Lost in Paris: Van Helsing, Creepy Sex, and Go Go Dancers

van helsing

When I was 18, I took all of the money I had saved since I was 12 (yeah, I was the girl who kept all her money in a shoebox instead of spending it on clothes or candy or Tomogachis like a normal kid) and bought a plane ticket to Paris. Along with two friends, we packed a few changes of clothes and 3oz plane-admissible toiletries (because otherwise Al Qaeda wins) into big hiking backpacks. It was my first time out of the US of A and we were gonna do this vagabond style.

Four days into our six week European adventure, the three of us were cold, slightly hungry, dirty, and homesick. To get our minds off this we decided to go watch Hugh Jackman play Van Helsing (and Kate Beckinsale inexplicably butcher a made-up Transylvanian accent, but I still love her and she was wearing a leather corset the whole movie so it’s all good), which had just come out in theaters. In the lobby, where you inexplicably stand and wait for your show to start, I noticed a middle-aged man watching us. When he saw me looking, he came over and introduced himself as Will. Within five minutes we had learned that Will was in Paris for a writers convention, was married to a super wealthy man, was lonely, and had been eating amazing food at expensive restaurants. He sat with us through the movie and invited to take us out to dinner the following night.

Even at the time my friends and I thought it was weird that he would take out three dirty, disheveled teenagers, but we had to weigh that against eating 4star cuisine. Food won out, obviously. Will took us to some weird Americanized  restaurant (which said a lot about how the French see us) and ordered us three course meals and fancy drinks. Between eating and hassling the waitress about her looks (he thought she was transgendered for no apparent reason), Will told us about his writing convention. They had just had a contest for who could write the best sex scene. Will proudly declared he had won this contest, and proceeded to give us a graphic description. I’ll spare you the majority of the details, but basically he wrote a scene in which two men have sex and at the moment of, umm, completion one man slits the other’s throat and bathes in his blood. At this time the three of us gave each other significant looks that roughly translated to, “Should we run? He’ll make lampshades out of our skin. Nah, it’s ok, there are three of us, we can take him if we need to. Let’s enjoy the free food.”

After dinner Will decided we would all go clubbing; he took us to Banana, a seedy gay bar with a basement made out of a cave. I’m not even making this up. After some dancing, my friend Althea and I sat down to have drinks. At this point some men jumped onto the stripper poles placed seemingly at random throughout the bar, and the audience helped them to get butt ass nekked. I politely averted my eyes and tried to concentrate on my drink… until my chair was abruptly pulled out from the table and a fully nude man began to give me a lap dance.

I’m not saying women can’t enjoy lap dances, or that men shouldn’t give them. I am saying that I, for one, lack the equipment and desire necessary to make it a great experience. This was compounded by the fact that my dancer, being as he was completed naked and gay, was also clearly not getting anything out of the experience. You might ask yourself why he was giving me a lap dance in the first place; sadly I have no answer for that.

Once the guy was done grinding his bare ass on my sweatpant-clad legs, Will came over with a wad of money and proceeded to negotiate a second lap dance for me. I told him I was all set, that he should have the dance if he was into it, and that I would rather spend that wad of money on much, much stronger drinks. Like, immediately. My pleas were to no avail and the next thing I knew my chair was once again pulled forcefully into the center of the bar and the same very naked, very unsexy ass plopped into my lap.

Will watched the show and when it was over said to us, “Well, it’s been fun. See ya!” and took off. He left us in the club in a part of Paris we didn’t know at 3am when the Metro had long ago shut down. Luckily for everyone, Althea has a homing beacon in her brain and managed to guide us back to our hostel in under an hour by picking a seemingly random direction to walk. I crawled gratefully into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of my friends laughing hysterically at my unfortunate naked Parisian adventure.

Film Title: Van Helsing. I love you, Kate Beckinsale, don’t ever change!


Mothra Murdered My Father

mothra on moon

When I was about four years old I watched a fair amount of Godzilla  with my father. Starting with the original 1954 Gojira, we made our way through most of the Shōwa period of monster goodness (that being 1954 to 1975; let’s not talk about the later movies, especially that one with Matthew Broderick). What can I say, I’ve always been a sucker for mutated dinosaurs, hydrogen bomb analogies, and tiny Jiminy Cricket-esque Japanese women.

Of all of these epic movies and characters, apparently Mothra vs. Godzilla made the greatest impression on my developing Jell-oish young brain.

