Friday, October 29, 2010

halloween costumes: the search for the "sexy"

Ah..Halloween, where men get to dress in drag and women like to dress like, well, whores, without anyone even questioning their lack of judgment, propriety or breeding.  Even though I am going to be away Halloween weekend riding my mountain bike in state college, October 31st falls on a Sunday this year so I will be back in time to unload the car, walk the dogs, take a nap, and head downtown for the Henri David Halloween Ball.  For those of you who do not know what this night of debauchery entails, I encourage you to google it and look at some of the photos from years past.  Henri David is well-known in the Philadelphia gay scene, as has been hosting this party every October 31st, since 1968.  The costumes can be pretty elaborate and the judging is at midnight.  So since I had a formal dinner party for my family two weekends ago, and a cocktail party/bonfire this past weekend at 3434, and this All Hallows weekend as I said will be hightailing it out of town, I realized that I needed to come up with a costume ASAP.  The search had started at the beginning of the month, but now that my social schedule has displaced my racing schedule I have not had a minute to write any of it down.  But you're in for a treat  if you prefer pictures to words, let me tell ya.

I love the macabre, so Halloween has always held a fascination for me.   Anyone who has visited 3434 will find walls covered in art reproductions, mostly scenes from literature and greek mythology, as well as the mythology from the Judeo-Christian religion, such as this depiction of death on a pale horse by the French Illustrator Gustave Dore.  There is also a plethora of artistic renderings of the female form.  This prompted my friend Jason Gabriel to announce at the first party he attended here, "thanks for having us,  and I have to say I love how you've decorated the place.  I mean I'm totally down with the naked woman motif."

I prefer the gory, most frightening depictions in art that I can find, like the Schongauer engraving above that  that used to frighten me as a child when I saw it at my grandmothers's house.  Now it hangs in my middle bedroom and makes me feel happy, as I guess it did for the young Michelangelo.  So yeah, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday.

However since I live my life in a rhythm etched by the ebb and flow of the seasons; whether those seasons are defined by the waning of the colors in my garden or the waning of the intensity of the racing season,  it seems that Halloween always comes around too quickly. I'm never ready for it. The days have gotten shorter and darker yes, but daylight savings is still in effect so I am still hanging onto that tenuous sinewy thread of summer that seems about to snap until we get the unexpected gift of a  few lingering days in the 70s such as we are having this week.  My flowers are still blooming, the hoses have not been turned off yet, my AC units are still in the windows and I'm in massive denial about the impending winter.

So even though every year I promise myself I will host a costume party, or find one to go to, or decorate my steps with hand-carved squashes, or even remember to get candy for the kiddies before that first little brat shows up at my door looking for a handout; what usually happens is I end up skipping over Halloween altogether and moving right into Thanksgiivng and then Christmas.  Over the years if I did go to a costume party, I would be haphazardly clothed in some poorly-thought out garb like those featured in this picture of my sister Sabrina and I from Halloween 1996.  Can you guess what celebrity she is mocking here?  As weak as my snakes twisted out of aluminum foil were, I think my costume was stellar when seen next to yours Sab, sorry.
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yes, sadly, me on the left impersonating Medusa
And there is one more little development.  I have started dating someone (gasp!) and it was his idea to go to Henri David.  I would probably not have suggested that we do something so extravagent on Sunday, as after all I would be driving back from State College, my eyes heavy with exhaustion after 10 hours of hard mountainbiking in 3 days.  I would be pinching my cheeks to avoid falling asleep at the wheel on the way home, and would pretty much be useless for much of anything past 10pm. If I could get home in time to take a nap though, I figured I could stay up until maybe 3am.  Maybe.

So anyway, I made the mistake of inviting this relative stranger to help me pick out my costume.  I surmised that this party was his idea, he had gone many times over the years, he might know people there while I probably would not, and since don't really know him that well yet, he could help me navigate my way through the costume blitz, so I don't end up choosing something out of desperation that would embarrass him in front of his friends.

First I dedided to do a little research on my own, thinking I would order my digs online. I did a google search for "halloween costume women," and found a mere 18,600,000 results.  Almost all were "sexy" Halloween costumes, like those on I was astounded at the number of "sexy" choices on that site.  And when I say sexy, I mean that every single occupation and icon you could imagine was reborn as the "Sexy [insert character here] Costume."

For example, there are the garden-variety slutty numbers such as "Sexy catwoman" (as if there were any other kind), the Sexy french maid, and of course, the Sexy Cleopatra.  It's not too tough to find the ubiquitous icons of Batgirl, Supergirl, and for us mature types, there is of course, Superwoman. Put Sexy in front of all of them and you're there. And they sure found a way to make even very unladylike costumes quite appealing. I mean, why be a garden-variety insect when you can be a Sexy Bumble Bee? Insects need to enjoy procreation too, and this one even is wearing fishnets. And you have to give them credit, they even managed to make Sponge Bob sexy, and even I never thought they would go there.
Now I did notice that the male version of even the same costume was not as well, sexy or revealing as ours, which is really no fun for the boys. To illustrate this, here are the male and female versions of the "Ghostbuster Costume".  I have a feeling however, at Henri David both sexes would probably be wearing  HER costume. 

