- The theme of the party was Women Outlaws of the Wild West. I didn't really have a costume but ended up fashioning a “leather” vest out of a paper bag and wearing it over a plaid shirt. Then I accessorized with boots, a hat, and a belt with holster-like pouches that Samurai had from Burning Man. I said I was Annie Oakley. The Quesadilla took the paper bag idea and made a dress, and I braided his long black hair so that he could go as Pocahontas. The fact that Pocahontas was neither an outlaw nor from the Wild West didn't matter, especially when his girlfriend showed up as John Smith, with her golden hair pulled into a low pony tail and a vest over a large button down. Samurai went as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The host of the party had fashioned cardboard guns for us and had drawn on a blue chin tattoo a la Olive Oatman, who was captured by Native Americans when she was thirteen and subsequently tattooed by her captors. We ate black bean chili and drank whiskey.
- Samurai was wearing a beret and a striped shirt and had drawn on a thin mustache that spiraled up at the ends. He was holding a tiny fork and chasing TQ around the house. TQ wore the giant shell from his hermit crab costume, which for the night was serving as a snail shell. As he ran around the house, he unraveled the roll of saran wrap that hung from his neck, leaving his slime trail for all to step on. My friend and I went as Pro vs. Con, he as a tennis pro, I as a convict. Myrtle and her friend were Fact vs. Fiction, Myrtle rocking the straight-edged librarian look, with facts written all over her arms, while her friend wore fairy wings, jackalope antlers, and a unicorn horn. White vs. Wheat made about 40 grilled cheese sandwiches, half on wheat, half on white, and passed them out throughout the party.
- The Halloween party had an Under the Sea theme, so there were several jellyfish, a couple narwhales, a scuba diver, a manta ray, and a coral reef. Dolores was the Titanic; our other friend was the iceberg. I went as seaweed, dressing in a green jumpsuit and wrapping green streamers in my hair and around my arms and wrists so that it hung down in long strands. TQ displayed his usual aptitude for costume making and made a disemboweled sperm whale costume. The whale's giant head was complete with a gaping, tooth-filled mouth, which hung over TQ's own head, and its guts spilled out whenever he unzipped his hoodie. Even Buddy the dog showed up in daisy dukes, which were later removed to reveal bikini bottoms - probably the most hilarious costume of the night. There were trays full of blue jello shots, each of which contained a Swedish Fish.
- I don't remember too much from the Jungle Cats in Party Hats event, which was a few years ago. Mostly, I just know what I wore: a small, stretchy, velvet leopard-print T-shirt that I found at a thrift store for $3; a cheetah-print fleece blanket that my aunt had given to me one year for Christmas and which I wrapped around my lower half like a sarong; eye liner that I used to paint on cat eyes, a black nose, and whiskers; and a small cardboard top hat that I had constructed and labeled with a Sharpie – so as to not be mistaken for something else – “PARTY HAT!” Bootsie had made puppy chow (not dog food, but Chex covered with melted chocolate and peanut butter, then coated with powdered sugar), and was distributing it from a huge black garbage bag. When I realized that the cylinder of my top hat was open rather than covered on top, I grabbed handfuls of the puppy chow and dumped it into the hat, then went around the party offering the goodies from my lowered head.
- My friend's housewarming was a highlighter party. We were told to wear white shirts and/or neon colors, and upon arrival we found baskets full of green, blue, pink, and yellow highlighters and a living room lit completely by black lights, with smoke diligently puffing out of a smoke machine. We promptly drew all over each other's shirts, faces, and arms and drank some sort of cocktail made with tonic that glowed under the black light, and which kept us dancing for quite a while.
