Shamlian Design - commercial design and illustration

Click here to edit subtitle


view:  full / summary

Halloween at the White Dog Cafe - 1974

Posted by mshamlian on November 1, 2020 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Note: The following short story was sent to me by my twin brother David. It had long since faded from my memory but brought vividly back with this fine piece of writing...crazy daze of youth...A little reader discretion advised...                                                                            

                                                                                         Halloween at the White Dog Café - 1974

                                                                                                          by David Shamlian

     Siamese twins attached at the penis. This was my brother’s brilliant idea. Four nineteen-year olds were without a plan on Halloween night. My twin brother Mark and I were standing at the bottom of the wreck room stairs when he grabbed the stuffed animal from a pile of flotsam. This treasured boardwalk prize from years past had somehow survived. The seven foot cuddly snake had never acquired a name which made its foul conscription somehow easier.

     The plan came together quickly. Cut the legs of a pair of old jeans and slide them over the stuffed snake. Mark had the honor of securing the tail section in his zipper while I forced to deal with stuffing its somewhat bulbous head into mine. While we were both thin, our jeans were tight. The discomfort was bearable. It was only fair though because it was Mark’s idea. The other two accomplices, Jim and Herb, stood back and observed the overall effect. They were itching to contribute. It was decided that we had to dress more alike. While the debate about wardrobe options continued I couldn’t help feeling that all this was pretty irrelevant because there was really nowhere to go anyway.

     The four of us had graduated high school a year ago and were in various states of limbo. Most of our friends had gone off to college. Mark and I had done well enough at Haddonfield High, but decided to take a year off from college and work. Jim had yet to experience his near death electrocution so he was still studying journalism at a nearby state school. Herb, the most gifted and handsome of the group, had just began his heart breaking decent into mental illness.

     In 1974 there was no social media. The only way to sniff out a party was by phone networking or looking for an event in the local newspaper. We had made a few landline calls to the local targets without success. The Simpson twins (name changed for privacy) were not returning our calls ever since Jim borrowed their toddler brother’s riding worm toy and strapped it to the roof of his pickup.

     Puddy Buck had the competing garage hangout across town. There was an unspoken agreement that if either crew heard about a party to crash, information would be exchanged. Usually the victims would be the daughters of a wealthy divorced parent who was just too tired or preoccupied to care. For the most part the get-togethers were awkward harmless affairs involving insecure teenagers looking more for love than trouble. Barb Smiths’s (name changed) mom was a Judge. Jane Rich’s (name changed) dad was a brain surgeon. Their digs were opulent and the in-ground pools were the big summer evening draw. Co-ed skinny-dipping was not unheard of. Heads exploded that summer when the well-endowed Simpson twins and the lovely Tara Brimley (name changed) doffed their tops.

     I missed this of course because I was inside creating some pseudo shrine-like sculpture by erecting a stuffed glove-hand surrounded by tea candles slowing revolving on Mr. Simpson’s audiophile turntable. Everyone else caught the tease show while they were pretending to see whose can of beer could float upright the longest, in a pair of ladies shoes poached from the host’s media room. The care-free pool party scene ended abruptly later that summer when Herb had a psychotic break at Kim Larson’s (name changed) graduation party and smashed a case of beer bottles in and around their pool. The event ended with a trail of bloody footprints leading off the patio. My dad told me that Doctor Larson was found passed out on the front lawn the next morning. His beautiful and talented daughter would OD several years later. I didn’t understand back then that affluence could not completely shield you from life’s’ tribulations.

     On past Halloweens I would often don my dad’s formal tail suite from his days playing bassoon with the London Symphony Orchestra. My uncle Fred worked for Stetson Hats so we always had an inventory of top hats and bowlers. I would try to pass as a concert conductor to collect my share of the spoils. It was my uncle who told me the story of my dad’s first performance with the LSO. His formal size 13 shoes were lost in transit so he improvised by wearing his moccasins. He only got away with it because the program led off with the Hiawatha Overture.

     Getting back to the shared penis. It was decided that matching tail suits and top hats would somehow add class and credibility to the proceedings (although the effect was tempered with the ripped jeans). Jim fired up the Dodge Dart. Mark and I were ergonomically relegated to the back seat. Herb rode shotgun. On the way out the door I had grabbed the Haddon Gazette off the kitchen table. Expectations were low as we set out looking for an appropriate venue. I found a notice for a Halloween fundraiser that appeared to be open to the public at the Haddon Fortnightly building downtown. My older brother Peter had been forced to take ballroom dancing classes there in the 60s. Maybe we would run into some hot young blue bloods there. Hope sprang eternal.

