Filed under: Chicago, Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: Big Wicked Online Pageant, Club 950, costumes, Halloween, zombies
When I first read about The Big Wicked Online Pageant on the Sprawling Ramshackle Compound, I thought for a minute that I might just be able to find an old Halloween photo of mine somewhere in the stacks of albums and boxes of loose photos in my mother’s closet in Peoria. Then I was hit with the awful truth, that my childhood Halloweens never quite lived up to my expectations. On the plus side were the costumes, spooky decorations and obscene overconsumption of candy, but the two things that kept my Halloweens from achieving Dionysian transcendence were the sweaty plastic Ben Cooper masks that obstructed both my breathing and my peripheral vision (great for crossing streets in the dark!), and the well-intended but nonetheless overbearing presence of my mother. An awkward adolescent with bad hearing and no friends, I missed out on the stage where kids are old enough to trick or treat in groups without escorts. Instead, I just stole my little brother’s hard-earned Halloween candy and gained weight.
My delayed adolescence finally arrived at 25, when I left my first husband and started going out. The peak of it occurred between 1985 and 1987 before I hooked up with my current partner, but for those first few years before I went back to school in 1990, we remained to some degree creatures of the night with relatively undemanding jobs and few other responsibilities. My best friend moved to Chicago in 1986 and sometimes joined in the fun, as she did on Halloween of 1988:
That’s Marianne on the left, next to the Union Jack. I was extremely jealous of her apron, which said “Be nice to me, I had a hard day.” We called ourselves The Dead Housewives of Downer’s Grove, and we fully embraced our zombie identities that night at Club 950. As much as I may have resented being by far the mumsier dead housewife, I threw myself into that performance with the zeal of an undead method actor. Please note that we prefigured the zombie flash mobs by many years and should hence be worshipped as the highly advanced trendsetters we were.
As you may have guessed, this was no ordinary Sunday night at Club 950, the place where everybody knew my name. October 30, 1988 was the club’s annual Halloween costume contest, and we aimed to win. Accordingly, we spent the entire day before that combing thrift stores and costume shops for our gear and makeup and orchestrating our schtick. Marianne may very well have had the coolest zombie housewife apron ever in the world, but I had THE BABY, and I knew what to do with it. Called to the stage for our moment in the spotlight, I dragged that baby by the feet and stared vacantly into space while Marianne swept away pitifully at nothing with her broom and the crowd cheered and applauded.
We remained zombies on our way back from the stage and for as long as possible, because we had become our characters. We also totally won the contest, splitting the $50.00 prize. The real triumph was not in the money, but in that frozen moment of the perfect Halloween, free from past encumbrances of plastic masks and maternal oppression.
I’m sure there was alcohol involved as well, because that was what I did at 950. As the place where everybody knew my name, it was also the place where I sometimes got drinks on the house. These freebies made me feel both inebriated and appreciated, even if I never did understand or share Noe’s fondness for that sickeningly sweet concoction of Japanese vodka and peach schnapps known as the Silk Panties. My financial condition at the time was such that I could hardly refuse any non-beer offers of liquid largesse, and I could hardly risk offending those who had offered me such a warmly shambolic refuge when I stopped going to the Orbit Room because I didn’t want to run into my ex.
Given the occasion, I was probably still moderately toasted when my partner and I boarded the Red Line to head North to Rogers Park. Still fully costumed and made up and probably a bit the worse for wear, I saw a little girl in hysterics at the macabre vision of yours truly in full zombie housewife mode. I waved and nodded, trying to reassure her that I wouldn’t hurt her, but she just cried harder and clung to her mother. All prizes aside, that was when I knew my costume really was a success.
Some 20-odd years later, Marianne lives in Seattle and we don’t get to see each other very often. She has three kids, I have one, and we no longer possess the existential freedoms or the constitutions that we had as young women on the loose in the Chicago nightlife. She has said more than once that she regrets not doing more of everything, but I cannot echo that sentiment because I went through a phase where I did do more. I sometimes went out three nights a week in 1985 and 1986 and it was grand, but even by the time of the Club 950 Halloween party, I was nesting with my partner farther north and had cut back on my clubbing considerably. It was the beginning of the end of an era that finally arrived in earnest when I went back to school in 1990.
Maybe it’s because I had the opportunity to be so immersed in the club world for a time, but I tend to be more grateful to have had those experiences than I am regretful of the ones I missed. Many of those nights in the clubs blend together, but that whole night of winning the costume contest represented the fulfillment of a lifetime’s worth of Halloween fantasies and I could not imagine having smeared on that greasepaint with anyone other than Marianne. We may not have had as great a quantity of experiences as she would have liked, but we shared some peak experiences and that is priceless.
I still have that robe hanging in a closet in my basement, and I’ll never part with it. I guess I should explain it to my spouse and daughter so they can save it for posterity if I pass away, because otherwise they would be a bit confused as to how it fits into my fashion scheme of black and more black. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a Halloween that fun again, although I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I would have bottled that night if I could have, but the next best thing is to have that moment captured in the picture, while our makeup was still fresh.
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