- As a good English major, I made my birthday potluck literary themed and told everyone to come with a creatively-named dish that referenced something from literature. For kicks, I told them to dress as a character from a YA or children's book, too. As a result, the attendees included the Paper Bag Princess, Holden Caulfield, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Stuart Little, Captain Hook, and myself as Ms. Frizzle. Dishes included A Kale of Two Sautes; For Whom the Bell Pepper Tolls; The Crepes of Wrath; The Taming of the Stew; The Rolled Lamb and the Sea (Salt); The Loin, The Sandwich, and the Bordeaux; Tart of Darkness; and James and the Giant Peach Cobbler, with Tequila Mockingbird as a delightful libation. A smashing success.
- Another friend's birthday celebration took the form of a Lisa Frank party – bright colors and a particular emphasis on dolphins, unicorns, and kitties. Costumes were pretty outrageous, TQ taking the opportunity to don his much-loved gold lamé short shorts and not much else. Dolores won the coveted “Best Embodiment of Lisa Frank” prize for her multi-colored bathing suit and panda headdress and was awarded a glittery plastic unicorn. Face paint was ubiquitous. So were stick-on tattoos. There was a snack table of cupcakes and gummy worms and another table with stickers, bubbles, and body paint. A Skip-It made an appearance. So did a piñata. Later on, some fake mustaches found their way to various faces. It was fairly epic.
So what's the deal with theme parties? Most of the above occurred within the last year; all occurred within the last several years. There are many that I chose not to even include. I am 27 years old, and this is a thing. One of my coworkers asks me almost every week, “So what crazy party are you going to tonight?” and then I spend a good five minutes describing the crazy party I'm going to that night, because there is always a crazy party. I never answer, “It's a party where we're all going to drink beer and talk to each other.”
Consider the following:
“You're not allowed to wear any piece of clothing on the body part it's actually meant for.”
“You have to bring a dish that looks like a totally different dish, like mashed potatoes made to look like spaghetti.”
“You have to come as your spirit Muppet.”
I just made those up, but it's reasonable to assume that we'll actually have one or more of those parties within the year. I had thought maybe this was a Portland thing, but I was just telling some new local friends about all of these theme parties, and they were blown away. One of them said that at first she thought to herself, “Wow, how can I become friends with these people?” but as I continued to describe elaborate party after elaborate party, she became increasingly anxious to the point of being totally overwhelmed just hearing me talk about it. I told her she was invited to the safari party this weekend, but I doubt she's interested. The others agreed that this is not normal and that normal people just have friends over and then, you know, interact. Without costumes.
So perhaps the question should be not “what's up with theme parties” but “what's up with my friend group?” Are we just extremely creative, or is there some disturbing psychological reason we feel the need for a theme every time we get together? Do we hold such low estimations of each other's charm that we think we're not interesting enough to simply meet up and hang out? Do we need a giant manatee costume as fodder for conversation because we have nothing else to talk about? Perhaps we're simply clinging to more innocent times, when dress-up parties were par for the course. Of course, that was when we were six, and we are now mid to late twenty-somethings with bills to pay and taxes to file. But I guess that's the point.
When it comes to my friends, at least, I think we just want an excuse to get silly and spend a day cutting things out of newspaper and cardboard. It's not like we never have normal get togethers, and it's certainly not the case that we have nothing else to talk about. Our parties are like other people's parties, they just require a little more prep work. But once you're there in your spandex jumpsuit, you're still going to drink beer and talk about the latest internet meme, just like everyone else. Except, you know, SPANDEX JUMPSUITS. And what's wrong with that?
Many of us have jobs we don't necessarily care about. We don't really know what we're doing with our lives. We have to occasionally do things like get our teeth cleaned and fill out W-4s. It can be boring. It can be soul-sucking. So we spice things up a bit and force ourselves to spend thought and time on something that's completely ridiculous and goofy. It's kind of a relief to put effort into a task that's just for fun. Do you really want to spend all your mental energy on adult things? No. You don't.
And so, I defend theme parties. They're fun. They're silly. They're creative. They make for great stories. And they make for great slide slows, which can only enhance a blog, so I'm told. And now, to figure out a safari costume. Frick.
Doffing my top hat to you,
Your Portland Twenty-Something