     The Vietnam era drinking age was eighteen so downing a few beers while cruising was considered routine. Fueled by this and an adolescent pack mentality we decided that it would be a good idea to make a dramatic entrance. I could hear big band music as we approached the massive columns supporting the portico. In one synchronized motion Herb and Jim pushed open the massive doors while Mark and I grabbed the long schlong between us and thrust ourselves into the well-lit reception area.

     Our first clue that we were in the wrong place was the big “Daughters of the American Revolution” banner overhead. The second clue was silence. The pre-dominate attire included little feathered masquerade masks and perfectly coordinated formal gowns. Although I felt that the top hats and the tail suites bought us some cache it was immediately evident that the seven foot long penis would be an issue. Mark and I looked at each other and slowly backed out of there with polite smiles as confused onlookers stared. At this point we hadn’t quite figured out the choreography involved in turning around together as we retreated back to the Dart.

     Mark and I were ready to pack it in and go home. At this point the large stuffed head of the snake was crushing my bladder and the bleak cold night was crushing my spirit. Although Jim was endlessly impressed by the optics of our condition, I was starting to feel like an exploited circus side show. He implored us to go on. Herb just wanted to find more alcohol.

     Jim grabbed the Gazette and started to look for another option. There was a small advert on the back page promoting a Halloween contest and a bar in Philadelphia. The White Dog Café was a well-known institution in the city. I have no recollection getting there or parking. My next memories are pushing through the crowd and checking out the competition. Occasionally we would unwittingly snare a guest with our connected member and then offer overdramatic sincere apologies. At some point a women asked us what we were trying to be. It seemed more like a threat than a rhetorical question

     The canned music stopped and a woman who appeared to be wearing a circus ringleader costume stepped up to the mic and began to announce the contest finalists. Since we were far from the stage and mostly out of earshot we paid little attention. I observed Mark conversing with a nurse and an androgynous black nun. My next recollection is Mark dragging us toward the stage with the nurse offering her assistance. Someone had the presence of mind to snap a Polaroid of us and hand it to me. I treasure it to this day.

     To add context it seems necessary here to address Jim’s near death experience. Our high school band was playing an outdoor party on a makeshift stage with makeshift success. Jim was singing an NRBQ song when he tried to catch a falling floor lamp that was part of our setup. As the voltage arced through his body he started convulsing and spinning until Herb kicked the microphone out of his hand, just as he was entering the white tunnel of light.

     Jim’s early family life was chronicled in a Life magazine expose about a notorious psychiatrist who carelessly killed eight people by using dirty needles. Jim’s wonderful dad was one of them. Jim’s mom (we called her Big Val) had coaxed her husband into getting treatments for occasional anxiety. Consequently, Big Val gradually descended into a destructive hair trigger rage brought on by guilt and sorrow. Anything could set her off.

     I remember her removing Jim’s bedroom doorknob so that she could accost him at any time screaming about imaginary indiscretions. At one point Jim resorted to creating a series of flash card responses so that he wouldn’t have to keep repeating himself. I can still see her with the brunette curls on her forehead carefully scotch taped in place as she pummeled him with her fists for allowing the cocker spaniel eat the aluminum foil again. Somehow he didn’t have a flashcard for that response.

     The upshot is that after the electrocution Jim elected to change his path in life and enrolled in law school. He graduated at the top of his class and eventually became the head of child protective services for the state of New Jersey fighting for the well-being of children in precarious living conditions. It was hard to imagine that in Jim’s future as I watched him try to talk a big biker dude in a prom dress into exchanging outfits.

     As Mark and I stumbled onto the stage I couldn’t help but wonder how my proud father would have felt to have his vintage attire worn from his LSO and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra days defiled in such a twisted mission. He was wearing this tux when we saw his last concert at the Albert Hall in London. I was brought back to my senses when it was announced that we had won first place; a dinner for two ironically. I nervously curtsied and started off the stage. Mark had other ideas and headed toward the microphone. As the nurse lovingly cradled our connective tissue Mark launched into an impassioned plea to raise donations for our separation surgery. He explained in detail how our condition had prevented us from being effective bowlers and equestrians and had made dreams of matrimonial consummation impossible. At the end of his speech there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.¬¬

     He then doubled down on his plea by explaining that whichever twin raised the most money would be proportionately rewarded with the corresponding length of the appendage. I really don’t remember much after that. I do remember that Mark started dating someone new and I told him that he could use the gift card to take her to dinner. After all, it was his idea.      (photo available upon request)