A bottle of Coke falls to the street and sprays foam on a reveler whose opaque sunglasses accent the night’s darkness. Elsewhere, fishnet stockings and low-cut bodices keep flesh barely at bay on the dance floor. I even heard of a young lady clad in saran wrap, with only photographs of her naked body covering her more controversial features. This is a Saturday night with the Pabst Brigade. (This title is not recognized by the actual members of The Brigade, but was invented by a smartass journalist to describe the debauchery.)
Now they gather at a house in North Portland to sacrifice virgins until midnight. As the clock strikes twelve, the Birthday Boy joins his peers on the bloody altar. But after the offering has been made, the guests do not have time to grieve. Their host rises from the dead in the form of Betty! To the glee of the guests, newborn Betty is determined to keep the party raging until the first sight of dawn’s rose-red fingers.
The dimly lit living room can barely accommodate a DJ, his gear and the dancers, but no one seems to mind. Now a mysterious burst of applause drifts outside. Since the cops have not yet shown up, there are people in the front yard. The applause subsides and the costumes, in this more spacious atmosphere, become visible.
Theme parties like this run the gamut, from the quotidian “Costume Party” to the counter-cultural “Sacrificial Virgin Party.” Many costume parties draw a few plainclothesmen, and many debauched throwdowns analogously draw a few shy people. Here in the front yard, an ’80s-hair-band groupie talks to a glowing angel while a Mexican wrestler grapples with a man in slacks and sweater. At parties, society collides with itself.
With the party-going community in Portland being as tightly knit as it is, the same guests tend to turn up at quite a variety of events, from birthday parties, to Robots vs. Princesses parties. Police officers are one such recurring visitor.
A squad car shows up now and double parks with all of its lights off. A few of the more glamorous dressers talk to the cop through his rolled-down car window. The party’s ambiance is exemplified by the fact that more eye-catching costumes lend their wearers an air of self-assurance. The cops are easily talked in to leaving, but a few minutes later a man in a blue, sequined dress menacingly informs everybody that the backyard will be just as much fun as the front. He seems to be the host, and he doesn’t look happy. Somebody yells something rude at him, and then the flock migrates to the backyard without further incident.
What are this party’s unspoken themes? “Poverty as Romance,” “Body as Artwork,” “Conversation as Amusement,” “Living Room as Cross-Cultural Petrie Dish” and “Dance Floor as Human-Sardine-Can.” The masks, paint and stockings, the introductions, guffaws and storytelling, the PBR, the records and the flirtation: On Saturday night, the same house that provides midweek sanctuary can teem with life’s variegated squalor and glory.