The Witching Hour

Don’t Greet Your Landlords While Drunk (and Naked)

This is a tale about traveling in the Twilight Zone, though I was physically just a few blocks from my house. Though perhaps the Animal House version of the Twilight Zone is more accurate. I was living with my best friend in a small apartment in Southern California, on my own for the first time. It was our first New Year’s together as that eager, barely tolerable species: swinging apartment-dweller-type guys, barely out of high school. We were going to celebrate that self-congratulatory state of being with a New Year’s party.

That evening we had a respectable turnout of our friends, acquaintances and other welfare cheats of note, and had settled in to the numerous foolishnesses of New Year’s Eve. As it neared midnight, my housemate and I had an insight: we could both doff our clothes and walk around outside in the soft warm rain that was falling to christen the New Year. Did I mention we’d had a drink or two?

Equally inspired, my girlfriend and one of our other female friends decided to join us. We goofed around a bit out front, and then we saw two figures approaching up the block. In the great spirit of improvisation, my housemate and I worked up a plan: we would walk up to the people, acting as though we were in our fully clothed at-ease, and wish them Happy New Year’s. Ah, the act of creation!

Remember, it was dark outside. Thus you can understand that it wasn’t until we were but five feet away from our prey and about to spring our greeting when we realized it was OUR LANDLORD AND LANDLADY, who lived only a few blocks away, and who had decided to walk over and wish us happy New Year’s. The fact that they were very straight-laced, reserved people, and Eastern Europeans yet, made our calculation all the less calculating.

Well. We had perfect presence of mind and body: Run! Without saying a word, we turned and bolted for the house. Somebody at the party caught a classic picture of my housemate in manic bare-buffed retreat into the house, eyes bulging out of his head like boiled eggs. Perhaps we thought we’d be safe inside. I actually ran into my closet and hid, lacking the benefit of clothing. I did say that I was young, right?

So, the party was in full bloom while we’re all running in, screaming that the landlord was outside. We actually locked the door on him. The truly funny thing was that his wife’s full focus of outrage targeted only my girlfriend. We could hear my landlady shouting, “Naked women in streets! Naked women in the streets!” over and over. What really caught our attention was our landlord, though, who shouted even louder, “All right, damn it, that’s it. The cops are going to be here in five minutes. You’re all in big trouble!” After his shouting of a few more epithets, they left.

All hell broke out inside. We were in a rare state of intoxication, euphoria, fear, confusion and glory. We all decided to leave, immediately. The naked perpetrators flung on clothes. I decided to stay over at my girlfriend’s house: she still lived with her mom, and we jumped in her mom’s Karmann Ghia, a nice little car I often drove. Many cars were leaving at once, in a crazed caravan. Remember that nice, soft rain I mentioned? Well, it hadn’t rained for a while before this, and the streets were slick—and so was my thinking. I was behind one of our friend’s cars, and when he stopped at the first stop sign near our house, I ploughed right into the back of his car. His car was unscathed. The Ghia, though, had the impact resistance of a tortilla chip. I walloped the front end, pushing one of the fenders against the wheel so that it made a horrific noise while we drove.

And drive we did, because we didn’t know what else to do. Continuing back to my girlfriend’s house, stopped at a traffic signal, I looked over at the driver next to us. Do you know that Twilight Zone where William Shatner sees the ominous yeti-like figure on the wing of his plane, and he realizes he’s doomed? Well, that same beast was staring at me from his next-lane car window. I still don’t know if he was wearing a horrific mask or if it was some poor, deformed curiosity seeker, but that incident seemed to seal the evening.

When we went back to our apartment the next day, our landlord had left us a note telling us we had until the end of the weekend to get out of the apartment. We didn’t know anything about rental laws, and we meekly complied. We spent the next three nights sleeping in a public park before we found a new place. It was sort of like camping, but because we had no choice in the matter, it was like camping in a dank basement. As for the Ghia, it was totaled; my ex-girlfriend’s mom still resents me for it. Considering this happened about 40 years ago, you have to respect her dedication.

Happy New Year.

You can find more reflections on inappropriate decisions (and scads of “how to find your writer’s voice” writing tips) in my book, Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See, available on Amazon.