A Memoir by Michael Cannistraci
It could have been the fangs or the black cape that made the police suspicious. It was a nice cape, with a flame-red silk lining that complemented my gray eye shadow and black lipstick.
It was October 1980.My girlfriend’s dad, Jim, owned three Arco gas stations spread out in the San Fernando valley. The one in North Hollywood was particularly sumptuous, the Saks Fifth Avenue of gas stations. Customers could buy wine and they sold gourmet crackers instead of Pringles. For Halloween, Jim asked me if I would dress up as Count Dracula and hand out candy to the kids and take pictures with their parents. This wasn’t the first time someone had said “Hey you’re an actor, can you dress up like a pony, or sing at my birthday?” Normally it annoyed me, but he was a nice guy, so I said sure. My girlfriend was happy, what could go wrong?
I drove to the gas station that night. The air was warm from the Santa Ana winds, blowing newspapers across the wide street, which was lined with strip malls and fast-food restaurants. I parked, walked in the garage and asked one of the mechanics where the office was. He smiled wordlessly and pointed. My girlfriend and her father were talking in the cramped office filled with auto parts boxes. He took out the vampire suit and even I was impressed. It was a dazzling tuxedo and cape—it looked like a movie costume. My girlfriend helped me whiten my face and put on the lipstick and eyeshadow. She and her dad wished me luck and left. I walked out into the garage and both mechanics just stopped and stared. One said “Shit, bro, you like a real vampire.” It was showtime.
It mostly went according to plan. I handed out candy to the kids, took some pictures with the parents. I did a little sales pitch: come back for an oil change, replace your wipers. Some of the kids wanted nothing to do with me. I looked too damn scary. One mother tried to get her terrified four-year-olds out of the car. “Please sweeties, stop screaming and take some candy from the nice vampire man.” I can’t blame them, being asked to take candy from a white-faced guy with blackened eyes, the Santa Ana winds lifting his cape in the dark night. If I were them, I wouldn’t take my Snickers bars either.
I was talking to a middle-aged couple dressed as Prince Charming and Cinderella when all hell broke loose. I heard shouting and two guys wearing Jimmy Carter masks ran out of the garage. The mechanics chased after them, then one of the guys took out a pistol and shot the window. The mechanics scampered quickly back into the garage. Glass shattered, and the two robbers began firing in the air. Prince Charming and Cinderella both cursed and sped off in their car and there I was in the open with my cape flying. I crouched down under one of the gas pumps, which in retrospect was stupid. The robbers took off, tires squealing. They ran over a metal oil change sign, dragging it for about fifty feet, sparks whizzing, before it landed on the sidewalk. Then they were gone.
The cops came quickly. Two uniformed policemen interviewed the mechanics. Two detectives were assigned to me, a tall horse-faced cop who looked like Herman Munster and a short sparkplug of a guy with a blond crew cut.
Herman Munster looked me over like I had just stepped on his cat. “So, who are you supposed to be?”
I was thinking, Is this guy kidding me? but I played nice. “I’m Count Dracula, the owner asked me to do it.”
“Oh yeah? And why would he do a thing like that?” the short detective asked.
“Uhh, because it’s Halloween?”
They both looked at each other, as if I were trying to con them. Then they gave me the stink eye.
“It seems a little funny, you being here, dressed up in this outfit, and the station gets robbed.”
“Not really, It’s Halloween and the robbers treated themselves to some cash. Can I go
now? I need to get back in my coffin before sunrise.”
“Smart-ass, we got places we can take smart asses like you,” Herman Munster said.
Suddenly I was aware that these two clowns thought I was an accomplice. One of the uniformed cops came over.
“The owner just called; Dracula’s story checks out. He’s an actor or something.”
The two detectives looked crestfallen.
“Alright, you can go, but don’t leave town. We may have more questions.”
“I was supposed to go Transylvania for a Bar Mitzvah.”
“Beat it, weirdo.”
I got in my car and headed for the freeway. A friend had told me about a party in Santa Monica. It would be a shame to waste the costume.
* * *
Michael Cannistraci began his creative journey as an actor. Having graduated from UCLA, he worked for thirty years acting in theatre and television. In mid-life he answered a new calling and completed a Master’s degree at Hunter College School of Social Work. He currently works as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. His essays have been published in Entropy Magazine, Literary Medical Messenger, The Evening Street Review, the Bangalore Review, The Dillydoun Review ,East by Northeast and Stonecrop magazine He lives with his wife in New York City. (He/His/Him)