue confetti. It was loud and thrilling.
One couple, Barbara and Stephen, were having a big welcome-home party. Barbara told me, “When he’s been away, usually the first thing we do is jump in the sack.” Stephen laughed and said, “Does this really have to be in the Reader?” She said, “But this time, we invited our friends, neighbors, and family. We are having a big welcome-home party, with lots of food and drinks, as soon as we leave here.” Stephen quickly added, “And then we’ll jump in the sack.” I asked if I could go to the party to write about it, but they didn’t seem thrilled by the idea, so I didn’t push the issue.
There were more than 20 war protesters who carried signs. The crowd let them know they didn’t appreciate their presence. The police had to break up a few confrontations. One person yelled, “If you don’t like living here, go to Iraq and live.”
I left to start getting my Halloween costume ready for the party I had to attend that night. It was for more military guys: the crew of the USS Stennis. They were leaving the next day for two months out to sea. And this was their second annual Halloween party. I was planning to dress up as Roy Horn, of Sigfried & Roy, but I couldn’t find a stuffed white tiger to attach to my neck, or a sequined shirt. Maybe that would’ve been in bad taste. The doctors did just remove part of his skull. Although I do remember, soon after the Jeffrey Dahmer thing, people dressed as him, with fake body parts in their pockets, or dressing like refrigerators with body parts in them.
I ended up going as a disgruntled postal worker. (Are there any “gruntled” postal workers?) I wore a uniform covered in fake blood, with fake guns, knives, and nunchakus dangling from my postal bag.
The house where a few of the guys from the Stennis lived was in Chula Vista. It was a big house with a scarecrow and pumpkins on the front lawn to greet you. Spider webs crossed the door, and as I walked in, a fog machine was making the living room hard to see. When the fog cleared, I saw candles and a woman reading tarot cards in the corner. The TV was showing an old horror movie in black and white. That brought back horribly scary memories of my youth. Not being frightened by the films, but of listening to my stepdad explain in great detail why Lon Chaney Jr. was so great as the Wolfman and why horror movies today suck.
The back yard was all dirt, which normally isn’t the best look for a back yard. But when you have it turned into a graveyard, it’s perfect. There were four graves, all with candles around them, and tombstones. One had a skeleton climbing out from the dirt. I saw a couple of people dressed as priests. One had a sign that read “Bring Out Your Young,” a funny play on the line “Bring Out Your Dead.” I was told before attending this party that it was tradition for a lot of the guys to dress like women. But I only saw three: one dressed like a nurse, one in a Denver Broncos cheerleading outfit, and one guy who looked like Kid Rock but had angel wings and silver eyelashes. I asked the cheerleader if he was a Bronco fan, and he said, “No way, man, I love the 49ers.”
One guy was wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, and when he turned around, I noticed the fake beard and the swastika he had on his forehead. He was supposed to be Charles Manson. Another guy at the party had the same wig and beard, but he was Jesus.
I saw two black guys who weren’t dressed up and asked them why. One of them said, “Well, I wasn’t even sure I was going to attend. But I work with all these guys, so I had to show up. It’s a cool party.” Since one of them was from Milwaukee, we ended up talking about the Bucks for half an hour. Two other African-Americans were wearing pimp outfits. I heard somebody say, “Those aren’t even costumes. That’s the regular shit you guys wear when you go out.” One laughed and uttered something about “finding some ho’s to slap around.”
It was amusing to see people in the same type of costume. There were two devils, my favorite being the one with a red garter belt. There were two angels. It was funny seeing both of them with their wings off, leaning against a wall. There were two cowgirls, three priests, and a few French maids.