Anyway, there are hundreds of costumes just on this one site and well, some of them make it harder and harder to push the envelope but it's not like me not to try. So here it goes.

 I knew that I was not going to weasel out of the sexy costume fashion show.  I had sent my date an email with links to 3 costumes I found on  So the following is verbatim how the back and forth via email went.  We shall call him PBF, for "potential boyfriend," for protection of privacy.

andrea to PBF:
this site has great stuff.  let me know if you like anything.
PBF to andrea:
surprise me.  I like surprises. you're naughty.
andrea to PBF: yeah but I don't know you that well yet.  I mean are we talking this....

or this....

or this?  Give me a hint.  You have to be seen with me.

PBF to andrea:
1 or 3.  keep running them by me.
andrea to PBF:

ok, I see the trend here.....
When I prodded him further in my next email to characterize that he was looking for, his only response was,  "less is more."  I was wondering if I should keep online try-outs for the PBF position open a bit longer.

Finally the online search was too overwhelming and we decided to go to Masquerade, which is a costume shop and so much more around the corner from his house in Society Hill.  It is owned by the Halloween Superstore people, you know those stores that pop up in abandoned retail spaces in your 'hood the month before Halloween and offer cheap made-in-china costumes and a no return policy.  Only this one sustained it's open-year-round status I gathered by the proximity of the strip clubs on Delaware avenue as well as the sex toy shop upstairs. Perfect! I picked him up after work on a Monday night last week.  I was not quite prepared for what I saw when we walked in that place.  I mean it was massive.  I found a few reviews of the place on so I could not wait to check it out myself:
10/28/2009 This place is f*cked up. Its choc full o crazy ass families looking for easy to do Halloween costumes. This includes the Wal*Mart posse. Anyway, I give it 3 stars for having a pretty nice over all selection. I can't get over the fact that this store is actually pretty adult orientated. A 5' walk from the left side (were the children's costumes are) to the back and you're in stripper costume land. You know, the outfits they don before they take it off? Up the stairs and you're in a porn shop!!

Were else can you get the necessities to be IronMan for Halloween and a rubber fist?
Insanity ensues.
J P.

Philadelphia, PA

Any costume you could ever possibly want can be found at this place.

That being said, it's hell going there anywhere near Halloween. Don't go unless you are absolutely desperate for a costume. The line for the cashier pretty much wraps around the entire warehouse-sized building.

I also think the only reason this store can survive all year round is because about half of it is an adult section - they even card you to go in. But, you know what they say, sex sells. It's kind of hilarious actually. People pushing their way through the kiddies and their spiderman princess costumes to go check out whips and stripper heels. Man, I love Philly.

Juliana S.
Philadelphia, PA

the portal to the Sexy Costume Fashion Show

I really don't think I need to go into much detail because the reviews above pretty much got it spot-on. It was amusing to walk through the upstairs "boudoir" and stroll next to a wall of dildos and all manner of like tools with someone you don't really know, as if you were meeting at the supermarket to find the ingredients of the first dinner you are cooking together.  You know, you ask him to accompany you to Whole Foods just to make sure he is OK with brussels sprouts or tempeh.  Well kind of like that, anyway.  Actually I'm thinking the PR folks at WF would be pretty alarmed if they read that comparison.

So PBF and I were wandering around Masquerade for 20 minutes discussing this idea and that when I saw a "Gothic Nun" costume on an endcap.  I mumbled to PBF, "you know, that's just WRONG."

"What do you mean it's wrong, I think that would look great on you."

"This one?" I said meekly, pulling it off the rack and inspecting it critically, not that there was much there to inspect.

"Yeah yeah, you've got the body for that, all you would need would be some thigh-highs and the right shoes."

Ok, thats a lie, he did not say that.  "The right shoes" is something your mother would say as you are trying on wedding gowns.  PBF actually said "All you would need is some thighhighs and f**k me pumps." I'm pretty sure he meant that as an explicit adjective, not an invitation.

So I examined the picture closely again, and decided that it would make me look fat.  I mentioned this.  He was undaunted.  He took the package from my outstretched hand, I think this was merely for effect actually, and then said, "you know, what do you have to lose?  Just try it on, if you hate it you don't get it."

I agreed to this.    

Luckily there were two more nun costumes available to try on, because apparently a lot of women feel the need to impersonate an icon of the Catholic faith.  Oh, but this version was, you guessed it, the Sexy Nun of course.  It looked the *best* on me of the three.  Here it is for your veiwing pleasure:

hmmm...what earrings should I wear with this?

After I spent $40 to purchase this little number, I asked PBF what he was going to wear to the Ball.  After all if I had to strut around the Sheraton ballroom not fully clothed he had better be showing off those abdominal muscles he earned as a triathlete as well.

"Oh, that's easy, I will be a priest.  I think I can come up with something at home, I just need to find a Bishop hat and a cross."

I see the less is more concept does not translate across the gender barrier.

