October, 2008

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THE Halloween Party

Hazy Memories of the Notorious Parties at Cal Arts

by Dave Pruiksma

Barely legal Dave Pruiksma, 1979.

The year was 1979. I was a rather naive but progressive minded guy from Virginia. Not from the sticks mind you, being that my family lived only 5 miles outside of Washington D. C., but I was definitely a product of suburbia. Also, previous to coming to Cal Arts, I had spent 2 years living in Brooklyn while I attended Pratt Institute, so I was by no means a babe in the woods. But this was wild Southern California and that, I had heard, was different.

I had just arrived at the school in early September. Once here, I began setting up shop in my dorm room and trying to get acclimated to this new bohemian life; you know, just sort of laying low and soaking it all in. In other words, I was trapped without a car. Oh, I took the nude swimming in stride. After all, I’d been to life drawing classes for years. Disco was at it’s peak and Donna Summer blared through the hallways night and day. I had a little more trouble getting used to the Donna’s bad girls, especially if they happened to be boys. I could even accept a couple of students sneaking down to the golf course near the school, late at night, killing a duck, and then trying to cook it in one of those communal toaster ovens. It didn’t work out very well but, hey, college is a learning experience, right?

So, as the days passed and we all settled into our studies with Ken O’ Conner, Bill Moore, Elmer Plummer, Tee, Jack and the rest, a slow buzz began to spread around the hallways and classes. And once word filtered down to me, you can imagine my surprise that, weeks before it even was to take place, everyone was talking about the big CalArts Halloween Party. Now, where I came from, Halloween was a small holiday when little children don costumes and traverse the neighborhood in search of tricks or treats. Adults just sort of good-naturedly went along with the whole thing and didn’t get involved. But here in California, Halloween seemed elevated to almost a Christmas level, with people planning their costumes and putting decorations up on their dorm room doors weeks before October 31st. I didn’t really get it but I will tell you that, to me, the Cal Arts Halloween Party seemed to be shrouded in a great deal of mystery and suspense, and of course, that made it all the more intriguing. There were stories of what outrageous things had happened in previous years and admonishments to be careful not to eat, drink, lick or smoke ANYTHING at the event! I was also told, by numerous people, not to wander off alone or venture towards the unknown outskirts of the campus. Geeze, the annual Cal Arts Halloween Party was beginning to sound a lot like Brooklyn.

As the day of the party neared, several of us talked about it and decided that we would all dress in costume and go together. The feeling for some was, there’s safety in numbers. I wasn’t very worried though, after all, my costume had four arms so I could take care of myself, (these extra limbs also came in handy with working my camera). We gathered in one of our dorm rooms and admired each other’s makeshift costumes. Some were functional, others inspired. Then we all trundled over to the party which sounded to be gearing up.

From left, John Hays, Kathy Zielinski, Al Holter, Pat Ventura, and Daphne Maeda. Cal Arts, 1979. Photo by Dave Pruiksma

Now, here’s where my memory gets fuzzy. I remember arriving and finding only a small smattering of people in various degrees of costume wandering around outside, (seems a good many of the costumes that night prominently featured nudity). We entered the building and followed our ears to the music in the main hall. There the party was in full swing, though we noticed right away that there was surprisingly little to eat or drink, not that I had planned on eating or drinking anything I didn’t prepare myself anyway. For the most part, we stayed together as a group at first. In fact, I got some really nice slides of some of us in costume and, happily, I just unearthed them again while preparing this piece. Looking around, we could see that there was the usual college party debauchery going on. You know, mostly, drinking, smoking, wild dancing, nudity and vomiting; nothing very untoward. It was all very festive, really.

Gary Trousdale, 1979. Photo by Dave Pruiksma

Later in the evening, we all began to split up and get absorbed into the pulsing crowd. I still stayed away from the punch as it was said to have been laced with Acid. No, I drank bottled beer that I opened with my own four hands. I also ate nothing, so, by later in the evening, I was feeling pretty good. As I weaved by the crowd (I wasn’t moving, I was just standing there weaving), I saw a few familiar faces approach; that is, familiar faces covered in grease paint and artificial blood. Now, I can’t tell you for sure, who these familiar faces were attached to, but I think I recall Joe Ranft, Bob Seeley and Pat Ventura as being part of the group. Someone excitedly told me that, if we took the elevator downstairs, there they had a tank with a valve attached and people were doing hits of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas to the uninitiated. Well, by now this seemed perfectly acceptable, so, like a coast guard cutter on a mission, we moved slowly through the dense crowd towards the elevator. Unfortunately, we were not alone. Seems the word about the gas had seeped out and everyone was heading downstairs. Seeming throngs were waiting for the elevator doors to open. When they finally did, a few giggling girls scuttled out and into the fray. With that, a huge surge of people moved forward and, with no will of our own, we were swept up and into the open doors of the elevator, which soon closed, containing us. Packed like a can of Vienna Sausages, I wondered how we would even get out once the doors opened again. I found myself pressed up against and facing the doors, seeing only stainless steel with obscenities scratched into it. Thankfully, it was a short trip of only one floor and soon the doors opened. But, to our dismay, there was no room in the hallway for any of us to even get out. All I remember seeing in the few brief moments that the doors were open was a smoky hallway full of more Vienna Sausages, just like us, only these sausages were laughing hysterically and uncontrollably. They were fully aware of us standing there packed in the little box of a room, dumbfounded by the bizarre tableau, but said nothing nor made any effort to let us out. Seconds later, the doors shut again. We were whisked back to the main floor of the party and ejected with the same force with which we had been canned.

Missed it by THAT MUCH. Unknown reveller didn't quite make it back to her dorm room, 1982. Photo by Steve Moore

After this experience, with the image of those laughing sausages forever etched in my mind, I was getting good and ready to head back to the dorms and call it a night. As I headed for the door. I met up with a few of the others that I had arrived with. They were also ready to go, so we all dragged our way back to our rooms. Once in my room and out of my extra arms, I flopped on my bed and listened, for a few minutes, to the not so distant sounds of the party, still in full fury and showing no signs of fatigue. I smiled and thought to myself, “Hey, I survived! Hell, I think I even thrived!” I realized then that the ominous Cal Arts Halloween Party wasn’t at all what I had expected, and yet, it was also so much more. I only wished that I could have remembered more of it. But, at that moment nearly 30 years ago, I was happy to just put in my ear plugs, turn out the light and dream the dreams of that first Cal Arts Hallowed Eve.

 

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Tim Hauser as Frankenfurter, 1981. Yikes! Amy Stober, right.

Kelly Asbury, yikes again, with Rob Minkoff, left, 1981.


Kevin Lima's obscure choice - Rod Hull and his Amazing Emu, 1982. Kevin was the king of costumes, making this puppet from scratch, as well as Tim Hauser's Maleficent costume, below. Tim is a tall guy, and was scary as hell in this get-up.

Photo by Kevin Lima

Holy Butch Hartman-in-a-Robin-suit! Another Kevin Lima creation, 1984. Photo by Kevin.

Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise as the crew of the Castaway, 1981.

Attack of the Blue Meanies, Steve Moore and Steve Burg, 1983. Photo by Kevin Lima.

Dan Jeup, ladies' man, 1981. Amy Stober, right.