I was slumbering peacefully one evening when Mothra invaded my happy dream world. Let me set the scene for you: It was a beautiful summer day and I had been strolling along a narrow cobblestone street– actually the same Boston neighborhood where I had spent several years of daycare– hand-in-hand with my father. “Street” is sort of a misnomer; I guess you might call it an alley but without the creepy connotations. The only thing weird about this was the fact that it was completely silent and devoid of life (aside from me n’ my pops, that is), which anyone from Boston can tell you is as likely as finding an old Japanese insect monster.

Suddenly, the sun was blotted out by a giant pair of wings. Who should descend from the sky behind us but Mothra! My father and I turned to watch Mothra flapping like, well, a huge freakish moth (because that’s what Mothra is. Obviously). As she got closer I saw an oversized red toilet plunger gripped in her huge freakish insect arms. Still holding my hand, my father began to run away.

No sooner had we run a few feet then BAM! Mothra shot my poor pops in the back with the toilet plunger. Don’t ask me how (I assume due to suction) but it remained attached to his back as he toppled forward. With a great war cry, Mothra flapped her huge freakish wings and flew off as suddenly as she had appeared.

I fell to my knees before my fallen father, shaking him and yelling, “Get up! Don’t lie there! Did you not see the giant fucking moth? Do you really want to still be here if it comes back?!” or something to that effect. But no, my father was dead. Mothra had murdered him with a toilet plunger. She had stabbed him in the back. The coward!

I woke up crying and ran to my father’s room, and woke him from the sleep he was probably desperately in need of (to this day we’re both chronic insomniacs) to tell him that Mothra had shanghai-ed us and killed him with a plumbing implement. Unfathomably, he thought this was hilarious. He still thinks it’s funny to this day, actually, though I fail to see the humor in it.

But if Mothra ever dares to show her ass (thorax?) again, I’ll be ready for her.

Children of the Corn Go Amish

bonnet girl

When I was twelve, I went to stay with my grandparents in Cleveland for a month. It was summer and I didn’t have anything particular to do because, technically, I was too young for the labor force. I say “technically” because my father was of the mindset that I should still do something useful with my time.  Somehow my babysitting resume didn’t cut it as “real work”, so that left me with the legal form of indentured servitude. I argued, but apparently my 3/5ths of an opinion didn’t have much weight.

My aunt got me a volunteer position at a ranch; in exchange for seven hours of shoveling shit and shaving some pissed off horses (don’t ask) I got to ride once a day. I loved it. Physical labor didn’t bother me and I got to spend all day around horses, dreaming about that eighth hour when I’d actually get to ride one (probably. This ended up being weirdly inconsistent). I felt pretty important running around saddling up ponies for rides and picking shoed hooves. I even got pretty good at tightening the girth to the right notch.

[An aside: Let me explain about a girth for those who haven’t spent way too much time around horses. The girth is the name for the belt that cinches under the horse to hold the saddle in place. Horses aren’t as stupid as they look, so they suck in a lot of air to inflate their stomachs when the girth is being tightened. I don’t blame them; the girth is a wide band of thick, rough fabric that sits right behind their horse armpits and across the ribcage. There are holes notched into the girth where it meets the saddle to adjust how tight it goes and you yank it up to the highest possible notch with all your might. If a horse holds its breath during this medieval process, then the girth loosens when they start breathing again. It also means the saddle is not secured and creates a safety hazard for everybody. The most effective way to make sure the horse doesn’t hold its breath is to squeeze its nostrils shut and wait. Just stand there and cut off the oxygen while you stare in disbelief at your watch. Eventually they’ll let go with a long, depressed exhalation of air, and you are free to hoist the shit out of that girth.]

Every day I would catch a ride to the ranch with my aunt’s neighbor Annie. She was seventeen and doing the same unpaid job as I was, which made me wonder if I was really cool and ahead of my time or if she had already failed in life. Either way, it was a free ride and I still was four years away from a learner’s permit.

One evening as we wrapped up at the ranch, Annie offered to drive two of the other slave girls home. There was a brief scuffle when I dove into the front passenger seat, much to the anger of the older girls, but I could be just as stubborn as any teenager. The four of us shoved ourselves into Annie’s compact and set off for home.

We were driving in the furthermost right-hand lane of the highway, going probably 25mhp with the traffic, when I glanced in the side mirror. Unexpectedly, there was a horse and buggy galloping directly behind us. I turned completely around in my seat and stared at the unlikely situation with wide eyes. The other girls saw my confusion and explained, “It’s just the Amish. They still use horse and buggies.”

