Three Magnetic Fields, Two Björks

An album-cover-themed costume party in Kaitlyn’s backyard

A collage from a Halloween party—people sitting around a fire, a table of snacks and candy, a man dressed as Björk.
The Atlantic

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Kaitlyn: Oh my God, it was our first Halloween party since 2019, before the pandemic and many other events. Nathan was not in the picture at the time of the last Halloween party, so I spent the week leading up to this one forcing him to look at photos of years past. “Here is Katie as Winona Ryder in Heathers! Look!” I said. “Here is Stephanie as Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice!”

Monday through Friday, I indulged in this activity and in 1,000 sour gummy bats from a Haribo snack-size variety bag. (“Here is Lizzie in 2016, when she was the guy from Mr. Robot!”) The additional context we need here is that, in August, Nathan and I moved into the apartment directly above the one I lived in with Stephanie during all of those Halloween parties of yore. We are her quirky upstairs neighbors now. And the party is back!

Let me just cut the suspense in half: Everything we did to prepare for this party was worth it. In that statement I include the four hours we spent hauling a broken mirror, a twin-size mattress, an area rug full of slugs, two children’s bicycles (no children live in the building), and literally hundreds of pounds of wet sticks out of the backyard. I also include a fraught pumpkin-carving session during which Stephanie said to me and Nathan, “Now, now, nobody fight!” I include the unpleasant tactile experience of making popcorn balls, which requires coating your hands in a thick sheen of butter between the molding of each ball.

Lizzie: You can always count on Kaitlyn to create some kind of crafts-based food item for a party she’s hosting (see: January’s rose-petal ice block).

Before I met Kaitlyn, I would never dress up for Halloween, but you can’t really attend a costume party without dressing up—buzzkills get slashed from the invite list! That time she just mentioned when I dressed up as Rami Malek was probably the first time in years, and it was only because some PR person had sent a bunch of Mr. Robot masks to our office, making it free and painless for me to tie one to a black backpack and call it a costume.

Back to this year. The 2022 party theme was album covers, which was actually trickier than it sounds. I considered Bright Eyes’ Fevers and Mirrors and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, but landed on Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You?. Matt was Björk’s Post. Now, as Kaitlyn keeps preparing for the party in the next part of this, just imagine I’m at home making a square cake that looks like Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam (made with strawberry jam, obviously …).

Kaitlyn: People really struggled with the prompt, which I had not been expecting. No fewer than three of my Atlantic colleagues who were invited to the party did not show up, and later apologized in Slack while emoji-wailing over their inability to come up with a decent costume.

Anyway, when Katie arrived for a “pregame,” I was watching an episode of The Kardashians in which Kim is wearing a grill. I was like, “Katie, I’m so nervous. And Kim is wearing a grill.” I pulled Katie’s birthday cake—a Golden Oreo–white-chocolate cheesecake that I’d selected because the recipe was linked in a promoted tweet—out of the freezer and forced her to taste the punch, which was Concord grape juice, ginger beer, seltzer, and vodka. (She hated it.)

Soon after, Stephanie came up in a cocoon of purple tulle—she was carrying some fishing line, for affixing her hounds. Meanwhile, we were getting texts from Tamar, who was stranded in Ozone Park and in a tizzy—the A train had been raptured and now they were wrapping the turnstiles in pink tape. “I’m suing the city of New York,” she said, and then she got in an expensive Uber. In her texts, she explained to us how she had explained to her boyfriend, Alex, earlier in the day that this was not a regular night. (Alex was not in the picture at the time of the last Halloween party either.) This was the most important night of her year. “The little parties we have been going to … this is not like that,” she told him. “This is a big party.”

When she finally arrived, Katie started coloring all over her face with a handful of slightly different blue eyeliners (Joni Mitchell’s Blue). I ran up and down the stairs setting up bowls of candy. It probably took me four trips just to deal with the volume. We had Sour Patch Kids, Tootsie Pops, KitKats, M&Ms, Skittles, Nerds, SweeTarts, Starbursts, Hersheys, Twix, Snickers, Reese’s Pieces and Peanut Butter Cups, candy corn, candy pumpkins, snake gummies and ghost gummies and Cola-bottle-shaped gummies. (Later, Julia would show up with a bag of 50 Ring Pops.)

Nathan had to sit outside to tend to the fire in the “fire pit” (a circle of bricks), so I brought him down some pizza, one slice at a time, three times. I got my steps in! It only took me a minute to get into my costume—a re-creation of The National’s High Violet album art, which I’d put together earlier in the week using fabric markers and an Everlane shirt-dress.

A cake covered with strawberries and jam, made to look like the album art for Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam.
Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, as cake. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Lizzie: Matt’s the crafty one in our household so he made my Daniel Johnston–album costume out of foamboard, Ping-Pong balls, wire, and a headband (plus a white T-shirt). On our walk to Kaitlyn’s, I refused to wear my alien antennae, since again, I’m not really a “costume in public” kind of person. But Matt was wearing a white blazer, a wig, and a big pink hat, so it’s not like we were keeping a low profile. At one point, a man yelled at us, “Have a nice night, ladies!” We sure would try.

I guess I should let you know now, since you’ll probably figure it out eventually, but Kaitlyn and I barely interacted at all during this party. I saw her when she unlocked the door to let me inside and again when I was leaving the party. I mean, she was hosting! Lots of stuff to carry up and down the stairs. Guests to greet. People to escort to the bathroom. I get it.

