Parties and Cash
By Chris Morocco
Ever iconoclastic, Oberlin students don’t even party like
other college students. When the weekend rolls around, Obies don’t
just tap the rockies, they also often don outrageous costumes and
flock to theme parties.
“When you have 100-150 people who are all willing to make
fools of themselves and do things that they wouldn’t normally
do, they are going to have more fun than they normally would have,”
one theme party-goer mused.
For as long as college exists and yeast ferments into malted hops,
the elemental three dollar-entry-fee-classic-kegger will never become
obsolete. Yet at Oberlin, nights of rampant excess and reverie can
be quite unlike those at other colleges.
Two College seniors, Gina, an inveterate theme party thrower, and
Alex, an equally prolific host [names have been changed], offered
many insights into why they would open their doors to the droves
of students who look for more than the experience of filling and
emptying a plastic cup.
The most tangible reason for having any kind of party is money.
Though getting rich off of throwing parties is largely the stuff
of Hollywood myth, one can make a modest sum or at least break even
by charging an entry fee at the door and particularly by charging
for alcohol. Gina was not at all disappointed to report that her
last party had put her and her housemates only $8 in the red.
“We pay our utilities with the money we make, from the profits,
and it’s fun to have a party every now and then,” Alex
said. “We do it when our house needs to be cleaned, once a
month, when we really need to scrub the floors.”
While any sort of party could lose some money or soil a house’s
floors, only a theme party is satisfying for many students at Oberlin,
who see them as opportunities to harness creative impulses.
“At other schools, people just put on their skank tanks and
go to the clubs,” Gina offered dryly. “It’s a
lot more fun to walk home in a costume, or the next morning, to
have to walk home in a costume.”
Almost invariably, a theme party involves dressing up, and sometimes
undressing, as was the case at Gina’s last party. The so-called
“Rubik’s Cube” party required attendees to show
up wearing mismatched primary colors, with the stipulation that
they would have to exchange clothes in order to become one solid
Gina also described another party that also used primary colors
but with a very different intent.
“A couple years back there was a stoplight party where you
dressed as your availability. So if you were red, you were off limits.
If you were yellow it meant, let’s see about it, and if you
were in green it meant you were ready to go. So I wore yellow pants
and a green top,” she giggled.
Often there is simply a title to a party that is open to interpretation,
a favorite technique of Alex’s. Her two most recent parties
were “Dress Like You Mean It” and “Hello Nurse
(Let’s Play Doctor).” The latter saw scores of students
milling about in suits with pagers and cell phones, with more than
one student in a nurse’s outfit among them.
Clothes don’t always make the theme partygoer, however, as
was the case at the “emergency party,” where the lights
were turned off and everyone navigated the house by flashlight.
A few regulars at Gina’s parties ruminated about the origins
of theme parties, including one of her housemates who says he is
a one man think-tank for themes. One of the parties he designed,
the “West Side Story” party, divided all invitees into
sharks and jets who were required to wear red and blue according
to their assignment. He felt obligated to invoke the names of three
Oberlin graduates who he felt had shown him what a party could be.
“Every good theme party I have ever thrown was built off the
ideas of Sam Hopkins, Caleb Stokes and Jeff,” he said. “You
have to invite people on a Wednesday, because you want there to
be some momentum built up around a party when the weekend comes.
There’s a science. They put a lot of research into it.”
Alex and Gina have had to contend with the many gate-crashers, an
inevitable part of weekend carousing, themed or not. Alex expressed
concerned that several fights had broken out at her last party,
notably between Oberlin community members.
Although she and her housemates want to be able to open their doors
to everybody, the simmering tension between students and community
around the issue of inclusion in parties might lead them to have
Gina’s main concern with gatecrashers, particularly first-year
women, is that they often are not aware of the night’s theme
and sometimes try to evade participation.
To this effect, she and her housemates charge more to those not
dressed to code, and keep a closet full of party clothes, described
as a refrigerator-sized box of moo-moos, tutus and fishnet stockings.
“If you show up in a costume, you don’t have to pay
as much. If you don’t show up with a costume, you are going
to look like an ass and you are going to have to pay for it,”
Whether an outlet for creativity, a coping mechanism for small town
life or “just more fun,” theme parties are one more
way for Oberlin College students to change the party world.