Halloween: The freaks came out in force, but the annual street party and pub crawl was mild by Fells Point standards An Eerie CALM

November 02, 1996|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,SUN STAFF

Rude A doesn't look up as he counts his receipts. It's just after 7 Halloween night and he is scrambling. The owner of Stikky Fingers, a Fells Point punk store whose clientele seems to celebrate ghouls year-round, wants out before all hell breaks loose. "It gets too crazy, I'm getting out."

The woman behind the cash register shows her agreement with a deep nod -- her face is smeared with ash-white paint, lips indigo, jet-black hair gelled into a point. Even though it's Halloween, she's not necessarily in costume.

As dusk settles on the neighborhood that's known for rowdiness every Thursday night, the usual Fells Pointers shudder in fear of what's billed as the city's biggest freak show.

In the end, Rude needn't have worried, the annual parade/bar crawl/mass congregation of the evening left his shop untouched, and the neighbors snoring.

In Detroit, buildings burn. In New York, vandalism rages. In San Francisco, exhibitionism reigns. In Baltimore, Halloween is still a self-contained, well-mannered costume party.

The Fells Point party, which has grown in size and reputation in recent years, draws about 10,000 partyers, according to police. Ten thousand drunken but polite yuppies and college kids.

"I slept through the night," said Bud Billings, a member of the Fells Point Homeowners Association, whose members normally cringe at the thought of Fells Point revelry. Billings lives a mere stone's throw from the party's epicenter, but Friday he reports only chatter drifted to his window.

The Halloween crowd dances and drinks, sings and scopes, and then they all go home. It's like any other Thursday night, only this time they do it incognito.

The party doesn't really get started until all the little trick-or-treaters are home with their candy.

Just before 9 p.m., a hearse with hydraulic shocks bounces furiously and spews water from its radiator as it inches its way around Broadway, Thames and Lancaster streets, marking the unofficial start of the celebration. The costumed-to-uncostumed ratio widens by the minute. Throngs gather along the tiny block of Thames near the harbor to gawk at decorated cars and scope out the costumes.

A 6-foot blond in thigh-high fishnets rolled just below her French maid uniform strides toward the Pretzel Twist stand on the corner of Thames and Broadway. She orders french fries, in a voice maybe three octaves lower than a female can physically go. The men who did double-takes as she walked by blush. Drag still shocks in Baltimore.

The atmosphere is boisterous but amiable. People line the street, five rows thick, straining to see the costumes and cars go by. They point and gawk, like kids at their elementary school parade.

Some get-ups are more sophisticated, though. Sarette and Lori Frazier, wearing bloodied hospital blues, are positively repulsive. The Carroll County sisters are dressed as organ transplant technicians, offering their giant plastic baggy filled with brownish syrup and miniature plastic organs to the crowd.

Across the street, outside The Admiral's Cup, Joe LaTona, a Catholic school teacher from Ellicott City, has the evening's Elvis competition nailed. He's wearing a gold, one-piece jumpsuit (his mother bought it for him) and sunglasses and a wig he found at a novelty store. But, he insists, "This is real!" grabbing the black hair that spills from his V-neck. He swivels, Elvis-like. "These hips are natural. I don't have to try to pick up women. In this outfit, they're all over me." Joe is about as lewd as it gets tonight.

Sizing up the lines

Without any willful lawlessness, the sheer depth of the crowd -- personal space had disappeared just after 10 p.m. -- forces traffic to halt. But by 10: 30, the crowd fractures, forming lines in front of several bars.

Outside Max's, bouncers herd the waiting throng: "Move back, we have to let the weirdos through." The waiting throng follows instructions.

In the rowdiest behavior of the night, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses -- a Unabomber -- lights his ersatz package bomb on fire. It's out within a minute.

Inside the bars, the Hallmark-style decorations -- orange and black crepe paper, cotton cobwebs, blown-up plastic pumpkins -- lend an innocent air to a particularly intense pick-up scene. From behind masks, the lines are flying faster than usual.

"I think tonight people are drinking more, and when you combine that with pseudo-disguises, it's less inhibiting. A lot of shy guys have come up to me tonight," says Kyra Richardson, a Hunt Valley 25-year-old in a long, slinky brown dress, blond wig and painted-on beauty mark.

"Basically, tonight, if you want to take a risk you can. I'm talking to a lot of people I normally wouldn't talk to," says Lou Umerlick, a 23-year-old graphic designer. In a white hard hat, patchwork jacket and jeans, he's a "hippie construction worker." "I know I look the same, but it's almost like, because I have a costume on, whatever I do, it won't come back to haunt me." So to speak.

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