May 08, 2014

halloween in san francisco

A Victorian flat, a jeweler and a chainsaw.

It’s Halloween night in San Francisco, call it 1993 or 1994. A few of us spend the early part of the night on Castro, walking through the huge crowd, enjoying the costumes, the chaos and a few drinks. Now we’re at a friend’s party, tucked into a Victorian flat just off Alamo Square, with probably a hundred other early 20-somethings. There’s noise, there’s heat, there’s beer, it’s crowded. Friends and friends-of-friends are dressed as cops or nurses or waitresses or rock stars or ghosts or whatever. I’m in the whatever category.

I strike up a conversation with a guy wearing a leisure suit, a medallion and a pinky ring.

“How are you?”

“Wonderful, wonderful.”

“And who are you?”

“Tom Shane, Shane Company Jewelers.”

I do a double take, because this guy has the voice nailed. (If you live in the Bay Area you know what I’m talking about.) He has the mannerisms, too, if you can imagine the mannerisms of a person you’ve only ever heard on the radio.

We talk for a few minutes and Tom never breaks character. I find this highly amusing, because who the hell knows what Tom Shane looks like, how great is it to base a Halloween costume on a voice, where the hell did he get that outfit and seriously, he never breaks character. Not even for a wink.

After Tom leaves to impress another guest in a whatever costume, I pump a beer into a red plastic cup and pick a spot to watch the party. By now I’m in the back of the kitchen in the back of this railroad flat…as far back in the house as you can get. A little while later a guy that’s maybe 6’ 4” walks into the room, wearing a pair of beat up Timberlands, ripped jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and a hockey mask. He’s carrying a chainsaw.

It takes me a moment to process this. He’s carrying a chainsaw.

He walks towards me slowly, ignoring everyone else in the room. He pulls the cord on the saw, it doesn’t start. He pulls the cord again, it sputters a bit and catches. There’s blue smoke, and the noise from the two-stroke engine drowns out the music, the conversation and everything in my head. Because he’s still walking towards me.

When he’s about three or four feet away he raises up the chainsaw to chest level, points it right at me and lunges. I freeze, panicked. He presses the guide bar into my chest, right above my heart. I scream, try to get out of the way. He pushes me into the wall and rips off his mask. I’m instantly sober but blind with terror so it takes me a moment to realize it’s my friend Ralph, and of course there’s no chain on the saw. He laughs and laughs and laughs and goes to get me a fresh beer while I start breathing again.

I haven’t seen Ralph in a long, long time. When people ask about him I tell them that we had a falling out…over a chainsaw. And though I’ve never met him, Tom Shane is still my friend in the diamond business. He’s open weekdays til eight, Saturdays and Sundays til five, and online at shane-co-dot-com.