Lizard People of West Chester

Thursday June 8, 2006

My friend Rob hosts a party every year called Camp Naked Terror; the 2006 party was the fifth iteration of the annual event, but I have never actually made it to one. I've been invited all five years, I believe, but there's always been something else going on that weekend, and I've never been able to go. This year, however, when the invitation came in and I checked the calendar, there was nothing to stop me from going, and I was giddy with the excitement of it all. CNT (as the mildly dirty acronym goes) is a themed costume party. It started out, as the name would imply, as a masquerade of 70s and 80s slasher pics, but over the years, the horror-movie aspect has been coupled with secondary themes such as music or video games. This year, the event was called Camp Naked Terror 5: The Final Frontier, and the theme was space or science fiction.

I didn't come up with a costume idea for a few weeks after hearing about the party. Nancy had some initial vision that, as I recall, involved impalement and space helmets and other feats of costumery that I think would probably have been beyond our abilities and resources as propmasters and tailors. It wasn't until some night when our friend Roman (who was also invited to the party but ended up not going) was over and asking about our costumes that I formulated a plan, and that was only owing to a quick review of our DVD collection. For Nancy and I, one of the early bonding agents in our relationship was a science fiction miniseries from the 80s that I would later learn is not as universally beloved as we both assumed. Yes, we were both bananas for V, the anti-fascist allegory of lizard-like space aliens who come to Earth in order to feed themselves. Nancy bought her first DVD player (a really shitty Aiwa unit that never worked very well) expressly for the two of us to watch the first miniseries together. In retrospect, V is one of those fond childhood memories that we probably should have left to nostalgia, because the show, unsurprisingly, is a lot crappier than we remembered. Nevertheless, the it still holds some charm, and when I noticed the DVDs on the shelf, it was pretty obvious to me that Nancy and I needed to dress as the V aliens (apparently known as Sirians) for CNT 5.

At first blush, it looked like a pretty easy costume to assemble. We'd need red jumpsuits, black hats, and a little makeup to convey our fundamental reptilianity. And really, even after the final analysis was made, this was still all we really needed, but putting all the pieces together proved to be, if nothing else, a costly and time consuming endeavor. The most important element of the costume was the jumpsuit, which I figured would be pretty easy to find. People wear these things in garages and whatnot, right? Shouldn't I just be able to call up some uniform supply company and order a couple? Well, the short answer is that yes, jumpsuits are not all that hard to come by. But red ones are a little trickier. Most of the industrial types who require such outfitting apparently prefer navy blue in a jumpsuit. Go figure. We did, ultimately, find a distributor that stocked the sort of suit we needed, but by that point, it was the week of the party (tuesday, to be exact). We ordered a medium for Nancy and a large for me, we upgraded the shipping to 2nd Day Air, and we started to put the rest of the outfit together.

For other reasons altogether, we found ourselves on South St. in Philadelphia the wednesday before the party, and thank god for hipsters and their silly fashion, because it was an easy task to find exactly the sort of black, military-style caps we needed for our outfits at the first clothing shop we visited on South. They were cheap, too! Our spirits were high. That night, we went to the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixville to find the glasses we'd need (the Sirians, we're told, have very sensitive eyes, so they wore heavy smoked glasses.) The closest match, in our minds, to what the aliens wore in the show were those plastic goggles that old people wear after they've had cataract surgery. We found exactly what we were looking for at the pharmacy, and once again, things were looking good for our costumes.

Our suits arrived thursday. They looked great. But... mine was too small. It might have fit (albeit snugly) but I have these ungainly gorilla arms that are just too fucking long for the rest of my body, and they stuck out of my sleeves by at least three inches too much. Curses! I normally wear shirts and whatnot in XL, but I figured these suits were meant to be worn over clothes by burly blue collar types. They were sure to run large, I foolishly assumed! I suppose I could consider this a well-deserved lesson against socioeconomic stereotyping, but the moral was lost on me as I considered the possibility that I would have to wear this clearly ill-fitting jumpsuit to the party. In a panic, we called Aramark (the company from which we ordered the suits) to order an XL. When I say "we," I mean Nancy, and thank god, too, because I would have gone insane having to deal with these people! It took a great deal of wrangling, and an extraordinarily large shipping charge, to arrange for a replacement to be shipped by overnight delivery to arrive on a saturday, and we were left with no guarantee that the item would actually go out on friday. We simply crossed our fingers and counted on the gods of nerdiness to see us through.

One of the key items in the costume was a representation of the lizard skin under the fake human skin worn by the Sirians in an effort to fool the humans. There are some key scenes in the show where this fake skin is ripped away, revealing scales beneath. I decided to create this effect with liquid latex, and after a little calling around, I found a plce that could set us up. We ended up at a store called The Jokes Are Wild, a year-round costume and party supply shop. This place is really cool - it was like the best stocked Halloween Adventure shop you ever saw, plus dildos (or should that be "dildoes"? Or "dildi"?) We got the latex, we got spirit gum and remover, and we got a couple pairs of novelty sunglasses, just for fun. When we got home, I poured out the latex, having been warned that it can take a while to dry (which it surely did.) We probably should have done a little more work on the costumes at that point, but Nancy and I are famed procrastinators, so I think we just ate some Twinkies and watched TV for the rest of the evening.

