Randi Rom, spokesHon for the 8th annual Hon Fest in Hampden, is trying to explain some of the basics of Hon-ness as the air around her fills with the aerosol exhaust of Aqua Net hairspray.
"We're talking Lycra. We're talking Spandex," she said. "We're talking s-t-r-e-t-c-h, boas and fringe."
We're also talking teased hair, loud colors and prints, rollers in the hair, an accent that grew out of the great gathering of humanity that found its way to the headwaters of the Patapsco.
Yesterday, several hundred people strolled 36th Street and found their way to Cafe Hon, center of the universe for the celebration. Organizers had set up a Spam bowling alley outside the shop. An Elvis statue, circa 1957, pompadour and all, was in the alley.
Denise Whiting, who opened the cafe 10 years ago, served as a mistress of ceremonies, though a busy one. No need for her to deck herself out in full Hon. Leave that to the Miss Hon contestants, who were easy to spot in their guises that pulled together the essentials of the archetypical doyenne of Baltimore.
There were Hons past and present, including Bambi, aka Chiari Lattanzi, the Millennial Hon, winner of the 2000 competition. She also was the 1998 Bawlmerese contest winner. Not a bad resume for a 15-year-old Towson High student. She wore cat's-eye glasses, which are de rigueur "as long as they're pretty with some diamonds," she said.
Her hair, teased and piled high, was magnificent, a work of art crafted by her hairdresser, Elena Gouel. It took an hour to put together, she said, and two to take down. Turns out Aqua Net isn't all a Hon needs: Lattanzi said she had 53 bobby pins strategically placed in her 'do.
Hon E. Bunz, aka Jeanne Pugh, had plastic crabs and a Maryland state flag in her improbable pile, which looked like something Marie Antoinette might have worn in the court of Louis XVI in the 1700s, the age of really, really big hair. That, of course, would give this aspect of Hon-ness a decidedly highbrow and Euro lineage, a surprise to those who thought it started with John Waters.
When asked her age, Bunz, with hands hidden in a pair of white gloves, replied, "Oh, I can't tell you that, hon. Let's say under 30. Never ask a Hon her age. Just tell her she never looks a day older than yesterday."
She, too, had cat's-eye glasses. They're as essential in this subculture as Afro picks would be at a send-up of blaxploitation films.
"Every Hon, to be fashionable, should wear glasses like your grandma did," she said. "It emphasizes the shape of your face. It kind of lifts it up, you know?"
And she had a can of Aqua Net.
"Every Hon needs Aqua Net, like a soldier needs a rifle," she said, and another spritz filled the air.
Rom, the social historian of the day, said the idea, character and feel of Hon are "like what you remember from hanging out at your grandma's. It's really not exploitation. The whole idea is to pay a tribute to these people."
She waves aside the notion that Hon can be confined to an era - say, the late 1950s and early 1960s. And, no, Hon has not been in decline since those days, becoming virtually extinct, like bobby-soxers and zoot-suiters before her, remembered only in the faux Hons seen in traveling roadshows of Grease and reruns of Laverne and Shirley. Hon isn't about any specific period.
"Hon is a state of mind," she said.
It has the power to draw people hundreds of miles from home. Liz Burke and her friends came from New York for the fun of Hon. They even brought a case of Aqua Net to give to contestants.
Suzy Stupack, aka Tootsie Duvall, has ideas about Hon-ness, and they begin with animal prints. She wore leopard-print pants and blouse; even her sandals had leopard-print straps.
"Honey, they don't have this much leopard on the Serengeti," she said, laughing, then primping her massive pile of bleached hair. "You know what we say: `The higher the hair, the closer to heaven.'"
But clothes don't necessarily make the Hon. There is also a lifestyle, an attitude, an elemental sense of being that goes along with the trappings.
Some questions by which you can judge your Hon-ness: 1) What is your favorite box mix? 2) What is your favorite Spam appetizer - on Ritz crackers with a dollop of mayonnaise? 3) What is your favorite Elvis song? 4) How do you burp your favorite Tupperware? 5) Which do you prefer in your club basement: faux wood paneling, shag carpet, or linoleum? 6) Whom would you date in Baltimore? 7) What is your favorite piece of Tupperware? 8) Do you like duckpin bowling?
Madge Poopa, aka Jackie Garcia of Frederick, won the Miss Hon 2002 going away, winning a dream day in Hampden worth about $900 and pair of plastic pink flamingos. She had it all, the black stretch pants, the lime-green high heels, blouse and scarf, the cat's-eye glasses, the leopard-print toreador jacket, the teased hair reaching to heaven. And she has roots reaching back into the barely remembered time when Hon first walked The Avenue.
"I'm a true Hampden Hon, hon. There ain't nothing like this," she said. "I'm sure it was my hair. You got to have big hair to be a Hon."
You might see Madge in and around town, if you're lucky. But for a sure thing, be at the mayor's Christmas parade this year. She'll be there in all her glory, smiling that big smile and giving out the sacred salutation:
"Hey, hon. How ya' doin'?"