A night behind a Cookie Monster mask in the West Bottoms.

Streetside: A monster night in the West Bottoms 

A night behind a Cookie Monster mask in the West Bottoms.

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I've learned over the years, the hard way, that there is a problem with my face. Really, it is not so much my face, which is basically average, as it is my face's default expression, which I have been told is the look of a "judgmental asshole" or a "shithead" or a "condescending piece of shit." I don't really have any control over this expression, but as I understand it, it is somewhere between a smirk and a frown. I know this because when my friends get mad at me, they all do the same impression of me. They raise their upper lips to ridiculous heights and say pessimistic things in a nasal, grating voice. It's really mean when they do this.

I can't say how many people my stupid face has alienated over the years, though it's possibly fewer than the thousands I imagine it to be. What I do know is that I wore a Halloween costume last weekend that obscured a good chunk of my face, and people were about 9,000 percent friendlier to me everywhere I went.

I stopped by Costume Depot, a pop-up shop at 16th Street and Oak, just before closing time on Friday. The foreign couple who run the place graciously kept the place open as I rummaged through their inventory. I spied a lobster costume hanging on the wall and pointed at it.

"You no want that," the woman said.

"I think I do want that," I said.

"Too pricey," she said. I looked closer. It was $269.

"You're right, I don't want that," I said. "What about the Cookie Monster one? I like that."

"That one good, that funny," she said, smiling. "You funny."

But it was $70. "I don't know ..." I said.

"I cut you deal," she said. She nodded, and her eyes narrowed with mischief. Sold.

I corralled a cousin and a co-worker, and we rolled down to the West Bottoms. The destination was the loft of a guy named John Bersuch.

Bersuch is in a bunch of bands around town (the Caves, Thee Water MoccaSins), and every year for the past five years, he has thrown a big party where he converts his place into a haunted house.

I was unclear on the alcohol situation at the party, so we stopped at the gas station down in the Bottoms that's connected to the Wendy's and bought a six-pack and some tallboys. Then we parked in a lot a few blocks from the party. It was 11 p.m., and we were all sober. "Let's sink a few of these before heading in," I said. So we sat and guzzled beers and watched teenagers wander to and from the Beast, the Edge of Hell and the other West Bottoms haunted houses. After 30 minutes, we had drunk all the beers, so we headed back over to the gas station and bought more beers. I parked again and got out and urinated on a tree. A family approached and loaded into a nearby car. "Cookie Monster!" a little girl shouted.

"That's me," I said, zipping up very, very fast.

The party itself was on the top floor of the building; to reach it, guests walked up through the haunted-house part. I led the way because I am a big strong man, and the girly-boys I came with were too afraid. Everything was dark and red. There were a couple of dead bodies along the way, I think. As we climbed the flights of stairs, the faint sounds of Black Sabbath grew louder and louder. At one point, everything went pitch-black, and I inched forward down a tight, slanted hallway. Very tight, like claustrophobia tight. Do I still have that Xanax in my wallet? I wondered. But then the path opened up, and light seeped in.

"That part was actually kind of scary," I said, laughing, and right then, some guy in a mask shot out of a shadow and roared in my ear, and I jumped up in the air and screamed, and everybody laughed at me.

The Black Sabbath we were hearing was from a cover band called Rat Salad. "They only play obscure Black Sabbath songs," a friend at the party told me.

"That's kind of badass," I said. I don't really know any obscure Sabbath songs, but, you know, fuck the mainstream. (A Misfits cover band played later, though I was gone by then.)

Hoo boy, people really just love Cookie Monster. At first, it was unnerving. Everywhere I went, I was hugged and rubbed and petted and called at and smiled at. Even flirted with! It was crazy! A cute dead girl with dull-green paint on her face came up and wanted to teach me a Cookie Monster song-and-dance patty-cake type of routine. "What's your angle here?" I said. "Is this a trick? What's going on here?" I scanned the room for her conspirators. But she was just having fun and being friendly. Is this what it's like to have an ordinary face?

Less popular at the party was the guy lurking in line behind me with black clothes, a sullen look on his face, and long curly hair parted way over on the side of his head. "Are you supposed to be Robert Smith?" the woman ahead of us asked.

"I'm not dressed up," he said, humorlessly. I laughed because I figured he really was supposed to be Robert Smith, and his morose response was part of the act. But then I saw in his eyes that he was not joking, and I felt bad, and I stared at the bathroom door in silence until it was my turn.

Later, at YJ's, I ordered my usual: breakfast sandwich with gravy on it, an order of biscuits and gravy (which I am willing to share with companions but will also eat by myself if I must) and a coffee. "That Cookie Monster better be ordering a damn cookie," somebody at one of the tables called out. And so I did. Chocolate chip. It was delicious.

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