At lunch on friday, I ran across the street to the Kennett Square Wal Mart to look their crafts section over for additional supplies. We needed a way to get the Symbol of the Supreme Leader (aka the "Visitor Logo") on our jumpsuits and hats. We needed ribbon for decorating the sleeves. We needed black belts. We probably needed some other shit that I can't recall now. This shopping excursion, like the others, went off mainly without a hitch, and I felt pretty good about the overall state of our costumical provisions. We set to work on assembling the final product when we got home from work on Friday. It was all going pretty well, in fact. I fashioned the red logos for our hats out of sticky-back felt, and when those went on, the hats looked fantastic. Nancy applied ribbon to the sleeves of her jumpsuit. The original idea was to put three or four bands on each arm, but it was such a pain in the ass to iron these things on, that Nancy decided one would be enough for her, although she pledged to do two for mine when it came in (hopefully) on saturday. I'm pretty sure that the stripes represent rank, so it pleased me to outrank my alien girlfriend.

I should mention now the one great failing of this entire enterprise. In the show, the aliens have a funny pitch-shifting effect on their voice. I felt it was pretty crucial to capture this, and to that end, we bought a couple voice-changing Darth Vader helmets from Target. I dismantled them to such an extent that the entire setup was reduced to a microphone, a speaker, a small circuit board, and a battery box (which I had to hacksaw out of a larger plastic enclosure.) Ultimately, the pieces were too big to fit in one breast pocket, so I decided to rewire the battery box with longer wires, so that it could be stashed in our pants pockets. Accordingly, I bought a soldering pencil, some solder, and some wire at Radio Shack. Now, I've soldered before, but it's been a long time, and I never had to do any really precise work. Suffice it to say, I fucked it up on the first board. I don't know if I shorted it out by getting solder in the wrong place, or of I ruined it by scraping the hot pencil across some place on the board that couldn't endure the heat, but that $15 bit of electronics was fried. It was pretty depressing. The other unit seemed to be fine, but I didn't want to do it if we couldn't both have funny voices, so I abandonned the project. This ultimately worked out alright because 1) the party was too loud for anyone to have heard it, and 2) it saved us the time it would have taken to fashion the elastic bands that would hold the microphones to our voice boxes.

Having failed at soldering, I turned my attention to the fake skin. I used to spend a lot of time painting pewter miniatures for a wargame called Warhammer 40,000, so I have a lot of acrylic paint and a not insignificant ability to paint small things, so I went to work on the skin, and if I do say so, it turned out pretty great. I should scan the skin so you can see the fine detail in my work, but in the meantime, know that I did an excellent job in painting the pattern of 3 dimension lizard skin on a flat piece of green latex. It was clear by this point that these costumes were going to rule. We were both very excited.

We got up and showered on Saturday, excited about the party but fearful that my new jumpsuit wouldn't arrive. Aramark assured us that the package went out on Friday, but we were leery of their claims. It happened that we had nothing to worry about, as the package was waiting on the doorstep by the time we made it downstairs. All that was left was the final work of ribonning my suit and applying the iron-on decals to the breast. Here was the second of my mistakes - I really should have practiced a little with those inkjet decals. I have never used them before, and it would have been wise to test them on some scrap fabric, because I made a bit of a mess of Nancy's suit. The decal came out alright, but not nearly as clean as I would have liked. She was very supportive, though, which got me through that difficult time. I did a slightly better job on my suit, but not by much. In the end, of course, it didn't matter. They looked fine. But up 'til then, I was feeling that we had otherwise perfectly accomplished the task of creating these costumes.

We actually had two parties to attend that Saturday. The first was a graduation party for my cousin Nick, who just finished a masters program at Juilliard. This was in Marlton, NJ at 6:00, while Camp Naked Terror was slated to begin at 8:00 in South Philly. We had no choice but to take our costumes with us and change in my aunt and uncle's bedroom. There were a few fuddy-duddy adults who did not properly appreciate our work, but most of the other partygoers were immensely amused by our outfits, and one of my cousin's friends happened to be a huge fan of V, and he gushed over us like we were Jane Badler and Richard Herd themselves. My uncle snapped a few photos, and we were off.

Then we went to Rob's party, won second runners-up for our costumes and went home. Of course, there was more to CNT than that, but after our epic preparations, the party itself felt like a bit of an anticlimax. The winner of the prize for best costume definitely deserved to beat us- his Mad Max getup was great, although I feel like the Judy Jetson costume that edged us out for second place was not as good as ours. But who cares? It was fun, our costumes were a hit, and I finally met Kevin Cornell. Sure, we spent the better part of a week and nearly $100 per person for costumes that we wore for about three hours, but I have finally experienced Camp Naked Terror, and all is good.

And if you think we're not going to wear these costumes again for Halloween, you're sadly mistaken.

Aliens posing in a NJ foyer

Posted by Matt at June 8, 2006 10:41 AM


They look fantastic! Great job. I too have a fondness for remembering V. I bought them on VHS years ago and watched them while putting together some Ikea type furniture. As you said, I enjoy remembering it. Although, I would like to have gotten my hands on some of the V toys that they show the little kids playing with in the neighborhood.

Posted by: Anthony "The Duke" at June 8, 2006 12:03 PM

And THAT is why I never dress up for Hallowe'en! Yeesh.
Clearly well worth the effort, though, as you both look faboo-lus! Now, where's that lizardskin close-up?

Posted by: Damon at June 13, 2006 12:21 PM

I dug V as much as the next 13-year old kid (the chick with the eyes was hot!), but you look...uh...not metal, dude.

Still, all in all, better than the big giant asshole costume my brother-in-law sported one year.

Posted by: Kevin Madden at June 14, 2006 05:23 AM

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