Molly McGhee / QSL

QSL: Halloween in Burlington, Vermont

By Molly McGhee

Sylvia Plath is making out with Van Gogh against a tree. I’ve never seen so much poetic justice concentrated into one place. We walk into the house. Lights are dimmed. We’re in a basement. If you go to enough of these, it seems every party in Burlington is held under a house in an unfinished sub-room that smells vaguely of asbestos and alcohol poisoning. We are a conglomeration of religious misfits. I’m a Jewish male. Next to me is an iridescent Angel. Literally iridescent. You can see her underwear through her dress. The Devil’s on my right. She’s got Satan written in that fifties-cheerleader-cursive across her chest. She looks like your standard, grade-A, high school cheerleader turned evil, a red tail, pointed, is attached to her peplum skirt. There’s glitter everywhere. You get the feeling that every breath is at least one-part noise, two-parts gold sparkle, three-parts oxygen, four parts sweat. It’s a ten-fold religious experience.

No one is talking, mostly because the music doesn’t just move you, it moves inside of you. Everyone is really, really, way too drunk. Girls clutch $1.25 vending machine sodas serving mainly as mixers in their hands. Liquors featured are primarily vodka (Smirnoff, Burnetts, Pinnacle) and occasionally white rums (Bacardi Lemon, Bacardi Raspberry, Bacardi Coconut). Unfortunately, no one drinks gin. Everyone grinds, mostly into each other, and moves their hips to music. There’s always a DJ who’s a friend of a friend of a friend. The music is primarily house-trance and trap and alternative underground -synth-rap. Most of the times these DJs are in the corner with a red solo cup of keg-beer and two forties as backup. They wear snapbacks and don’t give a fuck about whether you like this music or not. Everyone is too drunk to actually know whether they like this music or not. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes, if you’re a girl who’s cute enough and are standing next to a friend who’s also cute enough, they tell you where they’re playing the next night. These DJs are usually also part-time rappers.

These basements have fog machines that fill the room, floor-to-ceiling, with heavy-opaque-smog. This prevents you from seeing if the lax-bro-dress-up is attractive or not. Judging solely by the archetype they’re not. Ron Burgundy is selling shots. The eighth naughty school girl of the evening is pumping the keg next to him. Someone says to you “Dude, cops.” and then you say to your friends “Dude, cops” who say to their friends, “Dude cops” and you have to make the executive decision to either shut-the-fuck-up for ten minutes or to bolt. Most people bolt.

We follow the crowd outside. Networking is mandatory. Everyone is on their phones as they walk– and later stumble — down the sidewalks. There are the big houses: Colchester, Main, and South Union; everybody knows them. Throughout the night you hear little phrases that are connotative of Burlington Youth Culture: “Throwing Down,” “Get Sauced,” “Raging,” “Fucking Hammered,” “It’s been Busted,” “Got Busted,” “Was Busted,” “Going Hard,” “White Girl Wasted,” “Tripping Balls.”

Costumes are other-worldly. The better they are the more likely you are to get into parties. “Sausage fest” is casually thrown around. Supplies of girls limited. Act now! Girls are pulled from groups and pushed through doors. Girls are numbers and figures. Girls are statistics. Shipping not included, some places charge five dollars at the door, ten if you’re unattractive. When there are more girls parties are deemed more successful. There are limited quantities. Listening in on conversations everyone complains about the lack of.

Someone throws a beer bottle on the sidewalk. Shocktop. Or Magic Hat. Or IPA. If you’re investing in glass it might as well be quality. Massive amounts of people are just milling. You spy Greek goddesses, school girls, you spy personified Ketchup and Mustard bottles. Someone’s dressed up as a Gladiator. A troop of Spartans run out of a house carrying laughing girls over their shoulders. The night is dark and smells like weed. A lot of people are wearing masks. A lot of people are hardly wearing anything.

Everything’s excessive. Everything’s bizarre. The whole thing makes you think about just how long people have been getting drunk and masquerading as something else. The whole mainstream cultural-phenomena-thing that is going to college and getting fucked up is not an exaggeration. I see Marilyn Monroe do a keg stand in front of a frat as we walk by. Her skirt falls away from her knees revealing shimmering gold American Apparel hot-pants. This whole thing, keg stand included; it’s not so much of a phenomena as an expectation.

The Academic Types make the argument that Halloween and it’s counterparts (spring break, Mardi-Gras, music festivals, carnivals) don’t really have all that much to do with alcohol.  The Academic Types would make the argument that, more so than getting fucked-up, it’s about a community coming together and rejecting the societal norms in order for a brief vacation from the hum drum of normal day life. The Academic Types would say that alcohol is just the big white cruise ship to the proverbial Key West; it’s like totally not the point. Well.

Someone walks past with a handle of Jager. A boy with a backpack full of PBR comes up and says “Jesus! Forgive me of my sins!” and hands me an unopened can. I absolve him. There are empty Rolling Rock tall boys in the bushes. People cheer. The sidewalks are packed. Every guy is drinking really shitty beer (Bud heavy, Bud light, forties, Natty ice).  Mostly guys stand around, turned down for having a Champlain Ratio. This means that the quotient of female to male grouping is not ideal. A “Golden” Ratio would be four females. Other decent ratios would be three females to one male, or two attractive females to one male, or four ‘decent’ female to one ‘damn-fine’ male ; one really attractive female to one really attractive male is, also, considered acceptable.

The next party is the same except less unattractive dudes, more attractive girls therefore considered a bigger success. When someone says to their friend “Dude, cops” who says to their friends “Dude, cops” who texts us “Dude, cops” we decide to wait-it-out.  Sitting underground in a dead-quiet room for fifteen minutes with a Gorilla on my right, a lifeguard on my left is one of the weirdest moments of probably my entire existence. Yet, at the same time, all of us breathing in drunken harmony, this surmises the entire Burlington experience.

You are in a room. You know maybe 25% of the people. The other 75% are doing weird things. The other 75% are the only ones you make eye contact with. The other 75% are the only ones you see when you’re looking for your friends. The other 75% and you, standing there, breathing,  touching shoulders. There’s a sense of that academic-type distorted community. Everyone is holding red solo cups. Everything is weirdly beautiful and transcendental and so out of the ordinary that it feels familiar. You think, for a moment, that everyone in the room has made just as many mistakes as you.

The glitter in the air and on the floor catches the light and reflects. On further inspection it’s grime, worked into the concrete. On further inspection everyone isn’t so much beautiful as sweating and masked and drunk. On further inspection they’re also mysterious. The gorilla on the right reaches out and curls his fingers around my hand, scared. It’s comforting.  I look up at him and he looks at the stairs.  A sexy, crucified Jesus Christ clutching hands in a glittery basement with a masked, black Gorilla.

 Molly McGhee is a chronically near-sighted lipstick aficionado. Sometime she writes. She may be contacted at


One thought on “QSL: Halloween in Burlington, Vermont

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s