[Editor’s note: Before the NorShor Theatre became a spiffed up Duluth Playhouse venue it hosted a variety of concerts and parties, such as the annual Boogieman Project at Halloween time. For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago he paid a visit to the NorShor and filed the report below, originally published in the Ripsaw newspaper.]
I was completely ripped. To the north of me stood a minotaur. To the south was Ernie from Sesame Street. To the east was a person dressed in about four hundred flashing colored lights. To the west was Kool-Aid Man. No, it wasn’t a bad case of delirium tremens, it was the NorShor Theatre’s fourth annual Halloween party, otherwise known as “The Boogieman Project.”
The NorShor was all decked out for a party of massive proportions. Live bands rocked the house in the main downstairs theater while all manner of freaks and weirdos got funky on the dance floor — a space in front of the stage where the seating was long ago removed. There was a bar setup in the theater to complement the usual one in the balcony mezzanine lounge, where even more bloody surgeons and Star Wars characters drank it up and raised hell to even more live music. God, I love Halloween.
I skulked around for some time, just sort of taking in the atmosphere before I actually spoke to anyone. Just my luck, the first friend I made that night happened to be working at the worst kissing booth ever. He wore a big wool overcoat with nothing on underneath. Nasty red sores rimmed his mouth, and he chewed a cheap cigar. He looked like he hadn’t showered in a week.
“Five bucks a smooth,” he announced. “Limited tonguing is negotiable.”
At this point Penn Jillette, orator of the magic duo Penn & Teller, walked by with a bunch of dynamite strapped to his chest. George Washington strolled behind him looking bored. I took this as my cue to go and hunt down a drink.
Getting a beer at the bar was like getting a loaf of bread in Moscow. The place had a bar on each level, but even so, it was all Wonder Woman and the Devil could do to serve out liquor fast enough. I lined up behind a guy being attacked by a flock of small birds, who had his arm around an escaped lunatic woman. Both of them were covered in sweat from dancing. Suddenly Bird Boy turned to me and said, “Were you downstairs when Blondie was on stage? They were doing ‘Rapture’ and Deborah Harry gave up the stage to this guy — a DJ — and, well, you just had to see it.” I knew who he was talking about. It was this scrawny DJ regular from the Starfire Lounge sessions at Fitger’s Brewhouse who resembled someone from the British group Madness. He rapped for about six or eight minutes about how we were all gonna party like it’s 1984.
Finally Wonder Woman pointed from behind the bar at my new friend Bird Boy, who held up four fingers and yelled “Hacker-Pschorr,” then turned to me to note how the trick is to order in quantity when the bar is busy. “Besides,” he added, “we completely sweated out our buzz. Me and the escaped lunatic gotta reintoxicate.”
After standing in line for as long as my patience could hold out, I fought my way to the bar like a hungry wolverine and got myself a bottle of beer. Fortified, I decided to make a little tour and check out the nooks and crannies. “I need to find the real weirdos,” I thought to myself.
As if on cue, the band Father Hennepin kicked in with its bizarre brand of beer-and-Jesus-oriented honky tonk. Somebody told me later that the band members were wearing costumes, which surprised me. I could have sworn they always dressed that way.
The thing that surprised me most, however, was that about 10 percent of the crowd consisted of regular people. When they decided to come to the Boogieman Project, they apparently had no idea how out of place they’d be without costumes. All of them lurked in the corners, embarrassed about how regular they were. Meanwhile, the regular people outside on Superior Street froze in place or slowed their cars to gawk at the parade of fabulous freaks pouring in and out of the doors and milling about on the street corners. More than a few of them were apparently impressed by the Grim Reaper, because just three nights later they elected him to the Duluth City Council to represent the third district.
I also couldn’t help noticing there were fewer slutty vampires and dominatrices this year, replaced by slutty nurses and slutty belly-dancers. The number of men in drag seems to go up annually. It’s as though every repressed fantasy makes its way to the surface on this one night.
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