One quiet Vietnamese girl was sitting right next to the fog machine. I asked, “Isn’t that dangerous, inhaling all that?” She said, “I live in L.A. I’m used to this type of smog.” She told me she goes to Cal Poly and that her friend invited her to the party. Since she wanted to make a career out of being in the music industry, and I spent five years at a radio station, we talked about that for a while. She was dressed like a fly and said, “These wings bother me. I wasn’t going to wear a costume, but my friend had this at her place, so I threw it on at the last minute.” She then asked, “Are you supposed to be a mailman that was attacked by a dog?” I said, “No, I’m supposed to be disgruntled. I shot people I work with. And people who didn’t use their zip codes.” She looked confused and said she’s never heard of postal workers killing people. She said, “I just moved to Pomona from St. Paul, Minnesota. Is that common out here?” I would later meet a beautiful lady from Brazil who was going to college out here but getting ready to move back home. She said, “I thought somebody attacked you, but then they explained that you ‘went postal.’ I still don’t think I understand what that means.”
My friend finally showed up, and she was dressed as Rainbow Brite. Everyone knew who that was but me, although I did know what her husband was supposed to be. She said, “He spent hours building the costume with chicken wire. He wouldn’t tell me what it was going to be.”
Then he walked through the door. He was a gigantic penis. And he almost got circumcised when he walked near the ceiling fan — somebody had to yell for him to duck. When he was walking around later without the costume, somebody said, “What happened, dickhead?” He said, “I took it off for a second, and somebody sat on it. Now it’s cracked, and I think it’s going to fall apart.”
I saw a pirate talking to a Target employee. I said, “Did you just get off work and come here?” He said, “No, I worked at Target years ago. I couldn’t think of a costume, so I just wore my old uniform. When I quit, I just walked out. I never gave the uniform back. The good thing is, it has my name tag on it, so everyone will know my name.”
One guy was wearing a black suit and a tie. I asked if he was supposed to be a Mormon, and he said “No, I’m a teacher.” I didn’t understand that until an hour later, when he was dancing by a boom box in the living room. His girlfriend was a schoolgirl, with a plaid skirt and her shirt tied at the belly button. He was spanking her as she danced seductively.
I asked one lady if she was supposed to be Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction. She said, “You’re the only one who knew. My friend had this wig, and since I worked from 11:00 a.m. until almost 11:00 tonight, I didn’t have time to do a big, elaborate costume. So I went with this. I either needed somebody to do the Travolta character, or Samuel L. Jackson, with that funky hair.”
One of the ladies who lived there was a cowgirl who had blackened out one of her teeth. She was talking to another cowgirl, and I heard one guy say, “Why is it women look so much cuter when they are in costumes?” I talked to some of the crew members of the USS Stennis about going away for two months. Most of them agreed that it sucked to go out on long deployments. One said, “It wouldn’t be so bad if you did it continually. But just when you get used to being back here, then you go out again. Or when you are out there and enjoying things. Maybe it’s a bunch of us watching some sporting event on the ship. Or stopping somewhere like Australia. Then we seem to be returning too soon. This time, though, we’re just going out around Mexico. Training some pilots on how to land. A few months isn’t that big a deal.”
I asked one of the ladies living there if the neighbors complained about the noise. She said, “No, because we keep the music on inside, and not very loud. In the back yard, there’s a lot of people talking, but it’s not that loud. And we only do this once a year. Well, sometimes we have other parties, but not this big.”
The cops did show up. It was because of a fight in the front yard. I had seen two people arguing in the back yard and others telling them to break it up or leave. They apparently took it out front, and the cops were called. They stopped fighting right before the cops showed up, and one jumped the fence to leave the scene. A few others at the party were getting rid of their alcohol, since they were 19 or 20. It seems odd that we can have these kids defend our country and die for our country, but they can’t have a few beers because they are a few months shy of 21.
The lady dressed as a cop, with tight black leather shorts and black stockings, went out to talk to the real police. I started going out there to take pictures, and someone said, “Come on, man. Don’t take pictures of that. I hope you aren’t going to write about the fight either.” As I pleaded my case, I realized the nunchakus I had are actually illegal. When I was ten, two cop cars pulled up to my house, since I was practicing with them outside. By the time I hid them and went outside, the police had bailed.