Night Crawler

A cluster of giant poisonous mushrooms waddles down the sidewalk outside Cafe Du Nord, bowing its bulbous red tops toward an obnoxious fraternity of juvenile delinquents wearing Nuke 'Em High radiation suits. Catcalls fill the air as a look-alike cast from The Full Monty saunters by, sporting gold jock straps and a tasteful layer of goose bumps. They try to steal two man-sheep from Little Bo Peep, but the shepherdess keeps her pets on a very short (and literal) leash. Even though Halloween is no longer bureaucratically sanctioned in the Castro, the stream of stilt-walking, sadomasochist flight attendants and naked chefs covered in condiments and Saran Wrap is nearly uninterrupted.

"In London, New Year's Eve is the big holiday," says Tindersticks frontman Stuart Staples, trying to get a grip on his surroundings as he settles in at the Cafe Du Nord bar. In the background, the White Star Orchestra performs period music from the Titanic's last night afloat and pallid drowning victims nibble on roast duck.

"In the United States, Halloween is second only to Christmas in holiday revenue," explains "downhear Lounge" producer Kristi Maddocks. Of course, here -- in California's reigning freak-town -- it could be the first. In fact, San Franciscans so identify with the spirit of All Hallow's Eve that local activities sometimes stretch over the course of the 10 or 12 days leading up to the big night, as tonight's attendees confirm.

"It's kind of like Hanukkah for weirdos," says Janet Corrinder, who says she got an eyeful a couple of nights ago at "Bondage A Go-Go," when blood buddies from the United Satanic Apache Front opened up for the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. "You know, a little flesh carving, a little sodomy, a few naked blue women with big hair screeching over really loud guitars," explains Corrinder. "It was a good pre-party."

Daniel and Shasta Marin warmed up for the holiday with a Samhain celebration held at Fort Mason the weekend before. "It's a powerful time of year," says Shasta. "Winter's coming. Spirits are crawling around. The leaves are changing -- well, not here, but you know what I mean. We like to get drunk and silly on Halloween, just like anyone else, but we also like to do something that honors the essential nature of the night."

Other folks at Cafe Du Nord say they spent the week prior to Halloween attending blood-themed drag shows, Asian ghost story readings, Day of the Dead celebrations, costumed karaoke, and the derogative Exotic Erotic Halloween Ball. Still, among all this wanton self-expression, paganism, and naughtiness, there are some wee residents of this city who wouldn't mind if Halloween just meant carving jack-o'-lanterns and handing out enamel-rotting goodies to little kids in goblin suits. Several such future Hallow's hellions were at the 12th annual Randall Museum Halloween Night.

After dark, the cityscape view from the Randall -- a children's museum that treats kiddies with animals and interactive exhibits year-round -- is enough to stop almost anyone dead in her tracks. Of course, the tiny devil-faced children are not interested in breathtaking views; they want bat wings and frog tails and things that go bump in the night. A 3-foot-tall mummy with Lilliputian Nikes pulls on his mother's hand as they pass a small sign that reads "Hummingbird, butterfly, and wildflower garden."

"What's that say, Mom?" asks the bandaged ghoul.
"Enter at your own risk," replies the woman in a spooky voice. The pair climb a small stone staircase leading to the museum. On a nearby tree, a skeleton glows eerily. Fake gravestones illuminated with black light litter the front lawn. A giant gray gargoyle hangs from the eaves. A pale hand comes out of the earth and grabs onto a scarecrow as a museum volunteer pulls himself out of a freshly dug grave. Mummy mom gives a little shriek and the little mummy giggles.

In the brightly lit museum lobby, a vampire plays the organ and Indiana Jones offers kids a chance to drink some toxic-looking bright blue liquid with floating flakes of glitter. The diminutive fairy princesses, clowns, and G.I. Joes eagerly line up for the chance. Denise Minter, a parent dressed unintentionally as Ginger Coyote from the White Trash Debutantes, sits by a fake fireplace with her combat boots crossed daintily. Her 5-year-old bat son is too afraid to go into the Haunted House.

"He's in the other room listening to scary stories right now," explains Minter, "but I'm working on it." Minter smiles at her own evilness.

Through a side door and just past a mad scientist is the "Animals of the Night" room, a frightening collection of scary creatures lit only by glowing pumpkins and red light bulbs. A superhero pushes his nose up to a tank while his eyes adjust to the kingsnake staring him in the face. In other holding pens, alligator lizards, western toads, rough-skinned newts, red-legged frogs, Mexican tarantulas, huge wood roaches, and all sorts of rats go about their business. Overhead, a short-eared owl keeps watch and three ravens huddle together like shadowy conspirators. These animals are regulars at the Randall, but tonight they seem particularly sinister.

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