I walked into Nightmare New Yorkconfident, curious if the actors portraying the city's most chilling characters could shake me up, too.
The nervous excitement was palpable walking into The Clemente on the Lower East Side, the haunted house's venue and former P.S. 160, constructed in Neo-Gothic style around the turn of the century. Surely a ghost or two lives there the rest of the year.
The Suffolk Bar was open, serving cocktails as the line twisted and turned toward the front doors, closer to the sounds of screams and the flashing lights.
I had a red X painted on my forehead, giving the actors permission to give me a more intense experience. With slightly sweaty palms I walked inside, letting the family in front of me pave the way. Inside the first room, a Lenape Indian speaks in a strange language around a fire, as another woman writhes on the ground like something out of True Detective.
The Lenape, one of the myths this year’s show is based on, is believed to haunt the Dutch settlers who bought what is now known as Manhattan from the indigenous people for about $24, the story goes.
Other notorious New York legends played out in other rooms — Cropsey, NYC’s version of the boogeyman, Typhoid Mary and her friends, who twirled the ends of my hair and begged me to help them get out of the hospital.
The stars of the show were the most recent — a Bernhard Hugo Goetz character, Son of Sam and the mole people.
For the most part, I screamed when someone jumped at me from the shadows. But when I was told to face the wall, and had my head bagged with an opaque hood a la ISIS, I started to sweat and was immediately disoriented. I followed a zigzag path, holding on to a line, for what felt like minutes. With the bag removed, a man dressed as though he lived in the subway tunnels told me a rat was going to eat my face off.
Perhaps the most horrifying scene followed: a homeless man sticking his hand in my face, asking me to smell it, then reaching for his pants and making up and down motions. I’ll keep it clean — you know what kind of motions I’m talking about.
After I emerge from the haunted house in one piece, I talk to John Harlacker, who has been co-directing Nightmare New York since 2008. He's seen it all: pants peed, panic attacks and meltdowns.
“I’ve been wanting to do this theme for a while,” Harlacker, a Brooklyn native, tells me.“These myths are the fabric of our city.”
I left Nightmare NYC more pleased with being scared than fearing my night’s sleep ahead. But, as I walked across East Houston Street, my imagination went wild.
What if, on the ride home, a homeless man starts pleasuring himself? What if another subway rider is packing and crazy enough to shoot? What if an infectious disease sends me to an isolation chamber forever?
Crossing the street to get on the D train, I jump over two used, discarded condoms next to a chunky pile of puke. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should be more afraid of New York.