Out of the mist on Saturday night, somewhere in the nether-regions between Brooklyn and Queens, sat several U-Hauls, inconspicuous amidst the idle 18-wheelers of industrial wasteland New York. But as the clock struck nine, with the air even more pregnant with the threat of eventual downpour, the trucks opened up their gates and rolled down their ramps—marking the fateful return of the annual Lost Horizon Night Market.
In over 15 trucks, and some other customized vehicles, carnival proprietors set up shop—following the simple rule that nothing could be exchanged for money, and that in a few hours, this would disappear, as if nothing had taken place along this desolate stretch proximate to the BQE. In a city known for extracting every last cent from an individual, and where everything is on sale, the night market just hits a bit harder. For the proprietors inside each box truck, it's an opportunity to invite people into their 22-foot world, and then maybe smash an onion in front of them as everybody screams "catharsis!"
"This night is all about possibility," Kate Marie Sclavi, one of the organizers, told me. "Everything in the known world has potentiality for magic. A U-Haul can become anything." She's one of the "Choosers" for the annual tradition, which dates back to 2009. She, along with a few other people, scope out some parts of the city that would be inviting to a sudden carnival, far from residential areas, and forgotten enough to avoid the prying eyes of the police.
Sclavi pointed out that in the U-Haul rental contract, there's nothing that forbids turning the truck into a swamp witch hangout, a place to store alien eggs, or a church to an electric god that communicates solely through drone music.
At "Slice World," carnival-goers were invited to perform synchronized dances, to determine whether they were worthy to receive a slice of delicious wood-fired pizza. (I performed a short dance with a stranger, still messed it up, but was somehow allowed to enter the slice world).
A few trucks down, poker players wagered whatever was in their pockets to ante into the Pocket Poker Saloon. The pot I was playing for consisted of a CVS receipt, an "I Voted" NYC pen (unusable), and a weed gummy (strong). A pair of sevens took the hand, with the winner remarking, "Well, I wagered that gummy anyway"—ventured, but very little gained! Very much in spirit with the evening.
Jonah Levy, another one of the organizers, and a co-founder of Shadow Traffic, an art collective that specializes in immersive experiences like the Night Market, explained that organizers aim to make sure that attendees are kept in the dark about exactly where the market is set to take place—to both discourage a crush of people, and to maintain the mystery surrounding the event. And while the lines might lengthen as the night goes on, the possible worlds stemming from inside each truck make the wait easier to bear.
In one, bespectacled aliens explained that they needed assistance in growing human eggs (an actual large egg, which are apparently delicious).
In the Church of Electric God, single visitors could commune with the deity in front of a wall of speakers.
Nearby, a tattoo artist gave out stick-and-pokes to brave souls out of a custom-built trailer.
At the Forestival truck, revelers could dance the night away in a majestic psychedelic landscape.
Heat, time, and the biology of a single corn kernel, were the subject of the deep study of popcorn at the Pop Art truck.
And finally, at the most appearance-altering truck, a bunch of bee-hived divas from another dimension demanded donations of human hair to help fuel their potions, leading to one gentleman (not me, I hid like a wuss) having their testicles shaved, while another went for the waxing treatment (also not me, I ran).
But just as quickly as the carnival arrived, it dissolved like tears in the rain, as a downpour sent carnival-goers scurrying into the shelter of the nearest U-Haul, or deeper into the city's industrial heartland, where the trucks were ordinary and unadorned. All left a bit weirder, a bit surer of the potential for momentary magic, even in the most banal of settings.