Count Bikeula said that for our Saturday ride this weekend at the Spooky Camp we should be wearing costumes.  He even offered some sort of prize for the best one.  This weekend it will be me and 9 other guys riding through the state forests of Pennsylvania and you can bet I will NOT be wearing my Henri David costume. 

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

the cycle of hope and death

Sunday October 3rd

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi

Today I got back on my mountain bike, basically for the first time since the Summer Sizzler. My induration has healed, four months ahead of schedule, mainly due to the fact that I did not ride a bike for 2 months. Many riders who develop this condition keep limping along with cortisone shots as I tried to do initially until I discovered that was futile. It was a beautiful fall day, cool and partly sunny, warm enough to skip the armwarmers, but cool enough not to get overheated. My legs felt heavy; as I hammered them in the gym Friday, did the Cadence ride yesterday, which was not as hard as the ride last week.  But then I stopped at the shop while my muscles got tense, waiting to see if anyone else wanted to ride further. I had only done 38 miles, and, well, that’s not enough to justify having to wash a pair of bike shorts for a weekend ride, right? However everyone was saving their energy for tomorrow’s ‘cross race so I was out of luck, until finally Andres and I did another 10 mile loop with a few hills and afterwards my legs were good and cooked.

So my legs felt tired as I rode towards the park. I did the entire 18 mile loop, including some sweet new trail built for the Philly Mountain Bike Association, including one set of rock steps that I had been jogging up and down over the past two months off the bike, chomping at the bit to try on a bike. My technical skills had not rusted up too badly: I even did the rocky section across Bells Mill, what a blast it was to clean that after all this time. Anyway, I actually stopped halfway up the monster, partially because we had gotten 5 inches of rain in three days and there were a lot of gullies and loose rocks all over the park.  I had to take a really steep line and as I said my legs were beat, I know, weak excuse. I did not worry too much about it though, for today I was just happy that for the first time in what seemed like years I was riding without injury and looking forward to the offseason....the most relaxed time of year where I can enjoy riding, unencumbered by the need to train, to go faster, to worry about how my skills had eroded with so much time off the trails.

Of course I will get my chance to whip them into shape Halloween weekend at Mike’s Spooky Mountain Bike Camp in state college. Come join me, I will be cooking my ridiculously good pancakes and omelettes before we head out on some 4-hour rides through some of the sweetest singletrack in the East.

So I was feeling at peace heading into a busy week, talking to Sabby on the phone, when call waiting interrupted with “restricted number”. I don’t usually do the call waiting thing but I was wondering who would be calling at 8:30 on Sunday night so I asked my sister to wait.

I clicked over. “Hello?”

“Hello, may I speak to Andrea Walheim?”

“This is she.”

“Andrea, this is Geoffrey Zola, brother to the late Benjamin Zola” I thought I heard that word right, “late”?

“What did you say…the late?” my voice trailed off, hoping I had heard him wrong, but then I had never met Dr. Zola’s family, so why would they possibly calling me on a Sunday night?

“Yes, Ben passed away Saturday.”

I gasped. This could not be true. Dr. Zola was the Manhattan cardiologist who was referred to me by a friend and who I turned to in desperation in the fall of 2008 when I had gone through 6 local cardiologists and electrophysiologists who could not properly diagnose my unusal presentation of second degree heart block.

I felt the tears welling up and I said quietly, “Oh…I’m so sorry, so sorry…how did this happen?”

“Cancer”, he said, and I thought I did not even know, Dr. Z did not tell me when we emailed each other through Facebook a few weeks ago. I had reached out to him because a friend and fellow cyclist had been diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome and I was seeking some answers. By this time I was pretty much sobbing, “Oh..he helped me so much…so much when I had nowhere else to turn.” Geoffrey was quiet, a man who had obviously spent the last several hours calling relatives and friends of his brother and had perfected a practiced calm in the face of the expressions of grief at the other end of the phone.

I asked how he had found me, and Geoffrey asked if I knew other friends of Ben’s that I could call. I found out the funeral was tomorrow morning at 9:30 in Manhattan. I told Ben’s brother that I would see him tomorrow.

At this point, my sorrow was overwhelming. I clicked back to Sab and apologized, then called Boss #1 and told him I would not be in tomorrow, booked Amtrak to Penn Station, and went to bed lamenting that after my pacer had been tuned up, Dr. Zola had invited me several times to accompany his friends and wife Ling on their weekly trail rides in West Chester, and even out to Moab with them, but there was always a reason why I could not go. And now that chance was gone, just like it had been gone when I had been meaning to visit Mame a few years back the month before she passed away.

I could attribute my ability to ride again, and thus live my life to the fullest partially because our lives had intersected and Ben spent many hours of his time solving the riddle of my slow heartbeats. And now that heart was heavy with the shock of his passing in his early 50s, with so many more patients to treat, so many more trails to ride, so much more wisdom to bestow on his friends, family, patients, colleagues, and two young sons. I set my alarm for 5 am and drifted off into that landscape of dreams where death is not so frightening as it is here on earth; where our subconscious’ shape-shifting renders the line between the corporeal and the spirit world barely distinguishable.