The maharaja of Spokane

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That’s a big pumpkin. It’s not quite as large as that which won the Alaska State Fair blue ribbon last year, but it’s large enough at 84-pounds to qualify as an unlikely pumpkin to adorn the front stoop of a house at Halloween. Ryan smiles and turns the pretty side to face out. Brian and Sheryl want to carve it into a jack-o-lantern. A pumpkin this size could feed all of Spokane with a pie each! Ryan says for now it shall greet guests on the porch — unmutilated.

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I’m staying in Spokane with my friend Brian and his house mates Ryan, Sheryl, and Ben. Ryan owns the place and works mainly from home, although he’s seen all over Spokane and the Pacific northwest involved in an impressive list of community outreach programs that help homeless children or people living with HIV and AIDS. On top of being an incredible person, he claims Halloween as a favorite holiday and each year hosts a themed costume party for friends and family. I’m lucky enough to be in Spokane at the end of October to experience the show. The pumpkin on the stoop is merely a beginning, and during my first week in the city, everyone cleans and helps to transform the house into the Moulin Rouge.

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In the meantime, I get to know Brian’s house mates. Sheryl is the lady of the house. She downhill bikes for sport and coordinates the estrogen and testosterone for the group. Ben and Brian definitely claim reign over the kitchen and all things food. Ryan is the ring leader of sort who keeps everyone on task and in search of stability in life, a stability he exudes with grace. Together they make a sometimes dysfunctional but otherwise supportive family of friends. Everyone welcomes me into the home and makes me happy to be in the company of such wonderful strangers.

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Brian works during the week, and this leaves me mornings and afternoons to myself. Each morning, I wake with Brian to wish him well at work. After a few more hours of sleep, I claim a regimented schedule of showering, eating, and journaling, but mostly I just shower, eat, and dink around the Internet. And whenever Ryan or Sheryl asks for help or recommends something other than showering, eating, or journaling, I oblige. By the time Brian returns from work in the evenings, he’s tired, I’m wired, and I’m back to dinking around the Internet.

The hardest decision of the week is to choose a costume for Saturday’s party. The hardest part of the hardest decision of the week is that it’s Saturday before I start looking. I pile into a car with Ben, Kevin, Sheryl, and Brian. We’re headed to the Spokane Civic Theater to find and rent costumes.

The theater’s upstairs is guarded by a “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” sign. Behind the sign, people poke through rows of clothes. Hats climb to the ceiling in piles from small to large, bowler to cowboy. Drawers of accessories offer cummerbunds in a rainbow of colors with and without pleats. Organized by time period, color, and then size, the theater’s wardrobe is a clothes queen’s wet dream.

I think each of us has in mind how we want our costumes to look. I’m duplicating a look I used at a party in Alaska. It may not fit Ryan’s Moulin Rouge theme, but it won’t be without allure. Brian sifts through a rack of tuxedo jackets and pants. Ben and Sheryl are chest deep in lingerie, determined to turn Sheryl into the lady of the evening. And after an hour of squeezing small hats over my ears and frowning in a mirror at a bow tie that just won’t tie, I put my name to a bowler cap, bow tie, and pants. Brian resolves to choose a costume from Ryan’s basement. Lastly, as if waiting for an audience, Sheryl announces her success, pokes a single leg past the dressing room door, and then emerges looking absolutely saucy and meretricious in a contrasting black and red boa, hat, and bustier. She shows off evening gloves and heels to match — wow.

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At home, the evil maharaja and his cast of characters come to life at the Moulin Rouge. Ryan dons his trousers, vest, and puffy turban. A friend paints a sparkly mask around his eyes. Kevin and Ben descend the stairs in matching tuxedos with top hats and diamond capped canes. Sheryl looks even better than before, now with lacy leggings and a full boa borrowed from Ryan. Brian transforms into a faerie for the evening, and I finally remember how to tie a bow tie. Let the party begin!

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Dozens of people arrive over the course of the evening. A bubble maker and technicolor globe announce the party to the city. Guests walk past the giant pumpkin and into a room adorned with sheets of burgundy and accents of gold. Overhead lighting spotlights a jeweled elephant bust and other pieces of the evil maharaja’s collection. The basement explodes with noise and energy. Lasers, smoke, and disco lights cover the room. Music plays continuously to the beat of life, and daring soles take to dancing among mummified corpses and animated ghouls.

The party is spectacular display of costume creativity. It’s as if the Spokane Civic Theater’s wardrobe spewed itself into Ryan’s living room for the evening. And despite the potential for dramatic meltdown, the worst of the evening revolves around a boisterous lady proclaiming she’s peed in the front yard. Otherwise, everyone dances, drinks, chats, and smiles the night away. I’m introduced to a number of people whom I shan’t be able to recognize in real dress. Brian blesses us all with a bruschetta that kills.

In the wee hours of the morning, guests disappear. Some leave pieces of their costumes strewn about the house. Red and white feathers of Sheryl’s boa float throughout the room. Ryan and Ben close down the house once the last of the guests leaves. The bubble maker putters to a stop. Flashing lights go solid and then dim. The beats of life from the basement find rest. And finally, the Moulin Rouge of Spokane goes to sleep.

The next morning over breakfast, hilarity abounds. We trade jabs at each other for the most ridiculous of things — things caught so conveniently on camera but not always remembered. What was thought forgotten is now recorded for all to see; no one escaped the eye of the lens. Whether captured in an awkward dance move, pinching a body part, or peering into the nether regions of another — everyone seems to have at least one story of the night before. And I have the images as proof.

Brian

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