But what that means is that when Kaitlyn’s talking about whatever happened at the party, according to her, I only experienced it in the periphery. I was off doing my own thing, like eating Doritos, accidentally hitting people with my antennae, and talking about Netflix’s The Mole. And squinting in the dark at all the costumes.

Kaitlyn: It was so sad! It was like being at your own wedding—I assume! You can’t dwell on your favorite people; you have to dwell on everyone, and especially on whoever looks the most lonely. Unfortunately for me, Liz never looked lonely because she is beloved by many and because her costume was one of the best.

That said, I loved every costume. Lori and Jake came dressed as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Rebecca and Bayne came dressed as a gender-swapped version of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I asked Rebecca if I could see her new engagement ring and she said she wasn’t wearing it because she was a “little boy” and therefore “not engaged.” Ashley came as Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, and she’d paid a professional to French braid her hair. “You think I can do this?” she asked, gesturing at her head. It would not occur to me to think that Ashley couldn’t do something. Sonia was wearing a flesh-toned bodysuit and a fake Sublime back tattoo. Annie was Patti Smith’s Horses; Amy was Mitski’s Be the Cowboy. Mariya was… wearing an orange blazer and telling people that she was “Orange Channel,” I think to troll. I have to admit, the blazer was the exact shade of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, if that was what she was going for.

And, well, you know this often happens with costume parties: A whole bunch of people came dressed as the same Magnetic Fields album 69 Love Songs. It can’t be avoided. The year that our party theme was “Premium Cable,” we had competing Young Popes and several Sharp Objects costumes. (Scissors and such affixed to shirts.) As a host, there’s nothing you can do about this except sympathize.

Lizzie: Matt met another Björk in the kitchen. Nathan and Sam were in a joint costume dressed as Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine. You can’t really see any heads on the album cover, but Nathan was wearing a wig anyway. I asked him like seven times if his wig was supposed to make him Thurston Moore, but he didn’t understand what I was saying, and it made me feel insane, because I do worry about confusing Thurston Moore and Stephen Malkmus.

I will admit, throughout the night, as I pointed to people and asked, “What’s this?” re: their costumes, a few of them responded with names that didn’t register in the ol’ noggin in the slightest. Mostly I just responded, “Oh cool,” as you do.

People at a party, a woman's back with a skin-tone bodysuit and a Sublime back tattoo iron-on.
Sonia as Sublime's Sublime, and a glimpse of Alex's Velvet Underground banana shirt. (Courtesy of Stephanie Vallejo)

Kaitlyn: Speaking of things not registering in the ol’ noggin, there were rumors that a few of the guests did not seem able to name the person who had invited them, even though, confusingly, they were dressed on theme. Not that this is necessarily who I am talking about, but a boy dressed as The Weeknd introduced himself to Bayne and then asked, “Like from the Batman movie?” And I told him, “He’s never seen that. He doesn’t know what that is.” I was trying to do a fake and funnily harsh voice. “Don’t talk to him about that.” Then he started to explain the plot of The Dark Knight Rises to Bayne for his edification.

And speaking of drama, Yana, who I hadn’t seen since running into her in a grocery store two years ago, showed up rather late and brought with her some shocking revelations about an ex-boyfriend of mine. I was left with my mouth open for a minute or two there, as I tried to do some computations. “Was he always kind of a bad person?” I asked, finally. I know my family didn’t like him because he couldn’t pick up the rules of euchre. But we were children then, so. I guess we weren’t any particular kind of people at that time.

Lizzie: Re: Kaitlyn’s boyfriends, I might have to give Nathan a party-VIP designation. He diligently attended to the fire (at one point I saw him putting, like, four logs on there at once), and, when I realized close to 1 a.m. that my precious Strawberry Jam cake was still sitting on the table untouched, Nathan went and got a knife, then tried his darndest to pass out pieces to totally uninterested partygoers. He also told me at one point that he wore Heelys until he was 18, which was probably the highlight of my night.

Kaitlyn: He is so sweet! He is another person I barely saw at the party.

I had a great time but I also spent a lot of the night checking my phone to make sure no one was stranded outside, trying to get in. And I spent a lot of it running up and down the stairs for various reasons. It’s a blur, but luckily some of it was filmed. On the way up to get an iPhone charger, Mariya took a video of me lingering outside Stephanie’s door, admiring a decorative witch that I had purchased for the apartment at least five years prior, when I lived in it. “She’s from Wegmans,” I said, booping her nose.

Tammie texted me that she couldn’t make it, and that if she’d been there she would have been shirtless—Prince by Prince.

Lizzie: I think by the end of the party my brain stopped recognizing anything that anyone was wearing as an album cover. I sat next to Ashley by the fire, ate a piece of cake with my hands, and talked about nothing. Ashley said she thought she got a bite of one of Matt’s wig hairs in her slice, which I really hope wasn’t true.

Kaitlyn: At 2 a.m., I knocked back six mini boxes of Nerds in a row, then ran upstairs without saying a word to anyone. I emptied the dregs of a bottle of red wine into a souvenir Mets cup and sat down to watch TV in bed for just a few minutes, with every intention of going back outside as soon as my bones were rested and my capacity for conversation restored. I didn’t wake up until lunch! (A big piece of Strawberry Jam cake.)