Special-effects Detail

Last year's Halloween festivities involved policemen of the wrong sort: instead of water guns and plastic badges, we got the real thing. My dear friend Bernice was summoned down to the station to pick up her 17-year-old son. A brawl had broken out at the party he attended, and alcohol had been involved. He was clean, but Bernice decided to keep the party closer to home this year. I was assigned special-effects detail, and it didn't take long for my thoughts to grow foggy. I needed a fog machine that would cover the ground like at a KISS concert. I called Rob Torstrom, who does installation and repairs at Miramar's California Sound and Lighting ( www.calsound.com ; 1-800-4NEWSOUND). "To work a fog machine," he began, "you pour in the fluid, which is basically water with a chemical added to thicken it up. The fluid is pumped into a heating chamber, where it is superheated until it forms a fog. Then the machine shoots the fog out through a tiny nozzle. If there's nothing to cool the fog, it'll start to lift into the air as soon as it shoots out. So, some fog machines have a big ice chamber in the front. That cools the superheated gas as it comes out, but not to the point of re-liquefying it. The fog then actually hugs the ground, kind of like dry ice."

California Sound also offers a haze generator. "It's more like a mister -- it delivers a much lighter gas -- it's not as thick a fog. It gives the room sort of a smoky atmosphere. If light shines through it, you can pick up the beams. A hazer can be good for an indoor party." He did note that "if you use a fogger outside, you'll get the hazer effect. And even with inside use, the gas from a fogger will start to warm up and spread apart."

Fogger weights range anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds. (The heavy one has the ice chamber that gives the low-fog effect.) "Our rental foggers will put out a lot of fog; you press a button on the controller, and they release a stream of fog. The small one rents for $15 a day, and the larger one, which has a fan so you can direct the fog, rents for $20 a day. We also sell foggers. People who like to throw parties year-round buy them, and clubs buy them because they have light effects that don't work without fog. The 400-watt mini-fogger is $39.99 , the 1000-watt is $99.99 , and the 1300-watt, which allows you to change the direction of the fog stream, is $199.99 . They last a long time. People bring them in to be cleaned more than they bring them in for repairs. Fog machines tend to drip a little bit, because not all the liquid gets superheated. But if the machine shoots out a stream of liquid, you've got something clogged up in there. I take the heating chamber out and rinse it with a little bit of soapy water. And I take a hookah brush, similar to a gun-barrel cleaner, and clean out the hose."

Torstrom told me that "dry ice is also a good way to go if you're having a party indoors. If you use the fog machine indoors, it does tend to leave a sticky residue on everything. Once or twice a year isn't bad, but if you use it over and over again, it can build up a layer of sticky gunk that can damage stuff, especially sound equipment." I decided to put in a call to Airgas Dry Ice in Mira Mesa (858-535-0460). Employee Steve told me, "dry ice is CO2. We get it as a liquid and change it into a solid by injecting it into a big press and compressing it. You don't want to touch it with your bare hands. If it touches your skin, it'll freeze it." Prices are $1 per pound with a 25-pound minimum and a $7.50 hazardous materials charge.

To figure out how much I would need, I checked www.dryiceinfo.com and found that for 15 minutes of fog, I would need to put five to ten pounds of dry ice into four to eight gallons of hot water. The hotter the water and the smaller the chunks of dry ice, the more fog (and the faster the ice would dissipate). The website suggested keeping the water hot with a hotplate and warned to be ready for some bubbling over.

Other places to find foggers:

Party City, multiple locations around San Diego. The sales clerk at the Sports Arena store (619-523-9200) said, "We have a fogger with a strobe light attached for $29.99 and a 400-watt fogger for $17.99 . Fog juice runs $9.99 for a half quart and $14.99 for a full quart. We also carry timers for $19.99 . They help make the juice last. It controls how much fog comes out and when."

Spirit Halloween Superstore, multiple locations around San Diego. The clerk at the Escondido store (760-480-9600) said, "We have a hanging fogger for $39.99 . It's more like a smogger, and you can get a remote timer for $14.99 . Our ground fogger runs $59.99 . It says to use the manufacturer's fog juice, but if you use our juice ( $7.99 for a small jug, $20 for a large) and add ice, it works perfect."

Other places to find dry ice:

Baskin-Robbins, 5501 Balboa Avenue (858-292-5600). Up to 20 pounds, $1.79 per pound; over 20 pounds, $1.35 per pound. "We always have 500 to 600 pounds of dry ice," said the sales clerk, "but on Halloween, we'll have something like 1000 pounds. You don't want to put it loosely in a drink," she warned. "Put a smaller bowl of it outside the punch bowl so that it billows up outside of the punch. If it disintegrates into smaller pieces and somebody swallows one, it'll burn a hole in them!"

Jolly Jug Liquor Store, Santee (619-448-3773). $1.19 per pound, with eight-pound minimum.

San Diego Ice Company, Sports Arena (619-688-1999). $.90 per pound (available in ten-pound blocks). Delivery available with 100-pound order at $1.50 per pound.

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