“Um, on the highway?” I asked, which was a stupid question since we were in fact on a highway and, obviously, there was a horse and buggy chugging along behind us. The girls thought it was funny that I would be so shocked, but to be fair there isn’t exactly a plethora of Amish in hometown Boston. I thought it was idiotically unsafe to take a horse on the highway, not to mention a wildly impractical means of transportation.

I’d heard of the Amish before, but this was my first experience of them. I would later learn they do other fun, creepy things like Rumspringa, where Amish teens go out unsupervised into the modern-day societies they know absolutely nothing about and do whatever they want. The term rumspringa roughly translates to “running around”, but in my world it’s defined “child neglect”. I can get on board with the idea of being old-fashioned and staying away from technology, but a community-sanctioned adolescent free-for-alls bugs me (I’ve always been a social worker at heart). But I digress.

Anyway, that was the point when I noticed what was wrong—more wrong—with this picture. “No one’s driving the buggy,” I commented mildly.

“What?” one of the girls asked, though she’d clearly heard me.

“There’s no one driving the buggy,” I repeated, and emphasized by pointing at the Amish chariot thundering ominously behind us. I wasn’t hallucinating; the black Old West-style wagon was conspicuously devoid of any humans. Now the other girls didn’t look so smug. I noticed Annie starting to panic.

“Shit. What do we do? Shit.” I empathized. Aside from the safety concerns this created, we were all ranch hands. We loved horses. Watching one freely rocket down the main artery right outside of a busy city like Cleveland was upsetting and more than a little unnerving. I had no idea what to do.

“Take this exit,” I said, pointing at the one directly in front of us. I couldn’t think what else we should do. At least we wouldn’t still be on the road with the Black Stallion of Doom. Maybe we could find a phone and call the police? The internet had only recently become a household accessory, so cell phones were still a few years away from existence. That would have been helpful though.

Annie swerved to make the exit, which knocked me into the door since I was still turned partially around in my seat to alternately watch the road—Annie’s panic was not giving me confidence in her ability to keep us from a fiery death—and the surreal scene behind us. Wouldn’t you know it but the freaking horse turned off and followed our car onto the off-ramp.

Well, “off-ramp” is an exaggeration. It was an exit that led to a quiet, thickly treed little road with, thankfully, no traffic. We were still rolling along at about 7mph, just sort of taking in the situation and trying to figure out what to do now. The horse was trotting along contently behind us. I was glad it was off the highway but now we had to do something with it.

I would like to note that until this moment, I had been the calm rational one of the group. The other girls were shrieking hysterically and asking unhelpful questions like “where is the driver?” and “why is it following us?” I’m not saying they weren’t valid questions, but they weren’t helpful in addressing the situation at hand.

At that moment we saw a gap on the left side of the road between the dense hedges. It was a wide graveled driveway that led a ways back to a big barn, and farmland beyond that. That was hardly what caught my attention though. The driveway, from the leftmost side to the rightmost side, was a straight line of immobile Amish people.

That is not an exaggeration for the sake of storytelling. There was literally a wall of Amish men, women, and children facing the road, hands clasped together in front of their bodies, just standing. Waiting. Stone-faced. In complete silence. And then the horse turned purposefully into the driveway, where the people-gate opened enough to accommodate its entry. Like black-and-white-clad Children of the Corn robot zombies about to engulf their prey.

I turned to Annie. “Go.”

She gaped at me, dumbstruck. I had no time for her to process what had just happened. “Go. Annie, go.” I pointed at the road. “Go, go, go, go, GO!” I had never been more creeped out in my life.

My dutiful driver floored the accelerator, and we rocketed away from what I assume turned into an all-out shark-like feeding frenzy of blood, horsemeat, and bonnets. I count that as a narrow escape with our lives.

To this day, when I hear people talk about the Amish, I get awkward and flustered. Time has not made sense of what happened or lessened the weirdness of it. When people ask why I have such a bias against the Amish, I tell them this story (though, honestly, few believe me). I’m not a bigot; I don’t believe all Amish people are Children of the Corn robot zombies. Maybe it was just that particular commune of Amish that had been infected by Umbrella with a virus that turns people into Children of the Corn robot zombies. I assume I would have heard about it if it had spread to the technological world. So I guess it’s good news that it’s not contagious or that Umbrella was able to contain the infection.

Whenever I think about that random summer day, I always say to myself, “What the fuck?”